Friday, 31 December 2010

Bodum and burglary

This is the new Bodum kettle I bought when our old one limped into oblivion. I bought it on the internet so wasn't sure about the exact colour but I'm pleased to say it becomes suitably camouflaged against the splashback. It's also incredibly light so pouring water for a pot of tea doesn't feel as much of a chore.

On the downside, I got up two days before Christmas to find we'd been robbed while we slept. Some chancer had jumped over the (locked) garden gate and come in through the back door (which I was sure I'd locked) and had a quick spree. He picked up my freshly updated iPod (full Christmas playlists - grrr), the Numark headphones from my mixer (which have a huge jack and don't fit the iPod), Rob's satchel which contained his work laptop, personal papers, a few hundred pounds cash, both kids DS consoles and their games pack which had about 20 games inside, and then my HTC phone and charger. He ignored my work Blackberry (which admittedly has seen better days) and the presents under the tree.

The Hackney burglary squad were around within two hours and the forensics lady came an hour after that. The burglar was a pro - no fingerprints, no footprints - and he'd pointed our security light towards the moon.

I guess we should be grateful that nothing sentimental or irreplaceable was taken. The insurance assessor is coming next week to check things over, and hopefully everything will be covered (We've had contents insurance forever and this will be our first claim). The upside is now we'll be super vigilent about locking up and checking things over - and will probably alarm the downstairs of the house even when we're home, so he's done us a favour really.

Not nice to be a statistic/cliche but it could have been so much worse.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas 2010

We bought a new PC last year and annoyingly I still haven't found my Photoshop installation disc. In the meantime I've been using a free online photo editing site called Picnik and they happen to have some useful effects. Like this one pictured top, which looks like all my childhood photos.

The tree is 7 feet tall, and we could've gotten away with an 8 footer really but as it took two hours, two strands of lights and 150 decorations maybe that extra foot would've sent me over the edge. Of course, despite the effort the tree smells superb and even better was the massive dumping of snow we had - the outlook transformed into a proper winter wonderland overnight. Magical!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Decorating Christmas

We haven't had a real tree, and thus a requirement for decorations, for about 7 years. I have a fantastic 3 feet high white fibre optic tree that plugs in and changes colour every few seconds. Easy. This year the kids kept banging on about a proper tree and I gave in. It cost £88 for a 7 foot high locally-grown Nordman Fir (and stand) to be delivered from Sussex from Catsfield Christmas Tree Farm.

Rob and I went to Paperchase and spent £70 on tree decorations (about 120 items FYI). The tree still looked a little on the naked side so I ended up buying a couple of bags of chocolate decorations, candy canes and another 10 pink disco balls to make it look more festive.

My favourite additions are the dogs, including the latecomer, the Shitzh-zu, donated by my friend who couldn't put up with my sad face when I saw she'd gotten it for her Secret Santa. Unfortunately, the combo of glass and drunkeness meant it got a bit of a smashed head. Sorry Jen.

My Canon Ixus 850IS has seen better days. I swear my old Ixus took better photos than this one. Apologies for the rubbish focus on these shots, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cycle rage

My neighbourhood is pretty friendly. Generally people will smile if they recognise you and some will say hello. This morning as I cycled my four-year-old to her nursery, I encountered a pedestrian on the narrow footpath which leads from a private car park into the entrance of Victoria Park. I cycle this way to avoid going against the traffic on the one-way system, and also because I seldom encounter anyone here (in winter anyway), as only locals tend to use it since no-one can see the path from the main road.

If I do see kids on bikes, scooters or someone with a pram, I tend to dismount to allow people to pass. In this instance I didn’t have a chance as the second I saw pedestrian we had a pow-wow. This pedestrian was clearly irritated at a cyclist having the gall to cycle on the footpath and stood still, blocking the footpath. I had come to a standstill thinking he’ll walk around as he could step off the path (and it’s a five or six inch step) whereas I have an 18 kilo kid on the back of my bike. For me moving the bike (and kid) off that path and onto the car park to allow him to pass and then hauling the bike back up onto the kerb to continue my journey seemed unnecessary. He said gruffly “It’s a footpath you know” to which I replied “Yes I know, but I have a kid on the back here...” he didn’t move.

