Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From O. Reader


When we moved into our house it had not been lived in for three and a half years. I suspect it was one of those messy divorce cases where no-one was prepared to sell, so if one side couldn’t have it, they would make real sure the other party didn’t get it either. Several lifetimes earlier when villages were self-sufficient it had been the chemist shop. It was originally a mining cottage, and according to the 1900 census held a family of husband, wife, four strapping children and two adult lodgers. Quite where they put them all I still wonder. Probably night shift and day shift and don’t ask too many questions about the bedding. Anyhow, that’s history - when we came on the scene, it was in really dreadful repair. But we were strapped for cash and I was struggling to learn a whole new career, and it was all we could afford. No financial institution would have considered it for a mortgage, even if we could have afforded one. (And if we could have afforded one, we probably wouldn’t have bought THIS anyway!)  But our initial budget allowed us to replace the roof, get some basic heating in, and we camped for rather a long time upstairs while I struggled with Do It Yourself books from the library to tame the ground floor. Ah me - if only I had known then what I know now...etc.

It is all a long time ago.

One of our first “luxury” purchases was a set of fitted wardrobes to replace the school cabinets from my mother-in-law’s old nursery school that we had used at our previous basement flat. They were wall to wall and in fact, traveled around the walls as well. But they were intended to be installed once for all time.

In fact, over the last thirty years or more they have been taken out twice and rebuilt twice. Once was to add an extra sliver of cupboard to really be wall to wall - and it was a struggle. But then there was the time the ceiling collapsed. The previous owners - idiots all - had a leaking roof and in typical short-term fashion had filled the attic space with dead carpets (rubber backed) to stop the water coming into the bedrooms. They had obviously put a certain amount of thought into this although I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess on their basic I.Q. This was one of the delights we only really discovered AFTER we had purchased, which probably doesn’t say much for our clear thinking at the time either. (As I said earlier, if I had only known then...etc.) Anyhow, we sorted all that out, but did not realise that all the upstairs ceilings were all on their last legs. What I should have done was kick them all through from the attic before we moved in, and replace the lot. What I actually did was to use some plastic sealant and gallons of a mixture of plaster and paint called Artex and patch it up. And then forgot all about it. Which was a BAD IDEA.

Move forward a number of years. I decide to put a decent ladder into the attic and also a floor up there. It requires enlarging the hole for entry quite considerably. I may have told this story before - I have told it somewhere but can’t remember where, and well - if I have done it here, you won’t remember anyway., So I am up a ladder trying to cross-baton the ceiling since the flooring we have in the attic is fixed permanently, and has a few tons of goods on top of it. As always, everything is done in the wrong order. Tap, tap, tap. Suddenly I see a crack appear. As I look, it increases and gains momentum and runs away from me. Struggling to save it by leaning at an impossible angle on top of the step-ladder I crash to the floor with half a ton of black mortar on top of me. Mining cottages were all built with sticky black mortar everywhere, exacerbated by the atmosphere and surroundings. Oh doom and double doom.

Then my daughter arrives home from school. She finds a blackened wreck doing an impersonation of Al Jolson sitting on a pile of debris and hysterically laughing. She laughs too. We both stand and sit in the rubble and laugh together. Then Mrs O arrives home from college. I remember she doesn’t laugh. Her face is a picture. This causes her daughter and husband to cackle manically all the more. It was not a wise move.

Anyhow, to cut a long and painful story short, we had to replace every ceiling in the top of the house - gutting every room and rebuilding the furniture. So our fitted wardrobes come out again, and because veneered chipboard is not too partial to movement, it had to be fitted back with that many screws and brackets and six inch nails (no - I tell a lie - I resisted the temptation to use nails) that it was now permanent. An earthquake could hit our village, an explosion could rip the house apart, but amidst the rubble there would still have been a set of fitted wardrobes leering out at us.

But finally, as a consequence of making a killing on eBay, I agreed this year to replace the furniture with something “modern”. There is a Scandinavian company called Ikea that has great huge outlets designed to wear you out buying things you don’t need as you follow the yellow brick road (and they really DO have a road with arrows on it) to get out of the place. But they have modern fitted units that go right up to the ceiling - something our old units did not do. Instead the tops were where we would store things like guitars and dust. They have all sorts of useful features in them but give you more floor space by taking up less depth. Originally their stuff was always light wood, and our home needs a lot of oak if it is to be kept to its restored period look, but now they have sensible finishes. Crucially, for only 25% on top of the bill they will come and fit it for you. This really appealed. I have built numerous bookcases and fitted a kitchen or two, and of course these original wardrobes were my handiwork. But I was young then. I would leap out of bed at six and work through the day constructing through until bedtime, whistling a happy tune as I worked. Now I leap out of bed at six and attack in the same fashion and by about breakfast time I’m done for. Mrs O, who wields a mean paint brush, feels the same way. So next week it all comes and they will fit it. I hope I am not writing a post about disaster afterwards...

There was only one snag. We had to clear the room of the old wardrobes, cupboards and contents, bed and massive amounts of belongings. I am really quite sensible with possessions, realising that books first and then CDs and DVDs are the priorities. Mrs O has a weakness for clothes. These last two days we have cleared the room. It is amazing how much stuff Mrs O has... Well, er, we have. We are determined that it won’t all go back when the room is restored. But it is currently filling up other bedrooms and my office and the downstairs living rooms. How we managed to have so much stuff in one room is amazing. And all the other rooms look suspiciously like having the same latent problem.

So over the last couple of days, after having visitors stay for a convention and a bumper day of treating foot conditions to wear me out before we started, I have dismantled the wardrobes and reduced them to suitably sized bits to go to the local dump where they take such things for free. Five carloads it took. And the ironwork, screws and bolts, there are several boxes of those for recycling. To coin a phrase, I ache, therefore I am.

The carpet comes tomorrow to a completely cleared room. We then continue sleeping on camp beds downstairs for a week until the IKEA people come to put up the wardrobes. I hope they don’t postpone it. We camped at folk festivals recently. That was fun. Living room carpet surrounded by cardboard boxes is not quite the same.

Our son in law is an engineer and he checked our measurements. But there are niggling worries - usually at 3 a.m. - I hope it is measured up correctly and that the sizes in the catalog really are what they say they are.

What was that about Murphy’s law..?


  1. I think we will require before and after pictures of this project... I mean of the room not of Mr and Mrs O!
    The engineer's tape measure is never wrong... unless of course feet have been substituted for inches, a certain film containing a model of Stonehenge springs to mind.

  2. An occasional reader8:32 AM

    Ah - I actually know the cultural reference to Stonehenge made by Ms Goddard - "This is Spinal Tap". There is this great huge over-the-top Stadium-Rock performance, and the band sing this song about "Stonehenge". You need to do a flat London/Essex accent to sound authentic, and the American actors impersonating a failed UK heavy metal band get it just right. At the key moment, a huge replica of Stonehenge is supposed to comes down from the heavens, but the guy who commissioned it got his symbols for feet and inches mixed up... Down comes this tiny little model of Stonehenge, and as the aghast lead singer does his spoken word bit "All the little children - sang songs - around Stonehenge" (or something like that) the vertically challenged adults playing the children try and dance and bump into each other... Priceless.

    I trust that Mr and Mrs O's building will not generate such memories.

  3. Jerome, thanks for sharing with us!

  4. Anonymous1:31 AM

    Gone quiet, ain't it....