Friday, 24 August 2012

Island Hopping

Well, not exactly. We're off to Guernsey in the morning for a week but the children insist on telling anyone who'll listen that "we're going to an island for our summer holiday". Admittedly, the Maldives it ain't, but with miles of sandy beaches and coastal paths, fish 'n' chips on every corner and best of all NO HOUSE OR GARDEN TO WORK IN (was that maybe just a little too enthusiastic?) it will be a wonderful week.

What's your favourite part of a family holiday? Among mine this time round are: timespend with loved ones, one little girl's eighth birthday, one 40-something's excitement about sea kayaking, five Farrows frolicking freely (sorry) and one 26-miler on Sunday morning.

Or maybe the lie-in I've promised myself on Monday morning!

Sunday, 12 August 2012


I am so incredibly proud to be British right now. Granted, this is my adopted nation and I will always, always be a Saffa deep down (I can't help it: my accent refuses to budge). But this is where I live now and I love this country. And at this moment, the culmination - the forthcoming Paralympics notwithstanding - of a fortnight of emotions coursing through our collective CNS, my heart is bursting with pride and utter joy.

The pomp and ceremony of the opening ceremony, the glamour and celebration of the closing one - and everything in between. How fabulous were our athletes? But more so, the welcome London gave to its visitors. British stoicism? Pah! Personified in the closing ceremony, it seemed that the world put its differences aside for half a month and united in a shared moment of glorious sporting achievement. (I said "it seemed"; I'm not naive. Though, like Lennon, I dream of a world without borders.)

Right now, the world is united at the hippest pah-tay ever. Oh to be there. Oh for the feeling to continue forever. Perhaps we should oust the politicians and allow the natural order - the musicians and artists and sportspeople and the rest of us - the honour of running our world.

Free fruit

Some of the best things in life are free, actually. Like air, hugs from small children and of course fruiit foraged from the incomparably beautiful and bountiful British countryside. Suburbanside too, especially in Milton Keynes, which might be sniffed at by my compatriots in Ye Quainte Olde Villages but row upon row of hedging at every turn yield the most incredibly delicious edibles which is certainly not to be sniffed at. Wolfed down, more like. 

Unlike my friend Sarah who's a dab hand at turning bitter sloes into a decadently sweet gin, my imagination - so far - has stretched only to making apple and bramble crumble, or simply shovelling in those fat, juicy, bruise-coloured blackberries as quickly as I can pick them (my son taught me the art of picking with one hand while ingesting with the other; a boy of fabulous talents, evidently). This year I'm determined to try to sloe gin, purely for experimental purposes you understand. Any other recipes gladly accepted, and I'd really appreciate some help in identifying the various edible offerings on eye-catching display this autumn.

I'll swap you for my world famous crumble topping recipe.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Who is Larry?

I've been thinking. The Larry of "as happy as Larry" - who was he? And why was he so happy? So in the time-honoured tradition of googling everything (as yet another gilt-leaved tome chokes under a layer of library dust) I found out about Larry. And while the answer is interesting (no, I'm not going to tell you) and will be committed to the mental filing cabinet from which I one day plan to drag 15 ridiculously obscure facts in succession to win a million pounds, the more fascinating question of the day is this: Why are we all so unlike Larry?

This is, after all, the age of abundance, at least for all those I know personally. Tables groaning under the weight of food, wardrobes bulging and coat racks swamped, a plethora of activities to which we can drive our kids in the gas guzzler. Turning our noses up at bread crusts, the 'wrong' flavour of ice cream, last year's curtains and a skirt that doesn't fit quite right. In other words, we are spoiled, not only for choice but with the quantity of stuff to which we have access.

And instead of - as portrayed in the media - all of us swanning about enjoying our (relative) wealth and savouring the sheer magnitude of our luxurious lifestyles, we're persistently dissatisfied with everything. Where most of the third world would fight to the death for the slightly floury apple or the crusts we consign to the compost bin, we're scouring the tabloids for the latest fad diet or quick-fix surgical option. For the majority of the seven billion earthlings among us, a stained t-shirt would present a body covering; for the spoiled brats among us nothing less than the perfect jeans will make us happy. For a day, anyway, till the next quest is on.

Is it precisely because of this eternal wandering around in the desert of discontentment that we're unhappy? Could we possibly learn something from the smiles and songs of the really poor of the world? They might not know what too much food is, but they have no debt; insurance and burglar alarms are unknown entities; envy is replaced with neighbourly concern and sharing what little each has with the next family. This is not intended to condescend and yes of course I still feel for these people, but I would also like to learn from them, and teach my children what it means to be truly 'starving' (i.e. not two hours past lunch time when all the other children in the park are eating lollies but I didn't bring any) and to look after their possessions.

