house – day 365 – one year on (and a few months late)

Exactly one year ago we picked up the keys to our new house, stood on Tankerton Slopes in the biting wind and rain and wondered “what on earth have we just done?”. Three hundred and sixty five days on, I think we have an answer. When we bought the house, we knew we’d have to do some work on it. For a start, the layout and of the kitchen and scullery would need to be changed. The original Edwardian plan is just not appropriate for a modern household. The kitchen was far too small, the scullery wasted space and there was only one bathroom in the entire house. The chimney breast in the kitchen, which was built to accommodate a range (probably used for both cooking and heating water), occupied a significant amount of floor area.

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house – day 286 – 287 – a house is not a home

This post will be my penultimate house update, as, after this weekend, we will have finished the major renovation. In a month or so’s time (maybe longer), I’ll write a postscript summing up what we’ve done, where we are and how we feel about what we’ve done. We’ve been working flat-out for the last few weeks (although our progress often didn’t indicate it) and we’ve had little time to stand back and contemplate our situation. I hope, over Christmas, we’ll have time to do that. In the meantime, here’s our final DIY weekend…

This weekend we need to get the house ready to receive our stuff arriving from storage on Monday. There’s also a final carpet laying session on Wednesday. As we have a light coloured carpet upstairs, we thought it better to leave that until our stuff had been moved in. Timing is tight – on Wednesday evening we have our first overnight visitors.


There’s woodworm in an upstairs floorboard, which I will need to deal with before the carpet goes down in a few days time.  In any case, I need to do some work in the upstairs hall, to ensure all the boards are fixed back in place after they were lifted for the plumbing and electrical work that was completed months ago. I had left it untouched until now, just in case we needed access. Having the upstairs hall carpeted will really signal the change from restoration project to new home. Having to put on shoes to go from bedroom to bathroom is tiresome in the middle of the night.

Having inspected the boards as I fixed them back into place, I found another piece of timber with woodworm. I have only just enough timber to replace the infected pieces and the nearby bits, although I have plenty of wood worm treatment left for the surrounding timbers, which, thankfully, appear unscathed. I’m just using the treatment as a precaution.

After fixing the upstairs flooring, I fitted the quadrant in the hall and study – a tedious process as there are lots of fiddly bits in both rooms. The pin nailer usually works well when fixing the quadrant, but there are places where the skirting board flexes too much and the pins take an unpredictable path. Quite often, the pins don’t enter the wood behind the quadrant, but deflect into empty space, leaving the quadrant unattached. Occasionally the pins turn through 180 degrees and come back out through the quadrant. You need to keep your fingers clear otherwise the quadrant gets pinned to you. Eventually, though, the quadrant was complete, I still need to fill it, so Fiona can give it a final coat, I’ll do that first thing tomorrow.

Fiona got on with clearing and cleaning the house, whilst I did more work under the stairs. I want to get all the major woodwork complete, before our stuff arrives in two days and that means getting the door hung and the frame finished. Before the door went on, I clad the inside of the panelling with the remaining plywood, so that we have somewhere clean to hang coats and store cleaning equipment.


After a bit of filling and punching down pin heads, the quadrant was ready for Fiona to paint, leaving me free to concentrate on the work under the stairs. The old pantry door I’m using here is very warped. I hadn’t noticed that until a couple of days ago when I laid the door on the floor, just how wonky the door is. As a result, I’ve had to modify the hinge rebates to make the door a better fit (although it’s still very wonky), which is annoying as it make the door edge and frame look untidy. These won’t be seen very often, but it’s irksome after you got to a lot of trouble to keep them neat. With any luck, once the door is hung, it may warp back into a better shape. It’s been leant against walls in a cold, often damp house for the last eight months, so it shouldn’t be surprising it’s not in best shape. The front reception door was out by about 11mm in one corner after I installed it, but the door has now straightened as it has dried out and warmed up and now the gap is “only” about 5mm. Let’s hope the same happens here, as an 11mm gap would be a major improvement right now. I got the handle and roller catch fitted and it all works OK and used some of the surplus oak flooring inside the cupboard, to hide the plywood I had put down to cover the old floorboards. Now we have a proper under stairs cupboard and we can put things away.

After a trip to the supermarket we carried on, me taking tools and materials back to the workshop, Fiona painting the quadrant, she’s finding it a bit too much right now, but it needs to be done. Eventually, though it’s finished. It’s taken four days to lay the flooring and a day or so to fit the quadrant, but the house has been transformed. After seemingly endless weeks of prep and coat after coat of paint, with little appearing to change, it feels things have suddenly happened very quickly.

Finally, I think we’re pretty much there. It’s late Sunday evening, but we can now clear away all the remaining tools and materials (at least temporarily, until we get on with snagging). We’ve still got a lot of clearing up to do and I want to get as much stuff as we can in the loft in anticipation of a lot more things going up there in the next few days. We’ll do what we can tomorrow morning, the removal guys are due around lunchtime.


We were up early (well it’s an exciting day and it was difficult to sleep anyway), to get what we could, cleared and cleaned-up. By mid-morning most of the rooms were empty. I’d taken some photos of some of the rooms and was just vacuuming the rear reception when my phone rang – it was Fiona (who had just got out of the shower) telling me there was someone at the door (I couldn’t hear anything as the door bell is broken). Our stuff had arrived and there was a lot more of it than we anticipated. We knew we didn’t have much furniture as most of it in our old house was built-in, but we’d forgotten about all our other stuff – 160 boxes in two vans. Crikey! It would have been nice to have an extra half hour to get more photos of the finished rooms, but what I had taken would have to suffice. That’s why today’s gallery looks incomplete (at least it does to me). I had to get on with helping the guys put the right stuff in the right rooms and start unpacking. Some of the boxes were very heavy. We have a lot of books and, when we moved out of the old house, the packers appeared to have taken great delight in filling the biggest boxes with the heaviest books. The guys unloading the vans were not best pleased and there were 33 of these boxes.

By mid-afternoon, the removal men had left and we had boxes everywhere, so much of it is stuff we’d forgotten about. There was a lot we would no longer need and a few things we could have done with months ago, we’ll have to go through it box by box and sort it all out.

And suddenly that’s it. The renovation project is over, the main work is complete. Now it’s time to change this house into our home.

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house – day 279 – 282 – deck the hall

We’re well and truly into the final phase. Once the flooring is down and trimmed with quadrant, we’ve got just a few more smaller jobs – finish under stairs cupboard, carpet the upper hall and stairs and the front door to replace – and we’ll be ready to move in properly. There’s plenty of snagging to do, but none of it need hold up our moving stuff in date.


I started bright and early on the front reception floor. Our friends John and Barbara would be dropping in around lunch time to see our house for the first time and maybe we’ll go out together for a spot of lunch, so I was anxious to make a good start on the floor. With the lessons learned from flooring the study (actually developing a few handy time-cutting tips), progress was pretty fast, although it’s still pretty physical work. By lunchtime, I had more than half the floor down and was finally reassured that I had ordered sufficient timber for all the rooms all those months ago. When I floored the study last week, I started to have misgivings about my estimates. In the meantime, Fiona was painting woodwork in the hall – there’s quite a lot of it.

John and Barbara arrived, we showed them round the house and then went for a pleasant walk around town. We’ve hardly seen the place in the last few weeks, it was nice to get out. We bumped into a few people we now know, making the place feel more like home and, after a decent lunch in a cafe, headed back. John and Barbara back to London and Fiona and I back to our DIY.

By the end of the day, I had the reception floored and the quadrant (to cover the expansion gap) pinned in place. Installing the edging wasn’t quite the simple job I anticipated, thanks to some odd angles in the bay window, but I think that’s the trickiest of the three rooms, although the hall has a few nooks and protuberances to be dealt with.


Time to start on the hall. First we had to clear it. At last, we can move the scaffolding tower back into the workshop and we can see, for the first time in a while, what a sizeable room the front hall is. Since we moved in, I’ve joked about getting chairs, a coffee table with old magazines, a water cooler and a fish tank for the hall, perhaps we should get a receptionist too. The previous owners used this space as a dining room, we won’t be doing that.

I worked on preparing the under stairs cupboard door (the old pantry door) for painting and hanging whilst Fiona cleaned the hall floor. During her vacuuming, scraping and scrubbing, she discovered some evidence of woodworm in a hall floor board. When she’d finished her work, I took up a few boards and had a look. It was pretty localised and the joists were unaffected (phew!), but I took out the infected board and two adjacent ones, so I could replace them. I’ll treat the surrounding timber, as a precaution, before I put new boards down. Fortunately, I have enough timber left over from the hall panelling (I bought a large pack of boards from Wickes), that’s just the right thickness. I just need to cut down the width of them to fit the existing gaps, I’ll do that in the morning. I also need to get woodworm treatment and, with it being Sunday, everywhere is closed now. Looks like I won’t get started on the hall today. I’ll just get everything ready for tomorrow.


Breakfast, then a quick trip to B&Q. There are a few things we need in addition to the woodworm treatment, so it’s not an unanticipated trip. I just wished I could have done it at a more convenient time. When I got back, I painted the timbers with treatment and whilst it was drying, I prepared the reception room quadrant for painting, filling and glueing it where pieces of wood were loose, then I started putting down the first underlay and boards in the hall.

I was making steady progress, when a howl of anguish from the kitchen indicated Fiona wasn’t happy with something. Turns out the cause was T-Mobile, who had supplied her with a PAC code to move her phone number to Three, an irreversible process she’d started on Friday. However, they had neglected to tell her until today, that her phone would need to be unlocked and it would cost £20 and take 20 working days to do it. This means she’d be un-contactable for almost a month. We researched all the unlocking options and decided that the easiest choice would be to buy a cheap phone that would take her new SIM. Then she could at least take calls and texts, whilst T-Mobile took its time about releasing her phone. We’d thought we’d found a reasonably-priced phone at Tesco, so we set off to get it. However when we got there, it turns out that this phone didn’t work with the Three network and the cheapest compatible phone we could buy was £150. The helpful guy in the shop suggested we go to Three directly and get one from them. All this lost us each a couple of hours of work on the house. Something we could do without right now.

Fiona resolved to go to Canterbury in the morning as she would not be able to work in the hall, whilst I was flooring it. By the end of the day, I’d got about half the floor down and had reached a good place to stop. The next bit of flooring would severely restrict access to the kitchen whilst I was laying it, so it would be better if I was on my own. (And the woodworm treatment wasn’t yet fully dry.)


This was always going to be the tricky bit of flooring the hall – extending into the new hallway that provides access to the new kitchen. I’d prepped this  area yesterday, putting in new bits of flooring to fill a couple of large gaps (orginally this was where the old partition wall was) and reinforcing what will be probably the most heavily trodden area of the house. I also cut some new oak strip to terminate the tiling in the kitchen and the wooden floor in the hall and undercut door jambs so the new flooring can run underneath it (rather than cut the new flooring to run around the complicated mouldings). However, the really tricky part is to get a nice straight, seamless run of flooring from the front of the house through to the kitchen. When I finished yesterday, I was pretty convinced that there weren’t any awkward widths of plank to cut (ie too narrow) so I thought it would work out OK. When I started measuring and cutting timber to begin the new area of floor today, it was apparent that it was going to fit very nicely. Fiona had gone to Canterbury to sort out her phone, so I had the place to myself and could work without interruption. I had a bit of scare mid-morning as I was hammering a piece of flooring into place. As I hit the piece of timber, all the lights went out. I thought “oh shit!”. This was just like the time in the old house when I was fishing the hall we’d decorated and drilled through the ring main whilst installing a coat rack – where the previous coat rack had hung before. Today though, I realised all power was off and, after checking the consumer unit and seeing nothing had tripped, I went outside to see if the rest of the street was affected – at the same time as Gill, our next door neighbour. It was indeed a power cut in the area. Phew! At least I wouldn’t have to start destroying our decorating to repair a damaged cable. Then I realised I wouldn’t be able to do any work until power was restored and time was getting pretty tight, damn! After a few minutes, as Gill and I chatted, I saw a light come on and heard a burglar alarm go off – we had electricity again, so I was back in business. By the time Fiona came back around lunchtime, the flooring in the new part of the hall was more or less complete.

There were a few fiddly pieces to cut around the reception room doors and radiator, which took a while to get right, but by five o’clock the hall was complete and transformed. I have to go back to London this evening, to work the rest of the week, so there wasn’t much time to do anything else. Last Saturday I had anticipated I would have the flooring down and the quadrant installed by this time today. Alas, thanks to the unforseen delays, I’ve only got the flooring down, there isn’t enough time left to do any useful work on the edging, which means the gazebo (my temporary workshop) has to stay up until next weekend – and there’s a severe storm predicted for the end of the week. I brought all the tools indoors, and cleared up a lot of pieces of wood and sawdust. I stripped the gazebo of its walls, to minimise wind resistance, packed up what I needed and set off back up the M2.

On the drive back to town, I reflected on what we’d achieved over the last two weekends. We did a lot of work in eight days and, with a little more effort next weekend, we’re now poised, ready to live in our house for real. In a week’s time, we won’t be “camping” any more, we’ll be living in our new home, that’s an exciting prospect.

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house – day 272 – 275 – floored plan

We’ve booked the removals company for next week. However, we still have to lay the flooring in the three main downstairs rooms and we need to get this out of the way before our things arrive. We’ve given ourselves six days to do this (and a few other things) before our house is once again filled with our accoutrements.


Yesterday, I was working in town and, usually, I would have driven back to the house (more or less) straight after work. However, Fiona had a social event organised in London for yesterday evening, so we’d arranged to drive back together on Saturday morning (I had suggested I could drive back late Friday evening, but Fiona say “no!”). It turned out to be a providential arrangement, as I had all the symptoms of gastric flu on Friday and dare not too stray to far from the comforts of home.

