Finishing touches

Lots of finishing touches being put on things around here at the moment. My Real Ale Socks pattern got finished and published.

The other sock pattern I’ve been working on is also nearly finished and should be being sent to be edited in the next couple of days. Here’s a little peek at the sample before it was blocked:

Sneak Peek


Also, after nearly 4½ years, we’re finally putting the finishing touches on this flat and, more importantly, after nearly 7 years, we’re putting the final touches on our time in London; come September, we’ll be back in Scotland. This makes me very happy and a bit sad at the same time and also somewhat terrified since there’s lots to do before we can move!

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing

Early autumn was glorious here in London and, one weekend, Steven and I took advantage with a walk in Greenwich Park. As we walked we collected chestnuts and acorns and leaves.

Chestnuts and acorns Chestnuts and acorn

From left to right: horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, acorn.

Autumn leaves

The chestnuts and acorns just because they were there and the leaves to try making this autumn leaf bouquet.

I wasn’t really sure what to do with all the chestnuts so I stuck them in a vase for the time being.

Autumn vase

Then the leaves dried out before we got around to the bouquet but we decided that they looked pretty just as they had dried.

Autumn leaves

For want of anything better to do with them, I stuck both the vase and the leaves on top of the shoe cabinet in our hall, which seemed appropriate since we already had a dish with a couple of pine cones in it sitting there.


Suddenly, it struck me: I had accidentally succumbed to seasonal decorating! I’m not really a seasonal decor person (other than at Christmas). I barely manage to arrange and display the various ornaments, prints, pictures, etc. that I have without trying to rotate through seasonally appropriate ones and yet, somehow, I’ve ended up with seasonally appropriate decor. I’m sure I don’t need to worry though, I’m pretty sure they will be sitting there long after autumn has passed!

A brave attempt

Sometimes I try something and fail; sometimes I try something and succeed.

Fortunately, tonight was definitely in the latter camp and we now have a new cutlery drawer fitted!

Only I could decide that assembling and fitting the drawer myself, including drilling the holes for the handle, was easier than trying to schedule the kitchen fitting company to come back out. For once though, it appears I was right.

The new cutlery drawer

I survived!

It’s true. I have officially survived my first set of professional exams. Now, I just have to wait until June to find out how I’ve done.

In other news, we have 99% of our kitchen fitted! There’s a drawer missing, where they sent us the wrong one, and we need to get the plumber back to connect the dishwasher and washing machine but everything else is in and working. This means that we can start cooking and washing dishes again. (I hate washing dishes anyway but having to wash them in the bathroom sink and dry them in the bath was awful.) We still need to get the walls and floor tiled but since we effectively haven’t had a kitchen since we moved in what we have now is fantastic. Over the past couple of days, I’ve kept finding myself standing in the kitchen gazing on it admiringly. I would have thought this was just a tactic to avoid studying but I’ve noticed Steven doing it too.

Tonight’s plan is to start unpacking boxes and putting crockery away and possibly christen the oven by baking brownies.

After my last exam yesterday, I suddenly thought, “What do I do when I’m not studying?” Then it struck me: I work on the flat and unpack boxes. It wasn’t the happiest of realisations. Having said that, the flat is now just about at a point where we can get most of the rest of our stuff unpacked and not have to do any major work on it for a while. So, we’re having a flat-warming party on Saturday 26th April (to give us the whole of this weekend to run around daft trying to make the flat presentable). I think Steven thought I was kidding when I said I was going to print out the photographs of what the flat looked like when we bought it and leave them lying around but I think I will. I’m so proud of what we’ve managed to do so far, especially considering that we’ve done the vast majority of it all on our own. Now, if I can just have passed all my exams as well, I’ll be happy.

Kitchen wars

Warning: This is a very long post and is entirely about us trying to get a kitchen fitted. Read on at your peril. I promise that the next post will be shorter and will almost certainly involve knitting.

