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Monday, 18 August 2008

I have successfully reorganised my video shelves and sorted my infamous to be read pile.  That was a fun two hours spent dodging actual writing this weekend.

The to be read pile shed about four books, and gained a nifty new shelf for “you’ve started so you must finish” books. The shelf – current contents around 8 – was my very original to be read pile, which I think illustrates the ways in which living near an Oxfam Books branch* is hazardous to your reading lists. I always think, whilst weighing up a book under the watchful gaze of the young bloke who mans the shop on Saturday afternoons, “do I want to read this someday?”. Then “do I already have this on the pile?” (The Lovely Bones is the one that often causes confusion). Then I think “well, it’s only two quid and if I have got it, or I hate it, I can always donate it back and the charity gets four quid from the one book”.

Which is how I find myself with a large selection of contemporary “grumpy feminist” fiction (the Chap’s description, on noticing me piling up some Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson and Fay Weldon), and an entire unread subsection dedicated to Will Self. On Saturday I went in to buy some coffee and have a browse, and came out with three books, including The West End Horror which I suspect I already have.

*technically, an Oxfam Music but its books section is the best in the neighbourhood.

Things to make and do

Sunday, 1 June 2008

It took me several weeks to plan and organise, then three weekends of work to do it, but I’ve revamped my attic workspace.

Before and after:
Old workspace Finished workspace
I still need to put all my books back on the actual shelves, clean and put down the rugs, and get more magnets so I can put more things on the wall, but I’m pleased.

The desk really triggered the whole thing. My old desk (barely visible) cost £35 from PC World or some similar chain in 1996. It was MDF with a flimsy black veneer and, within two years, the cupboard space on the left was being held up by the PC tower and the drawers on the right were held up with my first year notes from uni. The problem, even as I looked for a better one, is that to get into my attic furniture needs to be flat-packed or able to be disassembled. It’s just not possible to get a solid desk up two flights of narrow stairs which turn through 180 degrees four times. Every modern flatpack desk I saw, I loathed as they lacked soul. Every old desk I saw was solid.

Then I spotted an old oak leather-topped desk in the PDSA charity shop near my house. Everyone was looking at it, but dismissing it because there were rips in the bottom of one drawer and sellotape covering the crossbar. I looked. I tried lifting a corner and realised the top part came off, leaving two pedestals of drawers. At £35 including delivery, I decided it was worth the TLC required.

Here it is in the garden as I fixed it up:
Garden Office
Initially, I considered sanding it down and painting it but I decided I liked the scruffiness of the ink stains and worn black handles. I protected the old leather top with newspaper, sanded down the rough bits on the surface, scraped off the old sellotape and sanded down the rough edges of the cross bar, revarnished the top and used olive oil to repair a minor scratch to the leather. The middle drawer has been temporarily repaired using mounting card and superglue. At some point I’ll find some balsa wood and do a proper job on it.

Knowing I had a new desk to get upstairs, and knowing that would be quite disruptive, I decided the time had come to sort out the rest of the workspace.

Not least the minor worry about the ceiling. One of the joys of a listed house is that it tends to list. Given this was originally a farm worker’s cottage, and is as vernacular as architecture can get, I have never expected to have any straight lines. However one ceiling panel in the attic had bowed, cracking the paint and plaster around it and leaving a thin gap between the ceiling and the wall. I rather nervously hit it with a hammer and discovered – to my relief – that the board was sound, just bent. So I pulled away all the loose paint and plaster, used an old piece of quarter-circle dowling to push the panel back up on the wall and trusted to polyfilla to fix the rest and reseal the wall/ceiling joint. Well, polyfilla and some great plaster board tape which is like netting. Looking at the before photos, I’m slightly surprised by how bad it actually looked.

The existing shelves, bowing under the weight of the books, were made from MDF recovered from a skip in 1994, along with some bricks liberated from a building site around the same time. They’ve done a sterling job over the last decade but the time had come to get something a little more grown-up. Having realised that IKEA now deliver in the UK, I picked some heavy dark wood shelves called Markör which would fit A4 folders as well as books and got a delivery date just before the last bank holiday. Thus setting the timescale for all the work.

At the Open House London day last year, the chap and I visited RIBA to see their mix of retro and modern. We ended up having a long and interesting conversation with an architecture student in a library workspace they have. One thing that wowed me was their magnetic wall. This is done using a primer paint with ferrous material suspended in it. You then paint over with whatever colour you want. And use magnets to hold everything to the wall. Given that I always use the wall behind my desk as an ideas/inspiration space, I loved the notion of making it magnetic. No blu tack marks, no pin holes damaging the plaster. I got the magnetic paint from Shaw Magnets via Rapid Electronics, which was the best value (a full litre for under £30, compared to £35 for 900ml for a different brand). And it works!

Unlike my wifi router, which had become increasingly unreliable. As the PC had to come down to the lounge whilst I was renovating, I took the opportunity to send the wifi router off to Belkin under warranty and use a CAT5 for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, I cycled over to the courier depot to collect the new router and today I brought the desk contents and the chair back upstairs.

