From sensible suburban living to "The Good Life" stopping at various places including Rising Damp and Escape to the Country. Hopefully avoiding DIY SOS and Cowboy Builders

Thursday, 5 September 2013

More boys toys

As if a chain saw weren't enough, we soon decided that manual labour given the amount we had to do would be a very bad idea.

The next pressing external jobs were to:
1. Prepare the base for the greenhouse
2. Fix the leaky garage roof
3. Mow the field/lawn

The greenhouse we had decided upon was a Rhino from Greenhouses Direct, a make we had long coveted. In the run up to moving, we had discussed the need for a bigger greenhouse than the 8x6 flimsy aluminium one at our old house.

Budgetary constraints meant that we decided upon an aluminium finish 8x12 or, at a push an 8 foot x 14 foot. Clearly it is unwise to order such capital items without seeing them, so we jetted off one Sunday afternoon to take a look at the display centre.

Even more clearly, it is unwise to go to display centres as we came away having ordered a 8x20 in the powder coated green finish, hence blowing the previously allocated budget by a factor of about 2. Never mind.

The immediate result of this was the need to remove 160 square feet of turf (and a bit more round the outside) to prepare for the new greenhouse, although the advantage of a Rhino is that it can be assembled directly upon solid ground, so there is no need for (much) concrete. Removing that with a spade is a guaranteed way of wrecking both elbows and backs, so we needed a solution.

Next door's bungalow is in course of construction, and the builders put us in touch with a local tool hire shop. They have a turf stripper. Turf strippers are great! Why have I never used one of these before?

Having hired it for the weekend, by the time we'd had it home for 2 hours, the turf on the greenhouse base was already cut,and being carted off. In order to make the most of our 'investment' it would be rude not to keep going, so by the end of the day, not only had we a cleared greenhouse base, but also an area clear of turf ready for the first veggie patch of the new garden.

By the end of the weekend the turf was carted off (albeit the workforce were not entirely keen).....

and the father-in-law's rotavator was going full tilt (I know that those of a truly organic persuasion would be turning in their potato trenches but time was of the essence).
With the weather still being cold, but dry, the next job was to get up on the garage roof to fix the leaky seams. I think we've already mentioned that the wind whistles through here compared to your average housing estate, but even that does not describe just what a brisk easterly is like in early April. When you're up on a metal garage roof it is impossible to describe without expletives. The job itself was split into 10 minute stints, each punctuated with a cup of coffee, but was accomplished still smiling.
.....and of course, the next time it rained, it still leaked!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Getting on with it (with big boys toys)

With any new house, there is usually a "to do" list about as long as your arm, and Sunnyside is no exception. Except that the list is as long as several arms.

I had taken almost three weeks off work to kick start the process, with the one real target to have the greenhouse up and finished before returning to work. Not a big job, you might think, but true to form it's not quite that simple.

Firstly, there was an aged and infirm Willow Tree close enough to threaten the greenhouse if not removed, secondly the ground was not prepared, and thirdly Greenhouses Direct had informed us that the construction of a 8ft x 20ft greenhouse is at least a 6 day job.

Thankfully, the plan had worked in that the greenhouse was not due to arrive until the Friday following Easter, so I had 4 days to remove the tree. Clearly a little biddy hand saw was not going to be up to the job, so I got to go and buy Big Boys Toy Number 1.

Amazingly, Screwfix sold me a Chain Saw. Anyone who knows me, and my history of Stanley Knives, panes of glass etc, would know that "nothing could possibly go wrong".
In the event, nothing did and the tree, significantly more rotten than even we had suspected, gave up and fell over before I had cut through half of the trunk. At no point was it more than 6 or 7 inches thick, so bad was the rot in the middle. In retrospect, I think that the wind and rain we have had since may probably have brought it down anyway (no doubt into the greenhouse).

Of course, no DIY job in which I am involved can run completely smoothly, so I did manage to:
1. Cut the ground thus blunting the blade.
2. Throw the chain and mess it up completely.

This would normally be a show-stopper, but we live close enough to Handy Senior for me to be able to ask for assistance. I duly chipped up at his asking "do you have a vice, file etc so that I can fix this?"

His response was "hang on a minute" and to go rootling around in a drawer.

I have long suspected that my father is some sort of cross between magpie and squirrel, because he keeps everything. On this occasion, he outdid even himself, coming up not with tools, but a spare chainsaw blade of the exact correct size and make!

Thus I was able to continue, and after two days of hacking, sawing, carrying (and just a little bit of swearing under my breath) the tree was gone. Job Done. We even got rid of the line of shrubs in the background.
Now I'm looking forward to November 5th.

Getting used to it

The first order of the day, whenever moving house, should be to remove the Estate Agents Board to declare "we have arrived". Miraculously, I managed to find the "emergency box of tools" specially packed for such a purpose.

