Building a new home
Edging through completion
The entryway is where it's all (still) happening
A bedroom full of doors and a carpenter in the cupboard
Shades of pale upstairs
And so we arrived at the (latest) completion date, when everything was meant to be finished and I'd be ceremonially presented with the keys. I was ready for things to not be quite as 'complete' as that but after my last visit & meeting with Jeremy I had high hopes that there would just be the loose ends to tidy up.
I was considering holding back my end of the completion if there was still a lot to do but a conversation with my solicitor put an end to that. Apparently if I failed to complete on the set date the mortgage would have to be 'sent back' and reapplied for which would put a huge wrench in the process. On their advice, and considering that most of the remaining issues could be considered relatively minor once the emotional element was factored out, I decided to proceed and hope that both sides would have an interest in getting them resolved quickly. I gave my OK for the completion to proceed and planned a site visit on the actual day.
There was one very immediate change when I arrived - carpets! I'd gotten used to the plain concrete floors over the last few (few?) months and the softening effect of the wall-to-wall flecked creamy white brought made the transition even more dramatic. It was lessened a little by the plastic protective covering and large, black floor protectors under all the decorating equipment & supplies but despite this there was a much more homely feel to the place.
Another new arrival was the second toilet which stood resplendent in its freshly floored little room (the smallest, as is traditional). Once again there was a nagging feeling of space wasted or poorly placed but I'd become a bit hypersensitive to this sort of thing and I decided to see how it worked out over time.
I'd brought a friend along (David, one of the singers in the band) to look at my 'fitted wardrobe' idea and see if he would be up for doing the work. When we arrived at the bedroom we found it had become a waiting room for doors as they were given their final coats of paint and arranged around the walls to dry. A little disconcerting as I'd become accustomed to the open plan look and has forgotten that these slabs of white would be all through the upstairs. Had I gone too far with the light & airy look? Oh well, we'd see how it all worked soon enough.
David set to work with tape measure & notebook and after some discussion said that it was an easy job that he'd be happy to do. Yay! One less thing to worry about. He wouldn't be able to get it done until after I'd moved in but I was planning on gently finding my way into the new home and a little extra time to consider what was going where wouldn't be a bad thing.
Downstairs I found something that felt like a more serious concern. The wood floor was mostly under protective covers but a few areas were exposed and as I ran my eye (and even more so my finger) over them I felt that some of the joins were not particularly flush with (admittedly small) visible gaps and edges standing proud of the surface. Not what I was expecting (I've had a few wood floors fitted over the years) and not a good thing for someone who likes to pad around barefoot. Worse than that, one of the visible 'planks' was obviously a different type of wood - it was appreciably red in contrast with the surrounding oak and had a much finer grain pattern. This was totally unacceptable and I passed on my dissatisfaction to the site manager and the developer, who in turn said they'd contact the flooring suppliers & fitters. I really don't want to move in with the prospect of the floor being taken up again so I intend to press for this to be done soon.
When the kitchen units had gone in I'd complained that the promised draining board hadn't been included. I was told that the wood itself would be planed down to give a gentle slope which sounded like a nice solution, however when I saw the finished area the slope was almost undetectable - about a quarter of an inch lower on the sink side. I've asked for a bit more of an incline but I suspect that this will turn out to be the final state. It's not a big problem in itself but it makes me wonder what's going through the minds of people when they do things like this? One of the lingering complaints about the whole development is that there hasn't been someone with an overview who can ask "Is this how I'd want it in my home?" before things are placed or fitted.
A list of outstanding issues remains - the washing machine still hasn't arrived, none of the dimmer switches I asked for have been fitted, the fuse box & central wiring is still exposed, there's no light switch at the bottom of the staircase and a timescale for the garden still hasn't been proposed - but when my solicitor rang to say the completion had gone through there was a palpable sense of relief. Not quite a cause for wild celebration as I have a premonition of needing to push Jeremy to get the rest of the work done but a Rubicon crossed none the less. I am a householder again! Something I never thought I'd be saying less than a year ago. Funny old world.
Postscript: I called in to the site a couple of days later and collected a new front door key. Not quite the Significant Moment of receiving it from the developer as I stepped across the threshold but a step along the way nonetheless. Checking the (temporary) postbox I found my Building Regulations Certificate of Compliance, seems like my great transition will continue to come in small increments.
