Looking forward to spring

This is pretty obvious, given the weather today and how bleak it’s been, but – I have more than one reason for looking forward to spring. And that is that work is about to being again on our house – hurrah!

It’s been almost a year since I last opened my “House Work Planner” spreadsheet and since then there hasn’t been a lot of progress in our house. But, we certainly haven’t been doing nothing. During that time our household has acquired two cats, got one new job that has taken up many hours, written at least one book (not by me), travelled round Southern California, survived an office move and got a new mortgage. The last of which means, hurrah – work can begin on our house again!

So, that is why I’m looking forward to Spring.

Because in just under a month, our builder will be back and ripping out our bathroom. He has to start outside with our ancient pipes and drains, and then gut the whole bathroom before he can do anything. I’m trying not to think about that stage. Instead, I am doing the exciting bits – obviously – and dream shopping for bathroom fittings.

This is our current bathroom, complete with makeshift shower held up by a decorating pole and NHS curtain.

Old bathroom shower pole come decorating pole

It’s not hideous but it is dark, and so very blue. And always just a little bit damp. I dread to think what is lurking under the lino…(Poor Kristian…our builder).

So, I think after living with this for the last 18 or so months we will be going clean, and bright. And likely white, with one bright colour splash somewhere.

I took a walk to Romford Road today to visit the excellent TJR Bathrooms, which has a surprisingly good range of lovely bathroom fixtures and fittings. There I was before I went, saying, ‘look, I definitely don’t want to spend a fortune on the bathroom’. But, ahhh – but then I picked up a Clearwater ‘Simply Exclusive’ bathroom brochure. Disaster.

My current shortlist should budget/bargain hunting allow is:

This beautiful Clearwater Roll-top basin with stand –

Swwon
Swoon

Perhaps paired with this Modern Free-standing bath, again from Clearwater –

ImageGen.ashx-2
Pass the sponge

And, oh definitely need one of these:

Heritage Heated Towel Rail
Heritage Heated Towel Rail

Hmm. I think I might have to do some shopping around. But, for now, I will carry on dreaming!

———–

In other news, I’m adding a feature to this blog – stolen from a friend and colleague Be Nourished. Seeing as I read so much in my job, I thought I’d share my recent reads and soon-to-be-reads with you.

So, this month:

– The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. Stunning debut I thought and one of the books last year that everyone was talking about. Weird and wonderful, not perfect but I loved it.
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. God, I loved The Rosie Project so much, and this sequel completely lived up to the first book in my eyes. I laughed and cried in equal measures. I love Don Tilman (though think he *might* be hard to live with)
The Wronged by Kimberley Chambers, for work – East End crime/drama at its best. If you love Eastenders, or anything to do with The Krays, you’ll love it. Coming in March – can’t wait to work on this one.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins – this debut went to Number One last week in the Hardback charts on its first week of release and surprised everyone. I’ve just started reading it, it’s definitely compelling so far.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – maybe my favourite author, I’m halfway through this and it’s as good as I thought it would be. Just need the time to get back to it! (You can probably tell I read a lot of books at the same time, bad habit of my job)

On my to be read shelf:
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – been hearing a lot about this haunting collection of essays and stories. Bought in Waterstones January Sale and staring at me on my bookcase.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – gift from a friend at another publisher, have been wanting to read for ages. Might be next on my list!

Let me know if you’ve read or reading any of the above and what you thought!

Until next time…

 

 

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Forest Gate: the vintage revolution starts

Hello. It’s been a while. I have been neglecting my blog over the last six months – big time.

To explain…firstly, I started a new job in April – one which I am loving but one which takes me from East to West London, and back, on a daily basis (oh, roll on Crossrail. So long Abellio Greater Anglia and your constant broken down trains), which combined with longer hours makes for not much time at home.  Secondly, after the craziness in the house of last year and the feeling of constant building site, we have stepped back and taken a break. Thirdly, due to the second reason, we pretty much spent our initial house budget, so it was time to save, ready to start again.

In that time, things in Forest Gate have gone kind of insane. The house prices have gone through the roof (turns out it’s a good time to remortgage…!), open house viewings are apparently attracting over a 100 people a time (really???) and we made it into the coveted ‘Let’s Move to Forest Gate’ Guardian slot – which may have something to do with all of the aforementioned things.

Also, to my surprise, we seem to have gone ‘Vintage’. Yes, you did hear me right.

I lived through the vintage revolution in Stoke Newington, when it seemed every other shop was a Vintage or Retro clothes or furniture shop. Forest Gate’s not quite there yet…but Vintage Fairs ARE.

