Home improvements

Time for a post that is not about horse racing. Because the gee-gees continue to misbehave.

Good job I’ve got some Don’t-Do-It-Yourself projects to partially distract me. The house has been in neglect for some while now and finally we’ve decided to do something about it. 

Starting with a new back door. A lovely new wooden framed all-glass portal for the back of the house, manufactured with care and fitted with precision by my mate GC. (All enquiries to http://www.compasstimber.co.uk)

I thought getting rid of the old one might be a little tiresome. In fact the thing had about 40 watchers on E-bay and went for a tidy £40, including pick up. The best result I’ve had since G-Force won the Sprint Cup in September. Seriously.

Arthur and Lisa from Wendover had bought to door. Lisa texted me to say they would be over on Sunday morning to collect it.  After a late night, screaming Toast Of New York down the stretch in a sun drenched Santa Anita Breeders Cup Classic (another taste of seconditis for me, but what a run, what a race…!), I flicked open Sunday morning curtains to grizzly rain.

The phone jingled into life and Arthur was seeking last moment directions in a thick Glaswegian accent. A few minutes later, his neighbour’s blue Ford Mondeo pulled up with Welshman Pete at the wheel. Arthur explained that they were hauling the PVCu half-glazed door and frame back home for their new lean-to. A few moments late, under battleship-grey skies and siling rain, Arthur and I were at either end of the reject door, blocking the pavement at a rather jaunty 45 degrees, edging it towards the awaiting jalopy.  

Pete was obliviously ensconced in his warm, snug driver’s seat. Arthur raised his eyes heaven-ward. “Pete, Pete! For God’s sake! Open the boot!”. He looked at me. “Just knock on the back window will you.” I did and Pete appeared at leisure, a short and sprightly 83 year old. He lifted the boot door to reveal a space ranged with useful (on other occasions, perhaps) car maintenance equipment. I looked in despair at the back seats still upright, the rear shelf in place and felt my arms lever from my shoulder sockets just a tad more.

Arthur issued some instructions to the hapless Pete and said to me “I don’t want to put the door down now I’ve paid for it. Don’t want to break it. I’m a Scotsman you know.” “Ha!” I mustered some jollity. “Well, I’m a Yorkshireman. You know what they say about us: Scotsmen with the generosity squeezed out!”

He liked that. “I used to be a Redcoat at Butlins”, he boasted. I felt my affable grin wane a little. I felt a Scotsman-Welshman-Yorkshireman gag coming on. Not quite, though.  “Do you know how copper wire was invented?” Pete was rummaging around in the boot and shifting seats around. “Go on?” I moved us carefully towards the yawning saloon and glanced up at Arthur, his glasses slipping down his nose. “Two Scotsman fighting over a dropped penny!” I chuckled and lodged the frame on the lip of the boot. My muscles squealed with relief.

We pushed the door further in, scraping against plastic mouldings and tearing at the seat covers. It came to a halt on the headrests with the front seats pushed as far forward as they could go. “You’ll be sitting with your knees up by your ears, Pete!”

The bottom of the door was sticking out of the back of car. Arthur and Pete pulled down the hatch and wrestled with a couple of bungee wires until the door was dubiously secure. Arthur was still on his red coat re-enactment. “Did you hear about the Scotsman who was so tight-fisted he had varicose veins in his knuckles? Ha!”

I waved them off clutching £40 in my own knuckles, determined not too put too much of it on Eduard in the 3.45pm at Carlisle. This proved to be a wise decision. Nicky Richards unexposed prospect mustered only 2nd, unable to concede weight to the very fine Many Clouds under that one’s ideal conditions.

The next part of our home improvement project was to the replace the boiler. It was on its last legs two years ago when our plumber shook his head in that way that tradesmen do, before coaxing a little more life out of it. Alex the plumber, no mean looker, according to Mrs A, pitched up at 8am with a brace of lean, fit young men to do the job. I jumped out the door and in to London thinking that at least Mrs A would enjoy an attractive side-show as they ripped the kitchen apart.

The plan was for Mrs A to join me in London that night. We’d booked a couple of preview tickets at a fringe theatre in south London close to where I work that I’d been really keen to try. Of course it was bound to go wrong. The boiler job took longer than expected and then the gas pressure was inadequate, so we had chatty National Grid Man pay us a visit to crank up the cubic metre-age, whilst asking Mrs A to complete the customer questionnaire so he could get a certificate to show his kids.

