Decoratin’ blues

I’m wilfully abusing this blog to ramble on about our building work. Those with no interest, look away now.  (EDIT: now that I’ve finished raving, I suggest everybody look away now, interested or not).

I’m off work today, amid conversion chaos, and not really feeling the love. (I know, #FWP.) We seem to have reached the stage where every single detail costs extra. And every time I choose something our builder pulls a face.  (I think I keep wanting inconvenient things that his ‘preferred suppliers’ don’t have.)

Also I have decor angst. Half the time I have no idea what I want (e.g. bathroom mirror… no clue) and the rest of the time I feel like my taste is entirely out of step with the rest of the world. I spent so long in Homebase at the weekend trying to find paint colours that matched the colours in my head. We came home with about 15 tester pots and I spent Sunday painting multiple coats of them all onto various walls and sheets of lining paper.

After staring at 9 rectangles all along the hallway, G and I dithered for a bit and then said… “er, shall we just get them to paint it white?

But we did at least choose several shades of blue for the living room and loft stairway. A dark and imposing slate on the fireplace wall and a chalkier mid-blue elsewhere.  I know, how very 2014! I took phone pics but the photos don’t really look anything like the colours.

The one on the right..

The one on the left….

Both colours are darker than we have now and potentially depressing but the room has great light and can handle it.

We’ve chosen a lighter hue from the same colour family for the loft stairway.  You will have to take my word for it that this is a diff colour from the one above. My pics are lying.  (NB: imagine the stairs & banisters painted white + mystery stair runner)

I showed the builder our colour pots and he grimaced. Apparently he usually gets paint made by his ‘preferred supplier’. Of course he does. And they can’t colour-match certain brands of paint. Of course they can’t. He was also a bit disparaging about my choice of a chalky matt paint finish for the kids’ bedroom stairway. His supplier makes tough, washable acrylic paints. Am I mad?? Probably, yes.

I sort of agree with him. There will be grubbiness and handprints. It’s just that my vision for the loft stairway involves a wall of framed children’s illustrations going all the way up the stairs. And this would look so nice on a chalky matt background.  I’m a bit dithery now as to whether to stick to my guns or to ask his supplier to try and match the colour as best they can.

As for carpets – groan. We can’t seem to find a stair runner that isn’t a bit meh or wildly over budget. I think our builder is utterly bemused. (Why on earth doesn’t she just go to my mate’s carpet shop as instructed and get a fitted beige stair carpet?)

Why don’t I? Well, for starters, the bugger was closed on Saturday when we made the trek to Kingston. And, secondly, I make these problems for myself by being in the 0.1% of people who like pattern. I made a pinterest board of some runners that are in the right sort of region, but nothing is entirely hitting the spot. The patterns that I like best all seem to be sisal, but I’d rather the kids had have carpet underfoot when going up and down to bed in bare feet. (Unfortunately G’s reaction to the cost of the rather dashing cerise Laura Ashley one was to splutter at me.)

Given the state of our budget, we’re probably just going to settle and choose something from our builder’s mate’s carpet shop that is tolerable, affordable and inoffensive to future buyers. I imagine we’ll end up with stripes. (The official alternative to beige.)

For the time being we’re going to have to shelve the idea of doing anything major to the kitchen and bathroom. Hence we’re trying to work out what we can do on the cheap to make the best of what we already have. This conversation never reaches a conclusion…

The loft room itself is currently a bright, white box and rather lovely (if you ignore the building paraphernalia).

White is such a splendid colour in a minimalist room.

Ha! Minimalist!

Well, we can dream. Obviously the future reality is a squalid pit of toys, clothes, unmade beds and spilled orange juice. I’ve only just noticed that the ceiling curves downwards and joins some of the wall with no discernible line at which you could change colour. So at least some of it is going to have to stay white.

God, what a fruitless ramble this is.

The boybot is a sluggard today and doesn’t want to go out, hence we’ve been lurking at home and hiding from builders but I really ought to tear him away from Pokemon on Netflix and take him out somewhere…

Or at least get off WordPress and look at bathroom mirrors and try to find an ultra-thin shower head that won’t cause a brain injury to G every time he steps unto the cubicle. (Low ceilings = bad news for the vertically unchallenged).

