Tuesday, April 13, 2021

My Life In ... Summer Jobs

The eleventh in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

There was a meme on Facebook that said to list 10 jobs you have done including one ringer that your friends had to guess. I spent my entire working life in IT; every job I ever had was clearly technology related. To slip in "Trainee Lion Tamer" would be a bit obvious!

However before I started a career chained to a desk in an office I had real, mostly outdoor, jobs in the summers during school and college. So here is the true alternative CV.

Archaeologist (1966–1972). My childhood passion was archaeology, particularly the Roman period. For six years I spent the summers working on the dig at the Lunt Roman fort. It was initially as a volunteer but when I reached 16 they were able to add me to the payroll of the Coventry Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. It wasn’t a huge wage but it was my first real paying job and helped contribute to my record and hi-fi collection.

Those early wages were paid in cash, in an envelope, on Friday afternoon. The notes were carefully folded so you could see and count them through a small greaseproof window and check that they had the paid correct amount.

The dig was run by Brian Hobley and the deputy director, flamed haired Margaret Rylatt. She claimed that all she needed to change a flat tyre was her hairbrush and lipstick as that was enough to persuade some gallant gentleman to change the tyre for her. For some years after I was particularly taken by redheads especially if the hair was hennaed not natural. Only belatedly I realised why I found redheads attractive: I was an impressionable young adolescent and like Konrad Lorenz’ ducklings I had been imprinted by that early encounter.

I was there the year the army engineers reconstructed the timber gateway. Much of the turf rampart was made of turves cut and laid by me personally. Part of the purpose of this reconstruction was to study the erosion patterns cause by weathering. 

As a healthy young man I got given the more physical tasks. No gentle scraping with a trowel like on Time Team, I was handed a pickaxe and shovel and a wheelbarrow and told to “dig that trench”. Weeks of hard physical labour out in the summer sun did my physique and suntan a power of good I can tell you.

Catering assistant (1969). The University of Birmingham run an archaeology summer school at Wroxeter directed by their archaeology tutor Graham Webster. As a schoolboy I could not afford the tuition fees but they did offer the opportunity for one student to attend for free in exchange for some light catering duties. The main one was buttering several sliced loaves for the lunchtime sandwiches. I became remarkably adept with a long kitchen knife at cutting into the butter longways and buttering an entire slice in one deft, swift movement – an early time and motion study in action.

They also used local prisoners on day release to do much of the heavy digging. They had a daily allowance of tea leaves that I had to use for mid morning and mid afternoon breaks. To maximise the darkness of the brew I was instructed to use 2/3 of the tea in the morning and then in the afternoon reuse the morning's leaves topped up with the last third fresh tea leaves. Tannic doesn't begin to describe it.

Building labourer (1970). I cannot remember how I got this gig but I spent a week over one Easter break labouring on a building site in Coventry. They had finished casting the basic office block skeleton and were preparing for fitting the walls and windows. I was basically given a broom and told to sweep the areas clean, pretty mindless stuff but it paid.

In those days the casual labourers were regarded as self employed. Builders would pay the labourer a lump sum, cash in hand, at the end of the week on the assumption that the recipient would pay their own National Insurance and income tax - a practice known as the Lump. Many, of course, did not. I may or may not be amongst that number!

My fellow labourer was a Geordie whose accent you could cut with a knife. I could not understand a single word he said. I kept having to say “I didn’t quite get that”, “could you repeat that please”. Eventually I gave up, it was too embarrassing, I just used to smile, nod and grunt noncommittally.

Barman (1971). For one night only! My brother had a weekend nights job as a Barman at the White Horse near Balsall Common. One Saturday he asked me if I would stand in for him as he had a prior commitment. It was the most fraught evening of my working life. Thank goodness it was in the days when pubs mostly only sold beer or lager or gin and tonic. Wine and more exotic drinks were practically unheard-of.

I could handle serving the rounds typically consisting of three pints of beer and a gin and tonic but it was before the days of electronic tills when you had to mentally add up the price. I just used to make up a figure that was about right and take their money. No one ever queried, thank God, which probably meant I was under charging. I was never so relieved when the evening ended.