Mrs A pretty much manhandled Alex (any excuse) out of the door at 6pm, and somehow we made it to the bohemian Union Theatre bar by 7.20pm. A couple of stiff Rioja rojos and she was back on an even keel. The theatre was a 55-seat off-West End gem built into the arches of the viaduct carrying the Waterloo East line to Kent. We were invited into the auditorium, clutching our drinks, in batches of 10 to sit where we chose. Dry ice and moody lighting gave a whiff of Dio-period Black Sabbath gigs. Maybe it was expecting too much to hope the score of this Howard Goodall-penned fringe-musical would pack the same doomy punch.

Girlfriends was hugely enjoyable though. And not just because there was a surprising amount of shagging. The narrative was a little deliberate and a fraction na├»ve in its portrayal of  WRAF girls on a bomber base during WWII. Nevertheless, the performances were excellent and the production innovatively suited to the small space: because there was no sense of division between stage and seating, the audience was drawn right into the heart of the play. Although not into the shagging. Obviously. Everything else was going on all around us. I think we were both more intrigued by the staging than the musical itself. A perfect antidote to Rhythm Star being unsighted in the 1.20 novice hurdle at Uttoxeter.

By calling in to check on the girls, we contrived to walk past the best restaurants in Union Street and ended up eating the worst Thai ensemble I’ve ever tasted. I was up half the night gargling water to dilute a caking of salt and garlic in my throat deposited like a layer of basalt from the alleged ‘green curry’. But I don’t like to moan about a tiny blemish on an otherwise top evening.

Such Metropolitans. We were back in town for Fiona’s birthday brunch bash a mere few hours later. Penkull & Barnes is in Shoreditch which remains resolutely upwardly mobile. You can tell by the number of eateries and bars that pretend they are in cooler-still Hoxton the other side of Old Street by liberally misappropriating the word ‘Hoxton’ in their names. Good afternoon though. Top class Bloody Marys and scrambled eggs til 5pm. Nothing wrong with my system after that lot. I know how our radiators felt after Alex the plumber’s power flush the day before...

Next on our home improvement checklist is a new patio. The existing one was dug out and placed there by me about 10 years ago. The cracks between the broken slabs are now so wide that they could be mistaken for the holes in my punting strategy. We are starting to lose small children (and, worse, crisps and olives) to their cavernous clutches.

James came round to price up a replacement.  He seemed to spin a convincing yarn about what needed to be done, but I was so entranced by his Rasputin-like beard that he could have pitched for a house extension and I’d have tamely nodded.

Our neighbours have had some building work done at the back. From our kitchen window, where we previously gazed on fields, trees, wide sunsets and small herds of impala, we are instead confronted by a brick wall. To be fair, it is a lot better than I feared when I first saw the plans. James the Beard ran his landscaping hands over the brickwork and nodded appreciatively. “Nice job. Good pointing”.

He said it would be great to complete the edging of my new patio with matching bricks if there were any spare. So I asked the builders next door and they said they’d just chucked half a pallet in the skip out the front. James left and I spent the next hour digging into the skip to retrieve 80 reclaimed house bricks and stacked them neatly behind my shed. The power of the beard. Just waiting for the quote now.

We’ve had a long term plan to put a wood burner in our dining room’s empty fireplace. After abandoning ambitious plans to link one with a new boiler and create an eco scheme that would dwarf the Eden Project, we settled on a nice model from a supplier in Chipperfield. The sales woman was quiet, low pressure, informative and just very nice really. She booked us an appointment with the installer, her husband Kev.

Kev arrived one Saturday morning and you would have never put the two together. He bounced in, flexing wide, tattooed biceps and a wider, tombstone grin. He didn’t stop talking for half an hour. Loud, quickfire, repetitive stuff about the width of the fireplace, the length of the flue and the size of his family. Entertaining. He was a man’s man and spent twice as long talking to me directly as he did Mrs A. I found myself involuntarily imitating his style. “WELL YEAH, WE THOUGHT THE JOB COULD BE DONE, EASY LIKE. NO PROBS. BUT THAT AIN’T ‘ALF A SMALL OPENING. SMALL HOUSES THESE VICTORIAN TERRACE JOBS, YEAH.” Going with the flow, I could even feel my shoulders start to roll.

So we await the builder later today to tell us the extent and price of the fireplace widening. Potential for this to be the death knell of another project. Is nothing easy? Hope he arrives after the 2.15 from Exeter. Haldon Gold Cup. Special race. I wouldn’t want to miss another loser.

We also want some outside lighting for the expansive new patio that beardy James has probably sold me. Can I get an electrician to look at a job that’s less than a full house re-wiring? No. Anyone know a decent sparky?

One with a few racing tips would be especially welcome.


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