A year like no other…

It’s the end of another year. A year without any major building work.

My builder girl year has revolved around managing the many frustrations of being a small cog in the big property development world. Actually, not even a cog. More like the pin head screw that sits inside the cog given the amount of power I have in the decision making that happens around my projects.

But it has given me more time to spend with my family; to see more of my brother and sister, nieces and nephews and my mother. And for that I am grateful.

We lost our mother a month ago. She died. Suddenly. Without warning.

I know that if my projects had been running I would not have seen as much of her this year so I am grateful for the extra free time these delays allowed me.

Mum was a big believer in my ability to turn my hand to this property lark. Together, we managed the build of her basement granny flat in my Victorian house in Bristol back in 2000. I was still working full time so she did the day to day project management whilst I caught up on the development work at night. My lack of knowledge was frightening and was the cause of all sorts of weird dreams including one where my house slid down the road on a tidal wave of mud!

Mum pulled me together and was the reason the end result was a quality one bed granny flat which she enjoyed living in for 5 years.

She constantly told me not only that I “could do it” but I “should do it”. The conversion from the pub to a great family house is as much to do with her effort as it was me, Neil and Andy.

I started this blog because Mum asked me to. I wrote for her, not for me. I still have a couple of projects in the pipeline so I plan to continue as builder girl. But I don’t want to continue telling this story to strangers. I want to engage with my family and friends, with the people who know and care about me and if they want to follow my personal builder girl story I can tell them face to face, or by email or by letter or by telephone.

This isn’t a sad exit. I am not sad (about this anyway). Weirdly I started the draft of this final epistle some months ago. I simply don’t want to continue with it and rather leave it hanging in the ether, I thought I would send a final missive and then switch it off.

Thanks for your support. Writing this weekly blog when I was up to my armpits in concrete blocks and timber and living in Mr. Clooney was a bit of a mental lifesaver. But now I must move on to creating a better offline life with the people who matter to me.

Not hanging up the tools.

Just the pencil!

Keeping busy…

It can be frustrating with all the waiting.

The new house in Somerset is still on hold. It looks like nothing will happen until at least Spring 2022 and no guarantees that the phosphate issues will be resolved by then.

No idea what the authorities are doing about it…except it was extremely surprising to hear that our local MP, along with hundreds of others throughout the country, just voted to allow water companies to continue to dump sewage into our rivers and seas. I wonder how much phosphate that amounts to?

Words fail me.

No they don’t. But if I used them here my Mum would tell me off.

Some Somerset builders are getting planning permission. If you are loaded you can literally buy your permission. They call it mitigation. Buy some land, plant some trees and permission is yours. A builder I know did just this. Cost him £1million.

I broke open my piggy bank but alas I will have to wait along with other mortals whilst the various authorities finish their naval gazing and develop some sort of solution to warrant them being called ‘experts’.

Thankfully the Devon property is moving forward albeit slowly. We have delivered our pre-application and have a scoping meeting in the diary. It’s a fairly traditional build so it shouldn’t upset the planners but then again….

So the waiting game continues.

Fortunately for me, my family do their best to ensure that I am not just sitting around. My sister kindly allowed me to renovate the ladies toilets in her pub. Having been (Covid) closed for much of the previous 18 months, there was no way her budget would cover a professional to undertake the work.

And family is family. (There are times I wish I was an orphan).

We agreed on part demolition, part cover up. I completed the demolition without chopping off any of my limbs or beheading any of the customers despite the constant use of an angle grinder and SDS drill. During the demolition, doubts started to creep in as to the size of the job. I do have most of the skills to do the work but not all…the plumbing in particular was a worry….and despite previous work experience I was not hugely confident in my skills. (You may understand imposter syndrome!).

So friends to the rescue. I asked John / Jenny D. to pop down and help and they obliged without question. Their 3 day trip turned into 5 days as we encountered more work than was imagined and the plumbing of the new toilets and sink took more time and effort than any of us anticipated.

By the end of week, most of the studwork was up. The walls were battened, pipes boxed in, the plasterboard was fitted and the toilets and sink were plumbed in. We purchased a cupboard from FaceBook marketplace and a tap from eBay and Jenny D sanded and painted the cabinet (and some of the tables in the pub) to give it a fresh new look. John and Jenny departed with toilets flushing and taps working, and we all remain hugely grateful to them for their help.

