Thursday, 31 January 2013

We Got Our Money Back

If you have checked out this blog during the past few months you will be familiar with the problems that we encountered with our garden studio.

When we moved, we downsized quite significantly and there was going to be nowhere in the new house that we could use as an office. As I was planning to rewrite and eventually self publish my first novel I needed somewhere peaceful to get cracking and, as the garden was fairly big, we decided to look for a garden studio. We went to the Ideal Home Show in London and, after researching half a dozen or more stands we made a decision.

When it went up in September we were very happy with it.

It looked very good. But when it started to leak a few weeks later our architect checked out the roof.

We were shocked at his findings - this was an expensive purchase - it hardly looked it. 

To cut a long story short and avoid repeating what I've already said on the blog, the manufacturers removed the studio and promised a replacement before Christmas.

Here's the garden today. No sign of the replacement. We've been asking for our money back for several weeks and I'm delighted to say that the money has now cleared our account. It's been a huge setback - no chance of finishing my book (do I hear sighs of relief?) but we've appointed another company today and they are hopeful of getting the replacement office built quickly. I hope they do so that we can start to enjoy it and the garden in early spring. 

With the garden churned up like this I might give it a once over with the metal detector at the weekend.

Meanwhile Tony the landscaper has made good progress with the base for the decking and he finished with the digger and took it away today.

A beautiful house warming bouquet of flowers arrived from friends at the weekend and they look good for another week. Thank you Mark and Nita.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Still Living On A Building SIte

Although we've been living in the house for five days now and it's starting to look more like home, the work on the garden still makes it feel as if we are living on a building site.

Landscape gardener Tony is making good progress but all sorts of building materials keep arriving and he erected a mini marquee in the garden today to ensure that all his fresh concrete and block work stays dry. I noticed that one of the delivery drivers managed to churn up a big piece of grass alongside the pavement outside a neighbour's house - that's going to make us popular!  Tony has promised to put it right - sooner rather than later I hope.

I always feel that a house becomes a home when you start putting pictures up and we hung about eight paintings at the weekend and took three more to the picture framers here in Framlingham as the old frames weren't right for the new house. That leaves about twenty others for which we have nowhere to hang and we are, sadly, going to have to sell - one of the few negatives to downsizing.

It hasn't all been hard work since moving in. We managed a trip to see Les Miserables at the IMAX screen at Cineworld in Ipswich on Sunday. It's a fabulous spectacle (especially in IMAX). Although it isn't really our sort of movie, you have to admire the incredible cinematography. The singing is so so but Ann Hathaway is excellent and the young Daniel Huttlestone as child revolutionary Gavroche is outstanding and surely one to watch out for in future. Sacha Baron Cohen adds some light relief as the Faginesque landlord and I would certainly recommend a visit. We weren't familiar with the story and were surprised that the young revolutionary Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, ended up living a life of luxury while all his mates got shot.

And yesterday we managed to get to Norwich to the Apple store after my MacBook Pro packed in. It wasn't a straightforward repair so we bought a replacement as it's over five years old and now I've got to try and transfer all the backed up files onto the new machine. Unfortunately, before I do that, I need to get into a box in the garage to find some old disks.

The words needle and haystack spring to mind.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

In Praise Of Local Suffolk Tradesmen

Now that our project is almost over (bar the garden and the office) , it's time to reflect on the past six months and thank those who have made a big contribution. Organising a building project like this from a distance of over five hundred miles left us extremely vulnerable to poor workmanship as it was always going to be a few weeks before we saw the results of each step by which time the work was done. 

I'd like to start with decorator Gerald Clements. Gerald and his colleagues worked on the house on and off for almost two months. They decorated every room and every room has been beautifully decorated. Gerald paid great attention to detail; surface were always carefuul masked or otherwise protected before starting any room, at the end of every day things were tidied away, wet paint signs were always in place to warn the other tradespeople in the building and, when Marion and I asked for finickety little changes or retouches, they were carried out immediately without as much as a raised eyebrow. We were so pleased with Gerald's workmanship and his excellent wallpaper hanging that we have asked him to paint the exterior of the property as soon as the weather is suitable. I'm sure that he will never be short of work but if you are in the area and need a top quality painter and decorator this is a link to his website.

