What can I say, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? And what fun we’ve been having since my last update in, er, August. Yes, never was too good with the old deadline thingy but, well, here we all are again. I’m sure most of you have given up already.
It’s been so long, I don’t even know where to begin. The house, I guess. It’s utterly brilliant. Without sounding like a smug git, both the Hubster and I are absolutely thrilled with it. Like properly, can’t believe it’s our home, thrilled. I think in all honesty, it’s turned out better than we’d ever imagined even in our wildest dreams. Not a day goes by (and a few have) where we don’t wander round going ‘Isn’t this amazing’.
All the meticulous planning paid off – we use all the space, all of the time. The layout works really well – kitchen during the day (with the sun) and living room during the evening (with the sun). We’ve still got no curtains or carpet and the place needs a bit of remedial filling and redecorating where there’s been a bit of expected settlement but, well, we’re too busy having fun to do that at the moment. And anyway, I have the mancave to get built before I come in and do the niceties like cushion finding and curtain making.
In January, we finally finished paying all the build bills which is utterly liberating. When you’ve spent the best part of three years emptying your Hubster’s wallet on building necessities and fees, actually having a bit of cash to spend on yourself is splendid fun. I bought a new pair of jeans and had my hair cut for the first time in eighteen months. How thoroughly decadent 😉 Rich doesn’t seem to be wearing the ‘money frown’ anymore and we’ve been at it like rabbits. I do hope you’re not eating/drinking while reading this 😉
The TV people (on this Tues, I believe. 10pm on Sky Home – we won’t see it, no Sky, hope we don’t come across as total idiots) were always asking about our favourite bit of the house. I always maintained that it was the outside. And that still rings true, probably even more so now.
The garden is taking shape, with our first fruit canes, trees, hedging and beans in. River Cottage has a lot to answer for. The ducks are all still here and nesting all over the place. The horses are happy in their spanky spangler stables (although the bi-fold doors in the kitchen mean they scream for brekko at the first sign of life = not necessarily a good thing) and the dogs seem to be more than content whiling away the hours whimpering at the kitchen doors and slavering over Cocky, our resident pheasant, and our pair of Partridges that come and torment them through the glass. The sky is so huge, I don’t need to look at the weather forecast because we can look out the windows and see it coming. Seriously, it’s a dream come true.
Inside, we’ve spent the winter warm as toast. We’ve been burning the wood stockpile in the woodburner (Contura = excellent) and Mr M had the most excellent excuse to buy a chainsaw. The ground source heat pump has worked like a dream – I have yet to touch the heating controls, it’s always at a perfect temperature. Vaillant haven’t paid me to say that either, although I think they should 😉 Same goes for the hot water. It might seem a bit 1940’s to mention the indoor running water but having spent 15 months in the ‘van with a hot water tank the size of a goats’ bladder, being able to shower endlessly, wash my hair AND condition it, rather than choosing just one option is total luxury. The copper bath was decadent, but not when you sit, glass in hand, and look over the pond. When we first started this whole journey, the amount of hours Rich and I sat fantasising about that on the bathroom window, amidst all the owl shite and debris, was where it all started.
My favourite room is still the utility, but only because the heat pump is in there and I really love that. I abso-lutely LOVE the kitchen. We planned and re-planned for hours and hours, using sticks and markers to work out where everything went. It’s really efficient, really Footballer’s Wives with the sparkly Silestone tops and a really nice place to cook and generally hang out.
If you do a new kitchen, you NEED a hot water tap (Franke), you NEED an induction hob (NEFF) and you probably need a warming drawer. In fact, if you need a new kitchen, speak to Bill at Nicholas Hythe, he won’t let you down. And if he does, I’ll kill him. My Mum and Pa bought us a great big Samsung fridge, which was really quite expensive, as a housewarming gift –they didn’t think the one we’d brought from the ‘van was the right one, even as a temporary measure 😉 They do have some certain per-culiarities though. My parents, not the fridge. The disco box is a triumph and a talking point for the neighbours, depending on what colour we choose of an evening. I really used ‘really’ quite a lot in that last paragraph. I must have fallen out with the art of writing…
I absolutely adore the bathroom. A copper bath is an absolute must. My lovely ‘slaw, Looby, has given us the most A.M.A.Z.I.N.G silver cow-hide chair to go in there (www.commucci.co.uk) and Rach, my fabulous drinking buddy, and partner to an incredible ‘I’ve lost two stone since my tv debut’ trainer bought me the most fantastic candlestick so the bathroom is almost complete, especially with posh and very pilfered hotel bubbles. We still have to get the chandeliers up and get the tin on the wall but being in the bath together is a very happy place to be.