So maybe if we were really poor we wouldn't be quite as happy as Larry was, but perhaps we could try to be content with whatever it is we have, or don't have.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Help. Please.

I know my audience is really small, but I would like to continue writing - purely for self expression and not altruistic illumination, you understand - and need to know (a) if you're remotely interested in what I have to say and (b) what I should write about. Jury's out.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A month along

And we even have a few pictures up! I have to admit that the momentum has been lost. We keep using the excuse "there are more important jobs; the wall needs finishing, the patio built, the garden landscaped" but actually, despite this being true, the reason the pics aren't all up yet is sheer inertia. Both of us feel as though we're wading through treacle most of the time so we're managing a blind here, a couple of pics there. When I say "we" I mean, of course, me nagging and Greg doing the actual work. Although I do make the tea and hold the vacuum cleaner and pass him nails etc.

And still, when people ask whether we'd do it all again, the unqualified and ready answer is always a resounding "yes". I was told this morning that I'm a little mad. Can't understand why anyone would call me that. Wonder if it has anything to do with that resounding "yes", the fact that I'm way behind with my paperwork but have spent the better part of a week working on the Save Splashdown campaign and studiously ignoring the Spreadsheet of Boringness, and the 21 miles I ran yesterday morning en route to an end-August marathon?

Before then, though, I have to get the garden in shape, and have called on the most able services of a fabulous local gardener to help me. Check out Marc is highly recommended and I urge you and your friends to consider him this summer.

As soon as the weather offers something more summery, the housewarming's on. Till then, please pop in and have a coffee with me.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

This is the ramp

This is the ramp that Greg built
This is the ramp that cost a bomb
That took much time
That has no point
That's ugly as sin
That fronts the house
That the Farrows built.

PS We put it there for building regs. 
PPS It leaves as soon as we have approval.
PPPS Was that obvious? 

Saturday, 30 June 2012


For some reason, Someone up there liked us on Wednesday. Backtrack to Monday, when we were under the impression - a well-informed one, having had three phone conversations and an emailed quote from the brickie in question - that a local bricklayer would be starting on our wall on Tuesday morning. Said morning came and went sans word from said bricklayer. I got edgy. I rang, again and and again, only to be greeted by his voicemail message. Not entirely happy, I emailed him. Eventually I got an email apologising for his tardiness, and promising that he would be with us first thing Wednesday morning.

Got back from the school run to - you've guessed it! - no man wielding trowel. Rang again. Ditto Tuesday's saga. I decided to find someone else, so placed an ad on It's a brilliant site if you're looking for any sort of tradesperson. Literally minutes later I got a call from a brickie, who was round 15 minutes later to quote. Lovely man, and I'm sure his work is wonderful, but his price was through the roof so we had to turn him down.

None too chipper, we closed the door on him, but 10 minutes later received another caller - the angel Jim, who had seen the ratedpeople ad and popped by on the offchance, having spotted our yardload of blocks and bricks and put two and two together. He's Irish, he works with his Da', and boy is he as good as his word. They were in our back yard by 7.30 on Thursday morning and haven't stopped since. They've built most of the back wall (had to stop part way through because they ran out of bricks - another saga!) and are currently laying our driveway and replacing one of the pillars at the entrance. They stop for lunch and that's all. I mean, seriously? Pat laid the entire driveway entrance AND built a pillar in about two hours.

They are, truly, angels. Sent to save us in our hour of need.

And I loved the fact that Irish Jim wore a Springbok rugby jersey on his first day :)

Here they are:

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Farrows have moved!

It feels as though we've been in for ages, but it's been just three weeks since we officially moved in. Pictures and blinds, mirrors and other bits and pieces still need putting up, but on the positive side the garage is looking stunning, we have surround sound (if you've ever wanted to listen in on the rugby while you're preparing the bbq food in the kitchen, come over to ours) and all the TV/Sky/DVD bits are wired up and working efficiently. There are four remotes and no one but Himself knows how to work the whole shabang, but who has time to watch TV anyway? There are walls to be re-painted before the cooker splashback is installed; there are at least 17 trillion photos to be sorted through and put in albums or frames; there are rooms to be frou-froued (ideas for the smallest room, anyone?). I'm having soooo much fun, at last :)

Himself not so much. The weekend of Father's Day was spent shovelling a veritable mountain of clay from one section of the back yard to another; the clay came out of the ground when he dug a trench into which we had to pour a foundation for the retaining wall. And then, after the building inspector visited the other day, he's had to mastic all the windows and doors, build a temporary access ramp at the front door (which we've just heard has to to be replaced with a permanent one ... erm, I mean "permanent" as it is NOT staying after inspection), seal every possible nook and cranny before the air pressure test is carried out on Friday and finish preparing the bit at the back where the wall's going to go. The latest tradesman is starting tomorrow, building us that retaining wall so that Himself can retain the speck of energy he has left in order to lay the patio. And finally we will be able to throw a massive housewarming bash. So those of you not in MK, get your passports ready/cars fuelled and get awaitin' your invitation. First sign of weekend sunshine, it's on.

