Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…

On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker pen with a frequency that ensures the eye goes instead to the few innocuous words left in the white spaces in-between.

This, I suppose, is what buying a 1900 terraced house is all about especially when its been lived in by an elderly tenant who has had to make do with an outside loo, a lethal looking gas fire and ceilings which may collapse at any moment. I’m thinking that no sane person would have parted with a considerable sum of money to buy such a place but then I know I’m not alone – others have succumbed to the temptation of crumbling plaster and damp.

“Look at the mould on this wall… the windows are rotten… you know it’s going to cost a bomb to do up.” This was the commentary the young and inexperienced estate agent gave as he first showed me round having clearly never been in the house before.

“Oh, aggh, help!” was the cry of my friend Linda some months later when her not very high heel punctured one of the floorboards in the hall and became stuck amongst the powdery gnawings of the woodworm.

My goal is not just to put right the wrongs of years but to subtly pull the house into the present so that it can work as a home yet retain the fabric of the past. I know it’s a difficult balancing act and that’s why I’ve decided to consult an architect. When we meet I feel I’m being psychoanalysed as he seems keen to know the most intimate details of my life but he assures me “It’s all about making the house and the person work together.”

The architect has been and gone. I am now waiting for a structural engineer and for a few moments I admire my striped deckchair and decide it looks rather smart amongst the general decay. As is the case with so many homeowners my mortgage company is insisting on damp proof courses and chemical treatments. I believe, like a lot of the experts, that this is unnecessary and that there is a much more holistic approach: cure the cause – be it soil banked up against a wall or a leaking downpipe – and the problem will go away. What’s more a great deal of money will have been saved and damage to the building avoided.

Frenzied raps of the doorknocker reverberate through the empty rooms. In an anorak that looks as though it has been in worse places than this, the engineer arrives and begins a slow process of prodding walls and sucking teeth in a way that quite clearly says all is not well. He draws expensive looking designs in his notebook. His main concern is that the flank wall – mine is an end of terrace – will not fall out and that a corner, where I intend taking out a chimney breast, does not collapse at the first hammer blow. As he leaves he promises to discuss “the problems” with the architect.

I return to the surveyor’s report and notice that in one of the white spaces are the words “the house is built in solid brickwork”. It is a strangely reassuring statement.

Renovation tale – Part 2

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… All night the wind and rain have slapped against the windows. Several times I stare out as lightning forks the sky, momentarily illuminating the web of telephone lines that extend glistening from their pole. Nearby my derelict old house is enduring these…

Renovation tale – Part 3

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… It’s amazing how inanimate objects can take on such importance. I’m contemplating a cardboard box. It contains a kettle, a coffee jar, tea bags, an enormous quantity of sugar and an odd assortment of mugs which my builders, Dave and Rob, have…

Renovation tale – Part 4

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… I can see daylight through the ragged hole in the roof, small wispy clouds meander across the blue sky and seagulls wheel serenely through the air. Normally I might enjoy a scene of such apparent tranquillity but it is disturbed by all…

Renovation tale – Part 5

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… Rob and I have been digging for hours; it feels like it anyway. Actually it’s only 9.30am, and we’ve already had one tea break, a sandwich and some biscuits, but my arms and back feel as if they’ve seized up for ever….

Renovation tale – Part 6

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… I’ve just turned a corner in the road and, up ahead, I can see a yellow blob. In fevered anticipation I put on my glasses and, even as they begin to steam up in the rain, I realise that I’m right, it’s…

Renovation tale – Part 7

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… I should have realised that it would be tempting fate to extol the virtues of my builders but that’s what I did last night. As I sat at a friend’s dinner table I couldn’t help but feel smug as one by one…

Renovation tale – Part 8

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… It was going to the dentist that started it. Sitting in the waiting room I leafed through dog-eared glossy magazines while trying to shut out the sound of the drill in the next room. I was looking at other people’s homes; homes…

Renovation tale – Part 9

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… The reassuring purr of the mixer has been playing a background tune all morning. True it’s been interrupted by hammering, the metallic whiz of the circular saw and the screech of the drill but, by and large, the hours have passed with…

Renovation tale – Part 10

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… I should be asleep, not propped up in bed at midnight leafing though pages which drip grains of sand, are stuck with over sweetened tea and are as dog-eared as any copy of Hello in my doctor’s waiting room. But these aren’t…

Renovation tale – Part 11

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… It could have been worse; it might have been the whirring blade of a circular saw, a fall from scaffolding or electrocution, instead it was a radiator bracket. I’m now sitting in an overheated cubicle of the local hospital’s A&E department with…

Renovation tale – Part 12

This is the final tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… Even though the temperature outside is approaching freezing, we’re all dripping sweat and ‘gunshots’ echo from the suddenly contracting timbers of my 1900 terrace house as they’re sapped of moisture. It’s all because the plumber Steve, who is walking around the…