Then the living room. Yep, go in, relax, mostly fall asleep. The sofa is, I think, the only piece of furniture we’ve bought so far (see no funds until now, above). It’s splendid. So splendid, that the dogs haven’t even entertained the thought of going in their very expensive beds by the fire (bought before the haircut = animals first here). Why sleep in a £50 dog bed, when you can have pole position on the chaise?
For us, there has always been something magical about the place. With no windows and no doors, an asbestos roof and quite a lot of imagination, it still always felt like a home. Way back then, Rich said ‘We could sweep the floors, chuck a rug down and just live in it.’ He was right. I can’t imagine why no-one snapped it up from under our feet. But they didn’t. We were the lucky ones. We’ve always bought houses on ‘the feel’ and this one felt bloody terrifying but absolutely right from the moment we stepped on the ground.
Twenty years ago, I tried to convince Rich to buy the ‘mini farm’ – a shitty, run down little wreck with no indoor toilet but with the benefit of 1/3 acre orchard out the back ( a friend lives there now, it’s lovely). And here we are, twenty years on (how did that happen?) with the most fabulous place to enjoy living in.
I know people reading this are probably curious as to how much it’s all cost. We’ve made some good property choices over twenty years. Three houses, much capital gain thanks to a growing market. Buying shitters has always helped. The current place has cost about £500,000. We spent £235K on acquiring it, the rest on fees and building. Realistically, to buy somewhere character round here, with land, would have cost us waaay more than we could afford. But where there’s a will, a bit of luck and plenty of optimism, there’s always a way.
You’re probably thinking, smug bastards, ‘Has nothing gone wrong?’ Genuinely, it’s been hard work. The builder, for whatever reason, won’t speak to us anymore which is a real shame after everything we’ve been through. Even though I’m lucky enough not to work, it killed me for about six months afterwards, I was exhausted. And, finally, I forgot to put a light in the cupboard under the stairs. It’s not a major one, but the only thing on the entire build that I missed. I won’t make that mistake again, god damn it.
Next step is to get the mancave up, which I’m sure many of Richard’s fanboys will approve of. I’m going to get going on my gardening blog, in which I tell you all about the chickens I’ve hatched for rearing and eating, Richard and I lose loads of weight thanks to our new trainer, The Smiling Assassin, and even though this place is utterly fabulously wonderful, I’ll never get over my compulsion to look on http://www.rightmove.com. Probably.
So, fifteen things I have learned whilst building the dream.
1. Like the telly always says, it’s about meticulous budgeting and planning.
2. How does it feel? If it feels right, but terrifying, it is right.
3. Do it. You’ll never have a second chance.
4. See 2, go to 3.
5. I’d never buy a home conventionally again. I’d buy a plot and build.
6. I’d use SIPS. Absolutely.
7. For long term economy, I’d seriously look at renewables. Ours pays us £2400 a year for 7 years –way less than it costs to run, and pays back over the lifetime. For now.
8. Don’t compromise because of expense. Work harder, you’ll find the same thing, cheaper.
9. Spend more on the stuff you can’t change. Expensive roof tiles mean no curtains but in five years you’ll be glad of it.
10. Lights are fucking extortionate. Buy from Scandawegia or Belgium.
11. Despite what you think, an outdoor chemical toilet is not that bad
12. Supermarket waste is atrocious, you’ll discover that when you live in a ‘van.
13. Recycle any materials you’ve got – it all adds up.
14. It’s your dream, don’t compromise
15. Don’t forget to wire in for the light under the stairs. Idiot.
So, in essence. It’s all about having a dream. Dream it, do it, live it. I can assure you, it’s very much worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing. This is the most demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life. Twenty years ago we dreamed of River Cottage and Grand Designs. And thank god for those dreams because here we are, living in them.