So, we're still no further forward on the British Gas smart meter front and I've given up making non-existent appointments with them for now, but Keith has been working away on the walls of the kitchen, which were panelled à la Seventies and then painted white, except for a built in cupboard where the interior panels had been left in that fetching orange-brown colour so beloved of householders in the seventies.
I have to say, it has been quite cathartic ripping the wood off the walls and flattening the myriad of protruding nails ready for the trip to the tip, although I was not allowed to do any of the ripping, being relegated to the nail-flattening. Nor am I allowed to use the electric saw (or any saw, in fact) on the longer pieces of wood. Keith definitely needs to work on his delegating skills and I need to join a wood-ripping union.
However, the walls have nearly all been battened now and covered with plaster board, prior to having a skim of plaster ready for painting in due course.
We also now have a new double wall cupboard to replace the orange, built in ones and pretty soon, Keith will be expecting a constant stream of gourmet meals because I will have a top notch kitchen in which to produce them. This could be a bit of a double edged sword, as I'm not too keen on spending my future life in the kitchen, but it will be a relief to have somewhere that is clean, hygienic and looks good.
One of my 'moving house' tasks was to ask British Gas to fit smart meters in our new house. We'd had them in the last house, albeit with a series of problems before they would actually work properly but hey! I thought, what could be more fun than spending the forthcoming winter watching the dial go round and telling us how much money we are burning?
The appointment was booked for 30th July and the engineer duly turned up, not just on time but a couple of hours early, having rung beforehand to check there would be someone at home. (You see, British Gas, you can get it right when you try!) He fitted the electric meter and then informed us that he couldn't do the gas one as he didn't have the right connection.
"But it's all-right, I'll just get the job re-booked," he assured us before going on his merry way.
A fortnight passed. No-one came, no-one contacted us, nothing happened, so I went online to book an appointment myself, which I was able to do very easily. On the days before August 25th, I received the usual flurry of texts and emails -
'We're coming soon'.
Did you know we're coming soon?'
'Bet you're really pleased we're coming soon, but if you cancel us on the day or even the day before, we'll charge you £30."
"Oh but let us know if you have Covid and we won't come."
August 25th dawned. The appointment 'window' was between 1-5pm.
We waited. Time didn't wait. The clock ticked along until a text pinged into my phone at 4.30pm.
'Actually, we won't be coming after all. We forgot to check but we don't seem to have any spare engineers. Silly us! Oh and we can't book you another appointment either. Yes, We know, annoying ... but we'll let you know when we can.'
So that was the first half day wasted.
I went online and found that I could re-book the appointment quite easily, so I did, for last Thursday afternoon.
(To save me repeating myself, may I invite you to read the above procedure again as, lo and behold, that is what happened last Friday too. Second half day wasted.
This time, I decided to take to Twitter @British Gas to 'explain' my dissatisfaction and sure enough, I got a reply, asking me to message the details so the they could look into what had happened.
This time, the person I was messaging made the next appointment for me, for yesterday afternoon.
Bound to turn up this time, I thought.
However ... yes, you've guessed it.
A third afternoon wasted.
To add insult to injury, I got a text today asking me for feedback on how they had dealt with my issue and how I felt they could improve my experience further.
Apologies for the few days of silence again, but as you will appreciate, having the house rewired means that electricity supply is intermittent which means that broadband is too. (Yes, more withdrawal symptoms!)
Zurab came to look over the house and then sent us a quote. He was going to be able to start the job on 31st August but first he had a short holiday with his family. "They will kill me if I don't go," he explained. We agreed that would probably be a step too far but even so, he still called in on the afternoon of 29th to check a couple of things.
Coming from Georgia, it was fascinating to hear Zurab and his team, consisting of his son and his brother, shouting to each other in Georgian and then switching to English to say something to us. (Zurab also mentioned that he had been educated in Russian from year 11.) Time and time again, mainland Europeans put us Brits to shame with a command of different languages that is taken for granted. There is the added advantage that if you speak two or more languages, you are less likely to suffer from dementia in later life, but I never got round to mentioning that to them.
