Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Aaaah. Toasty warm house. I am writing this (literally) underneath the new boiler. It's making a comforting humming sound and the occasional rattle as gas or water moves through the pipes and vibrates into the hole shown at the top of this page. The new boiler is going to be housed in a cabinet (yes, another excuse for a bespoke cabinet) which should muffle the sound a bit. The lovely Polish builder who is "making good" the various holes and cracks around the house is popping back in the new year to sort the cabinet.

This photo above shows our sliding door solution - it's hung from a runner which is attached to the ceiling. I am so digging the sliding door action that I would recommend them for any room, preferably pocket ones if you can get inside a wall though. Unfortunately while our hung door looks impressive, it's quite heavy and the builder had to sort out a ceiling crack which appeared recently near the runner. The photo also shows the teeny hole made in the ceiling to accommodate the pipes into the new boiler.

And the photo below shows the boiler in it's new position in the spare room. It cost around £2,800 all up and took nearly three days to install, but by golly, it was worth it - we have OK water pressure in the shower and the heaters are all working better. Result.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Boiler update

I bet you've been wracked with nerves wondering what's going on with our boiler haven't you? No? Oh. Well I'll tell you anyway. Our mortgage is up for renewal early next year and in order for us to get a remotely agreeable interest rate we need the house to be worth quite a bit more than what we paid for it. We've done the sums and they stack up, but unfortunately our next door neighbours sold a few months ago for quite a lot less than what we paid for ours two years ago (because of a chain they needed a quick sale blah blah blah). This means that the value of our house will probably be lowered so that the postcode is all lined up, or whatever the excuse of valuers is.

So, we're going to bite the bullet and move the boiler up a floor into the spare room and box it in there, as having it on show in the dining space is an eyesore. This means my bespoke cabinet is getting further and further away, but it should mean the valuer sees a more streamlined - and expensive - looking property.

As for the boiler dilemma - the plumber reckons our water pressure is 1.7 bars so he says we can have a combi. This is good news because I just read this on a website: "Do not use water from a hot water system or your bathroom taps for drinking or cooking because it usually comes from a storage tank in the loft and is not as fresh or as safe as water directly from the mains." Gah! When hungover I have definitely refilled my bedside glass from the bathroom, and usually give the kids water from the bathroom to save trekking up and down two flights of stairs.

The combi is being delivered on Wednesday and it should take no more than one or two days to install. Of course there'll be a heck of a mess afterwards so we'll need a builder over soon into the new year to "make good" the plasterboard and flooring that will be ripped up to find the pipework. The combi won't have hotel quality water pressure like our current power shower, and it will cost about £2,800 all up (plus whatever the builder charges).

Putting a pump on the header tank in the loft (and installation) will cost another £500, but we're going to see if we can live with normal water pressure first. We used to at our last place so unless it's really bad I guess we'll get by. It is fabulous being able to run a bath in about three minutes but it's not actually necessary. My only concern is if the pressure drops off when someone flushes a loo or runs a tap in another part of the house. Our washing machine and dishwasher are plumbed with cold water only so they shouldn't have any impact on the shower. This is the sort of stuff people normally take for granted, but actually it can make a difference to your life if done badly.

Oh and the photo at top has nothing to do with this post, but the kid on the cover is my daughter from a shoot she did nearly three years ago. This issue of Junior is the January issue and is out now at all good news stands in the UK...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

We moved in a year ago!

Happy anniversary gravy, got you on my mii-i-ind! (Musical reference, Little River Band FYI). Yup, a whole year has passed. And despite all the hiccups and dramas, when you compare how this house looked when we first exchanged contracts to how it looks now. I have to admit, I am pretty chuffed with how it's turned out. Here's a bunch of before and after shots for your perusal
(NB these house pics show the possessions/taste of the previous occupants)

At top shows how the entrance hall looked, and below is how it looked as of half an hour ago...

