Category Archives: home

I’m Sorry

…to have abandoned North Seven for so long. I still don’t have a job and, after the UN fiasco which is yet to be concluded, I decided I needed to focus on something new, something purely pleasurable and totally indulgent. And I’m afraid North Seven didn’t seem to be it.

In fact the one thing that I turn to on days when I’m feeling a bit worn out by job searching, and freelancing, and wondering where’s next, is cooking. I’ve really got back into it in the last six months or so, especially baking. And since lots of my friends ask for the recipes I use, I’ve been wondering about putting them in one place, online. That way I can send a link to someone, or find a link myself, whenever I want to know the ingredients list or method, particularly when I’m away from my bits of paper and cookery books. So though I am still physically in N7, virtually I am here, probably for good.

Because much as I like the idea of writing about the place where I am, and where I’m going, I honestly don’t know where that is at the moment. Frankly, I’m a bit fed up with thinking and reflecting. When I looked at my blank blackboard after my last job interview was cancelled, all I could think about was a shopping list, a food shopping list. I didn’t want any other ‘to do’ list. I was done. I wanted to put my apron on, get my hands covered in flour and bake a cake. So I did. And that’s why right now I spend most of my time in my tiny kitchen, not thinking, just baking and wondering how to get out of the washing up…

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Glowing

I’m not a fan of drilling. Not in the dentist sense… I have no fear of dentists since I inherited the sort of teeth that confound them. ‘Oh ho ho, you haven’t been for two years? Well we may have some work to do’ is where they usually start. Then they quickly stop rubbing their hands in greedy glee and start scratching their heads, astonished that I have never had a filling and don’t yet need one. No, the drills that disturb me are the sort required for putting up shelves, and rails, and pictures. Decorating is one thing, but drilling? All of that marking a straight line and getting out the spirit level makes me much more nervous than the words ‘now open wide’. I’m always convinced I’m going to make a mess of it, and either wreck the wall or be forever irritated by the crookedness of my handiwork.

So I have been putting off the rather fiddly task of removing some shelves from a built-in cupboard, in order to turn the space into a much needed wardrobe. Even though my clothes have been in the study, even though I have been certain that my plan will work, I have been trying to think of ways to leave the shelves and live with my clothes somewhere else. But last weekend it was raining, the word ‘rail!’ was at the top of my ‘to do’ list, and my ‘across the balcony’ neighbour Mark who spends weekends building all sorts of stuff, pooh-poohed my anxiety about the drill and said ‘just think about the glow of achievement’ when you’ve finished it.

And off I went. I emptied the cupboard (I should have taken a before picture of that; it was rather overflowing), I took out all the shelves, I got the funny little tube-cutter out and trimmed the rail I’d bought to the right length, I went to the building supplies shop and bought new screws and rawl plugs, I marked up the wall for the rail fixings and then I borrowed my neighbour’s drill. Perhaps because I had the right screws, and rawl plugs, perhaps because I’d taken the time to make sure the rail and its fixings would fit…whatever the reason, the drilling was noisy but painless. It worked! The plugs and screws fitted, the rail and its fixings went in and ta-dah, the cupboard was transformed.

Well, not quite. There was the small matter of the filthy paint which I should have dealt with a) before the floor went in and b) before the rail went in. You can see it in close up here…

But, on a wave of enthusiasm, I simply masked off the rail and floor with tape and dustsheets and clunched the wall. Hey presto…

Tonight, I took all the tape off, removed the dust sheet, hoovered the floorboards and, hurrah, installed my clothes.


I know it might not seem much but oh the satisfaction. Not only getting it done but getting it off the list and using it! Mark was right; I am positively glowing at my own self-sufficiency. I may even have to go and buy my own drill…

PS And yes, those disgusting over-varnished eighties doors will be removed at the earliest opportunity but, despite this drill success, I am sensible enough to leave carpentry to the professionals.

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A Room of My Own

I have finally finished decorating my bedroom! Or rather I have finally finished the parts that I can do anything about. Except for the blind/curtains. And the wardrobe rail. And putting up some pictures. Okay, I have finally finished the big jobs…

It has been a long haul, mainly because my bedroom is an awkward loft space full of triangles, brick walls and corners and it not only took me ages to choose anything, like the ceiling paint (which, just to confuse you, is also wall paint)…

and the type of floor…

(one on the left? one on the right? I went for the one on the right) but also having fallen ill on the long weekend I was supposed to do all the work, I have since been squeezing in each job between work and prep for my interview with the UN. But it was worth it. Instead of primrose yellow walls and a filthy once-white ceiling (the picture below shows the room just after I moved in)

I have a rather sophisticated palette of dark grey and a sort of linen colour (called Clunch, I love that name).

And instead of a carpet so grubby that even the carpet cleaner told me to replace it not clean it…

I have ‘antique oak’ floorboards…

…they’re far from antique, but still! And, to crown it all, instead of a rather tired old duvet (I decided that 16 years of service was enough for any quilt, but particularly an IKEA one) I bought a new one, along with some rather spiffy white cotton linen.

