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Foggy foggy brew, and other stories from the building site

Ahoy there. I’m still here.

But colder. Also a little older, but none the wiser. And ‘delighting’ in my new profession as a tea-lady. (Note: my choice of the ‘bon mot’ seems to be leaning towards the cliché rather than reality – since when have I found anything to do with the dreadful brown sludge that is apparently my nation’s favourite beverage delightful?)

I should explain. Followers of this blog will probably be aware that Jillings Towers has been due a makeover for some considerable time, and our aim to upgrade the kitchen has been something of an on-off frustrating journey ever since I left work five years ago and realised how grotty everything had become.

Well, now we are finally putting that right.

“The Build” seems to have taken all my focus and energy, and I realise I have failed to update this blog for weeks. But here are a few thoughts which I have been diligently thinking, but casually failing to write down over the first phase of these works.

Week 1

On the fourth day, to remind myself of the progress that has been made by the builders, I poke my chilly nose out of the living room. This room, formerly little used (as the ceiling has been threatening to fall down for years, and we have retained its manky sofas purely for the use of itinerant musicians wishing to rehearse somewhere off the street) which is now mostly our daytime ‘home’ because it contains all the survival elements, the most important being the microwave and our enormous fridge freezer. Even the fridge-freezer has gone quiet in awe at the sound of destruction all around – or perhaps it’s just full of dust, like everything else, and is conserving its voice in preparation for imminent pegging out. 

I have reluctantly re-learned to make tea in order to provide a seemingly endless supply to our trio of builders. As on our previous big build, we seem to have hired a salt-of-the-earth outfit: local men who have been in business together since their teenage years who, now they are in their middle years seem never happier than when wielding sledgehammers, mixing cement, haranguing their clients in unimaginatively profane joshing and drinking their tea – regularly pointing out how generously provisioned their previous clients’ biscuit tins had been. I quickly remember that Asda is cheaper than my local Sainsburys and, as a bonus, by walking that little bit further for my bargain biscuits I can ensure I can no longer hear the swearing.

Re-entering the house, I wonder if my glasses have steamed up with the exertion of those extra steps to Asda, but eventually realise that this is the new indoor environment. A haze of dust from the demolition work which has happened extraordinarily early in this lengthy project penetrates into even the darkest corners, and of course eventually settles – over ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.

I stagger under the weight of biscuits and teabags and fumble my half-blind way to the works canteen (our living room) and through the fog of descending brick-dust I clumsily make a brew.


As I vacuum after the men have departed, I recall that 18 years ago, the third man of our first building trio ran his cement-flecked Henry around every day before going home. Hmm – how times have changed, and I begin to mutter gently under my breath – effity, effity, eff – etc.

Week 2

My ludicrous over-excitement at our first major, and long-coveted, kitchen appliance purchase at a stonking discount (a genuine discount, as disbelievingly verified by another independent supplier), wanes as we stumble through a double quagmire – firstly that of the enormous and bewildering choice of ovens, hobs, extractors, floor coverings, blinds, and technology-enabled items we’ve barely heard of, and secondly the actual quagmire that is our poor old garden now the builders have churned up the part nearest the house and the rest has turned into some sort of boggy lake. (Ok, the lake I will concede is due to the weather, as the UK has sadly revolved into a permanent rainy season.)

It is exciting though. At last, the plans we have been worrying away at for years are coming to fruition. We cannot complain about the speed with which it is all happening in the end.  Builders suddenly became available, and clearly wanted to start as soon as possible. So, after taking up references (you can take the couple out of the Civil Service, but you can’t take old-fashioned due diligence out of the couple!) at super-speed, we gave the green light and within two days we were living in a building site.

I spend most of my time wearing a minimum of five body-core layers (thank the good Lord for Uniqlo, Mr Marks and Mr Spencer – the holy trinity of thermals!). As a result, I think I am currently winning the “Who’s the hardest!” competition and, when our one modest electric heater is not required in our Home room, I graciously allow it to follow Mr J rather than myself. When the situation becomes severe and even an extra sixth layer fails to raise my temperature to an acceptable level, I leave the house at speed with my trusty shopping bag (sometimes filled with yet more items for the charity shop) and schlep around a bit, usually returning with treats of one sort or another and a slightly healthier glow.

This is the first time I have written my blog wearing gloves. I have been trialling my splendid (and extremely cheap in Superdry, of all places) bright orange knitted fingerless gloves on outdoor fuel-voucher issuing duty for the past two months and I’m not sure my fingertips are any warmer sitting in my bedroom today than they were outdoors at the last event. Please therefore excuse any typos which slip through. Accuracy has never been my strong point, but fat orange-clad fingers are not helping one bit.

I have also never been more keen to spend time at choir practices (even if I have to keep my coat on for the one in the church) and Pilates in the pub, although I have slightly regretted leaving on at least one too many base layers on more than one such occasion. I can empathise now with the generations of old who sewed themselves into their winter undergarments until the arrival of Spring. I don’t much fancy the goose-grease or whale oil with which they were often smeared though. I need to try and remain at least outwardly civilised! (Opinions on whether I am achieving this may differ.) Not sure the rising f*** count in my vocabulary is helping with the façade of gentility…

On Saturday, next-door’s five- and three-year-old children turn up at our front door in high-vis vests and with a clip-board and pen. They are here for inspection of the building site and the elder one (Boy) takes it all extremely seriously. Where he has learned the impressively builder-like sucking of teeth I do not know, but he has it down pat. He strides around the devastation, scribbling as he goes, and eventually pronounces that we have failed the inspection and must do better. His mother hastily shepherds him away, along with his only-ever-so-slightly muddied sister.

