Thursday, July 31, 2008

While the cat’s away ...

The mouse, i.e. me, didn’t so much play, as batter a certain part of FTC into submission, look death in the eye and chortle heartily.

The man of the house departed for Wales on Thursday evening for a long anticipated fishing trip with Bill. Long anticipated in the way that Christmas Day is long anticipated by 5 year olds and Boxing Day by their parents. I had been saddled with hound duty and so had grudgingly taken time off work and not one to let an opportunity pass, had hatched a rather cunning plan.

The senior Batsford household has been busy these past few months knocking rooms together and creating a rather snazzy looking kitchen/ diner arrangement. That of course meant that there were some old kitchen units floating about without a place to call their own.

Husband away? Free kitchen units? I make that Barn o’clock!!!

And so it was that I found myself sitting beside a friend on Thursday evening, sweltering our way down to Chelmsford at the mercy of a sat nav determined to show us the sights and sounds of the greater East Anglia area. With some huffing, and not a little puffing, the kitchen was soon safely delivered to FTC to sit in a rather ungainly pile at the top of the garden.

Friday morning didn’t so much dawn, as scorch the hairs from your nostrils, but there was work to be done, and not enough time to do it. I won’t try and explain how my heart sank when I walked into the barn, I think the photo speaks for itself.

No time for tears, tantrums or beating on walls crying “why? Whhhhyyyyy??” though, it was time to start removing ‘stuff’ from the barn with extreme prejudice. In a surprisingly short space of time the lawn was reduced to a rubbish tip and there were the first tiny glimmers of space, and pile upon pile of rat droppings.


So started the routine for the weekend … clear, clean, replace … clear, clean, replace … mutter darkly about husbands hoarding junk, clear, scream, clean, drink, replace.

First to find a new home was the wardrobe that Keith had sworn blind wouldn’t fit up the stairs. It is now my gardening wardrobe with locks to keep hounds and little people away from nasty sharp implements and plant food.

Next was the ‘kitchen’ end of the barn and that was soon ready to start receiving the new units … as soon as reinforcements arrived.

Reinforcements being delayed, I sat down to try and map the wild plans that had been festering in my mind onto the reality in front of me. It wasn’t a pretty moment.

That’s how Hen found me a few hours later, caught between stubbornness and despair, and did what any good friend would do, rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in.

I don’t think Hen would mind me sharing with you that he is not a great DIY enthusiast, but what he lacks in that area, he made up for by wiring up Keith’s beloved speakers in their new home. It would possibly help to explain at this juncture that Keith’s speakers have been the source of some discussion since we moved into FTC. Standing waist height and made of what the Japanese take to be a close approximation of wood, I was less than keen to unleash them on the house. Keith was less than keen on getting rid of them. We eventually settled on a compromise of them gathering dust in the spare room. Now, they once again stood proud and for the rest of the weekend, kept me motivated by bellowing out some of the Chilli Pepper’s best.

Before the end of the afternoon, Hen and I had somehow managed to bully the low level cabinets and work tops into place. It felt like every cabinet was a triumph as they not only fitted where I had imagined they would, but the worktop proved to be exactly the right length, despite the collection being in an entirely different order. There were a few casualties along the way, my big toe nail for one, but it was with a general sense of pride that we called time that evening, cracked open a bev and sat down to a BBQ.

Saturday morning was no more kind than Friday had been, except it had expanded its repertoire to include industrial grade humidity to the mix. Now I was not only roasting in my thick combat trousers, but I was also covered in a lovely white paste from the dust on the floor.

Saturday was to be the start of my less favoured part of the installation process, the wall cabinets. While Hen carried on with general duties, I got out drills, goggles (now with new “insta-steam function”), ladders and assorted paraphernalia and started drilling, screwing and hanging for all I was worth. It went fairly well and by lunch, I was left with only one cabinet left, the Big Bad Double Cabinet of Doom!!

It had to go up, it just HAD TO, but it was almost the same size and weight as me, and now once again alone and with no prospects of help on the horizon, it was down to me to work out how I was going to win this herculean battle.