I had a number of tasks to complete in the flat before setting off (the ones I didn’t feel capable undertaking last night), which meant we didn’t leave for the house until close to lunch time. We stopped to get groceries on the way, which meant it was mid-afternoon before we arrived at the house. After lunch it was time for F1 quali from Sao Paulo, so we really didn’t get going until early evening. Obviously, it was too late by then to begin the flooring, but there are plenty of other jobs to do. I got to work on the understairs cupboard door panel and Fiona did some painting and clearing up.


Fiona had the walls and chimney breast to repaint (the low-tack masking tape had pulled paint off the walls) and some clearing and cleaning to do in the study to finish before I could start on the floor. Whilst she got on with that work, I set up our instant gazebo in the garden outside the study, to create a temporary workshop. This enables me to work in all weathers without filling the house with sawdust. It also gives me plenty of room to work and reduces the risk of damage to new paintwork, although it does mean I have to go outside every time I need to cut a piece of wood. I set up power, moved my tools into the gazebo and strung it with lights.

The flooring process is pretty straightforward. The solid planks of oak are machined to lock together on four sides, without glue, creating a solid, floating floor. The pieces are 120mm wide and vary from 300 to 1500mm long. Each has to clicked and tapped into place, once they have had any necessary shaping to make them fit. This turns out to be a longer process than I thought, as there are so many pieces of wood to lay – it takes 34 rows of planks to cover the room. It’s also quite physical work, there’s a lot of bending, stretching and lifting (and swearing). Even unpacking and sorting the pieces, prior to laying them, takes time.

By Sunday evening I had about one third of the study floor complete. In deference to the neighbours, I stopped work earlier than I would have liked because the chop saw is quite noisy and I’m using it outside.


Monday morning, up bright and early and straight back into the study to finish the floor. We removed the masking tape from the fireplace, to see if we had any final decorating issues to fix. Thankfully, this time the tape came off cleanly and apart from a few missed spots, which we quickly fixed. The new fireplace and chiney breast were looking good.

I got going with the flooring and, anxious to get this room finished, I worked hard and fast, getting pretty breathless at times. It took until late afternoon to complete the job – things weren’t quite going to plan. Yesterday, we had effectively lost a day getting back so late, that’s why I usually return to the house on Friday night. Inspecting the new flooring in the study, Fiona and I discussed timings and we decided we should change the removals booking and put it back a week. A quick phone call later and with no extra charge (apart from another week’s storage), we’re set for the following week. That gives us four additional days to complete the flooring and as much else of other tasks that we can. I feel pretty relieved, it takes a lot of pressure off me – there’s still a lot of snagging to do, which is best done, without having to move stuff around. It gives us enough time to do a decent job without rushing things and cutting corners.


I have to move everything out of the front reception room, so it can be floored. This room has been used as a temporary repository since decorating was completed a few months ago. It’s where all the flooring has been stored since it was delivered. Fiona had scrubbed most of the floor clean yesterday, but we still had to clean where the boxes of wood had stood for a while. I wanted to minimise the amount of box shifting I had to do, so I moved ten boxes out of the room and the rest to the other side of it. Fiona cleaned the floor, whilst I carried on with some work under the stairs and I moved things we didn’t need any more back to the workshop. I also got the door furniture mounted on the study door. Just one door (the understairs cupboard) to do now. The bloody doors saga is nearly over.

I removed the old threshold between reception and hall, to find it was actually part of the floor. There was a piece of rotten floorboard screwed to the underside of the threshold which had been mounted in the gap between the floors of the two rooms. thankfully, nothing around it was rotten, just that one piece of wood, so all I had to do was cut and fit a new piece of floorboard into the space. Another unforeseen task and another delay. The final job, prior to starting work on the floor was to cut and fit some oak strips around the hearth and under the door. These strips wil carry another strip that covers the expansion gap.

We had lunch and, afterwards, the front reception floor still had some damp spots, so I took the MX-5 out for a run (to warm it up and to clear condensation) and to get groceries to take back to the flat tonight. It was a lovel day and it was good to see a bit of sun, even if it was only through a car windscreen

By the time I got back, the floor was dry and I set to work on floor number two. I’ve got into a rhythm now and it took about two hours to complete one third of the room, this bodes well for finshing the flooring next weekend. I cleared up, cleaned up, brought the tools back indoors and drove back to London. I wish I could stay and finish the floor, but we need the money, so I have to work.

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house – day 261 – 268 – woodwork

Now the loft is finished I can concentrate on getting the rest of the house in order, so that we can get our stuff out of storage. When I started this longer stint, I’d hoped that by now I would be well into completing the woodwork in the remaining two rooms, but it was not to be. The day and a half I’d allocated for flooring the loft turned out to take about four days. Leaving me with roughly six days to get the house sorted. I don’t have enough time left this week to get any flooring down, but I can get everything else ready, so that I can start the flooring work next weekend, when I return.


Fiona was out in town today, so I used some of the quiet time to get some admin done and clear up the office. I’d moved a few doors and drawers around in the cabinets yesterday evening and installed suspension file drawers. I’ve finished most of the installation work in the office, so now I can clean it up and take away the tools.

I screwed the electrical sockets and switch back in the walls and installed a new aerial aerial socket in the study.

After lunch I started work on the fire surround. After weighing up a few options, it seems to me the best way to fit the surround to the wall is to fix it first to the wall and put filler in the gap. I’d considered building out the wall with wood, but the curved wall would be difficult to fit and would probably still need filler. I think I’ll be able to blend the filler and the wood of the surround -it should look seamless. But this means, I’ll have to paint the surround rather than varnishing it. It’s probably just as well, if I’d left the wood bare, the filler over the screw heads (and the other now-unused screw holes) would be visible. I’d considered getting a plug cutter to make caps for the screws, but some of the screw holes are large and irregular and it’s a lot of work. With all the woodwork the same colour (ie painted in Slaked Lime), I think the study will look a lot more harmonious.

I stopped working around five, to go and collect Fiona from Canterbury and to have a little drive in my new MX-5.


I need to finish off the hearth, so I can install the fire surround on top of it. I’m putting an oak strip around the hearth, replacing the temporary pine one I’d laid out for the fire installers. On removing the old strip, I was surprised to find the hearth tiles were not stuck down. I thought I would only have to grout them, to complete the heart, but no, the tiles were just placed on top of the screed. It’s a bit annoying, I have to get both adhesive and grout and I’ll have to wait for the adhesive to set before I can grout the tiles. Another irksome delay, although it does mean I can rearrange the tiles to make them fit more precisely and utilise the best of the batch. I also noticed that the installers had created a different arrangement of tiles to the one I’d shown them. The hearth is a little narrower, but it looks fine. There’s now a balance of red and ochre tiles, my version used a lot more red.

It took the rest of the day to finish the hearth.


We’re having half a day off, I’ve not had a break from work since my sister visited a few weeks ago. We did do a little prep work in the morning, rubbing down paintwork, filling etc and then we took the train to Broadstairs for a spot of lunch and a change of scenery – also to have a look in antique shops etc.


On with the renovation work. I set off bright and early to get timber for the skirting board that I need to make for the study, and sheets of plywood for the panelling in the hall.

Back at the house, I cut a couple of lengths of the new timber and used my new router cutters to produce the skirting I wanted. The skirting board in the study is tall and stepped. It uses two different profiles of timber laid one on top of the other and I have to recreate this effect. There are also three different moulding patterns in the room. There was no point trying to match any of them exactly – which one do you choose? Previous carpenters/restorers/bodgers hadn’t bothered to try. Instead, I emulated the style of the skirting nearest to the fire surround, making sure that my new mouldings were exactly the same height as their neighbours so they blend nicely. I only need four short pieces of each kind of skirting (eight pieces of timber in total), so I machined two planks of about 1.5 metres of timber. I hoped that would be enough – there’s not much room for error. I could have machined the full 2.4 metre planks, i have plenty of timber, but I don’t have a long enough workbench to do that safely and accurately.

With the skirting board timber prepared to my satisfaction, I decided to get started on the area under the stairs. A few months ago, I’d pulled down the flimsy, tatty, wonky, old plywood wall under the stairs. I Had decided I would replace it with a new wall in the same position, it’s useful and necessary storage space. Originally, the space under the stairs would have been open (hence the skirting board there), with a tiny cupboard enclosing the electricy supply under the first three steps. However, I wanted to create something more in keeping with the style of the house, but not attempt to recreate a solid wall, I’m putting in some wooden panelling. I’m not going to go to the trouble and expense of building actual panelling, I’ll fake it with stripwood on top of plywood boards. I could have done it with routed MDF, which is the usual way to do this nowadays (MDF is horrible stuff to work with). Faking it my way means you’ll see some wood grain under the paint and will help it look more authentic.

I’d built a door frame for the under stairs cupboard months ago (so it could be plastered in whilst the ceiling was being done), but I still needed to install stud work to support the panelling. However, before I could do that, I had to work out the precise placement of the panels. A while ago, I’d mocked up a number of images in a wide variety of panelling styles and decided five panels across would probably work best. (Ironically, it was the one option I didn’t mock up at the time.) To test the idea, I set pieces of timber against the stairs to simulate five-panel spacing and that did indeed seem to look OK. Conveniently, this option gives me two vertical studs that are ideally spaced to support the boards. The next issue to resolve was the vertical spacing of the panels. This would be set by the width of the plywood boards I’m using as I’ll be covering the joints between the boards with the wooden strips. I have to lay each sheet horozintally, so that the surface grain is vertical in the panels. The boards are 606mm wide which sets the spacing, if I don’t want to cut the boards any further. I wanted tall, thin panels and this vertical spacing seems to work OK and saves some work. This spacing also gives me only a couple of awkwardly shaped panels next to the stairs. Thanks to the width of the timber I’m using, the resulting panel size is approximately 240mm wide by 505mm high a ratio of roughly 1:2. Tall and thin, but the space I’m panelling is also tall and thin.

With the dimensions set, I could install the stud work and clad it with plywood.

I put some plywood down on the old floorboards under the stairs to form an even, hole-free cupboard floor, built the stud work frame and covered it in plywood panels. It took the rest of of the day to get this job done. Tomorrow, I’ll install the stripwood to create the panelled effect.


First thing, I fitted the fire surround to the wall and filled the gap behind it. It’s a deep gap in places and this large amount of filler will take some time to set. I can use the setting time to finish off the panelling. It took a couple of hours to get enough filler into the gap and make it smooth enough to minimise sanding later on, then I got back to the panelling in the hall.

I completed the panelling late afternoon and set to work again on the fire surround. I removed the broken, old skirting board at the sides of the chimney breast and cleared away the cement behind it, taking it back to the bricks. I need to put in some timber to support the new skirting board and the brick will give it a firm footing. I sanded the new filler at the sides flush with the wooden sides of the surround and it looked pretty good, just a little more work and it will not be noticeable. Fiona painted some primer on the filler to harden it. When it’s set, I’ll surface fill any rough bits, sand it and prime it again. I’ll do that tomorrow.


I cut and fitted the timber I’d prepared for the skirting board. A fiddly job as it’s a three-dimensional puzzle, with few right angles, it has to join to fancy moulding on the fire surround and there are eight pieces to cut. It took a few hours to do, but the result looks good. I’ll have to do a bit of filling in a couple of places, but the hard work has paid off. With the skirting board in place, all we now have to do is paint the woodwork in the study and then we can lay the floor.

I spent the rest of the day clearing tools away, tidying the workshop and cleaning up.


Today, we completed everything in the study that needed to be filled, sanded and primed. The new woodwork seamlessly blends in with the old and the fire surround looks great. Now all we have to do are topcoats on the remaining woodwork. We completed a fair amount of painting in the afternoon, but I had to leave to go back to the flat, as I’m working tomorrow. Fiona should be able to get most of it done during the rest of the week.

We’ve agreed Fiona will call the removals company tomorrow to arrange a date to deliver our stuff from storage. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, it’s hard to believe it will finally happen.

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house – day 258 – 260 – loft living

The last big job to do upstairs is to put the loft in order. There’s a great pile of insulation at one end of the roof space, where plumbers and electricians had moved it to enable them to work. Winter is upon us and we need to get the house ready and, naturally, keeping warm is a priority. Once the insulation is back in place, I’ll to put a raised floor over it, so we can store stuff up there out of the way. We think we have a lot of things in storage that we won’t be wanting any more, but it will take some time to get rid of it – we need to put it somewhere.

I’m spending another whole week at the house and this time around, I think we really will be able to get the house into a state that will allow us to arrange getting our stuff from storage. Then, perhaps, we’ll be able to start living a more normal life. Before we can do do this, we need to get all the decorating finished, so I can lay the wooden floor in front reception, study and hall.  There’s a lot of snagging still to do, but it’s a many small tasks that shouldn’t involve having to clear out rooms in order for us to complete them. But first the roof space.


After talking through with Fiona about what we should do over the next few days, I got started on the loft. First task, to drill screw holes in the loft legs. You’re supposed use a power screwdriver to force the screw through the leg into the joist, but the plastic is hard, access is difficult and the screws are pretty blunt. After a few test screwings (with a pretty powerful cordless), I realised I would need to pre-drill them, before installation. So I spent the rest of the morning drilling four holes in each of the 96 loft legs I’d bought.

After a spot of lunch I hauled everything into the loft and set to work screwing the loft legs to the joists. The spacing between legs is governed by the width of the loft boards you install and the spacing between joists. Our ceiling joists are quite closely spaced together, about 30-35cms apart, which means you use a lot of legs per square metre. Unfortunate, this leg density doesn’t improve the floor loading, which is governed by the strength of the ceiling joists underneath, it just means you have to spend more money on legs and more time installing them.

With the first lot of legs in place, the next task was to retrieve the previously-moved insulation and put it back in place. I wasn’t sure how it had been laid before, but I had a plan. There were quite a few tubes of encapsulated insulation piled up in the corner and I thought I’d start with those. It’s quite tricky, balancing on thin ceiling joists trying to push four or nine metre length tubes of insulation between these legs. The tubes snag on the tops of the legs and tear the plastic wrapping. Eventually, I got a few tubes in place and I was ready to start installing some boards. I hoped this would clear some space in the loft and provide a platform for the ongoing work.