And… oh for the love of god. I suppose I’d better brace myself and read the new message from the downstairs neighbours that has just pinged up. Woe is me.

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Workin’ 9 to 5

Sometimes writing a rambling blog that you only ever expect your nearest & dearest to read can have unexpected side effects.

E.g. about twice a year James receives an email offering him the chance to review garden toys and games. I don’t mind these. The emails are polite and unspammy and, if we had a bigger garden, we might say yes. It certainly beats the ones I get, offering me the chance to review female incontinence products.

But the majority of parenting spam tends to come via Twitter, which I hardly bother with these days. But once in a while something catches my eye. For example – somebody twote this link at me today and I was bemused enough to click on it:

This appears to be a service targeted at Very Busy Parents. (I can tell because all of the parents in the pictures are wearing suits and smiling at iPads.) The idea seems to be that Very Busy Parents pay a fee and receive in return a detailed, personalised schedule of after-school activities, devised and written for their kids.

Not the activities themselves, just the schedule.



Here’s the source of my bemusement. If you’re too busy to even think about activities for your kids, how on earth are you going to find the time to take them to all of it? The pictures on the website suggest that you will receive a fiendishly-compiled self-improvement schedule for each child, involving swimming, ballet, gymnastics and music classes. But who is taking them to all of this stuff at 3 in the afternoon? Who’s picking them up and feeding them in between? When are you going to squeeze in 30-hours of Pokemon Go and Dinosaur Train and nagging for a Kinder Egg?

It reminds me of those services that I keep getting street-mugged about, where they want to deliver a recipe + exact ingredients each day for my weekday evening meal. Presumably this is aimed at people who are far too busy to think about what they would like for dinner… yet blessed with the time and inclination to cook it from scratch every evening. And heaven forbid they should fail to fancy whatever happens to be on the standard menu each day.

I know. I am just being bloody minded. And wilfully missing the point. (They’ve probably all got nannies.) But I am a bad blogger, so I’m going to sit here and heckle without bothering to sign up and find out more. Sorry.

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Here comes the sun

I ought to be writing about the kids and our lovely visit to Grandma’s but I have much rambling to do first, on the topic of loftiness.

Most importantly – Oh joyous day! The scaffolding is supposedly coming down today and tomorrow. It’s taking its time but we’ll soon have daylight for the first time in many weeks. Our festering pit of domestic squalor will be an illuminated festering pit!

After that we’ve still got another couple of weeks of man-tramping around the flat before things will start to look reasonable. Right now the place is an utter tip and our living space is full of the aftermath of plastering and demolishing. (+ toys, obv.)  The baby has become a sort of mobile duster. We can either let her loose and watch her feet turn steadily black or shunt her from one captive state to another without letting her touch the floors or walls. I have no idea how we’re going to keep her from touching the slow-drying paint when the banisters and door frames get done.

The kitchen is looking especially squalid this week as we’ve had the chimney breast knocked out and our big cupboard demolished.


For most people this would be an unenthralling piece of home improvement but for the spatially challenged it’s a cause of much excitement!

“Ooh! The space! The space!”
“Just look at it! Is that 9 extra inches?”

Our cramped little corridor into the kitchen suddenly feels palatial, albeit with chunks of floor missing and pipes sticking out of the wall. We still haven’t worked out what on earth to do about that end of the flat. Every time we look at it we start wanting more walls demolished. For now every single surface is covered with the evicted contents of the old cupboard and we have nowhere to put it all.

Meanwhile this is how the loft room is looking…

I swear it gets smaller with every coat of paint. I’m starting to feel like a giant up there.  (NB: I am not a giant). 

This morning one of the builders asked what colour to paint the room and I had absolutely no idea. (He going to paint it white, of course). I’ve somehow failed to think about things. It crept up on me while I was busy nursing whimsical notions, such as whether to paint the kids’ bedhead wall to look like the night sky, with gold stars and a tree silhouette and maybe a couple of nocturnal animals… and fairy lights. I doubt that’s in the builders’ repertoire.

