How we (almost) completed our home renovation

 I want to type All Of The Words about the fact that today, Tuesday the 2nd of January 2024, Paul the plasterer arrived and started plastering the roof space. Next week, he will come and plaster the hallway, AKA the final room of this house. I have half-written so many posts and stories about this moment; sometimes in my head, sometimes on my phone, sometimes in a journal that now that this moment, this moment of our all-consuming house renovation being (almost) complete is here, I don’t really actually know where to start. So I’m going to do a list. Except there are a lot more than five things today. 

  1. First and foremost, if you are new around here, one of my ‘things’ over the years has been slightly insane levels of DIY. Mr P and I bought our ‘forever home’ eight years ago, and after a freezing cold winter figuring out what way we wanted it, we started ripping it down. Then building it back up again, ourselves.
  2. I really feel like reflecting back on all the DIY we have done is like an evolution of the internet, as it were. As we were finished up downstairs, I quite seriously thought about turning into some kind of renovation account. I am so pleased I didn’t, mostly because I have been able to choose things in my home I properly love, I haven’t had to rearrange candles and bunches of flowers on trays to create an impression of order, and, well, we have been able to take nearly eight years to actually complete the work.
  3. The whole eight years things is really significant, and not for the reasons you think. 
  4. Actually, can we all just take a minute to get the jokes about the Forth bridge out of our system now? We own an old home. It will never, ever be ‘finished’. There will always be things to fix and paint and update and improve and that is OK. It is rare that those things take over your life and energy and soul for weeks and months and years at a time. 
  5. But yes, the first of the eight years was significant, for it was the year of the kitchen. We fitted and tiled and wired and plumbed and all those things as I went full time self-employed. And I spent any spare moments in the bath drinking wine, basically. Retrospectively it was quite amazing feats of DIY; I wish we had credited ourselves a bit more for what we had actually managed to achieve. Like, really credit ourselves. I mean the kitchen still looks amazing all these years later.
  6. The second was the year of the dining area and looking back, without wanting to turn this into shit I should tell my therapist, this was also mighty impressive DIY, but it was also where we learnt we needed a little space and fun amongst all the angle grinding and door fitting and table building to actually carry out aforementioned DIY. Basically, wine in the bath was important.
  7. Year three was the living room, which was basically where I taught myself how to lay actual herringbone parquet. Some of the points coming up will touch on great, extremely traumatic emotional difficulty and physical pain but I still count that flooring as one of the hardest aspects of the DIY. Again, I really don’t think I gave myself enough credit at the time.
  8. OK, I know I mentioned extremely traumatic emotional difficulty and physical pain is coming up but I promise it is worth reading, honestly.
  9. As we moved into year four of renovation (for annoyingly, you need to have time, money and motivation all at the same point, so things move slowly), actual progress was sparked by somehow managing to get my blood sugar into a state where it would be considered OK to try to have a baby. 
  10. I’m making the memory of that fizz of excitement a separate point, for meeting Mr P in town after that appointment and telling him that news and seeing his face is a memory that will never, ever be tarnished for me.
  11. But yes, I foolishly downloaded ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ onto my Kindle and Mr P drew up plans for a non-moody bedroom complete with a sketch of a moses basket and and little office for the Little Pink Kitchen and a lovely shiny bathroom and a room for a tiny little human.
  12. In DIY terms this plan was pretty straightforward; at this point we knew our way around an underfloor heating manifold. We could tile, we could plumb, we could configure rooms into spaces that work for us. This was going to be easy. Or so we thought.
  13. The DIY stuff WAS quite easy, I suppose but, well, to begin with there just wasn’t really that much actual time. 
  14. I’m sort of now embarrassed to admit just how much sodding time I spent peeing on sticks and analysing my basal body temperature and driving to a certain supermarket for a cheap version of the test with the pink dye because blue simply will not do and looking at that bloody blinking smiley face and eating salmon and comparing stories with other women online and shining an actual torch through the stick after I had taken it apart and wrapping greasy bits of cloth soaked in castor oil around my midriff and body brushing and doing special types of yoga in the hope of pulling down the moon, but if I hadn’t have been doing all that stuff, I feel like the bathroom may have taken a bit less than four months to finish. 
