… there it was, as if by magic,
but in fact by truck…
The new kitchen!
I had expected a truck with a big crane to roll up outside our house to collect out Hippo. But I was to be disappointed. Apparently the presence of overhead cables meant that the crane would have been impractical, so, in the event, two burly blokes (one of them with impressive tattoos) turned up in a big van …
and emptied our Hippo, every last broken floorboard, every obsolete light fitting and every length of redundant electrical cable, by hand.
…every last bit of it!
Which is why I keep telling you, children, to do your homework and study hard for your exams.
When I was a boy, some years ago, there is a very well-known song by the, sadly, long-departed entertainers, Flanders and Swann. It was called “The Gasman Cometh”. If you haven’t heard it, I can only recommend that you find it on Google. It will lead you into a treasure trove of comic songs and monologues that will while away the winter evenings.
I was reminded of this song by the happenings at our house over the past two weeks. I have therefore used it to frame the tale of woe that follows.
‘Twas on the Monday morning the gasman came to call.
We couldn’t turn the tap. We weren’t getting gas at all.
He tore up all the skirting boards to try and find the main,
And we had to call a carpenter to put them back again.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. The first people to come were the kitchen fitters. They removed the old kitchen and put in the new one, including new washing machine.
‘Twas on the Tuesday morning the carpenter came round.
He hammered and he chiselled and he said: “Look what I’ve found:
Your joists are full of dry rot but I’ll put them all to rights”.
Then he nailed right through a cable and out went all the lights!
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Having plumbed in the new washing machine, the electrical circuits had to be certified to make sure that they to conformed to the latest health and safety regulations. That revealed that our electrical circuits were, to put it nicely, non-compliant. The electrician was called.
‘Twas on a Wednesday morning the electrician came.
He called me Mr. Nicholas, which isn’t quite the name.
He couldn’t reach the fuse box without standing on the bin
And his foot went through a window so I called the glazier in.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. The electrician condemned the wiring system for the whole house. The entire building, all three floors, had to be rewired. All the carpets had to be removed and the floorboards torn up everywhere. We moved out and were once again rescued by our friends in Lewes.
‘Twas on a Thursday morning the glazier came round
With his blow torch and his putty and his merry glazier’s song.
He put another pane in – it took no time at all
But I had to get a painter in to come and paint the wall.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. But the electrician found rat droppings under the floorboards so there was a rodent removal strategy to be devised.
‘Twas on a Friday morning the painter made a start.
With undercoats and overcoats he painted every part:
Every nook and every cranny – but I found when he was gone
He’d painted over the gas tap and I couldn’t turn it on!
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. The painter is me, (or to be perfectly grammatically correct, “the painter is I”) and as I write this sorry story, I am completely stalled. Until the rewiring is finished there is nothing I can do. Painting operations are suspended. My brushes remain immersed in their pot of white spirit. My overalls are in the washing machine.
Worse than that, much of the paintwork that I thought I had completed before the kitchen fitters arrived, will have to be started again and other areas will need patching. And so it goes on.
On Saturday and Sunday they do no work at all;
So ’twas on a Monday morning that the gasman came to call.
In the meantime we still have a big hippo outside the front door!
I was pleased to get a comment on my previous blog entry about the tearing out of our old kitchen. The comment reads “Wow! That’s ambitious.”
It suddenly occurred to me that the commenter thought that I had done the work myself. Boy, was I highly flattered, but I really cannot claim to be that clever. The kitchen was actually torn out by the electrician who was part of the kitchen fitting team contracted to put in the new kitchen. His name is Lee.
It took Lee less than two hours to remove the old kitchen.
In fact he was later overheard telling another member of the fitting team that the kitchen was so rotten, it almost walked out by itself. So what do you do with an old kitchen?
You stack it out in the street for all to see until your Hippo bag arrives! (You could almost hear the neighbours saying to each other “Oh Lord! The Nicholls’s are back. Just watch the property prices fall as they bring down the tone of the neighbourhood.”
A day or so later, our Hippo bag arrived by courier from Gatwick. It was a thing of great sophistication and subtle beauty — a welcome adornment to any suburban dwelling.
We were assured that it would be collected within two to three days. By the end of the first week, we were starting to grow quite fond of our big, friendly, bright yellow bag into which increasing amounts of rubbish kept disappearing.
Other people have smart Audis or shiny Land Rovers standing outside their houses. We had a grey builder’s van and a Hippo bag! Anything to be different!
I have to admit, the old kitchen didn’t really look that bad when we took the house back.
Indeed, it looked pretty much the same as it had done in 1992, when we bought the house… and the kitchen wasn’t exactly new then.
But as soon as you opened the cupboard doors, the first thing that struck you was the smell; the unmistakable odour of rotting MDF.
