‘A kit house’ the brain replied ‘is simple, cheap, neat and modern, with straight edges that slot quickly into place.’
Stupid brain. Doesn’t it realise that we had practical skills, and knew what we were doing?
Here we are skilfully removing an old mirror.
It only took four hours to get that glass off. Safety first. Always wear a woollen balaclava when shards of glass are flying at your face. Everybody knows that glass can’t pierce wool.
It was summer. Chickens laying, too much lettuce in the garden, and a storm of questions brewing in that barn.
Which goes in first, pipes, wires or walls? What is moisture board, how do we insulate that high ceiling? Why aren’t the walls straight? Where do we get the right screws for the insulation? What is a floating floor? What is a fire door? What does Airbnb look like anyway? Should we use it for that? How else do we pay pack the loan?
And who is going to do all the work that we can’t do?
Finding the Team
In the olden days you could visit trusted trader websites, demand quotes, and set schedules. Now you grovel.
Smile, make tea, offer lettuce and eggs, pay fast, don’t pester, be available, smile again, and casually ask who they know. People with skills are like a seam of gold. Find one and they might lead you to more.
Luckily one person here could do high level plastering, painting, prep, insulation, and all small jobs that google knows about. The rest of us were in charge of helping.
We tried forcing a friend to come and help. The friend did not like helping and only did one day, even though I gave him a lettuce.
We needed suppliers, plumbing, tiling, electrics, roofing, windows and advanced carpentry.
Tom and Ben, the groundworkers knew how important a kind, knowledgeable supplier is. They gave me Bob at Civil Solutions. Here is Bob’s lorry with the insulation arriving.
Bob is proof that you can be a little bit in love with somebody you will never meet. Bob is kind and calm and says things like ‘We have a lorry coming your way next Tuesday’ or ‘no problem that you ordered 20 sheets instead of two. We will pick them up.’ Nothing is too much trouble for Bob.
I should have sent him a lettuce on the lorry, but the lorry driver was grumpy so I did not like to mention it.
The person you’ve always known, and suddenly remembered they were a carpenter.
Here is Simon, lightly dancing across the floating floor that he showed us how to build.
Here is the supporting beam he fixed, with exactly the right bolts. Knowing what bolts to buy is rocket science.
More rocket science, working out how to add an extra layer of insulation to a huge high ceiling.
And teaching us about wood. Gently pointing out that varnished pine looks cheap until I think it is my very own idea to take out extra mortgage for oak windowsills. Who would have known there is more than one kind of wood in this world?
He took a lettuce home every day.
But Simon is also an artist and he had to go off and do artist things. We still needed more team.
One Good Deed Leads to a Plumber
I gave somebody a lift to see a friend, who was doing up his house. As the ‘lift giver’ I was invited in to see the work, and quickly tricked him into handing over the name of a plumber.
So we got Lewis, who returned my call because I was recommended as a ‘good person who gives lifts.’ Be kind and you get paid back. Kindness is form of greed sometimes.
Lewis the Plumber
Plumbers are happy and busy. Lewis always rings back, knows when to turn up, and will work light lightning to whip this in here, or stick that over there. He doesn’t mind if I ask 10 times which goes first, bath or tiles, so I am also a little bit in love with Lewis.
He was polite about the lettuce but preferred eggs.
Plumbers hide pipes inside new walls before you insulate them. That is how the water gets to the taps. I had no idea.
Shiny copper looks so satisfying when it is fixed in the right place, waiting for a toilet.
We were on a roll. Lewis was free with his address book, handing out names like sweeties, and kindly calling those names first, to say that we were OK.
Tom sometimes had bad luck. Windows would go missing, crack, or be completely the wrong size. He got stuck in Spain, during the season of cancelled flights, and then stuck again with Covid. But there is something comforting about listening to somebody else’s disasters, especially when they are consistently cheerful. Tom is proof that you can beat bad luck with positive thoughts.
It was exciting to get proper windows.
Goodbye dirty old window, that never quite fitted.
Hello clear bright plastic with exquisite frosted glass.
Tom was delighted when I gave him some eggs. But he forgot to take them home.
Dan was next to the team. Electricians are super busy, so sometimes they come on Sundays and bring their children to help. Wiring days were loud days because Dan had the biggest radio.
And an amazing brain. Snaking a huge network of wires inside new walls, and back under the old ones.
And remembering where they were after the plastering. I can’t even remember if he liked lettuce or not.
Paul, Connor and Radford’s Joinery
They were coming thick and fast now.
Paul the tiler was punctual and precise, with dates and tiles. Look how straight those lines are, despite the wonky walls. Paul liked talking about the world affairs, so we wasted a lot of time doing that, and I forgot to give him eggs or lettuce.
Connor came to fix a slate. He did it so fast I begged him to come back for more. Connor and his fearless team don’t like lettuce, just coffee. You can’t scamper up a ladder carrying slates and cement unless you are full of coffee. Lettuce doesn’t work like that.
Finally Sean, from Radford’s joinery, took away the broken old door.
And replaced it with Art.
It was autumn by now. The chickens were hiding eggs for sport, and the lettuce was full of slugs and weeds. You can’t offer a withered old lettuce to somebody who has just created beauty like this. That would be weird.
This team always have better and bigger jobs because it is ‘mental out there’ and they have ‘never seen anything like it.’ But they keep coming back, which is lucky.
Back to Us
We were left with beams to stain, and a ceiling to insulate, plaster, and paint. One person did 90% and the rest of us assisted by dragging scaffold around, sweeping up, and thinking helpful thoughts.
It took months
Until the great day came. This is minutes before the scaffold came down for the last time.
All we need now is fittings and fixtures. Next stop the showroom experience.