Crumbling Brick and Ancient Oven Repairs

It’s amazing what you can get used to with just a bit of time.

I remember when my Father turned the house over to me back in the mid-eighties, I was shocked at the state of the place.

I’d moved away from home when I was just a young lad. At the age of 18, I’d grown tired of our small town community and wanted to see more of the world. After heading off travelling for a couple of years and learning my trade overseas, I returned home with a wife and a child on the way.

My Dad wasn’t surprised.

I’d followed pretty much the same trajectory that he had and he was proud of my accomplishments out in the larger world. He insisted on making way and giving me the home. With Mum having passed away a few years before, he’d found himself knocking around the big house, with no motivation to keep it in good repair.

When Eliza and I moved in there were so many things wrong with the place that I wondered how he could have managed to live there. The heating system had all but stopped working and to make matters worse, the water pressure would mysteriously drop without any warning, making showering a bit of a nightmare.

My Dad had long since given up on cooking for himself once Mum passed away.

His good-sized belly was living proof of his close friendship with the manager of the local chippy. So it came as no surprise to find the oven totally nonfunctional.

Sometimes I wonder if he left the place in such a state as some sort of final test for me, before the real challenge of raising a family reared it’s head.

If it was a test, he never told me if I’d passed or failed.

I won’t be leaving any outstanding gas oven repairs for my daughter to fix. In fact, I’m intent on getting the whole house up to showroom specification (or close enough to) before she arrives here in a couple of months time with her lucky husband and baby in waiting. (With a little help from Home Appliance Care)

Progress on the kitchen, by far the biggest job, is coming along well.

The very old tiles in the floor have revealed themselves to be embedded deeper into the ground I previously thought. Once removed, they resemble classic red bricks more than anything else. The sides facing up have been truly worn down by years of feet clattering over them, so I’m going to do something rather devious.

Instead of finding similar materials to replace them with, I’m simply going to wash them down and flip them over.

Once this floor has set it’s going to look brand new, as if my Father himself had just finished laying the it back in 1963.

In my evenings I’ve been spending hours of ‘fun’ taking apart the kitchen table and chairs, that have served by family for over fifty years.

They really are in quite the state.

Over the years I can remember countless occasions where these sturdy oak pieces, bought at auction before my Dad had moved in, were used as make-shift stools, walls for forts and even weapons (a streak of dramatic adolescence runs through our family). So far I’ve rubbed down each piece.

Next week I’m going to give them a fresh lacquer of varnish before piecing them back together with brand new fasteners so they’ll hopefully last another fifty years.

Patching Up Memories

I’ve spent nearly my entire life living in this house and soon I’m going to move out.

I’m proud of the work that my Father put into this house all those years ago.

The fact that this place has remained largely unchanged in over 50 years is a testament to his skills as a constructor and a designer. But this house means so much more to me than than just practical comfort.

I’ve already spoken about the power of nostalgia that the kitchen holds over me. Sometimes you get a sense of a place’s history, simply by walking into it. Without knowing the historical context of a place, you can gain an understanding of what kind of people have lived here and how they have grown to experience their surroundings.

The kitchen’s worn floor tiles, battered furniture and oddly jumbled fittings are a testament to the sheer amount of use that the room has provided over the years.

The pocked walls of what were once my kids’ bedrooms, have been hammered with nails, smeared with Blu-tack and stuck with pins. And the two family bathrooms have been used so thoroughly that all the fixtures are hanging at jaunty angles – as if an earthquake had shaken everything just slightly out of place.

Although a stranger might be horrified by the state of the place, I know better.

For every defect there is a story. Every crack in the porcelain has it’s tale.

The gouge in the landing wall? That’s where Jaynie (my youngest) attempted to take a sled down the stairs. She was given stitches in her head but we never poly-filled the hole she left in the house.

The chip in the rim of the bottom floor bathroom toilet?

That’s a result of the battle between my eldest son and the dog, in one of their classic tug of war matches that found its way into the house from the back garden. He was ten at the time and somehow managed to lose half his tooth that day. The toilet’s been catching the loose threads of unknowing trousers ever since…

All these little idiosyncrasies make up the story of the house that has been my home for my entire life. From my own childhood, all the way through to the childhood’s of my own grandchildren. But the time has finally come to wipe the slate clean, to a certain extent at least.

It’s time for the cracks to be filled and repainted. The wonky fittings will be shifted back into place. The chipped porcelain will be replaced and the walls will be re-plastered. When my daughter brings her family in here to live on a permanent basis this place will feel new and fresh, yet also familiar.

I just hope I can get the work done in time!

On Desecrating Shrines

The house is slowly being emptied of all my possessions.

Eliza and I will be moving to a much smaller terrace about a half mile away from the old place.