It was back-breaking labour, trying to hold oneself in an awkward position bent over and kneeling, using back muscles to take the strain whilst I attempted to get the screwdriver in a position to place awkwardly-located screws – in a cramped, dimly lit space. But, eventually, a working platform grew and it became slightly easier to do the rest of the job. However, as I removed insulation from the pile at the end of the loft, I also realised that:

  1. we didn’t have enough insulation for the whole roof space
  2. we needed more light at the end of the loft
  3. the insulation had been piled over a lot more crap left by the previous owners (and this would have to be removed)
  4. the job that I thought should take 1 1/2 days was going to take a lot longer.
  5. we have a small leak in the roof by the front chimney. The wood’s a bit damp, but it’s not rotting. I think it’s cracked cement flashing. Something to look at next year.

I finished working on the loft around 20:30, aching, grubby and very, very tired.


First task – get more insulation from B&Q. They didn’t have the right kind, but I found something we could use – at £35 per roll, it wasn’t cheap. I also bought another disposable coverall (I’d already thrown out yesterday’s) and a batten lamp socket, to improve lighting.

Back in the loft, I put in the extra light, the new extra-powerful light bulb didn’t work, though, and I got started again laying the floor. After a while, I realised I should remove as much as possible of the previous owners’ rubbish before continuing laying floor boards. This little job took about three hours. There was old cardboard, hardboard, several kitchen cabinet doors (laid on the joists and used as loft flooring), lumps of expanded polystyrene (previously taped to the old water tank, presumably to “insulate” it), a PVC children’s mattress, a glass cabinet door, rugs, blankets etc. basically, stuff that should not have been there when we bought the house. Oh, and an asbestos water tank which I moved to the end of the roof space and wrapped in polythene.

With the old crap out of the way, I could get back to the business of insulating and flooring. I steadily worked my way around. It was easier work, with a few boards already down and with better light and I had also realised it was quicker if I drilled pilot holes for the screws when fixing the boards (the screws are too blunt to pierce the surface of the boards). Nevertheless, it was still a back-aching, grubby, confined job and I was glad to get out around 21:00. I was still not close to finishing the job and I needed more insulation, legs and boards. Checking online that evening, I could see Wickes sold what I needed, they had it in stock at Sittingbourne and it was half the price of B&Q’s stuff. In any case, at some point this week I need to make a trip to Axminster Tools to try and get router cutters, so that I could recreate a portion of the elaborate skirting board in the study. Some bits of it are missing from around the fire surround and need to be replaced.


I set off bright and early Monday morning and duly returned with what I hoped were enough supplies to complete the job. I also had a new pair of router cutters that I hoped would enable me to fake the study skirting board, also a couple more disposable coveralls (again half the price of B&Qs). However, I now had a few more boxes of legs to drill before I could get started again upstairs.

I’d got the main flooring complete by 20:30, but, by then, I was too tired to finish laying the remaining top-up insulation and installing a few boards around the loft hatch and water tank. I’ll leave that work until tomorrow.


I finally finished the loft around lunchtime. We now have 300mm deep insulation above all of the rooms and around 15 square metres of floored space. Plenty of room to store bulky, lightweight items. We still have nowhere for all our books, they’re too heavy.

Looking through the bills from the last few days, to do the job, I found I’d used

  • 156 loft legs
  • 16.4 square metres of loft boards
  • 1300 M4 30mm screws

No wonder I was tired. I’d spent 3 1/2 days in the roof of the house doing this, I’d barely seen any daylight and had not been able to stand upright for most of this time. If this is loft living, I think it’s overrated.

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house – day 251 – 254 – light my fire

We’d hoped we would have our new fireplace installed in the rear reception by now, but owing to personal circumstances, our supplier was unable to do the work last week. Instead, we should be getting our fire installed on Monday. I suppose it buys us some time – a commodity we seem to be pretty short of (that and cash).


My first task, should have been to clean the tiles for the hearth. But when I walked round the side of the house to plug the hose into the pressure washer, I noticed we had serious drain problems – the grate outside the kitchen was (literally) full of shit. I lifted the drain cover at the side of the house and saw it was backed up with sewage. Yecchh!

Tracing the problem back, I found that the sewer junction, under the manhole in the centre of the garden (thanks – great location for it) was solidly blocked with a nausea-inducing mass of greasy shit. It was fortuitous I already had the pressure washer plugged in and plumbed up, it enabled me to blast away at the crap, but even after clearing what I could see, the sewage in the drain by the house didn’t move. Eventually, using a combination of drain rods and a pressure washer attachment for cleaning drains, I got the sewers running freely again. Yet another morning spent dealing with crap!

I eventually got started on cleaning up the tiles in the afternoon,. Most of the tiles came up OK, but a few have a porous surface and some paint spots was hard to move. I have another attachment for the pressure washer and this one mixes sand with the water to create an abrasive blast. The previous owners had left a small bag of kiln dried sand in the shed (I suspect from doing the block paving at the front), so I gave it a quick go. It worked a treat, unfortunately there was only a small amount of sand and a lot of paint spatters to remove – another trip to B&Q, then.

Once back from the DIY shed, it was too dark to carry on cleaning the tiles. I spent the rest of Saturday in the office, installing the remaining Ikea furniture and adjusting doors, catches and drawers.


In the morning, I cleaned up the remaining tiles with water and sand. The feed pipe kept getting blocked (the sand  got wet), so it was a bit of stop-start process. Eventually all the tiles were cleaned to my satisfaction and I sorted out the best and arranged them on the floor for the fire installers to see how I want them to look, when it’s finished. I also cut and built a framework for the screeding for the hearth. I want the hearth to be level with the new wooden floor.

Fiona was busy painting in the hall, so after lunch, I went back up stairs to sort out more office stuff.


We were up early as we were expecting the fire installers before 9:00am, they turned up about an hour later. I showed them the room, the fire surround and the hearth. They didn’t ask many questions, so I left them to it. I had intended to start work in the loft, whilst the guys were working in the study (I need to re-lay the loft insulation and install loft legs and boards over it). In the end I didn’t do it, as I realised I would have got  in their way and slowed them down. Fiona couldn’t paint in either the hall or the study whilst this was going on, so we just hunkered down in the kitchen. The house was freezing, as the doors were open whilst the work was going on. The installers finished the job in the afternoon. The fire insert, firebasket, gas coals etc were in place and working – the heat was very welcome, but the guys weren’t able to install the fire surround. Despite all the work I’d done a couple of weeks ago to get it ready, it didn’t fit flat against the wall. The wall is curved, it seems the brickwork bows, so there were uneven gaps at the back of it. I said I’d take care of it. I signed a few forms, got a copy of the gas certificate and the guys left. By now it was too late to start anything new for the day. I’d also had a call earlier in the day from the garage to say the paper work for my MX-5 had arrived and I could go and collect it.  Again it was too late to do that today, so I’ll do that tomorrow morning. We went to the pub instead (partly to warm up) and ended up drinking too much. Well, we did start drinking pretty early.


I’ve got to head back to the flat tonight, as I’m working tomorrow. It doesn’t leave a lot of time to get much done, especially as I want to go and collect my MX-5. The garage is only about 25 miles away in Maidstone, but I have to go by public transport to get there, which means a short bus ride and two trains, or a single train journey and a much longer bus ride if I use an alternative route. I chose the former and that turned out to be a mistake. According to the timetable, there should have been at least two buses before the one I eventually caught, making me late, which threw out the train connections. As a result, I had a 25 minute wait at each station. At least it gave me an opportunity to get some lunch. In the end the 25 mile journey took 3 1/2 hours to complete, no wonder people around here drive all the time.

At the showroom, I had another quick look over the car (it had been too wet to get the top down when I first saw it), signed some more papers, paid a wodge of cash, collected the keys and set off back to the house. I called Fiona to let her know I was coming home and arranged to take her for a quick spin in it when I got back.

I picked up Fiona and it was late afternoon by the time we got to Faversham, we thought we’d have a look around a few antique places to get ideas for the house. We found only a couple of places open, one had some interesting leaded glass that might fit in the small windows in the study. But I wasn’t sure of the size I needed. The other place was a furniture shed that had stuff that nearly, but not quite, fitted with our ideas. I think it’s going to take a while before we find what we want, at a price we can afford. It wasn’t an entirely wasted journey as a plumbers merchant had a pan connector with a jubilee clip that should enable me to fix the leaking upstairs toilet (without having to return the toilet to the Plumbers) and we picked up groceries for the week.

I dropped Fiona off at the house, picked up my stuff and drove back to the flat in my new car, reflecting on what I’d managed to achieve in four days. Not a lot, it seems.

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house – day 245 – 248 – balustered

We’re not going to accomplish a great deal this weekend, my sister and family are coming to visit again on Sunday and they’ll be staying overnight. When we originally arranged their visit, we thought that by now they’d be able to stay with us, it turns out they can’t, so they’re staying in the nearby Marine hotel. We’ll probably go out with them on Monday too. The Indian GP is live on TV on Sunday morning, so we’ll be watching that – even though we expect Seb will win as usual and get his 4th F1 championship and RBR the manufacturers title again.  This weekend, we only have Saturday and Tuesday for renovation work, as I’m going back to London on Tuesday night.


Saturday morning, I’d hoped I was going to be able to collect my new car. It was not to be, the dealer still doesn’t have the paperwork. Instead we watched quali over breakfast and got on with more decorating. Fiona painting and me completing cleaning up the fire surround for the rear reception. I’ve changed my mind again and decided to leave the wood unpainted. I’ll probably use a water-based matt varnish with a slight stain, to deepen the colour. The wood does look nice and, with most of the old white paint flecks cleaned off, looks pretty good against the dark blue wall.

Cleaning the fire surround took most of the day, but once that was done I turned my attention to the stairs. Last week, I’d cut a piece of moulded wood to replace the scrappy piece of moulding I’d removed from the ceiling a few weeks ago. This was a prototype piece, to test how it could look and to enable me to get more precise measurements for the final piece. Having examined it in situ, I realised it’s not an ideal solution. Instead, I could use another piece of base rail to receive the tops of the new spindles that will form the balustrade. The original balusters (fret-cut flat pieces of wood) had been cut short, so that they all ended at ceiling height and had been nailed into a roughly hewn piece of moulding. I checked B&Q and found my nearest one didn’t have any in stock, so I couldn’t get one today. I spent more time measuring, checking and working out what needed to be done. I finally re-cut the groove in the hand rail to accommodate 32mm wide spindles. (Also to tidy up the untidy groove.) it’s something I’d been putting off as it was tricky and making a mess of it was not an option as the handrail would have been very difficult to replace. I’d tried to do this a few days ago using my 1/2″ router but it was too bulky to get into the corners, the guide fence didn’t fit and it was too heavy to use upside-down safely. Fortunately, I found there is a router attachment available for the Dremel. I’d ordered one and a set of mini router cutters earlier in the week and, using these, I managed to cut a neat groove, just the right width for the new spindles. It was a relief to get this done and it meant I could get on with finishing the stairs.

After watching the Grand Prix (the outcome was just as expected) in the morning, we spent Sunday and Monday socialising, sightseeing and eating and drinking. We had a jolly nice time and ate some rather nice food. The predicted heavy storm passed over us on Sunday night and we got wet going home after Sunday’s dinner, but the following day was sparkling sunshine and the wind had dropped significantly. It was quite a sight on Monday morning to see about thirty ships anchored off the north Kent coast, where they’d ridden out the storm. It’s a welcome change to go out where we now live, rather than spend all day on the house or in DIY sheds, which seems to be the norm for us right now.


On Tuesday, I installed the new spindles on the stairs. I went out early in the morning to get an extra base rail set, so I could implement the solution I’d come up with on Saturday. As well as providing a solid top fixing for the spindles, an extra base rail set will give me some extra fillets, just in case of errors (the angles are awkward). As I was measuring the base rail pieces, I realised that I didn’t need to replace the original piece of moulding I’d taken down from the ceiling, the top rail would provide a neat enough finish without needing any extra timber trim. That meant I didn’t need the trial piece I’d cut earlier. if I’d known this earlier I could have got Marc to plaster where the old timber used to be when he did the rest of the ceiling. Now, we’ll have to fill and sand that patch instead. The angle where the two rails meet is pretty acute and I had to build a jig to enable me to cut 23 degree mitres in the ends of the pieces to join them neatly. Eventually I got the pieces cut and in place, it looks a lot neater now. However, the joint is not as tidy as I would have liked. With the base rails in place I cut and installed the spindles. By the time I’d completed that job, it was time to go home, the staircase is now finished. There’s a little filling to do, but it’s now ready for painting.

Just before I cut the last piece of wood, a screw fell out of the chop saw guard, which meant it wouldn’t open. Eventually, I fixed it, but it’s not great news. I need this saw for the wooden flooring, all 55 square meters of it. I hope it holds up long enough to complete the job. I don’t really fancy shelling out £300 for a new chop saw, when I’ve nearly finished the house.

It was an easy drive home, via the supermarket to pick up some fresh provisions, but that’s hardly surprising late on a Tuesday evening. I hope there’s not too much more of this now, Christ, I’m knackered.

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house – day 231 – 240 – a long stretch

When I got to college last Monday, it turned out that someone had already completed most of the software upgrades, so there actually wasn’t an urgent need for me to be back there. Never mind, I’m taking next week off, so I’ll have nine consecutive days to make a big difference to the house, I hope.

Arriving on Friday night after a full week at the flat, it turns out Fiona hasn’t painted a great deal more whilst I was away. It wasn’t her fault, she’d been away for a couple of days, so she hadn’t had a full week to make a difference, but it does make progress feel exceedingly slow. We’ll get started properly on Saturday morning.


