A funny story…

It’s been family week in downtown Somerset. Firstly my brother, Stuart, arrived to help me with painting the newly plastered walls and ceilings, whilst we await the second plaster delivery. Not the whole house – a bedroom, 2 en-suites, a bathroom, a boiler room and the enormously high hallway. We will just about get it done but not without considerable time and effort.

For his gratis service, I booked luxury accommodation which arrived Monday morning. It’s like a ‘nicer’ version of Mr. Clooney. How can that be, I hear you ask. Indeed, good question. From the outside his caravan looks similar to mine….but it has a shower cubicle. Little Miss Envy had to be curtailed from not claiming the new accommodation..but I couldn’t leave Mr. Clooney after all this time.

However, I can hear Stuart whistling happy tunes when he showers. He’s lucky I haven’t released the caravan handbrake – with him in it.

Once set up, and after the delivery fellas left, we both stepped inside his temporary abode and our collective lockdown weight broke the rear stabiliser. Just snapped off. Ha…I thought. Mr. Clooney would never be so insensitive to a little bit of chubbiness!

Anyway, my brother now recognises that the daily grind of That There Builder Girl is not quite as exciting as it should be. The painting has gone well but the effort has been intense. Long hours, a couple of tea breaks and a lunch break but other than that a proper work effort. He is not laughing much. He is not sleeping well in his luxury accommodation either. Aw!

Then I received a visit from my sister and mother. Released from Wales, they turned up laden with food and gifts. It’s my birthday this week so a pleasant birthday treat.

I asked my mother if she read these blogs. Not really she said. They are just not funny.

That’s the thing about Mothers. Straight to the heart of the matter. All this time, I have been telling a story about my builder girl journey and have failed to denote how hysterically funny the whole journey has been. My bad!

Mind you it was ‘funny’ today. Andy turned up with a huge tractor towing a massive grain trailer. The wood I seem to have collected as a jolly memento of this journey has taken over the carpark and we have been thinking what to do with it. With Andy’s help it has now been donated to a local village bonfire (yes, for November). I asked Stuart to help Andy and myself load the trailer. That was funny as it took 3 of us 2 hours to fill the trailer and there is still more left in the carpark. Stuart stood on a few nails, punctured his thigh, pierced his hands with splinters and mentioned something about just coming to help with the painting – several times.

We broke him.

He didn’t go back to painting afterwards. He just let out a sigh and lay down.

I locked the gates to the carpark and hid the keys. I was sure he was considered doing a midnight flit back to Basildon and there was still painting to finish.

He was still here this morning. And I did and do thank him for his help.

In the meantime, I am going online to learn how to tell a funny story…

Quick, quick, slow….

Stop.

That’s what it feels like. One moment nothing seems to be moving on. Then there are significant changes. Then we stop.

We had to order a further 22 sheets of plasterboard this week as the previously delivered 190 sheets were all used up. This seems an extraordinary amount of plasterboard needed for one property. They are now all but fitted…with just a couple of sheets set aside for finishing the boiler room and the cloakroom.

Neil and Andy have also been finishing off a few awkward areas. A dollop of cement here and there. A touch of timber for reinforcement. A jiggery pokery with a drainpipe or two. I think you can tell my builders terminology has improved over the last 9 months.

I had my last exciting foray into the loft. Neil kindly lent me his paper suit to protect me from the worst of it up there. I managed to rip the backside out on a nail – which went deep enough to also rip my shorts and puncture my ass! I also split the leg seam open as I straddled a joist and caught another nail. Neil just laughed when I apologised about the state of his paper suit. Bless! When I emerged having completed the job, I was again soaked through to my undies and filthy. I am so, so, so very happy that there is no more loft insulation needed. It is truly a horrid job.

