She’s leaving home….

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Well the day finally came and with it, she went.

First stop Singas, with ‘Aunty Splendid’ in tow. Thank you Heather, we are eternally grateful. Plan at this point: three days in Singapore then through Malaysia making their way to Thailand where Heather leaves her in Bangkok. Un-chaperoned 18 year old in Bangkok, what could possibly go wrong?
Go wrong.

In the meantime we’ve traded up and got ourselves a new one. The wonderful Johanna from Hannover is with us for the first term at Betty’s school, even the cats have moved on…01112597013_905296366254344_1028382840_o

We’ll probably still miss you though Pearl. A bit.


Day 345: Completely floored

Good lord, that was a mission!

But look, once my knees grow back I’m sure it will all seem worth it:


Is a new floor a fair exchange for a pair of knees? I surely hope so.

It just took ages to lay this, working away with my little wedges and acres of flooring glue, but once it was all down, sanded and finished with industrial grade matt polyurethane we did enjoy standing back and admiring our handiwork.

The road to satisfaction, though, is a long and arduous one, and more than once I wondered whether it would be just as good to have only part of the floor with timber overlay, leaving the rest as filthy ply.

Actually, my commitment was weak from the start on this one. Spotting  a capable chap coming out of a nearby house and loading a van with the legend “Floor Laying” stencilled across the side, I approached him to quote for laying our floor – all 56 square metres of it. He was more than happy to. He would price, he told me, for preparing the sub-floor, laying the flooring (but not supplying it; I’d already bought the timber remember), sanding it and varnishing it. All, as it turned out when the quote came in that night, for only $17,000.

I put on my glasses and read that again. Yep: $17K. Maybe he’d accidentally priced for supplying the timber? No, he hadn’t.

I went to Bunnings to pick up some flooring glue and got cracking myself.I soon had the girls pressed into service, carrying boards out from the garage and laying them out according to length in what became known as “the pipe organ” but which could equally have been called “the class photo”: everything arranged for smallest to largest.


The pipe organ

This may seem like a make-work scheme, but being able to select the board closest to the right length to end each run saved a huge amount of wastage over the course of the job.

Run by painstaking run the floor was laid over the course of a couple of weeks.


Taking “cracking into it” a little too literally perhaps?


Working up the hall – round about the half-way mark


Nearing the end: wedging the fillets off the end wall


The last board going in – James kneeling to offer the traditional builders’ prayer for a snug fit

The floor hasn’t been the only game in town though. We’ve been pressing forward on many fronts with the goal of moving in sneaking ever closer. The best surprise is always the arrival of friendly faces with helping hands dangling somewhere below them. Deb and Heather have been so regular we’ve had to consider charging them rent, but plenty of others have come in and helped us past significant milestones (Tim, Pippa, Will, Lynley, Jonathan…).

It was especially delightful to see Mark – previously paid to work here, now doing it out of love – come over the horizon, looking ready for business and promising the delivery of lunch by his lovely new wife Sarah later on. Mark’s one of those guys who can get on with anyone on a building site: super-friendly, able to direct people without making them feel bossed around, and respectful of all-comers. He’s also the only builder I’ve met who’s kissed my on the lips, but that’s another story…

Anyway, there was Mark with a real tool belt and good building smarts, and there was me wondering how to make the best use of him. Then it occurred to me: I’d been losing sleep trying to nut out exactly how to install the wood burner. It’s an “insert” fire meaning that it all gets hidden in the wall apart from the door and surrounding fascia. We’d decided to set it some way off the ground so we could store firewood under it. The fireplace itself came in about four large boxes and had completely Byzantine instructions in about three different booklets. Some (considerable) assembly was required.

So yeah, that’s what we did. We installed the fire.