It may have been a mistake to send a report to this effect to the builders. Unsure if they will return on Monday now.

Week 3 

We experience a new low on the swearing front as an existing RSJ is somehow raised 6 inches, into the underfloor space of my currently inaccessible first-floor office. In fact, there is a burst of blood-curdling screams followed by the best-yet stream of effing and blinding, such that both Mr J and I emerge at speed from our respective hiding places in anticipation of calling an ambulance pronto. However, by the time we have reached the scene, the decibel level of f*cks has lowered and there is even a resumption of the random snatches of song which we are growing to expect as light relief from the invective. 

We retreat quietly to our respective heater and blankets.

Our old kitchen and breakfast room are now unrecognisable and mostly carted away in a skip. A new patio area is being built up, and bricks for a decorative garden wall have been delivered. We are cheered to see the progress and jump around a bit in excitement (actually, largely to warm up).

Week 4

We have arranged a final planning meeting with the kitchen company who will supply our units. I have had a change of heart about the style of the cupboards after one of the builders comment that the handles are those which the kitchen company always fit to ‘council hahzes’. Hmm. I had honestly already felt unsure about the handles although for a different reason, and I nervously ask the nice kitchen lady if we can change the style to a handle-less alternative range. I expect this to affect the price in an upwardly direction from our original quote, but it seems that, taken together with other small changes we are making, the new quote is a little bit lower. Aside from looking better in the mock-up pictures, I can revel in the slight easing of the stressful number-crunching on my project spreadsheet.

Yes, I’m back in the land of project-management and spreadsheet nirvana. Just like the old days, but with less commuting and fewer foreign trips (or none ever again if my budget spreadsheet is currently to be believed! Ah well…)

In an idle moment, I wonder briefly if I could institute a swear-box on-site? Would this perhaps go some way to offsetting the enormous amounts I am transferring to the builders’ bank account each week? “Don’t you f***ing believe it Missus!”

Week 5

Having reduced our two old rooms to one chilly shell, opened up the far end and raised the roof, bricked up a superfluous window and created a new doorway in a new position, the builders are starting to focus on electrics and plumbing. The most exciting bit of this is the installation of a new boiler by their mate Ian the plumber early on Saturday morning. More tea-making ensues, but this time the pay-off is more immediate and we are warmer again in the main part of the house. Hurrah!

I have gradually decreased the energy I expend on daily cleaning. Initially, and to be fair in the most dusty days, I waited no more than a couple of minutes after the team had gone before plugging in my trusty Miele and bashing around the ground floor, first floor and stairs to minimise the grinding in of particles. I now brush or vacuum the hallway most days, but have largely ceased to expect to see any shiny surfaces and have reduced the time spent on this thankless task to the bare minimum. How quickly standards fall.

The chaps now have endless questions about where we need lights, powerpoints, switches etc. And what height are those doors really supposed to be? And where is the fridge-freezer going? After detailed consultation with Mr J, I draw up a printed document and a colour-coded diagram based on an old copy of the kitchen company’s floorplan. I carefully, and in clear blue felt pen, amend the plan to reflect the final changes we have made in our order. I am quietly proud of this.

Within 5 minutes, the swearier of the builders has not only tea-stained my lovely diagram, but rubbished it by seemingly being entirely unable to notice my bold amendments and simply following the old design which has the fridge-freezer and larder switched, the sink in the wrong place, and the worktops the wrong depth etc. No amount of vociferous arguing on my part seems to help.

Builder “You need to give us the most up-to-date effing plans!”

Client (cowering) “Yes, I know, but we only have this one and I’ve made it really clear what changes there are.”

Builder “So, this is the effing fridge?”

Client (bewildered) “No, look I’ve scribbled that out and written in capitals ‘LARDER’. The fridge is here.”

Builder “So, with the fridge there, what the eff is this supposed to be?”

Client (tetchy) “That’s NOT where the fridge goes. I just showed you. And wrote it clearly on the diagram. And that bit there hasn’t changed at all – it’s the oven stack.”

Builder “So the effing fridge is next to the effing ovens, right?”

Client (having lost the plot completely – it is still not yet 9am!) “Oh FFS! No. You’re taking the p*** now right?”

And I honestly cannot tell if he is or not. I retreat to a safe (and now warm) space and await the next onslaught.

Subsequent inspection of where they have placed powerpoints etc seems to indicate that either I have made my point in the end, or the non-sweary one has quietly been absorbing the necessary information – and CAN READ AN EFFING DIAGRAM!

My apologies. It has been a long week. And I can no longer find a way to upload photographs to this blog to prove I’ve not made up all of the above. (Sticks upgrading WordPress and/or laptop onto the already creakingly long to-do list.)

I’m off to the shop to buy more tea-bags.







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