Once upon a time in the not so distant past and in a not so faraway kingdom a young, and perhaps a little naïve, couple moved into their first home, a realistic dream home with plenty of space, lots of light and a hefty mortgage. After all, even an ex-council flat is a very charming fairytale castle after spending the first few years of their marriage living in the in-laws’ attic room.
There was no major work that needed doing, the survey was sound, some redecoration would be required because upside-down Chinese characters wallpapers are an acquired taste but nothing too urgent. Space, light, peace. Their own space.
Relatives pressured them into buying the ‘white goods’ before they moved despite the couple being quite ready to ‘rough’ it for a while with a camping stove and cooler box. Also some of the basic furniture that they would need, from a shop of the relatives’ choosing because it was ‘cheaper’. The money was lent.
The previous occupiers had a dinky cooker sitting in the generous space between the units and therefore it was generally assumed that the space would fit a standard 60 cm cooker. Having bought a cooker the space was discovered to be 58.5 cm. Helpful. Updating the kitchen suddenly shot up the priorities. That and the sink leaked. And some Greek key stickers on the over painted tiles and ancient sawn-in-half units.
Someone* offered to help out, the couple said that they could only afford to do some units and decorating at a time. For some reason, nearly all the units were bought at once but no doors. And the cheapest worktop available, an insipid beech. Then work was started to remove the tiling. The entire wall of plaster fell off. The kitchen suddenly became a larger project than was originally anticipated.
Then the boiler died.
Work on the kitchen stopped.
The only hot water was from the electric shower.
A boilerman was recommended. He came, inspected (inspection was also passed on him and he was promptly assessed to be a ‘numpty’) and said that the only thing that might do was to fit a ‘diaphragm’ in the brand new under-sink unit. It was the size of the entire cupboard. Proof of the numptiness. The couple weren’t entirely convinced that a) this would return the boiler to working order or b) this was a sensible use of an entire unit.
It was time for a new boiler.
New boilers don’t come cheap.
Boilerman promised to return and quote. Boilerman never did.
Someone offered to do part of the work and get a mate of theirs to finish off all the gas work and, more importantly, sign off and commission the boiler.
Boiler was fitted and got to the up and running stage. Second boilerman never signed off the certificate. Whereupon he was never heard of again.
Someone who was helping with the kitchen had clearly tired of the project and it was shelved.
All this within the first four months.
Time passed. As it does. Very little progress was made.
The following summer the entire plumbing ground to a halt.
Well, ground to a halt is what happened after the washing machine exploded water across the kitchen, the laminate awash with an inch of grey water.
Have you ever had to empty a litre of water from inside your wok which was safely stored inside a cupboard?
First step, the employment of vicious acid. The kind of acid that ate every rag and old towel in the house. And meant that you had to step gingerly past everything for weeks trying not to spread and burn anything else.
It didn’t work. You weren’t expecting it to, were you?
Urgent plumbing works were clearly required.
The kind of plumbing works which involved completely redoing the bathroom because of the too narrow, clogged up pipes.
The bathroom was started. Someone offered to help. That someone insisted that a shower which run off the hot water system was the best way to go, far more pressure. Well, the husband is a sucker for pressure so the new shower wasn’t electric. The wife remembered the summer before when the boiler had died and how the electric shower had become a lifeline. Ah, but it’s a new boiler now, everyone said.
Tiles were cut, wall surfaces stripped back, the basin ripped out (because let’s face it who fits a giant vanity unit in a tiny bathroom and leaves 10 cm between it and the bathtub, not allowing for the doors to open? the same person who fitted a tiny washroom sink hardly big enough for a pair of hands?). The new shower was fitted. (No bathtub, it wasn’t possible to buy one that fitted). Some tiles were laid.
And that was that.
It got shelved.
The following spring the husband put his foot through the sitting room ceiling and a plasterboard sheet came loose.
That autumn the boiler stopped working. You remember that thing about which shower to fit? Yep, there’s no more hot water.
Someone with the proper qualifications and hopefully some nous told the couple that their electrics were faulty to the point of being lethal. They offered to do a quick rewire and to certify it all at the end, as a favour, just a couple of days’ work.
Cue months of cable laying, quite a few days of one emergency bulb hanging from a wire taped from room to room being the only light (in midwinter), a couple of upside down or rickety light switches, strange quirks to iron out before a general return to average electrics. Then nothing more. It’s not quite finished and it’s definitely not been certified legal yet.
A relative of the someone who had insisted on the non-electric shower got their boilerman friend in to sort out the boiler. Months of agro with the boiler company and eventually a return to hot water. Boilerman points out a whole lot of other problems.
The husband made good his damage to the sitting room ceiling and redecorated the whole room while he was at it. Partly because the entire ceiling had to come down because our boards bear no resemblance to the modern sizing. Sitting room just needs the odd finishing touch.
The ‘cheaper’ cupboards which were actually the same price as those from the ‘fancy’ store that the couple would have preferred had to be replaced because every single shelf was now C-shaped.
The electrical someone fits the thermostat that the (third) boilerman had recommended. He’d offered to some of the other necessary stuff too but that never happened.
Shortly afterwards the boiler stops working again. Yep, no hot water again.
Another boilerman friend (the fourth) is summoned by relatives and decides that it’s because the electrical someone has turned the thermostat down too low. Five months without hot water. He reiterates all the faults. Apparently even a small flat needs more taps to maintain pressure. Especially when the original someone who helped with the kitchen fitted the new tap so badly that the pipe is pinched in half.
A new tap is procured and the plumbing assessed by another someone. It is discovered during this ‘quick’ project that the stopcock doesn’t ‘stop’ completely. A new stopcock needs to be fitted further up the line. The original someone also tied the washing machine waste pipe with string to the wall to hold it up so that also needs completely redoing. There are no ‘quick’ projects, a half-an-hour tap fit becomes an overnight slog.
The someone promises to return to finish off the other items on the boilerman’s list. It hasn’t happened yet.
In the meantime, someone has peeled most of the old, peeling wallpaper off the hallway walls.
Kitchen’s still not finished, bathroom’s still not finished, the hallway is a Black Hole of Despair, the plumbing isn’t finished, the electrics aren’t finished, the sitting room could do with a little bit more finishing.
Oh and at some time, wouldn’t it be great if the bedrooms could be redecorated too?
Four years, my friends. Four years.
And that’s just the DIY, I’ve not mentioned any of the ‘stuff‘ which has been going on in the same time frame.
It’s all been a little bit crazy.
And it’s driven us crazy too.
* Names have been changed to protect the guilty.