A Travellerspoint blog

We have moved in

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Well, you haven’t heard from me since October when I said we were hoping to move into our new home on Jane’s birthday – 28th October. Many of you will already have found out by other means that Jane’s wish did come true and we moved on that day – very exciting after nearly 2 years since we moved to Frome from Lancashire and started living in our rented house. This second move was easier in many ways because it was a distance of one mile instead of two hundred and we are already established in the town.

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moving in

One of the reasons I have not blogged since then is because we have only just this week managed to get connected to the internet, but more about that later.

You may recall that the end of October was one of the more relaxed periods in lockdown terms. So, we were briefly able to welcome people into our home. One of our friends visited for the weekend and we were also able to have Emily and Alex and my brother over for a meal just a week after moving in. We had been looking forward to opening up our new home to friends and family but sadly this is something that will have to wait.

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So, what do we think of our new home after all the ups and downs and the two-year long wait? Well, we absolutely love it. The underfloor heating, insulation and ventilation system means that the house always has an even, warm feeling without ever feeling stuffy. We were also pleasantly surprised that the house seems more spacious that we had expected from the plans. In particular, the main open-plan room with its three areas – kitchen, dining and lounge – is pleasantly commodious.

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There are still things not yet completed, for example the blinds for the main big windows, which, after much discussion with two different firms, will be substituted for curtains which are still on order. In the meantime, we have some stick-on frosting film on these windows to afford us some privacy after dark. Also the solar panels cannot start working until we have internet.
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There have still been many hassles even since we have moved with such things as changes of address.

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The biggest hassle of all has been the internet. We found out that installation of an internet connection should have been part of the whole planning process. In the event, Dave the builder told us in early September that we needed to get this sorted out. So, I immediately contacted Zen, our internet provider, and informed them we planned to move in October to a new build with no pre-existing internet connection. The inefficiency and miscommunication that followed between Zen and BT Openreach, who they use for their connections, was breath-taking and awesome. By comparison it makes Boris Johnson’s government look like they know what they are doing. I must have phoned Zen and Openreach upwards of 40 times and there has been a similar number of emails which steadily increased in their level of gobbledegook. My favourite is the following email received on 14th January, four months after asking them to do this work:

“Good Afternoon,

I am e-mailing regarding the exception that was generated on your order previously. After speaking with the supplier, I can see that this exception has now been cleared, allowing us to proceed with your order.

We will have more clarity and an update on the next steps in 48 working hours therefore a review will be conducted on 18/01.

I am sorry for the inconveniences you are experiencing on this order.”

I just realised that there may be a reason why they chose the name ‘Zen’ for their company. Perhaps this email was a Zen Buddhist Kōan, which, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a question, or statement which is used in Zen practice to provoke the "great doubt" and to practice or test a student's progress in Zen’. This email certainly generated ‘great doubt’ and certainly tested my faith in Zen.

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pole erection

All that Zen were able to achieve in four months was to erect a magnificent pole outside our house before Christmas to which should be attached a wire from another pole across the road. When this will happen seems to be in the lap of the gods. But Zen Buddhists don’t believe in God. So, we are stuffed.

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In the meantime, we have decided to “twin-track”, as they call it in Social Services, and commission another company – Virgin – who have a fibre optic cable running under the pavement just a metre from our house. They received my call very enthusiastically and said they would have us up and running in a couple of weeks and everything was going to be wonderful. They didn’t use the words “world beating”, but there was definitely a Boris-like feel to it. Well, they haven’t been quite as disorganized as Zen/Openreach but not far off. They cancelled twice and kept changing their minds about how the connection would be made. They needed three separate teams to actual get a wire into our house - “virgins” we liked to call them although, to be honest, there was nothing particularly virginal about any of them.

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The first team of virgins dug up the pavement and put in a wire which lay coiled up at the end of our drive to await the second team who would run the wire to the edge of the house. The second pair of virgins arrived a couple of days later and appeared to have no idea what the plan was as to how to get the wire from the front of the house to the back where it needed to go in. They said they couldn’t dig up the pavement without Council permission and they couldn’t run the wire over the roof as they didn’t have a ladder. “I’ll lend you my ladder” I said. Oh no, they couldn’t climb a ladder which wasn’t their own, for health and safety reasons. But they agreed it was OK if I climbed my own ladder to put the wire over the roof.

