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?

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…

Moving on…

It’s a week of happenings.

The plaster arrived earlier than expected so Pete is back in. We still don’t have all that we need but it’s enough to get started again and at least upstairs will be completed in due course and some of downstairs will be started. I think we need another 25-30 bags to finish the job but at least we are moving again.

After ordering them several months ago, the external doors arrived and have been fitted by Matt from Door Central. There is a little more work just to finish off some of the brickwork which disintegrated when the old doors were removed but otherwise we are good and secure. They are pretty simple in terms of design and colour but they do look good and, importantly, they meet all the Document Q requirements for Building Regs. Now we all have to remember not to bash the door open with the wheelbarrow or other work-related equipment each time we enter the property.

Now the doors are fitted, it means that the external render can be finished. Pete will get onto it once the plastering is done…or when we run out of plaster again.

The internal doors have been chosen and will be delivered once the plastering is complete. It’s not a good idea to store them on site whilst the plastering is underway because of the moisture in the air. They could warp. Who knew!

I spent a day trying to work out how much architrave and skirting is needed. Then looked online and fainted at the price. Then I looked up how to work it out and found I had mis-calculated by hundreds and hundreds of metres. Still learning.

Oh…and I have an operational en-suite bathroom.

Flushing toilet. Yay.

Sink with hot/cold water. Yay.

And…drum roll please ….a fully functioning shower. Hippeddy doo dah yay!

No lights, no fan, no mirror. Nowhere to hang a towel or a toilet roll. But I don’t care. I step out of the shower onto a tiled but dusty floor which just cannot be kept clean. But I don’t care.

The water is being run off the cistern rather than the boiler so the electric bill may be a bit high. But I don’t care. I am sure that had Courtney been here on Tuesday morning when it was working, he would have received a standing ovation from the other onsite trades who have had to put up with my sweetness during their working on site.

As there are no internal doors using the en-suite has to be at specific times of the morning and night for me. I don’t want a tools down moment because the guys glanced into the room as they passed by. No-one should have to see that! When the guys need the facilities they just whistle to warn me!

It’s another week of tiling for Nathan. For me, it’s a little bit of priming and painting including sealing knotted wood.

The slithering creature has returned (see last blog!)

My new inflatable mattress has already got a puncture. It’s pretty difficult on a site like this to have a clean floor – or clean anything for that matter. There are sharp bits and pieces everywhere as I have found to my discomfort. Fortunately, the puncture must be tiny as the mattress does not completely deflate overnight so my sleep is still better than before.

It just hisses gently in the silence of a dark night.

Still sounds like a Disney snake…a bit like the snake in Jungle Book. Hissssssss!

Oh no. Now I have an ear-worm. I have Baloo and Mowgli singing Bare Necessity going round in my head.

I bet you do too now!

The never-ending story…

When you start on a project like this it’s nigh on impossible to set an accurate timetable. Ripping a building apart opens up all sorts of surprises (understatement!), and these inevitably affect the timetable and the budget.

When I met with a number of builders prior to starting work with Neil, they all said it might be done in 6 months but best allow for a little longer to allow for anomalies. In my head I thought (hoped) it would all be done by May – allowing 8 months in total.

Unsurprisingly, the lockdown hasn’t helped. It’s not just the 7 weeks in which the property was closed. Many manufacturers closed their factories so it’s now difficult to obtain materials, particularly plaster. The knock-on effect in terms of timing and money is unhelpful. Another understatement.

I will be pleasantly surprised if I can get all the finishing touches completed by 1st September 2020. We started the work on 2nd September 2019. 8 months to 12 months. More than 30% more time needed.

Imagine, if you will, what that has done to the budget never mind my sense of humour!!

But continue we must. Plasterboard on the walls and insulation in the loft, the walls and the floors. We are not far off finishing upstairs. It takes so much longer when there are sloping ceilings, and much of upstairs is just that, but it’s almost done.

First fix plumbing is more or less complete. Just the shower trays to be positioned. First fix electrical will be completed once the plasterboard has been installed.