Now I guess I should’ve thought of what to do in a situation like this before it was thrust upon me – I too get annoyed by selfish cyclists when I’m walking – but I wasn’t about to mow him down, and getting off the bike wouldn’t have solved this problem as one of us would still have to step down to allow the other to pass, so I stayed where I was and eventually he moved around me with a sour look on his face. For some reason which escapes me now I shouted “Thanks mate, don’t be such a cock next time” and he shouted back something about using that sort of language in front of my kid. So not only have I become a cliché of a rude cyclist I am now meant to adjust my response in a tense stand-off situation.

I shouted back “Fuck you!” and rode off, and surprisingly, instead of feeling embarrassed or remorseful, I felt actually pretty good. I wish I’d just said that to him in the first place and saved a minute of my time. (Note – I swear. And I swear in front of my kids. Neither of whom have ever sworn. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to do.)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

How much is that doggie in the window?

Last month we went to Discover Dogs show in Earl's Court. This is kind of house-related as we've been discussing getting a dog for a few months now. Hanging out with 200 breeds at this dog show seems to have cured our momentary lapse of common sense.

We look after a lovely whippet and I guess it's similar for our friends who babysit, but are happy to go back to their life at the end of the night. We really love having a dog around and doing big park walks, but I'm not sure we'd handle doing the walks morning and night forever and ever. Or paying for pet insurance, off-piste vet bills, and the headache of going on holiday. Not to mention doggie necessities - like food, toys, accessories and probably a dog walker. (Kari if you're reading this we would not consider a dog creche, don't even go there!)

Rob wasn't bothered as he had a dog as a kid, whereas I felt the angst of not wanting to deny my kids the enjoyment of having a pet. At least when Rob finally did warm to the idea we both agreed on the breed - Boston Terrier - pictured at top. But they're £900 from a breeder (and some go for £2,000!) so we're back to enjoying relatively uninterrupted sleep and not having to pick up poop in a plastic bag...

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Baby it's cold outside

Yeah so it's winter in England and guess what? There is snow. It was probably only six inches or so in Hackney, so not as heavy as the big snow day in February 2009. The country still came to a virtual standstill as it was the heaviest snowfall in November for 17 years. As avid hardcore cyclists, we carried on taking the kids to school and going into work. Despite skidding a bit on some black ice on the way home the week of snow wasn't bad for us at all. I ended up getting the bus once and that was more to do with social plans than safety.

Maybe it's because I grew up in New Zealand and didn't see snow in urban environments very often, but the novelty of a city blanketed in white still thrills me despite living in the UK for 11 winters.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

You light up my life

Remember when the extension was being built, and we discovered that the architect had forgotten to add any lights to the drawings? Well we thought we'd get by with some well placed uplighters and lamps. Turns out that a large body of glass and the pitch darkness of night will swallow up light. We considered getting an oversized Anglepoise lamp to help matters when we're eating dinner - having the halogens on isn't the best solution, and neither is peering into dimly lit plates. We tried stategically placed candles (ok, but not ideal when the table is covered from end to end with food and booze), and finally agreed on that Livingetc featured design staple, the Arco floor light.

I've been to the Castiglioni studio in Milan so I have a huge appreciation for the designer and his influence. Sadly, I don't have £1,350 to buy a modern day reproduction of his iconic light. Obviously, if I did I would've definitely shelled out over at Heal's but as it happens I found the best homage to the original on eBay via Contemporary Furniture Clearance. You can bid from £159 or buy one on the spot for £169 - it arrived with us two working days after I paid (via courier) and an efficient chap called to say he'd left it on the door step. The marble base weighs 64kgs so no-one was going to nick it - we had to unpack it in order to stick a wooden pole through the iconic hole just to get it inside.

Once assembled the lamp looked right at home - these photos don't do it justice, but the height is perfect in our extension, and the quality of the finish is unbelievably convincing. I've seen terrible silver effect shades, bad arcs and shoddy "marble" in other copies but this, thankfully, was the best £159 we've spent in a while. It even came with handling gloves so you don't put finger prints all over the brushed aluminium when you assemble it.

