Back in the summer of 2010 we were faced with a front room that was caught in time, a boarded up open fire, storage heater and the worst carpet design in Christendom. That first year we did our best to just live with it.
But it quickly became apparent that when the storage heater ran out of heat, which was around mid-morning on most days and the fire burnt down that our family room was rather damp. This was seen after our first failed attempt at solid fuel heating, even this wood fired system went some way to drying out the walls, and as the walls dried the wallpaper ballooned and the cracks started to appear. We lived with this for some years because our solid fuel heating experiment had left us penniless. It took us several years to save up, belts were tightened, lips set thinly against chocolate cake in shop windows. Then in late 2014 we had new heating, new electrics and in 2015, new ceilings. Then more saving. Think of our journey into building work like a kangaroo with hiccups, there are sudden stops and then involuntary jumping ahead. We have always done what we could, from labouring to painting, to the stripping of walls and beams. To the treatment and waxing of wood. You won't believe what they have boxed in around this house. It took us a few days to strip the wallpaper off the walls in the family room, only for the plasterer to shake his head and start hacking everything back to stone. Then after the plastering was finished, we waited a little longer, saved a little harder for architrave and twiddly things that finish a room. During that time we stained and vanished the floor, and the room started to become less of a building site and more of a room.
Finally, Handyman Glyn came in. Lovely man, excellent worker and one of the few tradesmen we have had over our doorstep who actually cleans up after themselves. We use him every time for work we can't do or afford to do if we did it ourselves. He fitted us new shelving in the old alcoves, a lintel over the fireplace and new lights to replace the plastic fixtures that had come with the electricians.
You can see they're better than what was there and the light is also better too. Sometimes after the rewire it felt we were still reading by gaslight but Fanny had left with the real light. Then Glyn fitted us a curtain pole and we took over again. Trawling around thrift and charity shops we come across material all the time, and we hoard it, cushion here, throw there but there is that moment when from across a crowded room you see what you need. We have been without curtains on our window for over two years, it's great in summer but in winter as the wind howls past you do wonder whether wolves will suddenly smash through the glass. Yes, we are aware there are no wolves in the UK but this is the moors, the wilderness, the edge on the map of the city, we are by the precipice, we are the last light before the dark swallows you, no matter if you have a head torch, it'll still swallow you. Carol saw the curtains in Emmaus, someone else was making a bee line for them but frankly they didn't stand a chance. There are moments in our marriage and relationship, we have been married for ten years and together for nearly twenty, that you see that look and you know to step aside or be crushed. Suffice to say there was carnage, a bruised knee and a dash back with booty. Carol is the Crimson Pirate of charity and thrift shopping, she sees how things can be reused. It rubs off on you, today we found a small picture frame, glass broken, the gilt metal had come away from the wooden frame and in the box with it was thin piece of perspex. The frame has lost the back stand, as it is a frame that normally stands on a table, but now it has new glass, the perspex, the gilt is stuck down with superglue and the whole thing cost nothing because the jumble was throwing it out. We throw away too much in our world. Now the frame will house a photo of us all. Though the frame was free, the curtain cost £20 (around $28) and we couldn't have bought the material for that. They fit the window perfectly.
After the fun of finding things there is the inevitable need to paint the room. Painting is something that most people hate but there is satisfaction in a job done well.
So, the undercoat was going on just as the central heating decided to spring a leak - thankfully it is in the kitchen and we haven't gotten around to plastering that ceiling. So, it was a precarious scramble over all of this...
...to unscrew one of the ceiling boards by hand because the electric drill gave up the ghost last month and we haven't gotten around to getting a new one. In the meantime, Andrew is getting an unwelcome shower and we're tossing everything out the way like some bizarre old timer firefighters. The leak is tiny, a pin prick, but as it's two years since the fitting and the pipes aren't under warranty. We have to phone the insurance company. We know from experience that a simple little leak can cost more than you think it would, ball park figures thrown by heating engineers and the internet to us, £200 ($281). That's more than our budget for painting the family room. The floor in the front room cost quarter of that and took longer to fix! So the insurance company is rung, they're lovely and it's all fixed within 24 hours. Now we are sat here, hair dry, floors mopped, radiators working, discussing colours for the walls; mischief, slake lime, wevet - the kind of names that make you roar with laughter, mole's breath, dog's fart. There is more hard saving to come and then we can return things put long ago into storage, reclaim objects left at parents homes and turn a project into the heart of a home.