Here is the original stair case:

And here it is today:

This is the utility room that used to be at the bottom of the stairs:

And you can see how it looks now, with that pesky boiler turned 90 degrees, because the back wall was knocked out for the extension:

Here's the original TV room in the middle floor:

And here's how it looks now - note the boxes still yet to unpack, and the kids clutter (that yellow and blue thing is a puppet show theatre):

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Boiler progression

Img from

Unless you're about to replace your own boiler I can't imagine that this post will be very interesting, but here goes. Rob managed to negotiate the plumber down by £240 by sourcing the boiler off t'internet. This meant that we'd have a new boiler and water storage tank installed for around £2,260.

The date was agreed with the plumber for this Thursday as the boiler was meant to arrive "next working day if ordered by 4pm" . Only it turns out that the boiler can't actually be delivered until sometime on Thursday. Which won't really work as it needs to be here before the plumber kicks off.

Rob has cancelled the order, and postponed the installation date with the plumber.

Now that he's given it some thought, he's making noises about installing a Combi system. This is hugely appealing for several reasons:

1. It means no more boiler in our dining room! So long as the plumber can get access to a gas pipe, the boiler could live up in our spare room, probably above the desk where I'm writing this right now.
2. It means the hot water cupboard in the kids bedroom can go - hoorah! More space!
3. It means no more noisy water pump whenever you run a tap on the top floor
4. It's better for the environment
5. It's cheaper to run

On the downside:

1. If there's a gas outage, we have no hot water
2. Unless we have one bar minimum water pressure, it won't work
3. It'll cost an extra £500 or so
4. We'll have to "make good" the plaster and flooring that gets ripped up to reticulate the pipes

Someone is going to investigate the water pressure this week - unless we have that one bar then we're back to the original plan. I'm not optimistic that the water pressure will pass this test as my "ensuite" is effectively a shoe storage area owing to the dribble that comes out of the shower head...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Great minds think alike

Img courtesy of Flickr

As soon as I have a weekend at home I will photograph all the things in the house that we've yet to sort out. The last three weekends have been spent in various parts of the English countryside - kicking autumnal leaves and drinking litres of delicious wine. Hopefully I can make some time this coming weekend.

Until then here's a lovely white kitchen which features a dash of high gloss on the counter top, and chartreuse green as an injection of colour. Oh and they've got moulded white retro chairs and wooden floors too. I used to cringe at my parents bold orange 1970s colour palette once the 1980s were underway, and I guess my kids will have the same reaction to our aesthetic choices before too long. "Eeoow, this house is so, 2008, urgh!"

The plumber came back with a quote - £2,500 to fit a new boiler and replace the water storage tank. Apparently all the necessary parts can be bought for around £1,000 which means the labour (ie one days work) is being costed at £1,500. No wonder so many people are re-training as plumbers! Rob's offered to buy the parts directly to see if we can negotiate a reduced day rate. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Good light for photos

So far we've had one plumber come round to quote for the new boiler. We used to live next door to his parents, and he did the boiler at our flat. Top bloke. It's been a week and a half so we're hoping the quote is imminent. The other plumber I contacted didn't show up and I'm having trouble getting a recommendation for anyone else (if you happen to have a reliable boiler oriented plumber's number, please leave it in a comment below). Would be good to have two quotes for comparison purposes.

The photo at the top was taken by a professional photographer who specialises in taking kids photos. Despite the rainy day there was plenty of light, she hardly used her light reflector. The new Verner Panton chairs were put to good use, though I wish I'd paid more attention to wrangling Gwen (the one in pink), of the hundreds of photos taken she's pulling silly faces in 90% of them.

If you have kids and you're based in London, I can recommend Francesca the photographer - very patient and produces better portraits than I can manage. Here's her website:

And some examples of her work below (Yup, these are my kids...)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cabinet stop gap

Another Friday night at Ikea. We must be getting pretty good at it now as we don't fight any more. Partly due to knowing all the short cuts around the store, but also learning the tricks - such as eating first, parking near the lifts where you exit from rather than near the entrance and making a list.