As long as the smallest room has been frou-froued by then.

View of Flozone

The beige-y sofa has gone; note TV already on wall, minutes after we'd moved in

Note fab bar stools; disregard mess (it's NEVER usually that messy haa haaaaa)

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Moving in

It's here at last! We're moving into TNH. Luckily for us, we have a few days to complete the move, which means lots and lots and lots of trips back and forth carting stuff. We've hired a big van today to move bookcases and cupboards so we can fill them, and I've finished the wardrobe inners so I can start sorting out clothes and finish the kitchen and laundry today. Another big push tomorrow and - as soon as I've found the bed slats - we can sleep there.

It will be weird to say the least. But mostly just lovely. The kids are both excited and fed up with the scatterlings of possessions, although popping bubble wrap seems to amuse them for hours so that's something. What else is "something" is moving in the rain. I know it's not as disastrous as countrywide Jubilee celebrations being washed out, but it's still a PITA. As is erecting fence posts in the rain, and the fact that I have to postpone my long Sunday run. Sigh.

But I guess the sun will shine again. When school's back.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Some gems of mine

By gems I mean friends, those who add much needed sparkle to my sometimes lacklustre life. To you, I say a long overdue thank you, for these reasons:
* When I've desperately needed extra time to work on the new house without small people around, thank you for taking them, even if only for a few hours, to give me the chance to work furiously and to give them a much more interesting afternoon than they would otherwise have had (i.e. trying not to cut their legs on something or, literally, watching paint dry).
* On that note, thank you to my children for your patience, and for showing me that you are indeed capable of amusing yourselves and each other amicably; this knowledge will hopefully keep me sane during those times when you don't.
* When I've had enough of paint fumes and drinking lukewarm flask tea, thank you to those who have either brought me something delicious to consume or who have taken me out - actually out of the house, yes, really - and reminded me what normal people do on a Friday night.
* To all of you who have oohed and aahed and texted and told other friends about the house - thank you thank you thank you; you have unwittingly lifted me out of a bad place, even with a simple "oh, I love this" and endorsed our slog and financial mire.
* And a special thank you this week to the friends who have given gifts - the cutest pot plant in the world and a raffia heart, a bottle of bubbly, and the most surprising gift of all from Lisa, who has given me a car; I know you think it has nothing to do with the house, but in fact it has because we used our car fund to buy drains (wouldn't you have?) and I was facing forcing small legs to cycle up to 10 miles a day before Lisa's incredibly generous and thoughtful offer came.

We're nearly there, everyone. We move this weekend into our brand spanking new house! Still lots to do outside so we'll throw that massive bash you're all waiting for once that's done, but please please do come and have a look. And feel free to ooh and aah as much as you like!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Drains and weeds

Is there anyone out there whose life is like a ride on the Orient Express, first class? Hop on, go straight to the dining car when you're handed a glass of chilled Chablis by a bow-tied waiter, sit back and let the train chug gently along the track? If there is, I'd love to hear from you; in particular I'd like to know if it all just comes naturally or if there is something you have to do to achieve this state of ease. Because for me, following the same metaphor, life is more like a ride on one of those little mini locomotives they use for the ghost train: too small for a grown up, lashes from side to side and up and down without warning, winds around and through sometimes hair-raising situations, and if you lean too much one way or the other you'll fall out.

Not that it's a general complaint; mostly, life is a good thing, and I'm more than happy to be living it. It's just that sometimes I wish I could throw a tantrum and have it all my way. Take the drainage. My poor husband, as if he doesn't have enough of a week, had to spend the entire weekend digging the trenches for and then laying drains. What I would have wished for him was lovely, soft loam to simply spade out and then allow gently to fall from his spade as backfill. What he spent the weekend doing was hacking out with a pick the typical MK clay soil, metres and metres of the stuff so that even he was tired (which doesn't happen often). I spent most of the weekend ripping up tangles of weeds and briars that appeared seemingly from nowhere and were in the process of choking our fledgling shrubs and hedging. Why is it that the plants we really want to grow vigorously actually grow at a fraction of the speed the unwanted ones grow at?