And, of course, there were complications with the key handover. I had a front door key but none for the French windows, the lock there was being replaced as it was 'wrong' (with no more explanation given). There was no key for the outside door to the whole development (which is closed when the builders aren't there) and nobody seems to know how the new security gate will operate or when it will be finished. This story, alas, seems like it has a lot longer to run.
Inching towards the future
The entryway is still the workshop area
Mysterious holes in the ceiling
New bannister but still no washing machine
It's said that A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step but it appears that when it comes to building work a single project ends with a thousand steps.
With time ticking away I'd made a list of outstanding issues and emailed it to the developer, his assistant, the architect, the site manager and someone high up in the building company. I hoped that by including everyone I'd be more likely to get answers and that maybe there would be some 'social pressure' to not been seen as the one holding things up. Maybe. I also sent a text to the developer pointing out that I'd sent him an email, to which he repled saying he'd get on to in later that day.
Next day I was back down to the site to have a quick check on progress and to see if there was anything I'd missed on my list. I wasn't expecting much to have changed in 24 hours but there were a couple of unexpected additions - a new banister rail had appeared on the 'wall side' of the stairs and the box around the fuse box & electrics was being put together. The wash basin in the toilet was nearly finished and the doors stacked up in the bedroom had received at least one more coat of paint. The washing machine was still missing but as this just needed 'attaching' rather than serious plumbing (even I have managed to connect a washing machine) I wasn't too concerned about it.
The men who'd laid my wooden floor were back doing another flat so I had a chat with them about my mismatched plank. They admitted it didn't match very well but said it fell within the sort of range I should expect with oak. I began to think I might be obsessing a little as the 'finishing' date crept closer and was starting to find something wrong with anything I examined - there had been (and still were) real problems with the project but maybe striving after a Platonic perfection wasn't going to work for me, the builders, or anybody. The flooring guys seemed open to the idea of replacing part of the floor if it was glaringly wrong so I decided to let it go for now and give them the OK to add the beading round the edges and finish the job off. Most of the wood floor remains under protective covers so we'll see what emerges.
A more alarming discovery was a series of holes - three in the living room ceiling and another couple on the landing. Each was about 3" across and quite roughly cut - one of them also cut into the top of the skirting board. The explanation wasn't very reassuring - there had been a problem with the hot water system but their plumber wasn't around (he'd broken his leg, hopefully not in a plumbing-related incident) so they "didn't know where the pipes were". Not encouraging for any future work I might need. They assured me that the holes would be filled & refinished so I wouldn't know they'd been there but it did give me some worries about what other patching up had been done around the place.
Insurance was proving to be a problem. I'd checked my existing contents policy and it stipulated locks (and the types of lock) that were required on doors, French windows and ground-floor windows. Luckily most of my windows are Veluxes in the roof which are not accessible without use of a ladder and therefore don't need locks so all I had to check were the French windows and one window in the entryway, plus the front door. I passed the specific British Standard lock requirements on to the developer as I was sure they'd use ones that met them as a matter of course but I noticed that the entryway window didn't have any locks at all. When I raised this with the builders they didn't seem to think it was their job to fit locking windows which seemed a bit odd to me, but I just added this to the list of things I needed to sort out myself once I was in.
A further insurance problem came when the company declined to provide cover for the new place! The combination of it being a listed building, there being a river nearby and incidents of flooding last year (the waters made it to the front of the building but not inside) was just too much for the broker to find anyone who'd offer coverage. As I'm not on the ground floor anyway this seemed a bit much but I imagine the West Country floods will cause housing in the area to flash red on insurers' estimate screens for a while. I'll check with the other residents to see how they've managed it.
This is all to do with contents insurance, getting cover for the structure itself is another issue. As it's essentially a new build I thought I'd be covered as a guarantee of the work itself but so far I've not heard whether I'll need my own insurance on top of that. Another thing to keep writing to the developer about. Sigh!
Despite all of this I find myself feeling better about the project as the prospect of actually moving in grows imminent. Less than a week to go!
Connections and decorations
Thursday brought my first two appointments at my new place - at least the first ones that weren't with builders, architects or developers. I'd shown people around before but this time I'd be meeting someone at my actual new address rather than in part of a building site. Another first!