So for the first couple of days, we took ourselves off to Claire's house but then Keith began to get restless so we stayed put, which allowed him to potter about in his office and garage, as long as he kept out of the way of the workers. During the course of the week, there were of course, sighs, groans and sharp intakes of breath as various idiosyncrasies were discovered - the house had, after all, been running 90% on extension leads - and tracking down the sources of various cables and leads would probably have kept Sherlock Holmes busy for a few days. We may need to set up a stall at a car boot sale to get rid of all the extensions!
And so the work continued and each day more holes in walls appeared but so too did more electric sockets - what joy! Somewhere to charge laptop, mobile, iPad, even somewhere to do the ironing without dragging the ironing board halfway through the house. Each evening, Keith and I would remind each other that that was another day done and it would all be worth it in the end, but what made the experience far less stressful than it could have been was the unfailing cheerfulness of Zurab and his team. He and Keith in particular really hit it off and could have talked for hours about electronics, IT, engineering - all the things they shared an interest in.
Now we have been able to tick that job off the list, the biggest and most invasive, but one that we couldn't have delayed and it feels so much better to have it done. So, all that is left now is:
finishing the kitchen, finishing the downstairs toilet, updating the bathroom, altering the en-suite shower room, insulating the conservatory roof, insulating the garage as a workshop ...
Well, Keith does like to be busy!
Did I say we had a plumber waiting in the wings? Silly me. In the time honoured way of many, though not all, of our tradesmen, this one apparently vanished into thin air. No promised quote was forthcoming, no answer to my subsequent text either. This was someone who had done three jobs for Claire and who we therefore thought would be a fairly safe bet, but it was not to be. I found another one, who came to case the joint one Saturday morning. I did have some slight misgivings about this one, mainly because he couldn't find the address, in spite of having the postcode and detailed directions which no-one else seemed to need and when I walked up the road to find him and told him to take the next turn on the left, he decided that left actually meant right and was on his way down the turning opposite ours before noticing me waving frantically behind him.
Once again, silence reigned after his visit and again, my follow up text went unanswered. Time for plumber number three.
"Can I just ask you," said Keith when the bathroom tour was finished, "If you don't want the job or can't fit it in, could you please let us know? We've had two other plumbers who said they would give us quotes and we haven't heard from them again."
Plumber number three assured us he would certainly send us a quote and made a careful note of my email address.
Fast forward two days and plumber number two decided to get in touch after all and send us his quote. It was not wonderful but then he had come armed with a glossy catalogue of bathroom suites and everything else you could need or want in a bathroom.
"I think we could do it ourselves, you know," said Keith. "It's pretty straightforward."
He had already decided that he would be able to do the downstairs toilet himself and had bought the toilet, wash basin, tiles etc and as for the en suite, we had decided that we would just take out the toilet, move the wash basin and finish tiling and decorating in there rather than getting rid of it, so this could be the logical next step ...
Anyway, before that, we have the re wiring, which will begin tomorrow morning. Now here, we have struck gold. We have a brilliant electrician and his team who will be on our doorstep tomorrow at 8am, but there will be more to tell on that next time.
Well, if all goes smoothly, our electrician should be starting work at the end of this month and before we know it, we will have plug sockets which are a) convenient and b) useable and we won't have to switch on the Bakelite light switch under the stairs for the hall light switch to work.
Speaking of under the stairs, first impressions were of something akin to the black hole of Calcutta. We had talked of putting a cloakroom there, just a toilet and wash hand basin but hadn't really planned to do it any time soon. However, the eighties bathroom seemed to be begging to be updated and the ensuite to be removed altogether, so we thought it might be a good idea to bite the bullet and do it all.
When I say do it all, we have a plumber waiting in the wings, with attendant tiler, so they will take care of the bathroom and, hopefully the ensuite, but apart from dealing with the plumbing bits, Keith has decided to undertake the downstairs toilet himself.
So that has been our main occupation over the past week, plus buying and putting up a small garden shed because, although Keith now has an office AND a whole garage, there is no room for my garden tools, lawnmower, strimmer etc. (I know! Unbelievable!)
One reason Keith decided to start work on the understairs toilet was that the stairs were creaking - a lot. His plan was to have me walking up and down the stairs so that he could pinpoint the worst areas and then squirt glue in, helped by a few screws where needed. This was eventually what he did, but only after he had discovered that whoever had installed the extra wide doorway had been able to do so only by sawing off the top newel post just above the doorway.
