Sunday, 11 September 2016

It never rains, but it pours!

If you thought I came across a bit smug in the last post, you will find vengeful amusement in this one!

Cyclone Morgana is in town and in our home!

Dark skies on the horizon!
Yes, we have water coming through the roof!  And not just a bit of a drip either.  We have full scale water ingress - pouring through at least ten spots and trying to collect it all with our beach towels and buckets and little man's paddling pool!

Ugh!  It's just a section, so not as bad as if the whole thing was leaking, but we knew it wasn't right.  It has already been repaired twice in two years and we were making enquiries to have a third tradesman come and have a go at it, possibly even bringing over someone from UK, as we're sick of throwing money at it and then worrying about it all through the winter when we're not here to check on it.

With our kind neighbour's help we've done what we can to stop the worst of it with lots of plastic sheeting, but the water's still coming through.  If there wasn't already, there is certainly a sense of urgency now about getting it sorted before we head back to UK for the winter!  Unfortunately, the way it works is that we need dry weather to make sure this time the job is done properly so we just have to wait out the storms and keep wringing out the towels!  Oh, the joys!

On a more positive note, today I'm meeting some people who messaged me as they are keen to buy Il Palazzotto!  It's not on the market, so I'm not sure how much they think they know about it, but they are friends with someone who lives just round the corner and got my details from her.  We kitted it out to meet our needs (remember the time I took a wall down to fit the American fridge freezer in?!) and are so happy with it, plus little man is part of a gang of 4 boys all around the same age, all living seconds from our front door and already playing together, and to us that's priceless, so I have absolutely no doubt that nothing will come of it (yes, I'm so confident of that fact I'm openly declaring our leaky roof in the same post as the meeting!), but it's flattering all the same and, I admit, my curiosity has been piqued.

After all, what sort of Renovation Ragazza turns down a meeting over coffee with potential buyers?!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Daytripping

Hello all.  In the ongoing quest to become better acquainted with what's nearby our little town, we took the train up to the capital city of Bari yesterday.  I must have been to the airport on the outskirts of the city more than thirty times and we have visited the centre on a couple of occasions, but not that we felt we could properly explore and take in the sights.  So yesterday we strolled around the old town and ate in a well-reviewed osteria and enjoyed a coffee in the sun.  All pleasant enough.

Today Mr RR asked if I agreed that it wasn't anything special, and commented that we have everything we love right here, concentrated in our little town, and it's so true.  We have visited so many towns around here that people rave about from Lecce (the Florence of the south) to Ostuni (the white city) to Cisternino (it's all about grilled meat!) even our beautiful neighbour up the coast Polignano a Mare (it's sexy and it knows it! - an American film star dined at the next table to us!) and so many more. We always come away slightly bemused: Monopoli's properties are probably a quarter of the price of those in the towns we've visited, but we can't see that they come close to our concentration of atmospheric, balcony-lined, cobbled streets, our beautiful, seafront passeggiata, our clear sea and sandy beaches, our stunning cathedral, and on and on.

Of course we might be biased, everyone's entitled to their opinion, there's no place like home, etc, but what a treat to be so in love with where you are!

I do try to stay open-minded.  And one thing Bari has that Monopoli definitely doesn't?  60% of the bones of Saint Nicholas!  So that's kinda different!

Father Christmas was black!

And buried in Bari!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Drama!

I'm writing this from a little town in the South of Italy.  No, BH is not finished.  Yes, we chose to run away from it all for a bit!  But just look:

You couldn't expect me to stay in UK the whole summer knowing this was waiting for us!

A week and a half before we left, I sat down with the two teams working on BH because, even having been friends with each other for more than ten years, they were both complaining that they'd be better off having the site to themselves.  We all agreed that the builders would stay on site and finish all they could for 3 days, then the floorboard guys would come back in on Monday and have a week to finish their job so they could be paid in full before we left for Italy.  Everyone was happy with this approach and, despite the project not being 100% finished, I was happy enough with the progress over the 3 days that I gave our builder the bulk of his final payment and my blessing to take some time on holiday in Bulgaria with his family while the floorboards were done.  Hmm!  Anyone recognise this scenario yet?!