Kitchen mostly done but still filled with equipment
My phone & broadband were being switched over to the new landline and I'd been given a slot of 8:00-12:30 when I was expected to be in for the engineer. I knew the builders would be there to let him in and they'd give me a call to come round when he arrived so I was planning to wait at home and get some work done. But my phone line was dead from first thing so I decided I might as well wait at the site.
When I'd upgraded to my new, shiny iPhone6 I'd nudged my mobile plan up to one that allowed tethering - I could use my moby to connect my laptop to the internet in the absence of wi-fi or a network cable. It wasn't the fastest and there were restrictions on my download volumes but it would be good enough for email and general working. I'd given it a try at home and it had worked pretty well, now we'd see if it could manage out in the wild.
When I started it up I hit my first problem - there was no reception in the new house! I got a few, teasing bars now and again but as soon as I tried to connect with the computer it dropped away to 'No service'. This could become a problem in the future - a lot of my communications come through text messages - but for now I decided to go in search of a stronger signal. At the back of the site, as the ground rose up the hillside, I found I could get a reliable couple of bars if I held the phone up high, presumably bringing it into view of a distant mast. With a bit of experimentation I found I could lay my phone on the roof of the opposite flat, rest the laptop on one of the walls and just about manage a working connection. And so I began the day with some alfresco programming.
Around ten o'clock the engineer arrived. He found that none of my three phone sockets were marked as being the main one as, apparently, one of them should have been (as you can imagine this came as no surprise to me) and soon had them unscrewed and had plugged weirdly bleeping devices into them. He then left the building, assuring me that he'd done some of the other connections in the development and knew where he could find the appropriate wires, boxes and so on. After a while I went in search of him and found him out the front, up a ladder. He said all was going well so I went back out to continue programming on the roof.
Ten minutes later he was inviting me back in saying everything was done. I plugged in my router and was rewarded with a green DSL light which seemed to confirm this, although I couldn't do a full test as I didn't have a telephone handset and I was caught in one of those endless system setup snafu situations - I needed to change some settings for the broadband connection but the password for the router itself, in which I set them, was in my other laptop. Sigh! However it all looked promising and once I'd nipped home for the other machine and jiggled the settings it all worked fine - and much faster than the service I'd been getting before. Must be those new wires.
My next visitor was going to require a bit more active involvement from me. I'd belatedly realised that I needed to get something done about curtains and, in typical male style, was quivering (with fear) at the prospect of facing a thousand fabrics. Asking around I'd been advised to go to a local interior design shop that was barely thirty yards from my new home - surely a sign from the gods. I'd popped in the previous week and made an appointment for someone to come round, measure up & discuss what could be done, and Lara was due later this morning.
The office with its many windows
When she arrived most of the floors were still lined with protective covers and painting stuff was spread all round the place so we carefully tiptoed around the obstructions and treated all surfaces as potentially wet. Our progress was accompanied by intermittent pops & crackles as Lara's heels poked through the polystyrene covers. We started with a tour of the whole house before getting on to specifics and as I did my tour guide thing she enthused wildly about the place - the rooms, the shapes, the dimensions and how it was so different from the other units that she'd seen (it turned out that she'd done the decorating for several of the other flats in the development). She even liked the knobs in the kitchen that I'd thought of as a mistake, saying that the more conventional smaller ones that I was considering would make it look twee & boring.
After the weeks of nit-picking & complaining it was great to see the house through someone else's eyes (especially someone who had qualifications in Good Taste) and have them sing its praises. I found my enthusiasm for the house returning as I looked at what was actually there without the mental overlay of all that had happened (or not happened) during the months of its development. It hadn't come out exactly as I'd envisioned it but my influence & input into the process was clearly visible and this would be a home with my personal stamp on it. And it had turned out very well! I wasn't yet considering a new career in architecture - for all its virtues it was still very quirky - but my ability to make real changes in my (& the) world and have them be in line with my philosophy of bring more Beauty into the world was given a definite boost.
Decisions on curtains & blinds came easily in this positive atmosphere. For the French windows in the office I'd have a 'sheer' curtain, not as translucent (or suburban) as nets but not totally opaque either. As I was planning to use the room primarily as a work space I didn't need a complete blackout, and if I did want to go that way later I'd need to get something for the irregularly shaped window above it and the Velux in the roof. For now something lighter would suffice.
