Sunday, 22 July 2012

We're (nearly) all going on a summer holiday...

In the week since the wondrous work weekend, we have not been idle. A few of us are heading off on holiday for two weeks, so the blog may or may not be quiet in my absence, and so I thought I'd give you a little roundup of events Chez Golem before I go.

Cassian and Joe brought joy to the entire house by getting the shower to be up on the wall on one of those poley things. I cannot put into words how exciting it is to be able to have a quick shower instead of the sort of bath I have with (at the very least) Radio 4 and a cup of tea. Queues for the bathroom are now greatly diminished.

We had a budget workshop where we worked out a way to plan for our spending over the year, based on things like projected income and expenditure. It involved a glorious addition to our accounts spreadsheet made by me and Lloyd, and our explaining of it terrified the few Golems who didn't know we both love spreadsheets that much.  Talking through the spreadsheet by displaying it on Sven's projector helped enormously, and I think it's one of the most helpful gadgets for a co-op to have (but maybe that's because I love gadgets). We now have a lot of our money for the year ring-fenced into different budgets, but which are flexible enough to be changed during the course of a meeting if needs be. Everyone seems to feel like we have a better handle on our finances, so it's win all round.

I've continued my researching of the history of the house (which I'm saving up for another blogpost). As part of it I ended meeting some opposite-neighbours and having the most magnificent conversation about the area, private landlords and Victoriana. I'm really hoping we get to meet more of our neighbours in the future, as we're planning to be here in the long term.

A drunken night with two archaeologists (one resident and one non-resident) led to us identifying the manufacturer of the lovely blue and white tiles we found in the garden. They were made by Craven Dunnil & Co and are very likely to be some of the tiles put in when the house was first built. The non-resident archaeologist thinks they are from a bathroom set, rather than a fireplace as I thought. Sadly the company don't keep pattern catalogues so we'll never know for sure when they were made, but I think it's a reasonably safe guess. The blue and white tiles in the kitchen are much later, probably 1960's. I really hope we find more of these little snippets of the house's history along the way.

I've also finally started doing some of the floor tiling in the kitchen, re-covering the bit which was in the hallway we ripped out.  It's taken me an absurdly long time to get started, and five tiles in, I've run out of tile adhesive! That said, the area already looks better, and once it's done there's only one more bit of tiling to do before it's finished and we can think about painting the kitchen. Hooray!

Joe cleared out the downstairs hallway so it's much, much roomier and less full of junk, though there is a little bit left to go. Small things like this make an enormous difference to how good a house feels, so we were all hugely grateful.

We're still getting quotes before deciding how to go about rebuilding the retaining wall of the garden. Another one came in this week and it was slightly less terrifying than the first, but only slightly. We're now waiting for a third and will discuss a plan of action when the travelling Golems get back. Once the dodgy wall is down and a new, spectacularly sturdy one is put up, it will be a weight off of everyone's minds, and mean that we can crack on with the other huge job of our Year One work: fixing all of the roofs. Joy!

Joe has been busy in the garden cutting up even more of the buddleia mountain and packing it into council garden waste bags for collection. Him and Lloyd had a good crack at digging up some of the bigger stumps today, and in doing so found a wall we didn't know was there. It looks to be only a small one, acting as a step down across the garden, but it's still amazing we can be finding things like this which we had no idea were there. Joe is planning to excavate more of the Iron Thing while we're away, and we're taking bets on what it is for anyone with an idea. See picture below.

It's about two feet wide, seems to be circular and goes a long way down. Any ideas?
I'm also including a little slideshow of the garden progress so you can revel in our hard work. The next phase will include digging out tonnes and tonnes of this soil/rubble, probably with a mini-digger. I can't wait!

- Hannah

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

What would Lady Gaga do?

"Pretend I'm a shower curtain!"

"Oh God, it's all gone tits up."

"Lady Gaga would totally wear this."


Today me and Steve took 3 bags and 1 box of garden waste to the tip, along with lots of electrical rubbish. Then we went into the plumbing shop and bought one of those shower pole thingies and a shower curtain.

Upon my return, I attempted to fit it all with Joe, but accidentally a nap.

Then I woke up, and me and Joe blasted the bathroom wall with our amazingness until the shower pole thingy and the shower curtain were fitted, both professionally and with style.

I had a shower in my own home for the first time in well over a month and it was so good I cannot even. You guys, me and Joe and Steve are amaze.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Housing Co-ops and Housing Benefits

I applied for housing benefit upon taking up residence in your friendly neighbourhood Swansea housing co-op. The process was a little bit long and convoluted, so I thought I'd tell you about it in the hope that it might save you some time.