Dustman (1973). There were a few openings for replacement dustman while the regular crew took their holidays. It was fascinating to see into people's bins. And serious bins they were too, big 28lb galvanised steel with a handle either side. As you went from house-to-house down their driveways you had to guess where they had hidden their bins. Once you’d found it you had to hoist it up onto your shoulder and carry it back out to the cart and tip it in the back of the lorry.

The contents varied enormously. A number of the council houses still had solid fuel fired heating and hot water. Their bins were full of ash and very heavy indeed. There was one house where every week the bin only held a couple of cat food tins and an empty half bottle of gin. I used to wonder if they dined on cat food. Looking back I now realise they were probably getting Meals On Wheels delivered.

Most of the time I was working with a fellow pupil from school who was a classical music fan. We often worked in pairs: one would go on ahead and pull out the bins, the other would follow behind with the cart to empty and return the bins. Ross had gone in whistling some operatic aria to the astonishment of the householder that they should have such cultured dustmen. As I went in to return the bin I was asked "Do you whistle opera as well?" “No”, I replied “I prefer Pictures at an Exhibition, but the original piano version of course". And with that flounced out leaving him jaw dropped.

At one house I was walking back to the street having returned the bin when the dog of the house rushed up and hit me in the bum. The owner was suitably apologetic and it turned out that I was not the first recipient of its canine teeth. When I went back the following week the owner came out to explain that in consequence he had to have the dog put down. Such a shame, please train your dogs well.

Another fringe benefit of working on the bins was in those days Robertsons jam jars had paper gollies on the back which you could slip out from behind the back label - a form of dumpster diving. When you had collected 10 you sent them off to exchange for an enamel brooch. Over the course of the summer I easily collected enough to acquire the entire set of brooches that was available at the time and even a golly pendant. Now considered non-PC they were discontinued in 2002.

Hospital porter (1974). My parents moved to Farnham when my father took up his new post as chief architect to Waverly District Council, formed following the local government reorganisation. I got a job as a porter in Farnham General Hospital. I was issued with a brown warehouse coat much like that worn by Arkwright in Open All Hours. The gig consisted of waiting in the porters’ room to be assigned a patient to transfer from A to B: ward to theatre, recovery room back to the ward, to and from the x-ray department and so on.

The operating theatre gave me an example of the importance of unique identifiers which I later used as an anecdote when I was training computer systems design. On the operating list were two patients with the same surname, the same initial, the same date of birth and the same operation. It was in fact identical twins in for the same procedure. Those uniquely numbered wrist tags were important!

The least favourite assignment was the “Jerrys “, taking patients from the geriatric ward to the day room every day at 10:30. If you got a job any time shortly after 10 you might dawdle to avoid being back in the porters room at 10:30. I am ashamed to say I too succumbed to this avoidance. If I could go back and talk to my younger self I might choose this as one item on the agenda. To show more compassion towards the elderly and demented, we will all be there one day.

The favourite assignment was working the late shift and doing the evening meal run from the kitchen to the wards. If Mary the cook was on she would always do an extra tray of chips for us porters. Work done we would retire to our room with a piping hot tray of delicious chips to scoff.

I also saw a number of corpses. The first body I ever saw was at the age of 10 when my Gran died. My father decided that I was mature enough to be allowed to see her lying in her bed. I felt honoured to be considered worthy of this trust. It surely helped me now. Another of the porters' roles was to collect people who had died on the ward and transport them to the morgue. It was all done respectfully: curtains were drawn around the bed, we had a special trolley with a cover onto which we would place the deceased so they could be discreetly wheeled off the ward. 

One time I had to remove a body from the cold storage lockers and lay them out in the chapel of rest for the relatives to visit. It was really weird seeing a person who looked asleep but you knew they were never going to suddenly open their eyes and sit up. Another time, passing the dissecting room I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of an autopsy in progress. I averted my eyes pretty quickly, I can tell you and saw very little but that was enough.

Post script (1976). Then college ended, I graduated and went looking for work in the “real world“. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I quite fancied being a studio potter so looked for work while I could continue throwing pots at evening class. I ended up getting a job as a trainee COBOL programmer, found that it quite suited me and so began my career in IT.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Boarding The Loft

Penrith, Cumbria. February-2021.

