Sunday, 30 June 2013

Beautiful Cake

My hubby went to the village fete yesterday and won a beautiful cake!

01 Cake

Good enough to wear for Royal Ascot, isn’t it! (Better to eat, though.)

Here are a couple of detail shots of the gorgeous icing flowers.

02 Detail of Top Roses

03 Detail of Brim Flowers

Such a beautiful piece of work that it seems a shame to cut it. I will, though. (I love cake.)

Friday, 28 June 2013

Our New House–Tiles, Wardrobes, Freezers and Kitty Proofing

Yesterday my hubby and I went out hunting for stuff for the new house. We went to the tile place to choose some tiles for the kitchen splashbacks. I was amazed at the superfluity of beige beige beige everywhere! Natural stone colours are definitely the fashion these days. Tucked away at the back of the store (warehouse size!) were a few in other colours, and I must say they did look somewhat passé. (Shoshi’s a dedicated follower of fashion, lol!)

Anyway, we didn’t want colour to go with our sophisticated new kitchen. This is what we chose.

Kitchen Splashback Tile

Come to think of it, it doesn’t show up too well against my blog background, does it!

I shall give the details to Andy on Monday and he can get them on his trade account.

I did think it might be fun to have mosaic tiles but all they had that I liked were natural stone (very expensive) and they needed sealing, and they had little pits and flaws in them (very attractive but difficult to keep clean in the kitchen), so we went for a normal ceramic tile. It has a nice satin finish so nothing too glossy.

We then went to the electrical place which has loads of really cheap stuff and managed to get the two freezers for less than I’d found them on the Internet. I am glad we spoke face to face with a salesman, because he pointed out something that I was unaware of, that not all freezers are guaranteed for outside use. Lots of people put freezers in garages and outhouses and were horrified when the thermostats failed in the bitter winter weather we had, to find they were not covered by the guarantee. This is definitely something to be aware of if you are thinking of buying a new freezer. Anyway, we got a nice small chest freezer that is suitable to go in the outhouse, and a counter-top one for Mum’s kitchen in the annexe. We were a bit worried about her going out in the rain (or ice and snow) to get stuff from the freezer outside, and this way, she can have a few things in, and I can bring in other stuff as she needs it. We are sharing this chest freezer, and we will have our own fridge freezer in our new kitchen as well. My pour old big chest freezer is not working as well as it once did, and will go when we move, and anyway, we’ve got nowhere to put it in the new house.

We also ordered two wardrobes (identical) for Mum’s bedroom. In her old house she had fitted cupboards and would have nowhere to hang her clothes in the new house. My hubby chose them the other day, and took me in to see them. They are light wood with shelves on one side and a hanging rail on the other, with mirrored doors. She should have lots of space for storage now.

After our shopping trip we went to the new house and offloaded the boxes we’d brought, and my hubby did some measuring in the garden. He had done some research on Ebay and found some marvellous stuff that you screw to the top of garden fences. It’s plastic strips with plastic spikes on top and cats won’t put their paws on it. We are hoping this will keep our two girls safe in our garden, and also prevent other cats from invading their territory – Phoebe is particularly sensitive to this, and pees on the landing carpet every time there’s an intruder! My hubby wants to make the whole back garden safe for them. If we are careful there is no need for them to go out the front.

My shower has arrived, and we took it over to the new house. I thought I’d better open the box and check the contents, all of which were beautifully packed in their own individual boxes, and when I opened one, this is what I found! Ha ha ha!!

02 Shower Duck

I went through the instructions, which were all about how to install the shower. There was nothing to say how one was supposed to play with a rubber duck in the shower!!! ROFL! Anyway, this cheeky chappy will have to find a home in my new bathroom, and join me in the bath.

We picked up gorgeous fish and chips from the local chippy 100 yards from our new house, and enjoyed it when we got home. I was fairly exhausted after all that, so didn’t do any blogging till today.

PS I had a letter from the hospital today after my post-60th birthday bowel cancer scan and they’ve detected abnormalities, so I’ve got to have a colonoscopy. We are going to the hospital on Thursday morning for a chat about the procedure, which I assume will happen sometime next week. I am trying not to worry about this, because the leaflet said that only 1 in 10 people for whom this procedure is necessary actually have cancer. I am hoping that the traces of blood they found are simply the result of my ongoing IBS. It’s a bore nonetheless, and will put me out of action for a day or two with the rather unpleasant preparation for the colonoscopy, and the getting over it afterwards as they give you a sedative. Those of you who pray, please do so for me! The worst case scenario is the absolute last thing I want at the moment, with so much to do, so much excitement about our new home, and so much to live for and to enjoy! A few months ago I had to have a breast biopsy after a routine mammogram revealed something, but this turned out to be a benign cyst, so I’m hoping for similar results with the upcoming test as well.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

My New ARTHaven–Materials Arriving and Work Beginning

This is the second of two posts today, the first being a more general update on progress on our new house, and this one is on the more specific subject of my new ARTHaven.

I am very excited that work on my new ARTHaven has already begun! My hubby has been taking a few boxes of stuff over each time he’s gone, and although there are still loads to go, there’s now an appreciable space in my existing room to show what a difference his hard work is making! I have to dissuade him from taking too many boxes over at once as it is very exhausting, especially as he keeps complaining I’ve over-filled them and some of them are too heavy!

Here are the boxes he’s taken over so far, stacked up in the spare bedroom.

02 ARTHaven Boxes being Brought Over

We’ve chosen this room to store them in because no work will be taking place in here, and also it is more or less opposite my ARTHaven so I won’t have so far to carry things. I am getting a new trolley to use upstairs in the new house, and I shall order this soon so that I can use it to move the stuff across as I unpack it.

When we arrived at the house today, it was thrilling to see the building materials already arriving! After our trip to B&Q last week when Andy and I chose what we needed, it was great to see the laminate floor for my ARTHaven stacked up in the hall ready to be installed. Nothing can be done in there until the floor is down.