On this trip we bought the two metal cabinets mentioned in an earlier post, and two plastic trays. Not bad. The cabinets in their massive flat pack boxes only just made it into the Volvo (had to remove the back seat headrests though), but were remarkably easy to assemble.

I ordered a 37" flatscreen Toshiba Regza from Amazon including all the cables, a temporary indoor antenna and related bits for under £500 (there goes the holiday fund) which arrived the next day. The upside of having a second TV is that Rob can watch sport and the kids can watch Spongebob... and I can read the newspaper supplements in peace.

The room is starting to feel really useful, instead of cold and bland. We'll get a third cabinet actually, since this will be our storage for the next couple of years. Looking forward to getting all our artwork up on the walls this side of Christmas.

Now to find a plumber who actually shows up as we need that boiler replaced, and soon.

Click the photo below to see a supersize panorama taken at the weekend...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Petite Panton chairs

I've always liked the Panton "S" (stackable) chair, it's a 20th Century Design icon and was the first plastic chair made from one section.

We considered getting half a dozen to use as our indoor dining chairs, but decided against it as the S chair has become too ubiquitous. From various drinking establishments around London to the Mode offices on Ugly Betty, the S chair is everywhere... so instead of being quirky and distinctive, they now feel a little common.

Last week I was on eBay and saw that you could get kids versions for £14 + delivery, so I went for it. I've put them with the little table in front of the TV in the living room on the middle floor. This way we get to enjoy a little nod to Panton's collectable design without having them take over our dining room. The kids really love them too. I wonder if you can get kids sizes of the Barcelona chair?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Cabinet sadness

I don't know why I actually thought that this would happen any time soon. I guess it's denial. It seemed like we'd been really careful about the cost of most things and even recovering from massive cost over runs - paying for such exciting unforeseen necessities such as extra support beams and what not - the funds are drying up. Heck, I thought by not doing an entire floor we would've recovered quite a chunk of money, but alas. Not nearly enough.

Back in December I posted the architects drawings of the proposed bespoke wall cabinet - which was originally costed at £1,000 and was then re-quoted closer to £2,000. Even so, it's the feature that will really make the room. From being an impactful bit of design as well as enormously useful, it was the one thing in the house that I was determined was going to happen come hell or high water. Anyway, here comes the high water: we need a new boiler.

Our existing boiler is 20 years old and the plumbing is a mess. The power shower pump isn't in the right place so some mornings the shower runs at a determined dribble. There isn't enough oomph to get all the radiators piping hot at the same time. And our utility bills from NPower are eyewateringly high. With the temperature dropping the central heating will go on in the next week or two so it's time to act.

A new boiler will cost around £1,500 to install (quotes to come in shortly according to Rob) but will save potentially over £300 a year in heating costs. Then there's the glass splash back (£550) which is becoming a priority as every passing week means the wall near the hob gets in more of a state. So now we've agreed to get a couple of cheap metal Ikea cabinets (pictured top) which cost £65 each. This temporary solution can accommodate misc house debris, and can be re-used elsewhere when we rustle up the £2,000 to build the proper cabinet.

I guess it's time to move on and sort a storage solution as we've been here for nearly a year and there are loads of boxes piled high in our TV room which are really starting to annoy me (what's IN those boxes?!)

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The snagging bit

There's been a bunch of small but irritating fixes around the house that have been ignored for many months. The to-do list probably added up to three days of solid work, but trying to get a builder back for three consecutive days when they aren't getting paid extra was always going to be a mission.

I'm pleased to say that Teia did manage to come back twice in the last couple of weeks and sort a few things out. Firstly, he put a thin strip of white wood along the top of the cupboards - this was to disguise the fact that the ceiling wasn't completely level. If the cupboards had been aligned to the ceiling, they'd never have sat completely flush with each other at the bottom.

Secondly, he put a length of timber at each side of the external doors to hide the concrete where the doors are braced against the brickwork.