The marble base is an excellent place to leave the laptop when we're not using it (I'm not keen on leaving the laptop on the table as the heat that thing puts out is intense) and as a happy coincidence, the shape and patterns of the lamp shade compliments our uplighters.

(Apologies for the cheesy title but I'm fond of word play and song lyrics. I should point out that this is in reference to the Debby Boone version and not Westlife/Whitney Houston songs of the same name.)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Art for arts sake

After nearly two years of extreme procrastination, we finally have two photographs up on the walls. The problem was that these photos came ready mounted and had a long strip of wood fixed to the back. They were designed so that the opposite bit of wood cut at the corresponding angle could be attached to a wall, and thus the photo would sit flush. We visited several picture framers and wood merchants in the last two years with no luck. Everyone knew exactly what we wanted but no-one actually sold these wood strips.

Eventually I had a light bulb moment when I remembered that our pal Jason worked at the White Cube gallery as a technician - fitting artist's works professionally! He was only too happy to help and in about half an hour, had measured up and fitted the bits required.

A major problem that Rob and I have is despite a general consensus on all things design and interior related, we don't see eye-to-eye when it comes to art. I like to have things up that I like to look at, he prefers something with a story and even likes the idea of investment pieces (to that end, he has two very collectable pieces gathering dust somewhere in New Zealand that will probably be ruined from damp by now...) Anyway, I happened to like these photographs which were from the Design Awards exhibition that Wallpaper* magazine had a couple of years ago - and they were only a tenner each. So there's the story to keep Rob happy and I really like these photographs.

The one was taken at the John Lautner Sheats Goldstein residence in Beverley Hills - and the speakers projected on the right hand side are the 'Katamari 01' by Giyanze, which won best domestic appliance. It's a bit difficult to see but there's a guy DJing in the foreground so the photo looks in tune sitting above my decks.

The other photo was taken in LA and features the Panna chair for Moroso by Tokujin Yoshioka, who won best domestic furniture designer. I like this because it reminds me of my first trip to LA, the outlook was eerily similar, though fortunately there wasn't a creepy guy sitting on an expensive chair...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Waste disposal


A few weeks ago the Observer magazine's Lucy Siegle wrote a column entitled 'Can I throw out food and be green?' which touched on how UK households have reduced the amount of food we throw out by 270,000 tonnes per year. It sounds a lot until she mentions that actually we still throw out 8m tonnes - half of which is still edible.

Lucy advocates the use of Food Waste Disgester units in the kitchen, which was a bit of a relief as we've had one in our kitchen for years. After buying a Magimix juicer about ten years ago, I insisted on a FWD to deal with the ensuing buckets of leftover, inedible fruit pulp. It seemed a sensible way to deal with quickly rotting peel but I wondered if it was ecologically ideal.

A friend who's seriously into eco living said that we were doing the right thing - at the time we were living in a flat so had no compost options, and it turns out that putting bio matter into London's sewers is actually good for them. Also, as Lucy Siegle points out, the FWDs create 10x more electricity than they use.

Now of course we live in a house where we could run a compost bin, but still prefer the FWD. The 30+ comments on the Guardian website in response to this article were quite something to read - nearly all of them echoed each other in the view that it's never OK to throw out food, that people should buy less and re-use everything.

Obviously very few of these people have kids - I can't speak for small boys, but my two girls rarely empty their plates. I've tried smaller portions, mixing things up for variety, you name it, but there is inevitably some mucky leftover on their plate that won't get eaten or saved for the next meal.

It's not like we're bulk buying food then chucking it when it goes past the best before date. All the stuff that goes into our FWD is stuff we wouldn't be eating - be it vegetable peel, inedible leftovers, teabags, coffee grinds and the occasional culinary disaster. It's incredible that not one of the commenters thought of this, instead advocating chickens & pigs (great in theory, not so great in some parts of London) and retro-fitting compost to apartment blocks. Geez people. Relax. Having a FWD sounds like a better option than just throwing food into landfill.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Well lit

Another photo of the finished kitchen. This shot was taken at night - about 20 minutes ago actually - and I noticed that all the lightbulbs under the cupboards were working. This is possibly the first time in over a year that there hasn't been one or two blown. Yup, another productive day from Rob who's been fiddling with teeny tiny bulbs.

