24 Mar 2014

On Buying Stuff

Dimitri writes. One day, Tara and I are discussing toilets, browsing various bathroom-ware on the fondle-slab, and she starts describing how she likes the style of Geberit, and that they are meant to be a good make. Whilst I am no longer astonished when she comes out with opinions such as this (this is just one example from the back-catalogue), occasions like this remind me that her perception of the universe is subtly different to mine. She doesn't notice as my eyes widen in surprise.

A toilet. Don't know what type

It is not that her opinion of Geberit toilets is controversial - I've no idea - it's that she already has a well formed opinion on brands of toilet at all. When I use a toilet, I don't notice its logo. Unless it's particularly unusual, I don't notice the style, and even when its design does draw my attention, I still don't pay attention to the brand. I do notice when it doesn't work well, for instance, failing to flush easily, as is the case with one of my mother's toilets and the toilets at work, but even when this is the case, I still don't notice the make. Therefore, when Tara comes out with well formed opinions on mundane household goods, I can't help but wonder when and how she has developed this point of view. Has she spent time researching these things in the past? Surely not! Why would she? The only conclusion that I can draw is that she pays attention to these things; consciously or subconsciously, I do not know. In contrast, doubtless she thinks that I walk around with my eyes shut.

When she asks me what kind of toilets I prefer, when not giving my standard response of Japanese bum washing ones, I will shrug my shoulders and answer dunno. It takes me time to develop an opinion on these matters. When I decided that I needed a watch, I had no idea what I wanted and very little opinion on them. It took much browsing of shop displays before my taste in watches was slowly and painfully hewn from a slab of general indifference. I find that this is the case with many goods, and while I am prepared to put in the effort for some things (for it is an effort), for others, such as toilets, it's not something that I will look forward to doing of an evening, particularly if there is something more interesting to do such as watching a movie, cooking, cleaning, staring vacantly into space etc. It is from this personal dislike of shopping, or pre-shopping, that I arrogantly conclude that Tara must develop her tastes through general observation rather than researching each and every type of household (or non-household) item on which she has a stance, for she has such an extensive knowledge-base of brands and cornucopia of opinions that they couldn't possibly be the result of dedicated research. There simply isn't enough time. Or maybe she is just much quicker than me (which, in any case, is probably true.)

What this somewhat rambling post really says is that Tara is a good [ed. tara] discerning & discriminating consumer. A professional. (Indeed, friends of ours say that they don't bother researching items that they want to buy, knowing that they can more easily ask Tara instead.) And I am not. I am distinctly amateurish.

Next for bathroom sinks, shower trays, baths, kitchen sinks, door knobs, hinges, plug sockets, light switches...

20 Mar 2014

What fine walls!

The bricklayers (John, Nathan & Aaron) have been coursing away and the walls keep going up.  We have openings now for windows and doors.  The spaces are really starting to take shape.  It's so fast.  An amazing feeling of excitement!

At each stage the sense of space changes like elastic.  Sometimes OK, sometimes too small, interestingly never too large...does that say something about me?  The kid's room feels spacious, it will be two single rooms eventually but at the moment they love sharing and so in the first instance we will leave it as one large room.  I was afraid it be cramped for 3, but I think it's going to be good.  The two double bedrooms feel a little smaller than I thought - in my head they obviously got larger and larger. But they both have huge windows on two sides so there won't be any feelings of tightness when finished.  I need to draw the outline of our kingsize bed on the ground because, at the moment, it scarily feels like that will fill the whole room.

The bathroom windows are enormous, but as these rooms are in the back of the house they will need all the light they can get.  I don't think it's possible to say "hey, this room has got too much light!".  I know I shouldn't be surprised by any of this, it has all been there in the plans.  I thought I had got pretty good at looking at plans and visualising but i'm reminded that i'm only a beginner at all this.

Look no hole any longer! 

There are loads of other things that have been going on about interiors, and my head is spinning.  I will do some posts about all these things but at the moment I can barely find the time to just organise them in my head, never mind write about them.  Starting to feel a little overwhelmed - but that is the adventure, no one said it was going to be easy! 

13 Mar 2014

Up we go...

We are now officially out of the ground!!! Hip, Hip, Hooray!

The stepoc, special shuttering concrete blocks, was delivered to site for the back wall of the house which will sit into the cut. Andrew and Paul are now experts with the old Stepoc and it was faster to erect and I'm sure they won't mind me saying a lot more
evenly laid than the retaining walls. This stepoc is the smaller block size which means that the corners knit together and so we have less concern about blowouts when the concrete is poured.

After a lot of thinking, reading and looking at the concrete floor we've decided to just cover it with a layer of sand to protect it.  It takes a month to fully cure so if we cover it up with boarding we could get permanent markings from the uneven drying and the condensation build-up on the underside.  The floor may end up being even more Wabi-sabi than before.  Wabi-sabi is a japanese philosophy where you embrace imperfection - I'm totally up for that in all areas of my life.  I'm even going to say in a totally poncey way that maybe the floor will just be a physical manifestation of the story of it's creation and journey...yeah!

Once that rear retaining wall was built and the concrete poured, our bricklayers arrived to take over.  In just two days it looked like this...