The following week involved finishing the batten and plasterboard and moving onto the plastering and tiling.

Mixing tiling adhesive, grout and plaster is sometimes compared with baking. However, cake batter does not go off if you leave it for 20-30 minutes. You don’t need to clean out the mixing bowl immediately to stop the remaining mixtures from hardening. I had to do the mixing where the water supply was (down two flights of stairs) and carry the heavy buckets of mix up stairs to only have to return downstairs for cleaning out the buckets prior to returning upstairs and using the mix before it went off.

I huffed and puffed.

And swore and grunted.

And thought about running away.

But I did it. Tiling first, but only because I was dreading the plastering. The windows were difficult. The first wall of tiles looks a tad dodgy (to me) because I didn’t clear the wet grout lines quick enough so they look a little rough to this trained eye. But it’s a pub. Hopefully most of those customers that use the loos will have focus issues so won’t notice !! The tiles could be straighter. They could lie flatter to the wall. They could be more aligned. But they couldn’t be installed cheaper!!

Plastering was a joy.

No, it wasn’t.

I completely forgot what to do and had a mild panic attack when mixing the muck. My first bucket resulted in diarrhoea! The mix, not me!!

I slapped it onto my trowel and it slid down my arm, my body, my leg and onto the floor with a lovely plop!!! The last time I experienced anything like it was on a trip to Cambodia…but that is another story.

A quick YouTube visit to remind me what to do and the second bucket calmed my nerves, and my tummy!

Then I forgot how to plaster into the corners, and finish the edges.

But I did it. I got over my doubting self. And finished the job.

And every time I finished the work-day my sister loaded me with G&T’s and praise.

What more could That There Builder Girl hope for?

On your marks, get set….

Do not go !

Not in Somerset anyway.

Still nothing happening with South Somerset District Council and their planning department. Seems that they are bereft of ideas on how to tackle the phosphate issues on the Somerset Moors. Next week they are 12 months over their approval date on a planning application that already had outline planning and that we know was approved.

Frustrating to say the least. What’s a builder girl to do?

The first thing is to stop pulling my hair out! A bald builder girl will only frighten future trades….and husbands!

I have had to look elsewhere for my renovating and building entertainment and am delighted to announce that Devon is my interim stop before returning to the new build in Somerset.

I have appointed an architect and will be building a new house on a plot of land in Salcombe and then renovating an existing property, also in Salcombe, which requires a touch of loving and tender care. The process should keep me occupied for 12 months by which time Somerset DC should have moved forward with the phosphate issues.

This means packing my bag of tools and work clothes and making another temporary move. Mr. Clooney will be staying in Somerset for the time being as he will still be needed here (and it’s doubtful if his transportation on the M5 would result in success).

My future accommodation will be more comfortable than my adored caravan and will include running water, electricity and other such mod cons. I am unsure as to when the move will take place but watch this space.

It’s likely to be weekday only too. Weekends will be back in Somerset, or Bristol. Salcombe is a beautiful part of the world (I grew up there pre-teenage years) and am looking forward to getting started.

Whilst this project has been in development I decided to further enrich my builder girl knowledge and signed up to a 4-week certified building course.

Three hours into Week One I was regretting it. We started with bricklaying – the sort of skill every girl about town should have in her portfolio. The learning was great but it was so physically demanding and the temperature for the whole week never dropped below 26degs. I became covered in cement dust and perspired so much I could wring my knickers out every couple of hours!!

I didn’t though.

I am one of 8 on the course. The other 7 are military men – the oldest of whom is 15 years younger than me! Clearly, there are certain delights working hand in hand with 7 men from the military – my love of uniform is not unknown – but the work itself has even exhausted some of them. They thought I might be in the military too – a Colonel or Wing Commander was the suggestion.

Hence the reason I did not wring my knickers out every couple of hours. We have standards.

My made up rank would put me in charge of them all. This builder girl had some funny dreams that first night!!

But I digress. I am now proficient at bricklaying.

