Friday, December 22, 2006

Looking back.

Well It’s that time of year again, where we look forward to the coming year, and at the same time look back at all that happened in the year gone by.

Ok we’re still a week or so short of the end but here’s a quick summary of all that’s gone before.

The year started quietly and got quieter, with nothing much at all going on. I had’nt been anywhere, seen anyone or done anything special over the festive season… business as usual then.

There was a little fillip early in January with my decision to declutter my life a bit [yeah yeah yeah, you’ve heard it all before] Since I’ve long fallen out of love with hillwalking and mountaineering in it’s more extreme forms, and biking just is’nt my thing, I needed something to keep me in some sort of shape, and my acquisition of an open canoe was designed to do just that. It got a lot of use too, but only around here. Circumstances later in the year more or less put a block on the planned trips into remote bits of Scotland.

The big thing happened in early April when the love of my life, Sian entered my err…life. How this came about has been catalogued elsewhere on this blog, but what has’nt been recorded was what happened afterwards.. Basically from May onwards Sian was one very sick girlie, totally exhausted, stressed and just generally going downhill. With a bit of hassling from meself she went to a doc and then a specialist and then in a matter of days into hospital for an op to remove cancer in her breast….which was all successful. Oh I have’nt mentioned the court case either…and I wont, but that had it’s moments too, but at least she won. But that’s another story.

By the middle of June she was home and in convalescence, ready to start the next traumatic stage – radiotherapy. It all meant that she was home on sick pay that would’nt support a anorexic mouse and ultimately no job to go back to, not that this last bit was bad since we are in no doubt that the stresses and strains of that was a prime cause of the illness to begin with.

Thankfully the radiotherapy went without a hitch, the only real problem was a case of nasty ‘sunburn’ to her boob… not so the tamoxifen that was recommended that came with all sorts of weird side-effects. Sian only lasted 3 weeks on this before deciding it was’nt needed [the consultant agreed] but it’s taken months from that point to get it out of her system.

Between all this and my abortive attempts to get going on the bathroom, all my proposed canoeing trips away were put on abeyance, the boat was hardly used - so little I hoiked her out of the water early August, reclaimed the mooring fees and put her up for sale. Holidays have been confined to long weekends, firstly in Plymouth where I went to fetch sian back from Brittany and then a couple of impulse trips over to France, because we happened to be in the bottom left hand corner of Britain anyway… and that’s it really


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ahhh...bliss! at last

the Lost Coast

After 3 months of being without a proper bathroom, and having to rely on Sian’s shower 7 miles away every now and again, it was utter bliss to be able to have a bath at home once more…

Yes, at last the bathroom project is nearing completion.

I’ve been going on about sorting the bathroom from hell out for at least 18 months on this blog, if not since the begining . At last some time earlier this summer, I can’t even remember when, I ripped out the manky old window and replaced it with a nice piece of polythene. It stayed like this throughout the hot weather we had, so taking a bath or shower in the open air was’nt a problem.

By the middle of the summer though we had a cold snap and it was kinda uncomfortable, so I decided to grab it with both hands and sort it all out. Anyway Sian was giving me grief. So I ordered a load of stuff from Screwfix and started pulling things out. First to go was the avocado bath, pan and sink.. out and off to the skips, followed by the bit of block wall that made the place that much smaller. Then all the tiles were taken off, this was’nt too bad, they had to go. I mean, who puts kitchen tiles on a bathroom wall? Then I thought that maybe taking down the t&g boarded ceiling might not be a bad idea either, since the leaky roof [now replaced] had made the boards all black and mildewed in places… so down it came, together with the less than stable plasterboard…

The end result… was an empty cube of concrete blocks… but as I then discovered it was’nt a proper cube. No a proper cube has right angles, straight lines and does’nt have a floor that drops an inch and a half in 8 feet. So as usual it was rethink time again.

Then another problem manifested itself…. Because of the need to really really sort out the place I would now be stuck for a while [read weeks] without a toilet. Every day had to be approached like a military operation. As long as the routine was up and running and I was errr……… routine myself then I had things sorted. But if there was any glitches at all, like when I was out of sorts, then things quickly unravelled. Luckily it was all ok, apart from one night when I awoke with the pretty urgent need to get to a toilet, and had to jump into the car at 1 am and drive the mile or so to the marina where I knew there would be a toilet…….. thank goodness it was just that one time.

I toyed with putting the ceiling back up in the form of thin ply sheets, painted white but when I offered them up it was’nt very clever. So I cleaned up the t&g and re fixed it up and painted in several coats of white paint.. it worked. Thus emboldened I set about the window with the intention of blocking it up completely and having artificial light only, but I had 12 glass blocks left over from the kitchen phase, so in they went instead. The end result was a bit jail cell – ish but once everything else is done it will be ok, much better than that horrible obscured glass you see in other houses.

Of course the bath, when installed did’nt fit – being too short, so I had to put an infill piece at the ends, and the legs were useless, so I had to support the rim all round with battens nailed to the wall, and the plumbing was somewhat nightmarish [and continues to be, but all in all it could be considered that we were getting there.