They really did seem particularly clueless and it was, perhaps, less than surprising when one of them told me that this wasn’t their usual job and that, in fact, they run a barber’s shop together! For some reason the Monty Python Lumberjack’s Song came into my head and it was a day or two later when I realised that this song was about a frustrated hairdresser who really wanted to be a lumberjack. But those of you old enough to remember, will also recall that the lumberjack had a penchant for cross dressing. Hmm, well, you never know… If the Lumberjack song isn’t highbrow enough for you, I could also reference Rossini’s Barber of Seville who was a general fixer of everything and, I am sure if he was around today, laying Virgin cables would be up there in Figaro’s skill set.

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Anyway, last Tuesday the third team arrived - just a single virgin this time who put in the box that got us up and running. So, at long last, we have internet. Jane was so excited that she put on a dress and opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate:

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My walk to work, where I have my consulting rooms, now takes just five minutes, next to a small wood along the River Frome where, only a couple of days ago, Jane spotted an otter.

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photo by Nathan Slee posted on Frome Wildlife Watch Facebook group - but it's the same one that Jane saw!

A little further and we are in the town centre. And in ten minutes in the opposite direction, we can be in the countryside. So, it really is a perfect location for us.

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Once the curtains have been installed and we get our new sofa, I will post again for one last time with more pics of our completed house.

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Posted by Robin Logie 15:33 Comments (8)

Jane’s birthday present:

moving house!

It’s Jane’s birthday (age not for disclosure) on 28th October. I asked her a few weeks ago what she would like for her birthday and she replied: “to move house!”. Well, it looks like her wish may actually come true.

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The last main stumbling block to getting the house finished was the water connection. Dave the builder told us he was ringing the water board every week to find out when the connection would take place. In desperation, Jane wrote a letter of complaint to Bristol Water. A nice lady phoned back immediately and said they had not yet received an application for the connection. Aagghh! After lots of hassly communications with Dave, the application went in and the water board came and inspected the site. After Dave had sent in some further photos, they informed him on 29th September that the water would be installed within 21 days which meant we could, in fact, move on Jane’s birthday. Yeah! We are still holding our breath slightly as there are all sorts of things that could still go wrong. As one of my colleagues once said after she had meticulously planned the international conference we were organising, “there is still plenty of scope for chaos”.

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I have just realised that it is more than two months since I last blogged but, until the last week or so, there has been little to report. However, we haven’t been idle in the meantime. We have bought a new car, our first electric vehicle, a Hyundai Kona, which we absolutely love. We took it to Islay in Scotland on it’s first holiday (and ours since lockdown) and managed to find places to plug it in, even if some of them were rather rusty and the weather was rather blustery:

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In addition, our daughter, Emily, got married with a scaled down wedding just in time before the lockdown reduced wedding numbers to 15. It was a wonderful and happy occasion and we were also very lucky with the weather.

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We now have all our flooring installed and everything is plumbed in. Not sure where the toilet seats are and we suspect one of the carpet fitters had a wee in the toilet, not realising we cannot yet flush. Yukky, but fortunately not smelly.

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We ordered our own letter box which must go on the outside as the house is so well sealed that a letter box in the door or wall would produce unnecessary drafts. We also chose our number sign and here is Jane holding it proudly after it arrived in the post. We still haven’t chosen a name for the house but are now wondering whether to call it just “1A” like one of those cool modern restaurants.

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We now have electricity and are waiting for Zen, our internet service provider to connect us up for phone, internet and TV. There have been lots of hassles with that too which I won’t bore you with. And then you could get seriously bored if I told you about the shenanigans about getting an electric socket to plug our car into. Because there is a Government grant for this we have to provide a whole load of documentation to prove that both the car and house are ours as well as photos of the fuse box, location of the socket and driveway. There, I have bored you a little, but I promise to stop now.

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This week they are installing the air source heat pump which sits outside the house. It will take energy from the outside air to heat the house, rather like a fridge in reverse. It took four men, including Dave to move it into position:

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So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, do not worry, because it may be because we are busy moving in. We do hope so. At some point, when I have time, I will blog again with the finished project and some photos of us actually living in our house!

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Posted by Robin Logie 10:00 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (3)

Frustratingly close to completion

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For the first time during this whole project, which started more than two years ago, we have both felt helpless and angry about the lack of progress. Dave, the builder, promised that everything would be complete in time for the Neville Johnson, the furniture fitters, to arrive in June with one proviso – that we may not be able to get electricity and water connections done in time because these companies had only been dealing with emergencies during the lockdown. As I will be relating, Neville Johnson came and went, we got to the end of June and much of what Dave had promised had not yet been carried out.