Last week – I trotted a few roads away to Hampton Road with my other half’s mum, to check out the first ‘Retro Sunday’ at BB’s.

absofab vintage

I wasn’t sure what to expect. My last local antique/jumble sale visit was to St Mark’s Church on Lorne Road last October, where it was 20p to get in and pretty much everything was around 10p. (As an aside, that was excellent. Picked up a set of short stubby french-style wine glasses at a bank-breaking 7 glasses for 70p. It almost felt mean to only pay that. A year later they are still serving us very well!) But, the mention of ‘Retro’ normally puts the prices up to pounds not pence.

And yes, it was actually a real vintage fair. And a great one too! We keen bees turned up as it was opening and I headed straight to the clothes rails. I feel I’ve learnt a few things on vintage clothes recently when in my last job I worked on the book to go with Dawn O’Porter’s This Old Thing Channel 4 TV series (expertly compiled and edited by fellow Forest Gater @pixiecake). I’d always wanted to shop vintage, and had the occasional thing, but there hasn’t been much opportunity in this part of East London. Until now.

The cardinal rule being, just try it on – I spied early on a fab, chess set dress – which was unlike anything I’d seen before. There were no sizes on anything but it looked about right so along with a cute tea dress I went into the loos with my shopping buddy who’d also picked something up, and with the help of a borrowed mirror tried on our finds.

And voila! I fell in love with the chess set dress. And here it is in all it’s glory:

For £30 I have bagged something nice and unique, and from just down the road. Definitely a good Sunday.

There were a lot of clothes, some home ware (though not as much as I would have liked) and vast amounts of buttons, jewellery and knitting patterns (we bought most of them).

Tips for next time (there’s another one same place on 5th October): take more cash (No cards accepted). Be prepared to rummage (sure I missed stuff). Get there early (only two loos for trying things on!). Buy some cake (why didn’t we?).

Thanks Absofabvintage for organising it. Apparently there was another evening event at The Wanstead Tap this week which I sadly missed.

The revolution has truly started…and I am excited. (Though, will still be looking out for those 20p jumble sales…)

——-

Next time – Victorian Bathroom Inspiration. That’s our next project…

The (endless) finishing touches

Is it just me or can finishing touches take as long as the initial work?

It’s been two months since the major work in our kitchen and dining room renovation was finished and still I have no skirting boards, bare floorboards, no pictures on walls and we still can’t find anything. I think with the rush towards Christmas we definitely breathed a sigh of relief once January begun (and at least our bank account did too) but that also meant not as much got done. When you have someone you are paying to get stuff done it happens quickly, but when you put yourself in charge…hmm, well, not so much.

There has been some progress though. It wasn’t quite a joke about giving my Christmas houseguests paintbrushes when they walked through the door… In that lull between Christmas and New Year, we did white wash the dining room walls and our very kind Uncle painted the kitchen ceiling. We paid him in beer and leftover turkey…I think he was happy. So, this was where we left off last post:

Not bad for a day's work

The following weekend I started the undercoat for the walls. The top coat would be Blue Ground, and Farrow and Ball recommend a dark undercoat. I realised we had to try to get the undercoat and top coat done in the same weekend otherwise our room would be like a pit for a week…Ironically, when I tweeted the picture many people thought the undercoat colour was the real colour and started complimenting it! It was a very steely grey…and I think in certain rooms it could have worked, but…not in the kitchen…

Dark tones undercoat...

I think, if I remember it rightly, I got one coat done, went to see my friend’s new baby, did another coat, and then recruited my mum (thanks mum!) the next day to do the top coat. That was a fun weekend.

It was pretty scary painting over such a dark colour. On the first coat we couldn’t believe it would cover it over, but I guess they do know what they’re doing and like anything, when the second coat went on we could breath. I think it turned out okay!

photo 1I did feel a massive sense of achievement after this painting was done. And we do love the colour…

Next up was furniture and again, an offer from a kind relative bought us this rather lovely, 70s sideboard, out of storage.

photo 2

(Of course, now it is COVERED with things…post, paper, cards, fruit bowl, vase…etc..but still, it is a nice addition!)

And there have been another two additions to the house since Christmas too. These are definitely not improving the furniture and most likely will start to cost as much as home renovations themselves, but still…a house wouldn’t be complete without…

CATS!
CATS!
photo 4
Ripley (the mum) and Alaska (the baby) taking over.

Tomorrow, our builder returns to lay the dining room floor, attach skirting boards, build a new architrave and add a new door to the cellar top. I can hardly believe what it will be like for that room to be (almost) finished…

Oh, apart from the leak in the kitchen flat roof. Yes, we didn’t have floods, but the wettest winter on record has taken its toll on our brand new plastering and painting.

