The Tour de France & A Parquet Tour de Force!

It’s that time of year again when the sun shines (theoretically), the men don their lycra for a cycling saunter around France and Chris gets house makeover ideas beyond her station! After a few years of not really tackling any major work on the house – I think the last big upheaval was for my mum’s 80th birthday celebration 7 years ago – last year, *we* (I ;-)) decided it was time to do over the front room, which had been neglected for many years. It was dark and dated, needed new curtains and carpets and I was dying to get rid of the 90s sofa, which to my embarrassment actually featured in an episode of Eastenders when Sharon and Phil ran the Queen Vic!  Despite its age, it was hardly used until recently when we had a woodburner installed in that room. I found the room depressing and wanted to lighten it up. Bit by bit, I eventually won over hb and that’s when we struggled over the decision to give away our old piano (see post links below).

At first, we were going to replace the carpet with good quality laminate flooring, but when we lifted it we found this: image

So we took the bit between our teeth, got some quotes and found it would cost no more to refurbish the old parquet than to buy good quality laminate or carpet. We had no idea what it would look like: Wayne of Acorn Floor Sanding aka wood floor doctor warned us it would be a lot lighter but other than that it was in the lap of the gods. We were lucky in that only a few blocks needed relaying, although there were many gaps needing to be filled and many of the blocks had warped as well as shrunk. There was also the hearth to take care of. We needed to replace and extend it as there was a strip of concrete where the old fireplace had been removed and there were no blocks to replace it. So we had that done first. The whole job took 4 days and we ended up with this:

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The fire recess is actually dark teal. We were so delighted with the result that we decided there and then we would save up and do the back room this year and then the hallway next year.

The back room is variously referred to as the kids’ room or Mum’s room, depending on who is occupying it at the time: it is the original dining room but we have always used it as an extra bedroom/playroom for the younger family members. More recently, my elderly mum has been using it as she can no longer use the stairs. And therein lies the problem: trying to arrange a room that is suitable for toddlers, teenagers and my elderly mum! The teenagers complain it’s too babyish, it’s also a bit boyish as it was predominantly used by the older three, but now we have girls and Mum too.

It was going to be a thankless task. Mum doesn’t like wood floors, she likes the comfort of carpet under her feet, is convinced wood floors make a room colder – they don’t – and worried about slipping, but it is not slippy at all.

Six weeks ago, we grasped this particularly prickly nettle, emptied the room, pulled up the carpet and found a much more difficult project awaiting:

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The blocks were badly stained with bitumen that had gradually worked its way through the many large gaps, the blocks were warped but also badly cut – few were squared off properly. There was a large concrete slab where the old fireplace was, plus cement-covered bricks supporting the sliding doors to the playroom. Worst of all, the entire room other than three sides of the border had to be relaid, a time-comsuming and expensive task.

A 4 day job turned into 9 days, Summer chose that week to pay a visit making it hot and sticky work. At one stage it looked like a humungous game of jenga was being played in there!

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A large tin of filler for the gaps would normally cover 5 rooms the size of ours but it only filled two thirds of the gaps here! Every day there was a problem that delayed procedings. The concrete slab was more difficult to remove than first assumed and the floor wasn’t level, spare blocks were needed and dowelling to fill the gap that still remained under the skirting board.

We had tried to source reclaimed blocks on eBay, the internet and a reclamation site in our local Bermuda triangle where even Silly Sally SatNav got us lost 3 times! All to no avail. We needed maple and we could only find pine and oak and not the right depth. Our carpenter neighbour came up trumps with a random box of various-sized blocks that someone had given him and he’d never used, and which turned out to be maple. They weren’t the right depth, but Wayne removed some originals from under a built-in cupboard where the space wouldn’t be seen, used those in the middle of the room and our neighbour’s were used to make a slight ramp up to the sliding doors over the brick supports.

This is after the first sanding:

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What a transformation already! It had 9 sandings in all, done corner to corner in 4 directions to go with the grain as much as possible. Then it was sealed with one coat of Bonakemi Traffic and 2 coats of Bonatraffic HD. This is a high quality low maintenance Italian satin finish recommended on a website about wood floors I discovered when researching the first room we did. It is hard wearing, not too shiny and requires no ongoing upkeep, unlike an oiled finish.

It was such hot, hard work and honestly there were times when I thought Wayne was losing the will to live! We kept him supplied with copious amounts of strong coffee and amusing (haha) anecdotes to keep his spirits up, and finally it was done.

Prepare to be stunned:

We are delighted with the result. The room is so much lighter and looks more spacious. I can’t praise Wayne’s work highly enough. A lot of improvisation and imagination was required as well as hard physical work in difficult weather conditions.

Mum came this last weekend. She loves the floor, said it’s beautiful, then ‘what kind of carpet are you going to put over it?!’

I need a rest, I’m off to watch skinny men in lycra riding bikes and swapping jerseys to see who fits what the best!

