The start day for Bathroom Mayhem arrived, finally, the second week of April. We’d cleared out everything easily moveable (and there was a surprising amount of it). We removed the old bathroom cabinet from the wall and put it on the dining room table so I could spend a happy hour deciding what to keep and what to chuck from it*. I took a last look at all the old fittings and thanked them for their hard work. Then it was time to let the two destroying angels from the bathroom company get about their work.
One of the strange things I found about having a bathroom unavailable for use is how one finds one has been in the habit of using it for all sorts of things apart from the obvious. I find bathrooms foster contemplation, for some reason, so that quiet time was definitely gone for the moment. There’s also the handwashing of smalls, the ‘stare into the bathroom mirror because you definitely came in here for something’ state of being, the sorting area for laundry to be done, the daily removal of a cat from its playtime in the empty bath…
Day three of the fortnight was, we had thought, likely to be the worst. Everything was out/off/crunched and they’d started digging up the floor and burrowing into two of the walls. The floor hole kept growing as they worked back along the old pipework to where it needed to be cut out and the new run attached. I was strongly reminded of pruning back an old shrub, as I peered nervously round a corner from time to time. The wall excavations were noisy but we knew that having opted for a new shape of radiator and having the shower in a different part of the room, then unless we’d gone for surface pipes that would have to be boxed in, it was inevitable. This way would end up much better in the long run. In the midst of all this, they made sure we still had a functioning loo. Mind you, the situation was somewhat inhibiting if one wanted to use it!
On day four, the central heating people arrived and I found fairly quickly that day three wasn’t the worst. We’d warned them beforehand that they’d be working at the same time as the bathroom installers and had had the phone equivalent of a resigned shrug. I gather it happens with a fair amount of frequency. One thing in particular we’d wanted with the change in CH system was the ability to have the radiator on in the bathroom when we wanted, even when it was shut off for summer in the rest of the house. I hate soggy towels! So part of the CH pipework changes would be the installation of what they called a ‘summer and winter circuit’, which basically means that so long as the boiler comes on for hot water supplies, it will also heat up that bit of the CH piping that goes to the bathroom radiator/towel rack if you want it to. No more soggy towels on damp summer days. Anyway, day four and day five were hell. At one point we had six workmen in the house and they seemed to be regularly in every single room. There was nowhere quiet or undisturbed to escape to (apart from our local gym, where we’d been going for daily showers) and eventually I found myself barricaded into a corner of the sitting room, practically cowering behind a row of strategically placed indoor plants. I only came out to make further regular deliveries of tea, coffee, and biscuits to all those who looked as if they needed it. You would not believe the quantity of milk, sugar, coffee and tea we got through. I tried to cultivate a Zen-like attitude and concentrated on the fact that it would all be over soon. The cats were also deeply unimpressed although Tabbs, our elderly female tabby, was much better at coping than was the much younger male, Smudge. Tabbs would stroll up to one of the workmen and demand either a stroke or a crumb of biscuit. Smudge wouldn’t come in the house at all while they were there and as the temperature outside at the time was extremely chilly it meant that we made a day bed for him to retire to in the greenhouse.
All things end, eventually. At the end of day five, a Friday, we once more had a floor in the bathroom and the plasterers had been to re-do all the walls and the new ceiling. We also watched, fascinated, as a special rubberised cement was poured over the floor to set, ready for the flooring man to come on Saturday morning and work on a smooth surface. We’d decided to get rid of the skirting board in there and have a pearly grey stone-look vinyl that curved up the walls for the bottom couple of inches, in the same way that many hospitals have their floors done and for much the same reason – fewer crevices and easier to sweep/wash clean. (I think skirting boards in a bathroom are there solely to act as display areas for towel fluff.) Tabbs was happy to demonstrate how neat and tidy this looks against the shower area’s newly installed glass wall.
So, at the end of day six, we had our new floor in and everything else was left to dry until Monday. We kept going in there just to look at all the lovely clean space where only concrete chasms had existed earlier in the week.
In the third instalment of this gripping saga, all will be revealed about how we were once more able to wash in comfort (and what had been happening in the interim), how we got rid of the alien suckers hanging down from the ceiling, and the incredible anguish associated with a cupboard shelf. Stay tuned. :)
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* I suspect that if you’re like me and one of those people around whom clutter gradually accretes, then you too may find yourself puzzling over the fact that in such a cabinet you have such items as three half-used packets of sticky plasters, a nine-year old unopened bottle of distilled witch hazel, a box of small safety pins guaranteed to be needed in the 12 hours after you’d thrown them out, a free sample bottle of expensive make-up remover that I was never going to use but hadn’t thrown out because it was costly to buy…you know the sort of thing. Well, it would be an interesting collection to sort out.
When we first thought about getting a new bathroom, back last autumn, my our plans were fairly simple: ‘the old bathroom fittings have been there 17 years and it would be good to have something new’. Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. Nope, nothing at all…except it didn’t stop there.
Our old bathroom was a traditional one – pedestal washbasin and loo, bath with electric shower over, old-fashioned 1970s radiator (as were all the radiators in the house), medicine cabinet on the wall. You know the sort of thing. Nice safe stuff – retro-styled white fittings, a vinyl-tiled floor, skirting board round the bottom of the walls. Nothing to make the heart beat faster.