Downstairs we decided on a Roman blind for the living room that would fit inside the deep recess and keep the window ledge usable when it was down, then complimentary sheers for the thin, door-shaped window beside it and the window in the entryway. There was a slight hiccup when the entryway window recess turned out not to be square but Lara brushed this away as something that could be worked around. Lunchtime was upon us so we agreed to meet in the shop a couple of hours later to look at fabrics.
When I arrived I was faced with my worst fear - a room full of books of fabric samples. We talked about the general look I'd like (a conversation we'd begun while back in the house) while I was given a selection of books to look through, a pile that was added to with alarming frequency as I expressed vague likes or (more commonly) dislikes. As the 'no' list grew (stripes, overly geometric patterns, beiges & off-whites, blues & purples...) I began to get a feel for what I wanted - warm earth tones with some sort of diffuse pattering. However this seemed to be a combination that all the fabric designers in the world had failed to come up with, so on we plodded through the unending books.
And then it came! In an 'Art' book I found a pattern of broad zigzag lines that went from a deep purple through rich reds to a warm orange, the different colours bleeding into each other without sharp edges. This seemed to break several of the 'rules' I'd established but when I saw it I knew it was the one for me. And then something for the office upstairs - a sheer that went from white through pale browns to red at the bottom, more subtle gradations than the living room blind and more fitting for a lighter space overall. We were on a roll!
But then we had to find something for the other downstairs windows that would harmonise with the rich colours of the blind. Another sheer seemed like the best idea - I didn't need something heavy or seriously opaque onto the stairway outside - but even with one of Lara's colleagues roped in we couldn't find something that was 'just right'. Eventually I went for a plain red/orange fabric that passed the 'daylight test' when we hauled all three books to the largest window in the shop to get a properly calibrated comparison. This turned out to be a particularly good choice as it could be used for both the tall & thin window in the living room and the wide & shorter one in the entryway. Codes & dimensions were written down and a quote was promised within a few days, with delivery three weeks or so after that.
Something special came to finish the day off. For many years I've been a fan of the work of Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist. One of his recurring characters is Mr Curly, an enlightened sage or childlike idiot (depending on your viewpoint) who lives in the idyllic village of Curly Flat. I loved this place name (on many levels) and when I moved into an actual flat in Findhorn it seemed the obvious thing to dub it Curly Flat. My dear friend Linda had made me a beautiful ceramic name plate inspired by Michael Leunig's style but before I could attach it I had to move out and continue my wanderings between homes, never finding one that felt right (or permanent) enough for it. Finally I had somewhere that could be my Curly Flat (even the fact that it wasn't a flat seemed weirdly appropriate) and one of the builders fixed the plate next to the front door for me. Seeing it there was wonderfully satisfying - had I finally found a home after my years of temporary tenancies?
The many faces of my front door and a new name for my new home
Earlier in the day I'd rung the removals company to confirm they'd be there on Monday morning and had been gently reassured that everything was in hand, so it felt like I had little left to fret about. Knowing that I'd still manage to find lots of things to worry about anyway I'd stuck with an arrangement to go visit friends over the weekend, giving myself a clear break from the house before the move and my week of settling in & arranging. And so Friday morning found me on the platform at Bradford, leaving it all behind me. What would the next week bring?
Returning to the mess I'd left behind
The kitchen is filled with builders' stuff
The bathroom is filled with painters' stuff
And so is the rest of the upstairs
My train connections had worked out nicely for returning from my northern trip and I found myself back in Bradford at 4-ish on Sunday afternoon. Having given the crew three uninterrupted (by me) days to finish off and with the move starting early the next morning I decided to pop round to the site, see if anyone was working there and have a look over the place.
The first problem was getting in. The street door was locked (which implied that none of the builders were around) and despite several requests & reminders I still hadn't been given a key for it. Luckily Jack from no. 4 was in and she came down to let me through. I did have a front door key so I went up to the house and let myself in, expecting an empty inside with maybe a few signs of touching up work around the place.
My hopes were quickly dashed. The entryway still had plastic protective coverings on the floor (by this point heavily stained with paint spillings), wood piled up against the wall, paint containers of various sizes on the floor and sawdust and offcuts all over the place. The kitchen worktops were completely covered with tools, plastic bottles and various bits of wood & cardboard, the floor had similar plastic coverings and drifts of sawdust, the draining board looked as unfinished as it had a week ago and two of the lights weren't working. The living room had clear sheeting, protective covers and throw cloths on the floor and it's one window ledge was filled with decorating tools & supplies.