To read about our traumatic decision to give away our piano see:

Ode To Our Piano, a Faithful and Long-Suffering Friend

Ode to Our Piano – What Happened Next…

Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?

Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Wroxeter – A Roman City on A Beautiful Summer’s Day.

Finally.

I have waited 30 years to see Wroxeter. Today, I finally made it.

On our first trip to look for a house when my husband was being transferred across country, I noticed one of those English Heritage signs saying Wroxeter Roman Ruins, or something like that. I made a mental note.

I love ruins. I love old churches, abbeys, castles. I love the ever-presence of past inhabitants. I love imagining their lives. I am overwhelmed by the fact that I am walking in their footsteps, I marvel at the magnificence and complexities of the buildings and wonder time after time how they managed it. In many instances, the architects didn’t even get to see their project finished.

We were among the first visitors to the Yorvik Viking Museum in York, when it was still an excavation site, and they allowed a few people at a time to walk along the viewing platform to watch them work. This experience sparked an historical interest in our children that they are passing on to their children. They love ruined castles. I have lost count of the number of shields and medieval weapons we’ve constructed over the years and the gory battles that have been reenacted. Such places are examples of living history which absorb children’s attention so they don’t realise they are learning while playing.

Ruins are generally situated in such beautiful settings that it can take your breath away. They are so peaceful. There’s no rush, you can just sit and contemplate for as long as you wish, and now that we are unaccompanied, that’s just what we did.

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Wroxeter – or Viriconium – was a first century AD Roman city in Shropshire, the fourth largest town in Roman Britain.  Watling Street (the long, straight Roman road that goes across England from south-east to north-west) cuts through the middle heading south. It is surrounded by fields of sheep, there is a Roman vineyard nearby, an Anglo-Saxon church and in the distance you can see Long Mynd in the Shropshire Hills.

Today was a rare (this summer) beautifully warm sunny day with clear blue skies. It was a day calling for an outing. I decided today was going to be the day. It has taken this long for my husband to get on board with my passion for historical sites. That’s why it’s taken so long. He has always hated wandering around anywhere on foot – but especially old buildings –  preferring to be speeding along on two wheels or puttering along in his Morris Minor. However, since he was forced off the bike by an accident and had to do walking therapy, he has become more amenable to my suggestions.

Here are some photos of the site.

(If you’re reading this via email, you’ll need to click onto the blog).

They show the main excavation of the large public baths, the market hall and forum – the tiled stacks in the middle supported the floors of the bathing rooms (at the end of the  bathing rooms there are the remains of the furnace that heated under the floors and walls of the baths – they had their own underfloor central heating!); the drainage ditch for the latrines; a baby housemartin in a nest in the eves of a blocked off farm building and several more nests below; the reconstructed Roman town house (built by 6 builders in 2010 for the TV programme ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day’ using tools, materials and methods available in Roman times where possible); in front of it you can see the remains of the colonnade of the forum and behind it, the furnace that heated the bathing rooms. Oh, and a few sheep who seemed to be plotting their Great Escape ‘over here by the wire!’

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There’s a small museum and the inevitable gift shop on the site, and plenty of benches to perch and take in the stunning views.

I hope you enjoyed our rare day out. I loved every minute of it! Oh, and I have pink knees from the unaccustomed sun.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Bees, Baskets & Begonias: Summer Flowers At Last!

imageChance would be a fine thing! We haven’t had any consistent sun in weeks. However, many of you were kind enough to appreciate my post I Love My Garden! and I thought I would take a break from posting healthy recipes and do another post for the spirit, showing the gardens now that the summer flowers are finally coming out. It has been a long month of deluge after deluge, which has fed the weeds and flattened many of the flowers, as well as sapping our souls, but it is refreshing and uplifting to look out of the windows and see all the colours and the bees! They love the pink and purple flowers and are so busy at the moment – if you look carefully you can see them.

If you’re viewing this via email, you’ll need to click onto the blog to see the slideshow.

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The sharp-eyed amongst you will spot that the title is something of a misnomer: because it has been bucketing down with rain, the begonias are in fact still in the greenhouse waiting to be planted! They are my husband’s domain and he has been tied to a paintbrush in the interim, struggling to cover blue tester paint patches with white – did you know you’re not supposed to put test samples directly onto the walls? imageNo, after years of doing exactly that with no problems covering it with the chosen colour, we now have a large blue ‘m’ in the middle of our chimney breast showing through cream stain cover and white emulsion! Apparently, you’re supposed to put the test paint on a piece of card and hold it up to the wall! Really?! How is that going to give you a realistic image if your wall is a different colour or texture?! Don’t say I never teach you anything.

It’s been a trying few days.

We need some sun!

Hope you enjoyed the show and if you have a surplus of the yellow stuff, we’d be extremely grateful if you could send a bit our way. Thank you.

Copyright: Chris McGowan