Damn rain.
Damn rain.

 *Moves new roof up the priority list for this year* *Forgets about new bathroom*

Sigh.

2013: A year in boxes

It was a year ago that we decided to move house.

We stayed in last New Year in our flat in Stoke Newington. We went to bed about 1am, feeling smug about the potential of not being tired and hungover on New Years Day for a change. But, living in a flat, at the front of a house, on a busy-ish street – sleep, we did not. People coming in and out drunk, people having long conversations about how and when to get a taxi right outside our window, people singing down the road. The next morning, possibly more tired than had we been out, we started the conversation. If only we could have a house, maybe we should just think about moving?

By lunchtime, we were on Right Move, looking at houses in Manor Park and Forest Gate, after having spent Christmas with my other half’s parents there, having a nice walk on Wanstead flats and thinking, could we live here? Became pleased about how much we could get for our money if we sold up in N16. Decision made, we started planning. People had said to me, it could take you a year to move. Well, it didn’t quite take that long, but it certainly did take up the whole year, in many ways. I kept thinking in January, maybe by the end of the year I might have a house, and space for a Christmas tree.

And here’s how it happened:

January:

Having made the decision to move, it was time to ready the flat to sell. A.k.a – do all those jobs you’ve been putting off for the last few years. A.k.a – find handyman to fill small hole in bedroom wall, look at the light in the bathroom, fix the cooker hood. During time he is there: cooker hood explodes, upstairs washing machine floods, water comes through ceiling; handyman is booked to return again to repaint the kitchen ceiling once the damp has dried out.

February:

Flat finally goes on the market. After panicking for weeks about whether it will sell, it sells in four days,  after an open house viewing. To a cash buyer. Stoke Newington had become ‘that’ kind of place. Go to New York; panic about finding somewhere else to live now we had sold so quickly.

March:

The house hunt in Forest Gate and Manor Park starts. Take afternoon off work and see a house on Godwin Road (with holes in many walls), house on Sebert Road (detached! With huge garden! But which needed complete gutting and starting again) and house on Durham Road (fall in love, immediately put in an offer!). Offer accepted the next day. Start planning work and picking paint colours. Think, well, that was easy. Two weeks later: house falls through after vendor pulls out. Heartbroken, we return to search. See house on Ridley Road (dank, damp and depressing), another house on Sebert Road (open house viewing, sizing up other couples like us, could be amazing, but it again needs gutting, though, I am keen). Call estate agent – house has gone for full asking price offer. Nothing else on market.

April:

Dearth of property; completion date on own sale set for 11th April. Receive kind offer of a room at both parents’ houses. Decide to pack up and do it. See house on Rosedale Road, just south of Romford Road. Could we live there? Beautiful features, needs some work but all liveable. Amazing cornicing and tiles. It’s under budget. My grandparents were born around the corner. It could be fate. We offer. Have gastro-enteritis, find out offer is accepted. Feel numb. Book survey. Pack, pack, move to temporary room in Whitta Road, Manor Park, take more boxes with us than necessary. Ten days later: receive email from old estate agent about a house back on market in Godwin Road (not the one with holes in walls) that we’d seen early in year but was under offer. Bigger house, better location, near Wanstead flats. Decide we should take a look. Other half is away, so I go alone with instructions “if you like it, offer”. Pressured viewing with two other couples. Feel nervous and excited. Love the road. House needs work but area is just perfect. Decide to offer. Go to Cornwall with friends. Offer accepted while standing in middle of a field with limited mobile reception. Jump up and down, then feel immediately guilty about Rosedale. Call other estate agent to pull out. They are sad, but happy as we have just saved the Godwin Road chain from falling through and they act for the house our vendors were buying. All is well again.

May:

Rush to get things in order for exchange at end of month. Everyone keen to move as quickly as possible. Still staying with parents. Exchange date is imminent when we hear that top of chain are now buying a different property and there is a hold up. Everyone is angry. No movement.

June:

Constant calling of agents and solicitors to find out progress. Play the waiting game. Get more angry. Go to stay with friends for a week to give parents a break. Hassle all the agents in chain to no avail. Finally we exchange contracts after everything nearly falls through on day of exchange. Completion date set for 28th June. Day of completion comes. Solicitor’s bank has error and no money leaves their account. Cry at Westfield and cancel our movers. Error is sorted by mid-afternoon, and money starts to move. Solicitor calls to say they sent the wrong amount of money. Everyone panics. Eventually, somehow we all complete at 4.45pm. We finally get keys at 5.30 but don’t get to move in that day. But, we do, finally have a house!