Moving upstairs it was a similar picture but with more throw cloths. All of the doors had now been hung and nearly all of them had something underneath, presumably to catch paint drippings. The carpets had the clear plastic sheeting still in place with extra protective covers through the landing. The bathroom had cloths on the floor, the retaining rod and plinth cover still hadn't been fitted and there was painting equipment on every flat surface. This continued along the landing and into the office where I found a large ladder and trestle, paint pots (and other bits & pieces) on the floor and various cloths hung on the radiator to dry. The laundry cupboard was free of all this clutter but was also still free of the long promised washing machine. Curiously I also discovered that the light switch had been mounted outside the cupboard but by now I was thankful if a switch was in the same time zone as its associated light.
Needless to say the garden was in exactly the same state as when I had last seen it. But for now this had slipped towards the bottom of my list of problems, having somewhere to live was more of a pressing issue.
As I was leaving I met Jack & Hans, heading off for a walk. I started telling them about the problems I was having and the difficulty in getting responses, answers & action from Jeremy (the developer) and they told me that they'd been having similar troubles with him and still had serious outstanding issues many, many months after moving in (they'd bought & occupied the street facing flats very early on in the development). The problems they'd been having put mine into perspective - water leaks and drips, ruined carpets, dodgy lights & other electrics, the list went on and on. One worrying item was that they'd been having problems with their shower which was the same type as mine - they'd got someone in from a bathroom fitting shop who'd said that it was a model that his shop considered too cheap & poor quality to stock, not something that you'd expect in a 'luxury' apartment. Like me they'd found that the developer, architect and builders tended to blame each other for problems (when they responded at all) and that there was a sense of nobody being in overall charge or control of the project. We'd heard of other owners having problems too and decided that once we were all in we should get together, compare our experiences and approach Jeremy en masse to get things sorted out.
Apparently Joe, the head of the building company who'd done the work on the development was going to be returning from holiday in a week's time and would be coming over to inspect the site. With his company's reputation at risk from very disgruntled buyers we wondered if this might prompt some action? People had said that Jeremy was very touchy about public criticism of his projects so maybe he and the other parties would make more of an effort to placate us rather than run the risk of hearing themselves disparaged around the town? You never know.
When I got home I send a long text to Jeremy saying that the house was in a mess, pointing out that I couldn't defer my moving any longer and asking if there would be a room to unload my belongings into and the chance of the place being liveable once I was in. He replied with his usual assurances that everything would be done and that the outstanding items would be addressed 'right away' - an expression (along with 'asap' and 'this week') that has by now lost any power to reassure me. What is bizarre is that he presumably thinks I'll be placated by this sort of statement despite the fact that he's 'cried wolf' so many times before and that, in the world of emails and SMS messages, there are records of when & where he's said it. I'm not sure quite what's going on with him but he is starting to seem like a bit of a rogue.
But the movers are arriving tomorrow morning and one way or another my goods & chattels will be delivered to the new house. If the worst comes to the worst I've been told that the rooms at The Swan are quite nice but I'm staying positive for now and assuming that after a full but smoothly running day I'll be curling up to sleep in my new home. Fingers crossed!
My life in a Luton van
Belongings piled in the living room
More of my stuff, being guarded by a polar bear
Moving day had finally arrived and after my morning cuppa & breakfast I started on the first job of the day - dismantling my bed. The hallway to my rented house was low-ceilinged & narrow and acted as a very effective filter for bulky items, I'd taken my sofa to bits the evening before but needed the bed for my last night's sleep there.
Although I was having my belongings packed for me I'd decided to do a lot of the delicate stuff myself. I'm the sort of person who keeps the boxes that objects come in (especially electronics) so I'd been up to the attic to retrieve them and spent an hour or so refilling them with their original contents and stacking them ready for the arrival of the movers. I packed a couple of crates with the bits from my office desk - cables, connectors and computer equipment - but otherwise I restricted myself to filling a last few bin bags with stuff that was destined for the trash.
Bang on time there was a knock on the door and I opened it to find two tall, smiling men there to greet me. We did a quick tour during which I pointed out the remaining delicate items and the 'not to be packed' areas, they said that it was all 'no trouble' and before I knew it they were carrying stuff outside to the van. Well, after I'd made the traditional cups of tea. With packing in hand I went for a walk down to the site to check on progress there.
