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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