04 Laminate Flooring

As you can see, it is a light wood effect laminate, with three narrow planks per strip. Andy will lay it so that it looks like a continuous planked floor. This is what I originally wanted for the kitchen as well, but have thought better of it, partly because this particular B&Q one was unsuitable for kitchens, and also because I decided I needed something that provided more contrast with the kitchen units.

When I went upstairs, I found that Chris had taken the carpet up from my ARTHaven. This is what it looks like now.

01 Carpet Removed

At first glance, you may ask why on earth I want to cover up such a beautiful floor? I agree, it does look lovely, with the original floorboards, but anything more than a superficial glance indicates that it really isn’t suitable for a studio. I need a sealed floor, and with no gaps that things can be lost between. It will be much more practical, and lighter, with the laminate floor. At least I’ve got a photographic record of the original, and that will have to be enough! My hubby’s study also has the original floorboards exposed, so at least we’ll have one room – those ones have been stripped and varnished, and look really beautiful. Today we were trying to decide which rug he would have in there – decisions, decisions!

Also in the spare room opposite, Chris has now assembled the units that Andy and I bought at B&Q last week.

03 ARTHaven Units Made Up

I had hoped they would be plain white all over, but inside, there is a faint pattern printed on the surface. However, once there’s stuff on the shelves, I’m sure it won’t really show, and who knows, it might even improve them! It’s very exciting to see the units made up and ready to install. Once Andy is able to come over again in between final bits and pieces on his current job, I am sure he will get the floor down and the units installed in fairly short order!

Our New House–Materials Starting to Arrive

This is the first of two posts today. As promised, I am keeping the progress of my new ARTHaven separate as it is an area of more specialised interest.

My hubby and I went over to our new house this afternoon as he wanted to do some more work in the garden, and I wanted to see if anything was different, and if so, to photograph it. My hubby cleared some more undergrowth, and started painting the shed/summer house and the fencing with Cuprinol. The whole garden is looking a lot tidier and brighter now, and it was amazing to see the Leylandii trees cut a bit more down to size! They will come down completely, eventually, when he can get some help. There’s a huge pile of clippings and weeds to be carted away, and he has a friend with a truck who is coming to help next week.

We took some more of my ARTHaven boxes over today, and my room here is now looking a lot less full, although there’s still a long way to go! I don’t want my hubby to take too many over at once, although he could take 20 or 30 with the trailer – the trouble is the loading and unloading, and carrying upstairs etc. which is quite exhausting – much better to do half a dozen at a time, and have energy to spare for other things. We’ve got time, and the job will soon be done.

When we arrived, I was thrilled to see that the bathroom tiles and ARTHaven laminate flooring had arrived! All these materials were stacked up in the hall. Here are the bathroom wall tiles for the en-suite:

01 Bathroom Wall Tiles

Here’s a close-up to give an idea of what they look like:

02 Bathroom Wall Tiles Detail

It’s a bit difficult to see through the polythene wrapping, but they have a lovely natural marble/stone effect.

These are the sheets of border tiles – Andy will use three strips of this around the whole room, about half way up.

03 Bathroom Border Tiles

Again, it’s a bit difficult to see exactly what they are like. The light was poor, and with the light on, it gave a very yellow effect which I have tried to correct, but it doesn’t really do it justice. There are strips of green glass (like sea glass) amongst the ceramic tile strips – a very subtle colour. These border tiles look absolutely gorgeous in real life, against the main wall tiles.

The floor tiles haven’t arrived yet. When Andy and I went to B&Q last week, they only had a few left in stock, but this is a regular stock item and they will be getting more in, probably this week. They are darker in colour, and with a lovely non-slip texture.

It’s very exciting, seeing the stuff arriving! When we got back, we found some Howden’s samples on the doorstep – Andy had evidently called round while we were out. I was sorry to have missed him, because we both need to discuss various things with him. He left a kitchen unit door (light oak) and a very heavy “book” of laminate flooring samples about 1 foot square. I was hoping for a small sample of the natural stone one we’d chosen, and a little slip of the light oak so I could actually carry them round the tile place to get a good match for the splashbacks – I can’t see us lugging this lot around!! However, seeing the flooring “in the flesh” and being able to feel the texture, is very nice. It feels amazing – just like stone, but warmer to the touch. I think it is going to be beautiful.

My next post is about progress on my ARTHaven.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Our New House–New Things and New Decisions

A couple of weeks ago, I opened my washing machine at the end of a cycle, to find a weird curved piece of grey plastic, looking pretty manky and worn, lying on top of my washing. I have a service contract, so immediately phoned and they sent an engineer. He said he didn't carry that part on the van and would order it. I subsequently received a phone call to say that my machine was too old, and they no longer made that part.

However, they were prepared to give me a brand new machine, like for like, absolutely free - I had 4 months remaining on my service contract that I was required to pay off, and they would charge a delivery and installation fee for the new machine, and a small fee for removing and recycling my old one, but even so, all this was considerably less than buying a new machine.

I am not always a great fan of service contracts for a lot of things, because most things are pretty reliable these days and don't need constant attention (e.g. when we bought a new cooker, I didn't think it was necessary, and this has proved to be the case) but washing machines, especially washer-driers, have many moving parts and lots that can go wrong, and I have always found the service contract to be well worth having, as none of the call-outs ever cost a penny. The contract on the new machine is extremely good value compared with the old one, so well worth doing from the outset.

My new machine arrived this week, and it's awesome! It's a Hotpoint washer-drier as before, but has a much bigger drum and faster spin speed and other refinements like being able to wash in cold water, and it is actually slightly smaller overall than my old one (sort of washing machine Tardis). It is so quiet that to start with, I had to go back into the utility room to see if it was actually working! The bigger drum will prove an immediate advantage once we move into our new house. Mum sold her washing machine with their house and I shall be doing the laundry for the three of us, and it shouldn’t make much difference to the number of loads I have to do each week.

I am absolutely delighted to have it! I got my old one very soon after we moved here in the autumn of 1999 - it was on its last legs and didn't survive the move. A couple of months ago (the visits were becoming more frequent) the engineer told me that my machine was coming to the end of its useful life and would probably need replacing soon, and I did wonder whether it would go the way of the old one and not survive our upcoming move, but this no longer has to be put to the test!