As we started looking at bathroom catalogues and dipping a tentative toe into the world of modern bathroom design it became clear fairly quickly that we wanted more of a change than just a ‘new for old’ type of update. For one thing, neither I nor my husband likes a bath (I realise that this will be heresy to many people). I know a lot of people, Robin included, see a bath session as somewhere/some time to relax. For me, I get into a bath, lie back…and think ‘is this it?’. Give me a good forceful shower and plenty of space and I’m much happier. . Oh yes, that was the first thing – we live in a bungalow, a single-storey house. That was why we had the electric shower originally, some seven years ago, because there isn’t enough of a drop (from the hot water tank in the airing cupboard to the bathroom) to give any sort of force to a shower running off the normal hot water system). So, if we wanted to run the new shower off the normal hot water, then we would need to add a pump in the loft space.
Second thing – we have solid floors everywhere. If we wanted to change the layout of the bathroom then we were going to have to have the floor dug up in places for the pipework changes to be made.
Third thing – the lighting in the bathroom was something I had always loathed, entirely. An old-fashioned strip light that buzzed so much it was like sharing the room with a demented hornet. Plus, the light it gave was guaranteed to put the worst possible view of oneself to the forefront of one’s mind, every time an incautious glance was directed towards the mirror stand. Eeeeeee…..! Not good for the heart, or the emotions.
Fourth thing – even with opening the window on all possible occasions, it was difficult to keep the bathroom clear of damp, given the amount of washing time we normally clock up between us. We needed some sort of extractor fan, particularly as the bathroom comes off our hallway, between sitting room and bedrooms. No-one wants their visitors to be wreathed in steam…
Fifth thing – I just wanted something better, something interesting, something that would mean I could enjoy that space. The room is a reasonable size for a bathroom in a smallish house– around nine feet by seven feet – we had a bit of leeway to try and rearrange things.
And finally, neither of us wanted all the hassle of contracting and scheduling plumbers, plasterers, electricians, floor-layers, etc, etc. We wanted, if possible, to find one company that would arrange and project-manage the whole thing.
So, where did we go with all this? We were lucky in that one of our neighbours had had a new bathroom installed by a local firm some two years ago. Our friends invited us in to look around, see how they had changed things and why, discuss how things had worked out. It was very helpful, seeing how they’d done things and what the outcome had been. Plus it gave us some idea of what the likely cost might be – we were probably going to be living on bread and dripping for years afterwards but it would be worth it!
We then talked to a couple of (very brave or very foolhardy) bathroom companies and eventually settled on the people that our neighbours had used, given their positive reports on the experience and the aftercare. We went deep into the wonderland of giant shower stalls, digital controls, wall-mounted everything, you name it, we wanted it. I felt a bit like a child in a sweet shop – ‘Oooh, one of those, and that one, and could you throw in a bit of….’. We had some design ideas of our own when it came to layout but we also relied heavily on the professional knowledge of the installers. Finally, after a completely boggling session with them on the colours of various elements: wall panels; flooring; tiles; tops of cupboards; walls – and the shapes of taps, washbasin (we’re both splashy people so the basin had to be BIG if we were to avoid perpetually mopping the floor), walk-in shower area, lighting – we had everything as settled as it could be. OK, we can do this (we thought).
Do you know how long it takes to gut a bathroom and completely re-do it? Two weeks we were told. Once everything had been ripped out then the floor had to be partly dug up and the walls excavated for the pipework changes, the walls and new ceiling needed to be replastered. I may have drifted off a bit part way through the list but what it amounted to was that everything had to be made good and then allowed to dry out over at least a weekend before any of the new stuff could be put in. We only have one bathroom and no separate cloakroom. Plus – and this was a fairly big plus – for reasons I won’t go into it had seemed like a good idea some weeks previously to get a new CH boiler installed and update the radiators so that they each had their own thermostat. Guess what dates the central heating people wanted to come? Yup, two days of those same two weeks. So, right in the middle of the coldest spring in 40 years, we were going to be reduced to what might politely be termed ad hoc washing arrangements, there would be no heating for two days, we would have at least four workmen in the house during all daylight hours, and one of our two cats Does Not Like Strangers. Is it any wonder I started to think wistfully of the nice warm quiet business hotels I used regularly to go away to for work?
To be continued.
I’d heard of Murano, the Venetian island where the famous glass is produced. I hadn’t, however, heard of Burano, renowned for its lace making. We spent a cloudy (but fortunately dry) few hours there photographing not the lace, but the wonderful brightly coloured houses and their reflections in the canals. Burano is about an hour away from Venice city centre by Vaporetto, the waterborne public transport equivalent of the London tube (subway) but with a much more confusing map!
* Last of the series! Waaaaaah! –ed.
Note that I’d be happy to post fabulous holiday photo guest blogs every Sunday night for the rest of my life –Ed*
* Note also that this NOTE would be at the bottom, only for some reason the admin window won’t let me in, and I’m terrified of erasing a photo by accident.
Day three of the photography holiday – and the rain was pouring down! Exploration of the Jewish/Ghetto quarter was postponed in favour of a morning’s look at a selection of each other’s photos, and critique from Philip, our instructor and group leader. Not to be deterred, however, I stood outside the hotel, under an awning, for 20 minutes after breakfast, to see what I could capture of the Venice waterfront in the rain.
Photo critique over, we all went our separate ways as some of the group weren’t keen on going out in the rain. I’m actually really pleased we had a day in the rain – after all, flooding in St Mark’s Square is another iconic image of Venice, and the city remains photogenic, if a little more challenging!
Some more general photos of Venice.