When I arrived it was to find the usual situation - nothing had changed since my last visit. I explained (again!) that my belongings would be arriving later that day and there needed to be somewhere to put them, preferably where they wouldn't get in the way of the remaining work and wouldn't get paint dripped on them. After some hurried discussion I was told that there wasn't anywhere upstairs that could be used but the entryway & kitchen could be freed up if I could delay the arrival until lunchtime. I (roughly) estimated that this would be enough space and went back to tell the speedy packers.
Before then, however, I had a couple of errands to do in town. First thing was to get a key to the street door - I borrowed one from one of the builders, nipped over to the shoe repair/key cutters and within five minutes (there was a queue) I had my own copy. This was an operation that had proved beyond the capabilities of the project team on the site, very puzzling. After that I popped into the pub/hotel in the middle of town and established that they had a free room for the next few days. It seemed like I was going to need it.
Back at my rental home things were moving along at a cracking pace and by 11:00 the van was packed and ready to go. I explained that the house almost certainly wouldn't be ready yet so the guys said they'd take an early lunch and we could meet up again in the early afternoon. Friendly, efficient and helpful, I can recommend John Gibbs Removals of Winsley without hesitation.
When we arrived at the house the two rooms had been cleared (well, the floor space had been) but the moving men said that there was far more stuff than would fit there so it was decided to use the living room as well. The plastic sheeting was removed from the carpets at the far end and the boxes began to be stacked upon them. I left the guys to carry on and went out to confirm my pub room for the next few days.
I was seethingly angry at this point. Despite my stream of texts & emails asking if the house would be liveable by Monday evening I'd had no warning that I'd need to find somewhere else. All of my clothes, not to mention my toothbrush & other toiletries, were packed & stacked so I only had the clothes I stood up in for the next few days, and I still hadn't had a clear answer on when I could expect to finally move in. I sat on a bench with the Georgian Lodge across the river from me and composed a fairly terse text to the developer and site manager, explaining what I'd found at the house, that my belongings were being stored there, and that I was now going to be staying at the pub until the work was done.
Home from home from home
After a calming cappuccino I got a call from the movers saying that they were done. As I was making out the cheque one of them said that they could probably come back and move stuff upstairs for me when it was ready, they'd just charge an hourly rate rather than needing to be booked for the day. I hadn't even started to think about how I'd get heavy items like my bed up the narrow staircase so it was a great relief to have the solution offered before I'd gotten to the problem.
Back in the house I tried to get a firm date on when I could move in, by which I meant sleeping there without risking solvent narcosis. At first it was 'by Wednesday', then it was 'middle of Wednesday' and finally 'sometime on Wednesday'. Considering I'd seen the painter at work well into the evening and the upstairs stank of paint I decided that Thursday was the earliest realistic prospect and told the builders that I'd leave it until then so they could schedule their work accordingly. I searched though the piles of boxes and managed to find a fresh set of t-shirt, socks & knickers and my toothbrush and set off for the Swan to check in to my temporary home.
The room there was comfortable & fully equipped (although the wi-fi didn't work) but I felt the emotional exertions of the day catching up with me as soon as I took the weight off my feet. I showered, changed into my fresh outfit and went down to find myself some food before I dropped. This turned out to be surprisingly good - the pub restaurant had a dual British/Thai menu and the Mie Goreng I went for was both delicious and authentic. I've been wary of 'pub Thai' food after some very dodgy experiences in the past but this was as good as any I'd had in Britain. A reminder that things are never that bad or that predictable.
And so to bed. I was homeless and my belongings were (mostly) inaccessible but I had a full tum and a comfy bed. Not that bad at all.
As one door closes another can be rented
I awoke in a state of confusion before memory caught up and explained everything - I was in my pub room, out of one house but not yet into the next. After a shower and a cooked breakfast (a treat reserved for travelling & holidays) I walked over to the site to see how things were progressing.
Sadly it was the usual story, nothing seemed to have changed. I was assured (again) that things would be ready on Wednesday, meaning that the house would be fit to be lived in at that point - there was still a long list of outstanding issues inside, lots to complete on the outside, and the garden remained the open patch of earth that had stood unchanged for weeks now. But I would at least be able to sleep in my own bed again.