We need extra storage space so I am fitting a TARDIS circuit in the loft! 

Step one was to install a ladder, Specifically a "Werner 1-Section Anodised Aluminium & Plastic Telescopic Loft Ladder 2.61m". We bought ours from Screwfix. It is an excellent ladder as it is easy to fit and has a very small footprint in the attic. 

Next I bought a load of Diall loft stilts and chipboard loft panels from B&Q. Reading the reviews several people advised pre-screwing the stilts so you are not fumbling in the dark when you get to the installation. Sound advice to which I would add: get a battery powered screwdriver and a head torch.

First row required moving the insulation which is filthy stuff. Wear a mask or you'll spend the next day coughing.

I then replaced the insulation, fluffing it up as best I could.

The first row of column of boards, using two whole boards tucked nicely into the eaves. I only screwed the corners, not at every stilt; I can always revisit later and add more screws if required.

With the first column in place I had a platform to work from for the second row. I cut off a piece equal to the spacing of the rafters so the joints were offset, I reckon it makes for a stronger floor.

Then "rinse and repeat". The third row was the same as the first to continue the offsetting. The rubber mallet was very useful for banging the tongue and grooves together for a snug fit.

Nearly there. I was able to move some of the boxes that had been stored on an old sheet of hardboard laid on the insulation onto the proper surface so I could complete the area.

This section complete and ready for boxes of stuff.

The roof timbers are gnarly, old, rough hewn oak beams. The house is somewhere around two hundred years old and these certainly look the part. The tubes are the light well and extractor fan from the bathroom which has no window.

At some point there will be a stage two extending deeper into this loft space and possibly a stage three in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

My Life In ... Video Games

The tenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

Just as music can bring back memories so certain video games are associated with specific events and places. In general I was a moderate to rubbish player. I never was a gamer and certainly not a MMORPG player like my nephews.

Note: the dates link to the relevant Wikipedia article.

Pong (1972). I first encountered this primordial game on one of the archaeological summer schools I attended. From the release date it must have been the two weeks I spent excavating at Portchester Castle in the summer of 1973 directed by Sir Barry Cunliff. We volunteers stayed in a dormitory of the kind that would be familiar to anyone who has been on a school field trip. It was very basic accommodation but it did boast this primitive game console. 

I remember at one point I was working on a medieval cess pit that was full of discarded ancient mussel shells one of which sliced my finger open. I went to Barry's wife who was in charge of the first aid kit holding my finger up in the air to stem the flow of blood. She was so petite that I had to kneel down for her to be able to reach my finger.

Moon Lander (1973). Friends I met in 1975 were doing research in the nuclear physics lab where they had an early DEC PDP-11 minicomputer. On that computer they had a moon landing game, one of the first vector graphics games. When you successfully landed the lunar module a little astronaut would pop out and plant a flag on the moon's surface. Apparently it was a major sales tool in the salesman’s armoury. 

Tom who managed the computing facility smoked a pipe and when the safety equipment was serviced he would stand under the detectors and have a good puff to make sure they were not set too sensitive!

Space Invaders (1978). I played this in Oxford where I had my first job after college as a computer programmer with Oxfordshire County Council. It was the first game where I was able to get my name up in lights on the leaderboard. My mate Pete Miller lived in the big city and on one visit inducted me into the mysteries of the Portuguese defence. It turns out that when the aliens are nose to nose with your gun they can’t actually shoot you because they are too close. The technique is to pick off the end columns until the invaders are right down close, pick off the whole of the front row one by one, remove the end column, the aliens drop down one rank, rinse and repeat in the opposite direction until they are all destroyed.

Asteroids (1979). Working for Coopers & Lybrand (MCS) in their Shelley House offices in Noble Street we also had a PDP-11. This one had Asteroids installed. All keyboard-driven and apparently a classic but we didn’t spend too long playing it because we were hard at work on a stock control, sales order and ledger package.