Our nine-day stint started rather slowly. We got up quite a bit later than we intended – it’s not easy to get motivated sanding crappy paintwork, although there’s now a lot less to do. By mid-morning, though, the house was filled with the sound of sanding, swearing and music from the iPod. Productivity wasn’t really helped by Suzuka quali at lunchtime which took a couple more hours out of the day, so we weren’t entirely satisfied by what we accomplished on the first day. At least we now have a plan for what we need to get done over the next few days.


We worked in the morning – sanding, filling and undercoating walls and woodwork in the halls, then lunch followed by the F1 highlights from Suzuka (another three-hour break). Again, we didn’t get quite as much completed as we would have liked. We’ve done so much prep now – it seems never to end, surely we must be close to completing this stage.


I started painting the difficult-to-access walls of the upper hall. I have a 4-way folding ladder that can reach all areas over the stairs, but folding and unfolding it in such a confined space is a slow and cumbersome process – especially when you’re trying not to damage the paint you’ve just applied. I stood on the ladder to do the cutting-in and used a pole-mounted roller for larger surfaces, which I painted from the stairs. We’re still doing filling, sanding and other prep in lower hall. We’ve been trying different colours of frieze in the study – it’s not quite right yet. (The Hick’s Blue paint is very gloopy and it’s difficult to cut in a perfectly straight line.) We’re still not sure what colour the frieze should be.


I put the first coat of final colour on the last part of the upper hall wall. Painting is fast, but getting the ladder in position is slow. I had a go at sanding the paintwork of the fire surround we got from Phil, and decided it will be easier to strip it back. After a quick blast with the hot air gun, the wood underneath the paint looks very nice. It might be Canadian pine, it has a very tight grain for a softwood and it turns out the surround has cast iron feet. I wondered why the hot-air gun didn’t work on the paint there. Wall prep is now complete in the lower hall, hurrah, and we’re now applying undercoat. We have already painted two walls (and skirting board) completely so we can fit the last of the radiators. Our central heating is now complete, just in time for winter and it will help with drying the paint in these rooms.


In the upper hall, once back up the ladder I could see the paint I’d applied yesterday up close and it was very patchy. (Thanks to the steep angle, it’s difficult to see from below and there’s no way to change the angle of the roller, you can only work in one direction). It turned out I could use a short-handled roller whilst I was up the ladder and the walls now look OK. Upstairs painting complete, I carried on with more work stripping the fire surround’s paintwork. However, the most important thing I have to do right now is to cut a 5mm rebate over a large area on the back of the fire surround to accommodate the fireplace insert. For this I need a new router cutter. In fact, there are a few things we need to get now:  switches and dimmers for the hall and reception, a router cutter, paint for Fiona’s mum (she’s having the house decorated next week), and loft flooring. There’s already quite a bit of stuff we could put out of the way if we had the loft floored (at least in part) and I need to replace the insulation ready for winter. The trip to collect all these items took the rest of the day, thanks in part to the turn-off to our house being closed (thanks to resurfacing work and two coaches colliding), necessitating a  17 mile detour. Which was a bit nerve-wracking as I was almost out of fuel.


It’s a lovely morning and we’re not doing any DIY today, we’re off to Canterbury to look at antique shops etc, to find stuff to furnish and illuminate our house. After that well be going on to London, where we’ve got a bit of cultural and social stuff arranged. First stop was an antiques barn at an exceedingly pretty village called Chilham. We saw a few nice things, but most of it was way overpriced. The proprietors seem to think we’re still in the 2000’s – brown furniture is a lot cheaper nowadays. As I said to Fiona, the place appeared to be more of a hobby than a business. After a walk round the village, to admire the local architecture, we went back to Canterbury to look at a few more shops. We ended up not having much time to look around as Fiona had a train to catch, although we did get some useful ideas from a lighting shop.


Thankfully, it was a quick and easy journey back to the house. We had no food in flat, so we’d had no breakfast before departing and we got back to the house feeling very hungry and just a bit jaded from the night before. On arrival, we immediately went to the Beach Cafe for a big breakfast and then a bracing walk to help wake us up. It didn’t work, so we went for an even longer walk in the early evening. We’ve now not done any work on the house for more than two days, but it’s been a welcome break – is this what normal life is like?


In the morning we went on a car hunt, I want to get a cheap MX-5, it seems all my friends have one (with a notable exception) and I don’t want to miss out, I’ve driven a few and they’re great fun and I’d found a few I wanted to take a look at. We drove to a few places and kicked some tyres in the rain. Late In the afternoon we delivered the paint to Fiona’s mum and got back home later than expected. (It always seems to be the case.) I think I’ve found a car, but I need to do some number crunching to see if I can afford it.


Now I have the router cutter I need, I decided I’d better use it. As the cutter is 31mm in diameter and the stair spindles are 32mm wide, I’m hoping I can use it to cut the bottom groove in the handrail, which currently has a too-narrow groove to take them. After about an hour or so fiddling about, I realised I won’t be able to use the big router for the job. The handrail is embedded in the wall, so it would be very difficult to remove it to work on it. Therefore, I need to do the work in situ and use the router upside-down. That’s tricky enough, but the guide fence doesn’t fit flat against the handrail, thanks to the rail’s profile, so I would have to do it freehand. I think I’ll stick to the safer option and individually chisel each spindle socket out a little. With that task incomplete, I turned to routing the back of the fire surround. It went pretty much without a hitch, although I discovered the two legs of the surround aren’t quite parallel, so I had to cut out a little extra to ensure we could fit the square insert. Hopefully we have enough margin to fit the surround around the insert. Once I’d finished cutting the back of the surround, I stripped the remaining paint from the front.

After lunch, I worked on tidying up the cast iron feet. I’d picked up a new spot blaster from Machine Mart on Saturday and some aluminium oxide grit, to get to the bits I couldn’t reach with a wire brush. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to setting up the compressor, it was raining heavily, so I had to do the blasting inside the workshop, which filled the place with grit. It took me well over an hour to clean the place up when I’d finished working on the feet  and there’s still grit all over, but the bare cast iron looks great. I think I’ll leave it bare as it should match the insert quite nicely. I was hoping the timber of the surround would be good enough to leave stripped (I think natural wood goes nicely with the blue walls), but there a lot of spots of white paint embedded in it and a fair bit of filling needs to be done. I have to rub it down anyway, even if it is to be re-painted, I’ll see what it looks like after some more work.

In the meantime, Fiona has been beavering away at the paintwork in the hall, coat after coat – primer, base coats, undercoats and today, we’re finally onto top coats. At last the dreary orange paint that blighted the hall is gone, we’re getting much closer to completion now.


We’ve run out of some paint colours again, so it’s back to Brewers for more. Fiona did a few errands whilst I was out and about, so not much work was done in the morning. After lunch, more painting for Fiona and I worked on the fire surround some more. I’ve spent a couple of days on it now and it’s beginning to look very nice. I think I might be able to leave the wood natural – maybe a lightly-stained matt varnish to seal it. I also sorted out phones – installing cordless phones replacing the wired one under the stairs and made some changes to the LAN (it was running far too slowly).

As I got ready to leave, to go back to the flat (I’m working at college tomorrow) I discovered the cylinder in the study door lock was jammed. After taking the entire lock mechanism apart and rebuilding it, I was able to lock it from the outside. I need to get a new cylinder for the door. The snagging list just keeps on growing. That delayed me a couple more hours. I got to the flat very late, ate dinner very late and went to bed very late. No wonder I seem to feel tired all the time.

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house – day 224 – 226 – work cut short

Back at the house for another spell of DIY, I’d planned to do a five-day stint in an attempt to push things on. Unfortunately that prospect was cut short by an email flurry on Friday, resulting in me being asked to come into college on Monday, to do a software install on a bunch of machines. This isn’t great news. I’ve realised now that when you only do two or three days work in a row, you lose about half of the work time available, to getting started and wrapping up. Whereas, working for five days in a row, you’ll get four days of work done – only 20% of your time is wasted setting up and packing away. So now, we’ll just have to do what we can in the time available, but it means re-thinking what we had planned to do.

Fiona has completed painting the ceiling in the study and now I’m not sure if we have the colour of the frieze right, we’ll paint a section white and see what that looks like. I got on with more stripping, filing and sanding in the hall, whilst Fiona did more painting.


Fiona worked on the hall cornice and I started burning a lot of the scrap wood we’ve accumulated and the brushwood Phil cut down in the front garden. I know I should recycle it, but I haven’t the time to make a number of trips to the tip and it’s awful stuff to handle.

I’ve almost finished prepping the woodwork and walls around the stairs so I decided to make a start on the wooden window surround at the bottom of the stairs. This wood is covered in various layers of paint, in various thicknesses, some of it is built up into ridges. After a perfunctory go with a sander, I realised the most efficient way to deal with it, is to strip it. Damn, I’ve got to get the hot air gun out again.


On Sunday I burned the rest of the brushwood and rotten fence, I’ve cleared a lot of rubbish away, which is therapeutic. The woodwork around the hall window is now clear of paint and looks very nice, almost tempting to leave the wood – but it won’t fit in with our planned decor. Incidentally, the window ledge had previously been stripped and repainted – with a single topcoat of latex paint. Nothing in this house is consistent.

The newly installed toilet leaks. I thought it might, the spigot that connects to the soil pipe is not circular, it’s elliptical, it looks like it was squashed when it was soft clay before it was fired. It’s a manufacturing defect and it has to be replaced.

After watching the grand prix, I spent the rest of the day prepping the plaster arch which is a major feature of the hall. Like a lot of the plasterwork elsewhere in the house, it’s cracked, thanks to movement in the house. But it’s a little trickier to fix here than it is in other parts of the houses as the plaster is soft under the hard paint and we need to achieve a nice smooth curve with the repair. I think I managed to achieve a good result.

After clearing up and taking a couple of snaps, I set off back to the flat.

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house – day 217 – 220 – a helping hand

I brought more office stuff back from the flat and got one of the printers up and running, now we can get admin work done, it’s been piling up. I also got started on the woodwork in the hall, it’s not in great condition and there’s a lot more of it to prep than I first thought.

My mate Phil has decided to take a break from his dreary day job and is going to give us a hand with the house this weekend, he’s arriving on Saturday. We’ve got plenty of painting for him to do and he says he’s looking forward to coming down to the coast. We’re making it a social occasion and will be going to the oyster place for a meal on Saturday night – his reward.


He duly turned up early on Saturday morning, as did Fiona’s brother, who woke up the town when he arrived on his Harley. He stayed for a short while and then left for the other side of town (we could hear him). I put Phil to work prepping the woodwork in the study and I carried on sanding staircase parts.

Once Phil had the woodwork prepped – a lot of it scraped clean of paint, he decided to have a go cutting back the overgrowth at the front of the house – a reprise of the work he did earlier in the year. Once he’d cleared a good deal of it (there’s still more to do), the front garden looked a lot larger, but now we have a big pile of twigs, leaves and branches to get rid of at the back of the house. Happy with a bit of hard physical labour, Phil went back inside to paint the walls of the study and in the meantime I carried on sanding woodwork, it’s not looking good, it’s getting worse the more old paint I remove.

In the evening we had an excellent meal, came back home and drank way too much of my single malts – thankfully one of them was unpopular, so I still have some left.


Today, I realised that some of the wood work was beyond redemption. It was an amalgam of hacked-away original timber moulding, filler, putty, crudely-cut timber and cheap paint – and it had to go. I levered the crap wood off and removed the fretwork balusters, which were badly painted and proving impossible to clean up. Once this woodwork was removed, it looks like decorating the staircase is going to be a much more manageable job, although I now need to buy new spindles and base rail. At least you can buy pre-primed stuff, which will eliminate some painting.

After doing some more painting in the study, Phil went home. His work has really helped to move things on, also having someone else around the house whilst we were working has been a great boost for us.


On Monday morning, Fiona left to stay with her mum overnight and I went off to get the staircase bits I need plus some moulded timber I think I’ll need to trim the top and bottom of the stairs.

A few days ago, we ordered the remaining blinds we need for our windows and they arrived last week and now we’ve got a couple more rooms decorated and I was able to install half a dozen more. We’ve got lightweight roller blinds for the bathroom, shower room and toilet to provide a little more privacy and I installed those too. They’ll need pelmets as the fittings don’t look very appealing.

In the evening, I went back to the flat, I’m back at college tomorrow. Much better progress this weekend, albeit thanks to a 50% increase in the labour force.

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house – day 210 – 213 – more of the same

Back from town, three more days of work on the house to look forward to. It’s a familiar story. Work on a surface to prepare it for painting, find some more problems, work out how to fix them and then fix them. Nothing is consistent in this house, on one wall the cornice might be intact with solid paintwork and the on the next wall, the cornice edges are friable and paint can be peeled away without tools. So one part you can rub down, wipe clean and paint, relatively quickly. The other part has to be carefully stripped, filled, painted with special primer and then painted. It’s dispiriting – what one feels should take a couple of hours, often takes more than a day.

Anyway, here’s a summary of what we managed to do this weekend.

The kitchen table and benches we had built, were delivered. They’re mostly made from reclaimed roof joists (and weigh a ton). It’s a great counterpoint to the shiny doors and smooth worktops of the rest of the kitchen. Unfortunately the table is a bit too tall, so I had to trim 35mm from the legs, which levelled it up too (it was slightly wobbly). Most of the bare plaster now has at least one base coat. I’ve put extra shelves in the kitchen cabinets and the final (standalone) toilet is now installed. I’ve also replaced two of the end panels in the kitchen. The ones Chris put in had chipped edges. More of the office furniture is complete, we swapped Fiona’s rectangular desk for a corner unit, but we’re still short of some doors. Back to IKEA again soon.

That’s it, back to UCL on Monday, ready for more next weekend. Fiona in the meantime will be struggling on with walls and woodwork.

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house – day 203 – 206 – creeping forwards

Four days back at the house, pushing things on, bit-by-bit.