Week Two was equally sweaty but different skills. In just a week I had to build a one window, one door room from 2×4 timber and plasterboard. If you ever try to fit plasterboard to a ceiling you will learn how difficult it is. Try doing it when you are 5ft 4in (1.6m). I had to ask for a bigger ladder and hold the plasterboard up with my head and still get the military to help me!

Then we learnt how to plaster. My first effort was a D- but by the end of the week I got an A. Plastering a ceiling should be left to the professionals, and I have no intention of plastering a whole house but I do feel capable of plastering a small room that no-one will want to go in.

As I write this draft I am learning more. It is electrics and plumbing week. A little bit of multimeter reading and lots of wiring followed by soldering (rather than soldiering which is another story), compression joints and fitting taps, sinks, etc.

There is plenty more to learn, then there is an exam. It might be the first one I ever pass but only if the military men follow my orders !!

And I should be able to get a job as a building site labourer!!

You Go girl…

The long silence…

Who knew it would take this long before I could emote again?

It is three months since my last blog. Sounds a bit like a confessional except I can absolutely categorically state that I have not sinned!!

I could say that life has been full of exciting and thrilling incidents but we all know that lockdown does not generally deliver excitement nor thrills.

I have (mostly) been locked in working my way through a long snagging list with an occasional and necessary visit from Neil.

The latest news is simple. The house is complete.

It stands on it’s own without Builder Girl holding it up. Nothing is tilting; no unnecessary wind tunnels nor indoor waterfalls. No slippages. Holes only where they are supposed to be. Floors are level. Doors close. Windows are sealed.

It is secure. It is warm (remarkably so); quiet, spacious yet cosy, fully functioning and legal.

Was it worth the enormous effort and expense?

Well….yes I think so. It is really rather lovely. What was once a dark, poorly laid-out, structurally unsound old pub is now a large modern family home.

Phew!

I cannot state loud enough how much easier this job was because I had the opportunity of working with Neil and Andy. Patient brilliance!

I have always had project management skills because of my recent past career. What I didn’t know was how to strip a building and then how to reinstate it. Not that I could do it again without help but my knowledge bank has increased dramatically.

My personal toolbox used to consist of a couple of screwdrivers and a hammer. I now have a cupboard full of tools and I know how to use them without causing damage to myself or others. I even bought a new SDS drill last week….surely a sign that Builder Girl has evolved!!

I could go on about what I have learnt but that would be a bit boring.

There were some key decisions that affected the project. We changed the downstairs layout from the architects drawings once we knocked down walls and could see the space. A great decision. The “flow” of the house is just right.

I changed my mind about underfloor heating for downstairs many times. Never again. Not only does it free walls from radiators but it is warm where and when you want it (I have 6 zones) and without any effort. It is an absolute delight and I would highly recommend it. Mec-Serv were my supplier and although their website shows mostly massive projects they handle individual home requirements brilliantly. Let me know if you want an introduction.

There are a few things I would do differently if this was going to be my forever home – personal tweaks – and if the budget had been bigger. But I have no complaints – and frankly nor do those who have been inside.

The outside space still needs a bit of love so I have started regular visits to the garden centres surrounding the village. There are many, and they vary in offerings and price. Whoever ends up living here – in a few years – may wish to dig up and lay soil down but I am concentrating on container gardening using an App to help me with the planting!

Builder Girl is definitely not Gardener Girl in disguise.

Next is the new house build on the carpark and I already have tenants lined up. But there is a delay and not of my doing. We await South Somerset Council’s actions regarding a build up of phosphate on the Somerset Moors. I await a response from them explaining to me why my new house is supposedly affecting the phosphate levels. They don’t seem to have an answer.

For now though I quietly await the lifting of restrictions. I, like everyone, miss my friends and family and I want to give my old mum over in Wales a big hug.

I also want to get back on the golf course…

And to start my upholstery course…

And to up the tennis game…

And to go on a date in a restaurant…

And…

Life!!

Alarmed…

Hmmm…the week started very well indeed. I packed the car on Monday morning to depart at 6am and sometime between unlocking the car and getting ready to leave I lost the car keys. Never mind I thought…get on the road. I have a ‘never-previously-used’ spare set and will resolve the lost key issue when I return to Bristol.

The car started without a problem, but the battery in the key fob was clearly dead. Not a problem I thought. Aha…little did I know!