Here we are doing that very thing


I tiptoe away from the newly installed fire hoping it will stay where it’s been put

Another work stream that has been progressing slowly but steadily is the kitchen. I think I mentioned that we’d bought the cabinetry without a bench top to save money. I may even have wondered whether a saving that rendered the whole thing unusable was false economy. Simply put, the bench top was one of the first things off the priority list when the “running low” light came on in the bank account. We’d priced up a granite top (black, honed, naturally) and it was going to be about $7K. I reckoned I needed to bring that back to about $500. The cheap answer came (as it had in the past to a completely different question) from a chap in Masterton who calls himself “Plyguy” (well, more precisely, he calls his business The Plyguy; he calls himself “the Plyminister”).  The cheap answer was LVL panels, 40mm thick, 780mm wide and 2400 long.  At about $100 each they sounded just the ticket.

They’re basically like ply on its side. That is, the layers of pine and glue are visible on the main surface rather than just from the side. It was a bit of a trick cutting them to fit, and I wussed out and got my joiner to rout out the hole for the sink and hob, but the end result was, I think, rather snazzy, and entirely in keeping with our bizzaro-style kitchen.


Here’s the sink bench after its first sealer coat (also starring the new floor)

Being untreated ply, though, it needs a thorough sealing, to which end I’m in the middle of applying multiple coats of incredibly toxic two-pot polyurethane. The downside is that the final result is highly glossy. The upside is that it should be pretty bomb-proof.

What do you think?


Peer closely and you’ll note that the sink, tap and dishwasher are all installed in the background. There’s the hob and extractor fan to go, the former waiting until the varnishing is finished. I’m hoping it’ll all be done by this weekend, because this weekend I expect we’ll be fully moved in.

Just sayin’.

Day 301: All grown up

Birthdays eh? They really get you thinking. We downed tools this afternoon to spend a pleasant couple of hours celebrating Amber’s 40th. “Bitch!” said Heather when she discovered just how young Amber is. But you can’t hold people’s youth against them can you? But I admit there is a natural tendency to want to forestall the inevitable. Tanea says it would help if I lost the grey Albert Einstein hairdo, but it’s not so much my own ageing that has me worried as that of my baby: the house. I have a particular dread of the possibility that I will one day have to title a blog “Day 365: Still at it as winter sets in…” or similar.

I really want us to be able to move in. And soon.

Like those lines that graphs tend towards but never reach (they’re called what? Asymptotes? Why thank you.) the finishing work and painting seems to be endless, and this despite the best efforts of our generous friends working along side us as we push along.

Every now and then though, something happens to reassure us that we are actually making progress, not being hapless victims of some elaborate TV prank show in which we wake every morning to find the work of the previous day undone. And since we’re running with a “growing up” metaphor, I’ll share Jane Dunbier’s excellent simile: baby’s braces have been removed. Or, rather more prosaically, we did finally complete the main paint job so the scaffolders could come and remove their kit. They’re rushed off their feet, apparently, so they came round on a Saturday morning. Right on cue, the heavens opened over Buckley Rd to welcome them.


“We lift you up” is their tagline, but today was more about tearing down.

The weather didn’t seem to bother them too much. They set to their work the sense of purpose common to those who are already committed to (and late) setting their scaffold up somewhere else. That said, the young lad couldn’t help peering in to the warm dry interior rather wistfully.


Get back to work you young whippersnapper

While we readily talk up the view of this place it must be admitted that the scaffolding has been something of a distraction. Watching a Saturday soccer game, for instance, has a strangely prison-like quality to it.


Could someone spare us a file?

For those of us sensible enough to have inside jobs to do, the guys scampering about outside provided both drama and an enhanced sense of comfort (nothing like watching someone else in the rain to make you appreciate how warm and dry you are). The weather made their precarious position seem that much more perilous: not only slippery and wet, but freezing cold too. Hardly optimal conditions for swinging about on the monkey bars one wouldn’t have thought.


The leading hand, Nick (or “gaffer” as Heather insisted on calling him)


The dark, silent and really strong type (or “eye candy” as Heather’s attention seemed to imply)

We’ve got very used to clambering about on this structure of course, but it is dauntingly high at  the front, and as I discovered on the occasions when I removed some bits myself, with a few cross-members gone it can become alarmingly wobbly.


