New Year’s day set the pattern for the year so far; feeling deflated but not quite dead, we went out to Beaky Hoose and worked like bastards. We ventured into the shed, and discovered that someone had apparently been throwing everything from curtains and tools to actual bins of rubbish in there for several years, after which a cat had been coming in to pee on whatever wasn’t rotting quickly enough on its own. Emptying that lot took days. We tore out the rest of the carpets, we steamed woodchip out of the lounge, we steamed wallpaper out of the upstairs bedrooms, we painted the newly-plastered ceilings again and again and again, we jack-hammered up the tiles in the kitchen. Then we hired an even bigger jack-hammer to take up the stuff under the tiles in the kitchen. I shall now show the before and afters, so you can agree that this place is actually getting worse.
Behold what we have done to the kitchen!
And the lounge!
We also trashed the three-phase plan of doing stuff (which I discovered when I realised there was still rather a lot of timber and gyprock to be carted out, even though I had cleared it all the day before. On investigating, I found two massive holes where the built-in wardrobes had been. I… had thought we were going to leave that until some rooms were finished? Oh well. And we’re going to rip up all the upstairs floors now and make them straight? Oh dear god.) At least that meant we found the woodworm, where someone had apparently carted in an untreated plank; so that got painted with poison. One day, we may even make some walls where it used to be. And some floors. God willing.
The G-Monster’s vow that the garden would just have to wait was foiled when his brother informed him that trees Must Come Down before the end of March. Yas, the trees will come down and I will have somewhere to plant… new trees! This is Important, because I sent a finishing-up email to the lady in charge of the alittlement, and she told me that I would sorely be missed and am just the loveliest person ever, which was very sweet, although I fear she just tells me this stuff cos she knows I have mental health wobbles and fears I will die if she fails to coddle me on every single interaction, but it was very sweet nonetheless. Also, she told me it would be considerate to get my greenhouse, my tools, and all my perennials out of there. And as I am Known for being so amazingly considerate… wait, was I being played? Anyway. That would be: two apple trees that are just getting started and will probably die, eight bushes, six crowns of rhubarb and, erm, every single strawberry plant? Yikes! Thing is, until the trees come down, there is nowhere to put these guys that they won’t get squished. On the other hand, they do have to leave the allittlement. So I was mighty glad when the G-Monster’s brother came round and felled some mighty trees, on some fairly tight angles right between the shed and the house, too. The back garden was suddenly doubled in size, and without the one-time hedge even being touched!
Of course, the back garden was now entirely full, to the same height I am, with brushwood. But there was no time to worry about that, because we had finally found a sparky who didn’t flee in horror from the Herculean task that rewiring the whole gaff was going to prove (and no, diverting a river into it was not an option this time). This was a great relief, because we couldn’t get the plastering done before the rewiring was done, we couldn’t get the floors in until the plastering was done, and we couldn’t get a kitchen in until the floors were done, and the first part of that wasn’t due to start until… February? Oh god.
Fortunately, we had no time to worry about that, because we had to sod off for the FOSDEM conference in Brussels. Did I say ‘fortunately’ there? I didn’t mean it; I was so stressed out by this point that I had got ill. Worse, I was in a state of brain-drain so bad that I could write down all the things that needed to be done and yet not be able to fathom how to go about any of them. Even the ones which weren’t, ‘get photos taken for bloke who is kindly making my website’ and were more like, ‘wash dishes’. I had been hoping to take part in 28 Drawing Later again this year (where people do a drawing every day during February, or is that rather obvious?) but it became rapidly apparent that I wouldn’t be able to; worse, I had hardly done any art since November, me two-thirds-done novel had languished for months, and if it wasn’t for the short story I was working on for an anthology competition the G-Monster had sent me, I would be doing nothing creative at all. Which was getting to me, and I was mad at myself for letting it.
Also, the G-Monster had announced one day that ‘one person should deal with all the contractors, for that will make things easier’. I guess it did, for him, since he wasn’t that person – I, on the other hand, was now stuck in the middle of a giant game of telephone. However, there was that thing where the G-Monster revealed he didn’t want this giant mess of a project at all, so it seemed only fair that I take as much of the burden from him as possible, so he didn’t grow to resent me for it. But despite my best efforts, the flat was a tip, Beaky Hoose never seemed to look any better either, and I was waking up in the morning unable to work out what day it was, what I was late for, and whether I should dive into my suit or my horrible painty outfit. (So far, at least I haven’t got it wrong. So far.)