The other thing I am in the process of replacing is our cordless phone system. I can't remember when we bought it (years ago, anyway) and again, it's on its last legs - half the time it cuts out completely and you get cut off, and it's generally not as good as the newer ones, the technology having improved. I wanted to get a quad set (1 base unit and 3 others) for the new house so that we could have the base unit in the hall, one in my hubby's study, one in my office/ARTHaven, and the fourth in the garage - they also act as intercoms, so that would mean I could call my hubby in for meals etc. without having to go outside and get him, in the pouring rain or whatever!!

I spent absolutely ages researching which one would be best to get, reading all the customer reviews, and eventually decided on a Siemens system which cost quite a bit more than I'd hoped, but it generally had the most good points. My hubby wanted one that he could access the answering machine messages remotely (we can't do that at the moment) which would be very useful when we move, because he will be working away from home a lot more, rather than living over the shop as it were.

I've now charged them all up and registered them with the base unit - something I couldn't get them to do to start with - the book isn't very clear, but I think the problem may have been that the registration process wouldn't work on a flat battery! I was tearing my hair over it, and about to ring up Siemens, but after a night of charging, all the handsets have registered OK. After being fully charged, they had to be left to discharge fully before being charged again, after which they will be ready for use. I think this is going to take a long time as the batteries last ages, especially in standby mode.

Also after a lot of online research, I have bought a call device for Mum. When she was living on her own she had a Piper alarm system, and if she were to fall or anything, she'd be able to press the button on her wrist, and it would activate the phone and call the centre, and help would come. Fortunately this was never necessary, but it did give us all peace of mind. When we are all in the new house together, she doesn't really need this because there will be someone in the house 90 percent of the time, and it does cost a certain amount per month, and I thought how good it would be if there was a similar arrangement that would "page" someone else in the house, rather than calling for outside help. I found an excellent pager, although the part with the call button is a lot bigger than her original one and she probably won't like it. My hubby and I tested it here at home, and it worked fine from the garage to the sitting room, and next time we go over to the new house I'll ask him to test it again, from Mum's annexe to my ARTHaven. It has the added advantage of having a vibrating setting as well as a sound, so if I've got my headphones on, I'll still be able to "hear" it. She can buzz me if she wants something, which should save her coming into our part of the house constantly. I just hope she's not pressing the wretched thing every 5 minutes lol!! It's also waterproof so she can wear it in the shower.

It's no good giving her a cordless phone handset to use as an intercom because she's so deaf, and also, if she fell, it would probably be out of reach.

So - we're gradually getting the technology sorted out for the new house!

Following on from my marvellous day with Andy at the house earlier this week, when we discussed flooring for my ARTHaven and the kitchen, my original plan of choosing the same flooring for both started to lose its appeal somewhat. The only advantage would have been a slight saving through cutting back on waste, but the problem was finding something that would be suitable for both. The pale wood boarded effect laminate which I liked at B&Q was not suitable for kitchens, and they had nothing else that I liked enough. Having a critical look through Howden’s kitchen catalogue, I realised that every single kitchen layout photographed had a floor covering that contrasted with the units. If I were to choose a light wood floor and it was identical in colour to the units (unlikely), it would look too samey, and if it were only slightly different, it would clash and still not look right. I therefore decided to ditch the idea of the pale wood floor in the kitchen and go for something different. Howden’s do a selection of laminate floors and I eventually chose one called “natural stone” and when I discussed it with Andy on the phone, he agreed that it was beautiful, and a very good choice; he also agreed with me that because the ends of the pieces are staggered, it is impossible to see where each begins and ends, giving the floor a completely seamless effect; it really does look like pieces of natural stone cleverly fitted together.

Howden's Natural Stone Laminate Flooring

The slight greenish tinge is going to go well with the light olive green paint that I have chosen for the walls (with a slightly darker shade for the woodwork) and it looks particularly good with the light oak of the units. Andy tells me it is laid over a slightly springy membrane which gives it some resilience, and absorbs any unevenness in the existing floor beneath; in our present kitchen, marks started appearing in the vinyl a few years ago where it is not quite flat, but with the laminate, this should never happen, at least in our lifetime! This particular floor is, of course, suitable for kitchen use, and will withstand the level of traffic as it is on the way out to the back door from the house. Andy is going to pick up a sample for me from Howden’s, and also a sample of the light oak, and then my hubby is going to take me to the tile place so that we can choose the right ones for the kitchen splash-backs.

We are still going for the light wood B&Q laminate flooring for the ARTHaven.

My hubby has been very busy in the garden at the new house, too. He has cut the Leylandii trees right down to the trunks (he will need help to get them out) and says that the whole garden looks much lighter and brighter as a result. He consulted the neighbour on that side first, and then showed her the result afterwards, and she said, “Oooh! What a difference!” He also cleared a whole lot from behind the summerhouse, and brought back a trailer-load for a bonfire here. He is getting a friend with a truck to help with the rest next week. The old greenhouse has now been pulled down. It was a combination of greenhouse and shed and was pretty rotten. The space will make room for the new garage to extend further back into the garden. My hubby needs to discuss the garage further with Andy because the original plan is not quite long enough for his boat.

When he was at the house, he said that Chris had assembled the units for my ARHTaven and they were all upstairs waiting to be installed, which is very exciting. This can’t be done until the laminate flooring is down, but hopefully this will happen soon. If Andy can get all the units and shelves in place sooner rather than later, I can start unpacking my boxes (quite a few have gone over already) and start organising my new space in advance of the main move. This will give me something constructive to do while I am over there once the team is working full time; I need to be on hand as much as possible in case any decisions need to be made, and also so that I can take photos of the work in progress, which should advance at a good speed once all three of them are there full-time. I am pleased that a certain amount of work has been achieved in advance of this, which will also speed things up when the time comes.