I purchased some Danish Oil to bring some life back into the numerous beams dotted around the house. Initially 2 litres, then another 2 litres. 8 litres later and I still have one beam to oil. It’s probably taken about 3-4 (wo)man days to do all the beams but they do look better for it. Each evening I retire to Mr. Clooney and count the rings of oil splattered across my arms and legs – and sometimes my face. I am not sure that Danish Oil is considered a beauty treatment elsewhere but it’s been a daily dose during the last week. I now have a silky glow and I am creaking less than I was!

It’s good news the plasterboard is finished because it means the plastering can start….but of course it can’t because there is still a shortage. My order is on its way and all things being well it should be with us on 29th June. Pete and Morgan are booked in to get started and should be with us for a few weeks. In the meantime, Neil and Andy depart for a while and get to work with other people. I’ve asked them not to enjoy that experience.

For me, this delay means time to obtain further quotes for tiling, painting and decorating, floor coverings, doors and more. I thought I had a tiler lined up but it seems inflation has hit hard in South Somerset as he wants a further £500+ to do the job. Sure I said. That makes sense, I said. Let me sign the cheque, I said.

OK I didn’t.

That is not going to happen. I gave him the go-ahead on his original quote pre-lockdown and presumed that was it. So now I need to reassess the tiling requirement. Neil tells me I can do it so I might just have a go. What can possibly go wrong?

Painting and decorating is a necessity too. I can do some but not all if I want the house finished before the end of the year (and if I am busy tiling!). So I have been meeting up with individuals to get quotes on the job. One fella told me 6 weeks minimum for the work – 30 days at his not insignificant day rate. I am not sure what is going on in South Somerset? Has the lockdown affected their common sense or do I have a sign on my forehead that says “this girl can be mugged”?

The other two quotes suggest 18-20 days max. I will do a couple of the rooms myself so hopefully save on that time too.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Plaster arrives a week this Monday which allows me a week to rest, recuperate, play golf, go shopping (for lights and stuff), get the car MOT’d, pay the bills (and boy are they big now) and go out to play.

Onwards…for the end is in sight!

And the mess returns…

My inner Little Miss Tidy has had a few moments this week as the work progresses. There is a continuous routine of make mess, clean up and repeat.

Things are moving along. Courtney has continued to install the plumbing and I have pipes of all sizes and shape everywhere! Steve popped back in to re-position a few more electrical cables and Jonathan the carpenter started fixing the door linings but then departed for the arrival of his first born. Lovely.

Neil and Andy have been creating a masterpiece with what was the Gents toilets in the old pub.

This room is to become the boiler room and store room. Internally its a relatively easy job to manage. Knock down one wall, insulate, batten, etc. Externally, the existing roof was an embarrassment to the tradesman that fitted it. No point in us leaving a crappy job (note the word links to the former use of the room. Ha!!) when everything else in the house is done to first class standards. So another batch of timber delivered, breather membrane, a little code 4 lead, batten, soffit and tiles, drainpipe and heyho – we have a working, waterproof, useable room.

Except…before we can finish it off we have to move a soil pipe, and wouldn’t you know – it is cracked and needs to be replaced. What the…? So the big guns have been out again as Andy has been digging more rubble out to access the pipe. Make mess, clean up. See what I mean.

In the meantime, we have been taking delivery of various materials required for the next stage. There has to be some thought process into where the materials are stored so that the minimal amount of handling is involved.

We took in 160 plus sheets (2400mmx1200mm) of plasterboard. The standard board weighs 23kg but the specialist board weighs 34kg and had to go upstairs – remembering of course I don’t yet have stairs. So it took 4 of us to pass the boards up. To say we were all muscle weary after moving it all is an understatement. This work starts next week.

In addition, we had hundreds of metres of insulation delivered. Rolls for the floors and attic, slab for the walls. I can just about carry a roll by myself but it’s a little comical to watch. I am just a little taller than a roll and I can only just get my arms around it. But at least I try!

It’s been a tough week for me personally. I have struggled with sleeping, washing, eating in the caravan after having a few months off and the luxury of a normal bed and flushing toilet! The budget – already pushed to the limit because of the roof – is again being tested daily as many of the prices for materials have increased.