So we went to Brussels. It should have been nice, but I was in such a state that every moment we weren’t doing anything ‘productive’ (i.e. the entire time) I was in a state of heightened anxiety. I think I managed to conceal this? We did lots of good things – the Natural History Museum has the world’s biggest display of iguanadon fossils, all found in a local coalmine (and displayed in such a way that I cannot take good photos of them at all), but it also has masses of lifesize dinosaur skeleton (ditto) and a good example of the difference between the local languages. “Les geantes de la mer” says one sign, above the giant clams, (‘the giants of the sea’). How calm it sounds. GROTTE KLEPPERS! it says underneath.
‘Grotte klepper’ promptly became the G-Monster’s go-to insult for me for the next week.
There is a war museum, which is free, and we spent the afternoon wandering around it (and around it… and around it… good god I was knackered even before we found the immense hall of planes) and then collapsed in that lovely wee quite pub I found last year, The Grimbergen. Where we had a nice relaxed evening drinking ten-percent beer and eating traditional local dishes. I was a bit alarmed at closing time, when all three barmen formed a Knot to come over to us en masse. Surely we hadn’t been that obnoxious?
They presented us with complimentary shots and souvenir glasses. We were so embarrassed we stayed away from the place forever after. Which was awkward, because it was right opposite our hotel.
The next day, it turned out the G-Monster had announced what we had been up to on The Interweb, so a mate of his who specialises in making period weapons had requested photos of specific weapons for this book he’s writing. Back to the war museum it was, with only half a dozen stops so I could get fruit juice en route. Sadly, the G-Monster couldn’t get the interweb to work this time, so we had to leave and amble around the car museum opposite until he could find out what was needed. Then we went back in. We are almost certainly on a ‘potential thieves’ list of some sort now.
The conference this year was… not as exciting as previous years? It was nice to see all the nerd fashions, and note the increased number of both female nerds and nerds of colour, and I did plan a big blog about it in my head, but… eh. I was tired, and ill and desperately wanted to hunker down somewhere and do a lot of writing.
Needless to say, the next time the opportunity arose, I did not arise to it.
Which was not immediately, however. When we got back, it was time to head out to Beaky Hoose, armed with hatchet, bow-saw and cooking oil, and spend two days burning everything in sight. Also, the neighbours were moving out and gifted us all their unwanted furniture, which was highly providential but turned out to have to go several hundred metres, when you went around by the road. Sniff. We had only just made friends. Farewell, little spaniel.
We met the new neighbours, who have an even smaller spaniel. What a coincidence!
Also, I got to meet the neighbours at the end of the road; when someone who was out helping us backed their car into the neighbours’ lamp, and I was sent up to confess/ apologise. Now, the G-Monster has met the neighbours several times, but for some reason he thought I should take this opportunity to meet them myself. Needless to say, the bloke looked at me with absolute disgust and stomped off to let his wife deal with me; she was lovely about it, but I didn’t make any friends that day.
When I returned to the car, the G-Monster revealed that, lo, he pretty much knew that was how it would go down, and didn’t want them hating him. He was unhappy, however, when I revealed that I had said ‘we’ had knocked down their lamp, because obviously that implied he was driving. Well, dammit, shoulda chapped the door yourself then. I am not sorry at all that your plan to make me local enemy No.1 backfired.
Then I had to scrub off the stench as of a smoked haddock, and go catch up on things at the office. With haste, because I had a whole week off coming up.
Now the thing about the week off was, the G-Monster had another conference abroad, this time, on the other side of the world. Accordingly, I had packed all me stuff and prepared to brave a whole week at Beaky Hoose. Yes, the hoose with no kitchen, no beds (well, now it has some beds) no adequately-working showers… it was going to be cold and uncomfortable, but I was damn well going to see some difference in the place by the time I was done, or die trying!
Except, the G-Monster, too, had got ill. Too ill to get out of bed, too ill to be able to tell me what to do or what flights he was meant to be on; definitely too ill to go abroad. I stayed with him until he could move about and talk, then rather callously left him to look after himself, after he assured me half a dozen times he was perfectly able to look after himself. I mean, there were four separate folks turning up at Beaky on the morrow, and somebody had to be there to let them in.