Well, maybe not, as this doesn't play out at all as I would have expected!  Monday comes around and my builder has started his drive across Europe and as much as I really, really didn't want to disturb him on his time off, I didn't know what to do when it turned out there was no sign of his floorboard friends on site by lunchtime and after a few hours of texts and leaving messages, I was none the wiser as to why.

When the floorboard boss finally phones he tells me his team have left UK for their holidays and, despite having received £2000 (more than generous for the work completed to date), they won't come back on site unless I pay them in advance the rest of the money for the full job!

Best laid plans and all that!  I thought I had everyone lined up perfectly, but instead, I was left with no-one on site.  Worse than that, I was kicking myself that, once again, I had let myself be cajoled into giving tradesmen more money than I wanted to.  On top of all that, I had let my guard down, once again, and been charmed by a builder into believing I could count on him to look after my best interests, because while this is going on, a little voice says, did your builder leave for his holiday, with your money in his pocket, knowing the other team, with your money in their pocket, that he brought to you, had no intention of being on site?  Jeez, was I still as naive as ever even after all this time on all these projects?

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.  I was reassured somewhat when my builder was so incensed by the betrayal of his so-called friend that he said he was going to come off the German motorway he was on at the next exit and start back to the UK in order to confront him and put things right (of course I told him he better not even think about stopping his holiday with his family for this mess).  More conclusively in terms of helping me know who I could count on, 2 days later, the bulk of the money given to the floorboards guy came, via the builder's account, back into mine, along with a very bitter text from the floorboards guy leaving me in no doubt as to the pressure he'd been put under by our mutual builder friend!  I would never have imagined I'd get my money back!  Given the amount of time they had spent on site and petrol and materials, they are seriously out of pocket now!

Best quote of this whole thing came from my builder:
"I leave you alone with the site for 6 hours...!"

So, onwards and upwards!  My builder is firmly in my good books, (though I am still somewhat perplexed as to the leverage he has!) and we're now onto our third company for the floorboards (I don't think I shared with you the story of the local company I originally booked, who came out with so much racist rubbish in the week leading up to their starting that I told them to take a hike!).  Fingers crossed, we'll return from Italy in a couple of weeks to find the house full of beautiful, stained and varnished floorboards.  Is it too much to get my hopes up?  What could possibly go wrong now?! Ha ha ha!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Seeing the funny side!

Yesterday was a day of frustration, but rather than dwell on that, I wanted to share with you what, in hindsight, was probably one of the funniest moments of the entire project!

At one point, I'd uncovered a serious and unforgivable error in one of the expensive worktops supplied for the kitchen and felt fobbed off by the company responsible.  Having stepped outside to make the phonecall, I then spotted just how very many bags of rubbish had been left for recycling, by others, not by us, but on our paving slabs, off the pavement and at the top of the stairs to our back door, literally blocking our stairway.  In no way was this possibly anything other than our private property.

I've sat literally open-mouthed and lost for words when I've seen neighbours shamelessly drop their bags of rubbish there before, but today with everything else going on I just absolutely saw red!  Cue me shouting in the street at the bags "Who does this?", "How does anyone think this is this ok?", "Look at this!" and then I started kicking them!  Bags packed full of cat food tins and beer bottles!  And you know what, it felt pretty good!  Then I had to walk away before I started crying!  Like I say, funny in hindsight!

Of course, it's not going to cement my reputation as a calm, collected addition to the neighbourhood, but, hey, maybe this is my explosive Italian side coming out!  Just another day as Renovation Ragazza!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Last little push

Hello lovely readers.  Apologies it's been so long since the last update.

You may choose to look away now if you don't like the "Sometimes this is just so tough" posts!  I make no apologies for writing when I feel like this, as I always wanted this blog to be a fair reflection of the ups and downs of developing property, lest I be accused of sugar-coating the reality, but I try to be a positive person and do hate to sound like a moaner!  I feel so fortunate to be able to do something that 95% of the time I completely love, but I'm in the 5% just now!

In short, it's the end of the project.  Forgetting the sanding and staining and finishing of the floorboards, there probably isn't more than 1-2 weeks' work left.  If conditions were perfect then the floors should be done in 2 weeks too.  Of course, conditions are rarely perfect, and at this stage of the process, most everybody is physically and mentally tired, so I'm not sure talk of perfection is helpful in the slightest!