Yes, instead of the door frame and post supporting the top stairs, it appeared that the stairs were supporting the door frame and post. Visions of us abseiling up to bed that night danced through my brain but fortunately, it didn't come to that and Keith was able to remedy the situation.
The man deserves a medal!
Instead, I treated him to - an angle grinder. Doesn't everyone want one?
We hadn't been in the house long before we realised that there was a surfeit of electrical extension leads everywhere; the four-way or six-way ones which often come in useful when you want to plug in several electric items but find yourself with only one socket. These days, the need for places to plug in, charge up and access all sorts of electric appliances seems never to be satisfied and even in our twenty year old previous house, we never had quite enough. However, although back in the sixties, we were perfectly satisfied with a mere handful of sockets, fast forward to present day and that is no longer the case, not by a long chalk.
But still the full picture had not dawned on us. We rang an electrician and asked him to come and quote for installing more sockets.
He came, took one look at the consumer unit under the stairs and then there was a sharp intake of breath.
"Can't do that, I'm afraid, there's no earth suitable for the RDC trip here" - or words to that effect. As I wasn't even sure what a consumer unit was, he might as well have been speaking Russian.
It soon became clear though, that although the wiring was not actually dangerous, a re-wire was definitely needed.
A brief tour round the house followed to document what we wanted and what was needed.
You may be familiar with the story of a tourist asking a local for directions somewhere in Ireland.
"Well if I were you," the local man said, "I wouldn't start from here."
A variation of this followed in subsequent conversations with the electrician.
"If you had come to me before you moved in, I would have advised you to get the re-wiring done beforehand." Well, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we are where we are, I thought.
But there was more.
Ideally we'd like you to move out and store your furniture somewhere while we do the work.
Bearing in mind the fact that I had just spent weeks packing and hadn't even finished unpacking here, I think my reply was reasonably polite and measured. It was along the lines of 'not a chance in hell, mate!'
There followed at least three conversations via text in which the electrician did his best to persuade us. His start date moved back a month and the quote increased by £1000 'because of all the extra time it will take us' and, to cut a long story a little shorter, we said good-bye to him and found ourselves someone else who doesn't need us to clear the house and can start at the end of this month.
In the meantime - don't trip over those extension leads ...!
On our first night in our new home, we slept like the proverbial logs, although as we had a vertical blind but no curtains in the bedroom and it was still just the beginning of July, sunrise was early, which meant that Keith was up and ready to start the day at 4.45am. This was the beginning of a habit which has stayed with him over the intervening weeks. I, however, am made of sterner stuff and have managed to contain my energy and excitement until a much more acceptable six o'clock.
We knew that this house, built in 1960, would inevitably need some renovation. The Homebuyer's Survey had mentioned things like the flashing on the chimneys, gutter and drain cleaning and fence replacement and suggested that in the future, we might want to consider updating the kitchen and bathroom.
Fair enough, we thought but no rush, except that I would quite like a flexible tap for the kitchen sink.
It transpired, however, that, although the kitchen units looked fine on the outside, the murky interior depths were a different story. A good all-round description would be 'manky'. This kitchen was going to need somewhat more than a new tap for us to regard it as useable. Insult was further added to injury when I inspected the oven, for which even the term 'manky' would not be an adequate description. The fact that at our old house, I had almost climbed inside the oven to make sure I left it as spotless as a used oven can be, only added to my annoyance.
The state of the cooker meant we could treat ourselves to a new electric oven and gas hob (to replace the halogen one already there) except that, although there was a gas supply in the house for the central heating, someone had, in their wisdom, decided to completely remove all signs of it from the kitchen. There is a gas engineer working on restoring the connection as I write and until now, we have been making good use of our camping stove, bought years ago for our trips to France.
In the meantime, Keith has come into his own with all his DIY skills and we have now replaced almost all the units and worktops.
It's still a work in progress, mainly because of another 'surprise' we had, but that's for the next post.
So, we're still no further forward on the British Gas smart meter front and I've given up making non-existent appointments with them...
So, we're still no further forward on the British Gas smart meter front and I've given up making non-existent appointments with them...
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