We wanted the house to be fully rewired and, in addition, set up with phone sockets and broadband network in most rooms. We used Trevor from M J Spink Ltd (pictured here with his dad Michael who also worked on the wiring). Trevor is another tradesman who pays meticulous attention to what he is doing. He sheeted up wherever he was working and didn't leave a trace of dust. The fact that there are twenty six LED spotlights in the kitchen/diner alone will give you an idea of the size of the job.

This was how the cupboard under the stairs looked when all the wiring was taken through to it.

And here's how it looks now after Trevor and Michael had finished (that loose telephone box cover is awaiting a part that's on order). I think you'll agree that's some mighty fine work. We're extremely pleased with all the electrical work and would be delighted to recommend MJ Spink Ltd of Saxstead Road - tel 01728723163

Another excellent tradesman was Dale from PE Gray Plumbing and Heating. Dale was camera shy but he and his father Paul completely refitted the plumbing and central heating system including new radiators, new boiler, Megaflow hot water system two new bathrooms and a WC. The work was carried out to a very high standard and, again, we are happy to recommend PE Gray Plumbing & Heating - tel 01728 602566

Last but by no means least there's Roger Mayhew of R P Mayhew Ltd (above right with architect Keith Frost of whom more in a future blog). Roger was the overall contractor repsonsible for the entire project and it is him that we must thank for employing all the people I have just written about. It was Roger who completed all the joinery and building work and it was he who had to employ labourers, plasterers wood burning stove fitters and just about anyone else who worked on the house. We put the work out to tender and all three tenders came very close in terms of price but, as soon as we met Roger, we were instantly impressed with his knowledge. He took us to visit a job that he was working on and the client couldn't speak highly enough of him which was no surprise as the work was extremely impressive. And that's how our project has turned out. Roger has shown amazing patience in dealing with a couple of fussy clients who have had to communicate by email (not his favourite) and has never failed to do what we have asked immediately and to a very high standard. He's always been bright, cheerful and immaculate both in himself and in his workmanship. If you are looking for a builder or a first class carpenter in this area you need look no further. Roger can be contacted on 01728 724529 .

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Settling In

I am sorry that the photos on today's blog are on the small side but my trusty MacBook Pro packed up today and I'm having to blog using Marion's iPad and haven't quite got the hang of it yet. The Mac is booked in to the Apple store in Norwich on Monday and I hope it's not going to be away for too long. - since writing that I think I may have resolved the problem with the iPad but sadly not with the Mac

 This was the view from the dressing room as we woke up after our first night in the house. It's a beautiful location and you really couldn't wake up to a nicer outlook.

We had to be up early as Orwells were sending their team to finish off the kitchen. By 10 we had Jason, Wayne, Marina and Dot from Orwells, Jemima the designer, and two men from Iconic Homes on site plus another Orwells man in a van clearing up. To say that the house was pretty packed would be an understatement. Orwells pulled out all the stops and worked flat out to get things finished. They helped us to unpack our kitchen boxes while we had to go for doctors' appointments at our new surgery.

Here's how things looked when we got back. What a transformation! We saw the floor for the first time. My Mac failure means that I don't have photos of the hard working Orwells team. When the splashback is fitted and everything is completely finished I plan to devote an entire blog to Orwells. I can't recommend them enough.

Not content with simply providing us with a quite magnificent  kitchen, as they left, they presented us with this lovely hamper of local produce . We can't wait to sample it.

We spent the rest of the day cleaning, emptying boxes and setting up the broadband.

I mentioned Iconic homes earlier. Brooke (above) fitted a burglar alarm system while his colleague  Ian did the final connections to the surround sound system. The speakers look great and were chosen to be as unobtrusive as possible. 

With this being our last home (unless we end up in some sort of institution one day), we've pushed the boat out on technology and all the rooms are hard wired for broadband. So it was wonderful to have our daughter Sarah and Grandaughter Rose pop in  to see us via Skype.

The picture was extremely clear and now I've managed to work out how to upoad via the iPad you ca see just how clear.

Son Paul also popped up on Skype but by then the Mac had packed in and I haven't got the photo. Today we're settling in to Framlingham and hopefully having a very lazy day. I think we've earned it.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

We Finally Did It

After 195 days or six and a half months homeless, we finally moved in today and as I write, surrounded by unopened boxes, I am really looking forward to sleeping in our own bed again. The kitchen is not quite finished (the ovens and hob are being connected tomorrow) but we've got all the other essentials - hot water, fridge, toilets, heating and lights and, as we've got some men coming to fit a new surround sound system and burglar alarm at eight o'clock in the morning we felt it was easier to sleep here than at the cottage. I'm not convinced of the need for a burglar alarm here but the difference in the insurance premium was quite substantial.