Thirdly, he filled in some of the more noticeable cracks in the wall. I haven't got photos of the other two things as they're hardly photogenic but definitely worth mentioning: Teia lifted the planks of the deck to lay a membrane which prevents weeds from growing up between them. And last but not least, he finished connecting the extractor tube (which takes the smells from the kitchen extractor/range hood) and now spurts odours outside. We used to have that tube dangling in the garage so all the laundry that was drying in there smelt faintly of bacon smoke. It's been so nice to go in there and not balk at yesterday's dinner smells!

Teia's done a terrific job and hopefully he'll make it back for one more day to finish off a few more things, before moving back to New Zealand.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Outdoor furniture sorted

Our new neighbours have great taste. Aside from the numerous coincidences that have sprung up since we've got to know each other, they saved us several hundred pounds by sourcing the perfect outside dining table and chairs from the end of line department at... yup, Ikea. Despite frequent visits to Ikea and hours perusing the catalogue in the last couple of years, we'd never seen either this table nor the chairs.

Our mission to find an identical set involved a trip to the Edmonton branch for the table and then a couple of phone calls and a 40 mile round trip to the Croydon branch for the chairs. They look like they match but are from two different lines, and being discontinued were a little difficult to track down. Still, at £75 for the table and £15 for each chair we didn't mind the time involved as the alternative was a similar set from John Lewis which would've cost £1,108 vs the £165 we ended up shelling out.

Coincidentally one of the weekend newspaper supplements had an advert for Ronseal Perfect Finish Garden Furniture Oil and for £15 including delivery it seemed a sensible investment. I managed to do all three coats myself - as indeed it was extremely easy to apply (just like the ad promised). Each coat took about 20 minutes (to do six chairs and a table), which was touch dry within an hour and totally dry after four hours. The furniture now has a slightly darker, glossier sheen which should make it weather proof for the next few years.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Wood burning angst


Summer's officially over, and it's funny how within days of the kids going back to school/childcare the temperature is instantly autumnal. I've been trying to get an invoice out of NPower for about a month now as our last one was issued back in February. Despite leaving two meter readings and phoning a couple of times, the invoice is still elusive. I suspect this is in part a terrible system, but also because no doubt our exorbitant monthly direct debit has put us into credit.

Funny how big companies are quick to chase you when you owe them money but are very slow to refund it if you've overpaid. Obviously quite motivated to get this sorted as the central heating will be put back in action in the next couple of months.

Our downstairs space could do with an extra radiator actually. We had to get a little fan heater to help warm the room up as someone miscalculated the space and the two radiators (or "rads" as builders call them) don't fill the room with toasty warmth, they just sort of take the edge off, even when cranked up to max output. When we were planning the extension I was keen on getting a wood burning stove, something like the Focus Gyrofocus pictured top, sadly they cost over US$18,000 which means
that they were firmly in the "not in this lifetime" category. Shame really as there's something cosy and earthy about a fire, and provided you get a well designed wood burning one they can be better for your carbon footprint than other methods of heating your home.

This place does a more affordable selection of wood burning stoves - Style wise there's a lot of ultra modern versions or very olde country kitchen, but sadly nothing like my beloved Gyrofocus. Still, when you're talking about £600 vs $18K most people make compromises.

It's probably too late now to even put in any kind of fire into the extension so I should probably keep an eye out for another rad, but not until NPower gives us a bill so we can see how much the gas is costing us!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Entrance door

The London summer has been relatively good this year, while there were plenty of monsoon showers there's also been loads of sunny days. I've taken to wedging open our front door to let the afternoon sunshine pour in. As you can see, it completely illuminates the front hall and fills the house with bright light. Our current front door is a traditional Georgian style, painted fire engine red, and while perfectly functional doesn't let any light in. Rob's attitude is that the wedging open solution is fine - we live down a dead end, private road so there's no chance of the kids getting run over. However, keeping the door open doesn't work so well when the temperature gets a bit cooler... and now a neighbourhood cat boldly comes inside when he thinks no-one's looking!

