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. 

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Measure twice, cut once ... or How to Build a Loft Bed

Measure your space. My room is 8'x6' almost exactly. There is not a lot of room for error (as you will see later). Make a plan. It doesn't need to be detailed or to scale, so long as you have real measurements for the pieces of wood. Fortunately the rooms in our house at 9' high. I wanted to be able to sit up in bed without feeling cramped or claustrophobic so chose to make the bed 150cm high, not quite high enough to stand up underneath, but with plenty of headroom above. I also wanted space alongside the mattress to have a shelf for tea and books, so the space on the bed is 5' wide by 6' long. 

I based my design on 'The Platform', a play structure I built for the children when they were little. Add up all your legs and side spars and slats, add nails, screws and bolts, and random tools that you don't own and order the whole lot from Wickes. A cordless drill is an absolute necessity (I have had a lot of fun with mine). They may let you down with some bits, but don't worry because the plumbing and building supplies shop round the corner actually has much cheaper wood. Wood comes in pre-cut lengths so you have some built in waste but I tried to minimise this by using left over bits for other jobs. The main frame and legs are made with 2x4, the other bracing pieces and slats are 2x1 and the supports for the slats are 2x2 (some shops sell by metric measurements, others by inches). Compared to the legs of shop bought beds mine is very chunky but I like the fact that it feels *very* solid. I had the basic idea quite firmly in my head but we (that's my sister Claire, who came to visit, and I) did improvise somewhat as we went along.

 So, when you cut your pieces of wood follow one golden rule: measure twice, cut once. Even if you are sure you measured it properly, measure again. 

I made the head and foot of the bed, that is two legs attached together by a cross spar at the top and a thinner bracing piece half way down (positioned to not get in the way of the radiator), then added the side spars. These are all held together with coach bolts. The cross spars on the head and foot are slightly lower to allow for the thickness of slat support spars. This is the basic frame up:

I won't go into the torturous details of how I had not visualised the radiator being in the way when putting the bed together and how we had to bodge the corner leg. The whole thing is literally built into the room, it will have to be taken to pieces if we ever move.
Initially I was only going to have one spar down the length supporting the slats but in the end I used three; feeling secure that high up is important.

Getting up with a stepladder is ok temporarily but proper steps were part of the plan. Again these were mostly in my head and then we had to rethink the whole design when we went to buy more wood. 

Two double frames like this form the basis for the steps with two single steps, one at the bottom and one on top. I did make them all separate but did not make a 'floor' on the upper steps. They are then all screwed together through the battening (but are not screwed to the bed, I decided I might need to move them if something vital fell down the back). The panelling is 2x1 and 3x1, pieces left over from the slats and then some bought extra. The sides that are hidden from view are panelled with MDF from the shelves that I removed from Tish's room and the living room. It was very satisfying to repurpose it.
Upper steps in place, the two lower ones are 88cm by 60cm by 40cm high, the upper one is 44cm by 60cm by 40cm high:

Four steps. I had planned on five but there was not room. This lower step is 44cm by 44cm and is not screwed in place. Tish suggested I leave it movable so it can be a foot rest when I get my chair:

I added a fifth 'leg', not structural but it creates an entrance to the bed and supports the safety rail and the shelf. It is screwed through the main frame and also has a brace piece at the bottom to ensure it does not shift when it is leaned on. This shows the safety rail and step lighting (it is a rechargable LED that is movement sensitive so comes on when I get out of bed in the night) :

The 'fence' that stops things falling off the bedside shelf:

Bedside shelf.  Tea, glasses, books, random stuff that is nice to keep handy. You can also easily access the space under the shelf for a small knitting project.

My big chest of drawers has migrated to the living room as craft storage and I bought two small unfinished pine chests in Ikea, they fit the space perfectly.

 The steps are designed to be storage spaces. The bottom one is open all the way through, the second step has a divider and the two halves open to the front and the side. I am thinking of bright velvet curtains to cover the openings:

 And a word of warning about measuring your space. 
I measured so carefully. I did. 
But ... 

Doing the bedrooms Part 3

Tiny bedroom number three was already white so didn't need much preparation.

The room is now a little box in Prized Orchid. 
But this is only the first bit of my cunning plan.

Doing the bedrooms Part 2

The blue paint in Monkey's room turned out to be a different problem. In removing a block of wood and some greasy marks we found the paint beginning to peel off. We decided to go with it ... a decision we came to regret:

More than a week later:

We made a return trip to B&Q. Much debate ensued, but we came home with Patrician's Purple, Purple Storm and Magical Poetry, which you can't see very well in the photo. Add fairy lights to the bookcase, and maps and animé posters to the walls. Still waiting for the curtains to come back in stock.