Did you know that if you unlock a car just using a key and not the fob it doesn’t disable the alarm, even if it starts the car? No? Nor me.

Did you know that a car alarm goes on and on and on…and on and on and includes constant flashing indicators and when you think it has died and it all goes quiet and you breathe a sigh of relief, it starts up again? And goes on and on and…..

Did you know that lorry drivers flash their lights and gesticulate in dozens of different ways to let you know they think you are an idiot for driving with flashing indicators? (Presumably they couldn’t hear the alarm). I reverted to just one return gesticulation after the 30th kind reference.

A thumbs up! Yes.

The alarm was so loud I had to drive with the windows open to save my hearing. 70 miles and it was f….ff….fff…..freezing.

To say my journey here was disruptive is an understatement. I drove to the nearest dealership shortly after I arrived and they sorted it for me, but I arrived with a stonking headache and shattered nerves.

But back to work. I have had the drill out again this time to reposition some of the shelves in the kitchen and utility cupboards. My measuring skills are getting better and I am confident that the shelves will stay where they have been positioned.

The original stone wall in the living room has been treated with a little PVA – it helps with the dust and gives it a nice sheen – and I have had the caulking gun out again along with the eggshell paint for touching up skirting, architrave and around the windows.

The filthy dirty windows and frames have been lovingly scrubbed – jeez they were dirty. They were cleaned, then cleaned again and, yes, cleaned again. I suspect it will take one more clean to make them look normal.

I have been traipsing around the property with various tools and liquids to assist me with removing paint, plaster and spider poo and the whole house has had a jolly good scrubbing. Top to tail, so to speak, and it does look bright and shiny unlike its owner who has definitely seen better days!

Now I just have the 5 pages of my “To Do” list to get through – and have barely started on it.

However, I came up with a solution to get through it quickly.

Tear it up and put it in the bin and enjoy a glass of wine!

That There Builder Girl is a genius!

Outside in…

Things are now moving at pace. We are still snagging but I suspect that will be going on for a few months yet as we work our way around the property. The big clean up is underway – ish – and the odd dab of paint is still being applied. Now the house is warmed up we have to assess all the wood again to see where it may have moved and deal with it accordingly.

My to-do list is 5 pages of A4! It just never stops…and I have been at it for nearly 15 months with just 6 weeks down time due to Covid.

Neil and Andy returned to work on the garden. Is there no end to their talents!

It is a small courtyard garden and there is a limit to what we can do but I think the job so far is terrific. Looks clean and tidy. I can imagine a long cool drink being consumed soaking up the afternoon sun! Still needs finishing… still some painting to be done by me and the addition of plant pots, some fancy lighting, a few ornaments and furniture and all should be good.

With Christmas looming I hope to take some time out from renovations and get to thinking about pressies for the family and my besties, otherwise they will get …well, nothing! Not even a Xmas card this year as I have instead donated to Changes Bristol – a mental health charity, for which I used to be a Trustee. I miss working with them.

The previous tenants paid a visit this week. Also known as my sister and mother, who lived here for 10 years when it was a pub. First time they have seen it finished – ish. Neil and I stood to attention in the hallway whilst my mother looked around and – phew – we passed inspection.

Thanks be….

Still at it…

It’s been a week of go, stop, go, stop. Energy levels are low. Back hurts and my to-do list is ridiculously long.

I am a bit overwhelmed by how much cleaning there is to do. All the window frames are caked in….well, to be honest I am not sure what it is. The original frames seem to be encased with a mix of old plaster, glue, paint and…I don’t know what. Possibly spider poo?

The new windows have a lick of paint here and there on the frames from my inaccurate painting efforts. The glass too. Some of the many wooden beams have splashes of paint and new plaster! The newly installed LVT floors have spots of glue, paint, grit and dirt as do the tiled floors.

The bathrooms all need their first full clean following installation weeks ago.

Everywhere has a fine film of dust from the past few months effort with various saws, sanders and other destructive tools.

The fact that I have started the cleaning-up process means this project is almost done – inside at least. The snagging list needs attention – mainly painting and caulking again! Then undoubtedly I shall have to clean again.

Outside is another tale.