I'd like a simple modern door with glass panels at the top which would match our interior decor. And of course the panels would let some light in when it's closed. The top of the range styles which feature all kinds of security enhancements and are fully bespoke door solutions are not cheap though. Silvelox for example offer 11 different types of glass which can be used with 13 different door styles, but they'll set you back around £3,000 including fitting. The photo below (from the Silvelox website, excuse the house in this example!) shows a door with glass panels at each side which would've also been a good solution - our door width unfortunately isn't wide enough.

One of my neighbours asked a local company how much it would cost to make a basic door with a segment of glass included and they quoted £450. You'd then need to buy the door furniture (ie the locks, handles etc) and have them fitted on top. We have a metal security gate and a monitored alarm so I think spending £3K on a bespoke secure door seems a tad excessive (and we've got nothing of value to nick anyway). Still, good to see what's out there incase we win the Lottery...

Monday, 24 August 2009

House of Bamboo

"Number 54. The house with the bamboo door. Bamboo roof and bamboo walls, they've even got a bamboo floor" Andy Williams, what a classic. And yeah, we have made ourselves the House of Bamboo - certainly with the flooring, the foliage and now thanks to a Friday morning delivery, some actual plants. They were £35 each from a garden centre in Enfield, the black plant tubs were £65 each. £270 all up for what is now a massive improvement to our deck.

In addition to providing a bit of privacy and shade, we're hoping these will provide a slight barrier to prevent the girls from constantly flinging themselves over the fence to annoy the neighbours. We've had the bamboo for exactly four days and it's already looking a little dry and floppy despite two massive watering sessions. I am optimistic these plants will survive (£140 for replacements! They'd better survive!) - actually, I'm off to read up on how to look after bamboo right now...

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Hot stuff

Oh no it's finally happened. I've fallen off the wagon and instead of staring with barely contained politeness at people who wax lyrical about their gardens, I have to own up to having a mild interest. It didn't take much. Basically a visit to B&Q on a particularly warm day a few months back saw the impromptu purchase of a selection of baby lettuces, a container to grow them in and a massive bag of compost. Within weeks the lettuces were getting quite large and they've supplied the leaves for numerous salads ever since. Until last week when some kind of animal (a vegetarian fox perhaps?) interfered with the soil and the snails moved in shortly thereafter. I am going to have to dispose of these lettuce remains and the soil as I'm too paranoid to eat them now. I'll do it properly next time, with salt and beer sunk into the soil or maybe some kind of netting system.

In other gardening news (!) we were away for five nights and it was fairly warm in SE England for a few days, topping 30 degrees on Tuesday. The girls had planted a handful of wildflower seeds which were beginning to shoot skywards last week. It turns out they flowered while we were away and them promptly died due to lack of water. I am the greenfinger of death.

At least the chillies seem to like being ignored.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Img from

This photo is rocking the Eames/concrete/white aesthetic and reminded me of a more upmarket industrial version of our house. Also, I have no new photos of my actual house to post as nothing has happened lately.

Rob finally heard back from Teia at the weekend. He's still planning on coming to do a few odd jobs in the next couple of weeks, but he's going to give us back the money for the splashback so we can sort that directly with the glass company. (Annoying that this wasn't sorted months ago as I've had several messy accidents involving a high pressure espresso machine and wet coffee grinds). The bespoke cabinet is officially on hold till we replenish the ever decreasing house fund, which will be some time off as we now need to replace the boiler.

Our neighbours moved out on Friday and the new ones moved in the same day - the new people have been reading my blog (HELLO!) thanks to having a friend in common (London can be a village). Despite reading my marathon-angst-fest they've keen to remodel the ground floor of their house in a similar way to ours. I have to say, despite the time and the money, it's totally worth it - our house is a pleasure to hang out in!

Friday, 24 July 2009

The war cabinet

So the week has drawn to a close and no, Teia and Isaac didn't make it back this week, or return any calls. So there is still no splashback, remedied counter top surface, yada yada yada. My patience has officially worn thin. It's been nearly a year for petesake, and the job so far should have taken around four months. Five tops.

The reason we're waiting on Teia to do the work is because we've already paid him for the materials and would be £600 out of pocket if we let him off the hook. Isaac on the other hand is responsible for the concrete counter top, and unfortunately it didn't seal properly so his return visit is effectively correcting work from before.