Almost every room in the flat has been affected by new walls, plumbing or pipe removals. We’re going to have to re-paint our living room, hallway and kitchen. And probably bathroom too, come to think of it. And we’ve got to hurry up and choose a carpet for the loft stairs. And find a magical way to stop the hallway from resembling the Black Hole of Calcutta once the doors get hung.  


So far the only thing I’ve managed to form a concrete opinion on is door knobs. But it’s a start.

If only I could be more like our downstairs neighbours. They have many opinions. And they’re not at all afraid to share them. They make Ivana Trump look low maintenance. (Apparently our building work gave them all colds). But, then, if we will insist on fracking in their back garden and dumping nuclear waste in their kitchen sink…

Now that the scaffolding is coming down, we might have to find some new ways to annoy them. I’m thinking of forming a family tap-dancing troupe, Von-Trapp style. What say ye?

As for the kidbots, they had such a lovely visit with Grandma last week. The weather was amazing and we might as well have been in France. Matilda had her first chance to wear her swimsuit and run about on the beach. And it was so nice to get together with family and see the kids all playing together. And just to sit in that glorious, dreamy garden. G and I even went to the theatre for the first time in forever. (The Ladykillers – was v. good)

Obligatory Devon pics…

The boybot remains obsessed with all things nature (and Pokemon) and has collected loads of feathers lately, including parakeet, eagle owl, seagull, and a fantastic spotty woodpecker’s one, courtesy of Granny. He spent this morning busily sticking them all in his nature explorer’s scrapbook. Bless. He’s also been fervently ticking things off in a little wildlife ‘I Spy’ book that he got from his big Sis.

Tilly-Tantrum seems happy enough to be back at nursery, though her Toddler PMT is not improved by the recent flurry of teething. Some days all it takes is the word “no” to trigger a full-body rage spasm in which she arches her back and thwacks her head on the floor. And the other day she objected so fiercely to having her nappy changed that she punched the floor and spent the next 2 mins clutching her sore hand and staring at me accusingly. The silly girlbot needs to learn some more words so that she can replace her tantrums with negotiation.

But mostly she’s a cheerful little thing …and so deadly cute, singing away to herself with her little hair sprouts and chubsticks. You’d forgive anything. She spent a lot of time at Grandma’s running around with a notepad and pen, looking as if she had busy things to do.

The rest of the school hols are looking like a melting pot of cobbled together childcare, shared between G, me and Fit for Sport. We’re hoping to visit Whipsnade before school re-starts and we’re also going to be joining some friends on a last little mini-break. A couple of nights in a self-catering place in the middle of nowhere. All we’ll need is a spot of serial killing and we could become the plot of Sightseers 2 – hooray!

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What you get for asking

I’ve been trying to teach the Microbe tube etiquette all week as he’s been accompanying me to a sports camp at work.  This basically equates to four things:

1. Don’t hog a seat that you don’t need
2. Don’t touch anything or anyone with feet or lollipops
3. Exercise volume control or, better still, be silent.
4. For the love of god, stop moving about

Alas, my training proved all in vain this morning when, at bleary commuter o’clock, he helpfully announced to the entire District Line carriage “It’s my Mummy’s birthday today!

I visibly shrank into my seat as every head swivelled my way. (Thankfully, we live in England, which meant that nobody broke into song. Lots of people simply gave me benevolent smiles and sympathetic glances before eye-swivelling back to their iPhones and newspapers).

All was well until a moment later, when a lovely Italian lady got on with her two teenage kids and sat next to the boy and began a conversation about what he was drawing (FYI – it was a half-elephant half-shrew creature that he labelled “elephant shroo”).

Then she asked him whether he knew any words in Italian…

Alas, I alone knew what was coming next. He promptly broke into song, at top volume, and disturbed the entire carriage once again with a ditty:

Mi scappa la pi pi
Mi scappa la pi pi
Mi scappa la pi pi, Papa!