The chair was made over a few nights ago. I’d got it from my old office and Moosifer Jones used to love sitting on it. And dribbling. Look closely at the photo of the old workspace and you can see the stain on the rather drab grey wool. I’d bought the fabric back in the winter from the Exeter Fabric Centre knowing it would be for this chair. Initially, I planned a full rebuild, then I considered using drawstrings to keep the new covers loosely in place. Finally, I discovered I could use an old set of blunted scissors as a bradle and tightly force the material in the gap between the cushions and the back. Not perfect, but workable. With the scraps, I made a little matching cushion for Sébastian and put it in one of the spaces on the new shelves. We’ll see if he takes to it.

So, there it all is. There are minor other things to do (not least repainting the rest of the attic, and updating the lights) but I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. Especially at a total cost of around £230. I’m sitting at my new old desk, on my elderly but snazzy chair, looking out over the gardens of the neighbourhood and I’m glad I took the time to do all the work.

Workspace with notes

Have you tired turning it off and on again?

Sunday, 18 May 2008

I’m in the midst of finally turning my attic space from a spare room with office set-up to a proper workspace with sleeping facilities. Over the decade since I moved in, success unclutterings of downstairs and the bedroom have left the attic laden with lots of boxes, a sagging bit of ceiling panel and the shelves I found in a skip 15 years ago. Next weekend is a long one, so I’m planning to refit the difficult end of the room (the bit with the sagging panel), but I’ll still need my PC. So this morning has been spent shoving sofas around downstairs and setting up the PC in the corner on the new desk.

All went well till the final stage. I successfully moved sofas without finding extra kills under them. I got the PC downstairs and didn’t drop the heavy monitor. I disconnected the wifi bits as the temporary workspace is about 2m from the network router box and I’ve a CAT5 that will reach. I connected everything up…and got ‘local connection only’ on the network connection. A call to a 25p/min helpline produced the following answer: switch the router off and back on again. And it works!

The IT crowd were right.


Saturday, 24 November 2007

Frosty crocosmia seed pods

Last night, the temperature in Devon fell to -5C (that’s 23F for the colonials). Naturally, it was yesterday that I managed to forget my keys and found myself locked out of my house come the evening.

That’s OK, I think. C has a spare key. Except she’s in London. As is the chap with his key. I sort it so that I can crash on a friend’s sofa (her 5 year old girl’s primary concern on hearing I was locked out in sub-zero temperatures was who would feed Sébastian). The chap smartly points out that the catsitter company has a key. So I call and leave a voice mail. The woman gets back to me and gives me a long set of instructions on how to find her flat. Given all I memorised was “well lit, past kalendar klub then a car hire place, big arch, double garage” and her flat number, it was pretty easy to find. It turns out she cycles everywhere, hence giving me instructions which make sense for pedestrians/cyclists.

In total, it was only two hours from realising I’d locked myself out to regaining access to my house. But two hours in sub zero temperature.

Still, it means I got some good frost-rimmed photos in the garden this morning.

Radio Tweet

Sunday, 28 October 2007

I’m trying to unclutter the attic, which is a somewhat epic task. There are boxes up here which have yet to be fully unpacked even though I moved in eleven years ago. The starting point was the realisation that, with two PC corpses littering the place (their respective monitors having thrown themselves onto the funeral pyre as well), there was just no room any more. I did try to offload the dead PCs on freecycle but it seems to be full of time-wasting idiots who say they want it then never get back in touch to arrange collection. So Carrie and I took them to the council tip this morning. The HDDs are missing, naturally, but it means I have more space.

Digging into one corner, I found boxes containing stuff that really should have gone years back…

Studio radio This is my first radio cassette player. I got this second hand for £1. When I left home, it came with me before winding up in my studio space at art college. You can probably tell that from the paint job. Sadly, it gave up working years back, what with the aerial coming off, then the function button no longer locking into place. Now I have a digital camera and therefore don’t feel foolish wasting film on it, I’m taking the photos and junking the radio.

20th anniversary posterThis was on my wall when I was a teenager and doubtless contributed to my love of Tegan/Turlough fanfic. Pedants muttering about the Doctor’s trousers in the new Children in Need thingy, can take note. Original costume there, boys. This is not going in the junk pile, but has already been carefully folded back up and filed with the Doctor Who annuals.

Exeter Goes Pop!

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Ages ago I made these cushions for the new sofa using some Liberty print wipeable fabric. Today I was giving the bathroom the same sort of minor (and, more importantly, free) revamp that the bedroom got in January. I’d intended just to clean the place thoroughly but ended up putting up some shelves that I’d taken out of the room five years earlier but hadn’t got around to putting up elsewhere. They’re in a new place, and have new functions but still… I also recovered the bathroom stool:
Bathroom stool

In amidst the two bins of stuff I cleared out of the room – mainly expired medicines and long forgotten cosmetics – I also found the little booklet which was given out at The Living Room on 11th April 1997.

In the future the Living Room would like to see several things happen. In no particular order these may be:
More nail polish, particularly on male fingers. (Nails obviously, not fingers themselves).
More requests for Country & Western music.
Hats of all descriptions being worn at all times.
The ‘Whizz Bang’ and the ‘California Lemonade’ being the drinks of choice.
Belle & Sebastian being warmly embraced in the hearts of all lovers in the world.
The word ‘winsome’ being used as often as possible.

This manifesto was from Alistair (of Tangents, Plan B etc). I loved the Living Room whilst it ran. We ate little cakes and enjoyed pop of fine quality. Wonderfully, A is back on the decks with a new night in Exeter: Exeter Goes Pop!. I had to miss the first one but the next is on 14th March.

I shall, possibly, wear a winsome hat.

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