Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Let the Stripping Begin....

So, after a week of every plumber within a hundred mile vicinity coming to visit, and the arrival of two builders estimates I have made decisions. The gold plated boiler is going to be installed at the beginning of October, and the builders start work on October 12th.

Armed with actual dates, I have hauled out the trusty steamer and begun steaming off the many acres of woodchip that are holding the house together. I always envisioned this being done by somebody else but budgets (and boilers) have made me abandon this plan and the work falls to yours truly.

I have a fantastic range of woodchip wallpapers. My office has three different styles in the one room and there are four other styles through the house. None of them seem that willing to leave which is vexing. In addition to the ones on the walls, there are those between the raftered ceilings which also need to be removed. I am going to have some sympathy with Michaelangelo at the end of this.

So far, after three hours of hot and sweaty labouring I have managed to strip just one wall of one room. I have until the 12th of October to get 5 rooms done. Hmm. It's going to be interesting isn't it?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

I'm skipping school this afternoon.

That's right. Work is reasonably under control, if not verging on quiet at the moment and I am running away to play for the afternoon. I am going to drive up to the coast and go to the cinema to see Julie and Julia.

This seems like the perfect thing to do on a grey september afternoon. It's indulgent, unnecessary and at four pounds a ticket, cheap. Perfect.

It will be an excellent distraction from worrying about builders, topsoil, boilers and clients who haven't paid their invoices and it will hopefully inspire me to cook something delicious for tea on Saturday when ElizabethM comes to visit.

Going to the cinema is rare for me. It is miles away and though I can be bothered to drive the 50 minutes to get there, I can't be bothered with the journey back afterwards late at night. I'm lazy like that.

There is a local cinema nearby. It shows films on Wednesday nights in the village hall and is a little behind the times. At the moment I think that the first Lord of the Rings film has just arrived for a grand premiere. Tickets are sold by a nice lady who is officially 'simple'. She is interesting though. Some years ago she won eight million pounds in the lottery. She bought herself a new second hand volvo and her children new mini coopers. They were not thrilled. Farmers one and all they live up mountains at the end of rutted tracks that Mini Coopers were not designed for. If you see a new mini cooper abandoned at the bottom of a track, you have found one of her sons! I don't know what she did with the rest of the money but she still sells the tickets for the cinema, and the ice creams and packs of minstrels and I have never seen her wear anything except her brown cord skirt, plain shirt and knitted cardigan. Her money did NOT go on designer shopping. Anyway, back to the 'cinema', such as it is.

You sit on those plastic, stacking chairs which after an hour are guaranteed to give you a numb bum, and halfway through the film, regardless of plot, dialogue etc the film stops for an interval! It's not the most comfortable experience and as they usually keep the film schedule top secret until the day afterwards, I rarely manage to go there!

Today's cinema trip though will be to a proper cinema with plush velour seating, the smell of old popcorn and probably children who really are skipping school talking and snogging in the back row.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A peek at my summer idyll.

In case you think that I am just one big grumble at the moment I thought I would remind myself, and show you, that there have been some idyllic moments over the summer at the new hovel.

Here are some photos which I haven't even doctored to show why life is good. I need to remember these things more often. It is all too easy to get sucked down by the vexing things, and forget the perfect moments. This will serve as a reminder for me.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Box of Frogs is in Love.

My sister, mad as a box of frogs, hence the name, is in love. She met her beau at a houseparty in the North of Scotland. Tall, ex army and with a head of thick, grey hair, he was promptly nicknamed 'the Silver Fox' and so he shall remain.

They went straight from being strangers to being a couple. Literally. They met on a Saturday. They parted company for their respective homes on the Sunday. They met up the next weekend and officially became 'a couple'. They are at the stage where they can't remember each other's name and call one another 'Darling' a lot. Now they are talking about moving in together.

It just goes to show how quickly these things can happen. After all they only met two and a half months ago. My prediction? If they are still going out by Christmas then this time next year I'll be shopping for a wedding outfit. Apparently he is coming to stay with us for Christmas. Brave of him. Christmas in our household is a deranged affair with an excess of decorations, bickering, food and sulking. If he makes it through that then marriage to the box of frogs will be a doddle.