He sings this song EVERY time he needs the loo and it translates roughly as “I’m bursting for a wee, daddy!” Should you wish to sing along, you can get the tune here. I think it’s quite well known in Italy.

The woman and her kids burst out laughing (the teenagers and another man opposite were almost crying) and asked how the hell he even knew that song. God bless Youtube, eh!

Well that’s all I’ve got time for right now because I have to get back to work. Arrivederci and all that.


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It’s a jolly ‘oliday

Jimmy and I haven’t actually jumped inside a chalk pavement picture this week but we have had rather a twee and delightful week together. All hail the start of the school hols.

I’m off work with him until the end of this week and, so far, I’ve made him walk for miles and miles on nature walks and taken him on a boat ride and on days out to look at birds and climb trees and collect nature trophies for his scrap book.

We’re having to get out of the house as often as possible because of building work and I thank god for the weather and for this blessed corner of London. I really love it here in the summer. You can leave your house and walk a mile in pretty much any direction and find yourself lost in greenery. Yesterday we skipped through a woodland so full of picture-book loveliness, I half expected to turn around and see a train of animated fauns and bunnies and little blue birds following us around.

It’s all been very deliberate on my part. The boy is an angel when we stick to simple pleasures – he’s never happier than when hunting for leaves and seeds and minibeasts and he doesn’t even notice that he’s walked for miles.

I bought him a nature explorer’s scrapbook, for storing his finds and yesterday he stuck in his first item – a magpie feather given to him by one of my friends.

It all makes a pleasing antidote to the endless run of children’s parties that we had last term. I swear every single weekend involved lugging the kids to two or more of the heinous sugar-fuelled events. The more they go to, the more gremlin-like they become. Tomorrow I think I’ll take him to Kew Gardens for more antidote, even if it rains. It’s all been to good avail so far, though a bit knackering.  (I’ve got one of his school friends coming for the entire day on Friday. Wish me luck).

Next week I’m lugging him to work with me for four days to a summer camp at our campus sports centre. Apparently they do sports and swimming and crafts and some fun sciencey stuff. I hope he enjoys it.  (The rush hour commute will be an eye opener for him!)

Hubble’s still at nursery during the weekdays but she’s had her share of being  paraded about in the sunshine, too. We took them to various parks last weekend and it’s so much more fun for her now that she can be let out of the pushchair to run around.

She is a funny little thing. She seems to come with two settings – delight and rage.  Many things make her laugh with glee…  and the rest appear to give her RAGE. She can switch from one to the other in under a second. You might be changing her nappy (one of her top-ten RAGE-inducing activities) and suddenly, if you pull the right silly face, the enraged “Aaagrrrrrggggghhh!” turns into a delighted “Ehhhhhhh!” mid-cry. Manic child.

She’s most definitely not a ‘talkie’.  At least, not compared with her brother. As G puts it, her mouth is a one-way system designed purely for eating. I can sometimes tease words out of her (especially when she’s in the bath and receptive to distraction) but mostly she limits herself to her three favourite words: “Yeah”, “No” and “Ta”.  (Yes, I’m afraid I have the world’s most uncouth baby).

Best of all (for Game of Thrones fans) we’ve discovered that she turns into a dead ringer for Brienne of Tarth every time she has a bath. This pic is probably not the best comparison, but you get the idea…


In lofty news, the room upstairs is starting to look like a room, in that it has the plasterboard up and base boards down. It still needs loads doing (e.g. flooring, plastering, electrics, plumbing, bathroom, etc) and I suspect we may be behind schedule but I assume they know what they’re doing.

G and I have been sulking about our shrunken living room ever since the fire regs man confirmed that he wouldn’t sign off the building without additional walls going up, no matter if we fitted a sprinkler system. So we’re stuck with them unless we want to pay more money to have them taken down again afterwards.


After our initial sulk, we’re coming  round to the idea of putting up with them. We’re going to get a glass-panelled door fitted, to let light into the hallway, and we’ll see what we can do with decor and room rearrangement to make the whole thing more pleasing on the eye. (What we’d really like to do is make our bathroom smaller and our kitchen bigger – and then move the dining table into the kitchen – that would make everything ok again.)