We have walls and the beginnings of rooms.  Things have shrunk and I'm getting a little worried about how small some of the rooms are feeling, particularly the family bathroom.  But hey, I just have to have a good talk to myself.  We always knew that we weren't building on a palatial scale, this would be a decently sized but modest family home.  I'm forever reflecting on how my role as a mother seems to consist, in no small part, of cleaning, moving, tidying and knowing the exact location of everyone else's STUFF! Less stuff, better life!  Dimitri and I travelled the world with a backpack for two years and we promised when we returned that we would have less, but invest in things that were better.  The arrival of children has meant though that our possessions exponentially increase year by year.  Enough! Having smaller spaces will force us to keep on top of all the stuff and have less. I can sense my mother smirking in the background - 'We'll see dear'.

With the rear retaining wall completed, Liquatek returned to do the final part of their waterproofing.  Installing the John Newton Geodrain.  Basically it is moulded layer of plastic which has a textile layer bonded on top.  So when water comes along through the ground it passes into the cavity between the textile and the plastic and runs down into the land drain at the bottom. Simple, clever and costs over £5000 (that will have got my Dad going, he's a builder...).  It's a lot of money, but it has to be done and the warranty people, mortgage people and everyone else insist on it and it has be done by the people who can guarantee it.  Good business to get into i would say...

The mortgage company finally released some funds so we can proceed full speed ahead (until we rapidly use up those funds and have to go through this process all over again)!  It is a really opaque process.  The surveyors inspected and signed certificates to confirm the work that had been completed and we submitted copies of all the invoices we have paid to date to the mortgage company, in order for them to assess the current value.  They calculate the current value and then can authorise funds to a maximium of 75% to be made available.  The figure they have chosen as the current value seems quite arbitary to us.  It is not what we have spent, but a lower figure.  We asked for clarification of how they came to their valuation figure i.e. what adds value, but got no satisfactory response.  There is no transparency as they don't have to explain anything to us. But a better understanding of this process would help us to understand and manage the cashflow. This is very old school man! I think we are just supposed to be grateful that they have deigned to lend us any money.  But look, we're cracking along now and that's what matters!

8 Mar 2014

Finishing the slab

What a week!
(Settle down and get comfortable, this is a long one)

In order to minimise costs the design is that the foundation slab is going to be our finished floor - polished concrete.  How marvellous and clever we all thought we were...

The underfloor heating went in.  Charlie (so now we have Charlie, Charles & Charlie on the team) and the guys from Cotswold Green Energy took a day to get all the piping laid. The underfloor heating pipes were tied to the mesh.  Each room has a separate loop so if we were so inclined we can control each room individually.

They had to know where all the walls were going to be so the layout was marked.  This was really cool for me as it was the first time I could really get a sense of the dimensions of the rooms -I'm very happy with it all!

Mesh, mesh and more mesh was laid.

And then - the concrete was poured!

We were under a huge time pressure.  In order to get a polished floor we needed to powerfloat the concrete as it cures.  And we've discovered that this is not as straightforward as it sounds...!

To give us the best chance of getting the job done properly we decided to pour on the day where the best weather for weeks had been predicted.  Of course, everyone else had been waiting for a break in the weather too so our preferred suppliers were fully booked. However, Andrew (what a hero!) doggedly persevered and succeeded with finding an alternative supplier and concrete pump.

We ordered the concrete for 8am sharp, of course the first concrete lorry arrived 1.5hrs late! They poured about a 1/3 of the slab. Then there was a 40min wait before the second lorry appeared.

The pouring was really efficient.  We had two experienced concrete layers and finishers from GAR Contractors present to help Andrew and Paul, and they all made it look easy.  

Andrew was busy checking levels as the concrete was laid.

Bit of vibration to smooth and settle. And some hand-finishing to smooth the edges.

Then it was a waiting game...

Apparently concrete curing is a "black art".  No one can predict when it will set, even the most experienced professionals.  I was told again and again that no one knew when it would begin to cure - it could be 3hrs or 12hrs.  There are apparently far too many variables.  My scientific mind found this very hard to deal with - 'What do you mean you don't know!!!'.

The concern was that I really didn't want to disturb and upset our neighbours.  Powerfloating has to be done as it cures, you can't wait until the next day, it's too late.  The powerfloating machines, I was assured, were the quietest machines in the process, just a low hum. In addition the powerfloating is not continuous.  The machines pass over the surface which can take 20-60mins, only every couple of hours.

We kept our fingers crossed that it would cure during acceptable site working hours (8am-6pm).  We had done everything within our power to maximise the chances that there would be the minimum of disturbance.

I went home and waited for updates.  At 6pm I was called to say that the concrete had only just started to set at 3pm, so as they had only managed one pass they were going to stay on site as late as they could.

We dispatched emails to neighbours explaining and apologising for the situation.  We had one friendly response from the nearest neighbour who told us it was barely noticeable.  In the end the guys left the site around midnight.  They did the final pass using the machines about 10:30pm when another neighbour came to complain and asked them to stop.  After this they did any further finishing by hand.

They weren't able to get to achieve the finish we had asked for, this would have required another couple of passes.  However there is no way that I would have felt comfortable with them working any later.  So it is what it is...

It is shiny due to the rain!

Dimitri was on site a couple of days later, to meet the surveyor acting for the mortgage company (yes we are STILL waiting for a stage payment release) so managed to drop off a bottle of wine to all of those disturbed and also had a friendly chat with the neighbour who had come on site to complain.  All neighbourly relations are thankfully still intact.  

The slab is smooth and flat in general.  Where the concrete was poured first, you can see the markings of the powerfloater but you can't feel anything.  Where the pour was later, you can see and feel the ridges, not hugely by any means, but enough to wonder whether we have a finished floor finish yet.