Is it the same reason our bodies sprout unwanted hair at a rate inversely proportionate to the amount we're losing from our barnets? Is it simply the universe's way of telling us life sucks sometimes, and just deal with it?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Out of the mouths of babes

One of the very many reasons I really like my son, and enjoy spending time with him, is that he is a wise soul. My greatest wish for my children is for them to truly understand the meaning of being unique, being their own people. There are few sights more horrific to me than that of a gang of clones (i.e. the popular girl leading a pack of wannabes, girls who are neither themselves nor the popular girl, almost as though they were living between two states of being) and no words I want to hear less than "But, Mummy, I have to wear this top/eyeshadow/nose ring because everyone is wearing it."

But this morning, we were listening to the honeyed Warbler rendition of Pink's 'Raise Your Glass' and my boy asked me what it was all about. I told him: "In short, it's an encouragement to celebrate being you, no matter how different you might feel from everyone else or how much others might call you a 'freak'." His answer? "But, Mum, I thought everyone in the world was unique so does that mean that everyone gets to celebrate?"

Nine years old and got it in one. Now let's just hope that it sticks, and even rubs off on the grown-ups of this crazy, mixed up world.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


Well. I'll bet you all thought I'd got buried under a slab on concrete. In fact, I know that's what you're thinking because some of you have actually expressed surprise on seeing me every now and then. Sorry to burst the proverbial but yes, I am still alive, albeit mainly in the flesh. My mind and soul are most definitely buried under a multi-dimensional tsunami.

To start with, there's the knowledge that we absolutely have to be sleeping in our new house in under three weeks' time. Either that or on the street, and in the current climate (literally) - even bearing in mind my Scouting spirit - I'd prefer the former. Thanks to a few very special friends (see later) this is entirely possible, as long as the drainage is completed this week and I can get in there and clean properly. Again. Oh my goodness, where does the dust come from? I finally understand the gravity of the words: "let's wait till the dust settles" (which, come to think of it, could well be a procrastinator's theme song ...).

But we've come a very long way. It's been just under six months since we broke ground, and we now have - ta daaaa - a house complete with running water, underfloor heating, a heat recovery and ventilation system, a central vacuum system (Rosi, stop hyperventilating!), a much-aligned but rather attractive cooker hood, spectacular worktops, flooring and staircase, built in cupboards, a fridge that arrived shortly before midnight half inside Dave's van from Ramsay and coats and coats and coats of fresh paint. Its chrome ceiling lights complement the chrome handles, switches and sockets; its large windows and glass doors encourage what little light we have at the moment to flood through the lower floor. Upstairs are two gleaming bathrooms and three cosy bedrooms waiting patiently for five Farrows to occupy them. Downstairs is currently a fabulously minimalist dancefloor which I'm tempted to leave that way (thousands of students and Bedouins sit on cushions so why not us; and who needs desks in a study anyway?).

I'm excited, if a little stressed ("little" only because I've just spent a fortnight studiously ignoring the progress of the build while sunning myself in SA), but at the moment more than anything I'm incredibly thankful for all the help we've had. I've already thanked the wonderful Greg Hardie for our beautiful slate roof, Jim Dixon the best electrician ever and James of Central Heating Services for working plumbing, but thanks again to you, to Lowfield and Selfbuild Floors, to Jewson and Build Center and to all the people who've had any hand in the build.

Mostly, though, I want to thank three men. The first is my lovely husband, who has been - mostly - my rock, sane and calm, and who has spent every spare moment pouring concrete, laying cables and slate tiles, painting, fixing, nailing and doing a million other jobs - where did he learn all that stuff? He seems able to turn his hand to anything practical, and I am very thankful not only for his skill but especially for his stamina and commitment to the task.

Secondly, to Marc, a very good friend who also happens to be a skilled handyman. Working alongside you has been an absolute pleasure and I'm very thankful for your ability to just do whatever's needed. I know that many, many times that has not been easy for you but throughout you've been the one I can always rely on to provide a smile and a sage word. Your workmanship is unfaultable and our little house is, therefore, neat and pretty and so so clean.

Thirdly, to Dave, who put his southern Italian life on hold for months to help us out. Dave, your skills are a wonder and we would never ever have been able to get this far without you. It was fascinating watching you work and it was an honour to have you complete task after task with fortitude - especially over those very long and bitter winter months. Hope you can come soon and see your workmanship in its glory!

Lastly, thanks to my handful of readers and all of our family and friends who have been interested and so supportive of us. There have been times when I wanted to crawl in between two joists, wrap myself in insulation and just forget it; those are the times when your kind words - or even the cups of tea so readily offered - have got me through to now. So come, see, enjoy. Cheers!

Pics to follow.

Monday, 12 March 2012

With thanks to ric-rac ...