There is still painting to be done, but I have turned soft as a result of the house having heating. Every time I go outside with the intent of starting the job, I rush back in muttering to myself “not warm enough, not warm enough”. What happened to that girl that spent last December living in a caravan and working in a house full of holes and without a roof?

Neil and Andy are back for a few days whilst we aim to turn the courtyard garden into something worth looking at. I purchased sleepers, and paving quite some time ago. The recent acquisition of another bag of sharp sand and numerous bags of decorative aggregate and a little ‘turf’ means we should be able to get a fair bit done this week. It is a relatively small area considering the size of the house, but I am sure we can make it look lovely. It will be a pot garden and entertainment space rather than lawns and flowering borders!

The good news is….drum roll please….we have planning permission for the parking bays. No news at all on the new house planning application, but we are happy to at least get the parking finalised for the King William.

So we will may start work on that in January. Yay! I love working a building site in the winter!!

At least things are moving again. Almost 6 months from when the application was submitted ! Hmm.

It’s been a week of shopping too. A new fridge freezer and washing machine arrived.

I forgot my sleepwear so had to purchase a set of pyjamas. An absolute necessity as the house has no window coverings and it’s imperative that the neighbours aren’t further upset by my naked night time disco dancing!

Somehow I managed to puncture my inflatable mattress so a visit to The Range to purchase another one. Thank goodness they are only £9.99!! Honestly, the box states that it takes up to 300kg in weight. I know I am a little heavier than I should be but I think I would have noticed if I had reached 300kg. I can absolutely reassure you that I have not been using it as a trampoline, spring board or dance floor!

It does come with a puncture kit of sorts, but I have been wholly unsuccessful at finding the holes in this one or the previous two, for that matter! A job for my nieces and nephews when they come to visit or they too will be sleeping on the floor!

Am going to sneak home early today (Friday) and leave Neil and Andy in charge. I shall re-boot my enthusiasm in readiness for next week when I will be doing…

…the same again!

A house that is not a house…

The race to the finish has slowed. If there was a word that should be used just before everything stops I would use that.

Perhaps slopped. Maybe not.

I should state that it is not my doing. As you may know I am waiting on the Planning Dept at South Somerset District Council to approve moving some parking spaces on my land – or not. Parking spaces that have been approved by everyone else including Highways. But alas, Planning appear to have sunk into their own deep hole of remarkable ineptitude. Phone calls, emails and bumping up the complaints to a local Councillor has done nothing to persuade them to do their job. I should say that we have had some responses over the last 5 months. One of them even says that it was just a matter of signing things off but that was over a month ago and to be fair it wasn’t the first time they said it.

They are also now stating that a letter received from Natural England means they can no longer approve any developments whilst an assessment on the phosphate levels on the Moors is carried out. ie., there should be no increased herd as it increases waste water, etc. I get it. We need to look after our environment.

Weirdly the letter was received on the day my planning decision was due. Have you ever known a Council to action a letter so quickly? Me neither! So I am assuming they are just using it as an excuse to explain why my legal deadline was passed without any actionable response.

What do you mean – Me… Cynical? No!

Of course it doesn’t explain why they don’t reply to emails, telephone calls, etc.

I am waiting on parking spaces. Not a hotel, nor a house, a bungalow, a block of flats. This house is all but finished and funny enough was a 4 bed property and IS STILL a 4 bed property. And if anything, it will now dispense less water into the sewers (and thus onto the Moors) as it is no longer a pub. A reduction in the herd – so to speak!

In the meantime, I have given up on chasing approval on the new house build – the approval deadline of which was also 18 August. The stress isn’t worth it. The new house is (fortunately for me) less affected by time anyway as I will either sell the land or won’t start the build until the Spring thus avoiding the ridiculous conditions we encountered last Winter.

So emails, telephone calls, councillor activity and more and nothing. I have therefore submitted a formal complaint to the Planning Inspectorate. Great…that should at least get things moving.

But alas No…….The email response received after submission this week states the complaint will be looked at in 60 working days. What the… Three months! And that is when they start the process.

In the meantime, the house will not be signed off by Building Regulations. Which means I cannot call it a house so cannot (a) insure it as a residence (b) live in it (c) extract money via a mortgage (d) rent it out (e) sell it.

The Council have been making me pay residential council tax though.

Ha ha ha ! So funny that they think it’s a house!