The other bit of work that Teia had included in his costings was the construction and installation of a bespoke wall cabinet. The original purpose of which was to house this ugly boiler, but would also provide storage and a fold-out bar (as per mid century storage designs by Pierre Koenig). I'm thinking a high gloss finish on MDF should do the trick so if you know of any cabinet makers near London please leave a comment with their details.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Interior products catalogue

Jeepers, doesn't time fly? Two weeks since a blog update and a year since we were getting the building quotes in. Teia and Isaac are back next week (in between gigging with their band) to do the splashback and re-surface the concrete counter top.

In the meantime, I've been perusing products in the new Wallpaper* House - a directory of over 200 items selected by the team. Yes it's a work plug but entirely relevant, or rather it would be if we had unlimited funds available to furnish the house properly...

Monday, 6 July 2009

Kitchen drama

Happy days - Teia's been back to the house a couple of times this past week to make lists of things that are still to get done. He even managed to put the first coat on the kitchen wall where the splashback is going to go. As you can see it's a pretty strong colour - I have fluorescent socks in a similar shade. The idea was to break up the white with something a bit punchy... and yeah, it's pretty punchy. I'm getting used to it, and am looking forward to the second coat and the glass for a proper analysis. (Of course by then, it'll be too late to change it but hey ho).

On a different note, it was raining this evening so I had the sliding doors open a smidge. I heard a heck of a racket which turned out to be an enormous wood pigeon which had either crawled in underneath the door on dropped in from the top. Goodness knows why. And how come we've never had a problem with birds popping in when the entire end of the house is wide open? Anyway, in a pure cliché I got Rob to chase it out with a broom. Luckily all the poop ended up on the black ledge... gross. Will hose it off tomorrow.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A good cuppa joe

I like coffee. Most mornings I have a short espresso, and on weekends spend time frothing a smidgeon of milk to have a macchiato. Recently I was reading Easy Living magazine (I was on holiday. I don't usually read it) and there was an article on how to make the best coffee at home. The "experts" reckoned that you should grind your beans with a burr grinder, and then put them into a cafetiere (aka the Bodum plunger style) as you'd have to "spend thousands" to get a halfway decent domestic espresso machine. The optimum pressure to make good coffee was 9 bars, and you couldn't achieve this with a non-commercial machine, apparently.

Well I'm going to contradict Easy Living's advice. What's the point of having a burr grinder if you're going to put your freshly ground beans into a plunger? If you can spend money on a grinder, you may as well get a La Pavoni machine. You don't actually need one with a pressure gauge, but if you can afford it £319 will buy you a machine that'll produce coffee as- good as any you'll get in Italy (and a zillion times better than the rubbish they produce at Starbucks).

These pics are of our machine and as you can see the gauge is up to 10 bars. I like a thick crema as much as the next girl. Our grinder is Dualit and cost £60 on Amazon (though thanks to the strength of the Euro is now listed at £85, ouch) and we get our beans from Climpson & Sons in Broadway market, but you can
buy them online.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Lemonade Award

I am deeply cynical about awards. Particularly work related ones. I usually think they're political and having been on the judging panel for last years AOP Awards very, very difficult to win if you don't follow a strict formula. Of course, that cynicism evaporates when something I've worked on actually wins an award. On the blogging front most awards revolve around some kind of viral marketing appeal so again, I'm cynical. But as it happens Meg from has nominated this blog, so I guess I should be gracious and play by the rules.

So here goes, here are ten blogs that I visit regularly, and suggest you bookmark if you like them too.

