Autumn by proxy

It is now 2 months, almost to the day, since the builders arrived, and the inability to get into my own garden is really starting to bite. The toddler likes to stand on a chair in the back bedroom and gaze out over the forbidden territory, intoning ‘Mine flowers! Mine Peter Rabbit!’ (he’s a well-loved garden ornament who has been with me since my early childhood gardening days) – and I know exactly how she feels.

My flower beds are going unweeded, my trees and shrubs are being allowed to sprawl everywhere, and pretty soon leaves will be falling with no-one to rake them up.

Without even having access to an outdoor broom or secateurs (stuck in the garage we can’t get into), I can’t tidy up the *front* garden – the other day I couldn’t bear it any longer and used my kitchen scissors to cut back a few things that were overcrowding the path, and used the toddler’s toy dustpan and brush to tidy up the fallen leaves.

That, at least, gave me a bit of satisfaction – but as for enjoying the best of early autumn, I’ve had to seek it out elsewhere, by proxy, instead of being hard at work in my own garden.

Our old favourite haunt, The Rookery, was looking lovely the other weekend, and the sight of a huge burst of Michaelmas daisies made me nostalgic for my old garden, where they were self-seeded liberally.

The colour of the daisies is always a joyful sight in autumn, and I was especially pleased that the toddler identified them as ‘daisies’, which I didn’t really expect, they are different enough from the regular garden variety, after all.

I also admired these gorgeous shades of pink at the Horniman gardens – a giant version of Cosmos, from the look of it – I know I want something like this in the garden!

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Then, on a slightly more dramatic scale, we went to Alice Holt Forest on Surrey/Hampshire borders to do the Gruffalo trail (which was coming to an end, but soon to be replaced by the Gruffalo’s Child trail, fear not). At this stage of the autumn, leaves were not quite on the turn, but the scale of the trees was still impressive.

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There were also these rather charming or sinister, depending on your view, owl sculptures…

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Closer to home, on a gorgeous sunny day, I found evidence of late summer and approaching winter within close proximity – beautiful late-flowering clematis one moment, and fully-berried holly the next.

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(Am I allowed to be a wee bit excited about Christmas already? I will have a fully functioning kitchen by then, after all…)

Finally, and most exciting, here is the new room as it looked today – with concrete floor fully laid, and plaster-boarding over all the ceiling pipes, it really begins to look like a proper room now.

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The fact that the builders will soon be out, and decorators will soon be in, is very thrilling, but as the Mr said today ‘it’ll get worse before it gets better’. As soon as the kitchen installation starts, we’ll probably lose our temporary sink in the living room, as the plumbing will have to be removed, so day-to-day living will get a lot harder, but on the plus side, the skip will go and we’ll be able to get into the garage at last. And seeing that we will have a really decent sized downstairs loo, now that the walls for it have gone up, makes me very happy indeed – what can I say, it’s the little things…

And the saga of the new dining table and sofa? We went today to the showroom of Made.com, on the 9th floor of a half-derelict office block in Notting Hill, (which is probably worth a blog post all of its own, it was such a surreal experience). Notting Hill is very much not my natural milieu, so even venturing there at all was well out of my comfort zone, let alone going into a shabby old tower block to hang out with hipsters sitting on chaise longues, and well, no final decisions so far, but at least going to look at real furniture, sitting on it and trying it out, gives you a feel for what you really want, and crossing off what you don’t.

Bit by bit, we’re getting there, though I still want to plan good storage for everywhere – toys and books in the living area, glass and crockery in the dining room, shoes and coats in the hall – and all the final details to iron out. Hopefully that will be the fun bit after the hard work is over!

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The Great Project – half way point

We have just reached the end of week 7 of our extension. July seems a very, very long time ago, back when we had a working kitchen and a washing machine and a house not covered in layers of dust. 7 weeks since I was last able to get into my garden and do some proper weeding and pruning, or even just sit in the sunshine and enjoy my garden.

There have been some blips along the way – we learned that living without a boiler and only having an immersion heater does not mean guaranteed hot water on tap; the plumber who assured us immersions could be left on all the time was proved wrong after about 4 days.

Then there was the issue of trying to fit a skip and a portaloo on our drive, meaning all the useful stuff in the garage we thought we’d be able to get at, we can’t – until the garage door button was accidentally pressed, it opened against the portaloo and we now have a buckled garage door. Oops. (Here’s a picture of the skip being emptied, earlier this week).

Skip in action!

Skip in action!

The actual new room itself is starting to take shape – roof and three Velux windows, electrics going in, and walls for the cloakroom and teeny tiny utility room (more like a utility corridor with an alcove) are going up.