I am actually glad of the delay because it gives us time to come to the right decision about a number of things before it’s done, and too late to change. We are also adding to the original job – something I promised I wouldn’t do, for Andy’s sake – but he said we weren’t to worry, everybody does it, and he’s quite used to it! He agrees that when you start a job, you don’t always know exactly what you want, and there are always extras. I am so glad he is so laid back about it, and I am also very glad that when the same happened on his previous job and it ended up taking much longer, he didn’t abandon that job in favour of starting ours on the previously-agreed date, immediately after completion of the purchase. If he had done that, I would have had little faith that he wouldn’t also leave us in the lurch. You hear horror stories of builders doing this all the time, and it is great to have found a builder with integrity. Having to wait a little longer for our job to get fully underway is a very small price to pay for this peace of mind! At least Chris is available to make a start, his part in the previous job being largely completed.

Still no sign of the scaffolding. Paul (the other member of the team) has chased up the scaffolding contractors and they should have the highways license from the local council by now, to enable them to erect it in the road at the front. Once this is done, work can commence on the roof. Andy has already ordered a skip.

I’m not sure when I shall next go over, but soon, I hope. If the weather holds, I shall go next time my hubby wants to do some gardening.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Our New House–Planning and Shopping

My hubby dropped me off early at our new house this morning, so I could see Andy, our builder, and also the kitchen man, and start making some detailed plans.

I had The Most Fun Ever, today! (Oh, the joys of being a simple soul and getting such inordinate pleasure from such simple things lol!!)

My hubby only had a very limited time because he had to dash back for an appointment mid-morning, but he and Andy were able to discuss ideas for the garage. Chris pulled down the funny little greenhouse/shed later, which he said was pretty rotten in places anyway, and this will enable us to extend the new garage further back into the garden.

Trevor from Howden’s Kitchens came with his sidekick who does the CAD drawings, and we spent quite a long time going over my revised plans – while packing up my existing kitchen here, I had come to realise that I hadn’t planned for enough units in the new kitchen, particularly as half the worktops have no cupboards underneath, being designed to sit at. They approved my ideas and we then went into great detail of exactly what units were required – drawers, cupboards, etc., and I chose some of those gorgeous carousels, which I learnt today are called “Le Mans” carousels because they look like the famous race track!

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Le+Mans+kitchen+carousels&client=firefox-a&hs=9WM&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=wGy_UY6DJcOeO_K5gKAD&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1440&bih=738

(I am learning some great new terminology through all this!)

A slight problem arose with the accessible worktop, because it has to be supported, and it looked at first as if I would have to have the cupboard under the worktop, which would prevent me sitting at it. However, a solution has been found – to support it with what Andy called “gallows” brackets (you can imagine why!) – this means the worktop can continue right round with no uprights underneath to impede my movement. It was fascinating watching them, and listening to the discussion, pooling of ideas, and calculations going on between all these professionals, and how quickly they came up with a plan. Andy has now ordered my new kitchen, and Trevor is going to email me the new CAD drawings – when they arrive I’ll share them with you.

After they had gone, Andy and Chris informed me that my original plan to knock down the wall between the existing utility room and the back passageway wasn’t going to work, because there is a continuous lintel which supports the wall above both the door from the utility room into the passageway, and also the door of the loo. They said that anyway, not a lot would be gained, and it certainly wouldn’t be worth the expense. Later on, Chris took out the door frame, and it is amazing what a difference that made – a couple of inches either side, if that, but the whole thing looks much more open, and this effect will be enhanced when the whole thing is rendered and decorated. Here it is from the utility room:

01 Utility Room Doorway

You can see that there’s only a tiny bit of wall on the right anyway, up to the loo wall. Here it is from the other side, standing in the annexe kitchen:

02 Utility Room Doorway from Annexe Kitchen

What you can see standing there with a jacket draped over it is a unit from the original kitchen – they moved several of these around to indicate the proposed layouts of utility room and annexe kitchen, and in order to make sure I could get the wheelchair through.

The other plan of mine that isn’t going to work is to retain the sliding glass window at the end of the existing passageway, which I was hoping would be our access into the airing cupboard. It turns out that only half of it slides, and it doesn’t give anything like enough access. Here’s a picture I took when we completed the purchase at the end of May:

12 Back Hall from Back Door

(You can see the door from the passageway to the utility room proper, on the left, before Chris took it all out.) The plan now is to remove the window completely, and replace it with a 2ft 6in door. This will give me more accessible storage space and a bigger airing cupboard. I am sorry to see this original feature of the house disappearing, but have to console myself that at least I’ve got photos, and also that we are retaining a large number of the original 1920s features. For instance, at the end of the landing where there are two doors, one to the existing bathroom and the other to the separate loo, when this is converted to the en-suite bathroom, neither of these doors will be required, and they will be boarded up on the inside, and tiled over, but on Andy’s suggestion, they will remain on the landing side, but not openable – this way we retain the original appearance of the landing.

We planned the layouts of the utility room and annexe kitchen, making sure there is wheelchair access from our kitchen through to the back door. Chris suggested we removed the door between the kitchen and utility room as it’s not really needed, and that makes the doorway slightly wider too. We’ve now got 3 spare doors for use elsewhere!

We went round every room, discussing in detail what needed to be done, and Andy looked at the power points and saw what needed to be improved upon. We also discussed the location of the dedicated power point for the stairlift, which has to be installed before the stairlift can be fitted.

My sister suggested last week that we should remove the bath from the annexe bathroom and replace it with a walk-in shower for Mum, large enough for a carer as well, and with a seat. After Mum injured her leg, she was unable to have a bath for about 12 weeks. Her leg is now healed and no longer needs dressing, but after being so long without getting in the bath, she is feeling less than confident about being able to get out, and has agreed to a shower, much as she dislikes them! Andy measured up and knows what to order.

Going upstairs, Andy discovered that contrary to what I’d thought, the macerating loo in the second bathroom is not blocked after all – I had just not switched it on!