Our bedroom furniture turned up earlier than expected, on Saturday. We were told in the shop to expect it early October. Great, now we’ll have somewhere to put our clothes and perhaps one room in the house can look a little more homely.

Unfortunately, the first package I opened – a wardrobe base – was damaged, as were the contents. It looked like the box (which was pretty heavy) had been dropped. I opened the second package containing a wardrobe base, which was OK and built the first wardrobe. It went together easily enough, but the doors didn’t close properly and the hinges were not adjustable. We opened the rest of the packages, creating huge mounds of recycling in the process and installed the furniture in our bedroom. After a bit of discussion, we decided that there was only really room for one wardrobe, so we decided to return the damaged one and get a refund, rather than a replacement. I used the second pair of doors (which were OK) to complete our wardrobe and re-boxed the dodgy stuff. A partial success, then. Nothing ever seems to get completed.

With the flooring down in the office, we’ve now got most of the furniture installed, but again it’s not complete as IKEA didn’t have enough doors at Lakeside, despite the web site saying otherwise. Yet another trip back to flat-pack heaven and another job not complete. We’ve been working on the upper hall too, in attempt to complete the top floor of the house decoration. Again it’s slow work as there are so many rough bits to attend to. I had to wrap things up early afternoon on Monday, as I’m back in town at UCL for the rest of the week.

If there is any progress right now it’s almost imperceptible.

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house – day 183 – 199 – the skip finally goes!

This is probably going to be a more compressed post than my previous one, but I hope to cover the highlights – that’s if there are any highlights in this quotidian chronicle.

[aside] I haven’t mentioned this before, but my blogging methodology for this torpid tale is primarily the reason for the infrequent posts of late. It involves me writing notes as draft posts on WordPress as soon as I can after a day’s work. When I get back to the flat (where my Mac is installed), I edit these notes into sentences. Adding whatever photos I have to illustrate progress and then retrospectively publishing the post, often several days after the event. That’s why several new posts may suddenly appear in a short time frame. It’s a method that worked well at the start, when I was commuting daily between the house and the flat, but now we’re staying at the house, the opportunities to write up posts is limited. Previously, when I left the house every evening, that would be my cue to takes some pictures. Now I’m here for a few days in a row, I keep forgetting to take any when we’ve finished the day’s tasks. The photos formed part of my note-taking. At the end of the working day we just stop what we’re doing and go to the pub, which means when I write stuff up, I have to remember a few days’ worth.[/aside]

Sunday (1 September)

We’re busy working in the large front bedroom, which is to be our home office. We want to get the room painted and floored so we can close another door on another room. (And get the office up and running). This, like everything else in the house is turning out to be a much longer process than anticipated. Partially, this was due to the paint on the cornice. This is the only upstairs room with a cornice and the top coat of paint (latex-based by the looks of it) has not stuck very well to the distemper underneath it. Instead of being able to give the cornice a light rub to key the surface for the new paint, I’ve had to remove the all the paint as it simply doesn’t stay in place. The fibrous plaster underneath the distemper is very soft, preventing the use of abrasives, so, with a knife and a spatula I peeled off all the paint a bit at a time. What I thought was going to be a two hour job took two days.  We’ve had a few other issues with bodged work, but now the room is painted, taking about three times longer than we anticipated. It was hot work painting, the weather has been unseasonably warm and this room has the sun for most of the day. And, as we work sweating up ladders and scaffold, we have the joy of watching everyone else walk down our road to enjoy the beach. It will be our turn next year. I now know we aren’t going to finish the house in time to catch the summer of 2013.

The skip’s still in the front garden although we’ve been asking for it to be taken away for a while now. People are still using our house as a dump, only now they’re not even bothering to put it in the skip, they’re just chucking it in the garden. I wish I could catch the bastards.

We’ve ordered furniture for our bedroom. We’ve had to buy new furniture. In our previous house, it was all built-in. When the new stuff arrives, I hope the house will start to feel much more like a home.


We’ve decided to get Marc in to plaster the remaining walls, they’re just in too poor a state to fix with filler.  The toilet needed plastering anyway, so Marc had to come in (he also had to finish off the external render around the doors and some odd patches. We couldn’t afford the time and money to get Paul back in to work his magic with resin and lining paper to give us a good surface to paint. Distemper has proven to be a problem on some of the walls walls so we’ve put (expensive) alkali-blocking paint on them before they get plastered. So far Marc has finished the toilet and rear reception, there’s just the main hall to do.


We got Paul (the tiler) back in to tile the toilet. Although it’s a small job, it’s now not even worth me considering doing it. Paul does it in a quarter of the time I’d take and his work is impeccable. Mine would look OK, but compared to Paul’s work, it’s like comparing League One to the Premiership. All I have to do to complete the toilet, is to install the pan and cistern, a relatively simple job (I hope).

We now have a solution  for the fireplace,. It is possible to add an extension to a conventionally-sized insert, in order to fill the tall aperture in the surround. We have a satisfactory quote from the Victorian Fireplace in Canterbury to complete the job – installation, fire, everything. I’ve also cleaned and cut the tiles I recovered from the old pantry to make the hearth for it, I think they’ll look pretty good.

Friday – Chris’s last day

Chris came back for a final day, he’s finished  the last few bits of snagging and all his stuff has gone. The work is complete and we now have a final invoice. Hurrah! And another, louder, hurrah – the skip has finally been taken away. Now it’s gone and I’ve chopped down the bushes hiding the front of the house, we can see it’s a decent-sized plot – about double the size of our previous garden. It might be worthwhile turning it into a parking spot, given the difficulties we have parking in summer. We’ll think about it.

Unfortunately, I’m having to take break from DIY. My mum has fallen and fractured her skull (she’s 80) and is in hospital, so we’re heading up to Sheffield, for a night to go and see her. Thanks to house issues for the last couple of years (tarting up the old one, selling it, buying a new one, renovating it), I haven’t been back north for over 18 months, it’s about time I saw everyone. My sister also has a new house too and I’d like to see it.

And there’s going to be further disruption to the renovation schedule. I’m back working as a technician in Computer Science at UCL. We’ve agreed we’ll be flexible on when I’m there and when I’m at the house, but that leaves poor Fiona to do a lot of work – I’d better get in a good supply of 1″ paint brushes.

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house – day 153 – 182 – FFWD

We’re spending a lot of time at the house now, but still we haven’t properly moved in. Our goods and chattels are still in storage. This means we’re now camping in two properties. As a result, things are a little chaotic. I don’t have much opportunity to sit down and blog what we’ve done on a daily basis and I even keep forgetting to take photos. In an effort to catch up, I’ll condense the last month into a single post.

Sunday 28 July

Since my last post, I’ve been back to the Blackheath flat, led the photo trip for the Museum of London with Doug and now I’m back at the house. Paul has finished decorating the front reception room and it looks great. The shower upstairs works fine so at least we have toilet facilities, but we’ve got a bit more work to do in the kitchen before we can use that.

Tuesday 6 August

We’re plodding on with decorating, there’s still a lot to do. It’s the preparation work that feels so thankless. Once paint starts to go on the walls, it looks a lot more like progress. Fiona has finally finished painting the back bedroom. It took a while, but the finish is good. Hopefully, she’ll be quicker with subsequent rooms.

Thursday 8 August


We’ll be needing a lot of new blinds for the house. We’re going for wooden Venetian blinds – it’s an authentic Edwardian look. As we have so many to do, we thought we try out a couple first (we’re buying online and no, it’s not Hilary’s), in two different styles. One for our bedroom and a more expensive type of blind for the smallest window – the small front bedroom. They’ve arrived and I’ve installed them. Our bedroom blind is fine. But the fancy curved slats in the front bedroom window make for a very heavy blind and the slats don’t sit straight when raised. It takes a number of attempts even to get the blind to stay raised. We’ll be sending that one back to the manufacturer and getting the cheaper style for the front bedroom too. They look pretty nice when they’re down.

Friday 16 August


We went back to the flat the previous weekend and work plods on. Chris has been back and sorted out a few bits of snagging, but there’s still more for him to fix. The main bedroom carpet has now been laid – the carpet originally supplied by the manufacturer had a join it, which they didn’t mention, so we had to wait for them to deliver a replacement piece, we also have the laminate flooring (yes, I know, but it’s practical and cheap) for the office. I’ve been fixing a few things in the kitchen and we’ve been doing more decorating and prep. We’re working hard(ish) but progress is imperceptible. It’s only when you look at older photographs, you realise what has been accomplished. I need to take more pictures, if only to remind us how far we’ve come. I still need to work out what I’m going to do about a new fireplace in the back reception (we  call it the study for now). The tall narrow aperture in the surround is difficult to fill.

Friday 23 August

Ken stayed for a few days to help us, but things didn’t quite go to plan. One of the main tasks was to install the screens in the downstairs shower room, which I thought would be a two-man job. However, when I checked the detailed labels on the three large, heavy packages I realised we’d been delivered a 760mm wide door and a 900mm wide screen, which was the opposite of what we ordered. It was delivered in May and, until now, had sat in the front reception, whilst the work in the shower room was completed. However, I hadn’t been on hand at the time to check the packages when they were delivered, which is why we only found out about the error now. Fiona called the bathroom company, expecting to be told it was far too late to get a replacement, but they admitted that what had been delivered was a combination they did not sell, so agreed to a swap. Thankfully, I’d read the package labels before opening any packages and left them intact, simplifying proceedings somewhat. We got the screens replaced a short time after Fiona made the call, but Ken had gone back by then, leaving me to install the screens with only Fiona’s help – and they are heavy. We still have them to do.

Instead of working in the bathroom, Ken and I blocked up a gap between our workshop and our neighbours’ garage. People could easily see through it into our garden and kitchen from the 10 foot way at the back and we needed more privacy. I also built the framework to hide the pipes in the toilet, and for the rest of the time we did a lot of wall scraping, including using a belt sander to remove some particularly hard paint in the rear reception. Very messy work indeed. And finally, we painted base coats on some bare walls.

The oak flooring has been delivered, just over a ton of it, and we have a cheap table in the kitchen – an outdoor one from B&Q. Finally, we can sit down and eat in our house. (And get some rest from DIY.)

We’re going back to the flat this weekend, to catch up on admin and get clean clothes.

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house – day 152 – morning has broken

So here we are, our first day waking up in the house. It’s out for breakfast as we still don’t have a working kitchen and the builders’ tea point (the old boiler casing in the dusty rear reception) isn’t really up to dishing out a steaming frothy latte. It won’t be an early start for us as the breakfast places don’t get going until after eight o’cock.

By the time we got back Paul is working on the living room. The wallpaper is now going up. Wallpaper’s a new thing for us  (apart from Anaglypta) so it’s an interesting decorating departure for us.

In the meantime, we’re getting on with sorting the house out a bit to make it habitable. Doug will be staying with us on Saturday, after our Estuary Photo trip with the Museum of London. Once we’re sorted, we’ll get on with decorating, there’s still a lot to do. The brand new bathroom light has just blown. I’m pretty sure it’s the driver that’s gone – although the tube has probably blown too. The light went out and then there was a whirring and popping sound. The light fitting only takes Philips tubes, so I’m going to have to seek out another to test it (they’re not common).

We’re looking forward to going to a local pub tonight, instead of driving back to the flat. I’m staying at the house until Friday – the Estuary photo trip starts from London Bridge on Saturday morning – and Fiona is staying even longer (probably a week). We’re not sure how we’re going to get on in the house, let’s see what the next few days bring.

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house – day 151 – tonight’s the night

Now we have a bed and a working shower, we’re going to spend our first night in the house tonight. In fact we’re going to be spending three consecutive nights at the house (I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Friday morning). It’s quite an exciting prospect, although it’s tempered by the fact, that, effectively, we’re going to be camping in the house as we have no furniture (other than a bed), no carpets and the kitchen isn’t operational. Still, at least I won’t be driving up and down the A2 everyday. We should be able to get more work done.

We got to the house pretty late. We’d spent a good part of the day, sorting things out at the flat, getting the stuff together that we thought we’d need. We don’t want to take too much to the house right now, as we’ll only be moving it around whilst the work is still ongoing. Once at the house, we set our stuff out and thought about going to the pub (naturally). Whilst we were still contemplating our options, the doorbell rang – it was our neighbour who had brought us a chilled bottle of wine to celebrate our first night in the house. How sweet.

In the excitement, I completely forgot to take any photos, apart from a couple of snaps of the wonky blind we’ve been complaining about. Hence today’s uninspiring picture.

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house – day 150 – step on

Although I originally intended to go, I didn’t visit the house yesterday. I just felt too run down after Saturday’s shenanigans, plus I needed to get a lot of stuff prepared for photography trip this coming Saturday. Actually, I’ve still got everything to do, as I haven’t done any prep (apart from the recce trips) so far.

I got to the house around lunchtime – Paul had arrived just before me. it turns out he’d had a bit of torrid morning too, so he was starting late as well. We had a chat about our mornings and then I got started removing Saturday’s mess of silicone sealant from the shower screen. Paul lent me a scraper to facilitate this, which helped a lot. Nevertheless, there’s a bit of scuffed chrome-work on our new screen, which is a bit annoying.

I had lunch after I’d cleaned most of the sealant from the screen, it was taking a lot longer than I thought and by the time I ate it was 4 o’clock. When I got back Paul told me he’d had a message from Chris to say he’d be at the house in 15 mins

When Chris came around, we had a chat about some of the remaining work and he got on with tiling the step into the bifold doors. I carried on with stripping away the silicone and finally got to re-apply new sealant. After painting the bathroom door, I went back to the flat. It had been an annoying day – I’d spent most of it undoing and re-doing Saturday’s work, but at least we will now be able to have a shower.

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house – day 148 – screen time

It was one of those mornings, this morning, where even simple tasks seemed to take an age to complete. I had a few things to do at the flat and, as a result, we arrived later than I wanted at the house.