Better view of the colours this way:

Doing the bedrooms Part 1

Having lived with the non-colour magnolia my entire adult life I am determined that our new home will be filled with colour. Choosing colours can be quite tricky. Luckily modern capitalism gives us an almost infinite number of shades. It is the number one joy of owning the house that we can do whatever we want.
Turning the house into our home is going to be a long term project. 
Our first trip to B&Q involved (among other purchases) four large tins of undercoat paint, most of it is already gone.
Tish's room started life a very vivid yellow. 
I removed the cheap shelving from the alcove and filled random holes. We washed the walls down and started with two coats of the undercoat:

then two coats of Emperor Butterfly:

and just one roll of this striking lemur wallpaper:

Add some blinds and the transformation is complete:

Monday, 3 June 2019

Welcome to Moss Side

Well we finally made it. I have a house of my own. We are settling in to Moss Side, a formerly rather notorious part of south Manchester, but now a perfectly lovely place to live. The long and torturous process began back at the end of January when the landlord at Prestage Street decided not to sell us his house and we were obliged to search further afield. In a very swift decision making process I viewed half a dozen houses over a weekend, and ended up picking this one:
Within four days I had made an offer that was accepted and it should have all gone swimmingly. The best laid plans and all that, complications with the land registry, meant that things dragged on for many more weeks than I anticipated. We lived surrounded by piles of boxes, coming home from work every day expecting ... hoping ... that there would be a message from the solicitor that we were ready to complete. I never want to buy a house again. Yes, I know some work needs doing on that flashing over the bay window ... trust me, it's high up the list. It is small, cosy and has everything we need. We are painting, and more painting, photos of fun stuff coming soon.

Little purple flowers sprouting in the walls around the yard 
conspire to make me smile.

Sunday, 7 April 2019


Barbara Kingsolver came to the Manchester Literature Festival last year and it was my most anticipated event. She commented at the beginning of the chat how enamoured she was with the british version of her book, because the publisher had commissioned this wonderful edging to the pages, a continuation of the wallpaper pattern in the cover image. It's not really a book to read when you are about to lose your house because it's all about two people who's houses are falling down around their ears.

I started writing this back in January and no longer have strong impressions of the book (nor a memory of why I entitled the post Phylogeny). I so wanted to do it justice because the story spoke volumes for me about how important it is to have a home, to feel you belong somewhere. I loved it also because of the inclusion of real people in the narrative, the way she did with The Lacuna. She made a comment in her discussion about working on her sentences and I wished I had been able to say how much I appreciate writers who take that much trouble; how when you read you can tell they have cared about each sentence and what it says.

Again, much reading has gone on recently as I have battled my impatience with the vendors and the solicitors, and waited, and packed books, and waited for the contracts to be exchanged. Quickest of quick summaries of some enjoyable reads:

'Bitter Orange' by Claire Fuller: a dark tale of Frances, who just yearns for acceptance, and is sucked in to the mixed up lives of Peter and Cara. A beautifully related tale of a long hot summer where hidden things are revealed and secrets come back to haunt her.
'Foucault's Pendulum' by Umberto Eco took me a long time to read, it was ponderously slow and detailed. I kept waiting for something to happen, and it didn't. It is like 'The Da Vinci Code' but ramped up by several notches. It covers much of the same ground; the templars and all that historical stuff about secret societies, but the young men involved seem to be inventing it as they go along, creating false connections to ingratiate themselves with their publisher, and then finding things are more real than they imagined. I loved the depth in 'The Name of the Rose' and was hoping for something as engaging but just found myself utterly bogged down by it.

'The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden' by Jonas Jonasson: I had packed most of my books so Monkey took this off her shelf for me. I loved The 100 Year old Man and settled down to this one with relish. It follows something of the same format, though this time we have a young South African girl as our heroine making her way doggedly through a life that seems determined to thwart her. Similarly resourceful and pragmatic you can't help but like her, and again the story is a mixture of real life events and characters artfully blended with fictitious ones. 

'Travelling in a Strange Land' by David Park was recommended by Dove Grey Reader a few weeks ago and I loved it, and happily he has quite a list of other books for me to seek out. A father battles through the snow to collect his son from university, and while he drives he cogitates over their family history, and all the ways in which he feels he has failed his children. It is beautifully understated book, just my kind of read. Isolated in his car Tom allows himself hours of introspection, interrupted by moments of connection to people he encounters along the way. A gentle and sympathetic study of the human condition with all its strengths and weaknesses. 

'Rings of Saturn' by W.G. Sebald is from my 101 Books list. I loved Austerlitz and was looking forward to reading this, having started and stopped several times because I was distracted and wanted to give it my full attention. I wanted to like it but I didn't. The style felt so familiar with meandering digressions, but the central premise of the book, a travelogue by the narrator of a journey around Suffolk, did not engage me the way the character and story of Austerlitz did. The narrator himself did not seem to have much enthusiasm for his journey and the places he stopped were lifeless and bleak. I found much of the digressing to be dull and there were few of the intense moments that I encountered in Austerlitz. I will give you just this, a description of his garden in the spring following the hurricane in 1987:

"Now, in the truest sense of the word, everything was turned upside down. The forest floor, which in the spring of last year had still been carpeted with snowdrops, violets and wood anemones, ferns and cushions of moss, was now covered with a layer of barren clay. All that grew in the hard-baked earth were tufts of swamp grass, the seeds of which had lain in the depths for goodness knows how long. The rays of the sun, with nothing left to impede them, destroyed all the shade-loving plants so that it seemed as if we were living on the edge of an infertile plain. Where a short while ago the dawn chorus had at times reached such a pitch that we had to close the bedroom windows, where larks had risen on the morning air above the fields and where, in the evenings, we occasionally even heard a nightingale in the thicket, its pure and penetrating song punctuated by theatrical silences, there was now not a living sound." (p.268)


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