... for this fabulous quote: "Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When is does not exist, design it." Sir Henry Roy

Although I can only dream of being able to design anything at all - never mind the brilliant, beautiful and smile-making designs of the talented ric-rac ( - I can do this: take Sir Henry's quote to heart and strive for perfection. Or at least, in my case, for the best I can do given the limited time available at any given moment.

In this given moment, that means researching kitchen options to death, making my choice confidently, and then shutting out any further thoughts about kitchens. It means standing in B&Q on a Sunday morning with three sprogs darting in and out of the nearby aisles playing tag, one eye on them and the other scanning the shelves for the perfect white. And then just picking one. I know to most of you that seems like the easiest task ever, but for me white is most definitely not white. Most are too creamy, too yellow, too white (yes!), too pastel and too nowhere complementary of the existing paintwork white (Farrow and Ball's Strong White, since you asked). My choice of wall paint for most of the house was made for two reasons in about four and a half minutes: 1. out of the seven on my shortlist, it was in plentiful supply on that particular shelf and 2. the kids were starting to frazzle my attention span.

Perfection it is not, this house-building malarkey. I'm learning to make snap judgements and live with them. I'm learning to trust my gut (witness the kitchen saga - and yes, I do feel the Ikea kitchen is the best choice on a budget, and that's after MONTHS of research and angst). I'm learning to not faff too much about, well, anything. I've even learned that the addition of colour on the walls here and there could be a good thing (a lesson taught by my lovely husband, although once which I have yet to see put into practice, or at least on to the walls - watch this space for future angsting!).

And I've learned that the opinions of my friends are invaluable. So thank you to everyone who's popped by to offer an opinion or advice. Always welcome. As is your painting arm :)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Paintbrushes at the ready!

Who woulda thunk it? Three months in and we've finished the plastering. Hurrah! It feels like a small step for buildingkind, but a leap mentally, since once the walls are 'in', so to speak, it will look just like a house. Only with pinkish walls. That is, of course, until I stamp my magnificently boring stamp all over it in that palest of shades (white). The sprogs are up in arms. "Mummy! Not white AGAIN!" they wail, determination written all over their anguished little faces that this, surely, will be the house that we'll fill with colour. Not so, darlings, at least not on the walls. Colour comes, I reassure them, from all the STUFF with which we fill our houses. And there is a LOT of that!

Although not as much as we've chucked away. Oh my goodness - who knew there would be so much waste generated from building such as teeny house? When a skip was requested, I thought (rather naively, clearly) it was a bit large for the few black bags we would chuck in over the course of the months. But we've filled two already, and I've taken endless trips to the tip. It feels iniquitous. It IS iniquitous. Probably not as much as the sin of lining the walls and the floor twice with plastic. Or pouring concrete into the ground and then another layer over that for the screed. Or the fuel used driving back and forth to builders' merchants and DIY stores.

One day we'll build a house entirely from wood hewn from our own forest, like a couple I read about in the latest Build It magazine. They live on 25 acres of woodland, and apart from their naturally-sourced home have installed a ground source heat pump, rainwater harvester and PV panels. Sigh. One day. Meanwhile, I'll console myself - and assuage my conscience just a teeny bit - with my ventilation system which warms the air to reduce heating needs, helped along by the swathes of insulation stuffed into every available nook and cranny and up-to-the-minute windows and doors. And of course the underfloor heating which is very energy efficient.

Now, where did I put my paintbrush? Oh, there it is. Off I go! Feel free to join me sometime - I'll provide the materials and really good coffee; you bring a strong arm and an old jumper!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Our screeded floor, and the first batch of Western Red Cedar cladding on the dormers.

A word

The cost of mental ill health in England is now £105.2 billion a year, according to an update published last year by Centre for Mental Health. The figure includes the costs of health and social care for people with mental health problems, lost output in the economy, for example from sickness absence and unemployment, and the human costs of reduced quality of life.

Oh my goodness. Really? Just think what good we could do with all those extra pennies if only we could find a way to resolve many of those problems. And I say that with the utmost respect, and as someone who's teetered on the edge too many times to deny the possibility of any of us tipping over.

Undeniably, there are those among us who will always need help, whose problems are treatable only by the medical profession and alleviated only by specialist carers. But compare our nation to one of those in the so-called Third World and would the percentages stack up? I doubt it; people in those countries are too busy fighting for their lives - some literally, some with sheer, old-fashioned physical labour - to even glance inwardly, never mind dwell on their angst.

So who's better off? We with our love of fast - even instant - everything, we who cram weeks into a single day and still feel we haven't achieved as much as we ought to have? Or the struggling masses whose days are busy but paced, whose work day ends with the sunset giving them time to relax and socialise and breathe breathe breathe? They may have "nothing" - in our world, a home devoid of at least seven different electronic devices amounts to underprivileged - but do they suffer from stress? Are eating disorders and alcohol abuse a problem in these societies? Are their children carrying the weight of the world on shoulders already overwhelmed with peer, teacher and parental pressures?