In other house related news, the tenants at our flat are moving out after two years. I've got a friend who's a painter/decorator popping round to give us a quote. Rob wasn't keen, arguing that new tenants would just ruin the new paint job within a few months, but with a combination of London pollution and Blu-tack the walls have definitely seen better days. It was last painted seven years ago. (Actually, the walls at our current house could do with a tart up and we've lived only here for two years, but that's what happens when you have kids...)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Decluttering mission

In a recent post I mentioned our plans for the utility room. Well, this is the view of our garage and where the bike rack is (on the floor), is about where a new wall would go to separate the utility space from the garage.

I wish I had a 'before' photo to show you as this space has been completely overhauled. There were boxes of who-knows-what and unstable shelves full of miscellaneous DIY debris in here. It was impossible to walk around the bikes due to the tower of fire hazards looming - one bump and the whole lot would tumble.

Rob has been working part-time all summer and he must've noticed my exasperation at this mess 'What exactly do you do all day again?'. I came home last week and opened the garage door to be greeted with an industrial shelving unit and a clear floor. It would've taken hours. And it's surprisingly satisfying being able to walk around in here now. There's still quite a bit of junk to dispose of but this is 10x better than it was.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Chicken coop

Ah, the heady days when I thought we could have chickens in the garden... inspired by a trip to Grand Designs Live where we discovered the Eglu. Then we discovered the neighbour's fox and decided that chickens probably weren't a great idea.

Now there's the Nogg thanks to a (fleeting) visit to Tent London during the London Design Festival. It looks a heck of a lot more secure than your average hen house and check out the design - isn't it fabulous? Would probably still need to keep an eye on the chickens as the foxes are so bold, even during the day. Wonder if I can get this back on the agenda? There's nothing quite like fresh eggs...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Phase two plans

Image: Joanopolis House, Sao Paulo from

Two years after the work started on the house, we've finally finished phase one. And now I'm thinking (vaguely) about phase two. I must admit my passion for getting this project finished is diminished somewhat but next door's build only went a month or two over schedule. Their Polish builders were superb, so we swapped numbers and I said I'd send through some drawings so they could quote for them when we get motivated about, well, saving.

Phase two was going to involve knocking the downstairs loo through to the under stairs storage area and putting in a wet room. But this isn't practical for lots of reasons - the location of the soil pipes, the plumbing costs, having to tank the room so it doesn't leak etc etc. The Polish builder suggested putting a shower into our utility room, which doesn't exist at the moment as the washing machine and dryer inhabit a wall in the garage/bike store room.

So Phase two now means fitting a solid wall in the garage, putting in a proper ceiling and floor, lining the walls, putting in a shower and a sink and tarting it up with some tiles etc. And then giving the existing downstairs toilet a makeover so that it doesn't look like a bad 80s flashback (as it does now).

Phase three is the top floor, phase four is the garden. By then I reckon I'll be shopping round for a happening retirement village...

(I couldn't find any suitable inspirational photographs of utility rooms or under stairs storage so here's a lovely home in Sao Paulo that would be my inspiration for a holiday home...)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Splashback is in!

Who knew a piece of 6mm toughened glass would be such a cause for celebration? Nearly two years (!) after finishing the kitchen, we finally had the splashback installed yesterday. It cost just under £1,200 including installation and VAT, and was sorted efficiently by Robert Timmins Furniture who came round and did the measurements with a laser.

I'm so glad we paid the money - our original quote from a local glass supplier was half what we ended up paying, but would've meant the glass had seams/joins around the hob. A continuous piece of glass looks impactful, and the sockets were cut out perfectly thanks to the accuracy of the laser measuring system.

I can't believe we took so long to get this sorted. It makes the kitchen look SO MUCH better. And now I can continue having espresso machine explosions and blender accidents and not worry so much about the mess. Yippee!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Going green

Last night I spent the evening in the Edmonton Ikea. The goal was to buy up lots of glasses. We'd had people over for lunch at the weekend and I noticed our glassware was a motley collection of mismatched sizes and styles.

