Wet patches and naked builders…


(I am too, too kind…)

This weekend we had a Situation in the Toilet

Before we get to it, here’s some back-story…:
Three years ago we bought a new house. I say ‘new’, but what I really mean is ‘really bloody old’. But y’know… for us it was new.

Now, some clever people – probably the same clever people who return DVDs to Blockbuster without incurring a £2.5million fine – are so very very clever that when they borrow enough money to fill the hole in the ozone layer and give themselves palpitations for three years, they then use this dosh to buy bricks and mortar arranged in such a way that it’s actually possible to live among them from the moment the keys are transferred.

Other people…don’t. They (and in this case ‘we’) buy houses that fall apart if you so much as breath near them, and are thus completely impossible to live in without destroying the whole thing and starting again.

It’s a bit like buying a very expensive pair of jeans which nobody could possibly wear because they’re falling apart, and then unpicking the lot and completely re-making them. Out of solid fucking gold.

And thus it was that we traded in our perfectly nice house with working lights and a flushing toilet, and bought an old, dilapidated house in need of total renovation.
And then set about…totally renovating it. While living in it. With three children under ten.

This wouldn’t have been quite so painful had we not signed the contracts thirty five seconds before the British housing market decided to have a major coughing fit, and collapse.
But still. Even without this major financial whoopsie it was always going to be a tough job. And having three young children living in it with us throughout the renovations, occasionally ‘helping’ to check the live wiring or falling down the 3-foot drop where there once used to be a floor, just made it all the more…interesting.

It took 18 months of living in a building site, having no access to the kitchen at all for 4 months (we had a 2-ring, lukewarm electric hob that our builder lent us, which could only cook pasta, or rice. Or pasta.), having no heating throughout the snow-covered months of December and January, and inhaling nothing but sawdust, plaster dust, brick dust and All Other Types Of Dust Known To Man….but we did it.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, as such, but it was certainly ‘an experience’ and I’m mostly glad we did it. I just wish it hadn’t aged me by 18 thousand years, and almost resulted in divorce in the kitchen area of Ikea…

Now then, those of you who know that I’ve written two books with the term *grits teeth* ‘Yummy Mummy’ in their titles will probably think that I wouldn’t know one end of a paintbrush from the other, because I have a nanny (nope, never had one) and an au pair (ditto) and a childminder (ditto) and a four-by-four (I have a bicycle with a basket) and a manicure every week (mani-what?!) to help me get through the day, and I. Don’t. DO. Paintbrushes.

You may sense a slight prickliness here, and you’re not wrong. Some day I’ll write a rant about the Yummy Mummy thing, and put the record straight once and for all.
But for now allow me to share a few of my house-renovation moments, so you can see that I was not in fact having my hair curled, my bum waxed (does one do that??) and my children fed on pureed organic kumquats freshly prepared by my 24/7 team of Slovakian au pairs. I’ve attempted to align them in some neat way, but as you can see I’ve failed utterly….

My Name is Liz. I am sanding a floor. Well, 9 floors...


Now I am scraping the woodchip wallpaper off 6 rooms. It's coming off in 1-inch pieces. I am not liking this...


Now I am painting the floor....that I just sanded. I'm sure there's a reason for this...

In a force 10 gale, I am painting the bay window. At the top of a long ladder. And sticking my tongue out...


Thanks to all the scraping, wallpaper stripping, sanding, painting, wood-filling, sanding again, garden landscaping, tree-felling, earth-shovelling etc etc etc one of my shoulders is now considerably larger than the other, but so far I think I’ve got away with it.

Now then, as well as my good self and my incredibly attractive dungarees, we also had a team of Big Busy Builders who did the Things I Didn’t Dare Or Know How To Do: smashing down walls, building and installing 15 windows, re-wiring, re-plumbing, plastering, and drinking tea with 700 sugars. Things were all going very well for the first six moths or so. It was Winter. My builders and I wrapped up in layers of thick fleece and worked hard just to avoid freezing to death. I was the project manager and General Extremely Bossy Boots and everyone did exactly what I told them to.

But then something catastrophic happened that I feel I must warn you about, should you ever attempt such a building venture and fall into the same trap that I did.