Oh it was such bliss going to bed last night. I forgot all about the fact that the floor fitters took off several bed-legs worth of newly applied paint whilst manoeuvring the boards into place. And that applying emulsion to brick offers almost as much, or rather as little pleasure as doing a multiple-choice exam (all those little holes to fill in). Or even that I still had nowhere to put my clothes. No, as I sank into the White Company’s finest, I felt that, nine, no ten, months in, I’d made my room my own. It’s not perfect. But it is mine.

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Immortal

There I was thinking shopping lists and reminders. But no. My friend decided to immortalise me as a chalk cartoon. I love it and can’t bear to rub it off yet but since I will, eventually, I thought it needed to be made permanent here. She also encouraged me with a rather pertinent work suggestion, but that’s for another blog, a daytime not midnight one…

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DIM Day 3

I have discovered the secret of true DIM happiness: rollers! Why did I ever use a paintbrush? My wall is smooth and finished after two coats from what is, essentially, a magic foam sausage. I am a convert to all things roller and, now that it looks a bit less patchworky, I think I’m a convert to blackboard paint. Ta-dah…!

PS And if you’re wondering why there’s always a chair in these pictures, it’s because I use it as my stepladder!

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DIM Day 2

I thought I’d start with a wall. Just one wall, enough for me to test out my brush strokes but not get too overwhelmed with the enormity of repainting a 2-bedroom flat that hasn’t been touched since Duran Duran were in the charts. I chose a wall that has no purpose whatsoever: sandwiched between the kitchen and the hall, and at the end of a corridor (well, if you can call it that) that takes you to the living room, it is impossible to hang anything on it, whether a shelf or a cupboard, so I thought I’d turn it into one of those oh-so-trendy blackboard walls I keep seeing in magazines.

But what those impossibly tidy family and yet beautifully minimalist home photos don’t tell you is that blackboard paint is filthy, in every sense. It has the viscosity of treacle and the staying power of a leech and my new Harrises looked very sorry for themselves when I was done. I very sensibly wore latex gloves whilst painting, but very unsensibly didn’t read up on how to clean oil-based paint before covering myself, my brushes and the wall with it. First I poured white spirit into a plastic pot (apparently not advised but it seemed fine) and shoved the brushes into it. The white spirit went black immediately so then I thought I’d better rinse the brush in the white sink…suddenly I had a black sink, black marks on the taps and my gloves were covered in black too. And, this being an oil-based paint, it doesn’t take kindly to being removed with water. Somehow, with newspaper, Fairy liquid and a scourer I managed to remove most of the marks and paint from the brushes, the kitchen and my skin…and then I remembered I had to do it again, since I had another two coats to go.

I am nearly out of white spirit, after one coat so, tomorrow, I’m going to buy a very cheap throwaway roller and do the last coats with that. Sorry environment, it’s that or a much larger vat of white spirit which not only gives me a horrible physical headache but also a green one since it is impossible to dispose of it.

Now I understand the attraction to leaving well, or rather magnolia, alone; I’m not even sure I like the effect!

Here’s my wall, before painting:

And after one coat…

Okay so one picture was taken in the daytime and another in the evening but still, it’s very dark! Let’s hope it grows on me because I don’t relish painting over that…

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Filed under home, London, my lovely and loved city, pleasure, unemployment, What I'm thinking about

DIM

I have a strange relationship with DIY. On the one hand, I find it vaguely thrilling that there are all these tins of different coloured paint, these shops full of tempting little brushes and tools, these huge weekend temples suggesting that even if you can’t change yourself, you can at least have better-looking finials.

On the other, I absolutely hate the idea of it, having spent much of my childhood, particularly the bank holidays, in timber yards, plumbing supply shops or kitchen showrooms. My Dad was a plumber and heating engineer and, since there was always either something to be fixed at home or a weekend side job on the go, I had a very close relationship with copper pipes and soldering irons from an early age. And it wasn’t a relationship I relished. I’m not sure there is anything more boring for a seven-year-old than wandering the aisles of a superstore filled with paints, flooring and, oh the joy, plastic bathroom fittings.

But then I bought a flat of my own, a flat that looks like it has not seen an update since I was that seven-year-old. There is woodchip, there is bad carpet, there is an old plastic loo seat…and suddenly I find myself inextricably drawn towards copies of LivingEtc, to Farrow and Ball samples and to the smart windows of favourite interior designers. Inextricably drawn I may be, but since I am also living on a rather diminished income, I must resist temptation and find other, cheaper solutions. Even Polish painters are a luxury right now.

Which is why, this week, I found myself in Homebase looking, with interest mind, at the contents of the paint aisles. Did I want emulsion or silk? Sugar soap or paintbrush cleaner? Wide or narrow masking tape? Could I, the most clumsy and impractical of bookish types, be transformed into the sort of woman who wields a 2-inch Harris without so much as a whimper?

Reader, I don’t know but, with very little work on the horizon and plenty of time to find out, I have succumbed to the lure of microfibre rollers and dust sheets and become a DIYer. Or rather, as a friend of mine – the sort of man who takes a wall down one night after his day job and then, deciding it doesn’t quite work, rebuilds it the next – calls it, a DIM-er. A Do-It-Myselfer. I have latex gloves, Farrow and Ball samples (some things are non-negotiable), a bottle of white spirit and no excuse. Here goes…

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Filed under home, London, my lovely and loved city, redundancy, unemployment