23 August 2010

A house is not a home

Greg and I moved into our present house in January 1988. That was 22 and a half years ago. Although, it is a fairly modern house, it was in quite a delapidated state when we moved in. An old lady with Alzheimers had been the previous occupant and she had thrown things at the walls, was doubly- incontinent and had a string of carers living in, who had neither the time nor the inclination to do anything to the house. Greg and I were still relatively young, when we first moved in, mortgaged up to the hilt and keen to do some DIY ourselves, so we bought the house with much enthusiasm and many ideas about what we wanted to do with it. It was a blank canvas.

Initially, we quickly slapped fresh paint over all the walls and woodwork, just to clean it up, ripped out disgusting carpets and replaced them with new ones and decided that, after that, we would tackle all the rooms slowly one by one with more attention to detail and quality. But life got in the way. For a start we were busy building our careers, as we had recently returned to the UK after living abroad. Commuting in and out of London was tiring enough without stressful work during the day (Greg was often working night shifts too) and it left us shattered when we got home. Then I (elatedly) discovered I was pregnant and Kay came along. Our lives changed forever, as any parent will tell you, and DIY projects got put on hold.

Another teensy weensy problem was that Greg and I had different tastes on things and he had quite strong views on what he didn't want, which meant we could not always agree on the colour of walls and furnishings. Definitely nothing with a hint of floral and only certain colours. The conclusion was often to leave things alone and move on to something else. Greg was also a great procrastinator and would make all manner of excuses to avoid doing things - ie the weather was too hot or too cold; the time too late or too soon; the timing not right altogether; he was too tired or too busy; too this or too that.

After a while money was also a problem, as we paid for Kay to go to a private secondary school at the age of 11, so any savings after that were gobbled up. (Private education was not something we would have originally considered, but realistically our choice of secondary school was limited to one poorly-performing inner-city state comprehensive school half a mile away where much less than a quarter of pupils attained any qualifications of any significance and some even had police records; or the alternative was biting our lips and paying through the nose for a private school with excellent achievements. Kay was very bright and it was well worth the investment in the end, considering what she has achieved today.)

The long and the short of it was that the house ended up being neglected for a number of years. We lived like perpetual students with make-do mismatches of furniture, either hand-me downs or crudely-made by Greg to tide us over, with the occasional bought bargain piece, when we could afford it or agree on it. If I am honest, we were never ones for having an ostentatious lifestyle anyway. As long as we had something to sit on, eat off, the house was warm and the car got us from A to B, we were happy and did not hanker after 4x4s, Mercs, Audis, swish bathrooms and expensive holidays, like some people do. We placed greater importance on other things. However, we had high hopes that when Greg took early retirement and Kay was finished with school, we would at long last start to tackle those jobs together, buy decent furniture and for the first time have a house we could be proud of and enjoy in old age. Again, life got in the way. Greg became an alcoholic.

Apart from the money that Greg poured in the form of amber liquid down his throat or cigarettes he smoked, he was now too ill to do anything. I effectively became his carer and dashed between home and my mother, caring for them both, struggling to keep both houses and gardens vaguely ticking along, as well as bringing up Kay, walking the dog and generally keeping some semblance of normality for all concerned, between the dashes to Acccident and Emergency each time Greg's alcoholism peaked. The house once more got relegated to the back burner. After twenty years or so, since its christening, it was begining to look in desperate need of a coat of paint and some tender loving care.

Now roll forward to the present day....Greg's death has put me in a new, unusual but rather strangely welcoming position. I am now sole decision-maker/finance-juggler/action-planner. I do not have to clear my thoughts first with someone else. With alcohol and cigarettes no longer in the equation and with use of websites such as the one advertised by that delightful little meerkat, I am able to make some small financial savings and at last go ahead with what plans I have for bringing the house up to date. Nothing too dramatic, as I still have to watch the pennies, but neverthess for the first time, having a home (I hope) I shall be proud of.

Some jobs will involve getting experts in - there is no way, for example, I can tackle plumbing or electrics, although I guess, if I had more time, I would be willing to learn for the sheer satisfaction of saying I did it myself. I have also engaged a firm to put in some new double-glazed windows for me before the winter sets in, as some wooden windows badly need replacing. But otherwise I am more than happy to have a go myself in most other things. So far, I have ordered a (matching) flat-pack bedroom suite and assembled it on my own. One unit had 8 drawers in it, so I felt that was quite an achievement. I have recently put up three new fire alarms on the ceilings on various levels of the house. I have had a major tidy-up of the garage which was a complete mess and systematically put things into categories and ordered them accordingly or disposed of them.

Two weeks ago saw my biggest coup yet. Our banisters are horizontal, but when Kay was a baby, one of her baby-club toddler friends came to visit with his mother and promptly tried to abseil through the gaps between the horizontal planks. Greg decided that quick action was needed before Kay started to crawl and did the same, so he banged some rather crude wooden uprights all the way up our 6 flights of stairs. They were a bit of an eyesore but they did the trick. Once the danger was past (and certainly once Kay was a teenager) I was all for removing the uprights and returning the banisters to their former horizontal glory, but Greg opposed this idea - maybe because it would involve too much work. He suggested we paint them instead and they might look less hideous. However, he neither removed them nor painted them and so they stayed as they were for nigh on 18 years.