The full frontal shot captures that sense of height rather well

Despite my natural tendency to drive the workers hard, I let Tanea off painting for a while to capture the action. What follows is a summary of the progress as it happened.


The view from Buckley Rd

Day301ViewFromSW Day301ViewFromNW
Day301SW3 Day301NW2Day301InsideOutAs the last pieces were being removed the sun came back out, and so did I, abandoning the paint to see whether the gangly adolescent house had, with a simple cosmetic change, been transformed into a thing of poise and beauty.

And reader, I think it had (but you must judge for yourself; I’m too much the proud parent).



Day 270: Crawling for the finish line

NOT day 1,000,003 as Tanea (ever the catastrophist) would have you believe. But she is telling the truth when she says we’ve had to let the builders go (it’s an expression; no they weren’t pleading to be released). Well, we always knew that the budget was unlikely to be sufficient for the full build and the excitement has all been in seeing how far we can get with hired help before having to do the remainder on the cheap.

By the time the builders finished up they were largely working on the exterior, leaving the lining out to us. While all the windows were in (less a couple of smaller ones that came later) the cladding wasn’t quite complete and nor was all of the trim and scribers, the final line of weather defence.

So this is what our high-level to-do list looked like as the last ute drove off into the sunset:


Desolate, abandoned building project, no builders, sun setting. Sadness everywhere (thanks David Ayre)

  • Complete the closing out of the exterior
  • Get the last window in and trimmed up
  • Get the continuous spouting guys back to finish the job they stopped halfway through (irony alert! That’s not what I call continuous)
  • Fill all the holes and gaps then paint then
  • Get that expensive scaffold down and off-site
  • Finish Gibbing the interior and get it plasterered (not by us, thank goodness!)
  • Get the tiling done (again: not us)
  • Trim the interior with architraving, fascia and scotia
  • Get the window sills in
  • Hang the remaining doors and get all the door and window furniture in
  • Paint the interior
  • Get the kitchen installed (by paid-for professionals)
  • Fit off the electrical and plumbing fixtures (all on fixed price contract)
  • Lay the timber floor, sand and seal
  • Make some shelves and built in seating

If you say it quickly…

Well, actually you can say it as fast as you like; it still takes a bloody long time to do all of these things, even when there’s the odd soul still on the payroll. There’s probably an irony in the fact that this blog has been neglected while we toil morning, night and weekends on these seemingly endless tasks. Surely the blog was the whole point of beginning this mad project?

Evidently our friends want me back on blog writing because they’ve variously been giving up their spare time to help on site, bake us wonderful treats and generally make us feel we’re not entirely on our own on what is surely the loneliest stretch.


That said, what to make of the mixed messages here? You trying to kill us Ruth?


Sarah’s cake was not long of this world. We still owe you a plate…

Looking back at that list, I’m slightly dismayed at how little we can actually cross off, but it’s not for want of trying. The last of the exterior building detail (minus the deck and porch) was wrapped up last week, and we’ve been going hammer and tongs at the painting. More than a few people have made disparaging remarks about our choice of timber joinery and we’re certainly feeling the burden of having superior taste now as we work round them all with oil paint. But at the same time we can’t help admiring just how damn fine they look. They really do give the house that je ne sais quoi that Charles summarised as “1970s motel”. I think I prefer je ne sais quoi thanks Chuck.

We reckon we’re one weekend away from victory with the paint, then I need to get those spouting guys back to complete before the scaffold comes down and access to the upper exterior is a much more life-threatening proposition.

The plasterers – Ben and his son Mika – are nearly done. They keep interesting hours, usually starting around 3 pm and working into the night, but I think this is just because we’re an extra job they’ve crammed in on top of a full week.


