Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Home Making part 8 or 9: Meet Lyra

More house stuff. I put off taking down the tatty net curtains from the front window for several months because of being exposed to the street. Problem solved with this window film; you can get all sorts of fun designs these days but this one is faceted and makes rainbows in the front room when the sun shines in:
and looks like this from the outside in the evening:

We had been cat-less for more than a year, putting off adopting until we were settled in the new house. Monkey and I went up to Rochdale RSPCA centre after Julie had seen an elderly one-eyed cat in the adoption centre at Pets at Home. Sadly he was already taken when we visited so we spent an hour or so meeting all the other cats waiting for new homes.
We could have taken any (or all) of them but Monkey fell in love with Lyra:
partly because she is a shoulder cat:
and we got her just in time to help with the curtain making:
The living room is kind of done but not finished or tidied up so I have not posted photos, but we bought this fabric from Abakhan:
and here are the lovely curtains that I made:
And these are the lovely outer space curtains Monkey made for her bedroom:
I spent far too many weeks making a new duvet cover, patchworked with silk remnants and some sari yarn and backed with brushed cotton so it is lovely and cosy:
And then the other day my bedroom door conspired to prevent me going to work and Tish had to barge it open and rescue me. This confirmed a vague plan to replace it with a curtain. I rummaged through the stash and gathered all the remnants of velvet and patched them together, and lined it with some leftover quilting:
I am sure lots of people have a home without a pet, but having one is so friendly. Lyra definitely likes to climb, and look outside, so a nice climbing tree is next on the list.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Saving the world one sheet of paper towel at a time

I read an article recently where someone described how a friend who was a frequent business flyer asked them if it was better to use the hand dryer or a paper towel. I understand that there is not much in it carbon footprint wise, though patting your wet hands on your butt has no carbon footprint at all. The point being that the person was missing the point. If you want to change stuff in your life to reduce your carbon footprint, do the big things first. What do you do when you get down the list of things to do? I still walk round my office every day turning off the hundred or so lights that burn for nobody, despite the fact that I know there are hundreds of Royal Mail offices round the country where nobody is doing this. 
Here are stupid things I do that make no difference at all to the environmental catastrophe but make me feel a little less shit:
reusable kitchen roll, made from chopped up old sheets:
washing up cloths from old swimming towel:
plastic bags washed and reused for my lunch sandwiches:
Some of the left over lino repurposed as a heat mat on the kitchen side:
Conkers collected in Alexandra Park, chopped and dried to try making soap 
yogurt pots for planting tree seeds:
tree seeds, collected at the park and when out on delivery at work:

So, when you've done the no-car-no-flying-no-meat thing (we are not meat free but are eating very little and no red meat at all) you can still stop yourself sinking into a pit of self-hatred for breathing and producing carbon dioxide.







Saturday, 28 September 2019

How to lay a linoleum bathroom floor

The bathroom was totally bearable, ordinary, white, bland.

Step 1: Cover up that white with some really fabulous green paint. And fix the towel rail that was hanging off the wall:

Step 2: Some time later get around to mounting some lovely bamboo boxes and a mirror:

Step 3: Pull up the old vinyl flooring and find disgusting stuff underneath. Also remove the old bath panel and chuck it out. Scrub the floor with bicarb and vinegar to get rid of pee smell (it works pretty good). Live with it like this for a while (this is so you will appreciate the loveliness that is to come) (don't forget to keep the old vinyl for later):

Step 4: You have to level the floor. I got a quote for levelling the floor and laying the lino, it was £250 and they said I would have to have the sink and toilet taken out too. At this point I decided I could definitely do this myself. Half of my floor was already covered with a sheet of hardboard, in reasonable condition, the rest was floorboards. I chopped up bits of hardboard to patch and cover the floorboards. Nail the pieces down with 19mm annular nails (these are designed to not pull out easily and you don't really want them going through the floorboards in case there are pipes underneath). There are some useful guidelines here on the B&Q website, though I didn't follow the instructions religiously. Take care not to cut the end off your thumb with the Stanley knife or it will delay your progress considerably. Go over the floor and make sure the nails are nice and flush with the surface (I missed a couple and the little bumps annoy me but I am working hard at not beating myself up about it):

Step 5: Lay out your linoleum in the living room (it will smell really nice). This is an all natural product made from linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour and calcium carbonate, backed with a hessian type material. It is called Marmoleum by Forbo but I purchased it from UK Contract Flooring. They were very helpful and Frank emailed me with advice and support several times while I agonised about whether to try and fit it myself. It came on a huge cardboard tube that is going, at some future date, to become part of a massive cat tree we are going to build for Lyra (did I mention the cat at all yet, maybe not?):

Step 6: The linoleum needs to sit and come to room temperature for at least a day, then unroll. It has to be back-rolled and then gently massaged to flatten it out. Do this very carefully and do not lean on it or fold it as it will crack and be spoiled. I probably did not do this enough as mine did curl and lift very slightly after laying. Be very wary of any instructions for laying vinyl flooring; linoleum is a completely different substance and is not as flexible:

Step 7: As advised somewhere I purchased some concave curved blades for the Stanley knife, they work much better for cutting linoleum. I used the old vinyl flooring that I had taken up as a template and marked out the shape to cut. Do this carefully and remember to have the two layers the same way up, otherwise you will find you have cut your flooring back to front (I double checked this about three times). Allow a little extra all round, you can trim down but not stick it back on when you have cut it off. I cut the basic shape but not the holes for the sink and toilet. Fortunately for me the new bath panel came in a huge cardboard box that I used to cover the floor so I could safely cut the linoleum without risking damaging my carpet. Not sure how you might handle this otherwise, just improvise:

Step 8: Remove the bathroom door, it will be completely in the way. Carry the linoleum up and lay it in the doorway. I pulled it into position and carefully trimmed it round the doorway and into the corner. Again take care not to force it as it does crack quite easily. You can literally carve off small layers from the edge until it lies down neatly:

Step 9: Now cut out the shapes for the sink and the toilet. This involved a lot of gently putting it into place, seeing where it needed trimming, gently easing it up again and trimming a few millimetres off and gently putting it back down again. You will fuck it up. But you know what, in the grand scheme of things it will be fine and still look fabulous. I patched a little space at the front of the sink pedestal and you'd never know it was there, and the toilet is pretty damn near perfect:


Step 10: Glue it down. No photos of gluing process, too busy gluing. I bought some Evo-Stick flooring adhesive from Travis Perkins (mainly because it came in a smaller tub than the official stuff). Spread the glue over the half of the floor farthest from the door then lay the flooring and press into place. Get your assistant to hold the linoleum out of the way and spread glue on the second half and complete the process. You are supposed to roll it with a weighted roller but we just walked around on it and rubbed it with some blocks of wood wrapped in towels, making sure to go all the way to the edges. We did this for about 20 minutes or so until we got bored. I should have thought to put piles of books or something heavy down while it dried, there is some (very) minor curling by the bath that I am also not beating myself up about:

Step 11: Plan your new bath panel. I bought a plain flat bath panel made of painted hardboard (also from Travis Perkins) that had to be cut to size. Tish came up with the brilliant suggestion of making a template using some of the cardboard packaging, this saved me huge amounts of struggle as I could cut the panel to the right size first time:

Step 12: I bought excess linoleum because I wanted to create a more interesting bath panel, so having cut the panel to size I glued it to the linoleum and left it to dry overnight, weighted down at both ends to ensure no curling:

Step 13: Next morning trim the excess linoleum around the edge of your bath panel. Slot your new fabulous bath panel in to place. I was going to screw a framework to the walls and attach it properly but it seemed like a whole lot of faff so in fact the bath panel is held in place by the fact that it is edged with clear silicone sealant:

 Step 14: I bought some small tubes of clear sealant and did the entire room, all edges of the flooring, around the toilet and sink and around the bath panel. It smoothed off very neatly and is barely visible:

Step 15: Since I am trying to do things properly I spent two hours cutting away all the old mouldy sealant (see the top photo, it was pretty bad) and replaced it. Unfortunately I bought clear rather than white by mistake (this had been bought on our first trip to B&Q back in May) so it does not cover as nicely. I also bought grout reviver and spent another hour scrubbing the grout and then colouring it white, and that looks just brilliant:

Step 16: I also added a strip of linoleum on the other side of the bathroom where the pipes have been boxed in. I rubbed down the rusty radiator and painted it (though the rust is peeping though so I may have to find some kind of rust treatment stuff) and put a second coat of paint on the skirting, doorframe and the door:

And now it is a fabulous bathroom that brings me joy every time I go in:

How to get into Manchester University

Almost exactly five years ago Monkey went off to Monkey. She had an amazing year, but learned that acting was not for her. Fast forward quite some time and discovering new interests she started teaching herself Japanese, and a plan developed to go to Japan. That plan morphed into a plan to do a degree instead, which will involved a government funded year of living and studying in Japan. Where would you want to study Japanese other than at SOAS (no longer called the School of Oriental and African Studies, just called SOAS). 
So we visited SOAS:
and admired their awesome library:
We loved SOAS

Then we visited Sheffield, they had a lovely park outside their (slightly less awesome but still nice) library:
We loved Sheffield

 Then we visited Durham, and its awesome cathedral:
(I got to go too and pretend I was a tiny person):
We loved Durham (but mostly because we know it)

Tish and Monkey went to UCLAN but failed to take a photo. 
Monkey did the Manchester visit on her own.
We now have an extensive collection of university tote bags. 
Durham did not hand out tote bags:

Meanwhile, amongst all this dashing around the country, Monkey did an access course with the Distance Learning Centre. It took her about 10 months and cost about £1200. She took her exams at home with the tutor supervising over Skype. The UCAS application went in and the offers of places came back, for all five of her applications. She didn't even expect an offer from Manchester because they wanted a B in English, so it threw a spanner in the works a little. To get a place at SOAS she needed to get nearly all distinctions in her assignments, so the pressure was pretty intense for a while. 