The saga starts a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (My Mum’s dining room sometime after Christmas.) Steven downloads the kitchen planning tool from IKEA and spends hours, whilst Mum and I are wedding dress shopping, designing a kitchen that will fit into our new flat. It looks great and he even managed to come up with an innovative way of working around the fact that modern kitchen units are too deep for our kitchen. We like the design but have no experience of IKEA kitchens and decide not to get carried away and order the first kitchen we think we like.

So we do some shopping around. We rule out B&Q kitchens on the grounds that we know too many people who have had terrible trouble with their installation service. MFI rule themselves out by not returning three separate phonecalls asking for a design appointment. Magnet rule themselves out by not having pricing information available in the showroom without me asking a salesperson for help. (Note to suppliers: I don’t like making phone calls and I don’t like salespeople trying to sell me things until I’ve decided what I want. This means I need lots of easily accessible information. If you’re not going to give me that, I’m not going to buy from you.) We ruled out all the beautiful adverts for solid wood kitchens that appear in our local free magazine because “we couldn’t possibly afford one of those”. Given how much this kitchen is going to have cost by the time it’s done, it turns out we probably could have.

Anyway, we end up deciding that we do want the IKEA kitchen after all. We go into the store to try and find out how much they want to charge for installation. We come back out of the store feeling like we had been hit by a bus. Let’s just leave it at “it was a bit more than we were expecting”.

Time passed and we still hadn’t ordered a kitchen. Eventually, we sit down with the combined budgets for the flat and the wedding and work out that we probably can afford the kitchen. However, we didn’t like the salesguy at the first IKEA we went to (or much of the rest of the store for that matter) so we decided to go to a completely different IKEA and ask them how much they’d charge for installation. Fortunately, the number they came up with was within our (newly revised) budget and we liked the salesperson a lot better so we decided to be brave and order the kitchen. Unfortunately, we only decided this after we had left the store and driven home. Undeterred by the 45 minute wait we had had to talk to someone appropriately trained in the kitchen department on the first occasion, I returned the next night (with Tetris on my phone) to order the kitchen.

So, kitchen has now been successfully ordered and the next step is getting an appointment with the installation company (IKEA sub-contracts the installation to local firms). Installation company don’t usually do evening or weekend appointments so we end up making an evening appointment for 10 days’ time. 8 days pass and then on the Wednesday I get a phone call from the installation company. “Hi Susan, just phoning to let you know that we’re not going to be able to make the survey appointment on Friday as Andy (names changed to protect the guilty) has had to go to the dentist to have a bad tooth pulled and we’ve given him a couple of days off afterwards because you know what men are like.” Umm, last time I had (wisdom) teeth pulled I was back at work the next day. The whole point of pulling teeth is that they stop hurting when you pull them and you’re not bothered by the pain any more! And guys, one word: professionalism. Your clients don’t need to know that you think all men are wimps. Not willing to wait for the two weeks for another evening appointment, I arrange to take an afternoon off work on the Monday and the appointment goes ahead as planned. Well, except for them turning up 1.5 hours late.

Appointment goes without a hitch and without too many patronising comments. One hilarious point when the guy asked me if he could take a look at the fuse box. I looked at him blankly and he repeated his question more slowly, explaining that this was where the fuses for the electric circuits would be. Still with an uncertain look on my face, I point at the fuse box that we’ve just spent 10 minutes discussing, including him measuring up to check that it would still be able to be hidden inside a cupboard when the new ones are fitted.

So, now IKEA know what units we would like and all the kitchen installer has to do is tell me and IKEA how much they will charge for the installation and the extra bits of work that we asked them to quote for. The installer tells me that he can send me a quote by the end of the week. This is a little disappointing since it’s only Monday and it’s already been 3 weeks since we placed the order with IKEA. He then tells me that he gets up really early every morning to check his email and do paperwork so that if I send him an email with my email address he could probably send me the quote the next morning. I duly did this and the quote arrived on the Friday. (sigh).