We then went into my ARTHaven to be. Sitting on the floor, we planned the layout of the units. After a lot of research into different people’s craft rooms/studios on Pinterest, I got a brainwave to enable me to have even more storage. I had planned several work stations around the room, with a continuous work surface supported on fixed kitchen unit carcases, with knee-holes at intervals to sit at. We have now agreed what a good idea it would be, to fill each of these gaps with a unit on castors with a flat top. After all, I can only sit in one place at the time, and why waste all that precious storage space? When I sit in a particular area, all I will need to do is pull out the mobile unit, and form a temporary L-shaped working area. (Don’t you think Shoshi is brilliant lol lol? – I got the idea from a picture which showed what looked like movable units underneath a work surface – not sure if they were or not, but it triggered something in my brain…)

Andy took detailed measurements, and “drew” the shape of things to come on the carpet with the back end of a pencil – I told him he could draw on the carpet with impunity because it was coming up! However, a drawing in the pile of the carpet showed up the outline of everything. We also planned how the wall units and shelves would work.

He gave me a plan of the en-suite bathroom and I couldn’t believe how easily he and Paul have planned it so that I get everything I want in there, and more besides! For the life of me, I couldn’t work it out… He is making a doorway between the existing bathroom and loo, and I suggested that rather than making it a normal doorway, why not make it an arch? It would look less as if a door had been there and taken out. He pulled and face, and said he didn’t like arches! He couldn’t really tell me why, and said they were all right in their place (I said “like 2,000 years ago in the Roman Empire?!!”) – Chris and I then started teasing him unmercifully about arches, and he is now officially the Archbuilder. (After all, he does head up the team!!) When we got back later from our trip out, Chris had done the doorway in the utility room and said “Come and see my arch!” Lol! This evening I sent him an email, and included in it was a Youtube link to Flannigan and Allen’s “Underneath the Arches” ha ha!! His new theme tune.

Andy said he was a bit concerned about the lack of heat in the en-suite bathroom, because the towel-rail radiators don’t put out as much heat as a conventional one. We came to a compromise and found a small space for an additional radiator but it wasn’t brilliant, and neither of us was 100% sure about it.

Having done a lot of planning, we all sat down for our sandwich lunch and had a good laugh. Andy then took me shopping! We went to B&Q to look at tiles and laminate flooring and I had the time of my life. (Yes, I know, I know… I should get out more!) We found some absolutely gorgeous tiles for the bathroom – wall and floor (non slip) and a beautiful border strip to embellish the walls. My dream bathroom! Then I found a display on the wall, with 2 tiles side by side, and it said “Put your hand here… and here…” and the difference was extraordinary – the second one was really warm to the touch! Andy said Chris had put this electric under-floor heating under his conservatory tiles and it was brilliant. He said it wouldn’t add a significant amount to our budget to have it done (it would cost many thousands to do if the bathroom had already been completed) and it would also solve the radiator problem! So we are going for it. It comes with a timer. When we get the solar panels it can be on just during daylight hours and shouldn’t cost anything. I said it occurred to me that if we went for this, I’d never get the kitties out of the bathroom… Photos will follow, I guarantee it.

We looked at laminate flooring – I’ve decided to have that in both the kitchen and my new ARTHaven – both the same, to save wastage. Unfortunately the only one I really liked wasn’t suitable for kitchens, but Andy says now he knows what I want, he can find it somewhere else.

I also picked up a paint colour chart for the kitchen. Andy can match the colour I choose with a trade colour which won’t cost so much.

While I was upstairs looking at bathroom taps, he selected all the cheap white kitchen unit carcases needed for my ARTHaven, and got them all at trade price, as well as the tiles that were in stock. The others are stock items which will be in again in sufficient quantities in a week or so. He loaded up the back of the truck, with the help of a very willing and charming young assistant, and we went back to the house again. He and Chris unloaded all the boxes of units, and Chris is going to start assembling them when he’s there again on Wednesday. They obviously can’t be installed till the floor is done.

Still no scaffolding in evidence. On Friday Andy phoned me and asked me to chase up the council highways dept. for the license to install it in the road at the front, and they told me that the scaffolding firm had phoned to ask about it, and it was agreed verbally, but they had to submit an application – it appears that they haven’t yet done this! Paul would chase this up, and today, Andy said that hopefully the scaffolding will go up for the roof sometime this week, and then the work can begin.

I’m not sure when we’ll go back next – probably when my hubby wants to do some more over there in the garden. He’s been hacking back the overgrown stuff, and needs some help with cutting down certain Leylandii trees that are too thick for his trimmer. He’s already brought a trailer-load of clippings home to burn. It’s looking a lot better already, especially now he’s tackled the grass. Once licked into shape, this garden will be very manageable for him, and he can start to enjoy gardening properly in his retirement, rather than it being a maintenance chore when he’s already busy with work etc. and a much larger plot than he’s happy managing at present.

So, progress is definitely being made! All the wallpaper is now stripped from the hall, stairs and landing, most of the kitchen units are out, all the plans are finalised, stuff is being ordered and purchased, and this evening I made my first online transfer of funds to the three of them for work done so far.

Onwards and upwards! Lots more piccies to follow in due course!

Oooh, oooh, ooooh, Shoshi’s so excited!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Dad’s 90th Birthday and a Fun Night Out

Yesterday was my dad’s 90th birthday so we went over to the care home and had tea with him. He had lots of cards, and seemed to be enjoying his day. Here he is with some cake and a candle.

Dad's 90th Birthday

I can’t believe he’s 90 (any more than I can believe I’m 60, actually!). A few weeks ago he swore blind he’d already had his 90th, and wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise – but in the end, who are we to disillusion him – if he thinks he’s already had a celebration, then the real one would just be an added bonus for him! His final clinching argument was, “I must have had my 90th birthday, because I received a Christmas card from the Queen!” ROFL!! Bless him!

Afterwards we went on to Exeter for the evening. Just outside Exeter is a beautiful old house called Poltimore, which is in a very sad state of dilapidation, but major restoration work has begun on it. Several years ago there was a TV series called “Restoration,” where a number of different buildings around the country competed to win the prize to be restored; Poltimore House was one of them, but unfortunately did not win.