Today, I want to get the upstairs shower screen installed so that we’d be able to shower when we stay at the house. I thought it should take a couple of hours to complete, but it ended up taking the whole day trying to get the screen installed – even though I had already put the supporting channels in place yesterday.

I should have noticed the warning signs. The instructions that came with the German-made screen, specified a tolerance of plus or minus zero millimetres. A tall order in an Edwardian house. I knew I had built the dividing wall to an accuracy of at least 3mm, so I hoped there would be some flexibility in the installation. It turns out the Germans were right. It has to be spot on for the roller catches in the screen door to hold the door closed. In the end I had to re-drill the fixing holes and re-install the channels, before the door closed properly (and stayed closed).

By the time I came to sealing the shower unit with silicone sealant, I was pretty knackered, consequently I made a complete pig’s ear of it. Truth be told, I’ve never mastered the use of silicone sealant – it never behaves the way I want it to, but usually I seem to muddle through. This time I didn’t, although, my ineptitude was amplified by the bevelled tiles, which made getting an even-looking seal, the province of a very experienced professional – I wasn’t certainly up to the job.

I cleaned off the worst of it, with white spirit and left the rest to set, figuring it would be easier to fix, once it wasn’t sticking to everything it touched. Basically, I need to remove as much as I can and do it again.

Before returning to London, we got the bed assembled and out in our bedroom, Fiona, in the meantime had been clearing, cleaning and painting. We packed up and went back to the flat. We still didn’t have a shower and I was feeling completely exhausted.

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house – day 147 – chance meeting(s)

It’s a lovely bright sunny day today and we’re off to the house to get a few more things sorted. First I’ve got some admin stuff to do at home and we’ll be going round to Jacky’s house to check on her progress, so I don’t imagine we’ll get a whole lot done today.

On the walk over to Jacky’s place, I registered with our local medical practice – I’m getting ever close to becoming a resident. Jacky’s house is coming on nicely, she’s now discovered a second well in her tiny back yard, which must be some kind of record (wells per square metre?). She’s still got a lot to do, if she’s going to have the house ready for a bunch of guests who are arriving for the start of the oyster festival, but if anyone’s able to do it, Jacky is. After house inspection, we picked up a picnic lunch from the excellent Windy Corner Stores and we all headed over to the beach. Near to Jacky’s house, Chris and his guys are building a house extension and, on the way back from Jacky’s place, we met Simon and had a quick chat. Hopefully, he and the others will be back at our house soon to finish the odds ends they still have to finish in in the kitchen. A little further on I met Calvin and his guys in town, had another chat and then got back to the house. One thing I have noticed in these parts, is everyone is up for a natter – it’s like being back up north. It certainly is a different pace of life from what we’re used to in London.

Back at the house, Paul was doing more paintwork in the living room, it will be soon time to put up the wallpaper. We popped out to collect the oak thresholds for the upstairs doorways and got back in time to meet the nice people from Lampkins flooring who’d brought over a piece of reclaimed carpet we could use, whilst our own bedroom carpet was making its way from the manufacturer’s. We didn’t want to place our bed on the dirty, dusty floorboards, it’s not nice first thing in a morning. The carpet is a bit smelly (dogs, fags) and a has a couple of stains, but we’ll clean it tomorrow. Once it’s clean, we can assemble the bed. Fiona painted the back room bedroom, again, and I grouted a few tiles in the bathroom (to join them to the timber at the end of the shower wall. I also made a cut in the wood around the back of the living room fire surround, this is so Paul can push the wallpaper behind it to make a much neater finish. I opened the shower door package (for the upstairs bathroom) and, once I’d worked out what to do, installed the screen supports in the shower cubicle. I’ll do the rest tomorrow, as I don’t want to cock it up. With a bed and a shower, we’ll finally be able to stay.

Our final jobs for the day were, me painting the bedroom door again, whilst Fiona cleaned the shower tray ready for the door to be installed, we left pretty late, although we still went to the beach to admire sunset, before driving back to the flat.

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house – day 146 – getting ready for bed

Today, we’re not intending to do any work on the house, we’re going to Fiona’s mum’s to pick up a bed so we can stay over at the house soon. Our own beds are still in storage (apart from the one in the flat). We’ve also got a few chores to do for Fiona’s mum too and then we’ll take the bed and some other stuff (such as my pressure washer) over to the house and then go straight back to the flat – it will be too late to do any work on the house.

So it’s only a flying visit today, but it’s an important one as it means we’ll soon be able to stay at the house (once we’ve got a bit of carpet) and spend time working, rather than driving up and down the A2.

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house – day 145 – blur

Looking back at the last few posts here, I feel it’s not easy to see what’s changed at the house day-on-day. We seem to be painting, sanding, cutting, chopping, cleaning up and clearing out every day, but not appearing to get much closer to moving in. Perhaps that’s the nature of this type of project. We spend a lot of time doing prep, where very little changes, then after a short period applying the top coats, installing fixtures, voila! The intended transformation is finally complete. For much of the house, completion is still some way off. Now, even with the photographs I’ve taken and the notes I’ve made, the days are becoming blurry. In the end, when we’re in the house, this will probably not be particularly important, but right now making a noticeable difference is vital in sustaining our motivation to continue with the project and sometimes it’s hard.

Before getting to the house today, I had a few errands to make. First, a visit to William Frances to order wood for the new upstairs thresholds, then on to Lampkins Flooring to choose some samples for the laminate flooring for the office (front bedroom), Fiona needs to see them before we Make our choice. We’re being practical in this room. We need a simple, clean, working environment and we need to save money. On the way back I called in at a garden centre, where there’s a sale on garden furniture. Nothing of interest here, it’s all a bit bland, conservative and pricey.

I finally arrived at the house around lunchtime. Paul was there, working on the living room. Chris wasn’t in evidence, although it turned out he’d been around earlier to pick stuff up.

I carried on working in the kitchen, filling the few remaining, visible holes in the woodwork and doing a little extra sanding where necessary, then I went for lunch (a sandwich on the beach) whilst the filler set. After lunch, I sanded the newly-set primer and then painted all the kitchen woodwork with primer.

Upstairs, I put a final coat of emulsion the shower ceiling and sanded the rough spots where the paint had dragged yesterday in the bathroom. After that, I painted all the woodwork in the bathroom. I felt I had a bit of time left before I should leave to go back to the flat, so I painted a base coat of emulsion on the recess around bifold doors. Another busy,  blurry day.

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house – day 144 – heatwave

It is now, officially, a heatwave – five consecutive days of hot weather and don’t we know it? The current sunny spell is a hot news topic, is this all that’s going on in the world? Summer might have started late, but the silly season has arrived bang on time. Despite the heat outside, the house is staying pretty cool right now – especially as I won’t allow Fiona to open all the windows and doors. I don’t want the house filling up with pollen whilst I’m working – after the miserable, waste of time I had at the house a couple of weeks ago. It’s not just about the discomfort, when hay fever strikes, you work slowly and make mistakes.

At, the house, an alarm engineer came around and reconnected the control box properly, the wiring in the hall is now a lot tidier and that work is pretty much done now. Just an extra sensor and a smoke detector to install when we’ve finished decorating a couple of rooms.

Paul is getting on with living room and the colour scheme is beginning to look good. We carried on with more painting. Fiona is doing more painting in bathroom, but the higher temperatures are causing the paint to drag. We’ll have to do a little sanding, once it’s dried to fix it. I, in the meantime, primed more paintwork in the kitchen, the once grotty door frames are improving with every coat.

I had a look at the window apertures in the kitchen – the last remaining original windows in this part of the house. They need some work and they’re small. One window was in the pantry and the other belonged to the toilet (it still has frosted glass). As they were originally in relatively unimportant rooms, they’ve not been treated well. The woodwork lining the aperture of the old toilet window has similar paint to the old door frame. I’ll have to strip the wood here too. It’s even trickier work than the old door frames a few days ago. The window aperture is small, deep and has a uPVC frame surrounding it. I’ll have to be very careful where I point the hot air. After 45 minutes cramped,  hot, sweaty work, I got the wood stripped and it looks a lot better now. I didn’t scorch the window frame (phew!) but I did manage to scorch me a couple of times trying to get myself in a better position to scrape paint. Still, it’s clean now and should look a lot better when it’s primed and painted.

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house – day 142 – hot stuff

It’s a solo trip for me today, Fiona is going to a friend’s birthday party. I would like to have gone too, but it will be an outdoor affair and my hay fever has been too unpredictable this year to risk it. No point in pouring snot and misery on a festive occasion.

There was the usual weekend traffic, many cars driving too close together, most driving too fast for the amount of traffic on the road -everyone in a desperate hurry to get out of their cars and enjoy the sun. As a result, I ended up driving a lot more quickly than I usually do just to keep some space around me, so I got there in almost no time, but with a more depleted fuel tank than I like.

At the house, I sanded the ceiling roses and applied final coat of primer. They’re now ready to paint with the final colour. I sanded and primed the piece of filler wood between the loft door frame and bathroom wall, that’s ready to paint now too. I hung the primed bathroom door and made the cut-outs for latch and lock in the door frame and primed the newly-exposed wood.

Then I went downstairs to have a look at the architrave around the kitchen and shower room doors. They’ve been made from timber that was reclaimed from the original kitchen and pantry door frames. It’s covered in thick, cracked, chipped, hard old paint and has a lot damage around where the old nails pulled through the wood. Is doesn’t look great and it’s appearance is not helped by old crimson paint peeping through cracks in the white. I started sanding and scraping the wood, but the paint chips off and even the RO sander has little effect on the hard, enamel-like paint. There’s a lot of awkwardly shaped moulding to contend with too.  It’s going to take a very long time to prep the wood at this rate. There’s nothing for it, I’ve got to strip the paint off, using the hot air gun and it’s nearly 30C outside. It was about three hours’ hot, sweaty work in a confined space, but it was worth the effort. The wood looks much better now. It’s a little fibrous and stringy around some of the moulding,  there are little curls of wood that are hard to remove. I should be able to sand those off, once there’s some primer on the wood to harden it.

I gave all the wood a first coat of primer, cleaned up, took some snaps and went home, tired and sweaty, but pretty pleased with what I’d achieved today.

I got home late, just in time to provide a taxi service for Fiona and Jacky to get them back home from today’s party. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

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house – day 141 – back online

Today is going to be a short day, I need to leave before 6 o’clock this evening to get back for a friend’s birthday drink. Still, with both Fiona and I going to the house, it’s worth the trip – and we need to be sure we have everything prepped in the living room for Paul to start on Monday. We also said we’d pop into to see Chris’s new fireplace showroom on the way in, so it’s going to be an even shorter visit to the house today. I took a bit of cross-country route back from Chris’s showroom. We drove through quite a lot of pretty countryside, there’s going to be plenty to explore when we finally move in.

I decided the first job should be to move the BT socket to better position, so we can remove wiring and sockets from hall. As usual it took much longer than expected, I took my time as I wanted to be sure I didn’t mess it up and need another BT call out. I also tested everything first, before I started cutting cables. This left me with hardly any time to do much else, but at least broadband’s back up and running.

Fiona cleaned up the living room ready for Monday and did a bit more painting and I left the paint and  instructions for Paul, in case I don’t make it to the house tomorrow.

We left just after 6 o’clock, just I’d hoped, but immediately we encountered a traffic jam as the M2 was closed due to an accident. Typical. We tried one route, but most other people had that idea, so we headed south and took a different route. If I hadn’t been in a hurry to get home the drive would have been quite enjoyable, we went through quite a few pretty villages we didn’t know, many with good-looking pubs. Good news. I arrived home with just enough time to make it worthwhile to get the train into town and show my face at the birthday drink.

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house – day 140 – measuring up

We’re getting measured for carpets today, hooray! It doesn’t sound like much, but it does get us another step closer to moving in. The carpet fitter is due in at 11:00, so I want to get to the house bright and early – and not have to worry about potential traffic problems, the A2 is stressful enough without any time pressures.

We arrived a little later than I wanted, but we had half an hour to spare before carpet time. I was out in the garden and was sorting something (can’t even remember what it was now), when I heard Fiona talking to someone in the house. I went inside and found Fiona was showing Steve from Lampkins Flooring around the house – he’d heard about our house from Chris.

Steve came up with a suggestion to fix the badly damaged (and not particularly well-fitted) thresholds in the internal doorways – replace the existing battered, painted timber with oiled oak. He suggested a local place to source the timber and even offered to lend me his pin nailer to fix the new thresholds down. I’ll buy one rather than borrow one. In addition to the thresholds, I’ve got a lot of quadrant to nail to the skirting boards and I can use it for picture framing when the house stuff is finished.

I took the scaffolding tower back downstairs and used it to paint the ceilings in the hall and living room. What a difference it makes, with the height-adjustable wheels I’m able to get the height absolutely spot-on for comfortable working. It took less than a couple of hours to get the ceilings done and the ceiling roses sanded.

Fiona did more painting in back bedroom and some clearing up

Whilst she was finishing off I cut and fitted a piece of wood to fill the gap between the bathroom wall and the trap door frame. The gap’s too wide to fill with filler or resin and it’s too narrow to plaster. It’s attending to little details like these that seem to take up so much of our time.

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house – day 139 – reconnected

I’m feeling better today, so we definitely are going back to the house today. An uneventful drive today – it’s mid-week and the school holidays are a couple of weeks off, best enjoy it while we can. In any case, we have to be at the house as Fiona has booked a chimney sweep to clear the two chimneys we have left in the house, before we get the living room decorated next week. I was going to do it myself and had bought a new chimney brush for the rods, but Fiona thinks I’ll take too long to do it and make too much mess. She may be right. Anyway the sweep is booked now, so that’s that.

I’d remembered to bring a decent camera with me today so I photographed the blinds properly, to get back to the supplier and see what can be done about them. Fiona is still painting the back bedroom, I think she’s doing the woodwork today. I got on with painting a second coat of paint on the bathroom walls.