I assumed that it was alright for the council to know who else was living here, and so I happily put the names of other residents on my form. Some weeks later, I emailed the housing benefit department to ask why my application was taking so long, since it was just logging a change of address. I had a reply by email saying they'd sent me a letter 16 days earlier (still not received) and this:
The tenancy agreement you supplied appears to have not been signed by your landlord.  It appears to be signed by another tenant at the property.  Please provide proof of your rent liability by providing your original Tenancy Agreement which has been signed by your actual landlord or a signed letter from your landlord to confirm [rent details].
Amusingly snarky, with casual fraud accusational overtones. I emailed back the same day to explain that we were a housing co-op (as outlined on the change of address form), and as such, members are tenants and tenants are members. Members are authorised to sign such documents when agreed at a general meeting, which is what happened. So yes, a fellow tenant did sign my tenancy agreement, and that's all totally legal and alright.

They replied again, and asked the following questions:

  1. Who owns [the house]?
  2. Who do you pay your rent to?
  3. Do you share ownership of the above address with your fellow co-operative members?
  4. Please confirm in writing if you hold more than a nominal equity share in the property.
I answered by email, and a week later when I asked I was told that my housing benefit claim had been set up and was all okay. (Still no letter, mind.)

The whole process took over a month, partly because their first letter to me got lost in the post.

Someone else in the co-op also had to switch housing benefit to our new house, and had no problems, probably due to leaving off the names of other tenants when filling in the form since that information is totally irrelevant.

The reason I'm telling you all this is because it might help you if you have to do the same thing. First of all, don't bother telling them the names of the other tenants, since it's not really relevant anyway. Second, perhaps answering those four questions on the application/change of address form might speed things up a little bit.

So there we are. Extelligence. Love it.

Work Weekend Update

Well, what a weekend. It rained, it poured, it cleared up a bit and then it rained again. Thank goodness we weren't planning to spend the weekend wading through mud-encrusted rubbish.

No wait! That's totally what we were planning! And despite all the water the heavens could pour at us, that's exactly what we did. Here is a brief summary of what we managed to get done:

- formed a sedimentary layer of tiles approximately a foot thick in the bottom of our magnificent skip.
- put all the already-sorted-out rubbish on top of it, leaving a sort of chute arrangement in one corner for adding the bazillion more broken tiles we knew we'd find.
Hasselback Hotel :)
- dug through layers and layers of soil* fishing out even more rubbish and tiles to add to the skip.
- burnt through all the buddleia branches too big to go in the council garden waste.
- chopped up nearly all of the rest so it will fit in the garden waste bags.
- restacked the - by now, enormous - rubble pile into a slightly less scary shape.
- ate all the biscuits.**

Along the way, we received magnificent assistance from Lis, Mary-Eve, Sammie and Beth, for which we are enormously grateful. The skip guy was rather lovely, too.

Mmm, soil. Sort of.
Other fascinating occurrences include a guy stopping in the alley to chat to us. He did some work on the house under it's previous owner and said it was nice to see people tidying the place up. He also said, "that downstairs bathroom is pretty terrible", which is bizarre considering he apparently worked on it. I promise to write that blog post about the bathroom soon - I know you all love a good horror story ;)

We then saw him doing work on a property down the road, overseen by none other than the previous owner of our place, who waved and said hello. I saw him later, and he said "you're working hard, eh?" with a big grin on his face. I honestly couldn't tell what level of cheekiness he was aiming at,  but I think he must have known about the garden's hidden horrors. Again, bizarre.

NB: this is not what gardens are for, people!
We've also uncovered the top of a large metal object, but haven't had a chance to dig it out yet. I'll add a picture of it below later, in case anyone wants to try guessing what it is.

We still have loads of buddleia to get rid of, so if anyone randomly has the urge to take a bag to the dump, do let us know. There is still lots of rubbish and tiles left in the soil, but we've got rid of the bulk of it, and everything is clear enough now to do the garden wall (when we manage to work out how the hell we're going to do it). This evening we've got a finance workshop to get to grips with our work budget for the year, so hopefully the mystery of how to fix the wall will be solved.

- Hannah

* soil is a bit of a strong word for it. It's more like something you'd find on the banks of the Ankh.
** actually, that's a lie. We ate all the vegan biscuity things, but there's a foot long roll of uncooked non-vegan biscuit dough in the freezer, ready for anyone else who pops around to help.***
*** unless we eat it first.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Look at this bunch of funking legends.

Totally tipping it down and they're still at it.

All the co-op folk are or have been involved at some point in the day, and Mary-Eve and Lis have both turned up to assist.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Work Weekend

So as you know, we are planning a garden work weekend on Saturday. In order to entice lots of you lovely people to join us, I'm going to give you a run down of the plan.