As for the kids’ room – I’ve not had any new thoughts about it but I’m beginning to wonder whether the Microbe needs a specimen cabinet. God knows where we’d put one but he brings home Hubble-hazard artefacts at a rate that we can barely keep up with with. Only the flat things can go into his scrapbook, so he could do with something that has a lock and lots of little drawers for storing shells and stones and conkers and dead bugs and random things that fall off trees.

I saw one on eBay that used to belong to the Natural History Museum. I think the boy might actually explode, Scanners style, if we were to buy that. (Luckily it’s unlikely to happen as the starting bid was £1,700).

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There was a little girl

Hubble and I seem to be locked in a prolonged battle of wills these days. Dear god, this girl is a wilful, raging little beast. Is this a girl thing?  I’m sure the Microbe was ever more docile and easy to reason with.

IMG_7247Just look at it…

Purest sugar and spice.

Until we raise the topic of hair clips. And getting dressed. And staying dressed. And keeping shoes or socks on. And having one’s nappy changed.

These things unleash baby outrage on a scale of “I HATE YOU ALL!” + door-slam for good measure.

Being made to get dressed is a form of advanced torture that must be struggled through from beginning to end – and preferably SCREAMED through, too.

And heaven forbid anyone should want to wipe away the twin rivers of snot from that little face.  Apparently this is an indignity beyond torture and the correct reaction is RAGE!

FullSizeRenderAnd as for hair clips (sigh).  If I don’t clip up her fringe, she looks like Dougal and can’t see a thing.  If I do clip up her fringe, she looks totally adorable…. for ohh, maybe 20 mins, if we’re lucky.  This is usually how long it takes for nobody to be looking, at which point she tugs them out and hurls them into the St Margarets abyss, never to be seen again.  Along with whatever is on her feet.

We lose approximately two of these bows per day and I’m afraid I’ve started bulk-buying them in bargain basement packs of 30, made by children in Chinese sweat shops.

Bobbles fare no better and alice bands don’t even make it out of the house . Tsk!

Moving on…

In lofty news, my new hobby is staring at the internet in a state of mild panic, trying to buy things for fast delivery because the plumber suddenly needs a valve or a shower tray. I’m never sure if I’ve bought the right bits because, frankly, I know NOTHING about valves and waste pipes and diverter switches.

I wonder how people choose between a thousand different nigh-identical shower enclosures?  I can’t even work out why one of them is £178 and the one next to it is £599… and yet the spec, pics and descriptions appear 100% identical.

Suffice to say I know not what I order…  I’m ending up choosing stuff purely because it happens to be in stock and crossing my fingers that it all fits. We now have about 35 separate deliveries coming while I’m at work and I bet the builders won’t hear the door knocks. I’ve had to make a spreadsheet of what’s coming when. And none of my order numbers appear to exist in the online delivery tracking system.

Excuse me while I breathe into a paper bag…


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Wouldn’t it be loverly?

Hubblepot has most definitely levelled up from baby to toddler and walks all the time now. According to James “she walks like a megatherium on its hind legs“. (I shall leave that to your imagination.)

She’s certainly more of a walky than a talky. I spotted an old blog post from when the boy was her age and he had a much wider vocabulary – albeit made up entirely of words related to farm animals.

Hubble mostly restricts herself to singing along with “Row, row, row your boat” and shouting “NO!” 8,000 times a day. Her other new favourite is “ta” which has been drilled into her recently by nursery. Apparently this means both  “please” and “thank you” and everything in between.

I don’t approve.

Why bother to teach baby versions of words that you’ll only have to train them out of later? Why not just skip straight to “please” and “thank you” in the first place? It’s not exactly “antidisestablishmentarianism“, is it?


And don’t get me started on their accents. The girl is already bellowing “No” in a way that sounds like “Now“. And, after three years of nursery, it’s a task of Sisyphus teaching the boybot that the letter ‘l’ at the end of a word is not pronounced as a ‘w’ – and “girl” does not rhyme with “bell“. Thank god they talk properly at school. I’m hoping it’ll knock it out of him before he starts saying things like “who’s the daddy?