For the second time, I surprised myself with my own good sense and decided it would wait until Sunday. My arms were tired, it was hot and I had no desire to be squished under a cabinet for 2 days before help arrived. So I busied myself with some tip runs instead, always satisfying, and splashed out on some wood preservative to restore the very tired looking woodwork.




Oooh and I also took the opportunity to fix the broken join in the guttering while I was flinging ‘melted dairy milk’ about the place. It doesn’t so much cascade water onto everything in a 5 metre radius now as confine itself to a slow drip, but I will soon see that off with some silicone sealant this weekend.

Now we come to the Battle Royal, the zenith of my barn war … the double cabinet. Sunday morning, first light, I flung open the door, hip cocked in something of a cowboy pose. I eyed the cabinet suspiciously, tipped my jaw, and circled. It was time. That cabinet had an appointment for an ass-whooping and I was wearing my best boots.

Anthony Keidis was soon bellowing his encouragement from the speakers and I had supped from a family sized bottle of brave juice so I grasped the cabinet, took a deep breath and heeeeeaved it onto the work surface.

At this point I added a valuable lesson to my canon of DIY knowledge – Heavy cabinets are a little like cornered animals, they pounce if they think you’re off balance.

Luckily the laws of physics took over and the cabinet landed rather unceremoniously on the desired worktop with me in tow.

The next challenge was of course to hang the thing. For those of you who are lucky enough never to have tried to hang kitchen cabinets it may be worth me explaining that all of grandma’s finest bone china is actually suspended by nothing more than two small adjustable hooks on the back of the cabinet held to the wall by two equally puny looking brackets. It will therefore come as little surprise to know that biggest problem with hanging cabinets is the ‘left a bit, right a bit’ of trying to line the damn thing up. It’s a little like trying to bowl blindfolded with your ‘wrong’ hand – frustrating and often painful.

Luckily, I'm more cunning than a melamine cabinet. What I needed was to fashion some kind of rudimentary step. It had to be roughly the right height, heavy enough that the cabinet wouldn’t just slide it out of the way and robust enough to take the weight. Something, in fact, very much like my tool chest. And so it came to pass, that having ‘walked’ the cabinet up onto the tool chest, with a simple ‘hup’ it was on its brackets.

That was easy, far too easy.

Suspicious, I stood to the side and gave the shelves an experimental push. Hmmm, no movement there. Maybe it’ll fall forwards. Nope, seems OK, but I’m no fool, I know what happens next, I start tightening the hooks and WHAM it breaks loose and I get squished ….. nope, it all seems fine. A few turns of the screwdriver and a few final shakes later and I was convinced.


Arms thrown to the ceiling, lap of honour run and a damn good dance around later and I decided it was perhaps churlish to gloat.

The rest as the Americans say, was aaaaaall good. I packed away enough car parts to restock VW (as Hen has pointed out a few days earlier, perhaps the only thing that was surprising was that I had honestly believed that when a drag racer married a car restorer there would be anything BUT a lot of parts), swept until I choked, made friends of the guys at the local tip and then, just for good measure, made us a dining table out of some spare wood and an old table top.

It was the very last thing I did, and that was by no means an accident. My entire motivation for clearing the barn was to have a long dreamed off dining space; to finally be able to have parties in the barn, to have Christmas there, to be able to sit with the doors folded back in the depths of winter with the (soon to be purchased and installed) log burner blazing watching the snow flakes tumble.

To me, the table was a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Good thing too because the temporary legs I made are shocking. The first meal that we ate around it was a good old feed of steak and chips and it turns out that there is a technique to eating in our dining room - one person needs to brace while the other cuts to counteract the wobble. As I say they are temporary legs, I couldn’t find any nice turned wood offerings in the 3 hours I had left before the boys came home from Wales and it really is the perfect place to eat as long as you’re not tackling anything more challenging to your cutlery than soup.

And so it came to pass that our barn finally, two full years after we moved in, became the haven we had always hoped it would.And Keith’s reaction when he got home? I think it’s safe to say he was pretty chuffed.