Around about the time I was expecting the chimney sweep, a man walked up to the house, it turned out he was a BT engineer. I’d told BT the problem I’d reported over a week ago, wasn’t fixed (even though the fault had been closed) and they’d opened a new fault, they didn’t tell us to expect a visit though. I showed him around, pointing out the indoor junction box that looks almost contemporary with the house – definitely pre-WWII (he’d never seen one like it before) and he set to work. The junction box is at the foot of the stairs, so whilst the engineer was working, I couldn’t get on with anything upstairs, so I got on with measuring the position of some items in the garden. We’ll need to do some landscaping when we move in and I need to plan and budget.

The chimney sweep showed up and I showed him the two fireplaces. I told him the back one should be OK as it had only had a gas fire (which I’d just removed). Whilst we were talking about this fireplace, I remarked I was going to take the clay fireback out as it is cracked. He said to leave it, it had years of life left in it. Great, one less problem to deal with. The front fireplace had been burning logs, so I expected a mess. In a short time, he’d cleaned the chimneys, removing a couple of large buckets and a vacuum cleaner full of soot and leaving the rooms and fireplaces spotlessly clean. We paid the bill and he gave us a certificate. It’s the first time I’d ever seen one, but apparently some insurers won’t pay up if you have a chimney fire and you don’t have a chimney sweep’s certificate. That alone was worth the money. He also said that he’d cleaned out equal amounts of soot from both chimneys. The gas fire had been installed without sweeping the chimneys first! No wonder you frequently hear stories of people dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. A fall of soot and the flue is blocked, it’s a potentially lethal false economy.

The BT engineer was still tracing the line fault when the chimney sweep left. Eventually, he found a break in an outside cable which he replaced with new cable and a new junction box in the house. To do this, he drilled the wall to thread the cable, which means that the window is finally clear of cables threaded through it. I asked him about moving the existing BT master socket. He said I should ask a suitably competent person or even BT to do it. I was hoping he’d do it whilst he was here. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that it was incorrectly installed – it’s positioned after the old British Telecom master socket and it should be at the first point in the line – is an installation fault. He left and I thought I’d do it myself. It’s only a matter of reconnecting a couple of wires.

I had a quick go at getting the hearth tiles up, but they’re pretty well fixed. I’ll use the SDS-Max hammer drill and tile chisel on them soon. Instead, I got on with sanding woodwork in the bathroom ready for final coats of paint. Fiona meanwhile was still painting upstairs.

We left reasonably satisfied with the days accomplishments, especially with the news we don’t have to do any more demolition work in the study fireplace.

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house – day 138 – another off day

We had a day off yesterday, we had a few things to catch up on, plus we had to stay in and wait for a second blind to be delivered. We now have both blinds for the two decorated bedrooms, so I can install them today – another little step closer to completed rooms.

I’ve no idea why, but I don’t feel very bright today (not much change there, some of my friends might say). Nevertheless, we drove over to the house to carry on the work. Fiona carried on painting the back bedroom and I set to work installing the first blind. The installation instructions were missing for the first blind, but the second one had them. Like most blokes, I normally don’t read instructions (it’s all usually logical enough and I’ve installed a few blinds in my time), however, there were a few mysterious pieces of plastic and tiny wood screws that needed explanation. Unfortunately, although we ordered the blinds from the same place, they are two different styles of wooden blind and the fittings were different. Using the other blind’s instructions, I managed to work out what went where and got the first blind installed. It took a lot longer than I anticipated, but it was worth the effort. The blind looks great and fills the window space very nicely. Venetian blinds were common in Edwardian houses and it looks great here. The second blind was a different story. It’s a smaller blind and was easy enough to install, but it doesn’t work right. It’s far too heavy for the two cords that lift it and, when it is lifted, it tilts out at a peculiar angle. It doesn’t close properly and sags at the end, under its own weight. It also appears to be too long, there’s an extra slat resting on the base. I need to get back to the supplier on this. Why is nothing straightforward?

We went off for lunch and, when we got back, I felt much, much worse – feverish, tired, dizzy. I tried to do a bit of work on a door, but in the end we left early, having accomplished very little, I just needed to get back to the flat. I must have already been out of sorts this morning, as I’d forgotten a few things, including a camera, hence the iPhone photos today.

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house – day 136 – three days’ work?

Another sunny morning, we left the hotel early(ish) and drove down to the house. We walked into town to try breakfast at David Brown’s newly-extended deli. The food is excellent, cooked to order, so you have to be prepared to wait, but it’s worth it (although it means you end up buying too many coffees).

As breakfast was rather leisurely – it’s not easy to do things in a hurry around here – we started only an hour or so earlier than we might have done, had we driven from the flat – time for more painting and prep.

Late afternoon, we went back to Lampkins, the carpet place we’d been recommended by almost everyone working at the house, and this time it was open (closed for staff hols last time we tried). I was surprised to discover that we might be able to get wool carpets in the light, neutral colour we want. Last time we’d looked for carpet, everything was a little to buff, beige or oatmeal. This is not surprising, given the natural colour of wool, but we didn’t want to go the synthetic route, no matter how eco it is nowadays (recycled PET, anyone?). Lampkins couldn’t have been more helpful – and it turned out they’d heard about our “project” from others working on our house. We came away with at least three carpet samples we like (and think we can afford). We’ll try them out when we get home.

Mark, the plasterer, is working on the house tomorrow and we need to get keys to him, fortunately he lives quite close to our house.  It was only a short diversion to walk back into town and drop them off.

We cleared the back room for tomorrow’s work. There’s still a lot of stuff that we know is crap, but some of it might be useful. It’s almost a certainty that when you throw out something, you almost immediately afterwards discover a use for it.

We drove home, tired, in the late evening, contemplating the work we’d done over the last three days. That’s three days’ work? Is that all we accomplished?

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house – day 135 – overnighter

We left earlyish today, in the vain hope we’d beat the typical sunny Sunday, day-tripper traffic. It wasn’t to be, we were stymied by a typical weekend traffic accident – a low-speed nose to tail shunt, involving four cars. We arrived at the house about an hour later than we expected, I reckon we lost about half the time to rubber-neckers. Apart from the lost working time, arriving later in the day has another consequence – we can’t park near our house, so I had to stop on double yellow whilst we transferred stuff to the house and then park a long way away.

In anticipation of traffic issues, we’d booked to stay at the Premier Inn, for a final night (we hope), so that we won’t have to deal with weekend drivers on two journeys in one day and we can have an earlier start on Monday morning.

The work today, was much the same as yesterday, I carried on with the bathroom, filling, sanding and priming, Fiona carried on with her work in the back bedroom. I also tested the phone line again – still zero volts.

We packed up about eight o’clock and went to the hotel. We walked back down into town for a couple of drinks and an average curry.

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house – day 134 – the final countdown

Once again, on the way to the house, we called in at Wickes to pick up stuff. This time, to buy timber to complete the shower partition. There isn’t a convenient Wickes near the house so I have to go to the one at Charlton. I thought I’d give their timber a try, after the B&Q fiasco, it might be straighter. Unfortunately Wickes only had 2.4m lengths of the planed timbering wanted, I really need 3m lengths. Anyway, I bought a multi-pack, deciding I’d join a couple of pieces together rather than search for a single, straight piece. In any case, I thought I might be able to use the other pieces for the panelling in the hall. It was a slow drive as I only used one strap to secure the package on the roof rack and didn’t want to risk losing the load. Still, driving slowly saved a litre or two of diesel. It was the usual high speed, impatient, inexperienced bunch of traffic on the road today, but I let them speed by whilst we cruised in the relatively unused inside lane.

As we had our task list from yesterday’s strategy session, we got to work as soon as we landed. Fiona got started on back bedroom decoration and I got to work on the end piece for the shower partition.

I opened the pack of timber and laid them out on the front reception floor. There’s not much difference between Wickes and B&Q it seems, not a single piece of wood was straight and untwisted I guess the binding and shrink wrap gives the illusion of straightness until you get the pack home. I chose two of the least distorted pieces of wood, ones with the fewest knots, propped them up on painter’s pyramids and primed them. Whilst the primer was drying I worked on the latch for the shower room door. We worked hard and stayed late, but departure time came all too quickly, we hadn’t ticked off many items on our list.

Most of the big stuff is complete now and we’re working on the myriad smaller items, this feels like we’re on the final run. Moving in still feels like a long way off, perhaps this is the start of the final countdown.

We drove home tonight, a little anxious about the (small) amount of work we’ve completed today. However, tomorrow we intend to leave the flat early and we’ll be staying overnight at the Premier Inn. We should be able to get more done than we achieved today.

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house – day 133 – London to Cape Town

It won’t surprise any of my friends to know that I have maintained a spreadsheet detailing fuel consumption, costs and the mileage travelled between the flat and our new home. With the latest update, I find I have now driven over 9,000 miles since early March. The equivalent of driving from London to Cape Town (in 54 mile steps). No wonder the A2 is becoming a very familiar stretch of road. Hopefully, the high-mileage days will soon be behind us.

I’d taken the day off yesterday as I had been to the house eight days in a row and had a few admin things to catch up on, plus I felt I needed a rest. Yesterday was also the first Thursday of the month, time for our ex-reviewers monthly get-together, which meant a bit of a slow start for me this morning, thanks to the jolly time we had in the pub last night.

Today we had a bunch of errands to run on the way to the house. Things to return, pick up a few extra tiles for the step to the bifold doors, paint and wallpaper for the living room and suchlike. We also had a look around a local furniture place for some ideas about what we might do (even though we’re pretty much spent up right now). It was very quiet in the store and we had to keep fighting off bored/desperate sales people. We left feeling pretty uninspired – the stuff on sale was rather too conservative for us.

It was early afternoon when we arrived at the house. Calvin’s guys were there commissioning the central heating system. A little ironic we’re getting heating now, when the weather forecast is for a week-long spell of hot weather. This means the electricians have finished their work, so we should be getting a final bill from them pretty soon.

We were pretty hungry, so we went off in search of a late lunch. There was a cock-up with our food order, which meant we waited almost an hour to eat, by the time we got back to the house, the plumbers had gone and it was almost five o’clock. We really didn’t feel like getting changed and doing some decorating at this point. The weather was gorgeous and Fiona wanted to be outside to enjoy it. We decided today would be a planning day. We went from room to room noting the outstanding jobs and then went down to the beach to discuss next steps. We came up with a list of tasks to do over the weekend (and beyond) and then fell asleep in the sun. It’s going to be great when we can do this without feeling guilty about the work we’re not doing. Today, apart from the errands, we didn’t personally achieve much. However, we do now have hot water and heating at the house. Another major milestone.

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house – day 131 – it’s in the detail

I was awake early this morning, lying in bed thinking about various house issues, one of which was how to drill the narrow doors for the latches without going through the sides. I came up with an elaborate scheme, which should work, using bits of timber screwed together to form a flat platform.

I had a couple of admin things to do before I set off and Fiona had a networking event to go to, so she wasn’t coming with me today. As is often the case, she was running late, so I offered to drive her to the station on my way to the house. I contemplated calling in N&C to get the extra tiles we need for the step to the bifold doors and to get a refund for the large amount of plastic ply we have left over. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten the receipt, I need to save that for another day. I drove straight to the house from the station.

I spent what was left of the morning, fitting the strike plate for the front bedroom latch. What’s normally a straightforward, simple job is complicated by the holes and paint left over from previous installations. I need to clear out the paint and backfill with a lot of resin, then sand, prime and paint the area around the latch. There’s not much wood left to work with, so it has to be done bit-by-bit. I had a bit of a brainwave and decided I should do it now for all the remaining door frames. I could have done it a long time ago, but for some reason, didn’t think of it. (Too many other things to think of, I guess.) I plonked some resin in the hole for the latch in the front bedroom and went off for lunch whilst it set. It normally sets pretty quickly, but I need to be sure it was set all the way through – and I was hungry.

Lunch on the beach was a bit dismal, the sky was overcast and I’d forgotten to bring anything to drink. I had the iPad with me, so I did a blog update then went back to the house. I finished off the bedroom pretty quickly and filled the other door frames. Whilst that was setting, I had a look at the car. The screen wash isn’t working properly. On the dash it is showing empty, but then that light seems to come on when the tank still has a third of its contents left. I topped the tank up with a couple of litres of water and tried the screen wash – water cascaded from the bottom of the vehicle. I have the complete servicing manuals for the Navara installed on my iPad, so I had a look so see if I could fix it myself. No way, the tank is buried deep in a wheel arch, so that’s another visit to the garage.

Time to get started on latch for the door in bedroom four. This is one of the tricky ones. The drill bit is 25mm in diameter and the door is 32mm wide and I have to drill a hole 150mm long, there’s not much room for error,. The drill bit has to go in as parallel to the sides of the door as I can. The drill guide helps, but the edge of the door isn’t square. The arrangement I eventually used was a lot simpler than the elaborate scheme I’d dreamt up this morning. I clamped two square pieces of wood on either side of the door using a set square to get a surface at right angles to the door sides. I then clamped the drill guide to these pieces of wood. By using screw clamps, I could adjust the angle of the stand until it was perfectly perpendicular. Set-up took a while, checking and re-checking the angles, but drilling the hole took a relatively short time and was nowhere near as nerve-wracking as the first one.

Fiona had been badgering me by text all day, so around six o’clock I decided to call it a day. I wasn’t particularly enjoying myself at the house today and the idea of a pint made the prospect of lingering even less attractive. This detail work takes a lot of time and it’s boring (no pun intended). If it takes a couple of hours per door just to install the furniture, it’s going to take a full 24 hours to complete all the doors. There are plenty more other jobs that require a similar level of attention. I drove home thinking we’re going to have to spend much longer at the house each day.

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house – day 130 – starting to wrap up

I’d had a call yesterday from Hinges and Brackets, to say the outstanding latches had finally arrived and were ready for collection. We also needed to pick up more paint and testers from Brewers, so we went to the house via Canterbury. We also picked up a wallpaper sample book. Chris needs to collect a set of keys from me, so I said I’d let him know when we got to the house.