The bridge over the Avon with Georgian Lodge at the far end
There was one moment of black humour this morning. I'd finally been given a key to the street door the day before which I had immediately gone and had copied - I'm always leery of only having one key for a lock. Despite being told that giving up the key wouldn't cause any problems for the builders they'd found themselves locked out that morning until one of the other copies could be found and used. Sigh! I returned my key in the hope that this would prevent further delays but it wasn't a good sign that things were being well managed.
My dear friend Saille had been due to arrive that morning and stay a night or two - my first house guest! The incessant delays had put paid to that plan so instead I hopped on the train and met her in Bath for a walk and some catching-up chat. I'd salvaged a shirt from my piled boxes (luckily I'd tossed one into my sock drawer over the weekend, I had no idea where the rest had been packed) and the weather gods smiled at me with a warm, sunny day so we were able to comfortably stroll along the canal before enjoying a slap-up lunch together.
Back in Bradford I had one last task to complete at my old house, the final inspection to assess the state I'd left it in, read the meters, etc. On my way there I suddenly remembered that I'd not yet emptied the fridge & freezer so I made a couple of hurried trips between the two houses transferring the cold foodstuffs, the tea making gear I'd left out for the movers and a few other bits & pieces that had been somehow overlooked. I'd also forgotten to defrost the freezer which was quite substantially iced up so I worked out how to connect the trays & latches to catch the resulting water and left it to begin the process.
Ian from the letting agency arrived and together we went around the rooms. All was well - the only breakage was a cracked drawer in the freezer that I'd pointed out myself - and I received a nice (if implied) compliment when he asked whether the cleaner had been round yet? I handed over my four sets of keys (after locking myself out once I'd made very sure that it wouldn't happen again), picked up my lonely pot plant and waved goodbye to St Margarets Hill, a very happy home for me over the past two and a half years.
Popping in at the new house I was gleefully informed that the washing machine had arrived, although (of course) it hadn't been plumbed in yet. Oh well, any step forward was to be celebrated at this point.
During the day a strange and disturbing email exchange went on between myself and Jeremy, the developer. I'd written to him explaining that I was staying at the pub and was planning on moving on on Thursday, the day after I'd been told the work would be finished. I was in a fairly bad mood after all the last-minute delays and postponements and had brusquely stated that I would 'bill him' for the pub room & extra rental that I'd had to arrange at short notice. This seemed to touch a nerve, in a two line reply he asked the site manager "Are we there yet?" and told me:
"Andy, do not assume anything nor take that tone with me."
I was flabbergasted. 'Take that tone'? It was like being told off by a parent or an old schoolmaster. I was also unsure about what I was 'assuming' - was this my planned moving in day or the expectation of having my extra expenses refunded? I wrote back, explaining that I'd decided to move in the day after the painting was finished so I didn't need to sleep with solvent fumes around me and that I was just trying to keep him informed of how my expenses were piling up and that the amounts were relatively trivial. His response was blunt and impolite verging on rudeness, saying "I will not be told whats what from you" and ending with:
"No more snotty emails or my tone won't be pleasant at all."
The pleasant (if vague & evasive) man I'd been dealing with over the past six months had been replaced by a bruiser looking for a fight. I took a few deep breaths before replying in turn: I pointed out that my messages may have been a bit blunt but as someone who had paid up on time but been fobbed off since then with last-minute, unexplained delays and was currently without a home this might be understandable. Jeremy had talked about "thankless buyers" in his previous email, I said that in my experience customers were rarely 'thankless' without some reason and that maybe this was something he should look at? Finally I ended with "I hope you don't see this as another 'snotty' email and that we can return to doing business in a polite & civil manner". A vain hope it turned out, he quickly replied with:
"I'm no ones 'kicking boy' and I've learnt in business that this is also not a good thing to be, nor being pushed around when it suits people to be unpleasant. Please no more emails!"
By this point I was furious but it seemed clear that there was no way Jeremy was going to make any concessions (as I imagined he saw it) or to engage in any sort of meaningful dialogue with me. From my conversations with the other residents it seemed like this was a common pattern - he was either impossible to get an answer out of or made vague promises that were later forgotten, then he would become unpleasant & agressive when pushed. Not a good sign for the completion of my new home!