I just cannot stop laughing.

Happy at work…

In August 2019 I nipped to the shops and purchased some ‘work’ clothes for this project. Five t-shirts (short sleeved), 5 t-shirts (long sleeved), 2 hoodies, 2 pr jeans and a pair of steel capped work boots. Very inexpensive, (eventually) throw-away clobber, and not at all (a) fashionable, (b) colour co-ordinated or (c) flattering. Very much like my normal wardrobe…some would say!!

I knew I would be wearing these items week in, week out for 6 to 9 months (26 to 39 weeks) in some unsavoury conditions and I did not want to worry about rips, spillages and stains. They had to be easy to wear and easier still to wash on a weekly basis without falling apart.

In what is week 64 of this project I wanted to throw the clothes off and set fire to them! But alas I was in the OneStop Shop buying a pint of milk and my nudity would have caused a tremulous moment with the youth who was serving me so I remained attired!

I am not a clothes horse by any imagination but neither am I a degenerate, rum-soaked, addled. bag lady. But I look like one and this week, I feel like one – and without the benefit of alcohol. No offence to any bag ladies out there. Or bag men for that matter!

That is testament to my state of mind. I am so pleased to be at the stage we have reached but utterly fed up with the fact that we are neither finished, nor able to finish whilst I await for South Somerset planning department to pull its finger out of …..well, you know the saying.

But I still have work to do…so have to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with it.

I have been caulking again – window boards mainly, along with the occasional architrave. Painting again – architrave and skirting, but I have also finished the final coat for the Snug and the main hallway. Hurrah!

The painting (inside) will definitely be finished next week – even the snagging painting. We started painting 19 weeks ago. Honestly! My brother was here for the first couple of weeks but since then the painting has been just me – in between the tiling and other jobs. It’s a big frigging property to paint – and it takes time to do it properly.

19 weeks! If any visitor says I missed a bit, they will be wearing the paint!

So, mostly odd jobs now. Fitting some skirting in the main bathroom; some corner trim in the cloakroom, pva on the brick wall in the lounge, then oiling the staircase, etc.

Then I will have a massive clean up job.

If that takes me 19 weeks I am going to give myself the sack!

Psssst….a sound much loved.

I am writing this sitting upstairs in one of the bedrooms as the electrician and plumber forge ahead to get the second fix complete.

I can already hear the slow hiss of radiators being bled… if it’s not them, then Courtney the plumber has some serious wind issues.

Then the underfloor heating system downstairs will be filled and balanced in readiness for a fully operational whizz bang wallop of an oil boiler.

By the way, I do know if the boiler does whizz bang wallop then we will be in the deepest of trouble.

Steve the electrician is working on outdoor lights, bathroom sockets, thermostats, dishwasher, wine fridge (yes!), cooker hood and wiring up the underfloor heating system and boiler.

Apparently electricians don’t find it at all funny if you sneak up behind him and make a loud bang.

Just saying…but still giggling!

My jobs have stopped for a while as I seem to constantly be in the way. Also, there is still dust and detritus flying around and any wet paint would simply suck it up, requiring me to start that patch of painting all over again.

So I thought I would give myself a manicure and facial and take a well earned rest lounging in my bedroom listening to the mellow sounds of my playlist whilst I am being served cups of coffee and sweet treats by…..

Sorry…drifted off then.

So I am in my bedroom, on the computer trying to make columns and columns and columns of numbers add up to what I want – and not what they actually add up to. I am also piling through the bank statements and invoices for the owner-managed flats in which I normally live in Bristol as it is time to submit our annual return. A job I do because I have loads of spare time!!

My hope is at the end of this day, I will have full blown proper job heating upstairs, downstairs; in the bedrooms, bathrooms, lounge, kitchen and so on. Warm, cuddly heat, run off an abundance of thermostats giving control room by room. Heat which has been much missed this last month in particular.

Tonight, after a hot soak in a candlit, music soaked bathroom I shall wander barefoot, wine in hand and….

Sorry, drifted again…

When tomorrow arrives, I will be back on the sanding and painting tools and Neil will return on Friday with his toolbox of tricks and we will continue with the long snagging list.

But until then, my warmed up heart will be happy.

Sweet dreams…