Wednesday 31 March 2010

Another whine about feeling cold

It's cold.   We have no heating and haven't had since Monday morning, when the old boiler was removed.  It's so cold that when I zapped some rock-hard coconut oil in order to soften it so that I could make coconut rough, it returned to rock-hard in the 20 minutes it took to eat dinner.

I know the weather here is relatively mild compared to some parts of the world but our houses aren't designed to cope without some form of heating.  And it's turned decidedly wintry in the last week (it's snowed above 200 metres).  We have the added disadvantage of several small holes in the walls downstairs creating a gazillion drafts.  I've lived in cold houses before - my first two permanent homes in the UK didn't have central heating - however I'd forgotten what  it was like.  Both of those properties had some form of heating, just not in every room.  Not here.  Not now.  Not until (hopefully) tomorrow.

The new boiler is "in" but it hasn't, yet, been connected to the gas.  Almost all the new radiators are in position (the ones that aren't have to wait until after the new kitchen is installed).

I can't wait.  Whilst running hot water would be nice, warm rooms would be lovely! (We have an electric power shower so are able to have hot showers, but everything else requires boiling the kettle.)

- Pam

PS:  Don't worry - the tiles, etc, are still getting the chop.

Wednesday 24 March 2010


It's been a hellish week, very busy and very exhausting.  Today, I was up at 4.45am in order to catch the shuttle to Glasgow.  I got home at 7pm.   Anyway, enough of me moaning.  Here is what you really want - photos of the house!

Here are some before photos of the lounge taken when it was being used as a temporary resting place for stuff on the way to the storage locker.   This is the view towards the front window.  Note the cork tiles on the chimney breast and the suspended ceiling with the huge (useless) spot-lights.

And the view towards the kitchen:

The piano was the last piece of furniture to be moved.  It's being stored by specialist piano movers. 

On the left, you can just see the platform that was built over the floor where the original kitchen was until the '70's.  And one of the brick feature walls.  (Yes, that is the current kitchen through those doors.)  Did I mention that we think the old owners used that space as a bar area?  Seems logical when you look at it.

The only thing that is missing is the 1970's padded bar.  This is what was behind all those bricks:
They're all gone now, along with the tiles you can see.  So is the suspended ceiling (hello floorboards!).  I think the paint you can see is original, dating from 1939.  If you look closely, you can see the line of the old picture rails and, higher up, the line where the suspended ceiling was attached.

We've also kissed good-bye to the cork tiles on the chimney:

The pipes are from the back boiler, which will be removed next week together with the gas fire.  (I want to install a wood-fire stove but we'll have to save up for that.)

The last big change is to the lounge room door.  On the left, is the doorway we're filling in.  It dates from the '70's.  On the right, is the original doorway, which we've opened up again.  The plan is to put the sofa in front of this wall but we're now worried it'll be too long.

- Pam

Wednesday 17 March 2010

OMG! It's finally happening!

For the last 6.5 years, DH and I have schemed, planned and saved for today.  We've daydreamed and wished.  We've said, "If I had the money then I'd....." before running off a wish list.  Finally, the great day is here - the builders started work this morning.  The downstairs of our house is being renovated!

Sadly, I don't currently have any "before" photos to show you.  I attempted to take some yesterday morning, before I left for Site, only to discover that the camera's battery was flat and the backup battery was also flat.  DH has taken some photos of the empty/almost empty rooms, but I won't get those until I get home on Friday.

I think I've mentioned before that ours is a typical 1930's semi-detached house, which was renovated in the 1970's.  Although it is orientated on the opposite side, the original floor plan was similar to this one.

It's not exact, but I couldn't find anything closer on-line tonight. The front is at the bottom of the screen.  The previous owners knocked the front reception room through into the back reception room, then took out the wall between that and the kitchen, before building a kitchen extension on the back.  They moved the lounge door to next to the front wall and closed off the back of the hall, inserting a laundry area into it which is accessed via the lounge and the old kitchen doorway.  The other doorways were blocked off.  We think they used the old kitchen area into a bar.  (Think "Abigail's Party".) The floor is covered with a platform, brick feature walls covered the two sides with mirror tiles on the third.  Their final "innovation" is a suspended ceiling, containing 9 huge spot-lights.

When we purchased the house, we said we'd started a 25 year project. We knew it needed a lot of work done - the kitchen's flat roof was gradually deteriorating, the wiring was not up to current building codes, the aging boiler was on it's way out.  Oh, and it has the most God-awful avocado bathroom suite.  But we didn't have the money to do anything except live in the house and learn it's ways.  There was never any storage.  Most of the kitchen cupboards were falling apart.  We couldn't unpack our wedding presents because there was nowhere to put them, and we didn't want to buy more furniture when we knew we'd have to move it out in order to do the building work.  (We've spent the last two weeks clearing everything out and putting it into storage: moving furniture, packing up all the books, boxing up the stash, etc.  It's amazing how stuff breeds!)

Everything is changing.   Gone is the suspended ceiling. The brick feature walls are partially dismantled and DH is happy to report that none of them were load bearing; they ended at the suspended ceiling.   The platform will be removed shortly.  The laundry area will be converted into a downstairs toilet, with access from the hall instead of the lounge.  New lights and new power-points will be installed throughout the house.  The central heating will be replaced, with a new "combi" boiler installed in the kitchen (just as well, some of the old radiators have stopped working).  Sometime next month, when the weather is better, the kitchen roof will be removed and replaced with a pitched, tile roof (goodbye leaking roof!  Goodbye buckets!).  At the same time, a new kitchen will be installed., including a wall of floor to ceiling cupboards.  After nearly 7 years, it's finally happening.