Now, I'm obviously not going to present the solution to the First World's ills right here in this little blog. But I am going to encourage to spread maybe just a little word here and there, where appropriate. And that word is: exercise. Yes, yes, I know chocolate makes you feel just as good, but it ain't a long term solution (and I've tried, believe me). And I'm not advocating marathoning, either - a stroll around the neighbourhood, dancing with the kids in the living room, gentle stretching or yoga, vigorous vacuuming or even a good old belly laugh will put the kybosh on any latent stirrings of depression.

I don't know if it's the endorphins or just the additional oxygen from all that breathing, but it works, in the short- and long-term. You might not feel like it in the dead of winter, but trust me on this. And if you and I can get moving, perhaps we can inspire those around us to, and they can inspire others, and pretty soon we might just have a nation of fit, depression-poor citizens who are enjoying all the benefits lavished on them by a government with £100+ billion to spare.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


We're not even halfway there yet, but I really wanted to say thank you to a few people, without whom OPH would not be where it is now. There will be more to thank as we continue, but for now:

My hubby Greg and Dave, our friend (hopefully continuing!) who came all the way from southern Italy to help us out. Both have worked literally as many hours as they've been able to for weeks on end, in a monumental effort to get our house built, Greg after hours and weekends and Dave all hours, despite a twisted ankle last week and impending frostbite this week, when temps have rarely risen above zero and conditions inside an uninsulated, concrete-floored shell are, shall we say, less than toasty. Dave's skill is indisputable (despite the best endeavours of the infamous brickie) but he is also a master of creative solutions - the interim garage door he fashioned from some Kingspan and offcuts of wood is just one example of that - and perhaps it's his Cornish extraction but he's one of the hardiest people I know, both physically and in spirit.

Another mate, Marc, whose Capetonian temperament has kept him sane and whose ability and eagerness to learn quickly have resulted in the most skillful novice I know. Special thanks for ongoing insulating efforts and your immensely - really - encouraging comments about the screed.

Brickwork is on hold indefinitely, but the roof is finally finished, thanks to Greg Hardie Roofing (; it looks magnificent as well as providing a very welcome barrier to the harsh February elements. It was touch and go whether or not the screeders would be able to do their work on Thursday, as the temperature inside the house had to be above zero in order for them to be able to pipe out the flowing screed. So my thanks to Simon Wilson from Selfbuild Floors, who specialise in all types of flooring for selfbuilders and who were an absolute pleasure to work with ( Simon suggested we heat the interior using electric heaters, an ingenious solution to keep freezing at bay (although sustained use has probably depleted the national grid). The floor looks fantastic, and it contains fabulous underfloor heating pipes which will make for a deliciously comfortable winter 2012/13.

My children, for not disowning us despite being subjected to almost constant narrative that I'm sure bores them to tears - I mean, really, what child is interested in drainage, wires and rolls of Ecotherm? And yet that's all they ever hear about; that's when we're actually here and not on site, the wee ones having been farmed out to various friends. And on that: thanks to Rosi and Pascaline, not only for taking care of my sprogs when I couldn't but also for your encouragement throughout the project.

Which sentiment I extend to everyone reading this. Thank you for doing so, thank you for your comments, and thank you for continuing to be my friends despite being even more bored than my children (see above) - at least they can switch off but you're all too polite to tell me to shut up (well, mostly). Your reward will come in the form of extensive visitations to the Flowzone, aka the small but perfectly formed kitchen/diner/living area, endless supplies of margaritas/hotwine (delete according to season) or tea and brownies.

Lastly, thanks to Greg for (a) embarking on this with me, (b) remaining, mostly, calm in the face of my storms and (c) providing a constant source of levelheadedness and encouragement, particularly in my darkest hours when you really should have been heading out of the door with a kayak on your back.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Monty Python tells us always to look on the bright side of life. Despite the tune's catchiness, it's an exhortation I frequently ignore, choosing instead to wallow in self pity and imagine the worst. That way, I'm well prepared should the worst happen, and pleasantly surprised if it doesn't.

To be fair, this state of mind is prevalent only at this time of year. We're four months into winter (a season classed not by month as per my son's logic, but by the reluctant packing away of strappy sandals and the donning of closed shoes, coats and - inevitably, despite weeks of denial - scarves and gloves) and I'm officially depro. That's the technical term for permission to consume vats of wine, the lion's share of my fabulous brandy-rich Christmas cake, and the entire British stock of chocolate.