July:

Moving day, but no sign of movers. Swear we are never moving again. Eventually move in 2 days before we go on holiday. Call electrician friend who comes day before we go to look at electrics – find out we need to rewire. Start process of drawing all over the walls night before we go away. Rewire started while in France! Rest of month taken with rewire, dust and more dust. Oh, and a bit of gardening.

August:

Still rewiring. Get the garden in order. Hmm. It was sunny…? Discover lovely restaurants in Wanstead, just a short bus ride away – Tapas, Pub and Italian (actually owned by our electrician’s dad, who sadly recently retired and sold the restaurant).

September:

Rewiring finally finishes! And clean up begins. Forest Tavern opens to much delight. Friends decide they will also try to move to Forest Gate. Remove horrible en-suite bathroom. Decide to redo kitchen. Finally put clothes away, but still have hundreds of boxes as yet unpacked.

October:

Quiet in the house. Move all the boxes to another room, and make a spare room for our first overnight guest. Take up carpet and discover nice floorboards! Duct tape up the holes in her ceiling. Guest comes and loves the house. Phew! Get call from our builder – he’s ready earlier than planned and can start work on the kitchen at beginning of November. Panic buy floor tiles and take trip to Ikea to decide on kitchen.

November:

See great, free, firework display at Wanstead flats. Try to meet up with other friends who moved to the area from Dalston. Fail. Too many people and rain. Work starts on lounge. Give up all living space downstairs and decamp to our bedroom. Lament decision to do kitchen and lounge at same time. Go on holiday! Return to no kitchen. Eat many excellent meals at Forest Tavern and Siam Cafe and have many curries delivered from Sagor in Manor Park (now, also, sadly closed). Have breakfast with a colleague who tells me ‘Everyone is moving to Forest Gate’. Honestly, nobody had heard of it a year ago.

December:

Kitchen starts to take shape. Lounge is painted, orange! Move back into the downstairs of house. Buy A CHRISTMAS TREE from The Old Slate Yard just down the road. Spend happy day decorating tree. Think back to January and feel pleased. Panic about finishing kitchen and diner by Christmas. We are cooking for 11. Have final day with builder where our glass splash-backs don’t fit, and when trying to trim one, it smashes.  He looks like he might cry. We raise a glass to great progress and not worrying about splash-backs. We move yet more boxes and make up the spare room again for Christmas guests. More holes are covered, but this time with pictures. Sofas are moved around. A shower is made in the downstairs bathroom out of a painting pole! Guests arrive, love house. Phew. Diner remains unpainted for Christmas day but we decorate with paper chains and garlands and nobody cares. Oven works, there is a lot of wine and we christen our kitchen and new house with our family. Card is put through door from someone desperate to move to Forest Gate. Friends are still trying to find a house here. Go on weekly run on Wanstead Flats and feel lucky. Paint the dining room on New Years Eve, but don’t mind.

Feel so pleased we made the decision to move when we did.

Resolve that by next Christmas we will have unpacked the rest of the boxes.

Open wine. Rest.

Happy New Year Forest Gaters!

Your local bookshop

An East London gem
An East London gem

The fantastic Newham Bookshop is now my local bookshop and I am VERY HAPPY about it.

I am lucky enough to work in publishing as my day job, and I’ve worked for many years with the great Newham Bookshop, organising events and the like. I even did a day ‘work experience’ as a bookseller there one day about five years ago and completely loved the experience. Back then I never thought it would end up being my local bookshop, but I’m so pleased it is. It’s such a great example of how a bookshop can be at the heart of the community. It’s a real gem; stuffed full of books (obviously), with a beautiful children’s book section, staff that know literally everything, and they also host and organise fantastic events. (There’s one at Coffee7 soon, but I think it’s already sold out – check out their future events, I quite fancy the Tony Benn one)

The lovely children's section
The lovely children’s section

This Saturday (14th) they are having a Big Bookshop Party in aid of the Books are My Bag campaign which is all about supporting your high street bookshop. Newham Books have several authors there doing book signings, and are also offering 25% off their titles during the party (12-2pm). I’m definitely hoping to pop down to support them.

Go buy books from shops people!
Go buy books from shops people!

There should be several similar events happening up and down the country in a bookshop near you. The Books Are My Bag campaign is all about raising awareness of how great bookshops are and how we don’t want to lose them from our high streets. 1 in 10 bookshops closed in the last year, which is really sad.

So, check out Newham Bookshop if you’re in the area, or your local bookshop (if you’re not) to see what’s going on.

And go buy some books from an actual shop, sold to you by REAL PEOPLE (you know, rather than from Amazon).