The first in a new series by self-confessed DIY novice Jan Lee. She’s bought her first family home in South London, now all she needs to do is renovate it.
It’s a consequence of noughties TV scheduling that prospective buyers walk into a house expecting to be overcome. We are conditioned by decades of property porn to believe that suitability is measured in the amount of snot and tears shed during the initial viewing. I’m not denying that there is a degree of intuition in making a decent choice of dwelling. I have, and trust, a strong gut feeling when it comes to cat reek or hoarding that will blind me to limitless ‘potential’. It just so happens that cat reek and hoarding had been fairly prominent features in our search, before finding ‘the one’.
There it was, with its large, easterly/westerly-facing windows, its spick tiled pathway and its span red brickwork. Wooden floors, fresh paint and new carpets; no feline odours. Add to that a park out the back, and it seemed to be ticking all our boxes. But there was no keening in the kitchen, or sighing in the sitting room. I just thought it would work, and Himself approved strongly enough to make an offer. The place made sense. Our junk would find a home, leaving enough space to eventually – perhaps – accommodate little miniature versions of ourselves. And in the intervening years, there wouldn’t be too much to do…
But then I’m no builder, plasterer, plumber or decorator. I can’t spot a botched boiler-installation. And since I had, until recently, no eye for a decent tile finish, I wasn’t aware that the pipes that lurked beneath said tiles were about to spring a little housewarming surprise. Having made quite a hard-headed decision, based on convenience and practical stuff like that, it came as a bit of a shock when the poor, unloved house turned passive aggressive. It began crying through the ceiling after a week; it withdrew its plentiful, warm water and revealed its ill-fitted cabinets and ant-infested skirting boards. It was as though it was challenging us, like a twisted old Miss Havisham, to love it even though it was repeatedly kicking us in the teeth.
We pressed on making plans, hoping to coax the house out of its almighty sulk with a bit of cosmetic tinkering. Himself spent hours scraping the splashed paint off the hall floorboards and the doorstep. He painted the neglected window sill and I started a lifelong battle against dust. We got the Sky man round to restore our link to the Outside World. Twice. (After the first attempt we still couldn’t record Happenings from the Outside World in advance.)
It’s now four months since we moved in, and we are beginning to win the war against the boxes. Our clothes have been put into neat fitted wardrobes, and we’re now sleeping through the earliest rays of morning sun, having had shutters installed on our windows. Our books have been re-homed in beautiful shelving units, made to slot perfectly into the uneven spaces in our wonky living room. And as of the long Easter weekend, we have managed to transform the pig sty out back into a little garden. (Progress reports to follow on our ability to keep plants alive and cook the right weeds.)
Thinking about the move, it’s a bit like a teenage romance: neither party ready for the complicated stuff that arises from the clash of wants and needs. But rather than sort it out calmly and maturely, they go at it hammer and tongs until there’s a lot of dust and rubble. Then, slowly and a little more wisely, they start to put it back together brick by brick, tile by tile, convinced that they haven’t quite ruined it. As the new thing takes shape, it dawns on them that they are going to love better and probably more deeply this time round for all its flaws.
It’s ours. Ants and all.
Watch out for Jan’s next post where she’ll be dishing out advice on how to choose the right builder.