It suffered the ravages of extreme vandalism during the 70s and 80s when a lot of youngsters broke in for raves, and they wrecked everything they could reach. Fortunately they couldn’t reach the ceilings with their very fine plasterwork, but a lot of damage needs to be repaired, and after decades of neglect, the structure of the building is in a very poor state, and some of it may be too far gone for restoration.

It will be wonderful to see it restored to its former glory, but in the meantime there is something to be said for the faded grandeur of its present state. Sometimes we get carried away with restoration until it’s hard to say what is original and what is not, and I have a fascination for the effect of decay on surfaces, and the textures and colours that result, and this is lost when it is restored.

On the Poltimore Estate there is a paintball park. The building was constructed in the early 50s as the Royal Observer Corps 10 Group Headquarters, and my hubby served there for seven years during the 1970s. This was like the Territorial Army, and my hubby was part of a team to monitor and identify nuclear explosions, to pass the information on, and to plot radiation and fallout, and to warn the public of attack and radiation, and to enable the evacuation of the population, or keep them safe in their homes until the radiation levels had reduced. They also spotted aircraft. This was during the height of the Cold War, and fortunately none of their training had to be put into practice. He very much enjoyed his experience with them, and was interested to see that the radio aerial was still towering above the paintball building!

The reason for our visit to Poltimore yesterday was a charity do to raise funds for the restoration. It was an Antiques Call My Bluff evening, with a team of three from one of our prominent local firms of auctioneers – they were responsible for the recent sale of my parents’ antiques, and in particular, Dad’s clocks, and got a very good price for us – the partner we dealt with was there last night; a charming man, and it was so good to see him again and to be able to thank him in person for doing so well for us.

When we arrived, we had drinks in the main entrance hall of the beautiful house, and were able to wander around and see the state of it, and the work in progress. There were plans and drawings of the proposed restoration on the walls. I was able to take quite a few photos, particularly of the beautiful plasterwork, which was some of the finest I’d ever seen.

We then moved on to the chapel (not the sort of building you’d expect for a house of this sort, but more like a village hall!) where we had a buffet supper, and then the Call My Bluff session began.

There were ten objects displayed, which we were invited to examine, and then each one was presented to us by each of the three team members in turn, and they described the object, its age and history, and its estimated value at auction, and we had to decide which was the most plausible explanation and mark the sheets we’d been given. It was a hilarious evening – they were all experts at describing such objects, of course, but some of the explanations (even the true ones!) were highly implausible, to say the least. There was a beautiful little blue and white dish, heavily encrusted with barnacles and other sea life, which the partner who we’d had dealings with described as having come from the wreck of “the Texting – I mean, the Tek Sing,” he said. (General laughter and scepticism all round.) He said that there had been several thousand people on board the junk that had sunk, and hundreds of thousands of these plates and other stuff (that all sounded highly unlikely, and we were not surprised it had sunk, if it had indeed been the case!) and when someone asked where it had sunk, he hesitated and tried to consult his notes, and replied, “Oh… somewhere between here and China, I think.” Needless to say, most of us put “Bluff” beside that one, but of course, it turned out to be true! I told him afterwards that I’d never buy a second hand car off him!!

There was a picture of two children with a rocking horse, which one of the team assured us was by an obscure Russian artist rejoicing in the name of Hors Manooor. You can imagine what we thought about that!!

One team member tried to pass off a sapphire and diamond ring (which I didn’t much like) as something bought off the Shopping Channel for twenty quid, but it turned out to be genuine and worth many thousands of pounds! I thought it was from the Shopping Channel. Duh. Definitely not my area! I only scored 3 out of 10. My hubby scored 6, but then he always does well with quizzes and things, and can read people pretty well and knows when they are telling porkies! The trouble is, he’s always so blessed SMUG about it! There was a tie-breaker between the two people who scored 7 out of 10, and the winner received what was described as “a bottle of a champagne-like substance” lol!

It was a most unusual evening, and tremendous fun. I think the auctioneers enjoy doing these evenings because it’s a bit of light relief from their normal work, and they are happy to do some extra-curricular work in a good cause.

Here are some photos of the inside of the house. It will be amazing to see it in its fully restored state – apparently it was glorious in its heyday – but in the meantime there is something about its faded grandeur that will be lost when it is restored; it will be hard to tell what is original and what is not, and the effects of age and neglect on the damaged surfaces gives rise to some beautiful subtle colours and textures which will be lost when it’s all tarted up.

Poltimore Fanlight

Poltimore Floor

Poltimore Plaster Fragments

Poltimore Plasterwork 1

Poltimore Plasterwork 2

Poltimore Plasterwork 3

Poltimore Plasterwork 4

There was powerful temporary lighting throughout the areas we saw, and this produced some unusual effects of light and shade on the plasterwork.

Poltimore Plasterwork 5

Poltimore Plasterwork 6

Poltimore Plasterwork 7

Poltimore Plasterwork 8

Poltimore Plasterwork 9

One of the magnificent mirrors, which had unfortunately been smashed by vandals.

Poltimore Plasterwork Mirror

The whole of the roof had been covered with this temporary structure to keep the weather out while they are doing the work. This is one of the towers.

Poltimore Tower

A most enjoyable day out! A restful day today, and over to the new house early tomorrow when we will have some discussion with the builder about our plans. He told me he is hoping to have the units for my new ARTHaven and we can start arranging them around the room and deciding where I want them. It’s starting to feel very real now!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Indian Textiles and a Fascinating Parcel

Today I received two parcels from Ebay, both Indian textiles for our new house. The first was a set of organza panels with gold and shi-sha embroidery to create new drapes for our bed, and the second was a toran (decorative embellishment for a doorway) to go over the doorway from my office to my new ARTHaven.

The panels came in the most unusual parcel I’ve ever received. Unlike our parcels in the west, this one wasn’t wrapped in paper, but in fabric!

01 Fabric Parcel

The customs label is stitched onto the parcel!

02 Stitched On Label

The name and address are handwritten with permanent marker onto the fabric of the parcel, and in such beautiful script too.