That's not actually what I wanted to tell you about though. Box of Frogs has been out of a relationship for a while now and she is a few years older than me. She knows what it is like to be single and how vexing the questions you get asked are. You want examples? Ok, how about this one:

"I can't understand why you are single?" This is usually said by well meaning friends but is intensely irritating as it is a pointless statement. I mean, if I knew why I were single, presumably I would do something about it. Are they expecting me to respond by saying in an insouciant fashion "Oh, it's because at midnight I like to eat a kitten and wash it down with the blood of a freshly squeezed bat." What am I supposed to say when people ask that. Do they want an answer? Seriously people, I don't know why I am single, but I am and I am getting on with my life. It doesn't make me less of a person or anything.

Box of Frogs, more than anyone knows how this type of question is not helpful at all. The other night she came to stay and she said to me.

"The silver fox and I feel so bad that we are happy and you are single. I must introduce you to some of his friends". (ok I'm paraphrasing a little)

So, let me get this straight. If I am single I therefore cannot be happy? Pah! Harumph and Bah Humbug to you. How is it that Box of Frogs, having been single for years and years, is suddenly converted to matchmaking me? It's not that I'm averse to meeting the Silver Fox's friends. They may be George Clooney, or Clive Owen. I'm all for that. What I'm not keen on is the instant pity factor that she has developed now that she is in a relationship and I am not. It is a betrayal of those of us who are single and surviving.

I imagine it is a bit of a conversion thing. She is converted to lurve and all it's glories and wants me to be on the side of the couples, god and all shiny happy things in the universe. Instead I am loitering on the dark side, eating crisps, watching House and wearing mismatched underwear because nobody gets to see it and I can! Obviously, I need to be saved.

Well, not today. Box of Frogs is off on holiday with the Silver Fox this week. Next week I expect she'll start matchmaking me with his accountant.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I've been FIRED.

Since I work for myself, you will have probably already leapt to the correct conclusion that I haven't been fired by myself. Mind you, I did have to give myself a verbal warning last week but that is another story. No, this time, I have been fired by my builders. What makes this story even worse is that I hadn't even hired them yet.

Searching for a builder is a tiresome and depressing job. You want somebody you like, somebody with sensible prices, and somebody reliable. There is a local builder who I have worked with before but I have been avoiding going to him because he can't bear working for women. He thinks we can't possibly know what we want, or understand what we are asking for, and so tends to do what he thinks is right. This generally makes me apoplectic, very red in the face, and tempted to use his tools for purposes they were not designed for. So, I searched farther afield. I asked around for recommendations and finally was put in touch with a really nice firm. Well, 'firm' may be a bit of an exaggeration. Three guys who came highly recommended.

They came to see me and I liked them enormously. They understood what I wanted to do, and why, and my hopes, like a hot air balloon in May, started to rise. Their estimate came in. It was higher than I wished, but realistic all the same. I started to soar and dream of a house that wasn't a testament to seventies nastiness. However, due to the gold plated boiler requirements, I realised I would have to slash a third of the work off the budget. To do this, I needed a breakdown of the prices.

This is where it all goes horribly wrong.

I rang and asked if they could breakdown the estimate so that I could work out what bits could be done this year, and what would have to wait. 'No need to type it all up' I assured them, 'just scribble the figures on the specs that I gave you.' Two weeks later I had heard nothing. I chased them up. Still nothing. I left a shirty message asking where it was. Monday night I had a phonecall from John, one of the builders, apologising profusely for the slowness. They had tried to get in touch with me last week, he said, but I hadn't responded. I pointed out that they had my e mail, my house address and two telephone numbers and one of those would have reached me if they had sent anything.

Not wishing it to be a big drama I suggested they send me the paperwork by e mail or post so that I could give them a decision this week. I assured them that I wanted to go ahead with the work but I just needed to decide which bits had to be put on hold for a year. They promised me a response by the next day. Tuesday came and went. Nothing. Wednesday still nothing. I left another message wondering where the estimate was. Thursday I get an e mail. I shall copy it directly for you:

apologies but we are unable 2 help with your proposed works

No 'Dear Welsh Girl', no 'yours sincerely', nothing. It could have been from anyone. Anyone at all. That is quite aside that I can't bear the laziness of typing '2' instead of 'to'. Luckily for me the e mail address hinted at it being the builders. Otherwise I wouldn't have known who was firing me with one succint sentence.

