Sunday, October 25, 2009


My husband Steve and I designed and built our house, into which we moved in 1997. We hadn't intended to build it as owner-builders, but when the builder we had retained went bankrupt (owing us quite a lot of money) we had no choice. Fortunately Steve is in civil construction, and his knowledge and contacts got the house built, though it took longer than planned. On the day we moved in there were no skirting boards, few internal doors and an enormous pile of builder's rubble in the corner of the family room. The main bathroom was a shell, without even lining boards on the walls. The floors were bare concrete, which we sealed with paving paint as soon as we could, to control the dust. At that point in time our only goal was to get moved into the house, as soon as we could get a certificate of occupancy: we were paying rent on the place we were living in, the mortgage on the place we were building, and monthly storage charges because many of our personal effects (read: books) were in a rented storage facility. Our finances were strained, to say the very least.

The local council's criteria for occupancy were that we had a working bathroom and a working kitchen. A working kitchen was defined as having a working cooker and a working sink. Getting the ensuite bathroom fitted was not a problem, because I had bought a bath months before (floor stock from a local supplier), and I had got most of the other fittings at "mate's rates" through contacts at work. However, by the time we got to the kitchen, money was running out.

Now it so happened that I was doing some work for a government agency who would probably prefer not to be named, and while working on the premises of this agency it was forbidden to have a mobile phone switched on - and a junior agency person was detailed to follow me about, and ensure that I complied with this rule. Further more, I couldn't plug my laptop into their network. So I spent a lot of time hanging around their operations room, waiting for computers to load patches or whatever, with nothing to do. I looked around for something to read, and found a copy of "The Trading Post" a local rag dedicated to connecting buyers and sellers, which someone had left lying around. In this paper were adverts from a business selling factory second sinks, and a kitchen manufacturer who was going out of business.

So the next weekend I went out and bought a factory second sink (a returned order, I think, there was nothing wrong with it and it was a good brand), and 1.8 metres of floor stock kitchen cupboards, plus a pantry. The cupboards had no bench top attached, and they had been used to demonstrate different finishes: one cupboard door was blue, one was green, and the other was white. The drawer fronts were cream, with a wood trim. The pantry was white, and I acquired a section of grey laminated benchtop from somewhere else. The overall effect was awful, and the carpenter who installed it all did so on the proviso that we never tell anyone that he was responsible.

I never intended to keep the original kitchen for long, but in the end it stayed until late 2006, when I had it torn out and replaced with the kitchen of my dreams. And this year the original ensuite bathroom, which has seen about 12 years of service, finally had to be renovated.

The trigger was an event in March this year. The shower drain in the ensuite blocked, the shower stall overflowed, the drain in the middle of the bathroom floor failed to cope (an inadequately glue joint between two sections of pipe failed), and water began to pour through the ceiling of the room below. The room below is my study: I was just about to leave the house to go to work, when I heard an odd tap-tap-tap noise coming from the study: I thought that one of my machines was doing something strange, and turned the light on to see what was happening. What was happening was that water, following the path of least resistance, was trickling through the light fitting and onto the side desk where I normally keep my MacBook Pro.

I turned the light off, quickly, shoved the desk out of the way - it's on wheels - and fetched a bucket to put under the drip. Fortunately my laptop was safely in it's carry bag, protected from incontinent light fittings.

The end result of that little episode was a statement from the emergency plumbers that the grout around the shower stall was failing and no longer water tight. They fixed the leaking pipe (by making a large hole in the ceiling of my study to get at the problem joint). They also recommended replacing the light fitting.

Now it is October, and for the last couple of weeks there have been tradesmen around the house most days: since they are here, I'm getting a lot of other things fixed at the same time. The old ensuite has been gutted, re-rendered, re-water-proofed, re-tiled and new taps and other fittings installed (I kept the heated towel rail, the shower screen and the bath). We are now waiting for the vanity unit to be made - about 3 weeks - and installed. The painter should be here on Tuesday, to repaint the bathroom. I'm going to get the kitchen and the front hall repainted, too.

It will be great when it is done, but getting up early every morning is getting seriously tedious. Why do all tradesmen want to start at 7AM?


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