I got white wine glasses, red wine balloons, tall drinking glasses, shorter ones and some champagne flutes. And a duvet cover, a couple of spare sheets, some cookware and what the heck, some toy dogs for the kids.

The bill came to £215.

I thought Ikea was meant to be the budget option? For this kind of money I could've gone to John Lewis or Habitat and saved the torturous trip up the A10 in the pouring rain.

On the upside, the kitchen accessories were a bargain - pictured clockwise at top: peeler 79p, timer £1.99, measuring spoons 79p and bottle opener 79p.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Lettuce despair

We've just gotten back from two weeks in Northern Croatia where it was in the high 20s (celcius that is) most days. On two days there was the most severe thunder and lightning storms right over the Istrian villa, and monsoons would dump down for a few hours. It was pretty crazy weather.

Turns out it had been raining in London too, which was great for our lawn which is now a lovely bright green colour (pictured top, this morning - even the bamboo looks happy). Unfortunately, rain also means snails get their groove on. One evening last month I managed to slay 36 of them who were giddy from their spoils after a heavy shower. They must have had relatives because as you can see from the photo below, there's not a shred of leaf on any of my lettuces. I didn't get to eat one bite. All that plant food and sunshine and constant watering and for what?

Next summer it's war. I'll be collecting coffee grinds, egg shells and yoghurt containers (to make beer traps) for my amory, until then, I'm on the lookout for a hobby which doesn't involve gardening.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Lettuce joy

So the seeds I planted a few months back didn't get up to much, and there were so many weeds I gave up. Fortunately a few weeks ago the local primary school had a fete, where I picked up four teensy lettuces for 20p each. A few litres of miracle plant grow, daily watering and nightly snail squashing has resulted in these enormous lettuces.

I was going to tear off a few leaves to make a salad at the weekend but friends arrived with a gourmet version, so we've yet to taste them. We've been enjoying the spoils of next door's raspberries, blackberries and cherries. Their apples aren't quite ripe yet though. (I should mention that the neighbours are in Singapore for the forseeable future so they don't mind us eating their fruit).

It's a nice feeling living in central London but eating as if we're living in the countryside. If these lettuces survive throughout August I'll be extremely chuffed.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Measuring up

Be still my beating heart: the measurements have been taken for the splashback! Unfortunately, the kitchen fella forgot one of the "important" measurements and is coming back tonight, but we're on the road to getting a 6mm thick bit of toughened glass installed this side of Christmas.

The concrete counter top isn't completely flat, in fact, it's quite wavy. The edge of the glass is going to be completely straight. We're going to get around this little hitch by running a metal edge along the splashback where it meets the concrete. Hopefully this will remedy the visual hiccup that having a matte lime green wall peek through in places would create.

Another issue was that the switch for the waste disposal was only two centimetres away from a socket - the gap between the two is too narrow, the glass can't be cut with a thin pillar between two holes as it might crack. This is easily remedied - we'll move the switch closer to the socket. Well, Rob will if he can figure out how to drill into the wall.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Splashback update....

Photo taken by: Victoria Birkenshaw (available for editorial and commercial work in the UK)

My main hobby right now is getting the lime green wall in the kitchen covered with toughened glass. I had a cocktail accident recently which involved two litres of fruit, vodka and soda water blasting out of the blender and things got messy (Yes, that was a deliberate double entendre).

The splashback quote we originally had was in the region of £550, but if you're a reader of this blog you'll remember that the company who quoted refused to show up to take the measurements. Despite 2-3 weeks of quite regular pleading phone calls.

The latest quote is more than double but at least they return emails and phone calls (eventually). However, it's been nearly two weeks since the quote was confirmed and despite me trying to sort out a time for them to come and measure up I've yet to hear back from them.

Is there really a recession on? It seems to me that there's plenty of work out there for glass manufacturers at least.

This snap was taken a few months ago. I'm using it here mainly because it shows the kitchen and partly because it shows my neighbour looking like something from a Martin Parr retrospective.)

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Foxes in Hackney have had justifiably bad press lately, thanks to the awful incident with the baby twins being mauled in their cot while they slept (not far from where we live, actually).