So the normally very reasonable Robin and Jane changed gear and gave Dave (via Giles the architect) an ultimatum to complete the work by the end of July or we will honour the contract and withdraw the amount stipulated in the contract for each week that the work is overdue. No more ‘Mr and Mrs Nice’. It’s ‘Mr Nasty and Mrs Nasty’ now!

We still won’t complete by the end of July which is next week, but things have certainly stepped up a gear. So, you are probably asking, what has actually been happening since last I blogged?

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In June, the very smart looking Neville Johnson van arrived with two brothers from Manchester who spent about a week installing all the fitted furniture in two bedrooms, the hallway, living room and study.

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We are very happy with it and here are some pics to show you:

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living room

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study (my corner)

You will recall from the last blog, that one day a garden shed appeared, like the Tardis, in our garden.

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Shortly afterwards I found this crudely written sign by the entrance to the drive:

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“What’s this?” I asked Spencer. “We are fed up with passers by asking what it is, so one of the builders made this.” I suggested to Spencer that they could tell people anything they liked. “Tell, them it’s a sauna?” he replied. “Yeah, if you like.”

Meanwhile, Spencer finished the wall and started laying the patio and drive. One day, after the Neville Johnson brothers had left, there was just Spencer working on the site and no one else expected that day. “Who’s locking up?” I asked him. “Well, it’s me, as usual”, he replied. “I think I’ve become the site foreman – the ‘keeper of the palace’”.

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Spencer and a mate, started laying the drive, brick by brick. “What’s this thing?” I asked.

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“It’s a wacker”, replied Spencer, for wacking down the bricks on the drive. I though “wacker” was just it’s nickname until I saw what was written on the side:

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Spencer has done all he can for the time being until we have a water supply and he can start installing trees shrubs and laying turf which will all require lots of watering.

In the last couple of weeks, a very nice chap called Dean has been hard at work laying the wood oak veneer floor in the dining area, hallway, corridor and study. He then installed all the skirting and is now working on putting up all the internal doors. When I spoke to him this week he showed me an ingenious little device for lifting the heavy door to the right height, a sort of mini whoopy-cushion that is placed under the door and can be inflated by hand to gently raise the door up to the right height.

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Dean

The plumber has also been back, on and off, and we now have our shower installed.

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Where’s the toilet and sink though?

A couple of weeks ago Jane asked me if I’d like to come on a little trip with her to a farm near Radstock to look at rusty stuff in a field. How could I resist? We found this place full of old stuff, from benches, birth baths and bistro sets to reclaimed fireplaces and mailboxes. Jane had her eye on this old cattle feeding trough to put on the ledge outside our bedroom window which she would fill with plants to grow up the fence and hang down over our lovely stone wall. I wasn’t very convinced, and it seemed rather expensive but when Jane gets an idea into her head there is no stopping her. And it was about a tenth of the price of the corroded copper bathtub we had previously envisaged for this spot. I was sad about the bathtub because it had the most wonderful colours, but it was the wrong size and shape and very expensive. So, I reluctantly agree. This week it was delivered, and this is what it looks like in its new home:

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Emily popped over in her lunch break to inspect the progress. Here she is, checking out the recently installed hallway mirror with its bench where oldies like us can sit down to take our outside shoes on and off.

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This morning our neighbour asked how things were going with the house build. “We are still not sure when we will be completed and it’s very frustrating”, I replied. “But we are going in the right direction, which means we must reach our destination.”

Posted by Robin Logie 08:58 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (7)

Can the virus stop our housebuild?

Since my last bloggage two months ago, things have progressed slowly although there have been several Covid-19 related hiccups along the way.

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Fed up with seeing photos of people wearing face masks? Well here is another one for you - Brian, the surveyor from Neville Johnson who came down from Northants for a couple of days to do final measurements and get all the last details regarding our fitted furniture.

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We thought this fitted furniture was going to be the main hold up in getting the job done but, in fact, they are scheduled to start next week and the race is on for the builders to finish the skirting boards, architraves and move some of the lights and socket positions in readiness for Neville Johnson’s arrival next week.

What is now holding things up are that some of the suppliers are not back at work yet or have a backlog, for example the kitchen fittings and the wooden flooring. The biggest likely hold up is that we cannot get connected to electricity and water at the moment because the electric and water companies are only dealing with emergencies and not doing any routine work. And Dave, the builder, has been unable to find out when that may change.