Mika strays dangerously close to the extractor vent, risking an “Augustus Gloop” situation

They’ve also been amenable to pushing certain bits ahead so we can prepare for other work that needs to happen after the walls are painted. Probably the most exciting example of this is the kitchen. Ben got that all sanded up for us  about a week ago and after a couple of nights painting (special thanks to Robyn M) it was ready for the Friday delivery of…

Day270NewKitchen1Possibly the most garish kitchen to grace suburbia…


… since our last one

The new one also has the virtue of not being filled with the utter squalor of our lives. Let’s just appreciate its clean lines and clear floor space one last time shall we?


Clean linesDay270Kitchen2

Clear floor space

It’s things like this can really lift the spirit. Even though we couldn’t afford a bench top (making the utility of this thing of wonder and beauty somewhat questionable) we’re absolutely thrilled with the guys who made and installed it (Pete’s of Greytown for anyone looking for a recommendation).


Pete’s boys, using a level even! What next? Drawers that open?

Also uplifting has been the return of the electrician to fit off most of the lights and plug sockets. Now we have good quality light to work by at night and by which to admire the many coloured splendour of the kitchen cabinets. In a fit of radical trendiness we decided to forego the standard white switch gear in favour of black. It’s O for Oarsome.


If this doesn’t start a major new trend we’re going to look pretty silly

Other great moments have included the installation of the stairs (which I believe you have already sneaked a glimpse of)…


Although you may not have seen Tam’s early (failed) attempt to get the pitch right. Bit steep Tam.

… and the completion of the bathroom tiling by Neal Jenkins (another tradey who comes highly recommended).


Clean, simple, wipeable. What more could you wish for?

Somewhere further back in the chronology the timber flooring arrived from my man down in golden bay. It’s one of the Tasmanian Oaks (shameful colonials name for certain Eucalyptus spp.) and is a lovely light looking narrow board. At about one-and-a-half tonnes it made a mighty load for the trailer I hired from the local garage.


I would not recommend hiring this trailer in future


Unpacking the lovely stuff only to pile it willy-nilly…


…in the garage

Lord knows we need the boost. We’re using any daylight opportunity (weather permitting) to push the exterior painting along, then using the evenings to trim out the interior with skirting, scotia and architraving (all the same broad, square profiled pine).


A room well architraved

We’re also trying to get the interior painting underway, but seem to lack the requisite supernumerary arms to advance on more than one front.


James wishing he was part octopus

So yes, the list is still long (feel free to come and own a piece of it) but it feels as though we’re about to be able to cross a number of long-standing items off it. We just need to make sure we don’t keep finding new ones to replace them. In the meantime we just keep admiring the view and soldiering on.


A view worth fighting for


Day number… unsure

Late nights gibbing / painting / sealing / hucking out etc leave little time for blog posting so promised details from the last post are slow to materialise. But I figured I’d just chuck a bunch of photos up in place of words and y’all can write your own story.JamesHall

Jim completing the final gibbing of hall and Neil in bathroom – tiling.
He’s a GEM…

KitchenGibbedKitchen gibbed, standing by for Ben & co to finish the plastering.
Kitchen (minus top) arrives Friday morning.
TimParkThe fabulous Tim of Park & Clarke Ltd. Turned up Saturday morning (after a big night for Pip’s birthday) to take a massive load to the tip for us. Another GEM.
StairsStairs arrive.
StairTeamStair crew arrive. Many GEMs.
OhNoUh oh…
StairLiftYou know they should fit perfectly…
Stairs5How’s the shoulder Tam?
Stairs2Stairs4Stairs3James takes a little break to sit down while everyone else is quite busy holding up the stairs.DebMeanwhile… Deb turns up constantly and paints the nasty tricky oil bits no one else wants to.
Lynleywhile Lynley turns up to paint the nasty ‘above your head’ bits. How many more of those can there be?
SparksJonathon and Paul drilling up a store. – LED lights are us!
WiresHopefully they understand all this…
GibbedHallHall mostly gibbed and us still looking like we care…
NoDeckBack of the house still a wee way away, sorry about the state of the deck Ian…
PaintJobBut the front is one coat away from victory.