The thing that happened was that Summer came, and the sun came out.

And the second the sun came out, the clothes came off.

 Not ALL of them, you understand. But enough that I suddenly found myself working in a house chock full of half-naked, perspiring men. With muscles, of the rippling kind.

Attempting to give these torso-displaying hunks of maleness any comprehensible directions, oversee their work and maintain any air of competence or managerial manager-y-ness was now pretty much impossible. They were half-naked! And…everywhere!

And that’s where I took my eye off the ball.

Not the balls. My eye was always off those, thanks very much. No, my eye was taken off The Ball. You know, the ‘check all the work is done really, really properly before you sign it off’ ball.

In my acres-of-flesh-induced stupor, I decided the safest course of action was to assume all the work was being carried out just fine thank you, while I hid upstairs trying to focus on varnishing another billion floorboards.

Which is probably why what just happened this weekend happened.

Sitting on the toilet, as even people who appear on TV have to do from time to time, I suddenly felt a splash of water land on my head. Fairly sure that I hadn’t just pissed on my own head, I looked up and noticed that the ceiling, which oddly enough I don’t usually look at very much, was not only severely cracked, but also severely bowed. And severely wet.
And there was water coming out of it.

It all looked very severely cocked-up.

Now I’m not a qualified plumber, but I’m pretty sure that water isn’t supposed to be coming out of ceilings. So I called a qualified plumber, and he confirmed that water is indeed not supposed to be coming out of ceilings. He also stuck a hammer through the ceiling, and did this:

I'm pretty sure ceilings aren't supposed to look like this...


Turned out that not only was the entire ceiling soaked through, it was also heavily bowed down because whichever half-stripped builder had installed the toilet in the room above had decided to throw all the brick, plaster and general rubble (including an empty crisp packet and a fag end, no less) into the hole beneath the floor, instead of clearing it all away as he was supposed to.
He also didn’t install the pipe work properly, and left a small leak in the hot water pipe, which has been slowly dripping its way through the floor for two years.

As the Project Manager Extraordinaire I should have checked all of this, of course. But I didn’t. Because I was upstairs hiding from all the half-naked people, and being a nincompoop.
I’ll never make it on the Apprentice. Sorry, Sir Alan.

So the message is clear: a) don’t have any house renovations done while the sun is shining b) if you do then wear blinkers and make sure you check all the work properly, and c) don’t be a nincompoop.

Now all I have to do is decide which builder to call to fix the Toilet Situation.

Whichever one it is, he’d better be wearing clothes….


6 thoughts on “Wet patches and naked builders…

  1. Mom-on-a-Wire (Alethea)

    Oh I feel your pain; we have renovated an almost 100 year old and built from scratch. I haven’t blogged because both incidents ere buried, under lock and key, deep inside the recesses of my mind.
    Hope the plumber is butt-ugly ;-)!

    1. lizfraser Post author

      Wow, sounds like you’ve earned your Bob the Builder badge too! I didn’t have a blog when I was doing the house project, thank god – I’ve never have got all the work done!!
      It was such a MAMMOTH job, and I stopped all my writing work for 4 months to slave on the house 24/7.
      It all seems like a distant, dusty memory now – up ladders at 11pm after the kids were all in bed, starting again every day at 7am with the THUMP of the builder’s boots, moving boxes from room to room to room for years on end, living in one room for a year, no taps, no heat…..aaarghghghgh!!
      But hey, it was worth it.
      Hope you love your place now too, and thanks for dropping by 🙂

  2. martin hood

    cant be a proper builder due to the fact i cant see a cup of tea in your hand, keep the good work up

  3. Egam Irorrim

    Yes I feel your pain.
    My story goes like this: used (rented, don’t own one yet) bulldozer to dig 6′ deep trench from house to electrical power lines about 150′ away. Had to finish trench by hand where excavator could not reach. By then trench had filled with water (mud) and said mud was leaking into my underlayers. Had to be done by Monday. I had a fever. Had to get get it done anyway.
    Neighbor walks by, takes pictures, laughs, and says” “I think I would have written a check”.


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