Two weeks ago, I equipped myself with hammer, screwdriver and crowbar and got rid of every one of those 70 or more uprights. It was hard work - each upright was fixed in three places either with three-inch screws (which took some unscrewing) or 3-inch nails (which were even more difficult to remove, hence the crowbar). The difficulty often arose because the uprights were wedged between the flight of stairs going up and the ones going down so there was little space to manoeuvre prising the nails out. Why Greg used nails in some places instead of screws I am not sure, but they were sure harder to get out. I got a great kick out of finishing the job (using brute force at times) and filling in all the holes with filler. It was very therapeutic. You can just see from the second picture where the uprights were and where I filled in holes. Painting them will be the next phase.



Over the winter I am going to be doing lots of painting, including the staircases, and more clearing out. Slowly but surely the house will begin to take shape and meanwhile it's keeping me busy as well as distracting me from too many painful memories.


DogLover said...

Fabulous! You've found your new life!

What a lot of work you had. But I'm quite impressed with Greg's work. The uprights look to have been very well done - it's always more difficult to construct than to destruct!

nuttycow said...

Sounds like you've been keeping busy! You'll have to give us progress reports as you go along!

Eliza said...

That will be a great project for the winter months. You can have exactly what you want :-)

Kit Courteney said...

Blimey, that looks to have been hard work!

Can I borrow you?!

DogLover said...

"Blimey" or "Gor blimey" - an English expression (for those across the Pond)!

I think they call such words "minced oaths". My understanding has always been that it's a euphemism for "God blind me", but I don't know if that's right, is it, Kit Courteney?

Kelloggsville said...

interesting that you find it a distraction from the memories. I found the first time I redecorated post-divorce it was gut wrenching every time remembering what had happened in each room whether those memories were good or bad they were still draining. I gives a great sense of satisfaction though getting through the jobs and a wonderful sense of independence and achievement - keep it up x

Furtheron said...

Excellent... er reminds me I ought to do some decorating around here whilst I'm not working... not reading blogs :-)

Working Mum said...

Sounds like a good project and well done you on sorting out the staircase! I'm sure you'll find it absorbing and rewarding to transform your home.

PS I've literally just finished my house (last thursday) - look out for my posts about it, might give you some inspiration!

Retiredandcrazy said...

Well done that woman! You are an inspiration.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

Good for you Addy. It is fantastic that you have a project to get your teeth into and it will give you such incentive to tackle more and more. You will see your own vision of your home coming to fruition, marvellous. Congratulations on putting your flat packs together, so satisfying. My daughter (now on her own) says she is "Queen of the Flat Packs"! A x

Nechtan said...

Hi Addy,

I don't know where you get the energy from. From the time I started reading you blog you seem to always be on the go.

I do hope you take lots more before and after photos of the work you have planned. I imagine the altering the home in your vision will be very rewarding in a number of different ways.

All the best


Achelois said...

Just to reassure you nechtan I am not stalking you. Addy's blog popped into my reader and your name just happened to be the one above in comments. lol

Well can I borrow you please Addy. Jokes aside, my guess is that you will be much distracted over the next few months. Our house (although not owned) but we have lived here over 18 years is in much much need of tender loving care and new furniture. Bizarrely I have just commented on a Tasmanian blog I love on just this topic.

Please do give us progress reports, the transition with your choices I have no doubt will please you much. I also think starting with your bedroom is good and hope you have treated yourself to some feminine touches to create a sanctuary for yourself. A flat pack creation, you have my utmost admiration.

Every time you mention how many flights of stairs you have I always think you must never ever need to do any cardio vascular exercise. It makes me feel guilty as I am just about to cave in and get the powers that be round to fit a stair lift, am not looking forward to that as stairs are in front room and it will seem to me too much evidence of the need. So I aim to persuade other half and that will be with a capital P! to redecorate by way of distraction. Wish me luck, I will need it.

Don't over do it though as Nechtan says you always seem so busy.

Fond Regards.

Ellen said...

It was interesting to hear the history of your home. You are an inspiration! The spindles certainly did the job when Kay was little, but now they have been removed I am sure the true character of your town-house is shining through. Well done - look forward to hearing more on your future endeavours.

PS - I loved your previous post about your lovely Mum. My mother, too, is aged 87 and was in the Land Arm (in Ridgewell, Essex). I am going to print this off for her as I am sure she will be interested to read it. Best wishes.

Nancy said...

I feel strangly satisfied too! Sounds like you are tackling this project with gusto, and with great results,the stairs already look better). I also feel your pain about DIY and men...x

Nik Perring said...

I've just stumbled over this blog and I'm thrilled I have. Wishing you all the very best.


Flowerpot said...

Well done you Addy - that sounds a really worthwhile project. I take my hat off to you (I love that old fashioned phrase! but you know what I mean.) Good on you.xx

laurie said...

i love this post. i do know that feeling of diving in and making a place MINE. it's quite wonderful. good job and keep going~

GreatGranny said...

Gracious, you have so much courage to take this on by yourself and I know it'll be wonderful when all is achieved.

Hypercryptical said...

Hi Addy,

I am at present composing a serious of post re alcohol and its abuse. My main aim in writing these is that I realise that there are hidden victims of alcohol abuse who are rarely mentioned in the media - people like your good self and your daughter.

I have read your blog for some time now and I would like to seek permission to link to your blog and also direct to a particular post.

As I realise this is a highly personal blog - I realise you might not want this and I would respect your decision.

You have my total admiration as do all families who share your situation.

The stairs look great!

Anna G