For those readers who are not familiar with the acronym, MDF stands for “Medium Density Fibreboard.” It is made by bonding wood fibres together with heat and adhesive. A lot of not-very-expensive types of furniture, including many kitchen units, are made of MDF, which works perfectly well … unless it gets wet.
The MDF in our kitchen had clearly got very wet, very often and over a long time. Unfortunately, our tenants had not thought to complain about it, so nothing was done. By the time we discovered the source of the leaks, the units were beyond repair. The MDF had acted as blotting paper and soaked up large amounts of water, causing it to rot and deform.
So out it had to come!
Ever had one of those moments when you think ” Oh.Lord! What have we started?”
This is the third of three stories that I wanted tell about my adventures with my friend, Paul Gubbins, who died a few weeks ago.
I had mentioned previously that we both attended a wedding in San Jose and subsequently interrupted the newlyweds’ honeymoon in Los Angeles, in order to get a much-needed shower.
Since writing that story, I have heard from the aforementioned newlyweds, who are now enjoying the first year of retirement in South Wales, and, amazingly, following the blog. It was pointed out to me in, no uncertain terms, that, on the day in question, they were not instructed to present themselves in the hotel coffee shop at 10.00am but rather at 8.00am.
They seemed to think that it was, to say the least, unusual to be summoned from their room at such an early hour on the second day of their honeymoon. It seemed perfectly reasonable to Paul and me, but then neither of us had, at that point in our lives, had any experience of honeymoons, so how were we to know?
Now, where was I? Ah, yes, I remember. In order not to outstay our welcome at the Howard Johnson in LA and not to put any more strain on our friendship with our newly wedded friends, we set off east across the desert, heading for Nevada and, in particular for Las Vegas. Oh. yes. That Las Vegas, baby!
I should perhaps remind my faithful readers that, at the time of this story, I was a returned VSO volunteer who had just spent two years teaching without a salary in the Sudan and Paul was a PhD student. Neither of us could lay claim to anything remotely resembling wealth. Indeed ‘practically penniless’ was probably nearer to the truth.
However, having spent a truly dreadful night sleeping in our hire-car on a carpark in Hollywood, we knew that, come what may, we had to find a bed for the night in Las Vegas. We couldn’t spend a second night in the car.
A few miles outside Las Vegas there was a Tourist Information office. We drove in and asked the helpful, smiling assistant behind the counter if he could recommend some cheap accommodation in Las Vegas. We only had two requirements; that the beds should be clean and that we shouldn’t get murdered in our sleep. Not too much to ask, we felt.
“How does $5.00 a night sound?” came the reply. “And we won’t get murdered?” we said. “Probably not!” he said. So we paid our $5.00 and made our way to the address shown on the voucher we were given.
The hotel into which we had been booked was absolutely palatial. Polished glass in the reception area, ornamental fountain at the front, well-tended lawns, the lot. We went to Reception and picked up our room key, assuming that they must have some ‘sheds-with-beds’ somewhere at the back of the hotel for people like us.
We opened the door of our room and, carefully, stepped inside. The thick-pile carpet sank beneath our feet. There were two queen-sized beds, a colour television, (remember this was 1974), tea and coffee making facilities and a very smart private bathroom. It was the most luxurious hotel room that either of us had ever seen.
Without even putting our bags down, we backed out of the room, being careful not to leave too many footprints on the carpet or finger marks on the door handles. We sheepishly returned to Reception to speak to the manager. We apologised for having caused inconvenience, but explained that we had been told that the room would only cost $5.00 for the night. There must have been some mistake. “Sorry, sorry. We’ll leave now.”
The manager explained that there was, indeed, no mistake. Las Vegas was experiencing a lean year and he was just trying to make enough money to keep his cleaners paid. The room was ours!
This was turning out to be a better day than we had expected.
Another sign of the downturn in business in Las Vegas was that the casinos were very keen to get tourists to cross their thresholds and start spending money. To encourage this, several of the big casinos, Caesar’s Palace included, were giving out vouchers that could be exchanged for gambling chips in their respective establishments. The helpful, smiley man in the Tourist Information office handed us each a handful of these vouchers as we left his office.
So now, not only did we have a very posh hotel room, a view over the fountain, a colour TV, a kettle with little plastic pots of milk, a decent shower and a reasonable expectation of surviving the night, we also had the equivalent of $30.00 with which to gamble in the casinos. I think they call it ‘serendipity’!
Paul and I discussed our good fortune at length, as we prepared for our foray onto the mean streets of Vegas. We decided that we couldn’t really claim to have gambled in Las Vegas if we only spent the money that we had been given by the Tourist office. Where was the risk in that? Where was the adventure? Where was the danger? Hey! The boys are in town!
