All posts by Michael

Reclaiming the garden

Last of the top soil deliveries
Last of the top soil deliveries

Michael and Graham are back on site doing those essential groundworks which are required around the external. The old garage was completely removed – the last skip of broken concrete was nearly too heavy for the skip lorry to lift! With that gone I had my last chance to get large deliveries to the back garden. Choosing a window in the weather which was dry enough for the lorries to get in I had 40 tons of top soil delivered to the back garden. Michael then skillfully graded it over the chalk – just 100mm of topsoil which is all we have around here on the chalk downlands.

Building the light well for the basement
Building the light well for the basement

Graham is busy building the retaining walls to the basement light well. It is difficult to design it so that it still leaves a view and yet is practical. Eventually it will have large “steps” with gravel and pot plants.

Running the rainwater pipes
Running the rainwater pipes

With the machine on site it was also important to get the rainwater harvesting unit all connected up. The 8 down pipes from the roof all eventually flow into the tank which feeds the WCs and the washing machine.

Wladymir laying the boot room floor
Wladymir laying the boot room floor

Work still continues in the house with Kyril and his tilers trying to finish the floors and tile the bathrooms. Meanwhile I am kept busy every day just finishing the plumbing and carpentry – Only 3 weeks until Angie moves in!

Looking much better
Looking much better

Moving in day – Thursday 17th September

Sally in her basket in the new kitchen
Sally in her basket in the new kitchen

On Wednesday night, 16th September, I attended the West Berkshire planning committee meeting. A large group in inquisitorial mood with the objectors represented by two groups -Streatley Parish Council & residents of Townsend Road. Furthermore the chairman of the committee is also a resident of Streatley and he declared a conflict of interest and stepped down for my agenda item so that he too could speak against my application.

I was alone and felt somewhat outnumbered. After 2 hours of cross questioning and debate the matter was put to a vote. Unanimous acceptance of the planning department’s recommendation that my landscape plan be accepted – YES!!!

The Streatley ward councillor asked for the condition be kept that I could not occupy my home until all works were complete. The senior planner said that he felt this was a draconian requirement and it was dropped. My planning case officer confirmed after the meeting that I am free to move in. She said there will be some constraints – I have to provide details of the current levels and will not be able to exceed them, also I have to build a small retaining wall between my garden and next door – but importantly I do not have to remove the chalk spoil from site and I can have a somewhat level garden.

So 1 year 6 months and 14 days after the old chalet bungalow was knocked down, I moved into my new home (Such a shame it was after Clare and her family’s visit). There is still work to be done in the house and lots more outside but now it starts to feel like home.

My eternal thanks to Chris and Ann for letting Sally and I live in their garage room for the intervening period. Friends and family are the real important things in life, not bricks and mortar – they only make a house.

Do things come in threes?

Clare, JP, Ruby and Poppy visiting from Queenstown, NZ
Clare, JP, Ruby and Poppy visiting from Queenstown, NZ

I haven’t posted much about the house for the last month or so because I have been so busy. I have been trying to prepare the house for my daughter and her family to come and stay when they visit from New Zealand. Overlaid on top of that was a significant amount of activity in relation to planning – more later.

9th September – A memorable day

Clare, JP and Ruby having lunch - Poppy still asleep in the car
Clare, JP and Ruby having lunch – Poppy still asleep in the car

I had picked Clare and her family up from Heathrow a few days earlier, but Wednesday 9th was the day they came to the house. That same day at 9 o’clock, the planning committee of West Berkshire council convened at my site!

Planning committee site visit
Planning committee site visit

I had been told about 2 weeks before that the number of complaints by my neighbours about the level of the chalk in my back garden was such that Streatley Parish council had objected to my landscape plan for the design of the front and back gardens. They wanted all of the excavated chalk removed from site! Although the Wet Berkshire planning department were happy with my plans, their delegated powers were removed in this case and the full committee would make the decision. 9 West Berkshire councillors, 3 West Berkshire planning department staff and 3 objectors joined the site visit (15 in all and 9 cars).

Having viewed my rear garden the group moved next door leaving the tallest member in my garden so that all could see the extent of “overlooking”. He had to be asked to raise his arm and wave as he was invisible from my neighbours garden – enough said. The decision is to be taken at a full meeting of the planning committee in a week’s time. Until the matter was decided I was still prevented from moving into my new home!

The red arrows over the house
The red arrows over the house

 

On that same day at lunchtime the Red Arrows performed over Lough Down!

They were brought there by a local charity fund raising event.

 

Red Arrows-4

 

Staircases fitted

Preparing to install the main staircase
Preparing to install the main staircase

Nick and Neil have spent the last week installing and dressing the two staircases which were made by Stairplan. To install a staircase you start at the top and work down in case they don’t fit properly. Luckily both of mine fitted perfectly so there was no real problem.

Main flight in place
Main flight in place

 

 

With the main flight held up by the large newel post the landing could be built and then the lower flight installed. Although you could walk up the staircase by the afternoon of the first day there is a lot of work to fit he aprons and balustrades.