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As ever, however, Spencer the dry-stone wall man has plodded on methodically. He has now finished all the walls except one bit that was waiting for a gas pipe to be redirected. Spencer is not keen on angular corners and prefers a curve. He has produced some delightful curves which, really, he should have consulted Dave or Giles about. But we are all happy with what he has done. Particularly pleasing is the end of the stone wall where it meets the drive. Instead of a traditional gatepost we have this curved yin/yang shaped d5c8fec0-b262-11ea-a9e5-bf691157f460.png ending with space in the middle for a pot plant.

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As well as being commissioned to build the wall, we are delighted that Dave has asked Spencer to stay on and do all the landscaping including all the surfaces and planting. He is now working on building the drive and has arranged the edge to curve out onto the pavement in order to caress the yin/yang wall ending. True artistry!

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Here is Spencer’s colour coded plan:

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And here is a detail showing the colour coding system:

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Storage space will be very limited, so we have bought a shed which suddenly landed one morning. We have decided that it will have a green sedum roof to match the house. And water from the shed roof will be diverted to drain directly on to the roots of a tree which will be planted by the shed.

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Aha! Perhaps we could store the bins round the back of the shed

Below you can see the slightly hidden snickely corner outside our bedroom. Jane has great plans for that big shelf which will have a trough full of shrubs, some of which will dangle down whilst others will climb up the fence above.

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She also has plans for a lavender patch at the side of the drive which will be contained in its own triangular box of railway sleepers:

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What a lovely warm sandstone patio!
Giles (architect - on the right) discussing plans with Spencer (wall builder, patio layer, drive constructer, landscape gardener and general factotum)

Posted by Robin Logie 10:53 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (6)

Building continues (a bit) under lockdown

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So how is the building going under ‘lockdown’, you may be wondering. Well, some things have ground to a halt whilst other things are continuing. We have booked a company called Neville Johnson to built fitted furniture, including wardrobes and a built-in study, in five different rooms. Unfortunately, a couple of days before they were due to do the final survey before building the units, they contacted us to say they had closed down for the duration of the lockdown. So, even if the house build is completed, we will still be waiting for Neville Johnson to return to work, build the stuff and them come and install it before we can move in.

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In addition, Dave, the builder has decided to ‘furlough’ (that word none of us knew a month ago!) his own men to reduce the risk of them being infected. But he is still offering work to his subcontractors (plumber, electrician, kitchen fitter and Spencer, the wall builder) as they are more likely to lose out financially if their work dries up. However, he is allowing only one person into the house at a time. So, the building worked has generally slowed down but is continuing. It means that we now have no idea when we might be able to move in.

So, to pick up on the story where we left it last time, about six weeks ago, in late February: The next job was to plaster the walls. First to nail on the plasterboard. For the ceilings, this very simple device was used to hoist up the boards and hold them in place during the nailing process.

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I have admired plasterers for many years, ever since I had a go at plastering myself and found that it wasn’t nearly as simple as it looked. This guy clearly knew what he was doing…

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And then important decisions had to be made about the way in which the tiles would be laid. Are we going to go for ‘straight lay’ or ‘brick bond’? Eh?! Here’s Jane discussing the possibilities with Dave and Giles.

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Decision, decisions! We went for the ‘brick bond’ in the end.

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We now have a bath and some tiles. Yeah!

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And the kitchen has started to go in. We have kitchen and utility room units, a kitchen sink and an oven.

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Everything looks blue because the windows are now covered in blue plastic to prevent people seeing inside. Jane was worried that the colour of the units was too dark but, when she realised it was because of the blue filter, she was happy again. As my mother often reminisced, when she was an adolescent and was fretting about something, her father would say, “I wish I had your problems!”

This week we popped into the house, first making sure there was no one else inside for social distancing reasons. All the light switches and sockets are now installed, and I counted 16 sockets in the study. 16 sockets! On the way home I found myself humming a tune and realised it was an old song - Sixteen Tons – that we used to sing at camp:
You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.

However, in our case it would be:
You install sixteen sockets and what do you get?
Another ‘lectrical device and deeper in debt.

Meanwhile, Spencer, the dry-stone wall man, carries on, stone by stone, unaffected by the virus because he can work and keep his distance from everyone. Never mind “sixteen tons” - we have now had 40 tons of stone delivered which Spencer is methodically working his way through, showing off his spectacular collection of body art now that the weather has warmed up.

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People keep stopping to admire the wall and it seems to have become a bit of a talking point amongst the neighbours. Now that they are allowed only a short distance from their homes, they must be saying, “What shall we do today? Well we could go and see how the wall is coming on.”

Wishing you all the best possible Easter you could have...under the circumstances.

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Posted by Robin Logie 10:40 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (5)

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