We've noticed an increase in fox presence the last few months. Twice we've had a cub on the roof of the glass extension, which I can assure you, is incredibly freaky when you're looking up at a hairy belly and the doors are wide open.

Lately there's been a sunbathing fox over the fence from us. (Pictured - photo taken from the top floor, she's that brown smudge next to the hedge. Excuse the parched lawn). She's there in the morning, the evening and whenever it's sunny. I thought foxes were nocturnal? One of my neighbours bought a sonic sensor which is meant to keep foxes and cats out of his garden, but I've seen the local tough cat sauntering straight past it without so much as a twitch.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Still no splashback to report. The second company assure me that I'll have a quote soon. I gave up on the first company, as they just wouldn't show up. There hasn't been a whole lot of of progress regarding any part of the renovation really.

Last month we spent a week at the same French holiday villa we stayed at last year. The owners had taken my advice and bought a set of really good chef's knives (joy) and had replaced the sun loungers with new ones (pictured top). Our garden gets the sun until 6pm during the summer and it's a bit of waste to watch the lawn from the house. I decided to go to Habitat and get my own lounger, which are on sale right now for £31.50. I got mine in hot pink, and saved another 15% off the sale price due to some promotion they were running at the weekend. Unfortunately, since buying it, it's been raining in London so there hasn't been a whole lot of lounging going on.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Dusty limits

This is probably karma. Our lovely next door neighbours have relocated to Singapore for two years and are demolishing the back of their house to do something similar to ours. The noise is phenomenal and the mess is eye watering. There have been two skips filled in the last ten days. I can't seem to sneak anything in there either as the builders need every bit of space for their fast accumulating debris.

Check the glass in our extension (photo above) - it was cleaned not that long ago but is now thick with brick dust and dirt. No point in hosing it down as the construction is nowhere near finished.

The builders are very friendly and I'm hoping they do a good job and finish somewhere near the budget and within the timing schedule as I'd be keen for them to quote for phase 2 of our house. The local glass company never got back to me about fitting our splash back so I've moved on to another one, only these guys seem reluctant to pin down a time to pop over too. Is there a shortage of glass suppliers in London?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Sunny outlook

This photo was taken on a cloudy afternoon to show how quickly the outlook has changed. From a few spindly, naked trees it's now a lush green mess. As far as the eye can see we're looking across other people's gardens. Pretty much all other properties are obscured by foliage. And no-one can see into the glass extension, which is just as well given how exposed it is.

The photo doesn't really do it justice, but trust me, living this close to urban London life and having the feeling that you're in the countryside is a bonus we hadn't considered when we bought this house. It's not even proper summer yet so the trees will only get denser in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Another job done

A classic before and after for your perusal. This is the lacquer on the concrete counter top. Not long after we started to use it, the lacquer began to peel and lift and as you can see after 18 months of usage looks pretty rough.

The quote we had to sand it back and reseal it was astonishing - and that's when we finally found a company who would consider doing it. Apparently concrete companies are of the belief that if they didn't install the concrete, they won't do any maintenance.

Fortunately, the guy who did it in the first place came back from his holiday and was only to happy to swing by and sort it out for the cost of hiring all the bits and bobs, plus a very reasonable day rate (thank you Isaac!). He ended up coming round on three consecutive days and the sanding created the mother of all dust storms in the house, but hey ho, check out the 'after' photo below.

While concrete looks the business I'm pretty sure I'd get Corian next time. It's just too painful to get concrete fixed when it starts to look shabby, and inevitably, it will look shabby.

Next step is to get the glass company to show up to sort out the kitchen splashback. It's been 8+ days of fairly continuous phone calls to remind them to show up...

Saturday, 12 June 2010

In plane sight

It was the Queens 84th Birthday celebration this weekend. We were alerted to the fact by the rumbles of fast approaching low-flying aircraft. I'm sure most people in Hackney could claim that the planes flew right over them, but in our case, they really did - as you can see from this snap of the sky taken from inside my kitchen through the (grubby) glass.