We were starting to feel a little silly knocking about this big place all by ourselves, with the spare bedrooms in our house acting as shrines to our kids’ long-lost childhood.

We’ve been ruling this empty roost for around 5 years or so now since our youngest left to study at University in 2012. Since then we’ve celebrated our independence as much as we’ve commiserated the loss of having our kids. The time has definitely come for us to move on and for us to make a final move.

Ironically, it’ll almost be like starting all over again.

When we move into our little 2-bed place, we’ll only be bringing a few suitcases of clothes.

In addition to the odd wall hanging and potted plant, we’re leaving pretty much all of our white goods and big pieces of furniture here. So when we move into our new place, we’ll have to do what all my kids did when they moved out: make a trip to Ikea.

I can tell that Eliza’s eager to make the move. She’s loved living in this home, but has been itching to get away from it since the kids left home. As soon as we confirmed the move, she began to bring boxes down from the loft and started clearing out rooms.

Eliza thrives under a large workload. Suddenly, just like me, she had a million and one jobs to get done. Before I knew it, the precious shrines that were once living tributes to my children had been cruelly pulled apart and packed into boxes.

Empty rooms make voices echo in an unnatural way.

Now, when we shout to each other from other ends of the house, our voices bounce off the walls with a rigid reverb that just seems wrong. Still, it’s exciting to be making a change and it’s fun to see the house in this dressed down style.

With every box that we shift out of the house, it becomes a little bit less ours and a bit more our daughter’s. Now all that remains are the scuffs, marks and holes in the walls – markers of childhood and experience that will soon be erased with the next few weeks’ work.

The kitchen has been completed.

The units have been completely cleaned and matching knobs have been screwed in. The floor is set and the refurbished furniture is now sitting pretty in the centre of the room. Looking at it in this pristine state, I’m struck by how similar it looks to the kitchen of my childhood.

The red bricks on the floor have been brushed clean, revealing a bright terracotta that gives the whole room a vibrant feel. The freshly painted cream walls compliment this, simply adorned with the quaint Pastoral paintings that my own Mother bought at a flea market when she was a child.

What Eliza and I have done with the last few months has been a cathartic and tough experience. We have attempted to create a historical reproduction of my childhood home, effectively erasing our existence from the place.

What remains is a slightly modernised version of the home that my Father built.

This is a house that will be the stage for my Grandchildren’s childhood and will continue to be the base of our family for the next 50 years.

Redesigning & Reconstructing

The family kitchen in the house my Father built is one of my favourite places to be.

Built in 1963, just before I was born, he often told me about his struggle to get it complete in time.

But against the odds he did it. Since then the house has stayed in the family, passing down to each generation of Austins.

The kitchen, above all else, holds many memories for me. It’s a room that has been battered by use over the 50 years since it’s construction.

When I sit in the big kitchen-diner, I’m brought back to countless family dinners spent eating around a forever scarred dining table that Mum never stopped fussing over. The chairs still have the same wobble that always sent my sisters flying whenever they lent back on them – bored from their homework.

The faux-marble work surfaces are the same ones that served as the stage for my Mother’s excellent baking projects and our disastrous ones. Little marks in the door frames even stand as a testament to the rate of our childhood growth spurts.

In 3 month’s time, I’ll be moving out of the old place to make way for my own daughter.

She’ll be taking the place off my hands and will be bringing her own young family in. Now that the house is about to change hands again, the time has finally come for a bit of a refurb. She holds just as many cherished memories for the place as I do, so I now have a real challenge on my hands.

I need to find an affordable way of modernising my old family home, whilst retaining the original charm that my Father endowed it with. It has to be redesigned to suit the needs of my daughter’s growing family, whilst keeping the little touches that will make it feel like the home that she grew up in, all those years ago.

There’s a lot to get done.

The battle-worn kitchen will be the biggest job. We’ve done our best to keep it clean, but that hasn’t stopped the now retro fittings wearing. I’ve spent the last 3 decades lovingly patching this kitchen up, but the result is less than aesthetically pleasing: a Frankenstein’s Monster of odd handles, mismatching doors and knobs.

The floor tiles have been kept sparkling clean by my wonderful wife, but that hasn’t stopped cracks popping up in the odd place.

The grouting between each tile has also slowly been crumbling away. My Father did a fantastic job in ’63, but it looks like his work’s slowly being undone by time. I’ll be reusing what tiles I can and finding a few matching ones to fill in the gaps.

Lastly, my daughter has begged for me to restore the furniture. I’ve never been that handy working with wood, but I have to admit that it would be a shame to simply throw away the table and chairs that have served two generations of Austins. My final job will be taking these old pieces apart and putting them back together.

All so this kitchen can play host to another 50 years of boisterous dinners and homework marathons.