Missile Command (1980). There were a group of us working on this project and we would regularly go to the pub after work. In those days many city pubs would close early; Bradies, the nearest pub, would close at 7 o’clock. Some people would go home and others would go on to the next pub, The Clanger. That one closed at 9 o’clock and again some people would peel off and some would go on to a third pub that stayed open till 1030. It was in Bradies where I encountered Missile Command. This one had a trackball to control the direction of your fire power. I wasn’t very good at it. I was lucky if I got to 50,000. But then my brother's friend Dave showed me the technique of laying down a barrage of anti-missiles in a continuous screen. Suddenly I was able to get up to 300,000. If there hadn’t been any good players in recently I might just have got my name up in lights again.


Image credit: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1030150

Crystal Rooms (1980).  One evening, during a lull in my social life, I went into the West End to the crystal room amusement arcade. There I mostly played Space Invader Mark II until my knuckles bled I was gripping the control knob so hard. There was also a Missile Command console which I played occasionally for a change. 

At the same time there was a bloke playing Missile Command who was clearly very skilled. I watched in amazement as he got up to around 850,000 and then stopped. When I asked him why he had stopped, he replied that he had so many spare cities in the bank that if he killed any more missiles he would have gone round the clock and would have been unable to put his initials up. I was seriously impressed that not only could he play that well but was also able to keep mental track of how many cities he had spare and do the calculation to know when to stop. Have you ever seen the film The Last Starfighter? If it were true the aliens would be coming for this guy very soon.

Defender (1981). Another pub-based video game, this time in pub number two, The Clanger. By now the games were getting distinctly more sophisticated with the thumbnail overview and the main screen. I was just hopeless at this, my reflexes were to head-butt the aliens rather than shoot and fly around. I could not get the hang of it for the life of me.

Leisure Suit Larry (1987). By now I was working for Inforem, a small consultancy, and departmental minis had been replaced by these upstart PCs. Leisure Suit Larry was doing the rounds in the office. A harmless piece of “adult“ gameplay that was in fact very tame. Somebody brought in a virus-infected version of the game which then spread around the office and a number of PCs had to be cleansed.

Tomb Raider (2001). I never even played this game. I bought a DVD of the movie thinking it was a bit expensive but I wanted to watch the film. It was only after I got it home that I realised it also included the game. Since I had no console to play it on that was a bit of a waste of money!

PS3 (2007). Mary bought me a PlayStation 3 for Christmas. Not for playing games but for playing Blu-ray movies. But since it was a gaming console I thought I ought to have a go. I bought a copy of Avatar (2009) and was completely hopeless. I just couldn’t work the large number of buttons and spun randomly in circles blasting at anything and everything missing most of them until I run out of credit.

Little Big Planet (2008). On the advice of my gamer nephews I tried the adventures of SackBoy as a gentler game not requiring rapid reflexes. I soon got bored and decided that a gamer's life is not the life for me.

Game over!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (2 of 2)

The ninth (part 2a Places to Rent and 2b Homes to Holiday) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

We have failed to grasp the basic principle of sell one house when you buy the next. In this way our property empire has snowballed.

Homes 2a of 2: Places to rent out.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



Flat 28 Fairfield Court, Wandsworth. 2002 - present. A 20th century, third floor, two bedroom, ex-council flat in Wandsworth built in 1938. We bought this as a pied-à-terre because we were either working in London or flying out from one of the London airports. We converted it to a buy-to-let in 2005 when we decided to move three doors down the street to house 28 Fairfield Street and it was not a good time to sell. We thus become accidental landlords and kickstarted our rental portfolio.


Living room from where we used to watch the planes on the descent path to Heathrow.


8 Bolting House, Wandsworth. 2010 - present. A purpose built third floor, three bedroom, one reception apartment in Wandsworth, another purchase on the one-way system. Our second buy-to-let investment and the first made intentionally.


It was a repossession and came complete with nearly new furniture from Ikea, "the landlords' friend".


36 Fairfield Court, Wandsworth. 2014 - present. A two bedroom apartment directly above Flat 28. Our third and final investment property. 