After she finished the course Monkey had plans to fill the next six months with stuff that she had put on hold. Instead we had to move house and it interrupted everything ... except the long circular discussion about SOAS or Manchester. SOAS was the place to go, it has so many courses to offer and it is small and everyone knows each other and it's right by the British Museum and has an awesome library and a fantastic felafel stall that sets up once a week right outside. But on the other hand, if she goes to Manchester she can stay home, have hardly any expenses, save for going to Japan, not have to stress about house mates or cooking proper food or dealing the other practicalities of life (and to be honest their library is pretty awesome too). I wanted her to go to SOAS. She wanted to go to SOAS. But we want this experience to be a success, she still needs support and there would be nothing worse than her going to London and not being able to cope, so the practical argument won the day, and it is the right decision.
So this week she went to Manchester University 
(and didn't want a first day photo taken):

This photo just because it's lovely, Dad and Monkey.




Tuesday, 17 September 2019

I have been reading, honest

Life has been weird. We had a couple of months of hectic activity on the house and then I ran out of both money and energy. The bathroom is still in process, looking fab, but delayed somewhat by cutting the top off my thumb with the Stanley knife, and now waiting for a suitable day to redo the bath sealant.

The list of books unreviewed has been growing and I just wanted to make a record of them for posterity, or whatever:

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi - a magical realist story of Perdita and Harriet and their strange provenance and the gingerbread with peculiar properties. (Realised looking at her website that I read Mr Fox too some time ago but did not like it.)

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: vignettes from the life of a young girl Esperanza, considered a coming-of-age classic.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz: thriller about a woman who changes her identity to escape her past; rather implausible much of the time and a predictable ending.

The Siege by Helen Dunmore: I love Helen Dunmore, many other of her books read and reviewed here. This one follows a family as they live through the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, despite the extreme cold it is warm and life-affirming.

Fever Dream by Samata Schweblin: I read a list of recommendations of translated novels and requested a few from the library. Fever Dream is a scary and surreal story, it is about a mother's bond with her child, and the extremes they go to in the face of threat. Hard to describe and it left me disturbed.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer: Winner of the Pulitzer in 2015 this has been on the shelf for some time. I loved it as much as I anticipated. It is the story of Marie Laure, a blind french girl, and Werner, a young german boy, and the war that uproots their entire existence and leads them to a place where their lives brush gently up against each other. It is the kind of story that you can allow yourself to sink in and live it with the characters, beautifully drawn characters and meticulously historical, I wish there were more books like this in my life (and that I had the energy to do it justice).

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore: Have done a lot of late night insomnia reading of this short story collection. Have struggled with the stories being long enough to get thoroughly engaged and then feeling dropped as they end, and also the sense that they are about the same people in slightly different situations and times in their lives. She is so highly thought of but I feel a bit underwhelmed.

So quite a bit of variety, despite feeling like I have lost my mojo. The readathon is coming up in a few weeks so will try and recapture it.

Rebellion book

We had a bit of a rebellion the other weekend. Extinction Rebellion Manchester has been planning the Northern Rebellion for some months now, and it all came together on Friday with the shutting down of Deansgate in central Manchester. Hundreds of people camped out for four days, and thousands of people passed through, chatted, listened to talks, danced to music, printed t-shirts and just hung around soaking up the (exhaust fume-free) atmosphere. This is my banner, I am pleased that so many people took photos and shared them. I did some overnight shifts manning the barricades, and was surprised by how many drunk people wanted to talk about climate change at 2am.


But much of the time I just read, 'Mend the Living' by Maylis de Kerangal. It is the story of a heart, belonging to a young man going out to surf. When Simon is killed in a crash his parents face the prospect of whether his heart will live on for another. It is a very intense book, sucking you into the lives of all the people involved in the events of the day; the doctor and nurse, the transplant organiser, Simon's parents, the woman who may receive the heart, watching their various reactions to the death and their relationship to it. The book's central theme is the way the heart becomes symbolic for human life, but it is also very much about death and how we, as individuals and as a society, respond to it.  I passed it on to mum so can't give you a quote. 

Monday, 29 July 2019

Meet Dave

From the book 'The Sneetches and other stories' Too Many Daves is one of the best Dr Seuss stories, that I can practically recite from memory. We have just the right number of Daves in our house, though I am not sure how many.



Here is Dave's house in the yard:

Meet Dave:

and his friends, Dave, Dave, Dave and Dave:

In the kitchen we collect food for Dave, veggies, bread, tealeaves, eggshells and stuff like that:

and they turn it into soil, that in a few months I can use to plant things in the garden:

I have been wanting to start a wormery for years. I bought 'Worms Eat my Garbage' by Mary Appelhof a couple of decades ago, and am delighted to find that there is a website promoting her ideas. If you don't want to go for a manufactured one the book tells you all you need to know about making your own.

I bought my wormery from Worm City. It is made in the UK from recycled plastic, and they have plenty of advice on how to care for your worms and what to feed them. In spite of having mouldy food in I have not found that it smells bad. There were a lot of flies in it at one point but covering the food with shredded newspaper and fitting a piece of cardboard over the top helps keep them out. Watch out for slugs because some kinds eat worms, but most other creepy crawlies that invade only add to the process of breaking down the organic matter. 

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