Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas 2013 in New Zealand

It had been four years since we'd been back to New Zealand so December 2013 was designated the time to go. Christmas holidays aren't ideal - in the UK the schools are only shut for 2 weeks (vs 6 or so in New Zealand) and we didn't want to spend £5,800 on flights for a two week stint. In the end we went for 3 weeks and got fined for taking the girls out of school for the extra time. The fine was £120 per child but in my view, that last week of school is spent cleaning up the classroom and watching DVDs, so the benefit from seeing friends and family and experiencing a new culture is worth the grief.

It's also a lot cheaper to pay the fine than amend the flights. In hindsight I wish we'd played the health card (as one of the grandparents had suffered a heart attack earlier this year) as a friend did this with her kids who were out for an entire month an didn't get fined (our kids go to different schools, but are run by the same council which is the body that issues the fines). 

I'd grown up in Christchurch which was unrecognisable after the massive earthquake of 2011. It was quite disorientating being in the centre of town and not seeing the skyline I was used to. Almost three years on and the place still looked empty and desolate. There were empty lots & carparks where huge buildings used to be, and scaffolding and boarded up windows everywhere. I can't say I was ever affectionate for this town but I felt emotional walking around it. 

Christmas day was spent picnicking next to this river and the girls and their cousins braved the cold water to swim in here. Quite a contrast from our UK Christmases. 

Here we are with Rob's parents and his brother's family. Gwen wasn't very happy about having to sit on Opa's knee so this photo will haunt her forever.

At least she enjoyed sitting on her Poppa's knee (below). And hanging with a variety of small animals on his farm, which is called Mini Haven as most of the animals are miniature or teeny. 

Meanwhile back in London, our house sitters emailed to say that alas, the temporary fix on the glass roof hadn't worked as there were some new leaks in the house. Joy.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Temporary fix apparently

Sunfold Systems came around this week and we had a different engineer this time. This chap decided that the only place the water could get in was via a couple of screw holes in the vents, so his plan was to cover them with a rubber skirt and see if that kept the water out.

This was a temporary measure with the outcome being that no leaks means it works, so he'd know what to remedy to make it a permanent fix. As we're off for three weeks over Christmas we're keeping everything crossed (again) that the rubber skirt keeps the rain out, otherwise we're back to square one.

(Photo above of Marlo, December 2013)

Monday, 25 November 2013

LEDs & tourist tip for London

The humble incandescent light bulb started to get phased out in 2009, and ours hadn't quite given up the ghost until now. We had a bit of a struggle finding LED replacements that worked with the dimmers. The first pair to arrive wouldn't dim at all, and cast a cold blue tinted light across the kitchen. We replaced them with some Philips EcoClassics, which happily dim and have a warmer yellow glow. They also have the added side effect of making our kitchen ceiling look like a light show (as per above photo). These bulbs last for 2,000 hours so we'll be with them for a while. They're economical too, currently around £1.99 on Amazon and they use 80% less energy than our original incandescent bulbs. 

On a side note - went up to Duck & Waffle in Heron Tower for an early dinner. Missed the sunset but had the most breathtaking view of London regardless. This shot is from the toilet so you can imagine how spectacular it is walking around the space. The restaurant is open 24 hours and there's lots to try on the menu. If you live in London and you haven't been yet, get a date in asap. If you're coming to London, make a booking and enjoy at least one meal or a cocktail up here. We took the girls up but check what time kids are welcome, usually it's OK before 7pm in most places. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Sunfold leaks continue...

The wet splodge on the sofa is from the leak. We seem to go for weeks with no sign of a leak then out of the blue, drip drip drip. It doesn't even have to be raining, I imagine the insides of the metal frames are slowly filling up and then spilling when they eventually get full. I have no idea if this is why but then neither do Sunfold by the looks of it.

On the upside, at least we're here and can put down towels/saucepans etc and attempt to contain the water. Hate to think how much damage would have been caused if we'd gone on holiday without leaving out our collection of drip trays. 