We decided that we would take a small amount of paper money with us just to buy drinks and that we would gamble the small change that we had in our pockets. High rollers, or what?
We cruised the casinos and eventually frittered away all of our free money – and our small change – in the fruit machines of some glittering temple of Mammon, where, apparently, Frank Sinatra had once performed. We were back to our practically penniless state. Our dreams of breaking the Bank of Las Vegas and retiring at the age of 24 were crushed in the dust of the Nevada desert. Still, Who cared? The boys had hit Vegas. We had something to tell our descendants, if descendants there be.
We retired to the bar in the depths of the casino’s basement to reflect on our miserable lives, that now held no prospect of anything but crushing poverty, debt and despair.
The bar was even more luxurious than our hotel room. The lighting was subdued, presumably to hide the tears of the gamblers who, like us, found themselves drowning their sorrows after a hard night of losing money. The bar itself was made of studded leather into which your elbows sank as you contemplated the total car-crash that your life had become in the preceding hours.
The bar-man wore a sharp, red uniform with a bow-tie and manicured hands. He polished his glasses with a fervour that was born either out of dedication to his noble profession or else fear of unemployment on the unforgiving streets of the Strip, as we experienced casino-goers call the centre of Las Vegas.
“What can I get you gentlemen?” he asked, as the glassware flew in a blur from his cloth to the shelves behind him.
“Two beers, please,” we replied, with dejection and desperation in our voices.
Two bottles of beer and two very shiny glasses appeared before us before either of us had time to blink.
“Did you lose?” he asked.
“Yeh,” we confessed. “We lost.”
“How much?” he asked, clearly revelling in our misery.
We sat in stunned silence, staring, uncomprehendingly, at our rapidly emptying glasses and contemplating the disaster that had overtaken us.
Eventually, Paul looked up, fixed his lifeless gaze somewhere in the middle distance and sighed the sigh of the ruined. “I don’t know exactly'” he said. “It must be nearly three dollars!”
The barman literally rocked back on his heels. “Jesus Christ!,” he said, trying to work out which planet we had just arrived from. “I had a guy in here last night who’d lost $180,000!”
Yesterday, there was supposed to be a big fundraising event in aid of a group of hospices in Sussex. It was to be held in the extensive and very beautiful grounds of Danny House, a famous country estate where, apparently, some of the terms of the Versailles Treaty were planned in 1919.
Everything was beautifully prepared; the huge hospitality tents were fully staffed with willing volunteers and unlimited supplies of tea, Victoria sponge and jam tarts. The medieval musicians were on hand to greet the crowds as they arrived. The vintage and classic cars were all lined up to be admired The mobile stone-fired pizza van and the mobile bars were in place and the entertainment was booked and ready to perform.
The various acts included the Brighton College swing band and a group of dancers from a local Dance Academy, both of whom were first rate. A local circus school was performing in their own big top, and for me, at least, the Top of the Bill was to be a concert given by the Pendyrus Male Voice choir, who had travelled up all the way from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales to entertain us.
Now I have to admit that, as far as I am concerned, you can’t beat the sound of a good Welsh Male Voice Choir and the Pendyrus MVC is one of the best. Some of their songs make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I had bought our tickets for this event months ago, in anticipation of a wonderfully warm, late summer evening enjoying a picnic supper and a bottle of good wine on the sumptuous lawns of Danny House to the lilting airs of Myfanwy or the Slaves’ Chorus from Nabucco.
The organisers had planned for thousands of visitors, so that the proceeds of the day could be divided amongst the various hostices in Sussex.. Only five hundred tickets were sold in advance, but the hope was that many more people would turn out on the day.
Unfortunately, the Meteorological Office had other ideas. The weather forecast on the morning of the event was for rain spreading from the west. When we arrived at about 4.00pm to park in the huge field alongside the house, the attendant told us that the forecast had changed during the day. Instead of rain from 6.00pm followed by heavy rain from 7.00 pm, the Met Office was now promising heavy rain from 6.00 pm onwards.
The Pendyrus Choir was due to start its concert at 6.15pm
At 6.01pm the heavens opened. The faint-hearted fled in all directions. The die-hards dug in. The choir, sheltered by the inflatable stage, started their programme.
They were, as we expected, excellent. They sang their hearts out and we got wetter and wetter as the wind whipped the rain all around us, attacking us from all sides. They sang for an hour and a half. We sat for an hour and a half, by which time, despite our wet weather gear, we were wet through to our unmentionables. We didn’t wait for the son et lumiere! Hypothermia threatened.
The lady holding the plastic chair is the musical director of the choir in which I sing, the Brighton Welsh Male Voice Choir. The plastic chair, which did offer some protection from the rain, had to emptied out every ten minutes!
I fully expect my shoes to have dried by Wednesday!