We wanted to invest in another buy-to-let property as part of our pension plan. Flat 28 had worked out well so we kept an eye out for other properties in the block. There are 38 flats in total but it had to be one of the two-bedroom flats and at the back which ruled out more than half the flats. Mary was working at home when the email alert came in. Straight onto the estate agent, viewing half an hour later, offer made and property off the market by the end of the afternoon. No messing about!

Homes 2b of 2: Places to holiday in.

Trullo Azzurro, Locorotondo, Italy. 2004–2018. A historic four bedroom, three reception, two kitchen, two bathroom ex-farm building out in the country. As far as we can guess, at least part of it dating to the 16th century. 


We had been thinking about a holiday home in Italy on the western fringes of Tuscany, "chiantishire" in the centre being too expensive. Meanwhile a friend, Anne, had bought a place in Puglia and Mary went there with her in February for a break and to help with buying furniture, etc. Anne extolled the virtues of the property prices and longer summers due to the southern latitude so Mary scouted out some properties. 

A couple of months later we went down together and were taken by the estate agent to see some very disappointing properties. Many were what I nicknamed trulli-in-a-box; yes they had a cone or two but all surrounded by concrete cubes. Our requirements were walking distance from a town, at least two bedrooms and didn't need a lot of work. What we saw lacked any of the charm we were hoping for so to cheer us up Mary took me to see a reject from her first visit. By some miracle she managed to navigate to this farmhouse in the wilds. I instantly fell in love with it. It was so unspoilt, un-mucked about with. OK, it fitted none of our requirements. It was 6km from town, took two and a half years to do up and ended up as four bedroom, two kitchen and two bathrooms but it was worth it.

Our Italian holiday home featuring trulli, the pointed cone buildings unique to Puglia, was named Trullo Azzurro because of the blue doors and blue skies. We used to live in one half and rent out the other half. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Trulli"

One of the living areas after restoration.


We eventually sold as we did not really need three properties in Italy and renting this one out was becoming more hassle than the income was worth. The proceeds were used to buy, and do up, 6A Benson Row (see "My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)").

Hermanus Beach Club. 2008–2014. A two bedroom, one reception apartment in a modern holiday complex. A completely unplanned detour into a South African holiday home ownership following our "first trip of a lifetime" to SA.


After the first leg of our trip, a safari, we went to Hermanus. By this time we had already fallen in love with South Africa. Our first full day in Hermanus was a Sunday so all we could do was window shop including estate agents, saw this property and by the time we left four days later had the purchase arranged! Towards the end of our ownership we were not getting to visit as often as we had hoped nor generating much rental income between times so decided to sell up.

Living space. From the window we could see whales in the bay.
Quaysiders Club, Ambleside, England. 2011-present. A two bedroom, one reception (kitchen / dining / living) room, timeshare apartment for Christmas week in the Lake District. 


A minor purchase by comparison with the rest, recommended by Mary's uncle who owned another timeshare in the same complex. Handy for walking holidays in the Lakes - not so much now we live up here so it is up for sale.


The apartment can either be used for a Christmas break or traded in for a week elsewhere at another time.

Via Manzoni 15, Cisternino, Puglia aka Sotto Le Stelle. 2012 - present. A studio apartment on the outskirts of Cisternino old town. The first step in our relocation from Trullo Azzurro into the town of Cisternino. 


We were in Italy to celebrate my 60th birthday with friends. Once they had all left we revisited our desire for a property in town and got our friendly estate agent to give a tour of available properties that evening. We saw five in an hour and this one was head and shoulders above the rest. 

As we sat in Bar FOD with an aperitif after the viewings I informed Mary that now I was 60 I could raid my pension funds for a 25% tax free lump sum. The total was almost exactly the asking price for the flat. I had hardly uttered the words when Mary was on the phone to Pierdonato saying "we'll buy it and be in the office tomorrow to sign the paperwork"!

This one took a year to restore. It has beautiful stone vaulted ceilings and an amazing terrace so we called it "Sotto Le Stelle" (under the stars). Full story of the renovation on the blog: SottoLeStelle.



Corso Umberto, 108, Cisternino. 2016-present. A two bedroom, two reception apartment in the historic town centre of Cisternino. 