It's an ongoing battle as a perfectionist to accept myself at times like these when I know I am not performing as I like.  Of course I'm not the first working mum to feel she is letting down the little person who is used to feeling like he is the centre of her world, but now finds mummy impatient and stressed, with no time or energy to play.  I hate that this work has done that to me, when I've always been so proud of who I am as a mother, and I'm aware I'm not myself with most everyone else around me too.

Things are particularly tricky for me this time as I'm not only trying to drive a high quality finish on a project with a toddler in tow (who seems to be intent on giving me a preview of the terrible twos!), but, and please excuse me, I don't mean to be dramatic, I also have some medical stuff going on.  Nothing too serious thankfully, but hospital procedures and check ups and medication are messing with my body, mind, sleep and emotions and it's all making me such a mess right now.  I know I'm not even close to being at my best, let alone any kind of a pleasure to be around, and yet, at this final stage of the process, I feel I need to be on site more than ever to make sure the finishing touches that will be staring at me for the foreseeable future are as I envisioned and as I have fought so hard for all along.

I'll post some photos below so you can see how BH is coming along, but first, if I may, I'd like to share some nice things I've heard while working on this project.  They go a long way to help balance out just how very (not one to mince my words!) crappy I feel right now.

Firstly, from a friend and fellow mum:

"You run your own business while looking after your little boy full time and always look so glamorous: You're such a role model for other mums." 
Glamorous - ha!  But thank you, I'll take it!  

Secondly from a contractor on the project who I've worked with several times now over the years:

"I don't know how you do it.  You've done a lot of these renovations.  I couldn't do it."
So nice to hear that from someone working in the same game

Thirdly from the main builder, who is charming to everyone, but said he was being serious:

"If my wife was like you, I could take on the world."

"All of the guys on site ask how it's possible you manage a project of this size with a little one.  
I've never seen it before - you're one in a million."

"Typically in business it's men, but you're better."

"If there were a building exam, you'd get full marks: couldn't get higher." 
Like I say, charm personnified, but I like to believe there's a bit of truth in some of it at least.

So these are the things I try to focus on when I feel so drained and fed up, that, quite honestly, I just want to run away and hide.  It looks like there's another big project on the horizon after this one, but I really, really need a break.  Compliments can tide me over for a while, but heading back to Italy and Il Palazzotto for as much as I can of the rest of the summer seems common sense now, don't you think?!

So, if you're still with me after all that, thank you!

As promised, here are some photos to show you where we're at:

Gorgeous metallic splash back going up in kitchen - yay!

Some floorboards polish up great...

... bought in some similar to replace those that don't!

Gorgeous floorboards looking just as I hoped - yay!

Choosing carpet - ugh!

Fantastic skylight looking just as I hoped - yay!

Took a while to find the right one, but...

Bold colour in the living room - yay!

Bold colour in the master bathroom - yay!

So really overall I know we're getting there and of course it will all work out in the end.  Forgive me for being tired and emotional.  A ragazza's allowed a little wobble now and then, right?!

Just a last little push to get this house finished and I can be swimming in the sun in the Adriatic Sea.

Come on!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Feeling removed

For various reasons, Mr RR, little man and I are out in Italy right now, staying in the building the renovation of which inspired this blog.  It's lovely to be back: really touching to be offered such a warm welcome by so many who have become a part of our day-to-day lives out here - the ladies in the deli, dear neighbours, those who recognise us from the beach, and so on.  It's also funny to see how little things change: just a few days here and the woman who lives round the corner has already accosted us at our front door to complain about "l'aqua nella strada!" complete with accusatory finger-wagging!

It's really not ideal timing to be away from BH's renovation while it's in these final stages.  It's hard to be direct with the builders, trying to drive the project on, when they know you are calling between trips to the beach!  And for me it's tricky finding the balance between letting go, enjoying a relaxing break away, and monitoring the progress so when I return I'm happy with all the micro-decisions made in my absence.  All this whilst trying while I'm here to avoid the extremes of appearing like I don't care or like I am some control-freak, sat on the beach fretting about grout!