I know I will get used to it again, but my energy levels dissipated as the week progressed. There are jobs for me to do but I didn’t really get on to them.

Am back home and I’ve had a word with myself. We probably have no more than 3 months to finish, and possibly less if we can get the materials. That time will fly – and at least we are busy and occupied – and healthy.

I will get back on it next week.

Enthused, energised and eager…

Reaching for the sky…

This building project has many challenges. I have done what I can to plan in advance and I constantly update my budget and timeline but I still get surprised either by things I hadn’t even considered or by the actual cost.

We joke about how much timber we have put into this house. Anyone would think I am developing a timber frame building…but alas, no. The old timber has either been eaten, has rotted from damp or has warped because it wasn’t installed properly the first time. New roof purlins and rafters, new ceiling and floor joists – all of it properly measured, cut and installed to Building Regs requirements. If I feel I need a walk in the woods I just pop into the building! All I am missing are the squirrels!

The external roof work started on 8 January and we have managed 5 days of active work in 2 weeks. That’s the problem of doing this in January. The weather plays a big part in how much progress can be made. The entire roof is receiving a new membrane and battens. We are retaining the tiles for one side of the roof, but installing new tiles for the other side. A bit of repointing around the chimneys and the addition of a new chimney pot should mean that the eventual new owners won’t have to touch the roof for 20 plus years.

On the rainy and/or windy days, we continue to work inside. Stud walls are going up and brickwork is being finalised. The power supply to the building has been moved and I have chosen a woodburner for the main lounge. This means the liner can be installed into the chimney whilst the scaffolding is in place.

The coming week looks good for cold sunshine so the roof should get some loving attention all week. My job…as always..is to keep the site tidy. My relationship with the wheelbarrow is steady.

I am not going onto the roof…that is one job too high for me. But I am slowly cleaning up the outside of the building in readiness for rendering and will be introduced to a high powered pressure washer this week.

Western Power have been in to move the mains electricity cable into the building. BT Openreach are popping by to remove some of their 1950’s wiring still attached to the building and I am having lengthy communication with the local authority about a street light positioned directly in line with 2 of the bedrooms. Watch this space!

Mr. Clooney (aka the caravan) has been treating me well. Cabin fever does strike occasionally. I have been pretty lucky so far. A few gales but no lightning yet. Lots of rain but no noticeable leaks and only one week of consistently freezing weather.

Have I spoken too soon…!

A little lean…

There is no question that older buildings throw up surprises. But generally the surprises haven’t been that huge. I knew the roof was put together with sticky gum, tree branches and slices of bark! I knew that none of the walls were square. I knew there was a slope from the front of the property to the back (9 inches/22cm difference).

Parts of this property go back a few hundred years. What has surprised me is the work that was done in the mid to late 1900’s – ie., modern day. To say it was sloppy is a massive understatement.

I mentioned the slope on the property, but there is a wall upstairs that is clearly a relative of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I knew it was there but assumed it was just part of the old building. Alas. ’tis not the case.

As the building was modernised and extended, a steel was inserted downstairs to take a new opening and subsequently support the upstairs wall. This was supposed to be aligned to the wall plate (a large length of timber) that has rather a big job of holding up the roof joists, etc.

Not only was this not done properly, the very professional Neil and Andy are astounded at how badly the job was done. I am not sure what comes first but the wall plate has been pushed out of position because the wall has missed the ‘supporting’ steel by many inches. This in turn has caused a massive wall lean, which has also caused some misaligned weight distribution in the roof. To add insult to injury a supporting beam running horizontal to the wall plate has had a huge chunk cut out of it so it no longer does its job.

Cowboy builders have nothing on the idiots who did this. It’s a shame that houses don’t have service books like cars because I would take a lot of pleasure in outing them.

Do not enter…The leaning tower of South Somerset lives here!

