The winter morning light



Gathering clouds

Today is one of those bad days where the dust, the mess and the persistent company of builders feels like an insurmountable weight. Today I caved over the positioning of a light-switch. On screen it seems terribly insignificant but right now I feel that rolling over to the builder’s opinion may serve as a permanent plastic monument to a moment of weakness.

Last week I instructed the builder not to erect a partition wall until I could get home and approve its width – fast forward two hours and I arrive home to find five feet of wall, thirty centimetres too wide. He had decided that he understood what I wanted and progressed anyway. It took so much courage to tell him to take it down but I managed and felt the happy surge of relief when my instructions were followed. But here we are just a few days later and I buckled on the light switch and now I will have to live with it. Granted there are definitely times when builder-knows-best but this wasn’t one of them. This was an aesthetic choice and I should have stood my ground. It was the equivalent of letting your Dad choose what kind of shoes you should wear.

I’ve been having these little wars of attrition throughout the project and it’s led to several little compromises on ‘the vision’. A little bear reminded me today that I am paying him and not to be bullied but sometimes while juggling the things of life, work, and this project something gives and today it was the light-switch.

The back story

After six months of looking I finally found what I really wanted. It wasn’t the first house I really wanted but when I got it, it made sense of all the near misses. The places I had wringed my hands and cursed my luck over now seemed like a lucky escape and somehow part of a divine plan if you believe in that sort of thing.

House one

The very first house I went to see was a beautiful, a dilapidated Victorian laden with untouched original detail. She was a fallen queen that needed restoration, attention and preservation and I believed it was the task for me (after-all we were simpatico).

Having recently ended a long term relationship I was ready for a fresh start and a new project. No children, no partner it was an opportunity to forge a new beginning and challenging enough to demand my full attention and lead me away from the sofa, box sets and large glasses of wine.

At the open day I was surrounded by couples jockeying for position on the doorstep, as if somehow the first person through the door won the prize.  There was a lady with her young baby strapped to her chest who hovered in doorways glaring as if to say what are you all doing in my house.  There were others with tape measures checking if their belongings would fit and couples schmoozing the estate agent acting like it was all in the bag. I would like to say this passive aggressive posturing didn’t affect me but it did. After-all they were all young couples looking for a family house and there was me, my confidence was so shaky I didn’t even make an offer.

House two

Oh I adored this house it was the first viewing in Wally (Walthamstow). This house was a beautiful three bedroom house and unlike house one it was fully restored. The owners had great taste and the fact that the husband was a joiner meant the kitchen was something to behold. The ‘I need a project’ idea sailed right out of my head. I didn’t need a project all I needed was this house. I could change the curtains paint a few rooms and then relax. The desire for this property was so great that I put in an offer 30K over the asking price, I was so certain I would win it and I didn’t.

House three

This one was the worst experience of all. It was small but perfectly formed and on a lovely street. It was the smallest house I’d viewed and smaller than the flat I was selling but friends reassured me that it was right for me. Why did I need a big house – no children, no partner why saddle yourself with the upkeep of a large house. After-all they said, the seller seemed perfectly content and they were a family of three. Surely this was enough house for a single woman.

I viewed it three times and should have listened to that inner voice but I was persuaded and put in a healthy offer to avoid a repeat of house two. The offer was accepted and instead of feeling wonderful about it the doubts grew and grew until the next day I was literally a quivering, crying wreck. This isn’t the one I whimpered, this feels like a compromise, a house where the future is written and that future is small and very boring. I felt as if I’d just promised to buy a bed in retirement home.

Needless to say the next day I wrote a very apologetic letter to the owner explaining that the property wasn’t right for me. What I got in return was an ignorant, vicious rant I guess her dreams were also predicated on my offer. A week later her little house was under offer again so I guess her lopsided mask of civility could go back on.

The one!

There were many more houses viewed after this but no offers were made until I turned up on the worst day of the summer in a run-down property in Wally. The windows were rotten, the proportions bizarre (more about this later) but there was just something about it.

The outside was rendered in something that looked like slurry, windows were missing and the walls and ceilings told War and Peace in braille.  This house for better for worse was going to be mine.


The purchase process was of course long and tedious and often too infuriating to mention so I will fast forward to moving in day.  Completion on the house coincided with my first day in a new job. Of course it did. I was just glad that no one died or at least no one I knew. It was of course hugely stressful and I had toyed with the idea for about 30 seconds of staying with friends until the house was a bit more habitable.


This was an adventure and about as close to a camping experience that I was going to get. In fact, it was better than camping, there was running water (cold) and no spiders. The elderly resident had put polythene over nearly every window which brilliantly meant spiders couldn’t get in but less brilliantly neither could stale air. The house was also hugely damp due to broken guttering, broken windows, broken timbers, broken boiler, broken floorboards – you get the picture everything was pretty much broken and I felt really happy because I wasn’t broken I was on the mend.


A kind friend in the form of a little bear popped round on the second weekend with a couple of bottles of very good wine, a lobster, scallops and king prawns.  He cooked an outstanding dinner on a two ring electric hob because you guessed it the oven was broken. This seafood banquet has become something of an (albeit expensive) institution.


So that’s the back story.