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New room – kitchen window on left, bi-fold door on right

There are two big things we’re waiting on now, one is the kitchen window and bi-fold doors which have to come from (where else?) Germany, and although we were given a 6 week lead time, we are told they’re already ahead of schedule (hurrah!). My well-worn joke is that wouldn’t it be great if the big truck arrived from Germany and we found we’d actually had a Huf Haus delivered? I can dream, anyway…

Then we are also waiting on the kitchen itself. This is also a 6 week wait, more or less, and whilst the room is beginning to feel like a real room, I can’t quite visualise the kitchen in the space we’ve created, and am still slightly worried there won’t be room for everything. We’ve already lost the space where the boiler was going to go, and it’s been relegated to the utility, but thankfully this does mean we gain a cupboard.

In lieu of being able to do anything really constructive with the kitchen yet, we have been planning out the rest of the room in our heads. The two things we decided we really needed were a new dining table and chairs – the old ones are well past their best – and a new sofa, as we’ll have space for a bigger one and my well-loved but battered red Sofa Workshop model won’t really suit the colours in the new room.

We are both keen on having a corner sofa, for the full relaxation potential of sitting overlooking the garden with feet up and a cup of tea (though which adult exactly gets the prime feet-up position is still up for debate…) and we liked the Finlay sofa from John Lewis…until we saw the price, so we are now on the look out for a cheaper alternative to that, although of course the other key criteria is that it must be comfortable.

I was amazed to discover when plonking down on many, many sofas, how some of them are far too soft – just like Mummy Bear’s bed, you sink down and wonder how you are ever going to get up again. On the other hand, neither do you want a sofa that’s too firm, in the ‘dentist’s waiting room’ style.

Then we come to the dining table – my original goal was a proper family table, made of good solid wood, no MDF or veneers, thank you very much! On the other hand, it’s not a country kitchen with Aga and chocolate retriever, so I can’t have a lovely Victorian pine table, as much as I’d like one, and nor do I want something too bland and modern. (I dutifully looked at Oak Furniture Village, seeing as they are so keen to sell me something on their adverts, but that’s definitely not my taste).

On the John Lewis site, I really, really liked the Harmony table, until I realised it didn’t come with any dining chairs as standard, just benches with high backs which remind me a bit too much of school or church, and are not very practical compared to a bench that can slide under the table.

John Lewis recommended the chairs to go with this table were the Eames moulded plastic chairs – well, I know, it’s Eames, you can’t really go wrong, can you? That is until I tried sitting on one, and discovered that although it’s comfortable, it’s not what I’d call £328 comfortable.

And as a friend pointed out, why buy Eames chairs when they are going to be scribbled over and dribbled on with bolognese sauce for the next few years? – you can always by designer furniture later on. Then we discovered that the bog-standard moulded plastic chairs in the John Lewis cafe were just as comfortable for a fraction of the price…so those are now on the ‘maybe’ list.

Whilst in JL, we also spotted a table that seemed to answer everything we needed – Mira has a sleek, unfussy style that would go perfectly with our kitchen without veering too much into the retro 50s style (e.g. Ercol) which I like very much but am not sure I could live with. The Mira range also has a bench without a back which would slide perfectly under the table and be great functional seating for children.

We were quite happily decided that this was the table for us, until I checked the website and saw some of the reviews: “The only thing to be aware of is that the table top stains very easily…currently looking for a product to protect without effecting [sic] the matt/untreated-style finish”, and “Secondly, the table stains so easily, every mark shows. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of protective coating on the wood. It’s a great table for short-term use but we have now had ours for less than 6 months and it is starting to look worn and tired. Such a shame”.

That threw up a big red flag – sure, we have an oilcloth we could put over the table, but the legs and the bench would still be vulnerable, and at the moment we are going through a stage of a *lot* of toddler scribbling, on floors, the sofa, her own clothes, whatever she can get her hands on. We need a heavy duty table that can take a lot of knocks, and I’m not sure Mira is that table.

So we are back at square one with the table. I’ve looked at M&S, Debenhams, Ikea, House of Fraser etc, and can’t see anything else I like as much as the ones in John Lewis. I’d happily go for the Harmony table if I could decide I liked the benches with backs after all – but then, that table wasn’t actually on show in either of the shops we visited, and do I really want to order a table without seeing it for real?

We do have a back-up table, my old kitchen table from the old house, which seats 4 comfortably, but we really want a proper table sitting at least 6 or 8 in time for Christmas. With that deadline in mind, I need to keep hunting!