Carpentry continues. All the door linings are now positioned. Window boards are all but fixed. There is the formation of an under-stairs cupboard, and the start of an airing cupboard.

My tasks this week include once again covering myself head to toe in protection and masking up before rolling out more insulation throughout the loft space, whilst simultaneously batting away spiders and trying not to knock myself out. It is physically arduous!

A-rolling I do go.

I have a large shovel, an 8 yd skip and an enormous pile of rubble in the carpark. I have developed a rhythmic technique for filling the skip but can only put so much effort into it at one time. It is physically taxing!

A-labouring I do go.

Me, my skip and my shovel. What has my life become?

And of course, I am still the broom witch and cutting plasterboard and carpentry is dusty and dirty work. It is…what it is.!

A-sweeping I do go.

My evenings are still centred around paperwork and researching materials and suppliers. I also spend time listening to podcasts (this week Louis Theroux – Grounded) and reading (this week Norman Mailer – An American Dream) interspersed with phone calls. Thank you callers!

And every evening I have to make a bed up out of seat cushions. Caravan living may sound ‘romantic’ to some but if I can give one tip, make sure you have a separate sleeping compartment. Assembling a bed every night gets a little tedious.

It’s the end of a tough week but the sun is shining and everyone I know and love is safe. Today I will be heading back to my home and friends in Bristol.

A-drinking and eating I do go. Yay!

One step at a time…

Actually, more than one step. We have the outline of a staircase. The original staircase was removed on 4 October last year. Since then we have been hauling materials and ourselves up and down a very long ladder, many times a day. At times it has been precarious.

The joy of having a useable staircase is immense. There is much to finish with it but not until after the plastering is complete as the handrail, newels, etc are all solid oak and we need to protect them from the inevitable mess to come. Jonathan, the carpenter, has also been fitting door linings and window boards.

Courtney, the plumber, has all but finished first fix. A day or two next week and then that will be it until the plastering is finished. A grand old job he has done too.

We have no idea when the plastering is due to take place. There is a shortage of materials, as a result of factory lockdowns – unless one fancies a little bidding war on Ebay. I have no intention of paying £30/bag when it is normally less than £6. Some people – pah!

The delivery of plasterboard was timely and Neil and Andy are getting on with it. The rooms are looking like rooms. Once the boards are in place, it means the final layer of insulation can be installed. This is a less complex job which means it’s perfect for me. Much of the insulation is positioned between the walls and floor/ceiling joists.

But….there is of course the loft insulation and by golly, that is a dreadful job. Covered from head to toe, wearing a mask etc I hauled myself up a ladder along with roll after roll of 150mm insulation. First layer rolled one direction between the joists. Second layer across the joists. 300mm of warmth. Building regs satisfied.

Easy job. Except of course this property is ancient so the roof space is a mini assault course. My ducking and diving technique has improved. Professional boxers would be impressed, although I did manage to get a few sharp cracks on the head – one of which could / should have been a technical knock out!

Easy job. Except for the requirement to balance precariously on the ceiling joists whilst squatting underneath the beams in order to roll out the insulation. Another option is to kneel along the joists and shuffle along. Painful and bruised knees follow. A missed footing and the newly installed plasterboard would be ruined. A quick stretch to release the muscle tension generally means a thump on the head, back etc. Refer to previous paragraph.

Easy job. Unless you are terrified of spiders, webs and other scuttling insects who were suddenly unnerved by my presence. There is an itchy-ness working with insulation but that does not compare to face planting a lived-in spiders web in the near-dark, overheated conditions of a loft.

Easy job. Except we are having a mini heatwave. I went in pale and resurfaced pillar box red, soaked through and absolutely filthy. Even my socks had to be rung out.

There are spiders making their nests as I take this photo!

When I returned to Mr. Clooney and stripped naked (I’ve always wanted to say that!), a couple of errant spiders ran out of my hair! (I’ve never wanted to say that!).

The good news is that I have insulated half the loft.

Half.

Guess what I am going to be doing next week.

Mercy, mercy me…