How else does one cope with feeling cold ALL THE TIME? How do YOU cope? Not you, ric-rac, Mrs Eternal Optimism. And don't any Durbanites DARE comment on 'winter'. Ha! But seriously, I'm counting the days till March (28 ... darn leap year) and the miraculous dawn of temperatures in double figures. For once, my gloom has nothing to do with OPH. Yes, we're delayed slightly - the brickies won't come till it's milder - but on the whole things aren't really affected by the weather. Three heaters to warm the interior means we're on track with the screeding today - AND my faithful helpers, Dave and Marc, are able to work in a little less discomfort. No, my gloom has everything to do with the fact that I just cannot get my hands warm. Perhaps North Face should invent gloves of the same material they use for the fantastic coats. Body is warm. Legs are warm. Head is warm, even if nose burns a little in the wind. Even feet are warm thanks to M&S thermal socks (I know - the glamour of it all!) ... but hands? They're the bane of my life. Today I took all the frozen black bags and other builders' debris to the dump. One site: clear. One pair of hands: frostbitten.

Perhaps I should just chop them off; winter would be a lot happier. Although, on the bright side (see? I can look there once in a while) at least the frozen ground is no longer muddy.

Saturday, 28 January 2012


Not the kind big corporations have, the game. Or, specifically, the piles of 'money' we use to play the game. It's what I've come to realise this week is my OPH fund. Here I am, spending hours trawling the shops and 'net to find bargains, save a tenner here and maybe £50 there (yay for me), when all of a sudden along comes a completely unexpected expense that blows the whole idea of budgeting out of the water. Whoever said, "save the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves" clearly hadn't ever built their own house. Put another way, whoever said that can bite me.

Let me explain the Monopoly money analogy. A few months ago we started digging out the foundations for the house, foundations which ought to have rendered a house at level X, resulting in us being able to connect to the public sewer very easily and for a cost of just a few hundred pounds. Dodgy engineer + inattentive architect + inexperienced me = foundations lower than necessary and the need to connect to the sewer at a different place, and at a significantly higher price. We're talking something like £10K, people. Yes, it stings. Yes, I'm shaken. No, not even glimpses of my beautiful door and oak feature frame can make me smile now. I've been told this week I'm too dramatic. Can you forgive me, considering?

And can you understand the reference to Monopoly money? What's the point of scrimping on worktops and flooring when the derriere's been blown out of our potential profit? I say bring on the prime walnut and the reclaimed oak, let's have the range cooker and the long-coveted Smeg retro fridge. Hell, bring on the bespoke kitchen while we're at it.

And if I'm going to be a drama queen - and I really, really am - then I demand the delivery and immediate installation of the Priscilla mirror ball to its rightful resting place: dangling sumptuously from the newly boarded ceiling above the oak staircase.

Thank you, and goodnight.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A week I'm glad is over

Mr Murphy has a lot to answer for. The man's infamous law has reigned over my life this week, and boy am I glad it's Saturday. It's one of those fabulous days - wet, windy and chilling - and yes that is me describing it as 'fabulous' because this kind of weather simply demands a quiet day indoors. We did venture down to the site this morning to take the menfolk their vittels, but since pm time the small ones have been snuggled up watching Harry Potter which has given me much needed time to catch up with letter writing, paperwork and the offloading of my heart, aka this blog.

So, here beginneth the offloading: It's been a tough week. Four out of 13 window openings incorrectly sized by our contractors. Our brickie made a hash of the front wall - it would be the front, wouldn't it, not an obscure spot round the back - and has been unable to finish the small gable end which has further delayed the roofer. The garage door delivery (paid for months ago, might I add) is delayed further. The builder's merchant van broke down en route to us with an urgent delivery, I've waited a week for parts for our MVHR system and been fobbed off daily by the earnest salesman who really needs to learn a lesson in customer service. I've spent HOURS on ebay buying bathroom components; finding bits that I can both afford and fit into three tiny spaces has been (marginally) harder than finding the will to live lately.

And then this morning I discovered that one of the doors has been made to open the wrong way. Not entirely the end of the world, but after five and a half days variously barking orders, smile-grimacing through clenched jaws in an attempt to keep my true feelings under control, juggling responsibilities and emotions, crisscrossing Milton Keynes and the nation's phone wires, I took the news rather badly: I uttered several choice words and shed more than a few tears of frustration on the way home. But then, something odd happened. My mojo, not known as the most stable influence in my life, upped and left, and my heart just shut down. House? What house? For the rest of today, at least, I couldn't care less about the house. As my mum would say: I've had it in chunks!