The way I see it, if I'm not able to switch off completely, and I think it would be foolish to try to, then I may as well get progress updates from the builder to help me feel reassured when I'm thinking about it, that things are going as well as I would hope.

Skinny minny en suite!

As an example, here is a situation where I could really do with being on site.  This en suite bathroom is only 85cm wide (it's fitted into what was originally space allocated to a staircase!).  The plan was to have the basin recessed into the wall to maximise space to get round it, but it can only be recessed 6cm!  Apparently the gap's more or less 50cm between it and the back wall but it doesn't look much does it?  Sometimes there's no replacement for being on site walking back and forth testing how a space works, especially when said space has pointy corners jutting out into it!

Following on from the last post on tiling, here's a little introduction to the wonders of underfloor heating!  We have never had piped UFH before, always electric, but seeing as we have had issues using electric UFH in large areas before and I have been assured less can go wrong with piped, we thought we'd give it a try in BH's kitchen and hallway.


Specialist matting to secure the water pipes

Here's the controls for the whole system

Fully piped, self-levelling screed going over

So so so much of this stuff to fill all the gaps!

Beautiful greigy tiles, diagonally = so happy!

Of course, at every stage, I can always count on little man to make sure things go smoothly!

Someone's got to tidy up the site!
Checking stability of the walls!

P.S. The builder thought it was hilarious I let him get so dusty!  Seriously, this kid was rolling around on the floor having the time of his life!  What's a renovation ragazza to do?!  It's just dust, right?!  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Random tiling

I don't know much about tiling, but I'm learning.  I think a certain gentleman on site may be learning valuable lessons of a different type too!

It would be fair to describe the man in question as older.  He's probably retirement age and came across as an old charmer when he started on site a couple of weeks ago as a tiler in one of the en suites.  With very little English language but full of hand gestures that showed appreciation for my eyes, hair, clothes, etc. he seemed harmless enough and made everyone smile.

So, back to the tiling.  Standard patterns include brick (see below) and grid (where all the tiles are lined up with straight grout lines).  You get herringbone and 2/3 and variations on all of these, but brick and grid are probably the most commonly used.

He started well enough with the shower area of the en suite:


Brick style metro

I then asked for the floor tiles to be placed in a random staggered way.  Much confusion!  But they got it in the end and staggered the floor tiles randomly.


Staggering!

When I asked for the same running horizontally on the wall I was equally clear.  This is what I got:


See the problem?!

Not only are the tiles running vertically, the grout lines are clearly lined up so it looks very un-random, very un-staggered and very much like brick pattern!  (Maybe the lady didn't know what she really wanted so he just did it the way he thought looked best?!)

Not only that but over what will be the recess for the mirror he has run them horizontally, because it involves less cutting I'm guessing (and probably the lady won't ever notice, right?!).


Not random, just inconsistent and bad!

And then there was this:


Spot the mistake on the bottom tile trim?

A few chats later with the boss and the gentleman tiler is re-tiling this wall and fixing the tile trim, and I suspect talks far less now with the team about my beautiful eyes and far more about less desirable qualities he may deem me to have like wanting what I asked for!

At times like these, I find myself questioning whether I'm being overly picky - whether other people would just let it go.  I console myself in this instance with the following facts:
  1. I offered at least three times to draw a plan for the tiling,
  2. the design was confirmed verbally by the boss with the tiler present,
  3. other parts of the tiling were done horizontally, like the niche in the photo above.
(Plus, I warned the builder, in no uncertain terms, that I am super-fussy when it comes to the finish, in particular tiling, and that he would likely hate me when it came to this point of the project!)

This wasn't a miscommunication or language problem, just a pure and simple cock-up!  So I'm okay if I come across less like the charming lady the gentleman tiler thought he was dealing with when he first met me, as I firmly (but fairly, no?) convey I'd like his work done the way I asked!

P.S. In the end, I suggested a compromise: remove and re-fit some of the tiles so that the overall effect was staggered, without switching them all to being horizontal.  I know, I know: I'm a softie!


Staggered!

P.P.S. While on the subject of tiling: here's how this renovation ragazza handles those moments on site when you just have to give the builders your full attention for key decisions, but your little man has lost all appetite for being held quietly!


Artist at work!