Steven and I think about the quote. This takes a couple of days since we eventually decide that we’ll get someone else in to do some of the extra bits of work that we need done (no way we’re paying someone £95 +VAT to plumb in a dishwasher!) and I phone IKEA to tell them that we’re happy to go ahead.

This is where the fun really starts. The guy that I speak to on the phone is happy to note down that we’re happy with the quote but can’t do anything else, including take payment. Apparently, this is for “data protection” reasons. Not a problem, someone will call me the next day to take my credit card details. Fine, not what I was expecting but never mind.

No phone call the next day. I get a voicemail the day after, asking me to call to pay for my kitchen. I phone back that afternoon. No good. Their payment team goes home at 3:30. The next couple of days at work are absolutely hectic and I don’t have time between 9 and 3:30 to call. Several voicemails are left asking me to call and pay. I eventually manage to find 5 minutes whilst on a break at a tutorial day and phone to pay. The gentleman on the other end of the phone assures me that this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and that I can’t pay for my kitchen because management haven’t approved the price of my order. He will give me the full price for my order, if I’m happy with that, he can pass the price to management and if they’re happy with it, someone will call me to take payment. (Why on earth do their management have to approve the price for my kitchen after I’ve said I’m happy to pay it? Why don’t they approve it before anyone tells me what it is going to be?) He gives me the price (which I already knew), I say I’m happy and he says that someone will phone me the next morning to take payment. I’m not good at arguing with people on the phone so I say that’s fine and hang up.

Just as I hang up, my phone rings. It’s my voicemail. With a message from IKEA asking me to please phone and pay for my kitchen as they can’t progress my order until I do. While I was on the phone to them being told that I can’t pay for my order, they’re on the phone to me telling me that I have to pay for my order! Despite the fact that I now only have 5 minutes to get back into class, I phone them straight back.

I explain about my earlier phone call and about the voicemail and they put me back through to the guy I had just been talking to. Some fiddling around on his computer and he tells me that my order has now appeared in his queue and he can now take payment. I’m just happy that he’s now willing to take my credit card details and don’t bother arguing about why he couldn’t do so five minutes beforehand. Then, my credit card is declined. Why the credit card company thought this was a suspicious transaction when all the other transactions on this credit card are for the purchase of home improvement stuff, I don’t know but they thought they were doing me a favour and declined it. I really have to get back into class now and I tell him that I’ll phone back the next day having either sorted it out with the credit card company or with a different set of card details.

I phone back the next morning. I explain that I had phoned to pay for my order. The girl on the other end of the line very carefully explains that that’s not how it works and that I need to wait for management to approve my order (I still don’t understand why IKEA’s management needs to approve my spending. Steven, sometimes, IKEA’s management, no) and then someone will phone me to take payment. I explain that I had already jumped through that particular hoop and was phoning with different credit card details because my card had been declined the previous day. “Oh, were you speaking to Bob? (names changed to protect the guilty)” I have no idea who I was speaking to but since it sounds like I might get somewhere if I say I was speaking to Bob, I say I was speaking to Bob. She then puts me through to Bob, who, it turns out, I was talking to the previous day. Bob takes my credit card details, my kitchen is now paid for and someone will call me to arrange delivery.

Someone calls and we arrange delivery. They want to deliver on a Friday afternoon so we wait in for them. Delivery is supposed to arrive between 1 and 5 and they’re supposed to phone me an hour in advance to let me know that they’re on their way. 4 o’clock comes and no one has phoned to say that they’re on their way. I phone IKEA to be told that they’re running late but my kitchen is on a van and will be delivered today. At 7 o’clock, I get another phone call to say that they’re running very late and my kitchen is being transferred to a courier who is willing to deliver up to 11 o’clock that night, if I’m going to be in to receive it. Since I had already decided that I wasn’t going anywhere until my kitchen was delivered, I said that was fine. Steven and I did think it was a little odd that they were going to get a courier to deliver a kitchen but, hey, if the courier wasn’t complaining, neither were we. At 7:45, I get another phone call: the courier complained and is not going to be delivering the kitchen. The kitchen is instead on its way back to the depot and someone will call me in the morning to arrange re-delivery.