I knew we had an issue so we have planned for it. This is a week of building support walls from 4″ concrete blocks; building stud work where it can help with additional support and ensuring all other supports like purlins, etc, have been properly fitted before the big move next week.

We need to hire a load of acrow props, over and above the 7 we have already. Plus cut an old steel to form ‘needles’ which are then inserted into the wall above the existing steel to help with support. Then the heavy work of moving a steel that weighs over 600kg will commence.

In the meantime, the weekend is here and we will all be consuming vast amounts of spinach and smoking old corncob pipes. Popeye will have nothing on us by Monday !

The 12 weeks of renovation…

I am undecided if I have just endured the hardest 12 weeks of my life…or the most interesting. At moments time has flown…but not at 4am in the caravan when it’s wet and windy or when I have to empty the pee pot!

I miss some of my home comforts. Not being able to cook multi pan meals and bake. Not having a bed made up and ready for me to climb into. I also miss a flushing toilet and the constancy of never ending running water.

Surprisingly, I am pretty OK with not having a shower every day or only washing my hair or wearing makeup at weekends. I live in numerous layers of t-shirts and fleeces, jeans and thick socks. I am no longer embarrassed by my dressed state when I walk to the local shop for a pint of milk. I suspect I look like a hard-up bag lady, but I don’t care.

I don’t miss TV. I do miss my friends, book club and the golf club. Oh and my family.

What is good is the knowledge I am gaining and the excitement (yes) of seeing an empty space turn into a useable space. For instance I made a floor – a proper stand on it, jump up and down even dance on it floor and it may be there for hundreds of years! Obviously not on my own – Neil did the hard stuff – but even so who else can say that.

The Building Control man seems verily happy with our efforts and we communicate very well indeed. He is also very helpful and has a few pointers here and there but we are getting the relevant approvals as we meander along. It probably helps that his name is Stuart – also the name of my favourite (only) brother just returned from Australia.

Neil and Andy are coping admirably with their aged apprentice. Neil is now a puppy papa so he realises how easy it is to manage me now that he has an 8 week old pup in his household. Although to be fair, he’s never had to drop what he’s doing to run me outside! Nevertheless their patience is admirable.

We are doing some big stuff next week. The roof has seen better days. Imagine an old fella with a big beer belly but he needs to have a 6 pack to survive. That’s the job we’ve got with the roof. I have just ordered a load of timber – much of which has been specified by the structural engineer, Aurimas (one for all and all for one!. I know its the wrong spelling but I couldn’t resist it). Anyway, we have some seriously big pieces of timber to slip into the roof to boost its strength and make that 6 pack miracle happen.

My suppliers – mostly Travis Perkins and MKM – are really delightful and very helpful with my numerous questions. They also play golf so that helps!!

So that is it. 12 weeks done in a blink. Week 13 will soon arrive and I am so looking forward to carrying the 4.8m lengths of timber aloft my shoulder whilst climbing a ladder to the second floor whistling to the tune of “Hi Ho, Hi Ho…”

In the meantime I head back to Bristol for a weekend of wood-working (yes really) and a party to attend. If there is not yet a dance called The Woodchop or Renovation Wriggle – there will be by the early hours of Sunday morning!

Cheers.

Is it a floor? Is it a ceiling…

A short week for me. Monday was supplier meetings so no physical work until Tuesday and am heading home on Thursday evening as off to the Big Smoke for a Friday night of loveliness with a scrummage of Penguin rugby players and supporters (is that the collective noun?).

But a short week doesn’t limit the amount of work that has to be done. So Neil and I have the task of levelling off one bedroom floor and putting in a brand new floor in another bedroom (happens to also be the ceiling for the boot room / guest toilet.