Ready to go in
Ready to go in
The basement stairs balanced on the wrong end
The basement stairs balanced on the wrong end

We plan to have LED lights along the side of the basement steps so first job was to drill the holes and insert a wire to provide the connection.

Because the basement stairs have three winder steps at the top they could not be built and then the stairs lowered into place. Instead the boys balanced the stairs precariously against the opposite wall so they could finish the construction. Then the stairs were carefully rotated into their final location.

Amazingly they fitted perfectly first time, which was a great relief to me as I had provided the manufacturers with all the stairwell dimensions.

Basement stairs complete
Basement stairs complete
Main stairs in place
Main stairs in place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from the landing
The view from the landing

Stairs-4

No longer a building site!

Oh no - those shorts again!
Oh no – those shorts again!

I received notice from West Berkshire council that they were going to visit  the site to assess my landscape plan and review the site levels after complaints from the neighbours. I took this as an opportunity to clear up the site and take down the security fence and get rid of the chemical toilet. Gareth was up again so he helped with the tidying up and Angie made the tea.

Grass and hedge cut
Grass and hedge cut

Garage demolished

Martin gets to work on the old garage
Martin gets to work on the old garage

The time has come to demolish the garage to make way for landscaping works and eventually the new car port & bat roost. I can’t say I was sorry to see it go as I had had 3 break-ins to it during the build process and a number of tools stolen. With the house now alarmed and fully secure everything of value is in the house.

Going,
Going,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going
Going

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone
Gone

 

 

 

 

 

The bricks will be used  as hardcore for the new driveway to the carport. A lot of the old tiles have been saved and may be used for roofing the new bat roost.

Lots of other things going on like the bathrooms being installed, tiles being delivered and at last the stairs ………

Stairs arrive
Stairs arrive

Pre-assembled oak and glass they have come from Telford.

I needed lots of bodies on site to man handle them into the house. So Tim & Chris kindly arrived to lend a hand – Ann also came to make the tea!

Me in shorts - not a pretty sight
Me in shorts – not a pretty sight
Stored in the kitchen/ dining
Stored in the kitchen/ dining

 

 

 

 

 

The bottom flight of the main staircase
The bottom flight of the main staircase

 

First Summer BBQ in the garden!

The Landscape plan has only just been submitted to West Berkshire council for approval, and the garden still has a long , long way to go but the fine weather and a visit by Angie’s boys presented an opportunity for a first al fresco lunch.

James, Jim, Chris, Ann, Luke, Angie and Glen outside
James doing the cooking
James doing the cooking

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch discussions
After lunch discussions

 

 

 

 

 

Sidney eating the first of his SIX sausages!
Sidney eating the first of his SIX sausages!

Work surfaces fitted

Struggling with a large piece
Struggling with a large piece

Bristol Marble and Granite came back today and fitted the work surfaces. The earlier visit was to cut templates to the exact size. Back at the factory the stone was cut and polished to the shape of the templates

Gluing the stone down.
Gluing the stone down.

We had chosen synthetic quartz stone, which is made from marble dust embedded in a resin matrix. Other materials are marked by strong dyes or damaged by heat. But this material is pretty impervious

Our new sink
Our new sink
The finished product
The finished product

Angie specifically liked this shade as it includes a “sparkle” which catches the light.

Old Bucks visit

John, Pete, Mick, Dick & Chris and me outside the front door
Me, John, Pete, Mick, Dick & Chris outside the front door

Some of my old school friends gathered at the house today to view progress. It was a beautiful June day, ideal for both the trip over and a look around the old place. I had decided it was time to have a clear up on site so the site was worthy of a viewing.

After general nodding and kind words of approval off to “the Bull” for lunch. The day was so successful we decided to get together again in August.

Sid and Jim start on the tree house

Surveying the site
Surveying the site

About 10 days ago Sidney came over to the house and said “Grandad, could I build a tree house in your garden” After thinking carefully for about 2 seconds I said “Of course you can – so long as your Dad helps,because he is much better at climbing trees than I am”

An initial visit to the bottom of the garden identified a suitable tree and Jim bought a book about tree house design and building. Work started for real this weekend.

Identifying where the main spars go
Identifying where the main spars go
Main spars in place
Main spars in place

The plan was to get two big pieces of timber flat and true bolted into the main trunk of the tree. Subsequently the structure can be built onto that firm base. But that will wait for another weekend.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile work continues in my house with major developments this week.

Templates for the granite surfaces
Templates for the granite surfaces

With James having finished the major elements of the kitchen install, Bristol Marble & Granite came to create templates for the work surfaces. In two weeks time they will return to fit the material and complete the kitchen

Stewart got the electrics on in the house whilst his colleague Stuart fitted the alarm system.

Building the frame for the en suite hand basins
Building the frame for the en suite hand basins

Meanwhile I just got the en-suite ready in time for Cyril and Vladimir to return and tile the new bathroom. Outstanding!