  15. By that fourth month of bathroom DIY, when the bathroom was finished, I decided to celebrate by not peeing on a goddamn stick at all. No wonder, I was exhausted, and retrospectively probably a bit broke after literally pissing all my money away. Despite some chums offering to keep a look out for even a scrap of Padre Pio’s mitten, I decided that it was time to try and move on from infertility.
  16. Except it wasn’t time to move on. By now, I had actually dared to tell other people about it in actual real life and so we stopped with the DIY for a bit and instead I listened to stories from all walks of life and we decided it just wasn’t going to work for us. 
  17. Then, March 2020 happened, and we all got locked down, and we decided to use the time to actually, maybe, finish the house renovation?
  18. So we started doing that. But this time, it was different, it felt uncertain. The DIY tasks themselves were fairly straightforward in comparison to what had come before; why did we now find it so hard?
  19. Like, I KNEW that the hexagonal tiles in our bedroom were a thing of great beauty, but I somehow couldn’t bring myself to post a handy tutorial of how to lay them yourself. I couldn’t really bring myself to post anything because I wanted to be fitting them as part of a team, and it just wasn’t. How could a physical thing in our home be held up as aspirational when the ripples of infertility had turned into mighty waves?
  20. This is the part I can’t put a humorous gloss on; the ripple effect of this giant rock pushing us slowly apart. We absolutely used some of the time on ‘renovation stuff’, and it is heartbreaking to gloss over the skills we polished up in this time, but renovation and building work is a team project, and we weren’t able to work as a team. I mean, how could we? The floor in the living room was physically challenging to lay, but the one in our bedroom took WEEKS longer than it that parquet did, what with me having to wait for Mr P to finish one thing before I was able to do another which meant he could do one more than which would mean that some paint could be put on it. It was horrible.
  21. To be fair, it did all look amazing when it was (eventually) done. A jazzy yellow colour our bedroom is, and it brings me joy every single day. We bought the best mattress and covers and things that we could afford at the time, and saw some specialists and talked a lot about things and it was moving in a more positive direction. For a while.
  22. For a while, because it was about this time that I broke my ankle in three places and had to be airlifted off a mountain and have quite dramatic surgery to reconstruct it. I spent a lot of time in that jazzy yellow room, in that bed, completely unable to walk, and probably started to realise what ‘home’ actually meant. But it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to be able to walk.
  23. And despite slowly and extremely painfully teaching myself how to walk again, and talking to each other and resolving our differences, jazzy yellow colours or not, things on the DIY front didn’t really improve much from then on in, to be honest. A successful round of IVF led to a high risk pregnancy led to a premature birth led to well, bringing Hugo home. And nobody has time for DIY with a newborn in tow.
  24. I’m just taking a pause here because I really don’t want to make it out like this house wasn’t a home without a baby in it. I really don’t. But after the maelstrom that was, well, points 5 to 23 above, and all those Forth bridge jokes, I feel that bringing Hugo home was when this DIY, this constant stream of dust and tools and decisions and arguments and learning new skills and picking colours and scraping concrete out of my hair, well this was when it was all absolutely worth it. 
  25. Thanks to what had come before meant that there was a bedroom I could lie in, cluster feeding through those brutal newborn nights, that the shutters meant we could try and get some rest in before we did the same again. It was all of a sudden amazing that there were speakers, to lose ourselves to music that made us laugh, or cry, or dance, or think. And that shower, fitted in a season of such longing and frustration and hurt was a place that I could go and stand in for a little bit too long, my body my own for a few short minutes every day.
  26. In this home, in this space that we have built and sweated and cried and shouted, we were finally able, awkwardly at first, to show our darling baby boy that we loved him and cared for him. And that we could bundle him up in a towel with ears like a fox and show him the bathroom, his room, our room, the upstairs of this house. His house. Our house. His story is woven into it so very deeply. Our story even more so.
  27. And so today, as I breathe in the dust of fresh new plaster, I’m getting a little bit excited about painting and plumbing and skirting boards and carpet choices, because I really do like that stuff .
  28. But that isn’t where the joy and the emotion and relief and the elation is coming from. THAT is coming from thinking back on how much we have totally lost ourselves in the renovation of this home.
  29. Guess what? We found ourselves here too. 

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