Our only problem today was the lack of a vacuum cleaner which somehow got lost in storage. The removal people offered to pay for a like for like replacement at the best internet rate but as I'm trying to support local shops I bought it at the well stocked local electrical suppliers John Bradlaugh. Okay I paid £60 more than the lowest internet price but it's a price worth paying for immediate delivery and knowledgeable advice.

With no cooking facilities I stocked up with some delicious bits and pieces from the excellent little deli Leo's in the town and we  had a picnic in the lounge washed down with a well earned bottle of wine. We've managed to put our feet up and watch TV tonight - back to the world of normality. Tomorrow is going to be hectic. The kitchen fitters are sending a cleaner to tidy up and another staff member to help unpack the boxes and load the kitchen, the men are coming to fit the speakers and alarm, interior designer Jemima is coming to help with the final curtains and we've both got to go for a check up at the doctors - they do that for all new patients.

Mind you, if we think we've had it bad, we should spare a thought for Tony the landscape gardener. His attempts at maneuvering his digger in a snow filled garden looked pretty scary. Lets hope that he gets some respite from the snow and can get on with the job.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

There Have Been Bad Days - There Have Been Good Days

Since we set out on our epic journey to our new retirement location there have been bad days (plenty) and there have been good days ( a few). Yesterday was most definitely a bad day with the deadline for leaving our rented cottage fast approaching and an ominous silence from the men working on the house when we asked if we'd still be okay to move in on Thursday.

But today wasn't one of those bad days. No, today was a good day, a very good day.

It started with a trip to the local shops for a few provisions and then I went and treated myself to a haircut. I used to go to a barbers in Southport but when I tried a few out in Scotland I wasn't particularly happy with the results and started to go to Marion's regular salon. And I must say that it was a very pleasant experience. So I started here in Framlingham with a visit to Carley Hill hair where I enjoyed the luxury of a shampoo and head rub followed by an excellent hair cut by stylist Emily while enjoying a good espresso and a biscuit - you don't get that at the barbers. I was very pleased with the result. Marion says it looks expensive but it certainly wasn't.

We've been tossing and turning a bit over the last few nights. Not simply because of the deadline but also due to the missing original oil painting I mentioned the other day. It's by Rebecca Lardner an artist that you will either love or hate. We spotted it a few years ago, liked it and bought it for a relatively modest sum but since then she has grown in popularity and her prints alone are selling for hundreds and originals in the low thousands. So we decided to tackle the only place we hadn't looked - the garage. It's packed high with all the office stuff but we somehow managed to tunnel into it and there in the middle of the garage was a box marked "Garden Figure And Painting". When they unloaded the men asked where to put the box marked "Garden Figure" without mentioning "And Painting"

So, at about 12 noon a very relieved me, crawled back out from under the boxes clutching my prize (nice haircut don't you think?)

And here it is back safe and ready to hang. We celebrated by going to The Crown and treating ourselves to a bite to eat.

We were now on a roll which got even better when the office suppliers emailed to agree a refund by Friday and, to put the icing on the cake, Gill from the kitchen suppliers told us that the fitting of the Corian work top would be completed today. Three lads drove up from Essex.

And there it was. Orwells are coming on Thursday to help us unpack the remainder of the boxes and, all being well, we'll be moving in. If only every day could have been like this one.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Saga Continues

Marion asked me to start today by saying how much she enjoyed the Zumba class at St Michael's rooms on Friday evening. She tells me that it's great fun, the instructor Eileen is terrific and it's a really good workout too. 

Has a house move ever dragged on longer than this one? Will we ever actually move into the house?

We got off to a good start on Saturday morning and unwrapped all the paintings that had been packed for us by the removal company - heaven knows where we are going to hang them all (there are more than this). As we stacked them all neatly in the spare bedroom we both noticed that one of our favourites is not there. I contacted Dave at the removal firm and he's confident that it will be here but maybe packed in one of the scores of boxes currently inaccessible in the garage because I haven't got the garden office where those boxes' contents were intended for. I've got to try and somehow root through them all sometime this week (as if we haven't got enough to do). What's more, the vacuum cleaner hasn't turned up yet either (could well be the same for that says Dave). Oh office studio suppliers (who shall remain nameless as we are still trying to get our money back) if only you knew the hassle you have caused.