In other news - we were very excited about the Alexandra Palace 'Back with a Bang' fireworks display. A group of us met in the afternoon with the intention of hanging out in the beer hall for a couple of hours before the fireworks started. The old saying about not being able to organise a piss up in a brewery springs to mind - the queues to get in to the beer hall, then wait to get served were an hour each time. We gave up which is just as well as the beer ran out. And yet there was still hours before the fireworks kicked off.

After huddling around outside and drinking (surprisingly not cold) beer from another vendor, and queuing for some mediocre food, we gave up. I watched the fireworks display on YouTube and thought 'Meh'. Was far happier in front of my pal's open fire while the kids drank hot chocolate in the next room. The security team had a difficult time controlling the large (and annoyed) crowd and the whole event was farcical. Hopefully Victoria Park will resurrect the fireworks display in 2014.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Mid-century modern show in Haggerston

If you're a fan of mid-century design and you haven't had an excuse to visit Haggerston High School in East London, then make sure you keep an eye out for the next Modern Shows event here (October 12th 2014 FYI). I've lived in the area for 14 years and am ashamed to admit this was my first visit to the Erno Goldfinger designed building. The show itself was worth a look, but because it was hosted in this iconic space made it all the more jaw dropping.

The kids who attend this school probably don't have a clue how lucky they are to be surrounded by such beautiful architecture. We loved the design of the school so much we put it on the list of six shortlisted for Marlo's high school, without really looking at its academic success (as it happens she got into Mossbourne Academy, the Victoria Park branch. Will update once I've seen their building when it opens in September 2014).

We didn't buy any furniture though if we had the space I would've loved this table for games nights - imagine poker and whiskies around this beauty!

The hog roast sandwich was pretty spectacular at the end of the show, located in the school's playground. Very likely to attend the 2014 show on the strength of the building. And the sandwich.

Monday, 14 October 2013

A dual passport holder at last

7 or 8 years ago I was eligible to apply for British Citizenship having held the Indefinite Leave to Remain status for the required time period. At the time the cost was a few hundred pounds so I put it off. This year, I  decided to finally get on with it. This meant studying and passing the Life in the UK Test, attending a (surprisingly emotional) Citizenship ceremony to swear allegiance to the Queen and get interrogated by someone at the passport office. I did these things in order to finally receive my British passport. All up it cost me around £1,000. The difference of £600-£700 is what you could call procrastination tax.

The passport office chap asked why I wanted a British passport and I'd replied 'Because the queues are shorter.' In hindsight I think I should have said something more ingratiating but it didn't matter because I received my passport a few days later. 

(Photo above is from our first trip to Ibiza, in August - which was the last time I flew to Europe on my New Zealand passport. The light is natural and we loved it there, definitely going back.)

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Shut the front door

So here's the door from the outside looking in. The glass has enough of a texture that it allows in plenty of light, but you can't make out what's going when you peer through it. Nice to have the 'furniture' where we wanted it, though I regret not getting the door knocker that came with. The door bell is stuck on with double sided sellotape but hey ho, it seems to work OK. The door is sealed in properly so there's no draft.

UPDATE: Our heating bill dropped by about £30-£40 a month since getting this door installed! Also, in previous winters we'd need a little fan heater to warm up the room quicker as the radiators didn't seem up to the job - this year, we've retired the fan heater to the attic. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

New front door

Earlier this year I blogged about getting a quote from the Anglian Home door company. Long story short - it was the sort of sales technique that makes my skin crawl. The opposite of that experience was dealing with the (aptly named) Composite Door Shop. You could fill out a virtual door designer, stating all your preferences for a bespoke service, and even with the addition of a letterbox (that Anglian couldn't manage) and swapping the location of the handle around (again, Anglian weren't sure about doing this...) we got the door exactly as we wanted it, for £1,000. Our builders installed it in less than a day.

I'll update with a picture of the outside of it when I remember to take a snap (FYI It's navy blue with silver 'furniture'). Here are a couple of shots taken early evening, showing how much light comes through now. The glass is opaque enough to let the light in, but not enough to see any detail on the other side. When I have my face up to the glass I can just make out colours but no shapes.