This had left me in a difficult position in regards to 'snagging' and getting the list of outstanding problems with the house solved. Jeremy had become confrontational and abusive, Nigel (the architect) had long backed out of any involvement, the site manager seemed to have no authority to agree to anything and I'd had no direct contact at all with the owner of the building company who were doing the work. I'd been sending my emails to all four people up to now in the hope that one of them would respond each time, I'd probably have to continue with this and see what the results were. But it didn't feel good.
Standing on the verge of getting it on. Again.
I feel like I've drifted into Zeno's House Move where every step forwards cannot be completed until the first half has been done, and that can't be completed until its first half has been done, and so on into infinitesimal infinity. Fractal motion. My destination remains in place but it's always just a little further out of reach. Sigh!
Currently I'm in the most transitional space of the entire process (so far) - I've checked out of the pub/hotel that I was staying in after moving out of my rental place but the new house remains unfinished & unavailable so I'm ensconced in another pub with a cappuccino. I was due to get a progress report when I called in to the site but the site manager (and most of the other builders) were off away somewhere at the time I was due to meet them so I'm passing time before trying again. The painting is apparently finished so there's a very good chance I'll be moved in by tonight but at the moment I'm taking nothing for granted.
When I visited the site yesterday I was introduced to someone new from the building company who's job was to go through my lists of issues and get enough of them sorted that I could actually move in. Not quite Winston Wolfe but with the same remit - a 'cleaner' to deal with problems there and then. Together (and with the site manager in close attendance) we went through the rooms and discussed what was outstanding, what could be done and what would have to be deferred until later. There was a bit of slippery evasion at times - most notably with the flooring & carpets, quickly designated as the responsibility of the subcontractor who'd fitted them - but in general he was frank & open, in most cases accepting that there were faults and proposing ways that they could be corrected. This was a really nice change, it had been (or felt like) a long time since someone had seemed to be on my 'side' and who wanted me to be happy with the house and had the authority to make concrete decisions about it. My cynical side murmured that the building company were (relatively) local and had a vested interest in having happy customers but it could just as easily be their professional pride in making sure the job was completed to my satisfaction so I decided to view it that way.
Most things were quickly dealt with and corrections scheduled, either for later that day or, in a couple of cases where someone with specific skills had to be called in, within the next week. For the delayed fixes I was asked if I could live with it and in most cases this was fine - there was nothing too terrible. A couple of the problems had been developing into perennial issues that were forever 'in a couple of days', these were finally addressed and given real deadlines. All in all it felt like things were going to get sorted out one way or another and I could see that this was in the building company's interests too, to get it finished so they could move on.
A couple of new issues came to light. Door stops had not been fitted and one of the door handles had bashed a cavity in the wall - this would be filled and the stops added. A cupboard that I'd asked to be finished off so it was usable still had a bare floor, I accepted that a bit of offcut carpeting would be fine there. And then we came to the washing machine. This had finally arrived but the cupboard that had been specifically designed for it now had a sewer pipe (for the toilet in the next room) along the floor and the machine wouldn't fit. This seemed to sum up so much of the project, lots of people working on their own little area and nobody looking at the bigger picture, let alone asking if it was something they would want in their own home.
This remains my biggest disappointment with the house, that so many things could have been so much better with just a little thought, either at the planning stage or when they were being installed, fitted or built. I'm sure precious minutes were saved at the time by people just pressing on with what was easiest for them but the resulting mishmash then has to be lived with for years. This seems to be becoming a common pattern in the modern world - I'm certainly seeing it in my current work project - as projects are broken down into small (theoretically independant) units that are easier to measure. A wise man once said "Specialisation is for insects" and this fractured approach seems to be a consequence of that. Which is a bit sad.
A solution to the washing machine dilemma was found - a platform would be built to lift it above the pipe - although it wouldn't be connected until the plumber (presumably the only one in the West Country) could come down & attach the pipes. Still, at some not too distant point in the future I would be able to wash my clothes. Hooray!
There was one last 'insult to injury' to be borne. A smoke detector had been fitted to the ceiling of the entryway, making it maybe five metres above the floor. There was an internal window right beside it from the office but this didn't open - there was no need for it to do so before the detector was fitted and nobody had thought ahead to allow for this. It looked like I could use the extending pole for opening & closing the Veluxes to reset the detector if it went off but it turned out that this pole was an 'extra' that I would have to buy myself. It probably won't cost very much but it's an irritation that will taint my memory of the project well out of proportion to its price.
Aha! An email from the site manager says I can move in anytime. What will I find?