Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Shed

It has taken months and been painfully more expensive than expected, but I now have a shed/office up and running, and my daughter no longer needs to share her bedroom with my rubbish. Here, for those who've asked, is the whole saga...

The original plan was to convert the old, World War Two bomb shelter at the end of the garden, which had been used for storing the lawnmower and old pots of paint. I was really keen to keep the bomb shelter, not least because of its place in history. This part of London was heavily bombed in the war - the pub round the corner, my daughter's nursery and the swings we go to all the time are all built in place of houses that were lost.

Although the shelter looked large and imposing from outside, the very thick brick walls meant it was pretty small inside. Those walls would make it difficult to add a window or electricity. And the heavy-set concrete roof was leaking, which would be complicated to fix.

Exterior of World War Two bomb shelter
in our garden in January
Interior of World War Two bomb shelter
in our garden in January

The compromised roof, letting water in
So, in January, and a little guiltily, we arranged for builders to come and unbuild it. It took two of them, all day, with a huge pneumatic drill and sledge hammers, just to take the roof off.

Day 1 of demolition

Day 2 of demolition
It was exhausting work. The builders got through at least one pneumatic drill, and would retire wearily at 3 pm each evening. It took longer than expected, so they were then off to other jobs, coming in when they could to destroy another section.

By the end of the first week, we'd also hit a snag: the back and right-hand walls of the bomb shelter were supporting the walls behind them, so would have to stay. There was also the issue of how low the bomb shelter sat in the ground, which had meant there was always a problem with damp.

End of second week of demolition
The builders suggested using some of the rubble they'd cleared as the base for a platform on which the shed could sit. It saved money to use the broken bits of brick - but was still an expensive addition to the plan. We tightened out belts, and as well as the platform they installed panelling to tidy the whole thing up, too.

Construction of platform for new shed 

Our cat, Stevens, supervised the construction of a step up to the platform. The crappy weather may also have done something to the concrete mix - the edge of the step is already beginning to crumble. So we might have to have another go later in the year.

Paw prints in the step

After three weeks, the builders finished with the platform complete.

Platform completed, February

With them done and gone, I was ready to order the new shed from Woodside Timber. It would not arrive for another month - in March - so we had time to tidy the garden a bit, and attempt to book in an electrician for the next stage.

The Dr, in a tiara, tidying.
A nice electrician we'd used before came round and established it would be really tricky getting a cable out to the shed, as it would need to go under the floor in our kitchen, through the back wall, under the patio and then under the garden. Not one of these things would be easy.

But by happy coincidence, she was due to be working in the next few days with our old friend, the nice bloke who fitted our kitchen and converted our loft, who we'd booked to insulate and board the inside of the shed. She said she would talk to him about exactly what could be done. I heard from him soon after, and they'd talked through who would do what. We were go - in principle, or so I thought.

In March, while I was talking at the Bath Taps Into Science festival, the shed was put up by the nice people from Woodside Timber - exactly fitting the platform for it. Hooray!

The new shed, in March
I was then on holiday - at a wedding in Vietnam, and then with the family in Majorca - and we hit the Easter holidays. So we were well into April before the nice bloke was free to put in the insulation and board. As agreed with the electrician, he put the wiring in - but didn't connect it up to the mains - and got a cable running from the shed to the house. It helped that he fitted our kitchen all those years ago and knew where everything sat. But it was still a fiddly job.

Then we hit another snag. Yes, the electrician had discussed with him what needed to be done. But she'd not actually quoted for the job because she knew she was too busy to take it on. Me and the nice bloke had both thought she'd given each other the go ahead. Oops. So I had to dash round looking for another electrician. More time lost. The soonest anyone could come just to quote for the job was now May...

In the meantime, I got on with painting the inside of the newly boarded shed, with the Lord of Chaos helping when the mood took him. Once the paint was dry, he also decorated it, on the theme of an aquarium - with added monsters.

Lord of Chaos at work
 Lady Vader also wanted in on the action, though her work is more abstract in nature.

Lord Chaos and Lady Vader at work
Towards the end of April, I made a whistlestop visit to Winchester for the christening of an old schoolfriend's new son, and was able to steal some off-cuts of carpet from my parents.