Apparently, the old kitchen had red tiles.  I can't wait to see them.

- Pam

Friday 12 March 2010

Reason for dieting #27

Wearing stockings and suspenders makes you feel like a tourniquet has been applied to your waist.

Seriously?  I was contemplating wearing a skirt to work earlier this week when I realised it needed stockings and that I couldn't get away with just wearing my boots.  I tried on three pairs of suspenders before I gave up and chose to wear something else.  Felt like I was being squeezed in half.

( I don't do pantyhose - I'm on the sizing cusp and they're either always too short (nothing worse than the crotch being 1-2 inches below your real one - it'll rub) or far too long and bag around the ankles.)

- Pam

Monday 8 March 2010

Monday Meanderings

This morning was a contrast of brilliant sunshine and bitterly cold winds.  The ice made a feather and fan pattern on the Toy's windows before I scraped it off.  At 7.30am, the weather bulletin report the temperature as -2C in Central London.  They don't quote wind-chill here but I reckon it's effect is to drop the temperature by at least another 5 degrees.

It's days like these when you remember that Britain is an island and nowhere is more than fifty miles from the sea.  The air is damp, driving the cold right through you. It's a windswept island, too, with icy air blowing in from the Atlantic.

The sunlight is deceptive.  There is some warmth in it, but not enough to heat the air.  You can only feel it if you are out of the wind.  And yet, at every opportunity, I turn my face to greet the sun.  If this was ancient Greece, then I would worship Apollo.  As an Australian, I am a child of the sun.  My earliest memories are of long, hot summer days. 

Today I understand all those ancient ceremonies to welcome the return of Spring.  


Another economists joke:

Is there any other profession where you can be wrong most of the time, but still be considered an expert?


Tonight, the choir started rehearsing for our next concert on 22nd May.  Our conductor's verdict on the African Sanctus is that it was too loud (David Fanshawe got a bit too carried away with playing with the levels).  However, he was really, really pleased with our performance, particularly as we caught up when the Soprano Soloist skipped a page!

Probably the next choir priority is finding a bigger local venue (something I mentioned at last AGM).  We turned away 40 people on Saturday night and could easily have sold 500 tickets instead of the 350 that is the church's capacity. Our next concert will be in a much larger venue, the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, which seats 700. It is, however, a much more expensive venue, so we can only afford it once a year.

- Pam

Sunday 7 March 2010

In the Presence of Genius

Last night, I sang in a performance of David Fanshawe's African Sanctus.   I If you are unfamiliar with the African Sanctus,  there is a small sampler available on the website - it's well worth a listen.

My introduction to the African Sanctus is probably the most unusual introduction to a Latin mass that you'll ever have.  In 1984, it was performed at the Perth Intervarsity Choral Festival, just before I joined the Melbourne University Choral Society.  At a party, three or four months later, someone put on a recording of the African Sanctus and, suddenly,  I was surrounded by a swirl of singing and dancing choristers!  I was enchanted.  And hooked.

I had to wait five years before I got the chance to sing it at the Melbourne Minifest 1989.   As far as I am concerned, it is the best piece of modern choral music written in my lifetime.  There is nothing else like it.  It is almost impossible not to dance to the Finale, when the Sanctus is sung repeatedly across 8 pages of score.   And when you have 150 voices on a stage in the Robert  Blackwood Hall plus drums, it can blow your mind away.

Last night was different but incredibly special in its own way.  First the differences - in 1989, I sang first First Soprano, right at the top of my register (C# anyone?); last night, I sang second Second Soprano, partially because someone had to do it and partially because my absolute top notes appear to have been left behind in Australia so these days I sing Second Sop (I struggle to get a B now).  Swapping parts when you know a piece is one of the hardest things I have ever done.  At one point last night, I gave up - I couldn't hear the Seconds (it was my turn to be rotated to the back row) - so I went with the part I knew best.  Hello, Firsts, here I come!

The other main difference was the venue.  Robert Blackwood Hall is a big, purpose built concert venue seating nearly 1500.   Last night's church is a 1920's barn-shaped building, seating 350.  I think (and DH agrees) it was overpowered by the music.

And the final difference was the choir size.  ECS has between 80 and 90 active members.  Last night, I think we'd have been lucky if we got 60 on stage.  I'm not sure if the pressure of the rehearsal timetable (8, I think) got to some of the old biddies or they didn't like the music.  Certainly, it's not an easy piece to rehearse because of all the interspersed tapes of African music.  Oh, and did I mention that even Second Second Soprano is high?  As in top B high?

But the thing that makes last night special is that it was very much David Fanshawe's performance.  Not only was the composer present - he gave an introductory talk about the African Sanctus - he'd spent the day work-shopping with us and ran the sound desk for the concert.  All day yesterday, during breaks in the singing, he'd throw in comments drawing out one part or another to change the balance, explaining why certain pieces sound the way they do and demonstrating the sound he wanted from us (as well as his normal singing voice (tenor?) he has the most amazingly operatic falsetto soprano).  He also gave us the history behind the movements, explaining where he was when he composed them and what inspired them.

It was a privilege to work with David Fanshawe yesterday.  He's quite a modest man, self-effacing and a little bit shy.  And he's a bit eccentric ("mad as a spoon" as DH put it).  But, when it comes to his music, he is such a big presence.  He was really pleased with our performance last night, taking his bow last night with a big smile and then telling us "well done!".  Afterwards, he kindly signed my score.

- Pam

Monday 1 March 2010

To my American Grandmother

I'm sorry, Nanna, but I was cheering on the Canadians last night when we watched the Ice Hockey.  The romance of the Canadians winning the gold on home soil was too much to resist.

- Pam (contrite)