For the winners, share the love and pass it on. Here's what to do....
1) Put the Lemonade Award logo on your blog or post
2) Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude
3) Link to your nominees within your post
4) Let the nominees know that they have received this award by
commenting on their blog
5)Link to the person from who you received your award

Monday, 22 June 2009

An inconvenient truth

We've just had the longest day of the year, with an inky sky just getting dark at 10.20pm last night. It's definitely a warmer summer than previous years and notably so because of our glass extension. This photo was taken at 8.20am one day last week. Yup, it was a very balmy 30 degrees, even though we'd left the three roof vents (big windows) open all night. This explains why most of our pot plants died while we were on holiday - during that week the roof vents were closed and it got up to 36 degrees (the thermostat shows the highest and lowest recorded temperatures, until you reset it). I guess the prickly cactus should be our plant of choice.

We very nearly didn't get the roof vents at all as they added around £1,000 to the cost, and we thought we'd throw open the concertina doors on hot days. Being east facing too it seemed less likely the place would turn into a hothouse than south or west facing gardens. Of course you can't leave any doors wide open if you go out, which is why we went for the vents. If you're contemplating a double glazed glass roof don't skimp on the ventilation, unless you'd like to know what living on Earth will be like circa 2050...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

German sojourn

This blog is currently less about renovation and more about my holidays. But as there's been no sign of any actual building work for some months I feel as though I should post something. Last week was spent in Germany, first in Berlin then in Munich, as I left the kids at home with Rob and went on a whistle stop tour, meeting up with two of my favourite girlfriends. (I should mention that the trip was to coincide with Depeche Mode and that seeing them in Germany is something any true fan has to do at least once).

In both cities we stayed at branches of the Motel One chain - in Berlin it was Alexanderplatz and in Munich the newly opened Sendlinger Tor. Both were unbeatable locations for being in the heart of the action, and close to the U and S bahns for adventures further afield. The decor is worth mentioning too, lots of Arne Jacobson and Castiglioni Arc lights, none of the fusty bland stuff so beloved of most chain hotels. Even better was the price - my Dutch friend balked when I suggested we try and find something for under €200 - the rooms at Motel One were only €84 a night, for both of us!

The Sendlinger Tor room was even better than the Alexanderplatz version, with a flatscreen Loewe TV, a slightly improved tap in the bathroom and more storage. Probably not so useful if you have kids (unless you can get adjoining rooms?) but definitely worth investigating if you're headed that way. Both cities are superb - cold beer, great food, good transportation (and cheap taxis) and of course, the locals go absolutely crazy for Depeche Mode. Here's a video I shot on tippy toes during the Munich gig:

Sunday, 7 June 2009

French sojourn

Two years ago we had a two-week holiday to a musty old farm house in the Dordogne. It rained almost every day in August (when it's supposed to be hot) and the house was so horrid we swore we'd never go back. Friends from NYC stayed in a holiday villa in South West France last year and said we'd love it, so we decided to go with their recommendation and duly booked the house months in advance. Eventually the booking rolled around and we stayed there for the last week of May with friends, just as the weather got really hot.

Turns out our NYC friends were absolutely right, we did love it. Not only was the house done to an aesthetic standard that wasn't a million miles away from our own, but it was situated in a wooded area 10 minutes drive from a massive and virtually empty beach.

I'm blogging about it here as it was inspiring to see such a dramatic transformation in 18 months of hard graft. What was once virtually a ruin is now a modern and functional holiday home. The wet room is massive, the concrete floors keep the rooms cool and the pool is just off the kitchen so you can keep an eye on the kids while you prepare food. We BBQ'd most meals and the only thing I think I missed during our stay was a set of good chef's knives.

The many hours I've wasted searching for holiday homes in the past are behind me now, as I've found the only French villa worth re-booking. It sleeps three couples, three singles and possibly one more on the mezzanine futon, though with two families it was perfect.

For more photos, availability and pricing check out:

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hot house

It's 26 degrees in our extension right now. I've popped home to load the car with stuff for our upcoming trip to France and have had to open the doors right up. It's suffocatingly hot. I've put most of the plants into a massive plastic tub with three inches of water. Rob has been gloating over our lush, green outlook (the neighbours look onto another property) which we hadn't really thought about when we bought our place. If the weather carries on like this, the lushness will no doubt shrivel up. The forecast for London is sunshine, while in France where we're headed it's heavy rain. Oh well.