03 Handwritten Address Detail

These are the labels on the back of the parcel.

04 Indian Labels on Reverse

Finally, when did you last receive a parcel with sealing wax? Three great blobs of ochre-coloured sealing wax had been added to the sewn closure of the parcel. The whole parcel took a lot longer to open than the average western one, but it was so enjoyable doing it!

05 Closure Stitched and Sealed with Wax

This is what was inside. I have 3 panels like this, but have not unfolded the other two. They are absolutely gorgeous… The gold braid is much more gold in real life.

01 Gold-Embroidered Organza

Detail of the gold braid.

02 Gold Braid

Detail of the gold embroidery. In the centre of each motif is a shi-sha mirror. Shi-sha embroidery is one of my favourites – the little mirrors flash in the light and add so much richness! It’s maybe not the easiest technique, but once mastered, is such fun to do. I have done a great deal of it over the years, including on my wedding dress.

03 Gold Shi-sha Embroidery Detail

The other parcel was much more conventionally wrapped, in the usual grey polybag that you get stuff from Ebay sent in. However, what was inside certainly wasn’t conventional! This is a pink and faded pale red toran for my ARTHaven doorway. I just love the subtle colours.

01 Indian Toran

Here’s a detail of one of the fringe pieces, and you can see that this piece is also embellished with shi-sha.

02 Indian Toran Fringe Detail

This is a detail of the top border, which you can see is embellished with numerous shi-sha mirrors.

03 Indian Toran Top Detail

Finally, a detail of the little embroidered elephant.

04 Indian Toran Elephant Detail

I photographed all this on our elephants duvet cover. We bought this bedding when we first came to our present house and it’s getting a bit faded now, particularly on this side as it gets the sun, but I love it so much, and will be heartbroken when it’s worn out!

When I get my ARTHaven sorted, I’ll attach the toran over the doorway from the office into the ARTHaven proper:

04 Doorway into ARTHaven

More photos will follow, I promise! Lots to do, but we’ll get there in the end.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Our New House–Stairlift Plans

Today my hubby and I went over to the new house, and after sharing a sandwich lunch, he left me there for the afternoon so that I could meet the representative from Acorn Stairlifts to discuss whether it was feasible to have a stairlift fitted. When I first arrived, I photographed the latest work to be done – there were no builders there today, but I could see what Chris had done when he’d been there in my absence on Friday.

First of all, he has made a start on stripping off the wallpaper from the hall, stairs and landing.

01 Stripping the Hall Wallpaper 1

02 Stripping the Hall Wallpaper 2

Interesting to see green underneath the wallpaper! I was watching a TV programme this evening which showed an old house where some of the plaster was flaking off, so they got an expert in to remove it all, and they found a historically important portrait of Henry VIII on the wall underneath! What a thrill it would be if something turned up during our house renovation… (Not likely to happen, but fun to dream!)

In the annexe kitchen, the boiler and tank are now exposed and ready for removal. (Nothing of great archaeological interest here, I’m afraid!)

03 Annexe Kitchen - Boiler and Tank Exposed

There may be someone there tomorrow, but we can’t spend much time there – we are going out for lunch and will take our friend over to see the house in the afternoon but it will just be a short visit to give the guided tour.

The main purpose of today’s visit was to discuss the stairlift. It was an extremely fruitful visit! The Acorn representative said the staircase posed absolutely no problem; it is a straight staircase  and would be a simple job. The only thing was the door into the annexe which is right at the foot of the stairs (see second photo above) but as I expected from my initial researches, all that is required is a hinged track. The track extends beyond the stairs, across the corner of the door, when the seat is in the “down” position, but as you go up, the track hinges upwards after you so that it leaves no obstruction across the door. The only time there is an obstruction is when the seat is at the bottom, and when not in use, it can be “parked” a few stairs up, out of the way.

He showed me lots of pictures from his large brochure. When installed, the whole thing will be very neat, and not impact the normal use of the staircase much at all.

He then proceeded to give me the different purchase options. He said they had a rental option – this is mostly for people who require a stairlift for a limited period, and mostly this period is for less than two years, and generally a lot less than this. It becomes uneconomic to rent for a longer period. You can buy a brand new system, or you can buy a refurbished one (3 different levels for this; he didn’t recommend option C as this usually involved an older, obsolete, and larger model). Option A looked the most favourable. All the refurbs would be ex-rental ones which would have a complete factory overhall, new seat, and a brand new track fitted. It would carry the same guarantee as a brand new one.

He said the trouble was, there was limited availability on refurbs at the moment. Sometimes there were plenty, but he did know that they didn’t have any at present. However, he said that if a customer had chosen that option under these circumstances, the company would offer a brand new system at a refurb price! This is the option that I have chosen.

He phoned through to the office, and then discovered that he had quoted me the price of a manual hinge (which you work yourself by pulling it up after you as the chair ascends) instead of the automatic one which of course was more expensive, but because he had done this, they agreed to let me have the automatic one at the manual price!!

With the signing of the VAT exemption form on top of all these discounts, I reckon I have got a very good deal indeed. All that remained was for me to pay a deposit, and he told the office that the house was empty, with building work taking place, and once we had moved in, I would contact them and arrange for installation. They need a couple of days’ notice but the work itself will only take two or three hours! I need to discuss the position of the power point with Andy but this will be a minor detail.

Altogether very painless! It’s one more thing that is now sorted out, and I am also very pleased that it is costing quite a bit less than I expected. It is going to make a huge difference to me. Although I can manage the stairs, they do take a lot of energy which could be usefully saved for more profitable purposes, and if I have things that need to be carried up and down stairs and I feel able to manage the stairs, the stairlift can be used  to carry things. It has two remote controls and can be operated from up or down stairs.

After the representative had gone, I went upstairs and finished cleaning out the mirrored wardrobe in the main bedroom, and did a bit more measuring. I am glad of the extra time before most of the building work begins, because it enables me to be more flexible and make any necessary changes to the plans.

