January 25th, 2012

me: ooh!

Lessons in renovation.

Here is something I never imagined I'd need to learn: How to convert your front garden from a patch of triffids (no really, they were eight-foot-high giant thistles) and weeds into a car parking space.

Naively, I thought that all you had to do was dig up the plants and chuck a load of pebbles onto the bare soil. How wrong I was. For this endeavour, you will need:

  • 1 digger
  • 1 skip
  • a large quantity of broken-up concrete slabs
  • planks of wood and stakes
  • several tonnes of hardcore (2x as much as you think you need)
  • several tonnes of pebbles
  • 1 whacking plate
  • 1 large sheet of weed membrane
  • several nice big tiles to make a footpath to your front door
  • 3 chaps, at least one of whom has previously operated a digger
  • 1 neighbour in the construction business (for cheaper sourcing of materials)
  • 2 weekends (3 if you fail to order twice as much hardcore as you think you need)

First, collect your chaps and fill them with tea and biscuits. Get them to use the digger to remove the plants and the top six inches of soil. Lob these in the skip. Take your pile of broken concrete slabs and mix them into the remaining soil. Use the whacking plate to flatten this out, then place the membrane over the top. Place the wooden stakes around the border of the area to be pebbled and attach the boards to make the edging.

The above is one full weekend's worth of work. If you have a full-time job, you will now need to cross your fingers and hope it doesn't rain until you can work on it again the following weekend. If you live in England, you will know how futile this hope is.

Before you start work the next weekend, you should have the hardcore delivered. Take the volume of hardcore you've calculated you need (length x width x depth) and multiply it by two. If you think you need four tonnes, get eight. I can't stress how critical this is. There is one lesson that I want everyone to take away from this story and it's this: It is better to have too much hardcore than not enough. You run the risk of stretching the job out over another weekend at least if you don't.

When Saturday arrives at last, collect your chaps, apply tea and biscuits, and get them to spread out the hardcore and whack it flat in layers until you've replaced most of the soil you took away. Assuming you have obtained enough hardcore (clever you!) you will now be able to lay your tile path and spread the pebbles out around it and over your new drive. If you haven't gotten enough hardcore, you must now wait an extra weekend until you get a second load delivered. (Have you spotted the mistake we made? I thought so.)

When the drive is finished, apply beer and curry to your chaps until they no longer ache.

Before we started, I had no idea it was this much work to convert a garden into a car parking space. Not a clue. Now I can do it again if I need to. Well, probably not on my own, since I can't use a digger and am not strong enough to operate a whacking plate for six hours straight. But I tell you what I can do. I can paint.

Oh boy can I paint. My painting stamina is high, and it's not just the fumes that make me say that. I can paint fiddly bits of woodwork with gloss paint for hours. This may not sound like a lot but let me assure you that if anyone ever offers you the opportunity to paint their woodwork, turn them down. It's tedious. Every weekend and spare evening since the new year, I have spent painting woodwork. To apply a single coat of gloss to all the woodwork in the kitchen alone took me 30 hours. Our kitchen has four large doors and nine cabinet doors as well as the surrounds for these. There are also the picture rails and the skirting boards.

I started the kitchen job feeling fairly jolly, having recently accomplished the landing (five doors) and the stairwell (bannisters oh lordamercy). I put Absolute 80s on the radio and bopped along. Then the angst set in as I realised I had spent every spare moment for seven days on the job and it still wasn't anywhere near finished. So I switched to Planet Rock. About four days ago, the rage set in and Planet Rock only served to agitate me further, which is not what you want when you're doing work that requires fine motor control. I had to resort to the soothing tones of Classic FM.

Last night I was about to start the last cabinet (with glass doors, making it extra-specially annoying) when Classic FM decided to play a Complete Work. It couldn't have been more appropriate. I placed the final brush strokes to the strains of the Lux Aeterna at the end of Mozart's "Requiem".

Sadly, this is not the end of the renovation saga, as the non-woodwork areas of the kitchen still need painting, the floor needs sanding and re-varnishing and we haven't even touched the bathroom yet. If I refuse any invitations in the next three weeks, rest assured I am spending my evening at home, not having nearly as much fun as you are.