Then came the wiring. I thought ok install electric shower. I took one look at the wiring diagram and knew I was out of my depth. So I called in an electrician who, amidst much shaking of the head and sharp intakes of breath told me what I already had an idea of….. a total rewiring of the bathroom, the existing feed, a new one, just for the shower etc etc. ……. Phew. At least the bill did’nt break the bank, but it was close

So, now the bath is in, the pan is in… the walls are straight - ish the ceiling is up the wiring is 95% done…now comes the part I’ve been dreading…. putting the tiles up. Just getting the tiles was something of a marathon. Sian had convinced me that things were much cheaper in France, and since we were to go down to Sussex soon to look at a job, it might be a good occasion and a bit of an adventure to nip across to France on her already-paid-but-not-used ferry ticket, get some goodies, stop the night and then come back in time for her interview. This we did, but not before a great deal of umming and ahhing about the colour/size of the tiles. I liked a nice deep blue tile, but there was little else around to complement it. In the end I settled on a mid blue mottled effect tile, but at 10” x 13” would they be difficult to fit over the irregularities of the walls? Worse still, there was now a window in the middle of one wall, and since cutting tile was’nt my forte I was left wondering how to deal with it. The judicious application of some small mosaic tiles to break up the courses so that they intersect with the upper and lower parts of the window would seem to sort that out…. But we’ll see.

I started on the tiling, and it was every bit as traumatic as I expected. Unlike most men I do read the instructions on things so when I read that the adhesive I was to use had ‘excellent grab qualities, no need for supporting battens’ I thought ok, here goes. Within 10 minutes and the whole lower course of tiles I was busy readjusting the damn things, and I hastily installed a batten wedged up under the tiles. It worked, after a fashion, but the lower edge had dropped by around a cm, and I couldn’t move them back up without wrecking everything…….. which meant I might have problems with the mosaic edge later on…….
Once the first course and vertical edges were lined up and plumbed another problem became more defined… the walls sloped inward ever so slightly which meant that by the time I was at the top level I would be having to trim the vertical edges in the corner, just to make them fit. Fine, I know I could have taken my plumb line from the top inside corners and worked outwards, but that would have left me with a very obvious gap at the lower edge, where it gets all wet. I’d rather keep things tight[ish] and cut than have huge areas of grout showing. I’ll run a bead of sealant down each corner and fair it in when all is done. Yet another problem I could do without..

Fast forward a couple of weeks and all the tiles are now up. I had hoped that using the large tiles would enable me to level up and over the subtle irregularities in the walls but the converse has been the case. Getting a single plane has been difficult, to say the least. But it looks ok to a cursory look, only my wanting it to be perfect is disappointing. The mosaic tiles were a disaster, so much so I ended up taking a lot of them off and gluing a painted wooden board over the ones adjacent to the ceiling. I also ran out of the matching blue grout, and could I find any more? No of course not.

But I perservered and now it’s done I’m pretty happy. As long as you don’t look too closely.

I decided that getting the walls emulsioned would be the next job, so that it would at least have an air of finish – ness about it. Since the overall scheme was a mid to dark blue and white, my preferred option of a pale apple green was’nt really going to work and I thought pale blues would be cold, so I opted for a duck egg blue, mainly because it was marked down 50% in the olde painte shoppe. Big mistake. It was just too blue; the blue 1950’s kitchens were painted in. So it was off the olde painte shoppe again to buy some cheap compatible white. I mixed about 20% of the blue into the white and bingo a very pale blue, which was just about perfect. Several coats of this later and I decided that it would do nicely, even if all the imperfections I thought I had got rid of in the walls were still painfully obvious.

Then it was the floor’s turn. A similar predicament was to be expected. I was originally going to re-screed the floor with a self levelling mix, but my dislike of all things cement-y dissuaded me from going down this route. Battening was the next option, but the way the floor was laid meant that I would be trying to work out a 3 dimensional jigsaw. It was’nt as if the unevenness was gross. It was just a quarter inch here and there and a slope down to one corner. The more I thought about it, the more it came down to a sprung floor, laid directly onto the existing one with the unevenness taken up by the foam underlay. The t&g bamboo was an engineered layer and would be rigid enough to span the little depressions and flexible enough to take in the ‘slope’. It all came down then to the orientation of the glued layer.

In the end it seems to have gone in pretty well, with the floor laid in two separate bits to accommodate the slopes, and everything glued together. Ok some of the joints are a little open, but once sanded back and re-varnished the whole will have a water resistant surface and the tiny seams will be filled. Some mastic around the edges and some stickums in certain spots and voila…bamboo floor.

I spent most of last night getting the basin in. It will be so good to be able to wash in the bathroom and not in the kitchen sink. However, as usual there are elements I really do not like about it. The basin is ok, but it sits on this pedestal which is miles away from the wall. I need to enclose this somehow, and the only thing that I can think of that will work is an enclosure in wood slats to match the cherry surrounds to the bath.

More work and more things to think about. I can’t leave well alone can I?