After this, there was just time to have a cup of tea and wash the cups before my hubby came for me. We picked up another Chinese on the way home. A bit tired this evening after my efforts but so worth it!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Romania–Construction of Buildings

In the midst of all the excitement about our new house, I mustn’t forget that I am in the middle of a series on Romania, after I found my long-lost disc of photos from our trip ten years ago.

When we went, we found ourselves in the middle of a post-revolution building boom, and I was absolutely fascinated to see how they constructed their buildings. There were a great number of churches going up, using different materials in different areas of the country. In the north the churches are mostly built of wood, especially in rural areas, but brick is favoured in more southerly regions.

When we visited the Sibiu Village Museum, which is a large collection of buildings transported from all over the country to a huge landscaped area, we saw many examples of traditional wooden construction.

Here is an example of very simple construction on a wooden pontoon which was part of a mill. The planks of wood are simply stapled together!

055 Sibiu Village Museum - Stapled Wood on Mill Pontoon

This is an extremely simple footbridge constructed from a curved log, with stakes driven in along the sides, and branches woven between them. Simple, but effective, and also very attractive!

074 Sibiu Village Museum - Wooden Bridge Detail 2

The wooden houses were constructed very much along the lines of American log cabins. The corners were quite beautiful. The wood looks crude, but the joints were cut so well that you couldn’t have inserted a knife blade between.

076 Sibiu Village Museum - Wooden Building Construction Detail

Here is a wattle wall with thatch above.

077 Sibiu Village Museum - Thatched Roof and Wattle Wall

The next picture shows the underside of the roof of the silk-spinner’s house in the Sibiu Village Museum.

080 Sibiu Village Museum - Roof, Silk Spinner's House

More from the Sibiu Village Museum: wooden door detail:

090 Sibiu Village Museum - Wooden Door Detail

Window detail:

091 Sibiu Village Museum - Carved Window Frame Detail

When we were staying in Baia Mare, we were taken up to the site of the new cathedral under construction. This was a fascinating visit because it enabled us to see how the building was made before it was all covered up with plaster and paintings. This is the bell tower under construction; you can see the wooden frame, and the beautiful hand-made wooden shingles on the roof.

360 BM Cathedral - Wooden Bell Tower 1

The bells on a temporary wooden structure, ready to hang once the bell tower was completed:

391 BM Cathedral - The Bells Ready to Hang

Detail of the shingle roof construction. This shows very nicely how the shingles overlap to create the marvellous decorative finish.

366 BM Cathedral - Shingle Roof Construction Detail

It was amazing watching the builders applying the shingles. They have a small bracket with a metal hook which hooks onto the purlin, and they sit on the narrow horizontal bar – all day! It must be terribly uncomfortable! They fix as many shingles as they can from one position, and then move the bracket along.

365 BM Cathedral - Shingle Roof Under Construction 4

I am sure this would be considered quite unsafe in the UK and would never pass health and safety regulations!! In the picture, you can see the make-shift platform with the shingles awaiting fixing.

The next photo shows the shingle-making site. Each one is shaped by hand, which generates a huge amount of shavings! Because they are hand-made, none of these shingles is identical to any other, which gives a beautifully pleasing effect when they are on the roof, quite unlike our factory-made tiles with their uniform finish.

368 BM Cathedral - Shingle-Making Site

Here is a shingle, finished and ready to apply to the roof.

367 BM Cathedral - Wooden Roof Shingle

The pointed end is at the bottom, which produces the wonderful decorative effect

Apart from the bell-tower, which was constructed of wood, and well under way, the only part of the main cathedral to have been completed was the crypt. Much of it was still not plastered or painted, so we were able to see the brickwork construction.

369 BM Cathedral - Crypt Entrance

Inside the crypt:

383 BM Cathedral - Crypt Gen View

(This picture is rather grainy, I’m afraid; the light was dim.) You can see the vaulted ceiling, and the beginning of some wall painting in the centre of the dome.

376 BM Cathedral - Behind the Iconastasis 3

The above picture shows the beautiful brickwork construction, in the area behind the iconostasis. It does seem a shame that this will be covered with plaster and wall paintings, and we felt very privileged to capture this particular moment in time when it was all still visible. Here is the dome construction.

378 BM Cathedral - Domed Brickwork Roof

They had begun the wall paintings:

374 BM Cathedral - Behind the Iconastasis 1

A brickwork pillar:

386 BM Cathedral - Brickwork Pillar

This is the sort of internal wall painting that would eventually cover all this brickwork – this is the interior of the crypt at the monastery church of Birsana:

462 Birsana Monastery - Crypt Ceiling

This monastery was also very interesting; again, the only part that was completed was the crypt, and this was more complete than the crypt of Baia Mare cathedral because the wall paintings were complete. The main structure of the building was of wood, not of brick, and again, we were able to see the construction.

Here is the roof under construction, and again, you can see the wooden shingles going on.

453 Birsana Monastery - Roof Construction

Underneath you can see what passes for scaffolding! I think our western health and safety people would have a fit, but this is the time-honoured method of building in Romania and it seems to have stood the test of time! None of the builders seemed to be wearing hard hats, either.

Here are some pictures of the wooden construction inside.

464 Birsana Monastery - Church Window

On this window, you can see some carved detail, which will eventually be picked out in brightly coloured paint.

This complicated structure is the beginning of a spiral staircase!

465 Birsana Monastery - Church Spiral Staircase

This is a very interesting picture showing the construction of the wooden roof.

466 Birsana Monastery - Church Roof

This picture shows the construction of the wooden gallery.

468 Birsana Monastery - Church Gallery

A detail shot shows the wooden peg construction of the gallery supports.

469 Birsana Monastery - Church Gallery Construction Detail

I think this gives a taste of how buildings in Romania are constructed. We were so fortunate to be there during the time of the building boom. These buildings under construction will all have been completed now, and all indication of how they were made will be hidden under layers of plaster and paint. Today, the financial climate has become very difficult again in Romania, along with much of the rest of Europe, so there probably isn’t so much building work going on now. We were there in that little golden window of opportunity that enabled us to see so much.