According to The Times: "After taking the salute the Queen and other royals returned to the Palace where they watched an RAF flypast by 13 different types of aircraft, including World War II Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster, modern Typhoon fighters and the Red Arrows aerobatic display team. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight led the formation to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Britain’s defeat of Germany"

It sounded like 13 types of aircraft. I wonder if the elderly residents of London's East End felt nostalgic or terrfied when they heard the racket.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Green fingered fun

This little plastic addition to our garden was a birthday present from some Dutch friends. It's called a cold frame and is meant to assist seedlings burst into something useful, whilst keeping creepy crawlies out.

I've managed to sprout a selection of chives and lettuces, as well as some weeds, but I can't quite tell what's a weed vs lettuce at this point. Slugs and snails have managed to bypass the corrigated plastic and infiltrate the frame. I've poured table salt around the edges to deter them and if that doesn't work will try sinking a plastic cup of beer into the ground as that's supposed to kill them (or at least make them tipsy and lose their motivation?)

Am hoping that we'll end up with a selection of healthy lettuces soon as it tastes so much better to eat fresh leaves than something that's been kept in a plastic bag and washed in bleach. I've never had much luck with plants (now down to just one house plant indoors actually) so I'm not holding out much hope. Plan B if the lettuces don't survive is to buy some ready sprouted seedlings and plant those out.

(Tips on keeping them alive would be gratefully received!)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Reviving the outdoor furniture

Last month I wrote how Ronseal had ruined our wooden outdoor furniture by aging it somewhat prematurely. I wrote to their customer service team who offered to refund the cost of their product and replace with something else from their range. I accepted their £15 but refused the freebie as I was so annoyed with Ronseal that I didn't believe that a different product from them would be any better.

Rob found a Garden Furniture Revival kit from Cuprinol, no, I'd never heard of them either. We paid £24.99 (though right now it's on sale for half that from As you can see from the photo, half an hour of sanding with an electric sander and two coats of Cuprinol and viola, good as new. Just in time for some lovely spring weather...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Clean as a whistle

We had a plumbing situation last week. The downstairs loo was starting to take ages to drain and occasionally it would make hideous gurgling sounds, which would travel up into the hand basin.

There's nothing more scary than a sink which gurgles in a threatening manner, especially when it occasionally regurgitated soapy bubbles. After two weeks of gurgling and nervous flushing I called up a drainage company to come and work their magic.

It turns out most houses will need their drains unblocked at some point owing to a combination of Victorian era drains and the amount of paper that goes down loos. Toddler wet wipes for example are marketed to help kids get motivated about dealing with their own business, but unfortunately they don't break down - even when wet - and subsequently build up and cause a blockage.

The company I used was called Invincible Drain Care (Tel 020 7428 7755). They charge £95 + VAT for the first hour. Our job took 90 minutes and ended up costing £162. Both bathrooms and the kitchen and washing machine flow systems were all checked and the the actual blockage was dealt with relatively painlessly. They came the day after I phoned so no complaints there.

The next time you're sitting at work hating your job, try and be grateful that at least you don't work for a drain clearing company.

(PS photo at top is a general snap of the house last weekend - I didn't publish the photo of the inside of our drain as it would seriously put you off your lunch)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Splashback and dull concrete

Ages ago I mentioned I'd photograph all the outstanding things in the house. But after a few photos I got a bit despondent. It feels like it'll be a year before all the little niggling things are taken care of, and that's before phase two gets a look in. Anyway, here are two of the most noticeable.

At top is the kitchen wall without a splashback. It's in a pretty strong shade of green - I forget the details (Lime? Chartreuse?) but I've definitely gotten used to it. It's meant to be covered with glass, which would be terrific given how many messy meals and explosive espresso accidents I've endured in the last year.

The holdup has been because of our concrete counter top, pictured below. The finish has peeled in places and looks really dull in others. The whole lot needs sanding back and refinished with a stronger lacquer which will make it look super glossy again. Once this has been done we can do the splashback - if we did it the other way around the glass might crack when the concrete is being sanded.

The guy who did it orignally is back from touring with his band and says he should be able to do it in a couple of weeks. It's been virtually impossible to get a concrete specialist to quote for this job in the last year as most won't touch surfaces they didn't install themselves, as they can't - or won't - guarantee the workmanship. Catch 22 anyone?