I was almost thwarted by the Estate Agents use of at least a 100mm screw to attach it to the gatepost.
Q. Why did it need screws that big?
A. As we would later discover, living here is significantly more exposed than being hidden in the middle of a housing estate.

As the picture shows, the snow was very slow to clear and in the end hung around for the best part of the Easter Weekend after we had moved. It also gave us the chance to move boxes around and to get used to the significantly smaller space we had moved into.

Even better, the cold snap focussed our minds on getting to grips with the Central Heating, which is currently centred upon an Anthracite Boiler. With our limited experience of such things, we made sure that it was fully stocked each night before bed but its a lot different beast to having Gas Central Heating.

This was further evidenced by the fact that our decision to have both heat and hot water turn off for 6 hours at night meant that the fire went out. Cue waking up at 3 a.m. thinking "its a bit cold" and then getting up to find the chimney stone cold. As the self-appointed "Lord of the Flame" I hadn't exactly considered when I would get 'lighting practice' but my choice would not have been 3 a.m. in temperatures of minus stupid. To make it worse, the first two attempts at relighting were a dismal failure, and the slow return to having a properly functioning fire in the bottom of the boiler was not accomplished until 5:30. Not worth going back to bed then. Best to just get up and get on with it.

A moving experience

Moving house, they say, is one of the most stressful things you can do in life. Apparently it's right up there with death and divorce.

I think that this is nearly true in that getting ready to move house is the stressful bit, once you're moving, you're busy and have less time to be stressed. At least that's what we found. After weeks (seemingly) of struggling to get mortgages in place, funds ready for release, chains ready to move on the same day, 28th of March got settled upon and then it rushed to arrive.

Even at this point, things still weren't straightforward. Our chosen removal firm (NEVER move home without one!) were not fully available due to our late confirmation, and we were faced with having to do part of the move ourselves. In the event, the other party cancelled, and we had the undivided attention of Lessers Removals for two days. And they did a fantastic job!

Having a relatively short chain, at least everyone was in contact with everyone else, and keys were exchanged the day before. One less thing to worry about on moving day.

I would like to say that 'moving day' dawned bright and clear. But it didn't. The day before, we started to load the lorry amid snowflakes.
This was not in the plan! The late Spring had still not arrived, though we had thought all the snow was over. But this was Tamworth, and over our years in Tamworth we had always wondered why everyone else "got more snow than us".
The morning after, lorry number 2 arrived, and was left under the eye of Linda whilst I drove the rest of the family over to Sunnyside with the first lorry in lukewarm pursuit. It takes some doing to get 15 tons of lorry and belongings going. On arrival at Sunnyside it quickly became apparent that "everyone else gets more snow than Tamworth", this being our garden on arrival.
In truth, the rest of the day passed in a blur. We carried virtually nothing (have I already mentioned that Lessers were fantastic?) and everything arrived neatly and undamaged in the rooms intended. Removal men (and we) destroyed many bacon sandwiches in an effort to ward off the cold, and keep the furniture moving. Linda left our old house without a rearward glance....not what I expected at all.
By quarter past four, the movers had done their job, and were on their way. 30 minutes later the solicitor phoned to say that "funds had cleared and we could move". I think our way was far more sensible and civilised.
We had arrived, and somewhere out there, in the cold and beneath the snow, was a garden.......

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

An Introduction

This is Sunnyside, and from the 28th March it will be home to myself, my long-suffering wife, Linda, and our three grown-up boys.

Last Summer, whilst on holiday in France, we had no intention of moving house away from the comfort of our 1990's detached house on a modern housing estate, at least not until our retirement plans of getting a "little place with some land" came to fruition in 10+ years time.

On arriving home, we accidentally saw the property pages of the local paper, and noted a local house which we already knew was up for sale. We went and looked at it, but deemed it ultimately unsuitable. But the seed was sown, and dissatisfaction grew from it. The thought process went from one of "wait for retirement, save like mad and retire somewhere the houses are cheaper (like Wales)" to "borrow now and look closer to home and family".

Thus we happened (eventually) upon Sunnyside, and immediately discounted it, only to return to it later and be won over by the garden, though not the house. Here we are some 5 months down the line with a mortgage commitment we never expected, but with a rural property with it's own 1 acre garden waiting for us.

If I (we) can drag ourselves to the PC over the coming months (and hopefully years) this blog will be our story of setting ourselves up to be as self-sufficient as possible, and to at least have a house with as little a carbon footprint as possible. I myself cannot claim to be 'sustainable' with a daily 100 mile round trip commute, but that won't be forever, and eventually we will settle down & do it right.

For the meantime, I suspect that there may be more than a few speedbumps in the road ahead.