Being a little impatient by the time the next morning comes around, I phone them. “I’ll just need to check with the depot that they do have your kitchen back and I’ll call you back to arrange re-delivery.” I don’t receive a call and by the time I call them back (around 12:30) they’ve all gone home.

I phone back on Monday morning. Suffice to say that they were having catastrophic IT problems and it was Monday afternoon and 4 phone calls later before anyone could actually arrange a delivery for me. “Okay, Miss Skinner, we can deliver your order on Friday 11th April,” sensing that I was about to object, “or, if that’s not convenient, we could do Saturday 12th.” Okay, there are so many reasons why that’s not acceptable. Firstly, the installers are coming on the 8th and while there are things that they could be getting on with, there aren’t 3 days worth of things. Secondly, why does my order end up at the back of the queue because you failed to deliver it? Thirdly, how can you possibly think it’s acceptable for the second attempted delivery to take a place a fortnight after the first. I reined in my temper and stopped after reason 1. “Well, all I can do is pass it through to our planner, flagging it up as a planning problem and someone will call you back in a couple of days.” A couple of days! I eventually got her to concede that someone would call me back before Tuesday night (bear in mind that this is Monday afternoon).

Next morning, I come out of a meeting at work to find a voicemail saying, “Hi, Susan. This is Claire (names blah blah blah). Just phoning to check that everything went okay with your delivery on Friday.” I admit it, I gave an evil chuckle and called her straight back. Several rounds of phone tig later, I eventually manage to speak to her, explain what had happened and get her to admit that this was unacceptable. Several more rounds of phone tig later (some of which I got Steven to do for me) and we now (allegedly) have a delivery arranged for Saturday and an installation arranged for Tuesday. Wish us luck!

We moved!

We finally moved in to the new flat and are currently living surrounded by cardboard boxes. Staying true to our natures however, we now have both computers up and running and connected to the internet and the webserver running again, which means the blog is back!

More updates to follow.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good – we got the keys to our new flat.

The bad – leaking pipes in our new flat.

The ugly – the latest pictures from our new flat! (The “before” pictures are available from here.

img_0594 img_0596 img_0597 img_0602 img_0603 img_0604

As you can see, we’re doing a pretty good job of ripping things out and pulling the whole place to pieces. It remains to be seen whether or not we’re as good at putting it back together again. We’ve actually made more progess since these pictures were taken. The stripey wallpaper in the lounge is completely gone and one of the bedroom ceilings has had a coat of paint.


Our new boiler. Easily one of the best bits of the new flat so far since we now have working central heating and hot water.

We’ve found a couple of really cool things in the new flat (as well as enough DNA in terms of hair and nail clippings for an entire series of CSI and enough mould for an entire series of House). The first is this shoemaker’s last which was hiding in a cupboard in the bathroom. It’s going to look great polished up and used as a door-stop.


We also found genuine hardwood parquet flooring under the carpets in the hall and the lounge! Since it’s been protected by the carpet it seems to be in pretty good condition. We’ll need to fill the holes where someone has tacked carpet grip-rods and stapled underlay to it but once it’s sanded and polished up again it will look fantastic (and save us some money on new carpet).


The other fun part has been the new toys, sorry, tools that we’ve had to buy to get everything done. Far and away, Steven’s favourite is the crowbar pictured below. This has also easily been the best value tool that we’ve bought. Whoever built the fitted wardrobes and cupboards in this flat obviously meant them to last and pulling them down turned out not to be as easy as we thought it would be since they were screwed to the walls, floor, skirting boards and everything else within reach.


My favourite tool has been my ostrich feather duster, pictured in its glorious purple and black below along with a selection of the other tools of our trade. It’s just amazing at lifting all sorts of dust and especially good at cleaning sawdust out of circular saws!