Apparently the distant neighbours hate the paint job, one wonders if they’ve clocked the mustard and orange house we currently live in?
ColourSchemeLooking massive from afar.

Day 1 Million and 3

Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but it certainly doesn’t feel like a day under 1 million and 2.

As expected we’ve run out of money. Does that never happen? As a result, sadly, James had to let all our wonderful builders go and being the perfectionists they all are, one could tell their biggest regret was that their unfinished business was now about to be finished by US.

You could just see them screaming ‘NOOOOOoooooooo’ as they drove off.
IanIan receives the news that all his perfect detailed work is about to be completed by utter novices…
OurBuildersIan, Gary and Sef at least relieved they’ll no longer have to endure insufferable wind.
Stan&MarkIan, Stan & Mark talk fishing.
Trev&TamTrev, Tam & James

So, after a whole lot of wailing and a bit of cheek slapping we pulled ourselves together and faced the fact that we were going to have to complete the thing ourselves and sat down to strategise. James indicated he was onto a a cheap deal, due to parallel importing, of some new building labour straight from the Lyall Bay, Brooklyn, Melrose and Nelson mines. The good thing about them being, you just throw them a dry crust and a warm beer every now and then and they keep turning up.
Kathryn Kathryn with pockets of Pef to seal the windows.Andrew&BertieJames, Andrew sorting the cat door and Bertie
SeanSean, in charge of collecting stray nails.
Jesse and Will painting up a storm.
PipPip getting into all the nasty tricky above your head bits.
Deb&WillDeb & Will with more nasty above head bits.
Hev&JCHev & Jonathan measuring stuff.
Tim&JamesTim & James hammering the windows…?


James, Deb, Pip, JC, Rich (who lives next door and just wants it bloody finished even if he has to do it himself) and Tim with dry crusts and warm beer.WarmBeersHev, Deb, Ange, Jonathan & Jim.

A more informative post will follow soon but truly, madly, deeply, grateful youse fellas, thank you so much. xxx

Day 220: Feeling the pinch

Having got our hands in with the Gibbing of the downstairs ceiling, we set to work on the walls. Tam passed on the tricks of the trade (10mm gap between the bottom of the sheet and the floor, no vertical joins off the top corners of doors, all to avoid plaster cracking in the event of an earthquake, etc.) and bought a new screw gun, particularly helpful given the huge numbers of screws used in the Gib bracing elements.


Lucky red socks also seemed to help


Note the tight screw pattern in the corners; apparently makes the whole joint earthquake proof


Waterproof green Gib for the bathroom

While we were getting the Gib up the builders were working on the windows and starting to get the deck down. There had been considerable discussion (not to mention harrumphing) over my choice of decking timber. Ages ago I found a supplier in Nelson to ship me a pack of Eucalyptus Delegatensis planks. Being gum it’s a hard, durable timber. Only problem was that the timber was very wet, and even 6 months of drying in Brett’s shed hadn’t done much to season it. Moreover, it was rough-sawn and so it needed running through Brett’s thicknesser to get it to a reasonable finish and consistent gauge. Ian set himself the task of making the roughly gauged timber fit for such a high-class deck, sanding the top and planing an arris on the edges. Since the planks are still drying, we were worried about movement, so they were pinned in place by lots of meaty great stainless steel purlin screws. The result seemed worth the effort.


How wet and heavy? You get a sense from the bend in the roof rack… Day220IansSetUp

Ian’s deck-perfecting set up

Day220Deck1Makes for a pretty perfect deck


Which even goes well with the perky blue of the shiplap

While Ian hogged the glamour work, Stan and Sef did the equally important job of setting up the balustrade posts. They’re the perfect guys to have on the job; if the posts hold them they’ll hold anyone.


The first post


Betty tries the deck out as a dance floor 

It’s all starting to come together, but the hefty building bills are starting to take their toll. In fact we’re now at the point where we’ll have to do more of the work if we’re to get the place liveable without breaking the budget. Inconveniently this has hit us as we both settle back into our day jobs. Looks like we’re going to have to set up some decent night lights.