I said last week that we had pledged to shop locally for anything that we could and we stuck to that pledge on Saturday when we used almost all of the town's food shops, including the market and several non-food shops to boot. After doing the shopping we headed back to the house to meet the Sky engineers who fitted the dish and connected up the system. Our excellent electrician (of whom more in my next blog) completed all the electrics that he was able to finish off pending the kitchen being completed and he wired up all the thirteen phone and broadband sockets. Unfortunately the broadband started to drop out and I ended up on the phone to Amit at BT for an eternity. Amit reckons that the line is okay so it may just be that filters are needed on the Sky sockets. They're now on order so we'll find out if Amit was right very soon.

On Saturday night we treated ourselves to a very good meal at The Lemon Tree Bistro. We were joined by Dave and Lyn the owners of the cottage we are renting. The food and wine were great and we were served by two charming, friendly and attentive waitresses - we'll certainly go back.

Yesterday we decided to have a day away from working on the house and went to Ipswich to pick up a new phone and a few bathroom accessories from John Lewis (somehow none of our phones survived six months in storage) before heading to Cineworld to see The Impossible. By then it was snowing heavily and we wondered if it was a wise move to use the tickets but being a tight northerner I wasn't going to waste the best part of twenty quid and we watched the film. The Tsunami bits are spectacular and extremely well done but we both found the aftermath tedious and dull and the acting somewhat wooden. Friends have said they sobbed watching it but my only sobbing was on realising that there was still another thirty minutes left. And yes we had made a mistake going into the screening. When we came out it was snowing heavily and the roads from Ipswich to Framlingham were a nightmare and for long sections we were driving at about 15mph. Good job as we slid across to the other side of the road on one hill. Fortunately nothing was coming the other way.

And snow has been pretty much the flavour of the day today. There was no way I was going to get the car out of the cottage's drive this morning. Fortunately we can walk to the house in five minutes.

The wood across the road from the cottage was like Narnia.

This was the view from our back bedroom.

The kitchen fitters couldn't get their vans off the drive so we ended up pushing. The fitters have done a lot today but they still aren't finished and we had no room to get any boxes open so we went and sat by the fire at The Crown and had a sandwich and read the paper before buying some new fire irons from The Fireplace. 

We have to leave the cottage on Thursday. Will we be able to move in? Watch this space.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Settling Into Our New Home Town

We had to get up at six this morning. We'd ordered some things from John Lewis and they gave us a time slot of 7am to 12 noon. That's okay of you're living in the house but we had to walk from the cottage hence the early rising. I said that Next were very good the other day and John Lewis' delivery men were equally helpful and obliging - they phoned at 7 to tell us that they would arrive at 7.30 and they arrived bang on time, unwrapped the items and took away the packaging. We ordered a shelf unit for the kitchen diner, a chair for Marion's dressing table and (most importantly) a new telly for the kitchen. We've missed Sky in the last six months and will be glad when it is all connected up. Their engineer Gary phoned this evening to give us a two hour slot - more good customer service.

All on time, and exactly as ordered 

As we've now got almost another week before we can move into the house we decided to go a bit easier on the unpacking and confined ourselves to just the lounge today. After bit more box emptying, window cleaning and floor polishing we now have the lounge actually looking habitable. Only the pictures and mirror to go in now. 

We called it a day at one o'clock and decided to try and get to know the town a bit better. School was cancelled for some so we watched the kids tobogganing down the frozen slopes of the castle moat on a variety of home made sledges including a dust pan, a few trays and I'm sure I saw a roasting tin.

Marion entered the wintry spirit of things with a few well aimed snowballs.

The churchyard looked fabulous under a few inches of snow.

We want to use the town's facilities. There's no in point relocating to a place and then doing all your shopping at Waitrose or Tesco online and we're very keen to put money into the local economy as we want the town to thrive (that makes us sound like some sort of big investors but you know what I mean). We popped into the Lemon Tree Bistro for a quick bite to eat - very good. I made an appointment for a hair cut, we visited Olivia from William H Brown who sold us the house and then picked up some flowers from the florist, light bulbs from the hardware store and fruit from the green grocer - fantastic figs. There's a Co-Op supermarket and we will use it but we want to use the local, newsagent, chemist, butcher, baker (and everything else) as much as possible and will try to only buy from the supermarket what we can't get elsewhere in the town. A well deserved lie in beckons tomorrow.