Our retirement meant that we could now spend half of the year in Italy. Sotto Le Stelle was fine for six weeks but now we needed more space for six months so we up-sized. Researching the market for some friends we found and bought a larger apartment less that five minutes walk from Sotto Le Stelle on the other side of the old town. This also need work but less so it was completed in six months. 

Living room:


Kitchen / Dining Room:


Terrace:


Loving Sotto Le Stelle we decided to keep it and it has become a very successful AirBnB let. For more on the Corso Umberto restoration see "The Other Place"

That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)

The ninth (part 1) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

How to make a £1 million? Buy a flat for £25k and wait 35 years! My parents moved 7 times before I bought my first home. I guess I followed in their footsteps.

Homes 1 of 3: Places to live in.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



21a Montague Road, Wimbledon. 1981–1987. The first home that I owned. An Edwardian three bedroom, two reception, first floor maisonette built in 1910 that I bought with an ex-girlfriend. We had split up five years earlier but remained friends. Back then mortgages were hard to find and expensive to service. Joining forces to get two lots of mortgage tax relief was the only way to make first time buying viable. It had a small garden accessed via an internal secondary staircase from the kitchen. It got me onto the property ladder. Part way through I bought my friend out so she could move on and buy a home with her boyfriend.


Recent interior courtesy of Zoopla.


The lease term on Montague Road was running very low and I wanted to own the land on which I stood. So I sold up and moved just over a kilometre to the cheaper end of SW19 near the football stadium and the dog track. 

Due to poor communication along the chain of buyers and sellers by the estate agent, my solicitor exchanged on my sale of Montague Road but not my purchase of Garfield Road which then hit a delay. I was legally bound to vacate on completion date, 31st December, cast out into the street on New Year's Eve with nowhere to live. I put all my belongings into storage and went to house sit a friend's place for a month while she was fortuitously out of the county.

76 Garfield Road, South Wimbledon. 1987–1994. A Victorian three bedroom, two reception, mid-terrace house built 1889. I lived there with an assortment of lodgers until I met Mary. 


Avon Cottage, Ibsley, Hampshire. 1994–2007. A mediaeval three-bedroom, timber frame thatched cottage dating to the mid 15th century. Following our marriage we moved out of London and bought a house together. It was by accident we bought this cottage through an extremely convoluted chain of events. 


English Heritage Listing: Cottage. Late C15 & C17, altered C18 & C20. Cruck timber-frame with painted brick infill, thatch roof. 1½ storey, 3 bay and smoke bay, added hip bay.

We were looking for a house with a cellar for our growing wine collection, initially around Kingston and Surbiton. We had planned a weekend in the Cotswolds courtesy of a free voucher I got for completing a customer survey. The Cotswold hotels were full so we changed location and booked into the Watersplash Hotel in the New Forest. There we saw a brochure for a Roman fort in Fordingbridge so off we went. Unfortunately the fort was closed so we parked up and went for a pub lunch. On the way we passed an estate agents window featuring Avon Cottage. We had previously discussed the possibility of a second, holiday home and called into the estate agent to enquire about cottages with cellars. "Only that one in the window". "Too large and expensive, that would have to be a main home!" 

We were both travelling a lot for work so we didn't have to live in London provided we could get to the airports in a reasonable amount of time. We had a chat over lunch and afterwards went back to the estate agents and said that if they could arrange a viewing the next day we would be interested. The owner dashed back from her daughter's to do the viewing, we saw the cottage on the Sunday, made an offer on the Monday and it was accepted on the Wednesday.

Avon Cottage was home for us and several cats over the next 13 years. I have many happy memories from there and was sad to see it go. You don't really own a house this old, you are only custodians. In the words of William Morris "we protect our ancient buildings, and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us". I believe we left it in a better state than we found it. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Avon Cottage"

Inglenook fireplace with room for four to sit inside.


28 Fairfield Street, Wandsworth. 2005–2015. A lovely Georgian style, semi-detached house built around 1856 with four bedrooms, three reception rooms and with font and back gardens back plus, most importantly, a cellar.


