When I first moved into the property at the beginning of November, the first thing my plumber suggested was that I buy a Carbon Monoxide Alarm so I wouldn't, "Pop my clogs the first night!". He had basically condemned the current 30 year old boiler and unless I wanted to, "Freeze my tits off," with the heating off, then it was a good idea to monitor the toxic fumes it was emitting. Great. Instead of just buying a replacement boiler, I decided to spend a bit more money, free up the space on my kitchen wall where the old boiler was sticking out like a sore ugly bulbous thumb, and move it upstairs and into the cupboard where the old water tank had been. Before they could move the boiler, the electrician was summoned to check the wiring in the bathroom cupboard to make sure it would work, and there he discovered that the electric shower and lights were arcing and smoking every time they were turned on. All the wiring was burnt out in the cavity wall and up into the attic, a blackened mess of melted plastic, wires and wood. He was amazed it hadn't started a fire! Upon further investigation, he explained that the whole house was a bit "dodgy" and basically cut off my supply until he could return! So what started as a simple process of moving the boiler, resulted in a complete re-wiring of the kitchen, hall, bathroom and upstairs cupboard, the shower was thrown into the tip and now I have a gigantic hole through the bathroom wall and in the ceiling. And no shower. Hurrah.
What the plumber also failed to mention was that he'd re-directed the external gas pipe from the kitchen up to the bathroom, so where I had been excited to get a gas cooker re-connected, I now have to have an electric one. He's also, very kindly, left the gas pipe in the kitchen as an annoying reminder of what could have been, sitting there, completely useless, giving me the V-sign, and I now have to find someone to cut it off the wall! The plumber has also left a bloody great hole in the kitchen wall through to the external wall, where the boiler was, and has only filled it with a few bricks and some rough cement, so "I don't get the rain coming in" which means I now have to get a builder to re-plaster the wall.
And this is where my builder enters the scene. His name is Tim. I can mention his name because I doubt very much I will be sending him this blog, nor will he see it on Facebook as he will never be a Facebook friend! I really like Tim but he seems to bring calamity with him. I first contacted him when I discovered he was the same builder who'd put up a partition wall in the house about 15 years ago, and thought he'd be the perfect person to take it down again. He was very obliging, removed the wall in half a day and only charged me a £100 cash. As he seemed to be the perfect man to do all the other jobs I needed, I hired him on the spot. We agreed he would work for cash and fit my jobs in when he could. That meant turning up willy nilly after he'd finished his normal days work... he even arrived on a Saturday morning at 8am once, which I was slightly less pleased about, as were my neighbours!!
The first thing Tim did for me was to remove all my skirting boards. I needed this done because I had arranged for beautiful, achingly expensive, oak wood floors to be laid throughout the downstairs. The reason I needed achingly expensive wood floors laid was because I had asked the previous owners to remove all the carpets. I had requested the removal of the carpets because there were signs of carpet moths, and as anyone that's had carpet moths knows, once you've got them, it is very hard to get rid of them. But I was quite happy because I naively thought that even though the cottage was built in the early 80's, there might be some lovely old floorboards lurking underneath which I could buff up or paint. Of course there weren't!! Downstairs were concrete floors and upstairs were chipboard. So my new plan was to put oak flooring in downstairs and replace the carpets (with anti-moth ones) upstairs. If you haven't had oak wood floors installed in your home then you might be surprised to learn how costly they are. Let's just say that I could have bought a secondhand car and gone on holiday for 2 weeks to the Caribbean with that sort of money.
Tim began removing the skirting boards and it was only when I heard him say, "Oops" a few times that I thought I should have a look. The skirting board was coming off fine but it was also taking half the wall with it. He casually remarked, "Bloody hell, it's like sandstone!" which wasn't helpful. He also said it wouldn't be a problem because he would just fill the holes and re-plaster after the wood floor was laid. If that sounds a bit backwards, it is. The floor should always be the last thing to do when you're renovating so it doesn't get damaged, but I had no choice. The wood floor guys could only fit me in to their hectic schedule because of a cancellation, otherwise I would have had to wait until March! And I couldn't bear another 3 months of concrete floors because it was kicking up horrible dust and was freezing cold to walk on, so needs must. Just as Tim was leaving he looked back at the floor and said, "Hmm, that's weird." Oh no. He had noticed that where the partition wall had been removed – between the kitchen and the living room – the floor seemed to rise up in the middle. He laid his spirit level down and saw that indeed, the floor was not level. You can't lay a wood floor on to uneven flooring so the next day Tim retuned with a jack hammer and a mate of his, and they began digging up the floor in order to re-level it with compound. The noise was so horrific that my neighbour from 3 houses away came round to complain!