Overall, we’ve made a really good start on the renovation and hopefully we can keep it up for the next month so that we can move as planned!

Huge sigh of relief

We’ve just heard from our conveyancer that we have finally exchanged contracts on the new flat! In theory, if there are no hiccups with transferral of funds, etc., we should now get the keys on Friday.

Fortunately, our lawyer has been brilliant and has been working on all the things that usually get done between exchange and completion, even though we hadn’t completed. This means that it’s not a problem that there are now only two days between exchange and completion compared to the two weeks that they recommended to us!

Now I can stop worrying about whether or not we’re going to exchange and go back to worrying about how we’re going to find time/money/expertise to do all the work that needs done. Although, even that’s been going better. We have a plumber booked to replace the heating; we’ve picked carpet and just need to pick a sensible date to order it and arrange for fitting; we’ve almost sorted out a kitchen and, when my parents were visiting at the weekend, we obtained expert advice on decorating. That really just leaves ordering a washing machine and fridge/freezer and buying the decorating tools and supplies. We also revisited our budget and discovered that thanks to a silly arithmetic error we have £1000 more than we thought!

I can’t wait till Friday!

The dying art of customer service

Everyone knows that people in London are rude and unfriendly because the city’s just too big and crowded but should the same really apply to those working in customer service?

This is a topic that’s very close to my heart at the moment. Between organising a wedding and renovation work on our new flat, as well as the actual purchase of the flat, I averaged about two phone calls to suppliers per day last week. That’s not including several emails that I sent out and one written letter. The standard of response that I received varied wildly. Blackburn Bridal in Blackheath are currently at the top of the hall of shame for not replying to either an email or an answering machine message and then being advertised the next day in a bridal blog that I subscribe to with the suggestion that interested brides should email or phone for an appointment! Only a very short distance behind at number two are MFI. You’d think the fact that I’m planning to spend several thousand pounds on a fitted kitchen would be enough to get me an appointment with a salesperson but two phone calls to their ‘appointments’ line later, still no appointment. Add to this list various kitchen fitters and a snooty assistant at Berketex who tried to tell me that trying on dresses 9 months before my wedding is ‘leaving it a bit late’ and I’m less than impressed.

On the other hand, I’ve also had some fantastic service. Our plumber, as always, has been an absolute star in terms of replying to voicemail messages and putting up with me and the estate agent rearranging appointments left, right and centre. I only hope that his final quote makes me as happy as his service so far. Pantiles Bridal in Tunbridge Wells were also fantastic, replying to an email that I sent faster than I thought was possible. We couldn’t arrange a mutually convenient appointment but that’s my fault rather than theirs.

Finally, a weekend in Scotland went some way towards restoring my faith in the service industry. I can highly recommend Falkirk taxi drivers as friendly and extremely helpful. The reception staff at Airth Castle Hotel (where we were attending a friend’s wedding) were also great. (The waiting staff were a different matter but they were just incompetent rather than rude.)

If not for the great job that our conveyancing solicitors have been doing so far, I’d have had to conclude that good service is only available outside of London.

Anyway, I’m still looking for a reasonably priced, reliable kitchen fitter covering the south-east of London so any recommendations will be gratefully received!

Back in the land of the living…

..or back online, anyway. Apologies to those of you who were worried by my prolonged absence from my usual online haunts. A lack of internet access whilst visiting relatives over Christmas followed by a vast quantity of Things Needing Done Now when I got back home meant that I just haven’t had time or energy to spend online. Things are getting back under control now though so I’m starting to work my way back in.

The good news is that we’ve made progress with planning and organising on both the house-buying and wedding front. We’re nearly ready to exchange contracts on the flat (at which point the sale becomes legally binding!), have agreed a completion date (when we actually get the keys!) and have started organising tradesmen for the work that needs done. We’ve booked a photographer for the wedding and I’ve arranged some dress appointments and even already tried some on. There’s still a lot to do on both fronts but at least it feels like we’re moving forwards.

Finally, before I forget, Happy New Year!