Planning ahead we intended, in 5 years time, to move from Avon Cottage back into London. Mary went online to suss out the market with ridiculously specific requirements: in the Tonsleys in Wandsworth (1 km square area), at least 3 bedrooms, separate living and dining rooms (not knocked into one), downstairs loo, cellar, garden and costing less than £500,000. Blow me down if the exact property popped up 10 days later - 5 years ahead of schedule! At the time it was the cheapest four bedroom house in the whole of SW18 because of its location on the Wandsworth one-way system.  

It was so unique and so perfect we just had to snap it up regardless of the consequences. That is how we came to own two main homes concurrently for a year and a half. It had lovely high ceilings that spoiled us for modern properties.


Our retirement plan included downsizing from 28 Fairfield Street. Seriously, do two people need a four bedroom, three reception property? And it was stuffed full at that. So we put our house on the market and went flat hunting, finding this next gem. 

41 Heathfield Square, Wandsworth. 2015-present. A mid Victorian two bedroom, ground floor flat directly behind Wandsworth prison, built around 1870 as Officers' Quarters for the prison guards. It looks out onto a communal green the size of a football pitch.



Our buyer messed us about a bit, more from incompetence than malice, which meant the sale and purchase were out of sync. Removals were booked and non-cancellable, financials all set up, etc. We learned about "Licence to Occupy" which enabled us to break the chain and move in a few days before completion.

The estate agent's photo. That red feature wall was first on the decorating hit list!


Garage 50, Strickland Row, Wandsworth. 2017-present. A garage. We used to rent a garage from Wandsworth Borough Council behind the Fairfield Court flats but when we moved to Heathfield Square we really needed closer storage facilities. This garage is literally at the end of our street.

6A Benson Row, Penrith. 2019 - present. A three bedroom, two reception room, mid terrace 1850’s house in Penrith. 

Intended initially as a third holiday home this time in the Lake District and eventual second retirement home . We used the proceeds from the sale of Trullo Azzurro to fund this purchase. However since Covid lockdown it has become our main home ahead of schedule.

Originally three back-to-back, one-up one-down houses they are now all knocked into one larger property. Nicknamed "The Money Pit" because of the silly amounts of money we have spent doing it up. Now a very cosy and comfortable place to live. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Penrith".


The living room:



That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Benson Row - 20

Penrith, Cumbria. December-2020.

We are declaring victory on the Money Pit. We no longer have an Oubliette just inside the front door and all works are complete. Well not strictly true, we still have to choose a hearth stone and there is some minor decoration to be done but the works are, in essence, complete. Break out the champagne!

It has been a long old slog. We started the buying process in November 2018 but did not complete on the purchase until March 2019. Then the work began:

2019

  • March: purchase completion
  • April: furniture buying
  • May/June: kitchen design and the fateful decision to knock through into a kitchen / diner
  • July: destruction of the wall, staircase and landing
  • August: construction of the new staircase and landing
  • September: new boiler, underfloor heating in kitchen, beam strengthening, wall reinforcing
  • October: bathroom / front bedroom restructuring, shower installation, cellar expansion
  • November: decorating, completion of shower, the saga of matching the paint colour
  • December: more decorating, carpet fitting 

2020

  • January: decorating
  • February: kitchen installation starts
  • March: lockdown with kitchen worktop fitted in the nick of time
  • April/May: Mary destroys anaglypta in living room
  • June: Mary destroys false wall in living room to expose fireplace
  • July: Mark repairs and redecorates living room
  • August: front room flooring starts and stops
  • September: rectification work on joists, new front door
  • October: chimney removal, we have a hole in the living room floor
  • November we no longer have a hole in the floor, chipboard is down
  • December: we have floorboards, yeah!

We could then move back into our living room and retrieve the furniture and possessions that were previously scattered throughout the rest of the house and in a friend's garage; normality has been restored. We are pleased with how it has turned out:

Living room. 


Kitchen end of Kitchen / Diner.


Dining end of Kitchen / Diner.


Downstairs toilet and shower room under the new stairs.


Upstairs bathroom.


Back Bedroom - Ours.


Middle bedroom - bunk beds suitable for children or adults.


Front bedroom - guest bedroom.


When the rest of the world returns to normality we will be open for visitors. Come visit the lovely North Lakes!