This requires much timber. I am becoming well versed in timber terminology. Here it’s spoken in old ‘money’ (6by2; 4by2 etc) but ordered from the merchant in new money (150×47) unlike plywood which is still ordered in sheets in old money (8ftx4ft). Over 140m ordered for the two rooms. Thankfully its cut to manageable sizes…though if you’d seen me (wo)man carrying a 4.8m length of timber from the carpark to the pub you would question the term ‘manageable’.

Then there’s the nails – 40mm galvanised clout nails in this case. Ordered by the kg rather than the hundreds or thousands. 2.5kg for this little job. Add 52 joist hangers, 5x 1m lengths of M16 threaded rod then cut to size; M16 nuts and washers and a tube or two of silicon and we are ready to go.

Neil does the calculations and measuring. No surprise there for those that know me well. I am after all just the apprentice on this job…but I am learning and spend my day watching and learning in between lifting, hammering and cleaning – with an occasional expletive when the hammering misfires.

It’s getting colder now too, although much of the work is still very physical so keeping warm is not a problem once the work starts. But first thing in the morning is a tad chilly and my “home from home” caravan is fighting hard to keep me warm in the evenings. Last night’s howling gale was an interesting experience. Once I reassured myself that the caravan was too heavy to fly away, and I got used to the swaying motion it was really rather soothing. Reminded me of sleeping in a yacht in a force 8 gale.

I was “rocked” to sleep whilst listening to some chillout tunes!

Oh the life of That There Builder Girl.

Taking it all out…

Then putting it all back in again. That’s the builders life.

As an apprentice I obviously have limited experience. It makes me question my sanity at night when I am ensconced in my luxurious accommodation and I realise the process of renovation..

We have taken out more than 70 tons of flooring and have now put back the same sort of materials we took out up to the concrete level. To finish the floor we will be adding insulation and then screed. We have removed enough timber to build an enormous bonfire for local celebrations (yes…that is where the wood has gone), and we are now putting timber back in. I have not heard of which effigy will be sitting at the top of the bonfire but I have a few thoughts on that.

I have removed hundreds…nope, thousands of nails and in the last two days I have hammered a thousand clout nails into some joists. (Impressive use of proper terms there!)

But Neil assures me it’s all for the good of the job.

So what’s happening in Week 9?

We are building one of the dividing walls for the entranceway and to define the utility room and snug. When I say we I mean Neil and Andy. A couple of wall starter sets get the process going. The 4 inch concrete blocks look like what this girl knows as breeze blocks. But each one is super dense and incredibly heavy. Bringing them inside was about my limit. The concrete mixer in the carpark is a little bigger than my cake mixer at home…but same theory. To be honest the mix sometimes looks better than my home bakes too.

I have been dallying with another shorter end hammer drill. Removing the last of the stubborn plasterwork around the fireplace, etc. The corner bits come off in huge chunks as they are held together with metal mesh. As a result they are heavy. My left shoulder and arm now bear the scars of how heavy. Also removing even more nails….Did you know that it is possible to pull a nail with such strength that the hammer could fly back and may hit you on the head. Makes your eyes water and swear like you’re on the golf course!

One of the master bedrooms is having the ceiling raised to show off some of the old beams. This is where I have been a little more active. Go on…ask me a question. Go on. Go on. I know words now that I had never heard of before this project. Jiffy hanger. Threaded rod. M16 nuts. Could be the start of a racy novel. Watch this space.

And its been another week of meeting other trades for the ongoing need for quotations. All good people with varying skills. My knowledge of soil pipes is increasing substantially. I await their responses with hope.

Now I shall head home only to have to replace the boiler in my flat. Its pitying that they don’t make these things last like they used to (Do I sound like my mother?). This boiler can only be 25 years old. There is little rest for That There Builder Girl.

Rugby at the weekend. Watching, not playing just in case you were wondering. England vs All Blacks. (Hello my friends in New Zealand). Wales vs France (Hello my family in Wales).

England v Wales. Now that would be a good final now that Scotland aren’t playing.

ps…I know. I know. Its Wales vs South Africa. Can’t blame me for mistakes..I am a little worn out!