The door itself has multi-point locking mechanism, and if looked after should last for more than 30 years.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Camp Bestival 2013

I go to a LOT of festivals. Last summer I clocked up five or six, and so far this year I've been more fussy and only made it to three (not counting the five Depeche Mode gigs I've been to around Europe). Camp Bestival is the one festival that we as a family enjoy going to - it was our third year. (Pictured above: Team Moroder).

We used to be regulars at the Big Chill but after four years of doing that with very young kids, we thought we'd try Camp Bestival, (and now unfortunately, the Big Chill is no more.) We always go with good friends and have figured out the best strategy for getting the best spot (stay at a B&B the night before in the immediate vicinity and pre-book a Festaxi - pictured at bottom - to move all your gear from car to camping spot in around 15 minutes).

Camp Bestival for us is a (long weekend) holiday with great music, good friends, reliable food and a way to stimulate the kids while doing stuff we actually enjoy.

So it's with some trepidation that I have to say we'll probably be giving Camp Bestival a miss in 2014. There were some great aspects to our trip this year - again our friends, and the primo spot we got (which was a 20 second stroll from the sauna and hot showers of the Soul Park area - and for £20 we had unlimited access all weekend), but there were two issues that were really irritating: firstly, the line-up was generally pretty dire. The DJs outshone the live acts with the exception of The Cuban Brothers. The highlight by a long shot was The Nextmen (who did two sets in quick succession, double the fun). As an aside, we were looking forward to seeing Horrible Histories (pictured above), but couldn't see a thing as so many people were standing - despite it being a play/performance rather than a band - it took 25 minutes before the TV screens politely asked people to sit down, which caused an almighty cheer from the 9,000 people who couldn't see up til that point.

I had high hopes for Grandmaster Flash but his set was no better than the sort you'd hear at a bad suburban nightclub - chorus after chorus of hits and yabbering about 'putting your hands up if you know this one!', soulless, with no depth. The 'headliners' were poor - The Levellers, Richard Hawley, Kid Creole and Nik Kershaw - these names work at Rewind, but not for Camp Bestival. And the Sunday night headliner? Labrinth. Not exactly in the same league as Primal Scream or the Happy Mondays who headlined the previous two years. I was particularly disappointed by Nik Kershaw who I first saw live as a teenager in New Zealand: in the years that have passed he hasn't developed how to do good banter with his audience. Fortunately some of those who'd pitched up to see him were fast asleep so they wouldn't have heard his witless song introductions.

Annoyingly we were actually excited about seeing Craig Charles do his Funk & Soul set as per his show on BBB's 6Music, but he was a no show. Turns out he'd tried driving across south London and couldn't get very far due to the RideLondon cycling event. Amazingly he was unaware of this despite the rest of London being up to speed, and for some reason was unable to get on a train to Wareham in time. Shows a lack of initiative really.

The second issue was the portaloos. We know loos and festivals, but this year was a new low. As early as Thursday night (ie hours after the site had opened) there were unusable toilets as they were full to the brim. There were fewer loos, and they weren't cleaned nearly enough. I'm sure it's a cost saving measure to keep things lean but I don't fancy spending £400 on tickets & £800 on food/drink/activities (not including petrol, the B&B and all the stuff we'd bought with us) to then feel constantly anxious about where to find a usable loo. Even the posh loos were out of service from Sunday afternoon.

Overall, I regret not going to Standon Calling which was on the same weekend: cracking line-up, a swimming pool (!) AND flushing loos. Unless Camp Bestival pull off an amazing lineup and make assurances about the facilities next year, I know where we'll be going.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bedrooms are coming together

While we were at Camp Bestival (post to come on that shortly), the builders popped back for a day of final fixes. Coming home to a virtually finished house after camping for four nights was a pretty amazing feeling.

I'm so happy to have a proper bedroom instead of the cluttered mess we had before...

And a good size wardrobe - for the first time in nearly six years! Will be great to get a free weekend (When? When?!) so I can unpack the various boxes and bags of stuff into the space.

The kids room is a little lo-frills right now but will come right. This bed has a spare underneath for sleepovers, so much better than a bunk bed as once the novelty wore off, no-one wanted to sleep in it.