With the skirting removed and the concrete floor now level, the wood floor guy came to do his part. Three days later it was finished and looked stunning. Beautiful wide planks of oak with a matte oil finish. Of course, even though I was over the moon with it, paranoia kicked in whenever someone came to visit. Could I ask complete strangers to take their shoes off? Amazingly, I didn't even have to ask... every builder, decorator and carpenter immediately removed their boots and wandered around in their socks. But after about a week, I noticed a strange creaking in the middle of the kitchen floor and one plank in particular seemed to see-saw from one end to the other. I filmed it and sent it to the floor guys. They didn't seem too worried and said, "Oh that's fine, it happens sometimes, we'll come back and fix it in 3 weeks." Three weeks!!! But I knew they were busy, I said it was fine, and spent the next 3 weeks tiptoeing around the area in case I made it worse. They did come back and they did fix it, so the next thing was to put the skirting boards back on. Of course, because of the hold-up fixing the floor, everyone else in the renovation chain was now put back and I had to wait until after Christmas for work to progress again.
In the meantime, I launched myself into the January sales and managed to buy a washing machine, cooker, extractor fan and fridge/freezer for under £900, saving myself £350... bargain! Or so I thought. Stupidly, I had to forgotten to take the additional height of the 3cm wood floor into consideration when ordering my washing machine, and realised, with horror, that it would no longer fit under the countertop. Oh God. My builder suggested cutting out a section of wood floor and sitting the washing machine into the hole, which sounded awful. The carpenter suggested raising the height of the kitchen counter by 3cm because I was, "tall for a woman" and it, "might stop you getting back ache when cooking and washing up!" Thanks for that Mr. Carpenter. I am now waiting for the washing machine to be delivered this week and hoping for a miracle. Perhaps the manufacturers measured it wrong and it will fit just fine, if not, then my savings of £350 will be spent on raising my counter tops! And I can't even plug my cooker or fridge in until the other work has been done!
As I am writing this, my builder Tim is downstairs and re-attaching the skirting boards. He is also filling the holes in the wall created by him pulling off the original skirting boards and the plumber removing the boiler. Tim is a good builder but with a short attention span. His love of tea breaks, fag breaks and talking means he frequently forgets what he is doing and it's then my job to go round the house at the end of the day and point out where a nail is missing or a hole hasn't been filled. On careful observation I have noticed that he simply cannot talk and work at the same time. I have always known men to be a little rubbish at multi-tasking but Tim takes it to a whole new level. Even if I ask him if he wants a cup of tea, he has to lay down his tools, scratch his head, and then give me an answer. He cannot just say, "yes please" and keep working. Thank God he charges by the job and not by the hour otherwise I'd be broke.
Tim also loves to tell stories, usually about other workmen or local residents, so is a proper little village gossip. He's a natural performer with a wonderful lilting Somerset accent, a deep tobacco-tinged voice and the ability to keep his audience (me) on the edge on my seat! But as soon as he starts talking I know he won't be able to keep working so I sigh, take a seat and listen. He tells me about things he's witnessed on building sites and in client's homes, from botched jobs to dead bodies to affairs, but the best story (today) was about a Curry's delivery driver he knows. Not the best story to tell me when I'm actually waiting for a Curry's delivery, but it's a good one. According to Tim, it is common practice amongst delivery drivers to damage items themselves, so they don't have to deliver them... especially late in the day. He told me of a guy he knew who was supposed to deliver a big American-style fridge to a large house in the middle of the countryside. It was dark and rainy Friday afternoon. The driver was tired and knew it would take at least another hour to get to the address which meant he wouldn't get to the pub until late, so he tipped the fridge off the back of the lorry, rang the depot telling them the fridge was damaged and that he would have to deliver a replacement the following week, then reloaded the fridge on to his lorry and went to the pub!!
I love Tim and his storytelling but I also can't wait for him, nor all the other workmen, to leave. I'm so sick of cleaning and dusting and generally living in a building site. I have never made so many cups of tea in my life nor bought so many packets of biscuits. I am fed up of putting the toilet seat down and always being cheerful when they show up at all hours of the day. I adore male company but my God they are irritating! I have been camped out in one room upstairs for 2 months, sleeping on a mattress with everything I own still in boxes... and the list of things to do for some strange reason, keeps getting longer not shorter. With very little money left, I might have to try Crowdfunding because I have no idea how I'm going to pay for all this: Decorating the house, carpeting the upstairs, buying new interior doors, replacing the front door, buying new blinds and curtains, putting up shelves, buying a bed, installing a shower, re-tiling the bathroom, replacing 3 velux windows, mending the porch and fitting a downstairs loo. And that's just the inside, don't get me started on the garden!
I love love love my new home and everyone keeps telling me to be patient, that it will be worth it in the end... but what is a home unless you can have your loved ones round for dinner, to hang out or to stay the night? I'm hoping that by Spring I can at least have a few friends round for a meal, so please form an orderly queue, and maybe bring a paintbrush and some cash with you.