It was close to lunchtime when we arrived and, as we pulled in, a Ford Transit flat bed pulled up in front of our house. Bugger, I thought he’s nicked my parking spot! He nicked more than that, he went over to our skip and helped himself to the MDF fire surround and then drove off. At least we got the parking spot back. The pieces of marble and gas fire had already gone. I hope no one attempts to use the gas fire, it can’t be safe. I’d even taken it a part to discourage people taking it. I wish people would ask first, though.

I got on with a few small chores and Fiona got started cleaning up bedroom four, so we can decorate it. (Paul’s already prepped it.) Chris arrived about half an hour after us. We had a long chat about what’s still to be done, there are a few things that can be done now – hang the shower room door, fit skirting boards – but most of it is best left until Mark has finished the plasterwork inside. We still need to tile the step into the bifold doors, but that’s should be done after the plastering is completed too, so there is still a bit of dirty stuff to complete. We’re definitely on the home straight now – at least as far as the major work is concerned. There are still lots of loose ends to tie up, but soon, we’ll just be left with decoration (apart from the fireplace in the study).

The electricians came around to have a look at the boiler. It looks like I asked for the wrong kind of programmer for the system that’s been installed. I was hoping to keep things tidy with a plug in unit on the front of the boiler, but we’ve got a conventionally organised heating system, so we need a conventional programmer. I’ve been assured we don’t need any extra wiring to do this, apart from a short stretch to place the programmer in the under-stairs space, which now seems the logical place to locate it.

Simon and Andy did what jobs they could for now and left. Chris had started building the boiler cabinet and that’s not going to be straightforward – it seems nothing ever is. I chatted with Chris for a while, talking about life the universe and everything before he left. I did a bit more work on door latches.

Hay fever still not good and we left early (compared to my usual leaving time). We’re not getting a lot done on each visit right now.

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house – day 129 – the kitchen comes to life

Fiona’s got a dental appointment today so I’m on my own again today. Before I set off , I ordered a couple of blinds for the bedrooms, we’ll need them very soon now.

The electricians were already at the house when I arrived. They haven’t been for a while and naturally had quite a lot of questions, what goes where, etc. I asked for an additional double socket in the space under the stairs and suggested we put a socket in place for the under cabinet lights in the kitchen, rather than hardwire them. We’re not ready to install the strip lights yet, until we’ve got the Benchmarx issue resolved.

Pretty soon we had lights upstairs (for the first time since early March) and operating appliances in the kitchen. We’re not quite ready to cook yet, but it feels like progress.

I got on with installing more latches in doors, but I didn’t have much time for this as I had a lot of questions to answer throughout the day.

The plumbers arrived in the afternoon, to finish off their installation work. As we’ve already got walls painted in a few key places, they’ve been able to re-install seven of the twelve central heating radiators. The remaining five are easy enough to put back up and we’ll replace them as we get rooms decorated. They can’t test the heating system yet, as it needs wiring up and the electricians have a question about the tank thermostat. The plumbers were the last to leave today. There’s only the central heating system to commission, once it’s been completely wired up so the next visit should be pretty short.

Before they left, I checked with the plumbers that the gas was off completely (it is). I thought it was about time I removed the old gas fire and fireplace. I’m pleased I removed it, it was a potentially lethal installation, with only the thin gas pipe holding the gas fire in position. No screws to the wall, nothing else supporting it and it’s not supposed to be a free-standing fire. I reckon it hadn’t been fixed in place because, whoever installed it did not have the wherewithal to screw it into the marble fireback. The fire surround turned out to be made of MDF and was just slotted into place behind the reconstituted marble back, which itself was only held to the wall by two screws. It took no effort to lever it from the wall, so even if the gas fire had been fixed to the fireback, it would not have been much more secure. No wonder gas explosions in people’s homes are not uncommon, if this was the standard of work once. The wall behind the fireplace wasn’t quite as bad as thought it might be, the original fireclay fireback is still in place. It will probably have to be removed too. Once I’d lifted the reconstitute marble hearth I discovered the original hearth, in cream ceramic tiles., Once I’ve got these up, I should be able to lay a new hearth on the concrete, using the tiles I salvaged from the pantry.

I left the fire and surround in the skip and the heavy pieces of marble leaning against the skip. I bet they don’t stay there for long. I didn’t stay late today, hay fever was really bad, the drive home was horrendous, I don’t think the Navara’s pollen filter is working – great.

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house – day 128 – bit-by-bit

We’re both at the house today. Fiona is going to paint the shower room and put a second coat on the walls upstairs where the radiator and bathroom cabinet will go up.

I finished repairing the bathroom door – it’s now primed and ready to hang.

I then cleaned the study ceiling completely and some of frieze, where the wall needs to be repaired (it got damaged when the RSJ went up in the kitchen on the other side of the wall). The ceiling and walls don’t look great right now, but I’m sure Mark can work his magic on them.

I got bad hay fever today, which slows me right down. Apart from the fact, I’m constantly blowing my nose and can’t see very well through swollen streaming eyes, I find that when antihistamines start to operate they have a depressive effect. They slow me down and make me (even more) morose. It was so bad I wanted to leave early (there’s no where for me to go to get any relief), but I had to wait for Fiona to finish what she was doing first. Another day where I feel we didn’t get much accomplished (A couple of walls painted, a door repaired and a ceiling ready for plastering) and the drive home was seriously uncomfortable.

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house – day 127 – an off day

Fiona’s not feeling well today. In fact, she was unwell overnight, so I’ve hardly had any sleep, I went to bed late and now I’m awake early. I’ll be going to the house alone today. She was well enough to make a remark that severely pissed me off, I stormed out of the house without breakfast and drove to the house in a very black mood.

There’s no time for emotions, My first job is to get the mirror in place in the shower room, so the electricians can wire it up next week. I’d rather do it myself. After the problems the plumbers had drilling the tiles last week, I thought it better I take my time and do it carefully. They probably won’t have diamond drill bits either. The mirror is a nicely made thing, from Roper Rhodes – it’s sensibly designed and easy to install. It’s amazing how tricky some fixtures are to install. I’m pretty sure many industrial designers have never actually used their products and I’ve installed some items that obviously have not been designed with maintenance in mind. Maybe it’s a ploy to get people to purchase new items. Nevertheless, despite the sensible assembly and installation, it took me over two hours to get the mirror’s back in place. I was worried about trapping the cable, so the mirror is stepped out from the wall with rubber feet and the wire exits the wall tiles through a piece of plastic conduit.

I went out to get a sandwich and a coffee (from my favourite stall in the harbour) and came back to give the bathroom walls a first complete coat of paint. The bathroom walls took almost four hours to paint, access to the corners is tricky (too many obstacles and inadequate ladders) and we need to get a decent straight edge to the walls, otherwise it will look cack. It was a very painstaking process to complete, but I think it looks OK.

Mark (the plasterer) came around in the afternoon to look at the remaining work we need. He needs to repair and replace the render around the new bifold doors and on the side wall now the new soil pipes are in place. Inside we need him to plaster the inside of the bifold door opening and, of course, the study ceiling. We’d like the internal stuff to be completed first, so we can get on with finishing the kitchen. It’s not a lot of work for him, unfortunately, he can’t start until the week after next.

Our neighbours were hosting a birthday party today and had invited us along, but, with Fiona at home unwell and me too occupied with the slow work of the day, I didn’t go. It’s not much fun being at a party on your own with a load of strangers, especially when you can’t rely on a drink to get you in a party mood.

A frustrating day today. As well as the blazing row this morning, the work went very slowly. Now back to the house to face Fiona…

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house – day 126 – running water

Fiona didn’t come with me to the house today and it’s just as well as I detoured via Sittingbourne to go to Axminster and buy a few things. It’s not Fiona’s favourite pastime. I picked up a diamond drill bit, a drill guide another set of augers and bi-focal safety glasses (my eyesight seems to be getting worse).

At the house, the plumbers were getting on with installing more showers, toilets and basins. The new diamond bit (and water feed) made light work of the porcelain tiles they’d been struggling with yesterday. Paul had brought in an extra person to help him finish the decorating, which means we should have two rooms ready today.

I kept out of the way and started soaking and scraping the study ceiling. Messy work, that leaves a you covered in musty-smelling, grey-green crap. We need to get the ceiling ready so Mark can skim it ASAP and if I don’t get this muck off the ceiling, the plaster will be on the floor a short time after Mark puts it up there.

Calvin popped in to check on progress and discuss a couple of small issues. Whilst we were all talking in the bathroom, the trapdoor fell open, missing my head by a centimetre or two. The look of alarm on the guys’ faces was surprising to me, as I was completely unaware of it dropping. I had wondered why the hatch was open when I went into the bathroom earlier, it looks the like the catch isn’t very secure. I thought they’d been in the loft, but it appears when I’d re-cut the trapdoor to fit better (only down the long edge), I’d somehow tightened the door against the hinge side and it now didn’t latch very securely. It should be an easy fix, to pad the latch out with a shim or two.

I went out for lunch and called in B&Q to get a different kind of loft latch and more filler.

Back at the house, I set to work on the latch and lock for the bathroom door. This door is much thinner than some of the others and there’s very little room either side of the drill bit (about 2.5mm) so it has to be an accurate straight cut, 5 1/2inches deep. It was a little nerve-wracking drilling the hole and it worked OK, but some of the resin filler popped out on one side. Once the latch hole was in complete, it was clear that the hole I’d left in the door for the handle was in the wrong place. Out with the resin again, there’ll be more sanding and priming tomorrow.

I left around 19:30. At last we have running (cold) water in the house and nice working toilets (too nice to use whilst the house is still a building site). The plumbers didn’t get everything done today, but one more day’s work should see it finished However, we now have two rooms completely decorated. All we need to do to make them habitable, is to install blinds, lay carpets and fit the doorknobs and latches. Maybe we will be living here very soon.

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house – day 125 – the plumbers return

We were talking about the house (as if there’s anything other subject we discuss nowadays) and Fiona was just asking me if I was going to ask Chris to get another skip – the current one is overflowing and it’s supposed to be the last one – when I got a text from him, about him returning stuff we haven’t used to Benchmarx. Great, we can get some money back, for a change. I asked him about getting another skip and it’s a good job I did, the current one is being collected today.

At the house, the plumbers were installing the gear that had been delivered recently (shower mixers, heads, mixers, vanity units) and Paul hot got started decorating the big back bedroom. Whilst we were talking about the work, he had to pop out to move his van as the skip lorry had turned up.

Around lunchtime Jacky came around with Pebble to have a look at the house. Jacky is doing a place up on the other side of town and she’s had even more to do than us, as her new house was pretty derelict. Fiona and Jacky popped out for a coffee, whilst I discussed various plumbing issues with Calvin’s guys. I joined Fiona and Jacky for a coffee and chat and heard a few of her house renovation disaster stories. Even experienced people (and she’s done up quite a few properties) get things wrong. Every old house is different and you’ve no idea what you’ll encounter until you start work on the place.

Socialising over, we went to Canterbury to see if the remaining latches had arrived (no they hadn’t). Also, I needed a long 25mm drill bit (I ended up with a 26mm auger) and vertical drill guide (no go, I’ll try Axminster tomorrow), we also picked up more Pearl Colour Mid (168) paint. We underestimated the amount of paint we need for the back room. Little Greene’s coverage guide is rather generous. I can’t imagine any surface you’ll get 14m2/litre coverage with matt emulsion, but that’s what they claim. The actuality seems to be about half that – and this is on top of at least two, sometimes three base coats of plain white emulsion. We also wanted to look at carpets, but the carpet place we’d been recommended was closed for the day. We’ve got a pretty good idea what we want for the upstairs floors (all the same colour), we just need to find the right stuff at the right price and get it installed.

When we got back, Chris (and/or his guys) had been around and poured the concrete to tidy up the base of the bifold doors (literally a step closer to finishing the kitchen, ha!).

Fiona cleared out more of the plants and overgrowth in the front garden and, for a while, chatted to a passer-by, who apparently had moved down from London a few years ago. Meanwhile, I painted various walls so the bathroom radiators can be replaced and took the loft hatch down to cut it un-square so that it fits the existing unsquare aperture better. A relatively easy job using the plunge saw, once it’s set up correctly. I primed the fresh edge and reinstalled it.

By the time we left, which was very late, a lot of stuff had been installed – more empty boxes to recycle – with quite a bit more to go in tomorrow. The walls were painted ready for these next items and I’d stripped the study ceiling completely (although I still have to soak and scrape the residue of paste, backing paper and distemper). We drove home in the rain, feeling pleased that at long last, the house is beginning to look like it might be a home one day.

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house – day 124 – decorating for real

We had a day off yesterday to go to a preview of the Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain. I was impressed. Prior to the show I wasn’t a huge fan of Lowry’s work, but this new exhibition made me view him from a new perspective and I appreciate his painting much more. There’s a bleakness to it, that I’d missed before.

Obviously, having had a day off and with both tilers and decorators at work in the house, whilst we were away, we were anxious to get back and check on progress.

The tiling is complete and it looks great. Paul (the tiler – not the decorater) has done a fantastic job. What would have taken me a couple of weeks, took him and his partner four days – and it’s to a standard I could never hope to achieve, no matter how carefully I did the work. This is another big job complete, it means the plumbers and electricians can get started soon.

It’s Paul (the decorator)’s second day in the house doing real (ie finishing) decorating at last. The small front bedroom is nearly finished and the wall colour we chose looks great.

The rest of the day we spent cleaning, priming, painting and prepping. We need to get paint on the walls where fixtures and fittings are going to be installed by the plumbers and electricians. The sooner we do this, the sooner we’ll have working taps, lights and appliances.

Whilst we were away, the door installers had replaced the incorrect gaskets on the bifold doors, which means we can now open them and let some air through the house.

Things are finally coming together, it looks like we could be in soon.

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