In lofty news, the staircase is up! It appears to be floating in mid air and hasn’t got any banisters yet, but the builder assures me it will defy gravity and stay up.  Meanwhile the cats have discovered that they can get into the 8″ hollow space between the loft floor and the ceiling below. I bet the builders love that.


Last night I sat at the top of the new stairs and looked down over the living room and it was really cool! If only it could stay like this.

Alas, the next step involves putting up walls and doors where we don’t want them, in order to pass building fire regs. It’s SO frustrating and will make everything smaller and darker. I think we might be approaching the ludicrous position of paying to have it all put up and then paying to have it all taken down again after it’s been signed off. (There’s nothing quite like throwing every last penny you own into a fiery pit marked ‘box-ticking’.)


(Yes, I know. FWP).

Anyhow – the shell of the room upstairs is taking shape.  This is what the dormer wall looked like last week when it was first being erected…


Now it’s got proper walls and half of it has been fenced off to become the tiny ensuite bathroom. (You can see through it to next door’s loft conversion which is happening at the same time.)


Three veluxes have also gone in today, one over the stairway and two in the bedroom. It’s going to be very light up there.

I’m starting to ponder things  like decor and whimsy. We’ve got to hurry up and choose a floor and furniture for the ensuite. And we have to work out how to lay out the room, given its size constraints and sloping bits.

Assuming the kids go up there, a bunk bed is looking unlikely, height-wise. So we’ll probably put their beds side by side, with a bedside table in between. (Hubble in a cot to start with).

Their bedheads could possibly go up against this V-shaped wall…


In which case I found some gorgeous wallpaper that might look fab over their beds…

But the scale of the trees turns out to be a bit disappointing when you see it in room mock-up mode so I’d probably end up doing something with paint instead.

Another option is to put their bedheads against the eaves wall, one under each velux.  Having had a quick nose up there tonight, I think this is probably the more viable option.


In this case I have rather a dreamy vision of turning the v-shaped wall into a wall of books, from floor to ceiling – maybe even with a small ladder to make the highest shelves accessible to microbes.

My main worry is getting enough storage up there for their clothes and toys. Space is scant but if we don’t sort out storage their room is going to be a festering pit of foulness from the first 24 hours. We’re already resigned to the fact that James’s current bedroom will have to be re-purposed as a storage room for guitars, sewing machines, keyboards, a metric ton of craft stuff and whatever else is lucky enough to survive the second cull from the storage unit.

Hmm…  I suppose that’s enough about the loft.

In bookish news, I’ve finally given in to temptation and started reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to the boybot. I’ve been trying to rein myself in a bit with books and not get carried away reading him stuff that he’s not emotionally ready to appreciate or understand.  This leaves me with a constant dread that someone might show him the Harry Potter films before he’s reached the ideal age to appreciate the books. I feel like he needs a DNR-style tattoo on his wrist that says “DO NOT SHOW HARRY POTTER FILMS TO THIS MUGGLE”  I wonder if I could get it stamped by the Ministry of Magic.

The lady who runs our gorgeous local children’s bookshop was quite disparaging about parents who read the entire Harry Potter series to their 6 year olds – she also advised waiting a couple of years for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But then one of my mum friends told me that her 5 year old son absolutely loved it and I couldn’t resist. We retreated to his bedroom for an hour on Tuesday amid the worst of the building disruption and I read about a third of the book aloud to him – and he was thoroughly enraptured.

I also read him a Michael Morpurgo last week that was way too old for him. It’s called The Butterfly Lion and had the allure of being about animals and partially set in Africa. The boy enjoyed it but he also found a bit sad – also I had to skip over a few pages of war stuff that would have been way over his head.  (I get the impression ‘war stuff‘ and ‘a bit sad‘ might be Morpurgo’s calling cards so I will avoid foisting any more of those on him for a few years.)

Poor Hubble has been a bit neglected in the book department, but I think she’s just getting to the age of being interested in such things, so I shall make an effort to do better. I must read her more rhymes, I am sure she will be able to memorise them.

Well that’s it for now…


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