But just in case I find my mojo sometime soon, let me say these things: The wonderfully resourceful Dave has managed to solve most of the fenestration problems, the brickie's on site this weekend trying to regain ground (and, presumably, my trust), the weather's been mild enough to allay mortar freeze fears, the doors at least fit. And my new front door is absolutely STUNNING! I had another sneak peek this morning through the dust sheet and my heart sang. Just for a second.

The pics are of the door (sigh) and inside Matthew's bedroom, his ill-fitting window languishing as usefully as a chocolate teapot. Maybe I should stick it on ebay.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Not my favourite task. I know some who live for sparkling floors, gleaming kitchens and furniture beeswaxed to within an inch of its life. To be honest, I would love a home that looks like that; I'm just not prepared to spend half of my week making the dream come true. So far we all seem healthy enough sharing our home with a little dust, the odd cobweb and evidence of busy people scattered all over the place!

I did, however, spend yesterday afternoon sweeping dirt, mud, nails, offcuts of wood, unidentifiable pieces of metals, snots (that's dried bits of mortar for those of you not yet au fait with the fabulously descriptive lexicon of builders) and sawdust out of the frame and off the floor of our new house. No doubt by the end of today, when Greg and Dave (our lovely builder friend who's come over to the frozen north from sunny Naples to help us out and who is worth his weight in diamond-encrusted lutetium) have finished installing the mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system there will be a huge mess to clear but for now, at least, the inside is clean, which seems to make all the impending work all the easier to manage.

Work on site isn't terribly easy at the moment. (For my non-UK readers: the mornings start at around -4 and max temps are 4 or 5 in the sun, probably zero or less inside the house.) A mere three hours there yesterday left me with hands so cold it took a full five minutes in the shower to be able to feel them. The menfolk are clearly much hardier than I, the proverbial summer child. It's been a long time since I felt truly warm. In November I escaped the breaking winter for a week when I popped over (as one does) to South Africa to enjoy the wedding of my little brother, Julian, to his love Theresa. I spent the weeks before I left looking forward not only to meeting my new sister in law, her daughter Willow and her family, but also to a week of sunshine and strappy tops.What I got was a week of the most unseasonable chilliness ever felt on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal (the week before it was 25, the weeks that followed have been in the 30s; harumph) and borrowed cardies. It is, however, entirely possible that the sun was overshadowed that week by the radiance of the bride and the brilliance of the whole occasion. I enjoyed three days of relaxed, happy, getting-to-know-you time and now the Farrows are part of the delightful Dennis/Herd clan, complete with three new cousins for my brood.

But I still haven't had my warmth quotient, which is why I'm counting the days till 1 March, when winter is officially over. Also, I'm determined to move us all into our new house that month, so the hard graft really starts now. Tick tock. Meanwhile, check out the awesome roof and oak feature frame:

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Yes, yes, I do realise it's a little late but time hath flown.

Frabjous start to 2012 in the form of a delightful party thrown by my friends Sarah and Nick - the ultimate hosts - and shared with me by my twin sister (who surprised me in a rather frabjous way by popping over the continental divide for a Christmas treat and a lot of Australian wine), small people sneaking in and out to join in enthusiastically and superbly with the karaoke and dancing (a la X Box), and rather a lot of wine. No resolutions made, no regrets but many lessons learned in 2011 on which I hope to rely in order to make 2012 a good one.

I also discovered the following last year:
- I have the best husband ever known to mankind (hold the comments - it's my blog and I'll brag if I want to) who is not only a constant rock on which I tend to lean very heavily (and that's even pre-Christmas pig-outs) but is a talented and very welcome contributor to both the project management of our build and the practical bits; he sees things I would never see, is a willing and able chippie - he installed our flat roof, people! - and took over the entire shindig (and that includes endless, seemingly insurmountable problems) for most of the season, during which I was distracted by (see below), school plays, Christmas prep yada yada
- glee! - thanks to my twin sister (afore-mentioned) who made the "unreality" introduction that has spanned two years and made my entertainment world (and yes, I know I sound culturally deprived - I am ... any takers to be my concert-going partner?)
- second guess even the most experienced bricklayers, architects and structural engineers
- you can get discounts by asking nicely
- you can make serious mistakes project managing a new build with absolutely no experience whatsoever
- you can't ignore any offers of help, particularly child minding and cooking
- my children - despite being ignored in favour of bargain-hunting, site visits and long telephone calls and being fed a steady diet of fishcakes and pasta, not necessarily simultaneously - are forgiving and (apparently) still love me
- Milton Keynes Council's Planning Department people are very slow but not out to get you
- wine is a temporary but incredibly welcome relief from the constant pressure
- my followers have boosted my self confidence more than I can say

Okay, I'll stop now. Have a frabjous year!