Well, at least he was going to be in a place with heat and hot water and plenty of food. I got a lift off me driving instructor up to Beaky, since everyone was horrified by the prospect of me getting a train to the country, at night, and walking down a streetlit road to my abode, and settled in to ignore every strange noise (there were plenty) and be up at the crack of dawn to start getting things Sorted Out Already.
That part was not hard – the mattresses kindly given us by the neighbours are so ancient that I’m surprised I didn’t wake up with spring-marks on my face, and for the first time in my life I became aware that I could feel the dust in the air I was breathing. Getting up was therefore marginally less uncomfortable than staying in bed – especially since, with no curtains, doors or furniture, Beaky Hoose sheds heat like a cinder in the snow. (Also, I think we should shut the hatch to the loft, but what would I know.)
As usual, there turned out to be an Order in which things were to get Sorted Out Already. My plan for the week was, for instance, to get the back garden tidied up and three rooms decorated. Part one of my plan, therefore, was to get rid of as much of the dust as possible. It would come back – it would always come back – but so do the dishes, and nobody’s found a cure for those yet.
It took an inordinate amount of time, considering.
Part two was Painting The Fence That Has Never Ever Been Painted. This was because the G-Monster had decreed that the only place we can stack the logs, to be out of the way, is in the corner of that fence, ‘just for a bit’; I foresee future generations having to unstack those logs. Someone has painted the back of the fence, but since that’s not the bit that gets the weather (and is there ever a lot of it) I thought it rather prudent to paint the front. Also, I had cunningly laid in some paint.
Well, was it ever the wrong paint – that kinda luminous orangey stuff, not the dark brown everything else was painted. I suppose that’s why it was on offer. Still it was better than nothing, and I made slow but steady progress making the neighbourhood look worse, until I had to have a meeting with a contractor. Then there was more progress, until I heard another car. Was it the G-Monster’s brother, come to cut down trees? No. It was the G-Monster. I stared at him in bewilderment, because what the hell dude, you are ill, and if you don’t stop in bed you will never not get ill. Meanwhile, I had a stabbing pain in both ears like someone had shoved a knitting needle through them, and suspected I wouldn’t be on my own feet much longer.
Anyway, the G-Monster needed tea and consoling and the instant he was feeling better he discovered a tin of the correct paint, grr, which meant all my efforts were worse than wasted. At least I got the rest of the fence done the right colour, and his brother came over and cut down two more trees, thus forcing me to do over the work I’d done the week before. No, really, everything is going to be fine.
Well… sort of. No, actually, not at all. The more hours I put in, the more hours I was forced to spend stopping and making people cups of tea, or stopping and moving massive piles of stuff out of people’s way, or stopping because someone had come in to take up the floor all around me. By the fourth night, when the G-Monster’s awesome mechanic came to stay over and help out, I was horrified enough by the thought of her having to sleep on those crappy, murderous mattresses that I insisted we get the air-mattresses out. Sure enough, there was nothing anywhere in the place – and we had three different types of pump between us – that would fit the bastards, and just getting her set up with somewhere to sleep took forever. I passed out after twelve near-fruitless hours of labour, and was woken up at two in the morning when she snuck in to bleed the radiator in my room.
Feeling rather shown up by that, I resolved to work harder than ever the next day. I swear, though, the harder I worked, the more people showed up to need tea and things moved out of their way. By Thursday I had had enough – the hot water was off, the one non-leaking shower was off, the emergency kitchen had been shut off, the heat had been off all day because the radiators were getting raised, and I was washing in cold water in a sink in a bathroom with a door that doesn’t shut, let alone lock. At six in the morning, because all the kitchen appliances were coming at seven. As soon as they arrived, I sodded off home to get clean and warm and have some proper food for once. And lo, despite having ever so much to do, I have pretty much spent the week following that in bed, which is a) vastly infuriating and b) not something that has happened to me in… damn, years. A decade, even.
No, wait, we had to go back out and move even more things on the Saturday. Apparently that was valentines day; you can imagine how much celebrating was done by two ill, stressed-out people who’ve taken on far too much. I am a wreck.
Above: so now I just have to dig all the tree-roots out with a pickaxe and… ARGH.
Oh yeah, also I painted the shed, once I got near it. But still. After all that, not one room got decorated!