The kids have a huge wardrobe too but not as many clothes as us, so we're storing linen and toys in here too.

And building a bed over the stair headspace means the room feels so much bigger than before!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Mostly finished bathroom

Ten weeks into the build and the bathroom is finished (except for a little snagging). And I started a new job yesterday. My summer off went super quick.

Here's the inbuilt shelving. Would be my preference to only have Aesop products but my family would disagree.

The cabinet is massive - managed to get all first aid and skincare items in my side...

View from the bathroom looking towards the hallway (lampshade is from B&Q - amazingly). The white box on the wall controls the underfloor heating.

Wall hung toilet and a Geberit flusher, which is the same style as the ones in my new office. Odd coincidence.

Slate non-slip flooring is from Topps Tiles.

Heated towel rail was from JT Spas - who delivered quickly and had excellent customer service (before and after).

Massive cabinet and lights were from Ikea... was the double wall hung sink unit.

These photos were taken early evening - the light during the day is intense! Really happy with how it turned out. Kind of like a retro Case Study house.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Bathroom is almost finished

This is the view from the hallway looking into the bathroom. The sliding door is necessary in the space or it would be wacking into the double sink.

We ordered a shower door from a retailer on eBay but it took 5 weeks to get the bathroom ready to install it. When the builders opened the package they found that the shower door was smashed as were the brackets. The retailer wouldn't refund or replace as 30 days had passed since we ordered it. We found a better shower door subsequently and combined they were both cheaper than one from a reputable retailer so all's well that ends well.

The gunmetal grey tiles look on the brown side in these photos.

The giant wall panel to flush the loo allows access to the hidden cistern. I never knew that's what they were for!

The enormous towel rail accommodates all our towels and will keep the room toasty in winter - well, that and the underfloor heating (thank you Breaking Bad...)

The mirror is actually a huge cabinet which is sunk flush into the wall. The best bit is that the inside of the doors are mirrored so you can see the side of your head when it's open.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

On the home straight

My builders are amazing: one stayed behind to sort stuff out and other drove all the way to Ikea and handed over an extensive four page shopping list. All our wardrobes and internal gubbins, kids mattresses and some bathroom lighting came to £1,551. The builder loaded up his van and drove back to us, and as he lit his cigarette he remembered he'd left various items on a trolley somewhere. He put out the cigarette and drove back - at least a 90 minute round trip - and thankfully the trolley was where he'd left it.

The wardrobes began to take shape and as the frames were nearing completion, the builder realised that the doors were missing. As well as some of the internal racks that were on the shopping list. It turns out a third of the pile of flatpack boxes had been left behind at Ikea...

So for the 3rd time in 24 hours, he went back to Ikea and again, thankfully the items were still there. (NB we are missing one shelf and 6-8 of the little things that hold the shelves in place but in the scheme of things this is both expected, and accepted).

So - 8 weeks after starting we finally got to sleep in our bed for the first time. The bedroom has no blinds or lighting, and we've swapped places so that Rob can be nearest the window. Despite this, after two months of sleeping on a sofa (with occasional respite by being away), I slept like a baby on our extremely comfortable bed.

The kids are sleeping in a double bed in our spare room, so they're not being too hard done by. This is their bedroom, which is full of parts for their wardrobe...

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Carpet is in!

I've just enjoyed a week in Croatia with some lovely friends and it felt delightful sleeping on a proper (single) bed, after many weeks of kipping on the sofa. I got back to find the bathroom was 75% finished, the walls painted in eye-hurtingly bright white and the skirting board had been mostly laid. Today the carpet got installed in around two hours.

It's the same carpet we have on the stairs - New Zealand wool with a rib, and cost an eye watering £2K including underlay. The skirting board is a rebellion against the generic white standard issue most houses sport. Ours is made from layers of ply and can be stained any colour.

The photo above is looking where the wardrobe will go, and shows the loft access ladder slightly ajar, which probably means the spring is not strong enough to hold it shut.

This is the view from the master bedroom showing the sliding door in place, and the nasty faux Victorian era banister boxed in (yippee!).