Shed now with some carpet
Then there was the matter of burying the steel wire armoured cable running from the shed to the house. This had been the bit of the job the electricians and nice bloke were all keen to dodge. So on a rainy day at the end of April, muggins here just had to get on with it, with spade and fork.

Garden before the trench
The official recommendation was to bury the wire at a depth of 600 mm, which is a lot of digging. It didn't help that very soon I was digging through broken brick and glass and tile - as if the house had been built on a rubbish tip. It was knackering.

Garden with trench
Meanwhile, with progress being made, the Dr was keen to get all my stuff out of what had been my office and is now Lady Vader's bedroom. That mean lugging the enormous desk downstairs and out. I called in a favour, having helped some friends move house over Christmas.

Desk in old office, in sight of the new shed

Desk and chair now in the shed
It was all done in time for the electrician to arrive the next day to give us a quote, as they'd need to see the trench. Job done - but I was a little sore and damaged.

A writer's hand after some real work
Lord Chaos was fascinated by the spoil heap I'd created, which meant a house full of mud. But he also diligently uncovered all sorts of treasures. We cleaned up the bits of broken tile and removed the bits of glass so he could take it all in to school for an accomplished show and tell.

Treasures from the garden
There was then a bit of back and forth with the electrician - he missed the day he was meant to come to quote, then couldn't do the actual work before the end of May. He also recommended a whole new fuse box for the house, rather than just grafting an extra bit on. It made sense, so we gritted our teeth and said yes. It might all be done by June...

At the last minute, he was able to come on the first Bank Holiday Monday, so we were suddenly ahead. I had to dash to the local DIY warehouses to pick up switch sockets and lights ready to be installed. I do not recommend this on a bank holiday weekend. It took almost for ever.

On the Monday, the electrician and his colleague worked quickly through the sunshine. They also signed off the trench I'd dug as being adequate, so - having put down a warning scroll about their being an electricity cable underneath - I could fill in the trench. That was on a very hot day, and probably harder than the original dig. The Dr felt I failed to emulate Poldark.

Not Poldark
After all that toil, I was granted a night out in the pub with some friends. Which was when the Dr discovered our downstairs lights had not been reconnected. The apologetic electrician was back the next day...

With the cables in, the nice bloke came back to fix a few last bits and pieces, and fitted the shelf brackets I'd also purloined from my parents. They had been the shelves in my bedroom in my teens, home to my run of Doctor Who books, most of which I'd long since given away... Putting up the brackets proved fiddly, because the sloping roof created an optical illusion where the middle bracket never looked right. After much swearing and use of a spirit level, we got a shelf up.
The middle bracket is at the same height as the other two
With the brackets fixed, my parents then came to babysit while I was off on a job. They arrived with my old shelves, cut to six feet exactly as I'd asked, and more off-cuts of carpet to fill the remaining gaps.

With shelves done, I began ferrying boxes of stuff over to the shed, in between trying to keep up with the work I'm behind on. Much of it was boxes of stuff that I'd hardly been able to get into in the seven years we've lived in this house. There was a happy afternoon just putting 25 years of Doctor Who Magazine in order, which will speed up a lot of the stuff I'm currently writing...

On Friday, we visited the British Heart Foundation shop in central Croydon looking for some kind of armchair or sofa that would a) fit the limited space and b) suit comfortable reading. We found the perfect thing and - miracle of miracles! - they delivered it that same afternoon. Lady Vader and her Dolly approved.

New old sofa meets Lady Vader's approval
With Lord Chaos off school with chicken pox, we've had a couple of days this week to concentrate on the shed - because he objected to me ignoring him by working on my laptop. Yesterday, we went to collect the box shelves Homebase were meant to have delivered 10 days ago. They apologised for not having a driver available in all that time and generously refunded the £3.95 for delivery.

Lord Chaos enjoyed using the gentle IKEA drill to put in the screws, and fixing the little white round things that hide the screwheads on top. He then contentedly watched me fill the shelves with all my rubbish. Last night, the Dr was delighted to see there was space for my Doctor Who DVDs, too - finally exorcising her house.

There are still bits and bobs left to do: things to unpack, a fan heater to buy, so much of it to reorganise. But it's a snug and cosy space to work in, and I'm now ripping through the stuff that for so long I have been late on. It has been well worth all the effort.

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