I thought there was a recession on? I thought people wanted work? Surely you don't throw away £15000 of work this year with more to come for the next few years because doing an estimate is too hard? That can't be it? I think it is though. I have been fired by the builders I wanted to hire because they couldn't be bothered to do an hour of paperwork.

I don't think it was unreasonable to want a cost breakdown, particularly as I had assured them I wanted to go ahead, but couldn't do all the work this year. No, I feel certain that this is a direct result of me being a single girl. The builders have decided that I am tiresome with my need for estimates, and that they would rather work for someone who just says 'Whatever' to the costs and goes to the pub for a pint with them.

I know I should just move on, but this whole process has wasted two months when I could have been getting other builders in to estimate. I really did think they were the ones for the job. If I was married, or had a boyfriend, I bet they would have responded and produced the wretched paperwork when my other half requested it. Perhaps I should teach the Loyal Hound to write?

This is a huge thing to be doing on my own and it is frequently overwhelming in its enormity, both financial and emotional. Being fired by the builders I wanted to hire does not make it any easier at all.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

It's been a while. Sorry about that but I'm back now.

I know. I've been gone for ages. I'm not dead or anything. I don't really know what happened. I got blogging block! Anyway, I have overcome my fear and here I am again. Back luck. Thought you had got rid of me didn't you?

So, in my absence I have been busy. In addition to working like a loon, I have started work on the garden of the hovel. I have built a vegetable garden (of sorts) and am now spending my time trying to dig up top soil from elsewhere in the garden and lugging it over to the new beds. Back breaking work that is oddly satisfying. Here is a photo of the garden so far....

Hopefully, next year I will be able to show you a picture of it filled with a cornucopia of vegetables!

I have also made a driveway and parking area next to the house. This was done with the help of a local farmer and his digger and then 10 hours of crucifying work when I raked out eleven tons of gravel. That night I was so stiff that I thought it would kill me. The next few days even walking was a struggle. However, now I have an actual drive which you can turn in and everything.

My real battle is with the plumbers. The heating system in this house is deranged. The boiler, which the previous owner assured me was marvellous, is actually insane. There is only one thermostat in the house and it is in the sitting room. If it is cold I, not unnaturally, light the wood burner. Consequently the Sitting Room heats up and the thermostat goes off which then means the heating in the rest of the house goes off. In addition there is no timer switch and no way that I have found to turn the hot water on. If I want hot water I have to use the immersion override and wait an hour for the water to heat up. It is not ideal. Not ideal at all.

I have now had four different plumbers out to quote for a new boiler. I had naively thought that it would cost a painful £3500 or so. 'Or so' doesn't even begin to cover it though. It turns out they think £4500 PLUS VAT is more like it. The boiler is only £2000 so where is the rest of the money going? I am frequently driven to wanting to weep just thinking about it and it is becoming an issue which sums up the 'single and surviving, just' principle. I have to sort the wretched thing out but it is taking up a quarter of my budget for doing up the house, a quarter I desperately wanted for other things. Moments like this I would love to have somebody else in my life, not only to share the dilemma, but in all honesty, to also share the cost.

I know that it is horribly mercenary but it has taken me YEARS to save up the money for this project and now it is all being sucked up by the vile plumbers. Hateful, hateful boiler. It has given me sleepless nights, and chillblains. Ok, not actually chillblains, but if I don't get it fixed before winter then they are an option.

I am doing everything I can to earn more money. I am working on two book proposals but neither of those are likely to earn me any money for years (if at all) and the recession means that, though I have work on, people aren't spending as much so I am travelling as much as ever, but not earning as much.

In addition I made a mistake earlier this year (long story that I won't bore you with), that cost me nearly two thousand pounds. I have cancelled a trip to China to try and recuperate the costs but this is definitely my summer of money worries. Perhaps there will be a Karmic refund and I will win £10,000 (or a hundred thousand?) to balance out the arterial bleed that is my bank account.

Anyway, I shall stop whining about my life. The sun is shining, the blackberries are ripening and the sheets are flapping on the line. I just need to adjust my dreams for the house. Instead of it taking a couple of years to get the bulk of the work done, it may be a lot longer. A lot, lot longer.

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