Jobs that need to be done:

1. Filling a skip with the rubbish we have already sorted out from the soil. This will probably involved a chain of people passing rubbish along.
2. Cutting the remaining buddleia up into bits that will fit in the council garden waste bags.
3. Continuing to dig through the soil in the garden, sorting out tiles, rubble, rubbish and whatever else we find along the way.
4. Putting all the new rubbish in the skip.

Flick will be making a lunch of some sort, and (probably) chilli for tea. There will also be copious biscuits and cups of tea along the way.

Ways in which you can help include; popping in for a couple of hours or however long you fancy, and doing whatever you feel capable of, playing with Finn when he's around so I can climb over the fence and do rubbish-involving stuff, lending us tools which may be useful (spades, mattocks, rakes, etc) or taking a bag or two of stuff to the dump at Derwen Fawr.

In the event that it rains so much people really don't want to be outside, we have a number of little jobs around the house that need finishing off, including tiling, building shelves, putting up a shower bracket, etc.

Some Golems are also planning to work on Sunday too, so if you're not free on Saturday, you can still come and join in with the fun ;)

If you're at all interested in any of these things then please get in touch either by commenting below or emailing us at

Many thanks - Hannah

Monday, 9 July 2012

Piles and Tiles

Two blog posts in as many days! You can tell it's been non-stop around here.

Today ended up being a very productive workday, one of the ones where we all stick our heads down to a single task and it means that real results can be seen. Well, we can see them, just about. The garden is turning into such a mammoth task that it's good to focus on small improvements to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed and burying your head in the nearest bit of soft ground (if you can find any). That's what I've been trying to do, anyway.

Today's small improvements were numerous. Lloyd has been dedicatedly burning through the larger bits of wood/shrub detritus which have turned up, in an effort to stop the garden completely filling up with them. Joe finally got his way and cut down the last of the brambles, meaning that the concrete path which runs a little way down the garden is now a useful platform for rubbish sorting.

A previous retaining wall?
Definite piles are appearing, which gives the whole thing a sense of order which it probably doesn't deserve to have. We now have the most glorious rubble heap, consisting mostly of bricks from the remnants of a previous retaining wall (found this morning) and stones which must come from the original Victorian walls, by the look of them. We are saving all of these in case we need them for infill or building raised beds later.

The pile of chopped shrubs will at least stop getting bigger now there are none left to cut down, but it's still taller than me. The rubbish pile has reached epic proportions and still isn't a fraction of what we expect to find. Closer investigation has revealed that at some point a sheet of that black weed-suppressing fabric has been gloriously draped over the rubble and rubbish, and presumably the culprit has then spent the next however-long congratulating themselves on a job well done. Considering how much crap there is we will probably have to hire a skip to move it on, as without transport we have no sensible way to get it to the tip.

We have so far found 6 rubble bags full of broken white tiles, who knows why. You really do have to wonder, sometimes. They don't even match any of the tiles currently in the house. Mysterious, indeed.

The vast majority of the tiles have been dull, white modern ones, but we did have one or two moments of delight upon finding some beautiful tiles in either plain blue, or blue and white, which look to be part of a set. I think they might be from one of the house's original fireplaces, but I'm prepared to be corrected if anyone knows better. They certainly made hunting through all the broken, old-school credit card machines and tiny polystyrene balls of doom a more fun experience.

Between all the digging we've been making plans for the workday on Saturday. We've come up with a few jobs, so there'll be lots to do, but the rubble-chucking will be punctuated with tasty food and confectionary, so you will be well rewarded. There will also be some crash space here if anyone from further afield fancies coming, so please do get in touch if you're able to help. Even a few hours would make a big difference to us, and I will make sure there are biscuits and a good supply of fair-trade tea.

- Hannah

The garden after today's hard work

A Busy Day

Work on the garden has been continuing apace over the last few days. It's still full of buddleia, only it's all horizontal and in pieces now. There's still lots of rubbish, only it's... well, actually, it's pretty much all where it was. We're trying to keep everything on the other side of the fence so that the garden remains baby-safe, which means that until a load of the buddleia is gone, there's not even room to start sorting the rubbish. In the process of hacking down the shrubs, we've found numerous buckets, many shower components, a terrifying number of tiny polystyrene balls, and a sofa which has been buried so long most of the biodegradable bits have gone, leaving only the metal and foam elements to haunt us, amongst other things.

Honestly, you couldn't make it up.

Lloyd hard at work
Tomorrow we're planning a co-op work day to try to clear a section near the fence so there's room to start sorting the rubbish into plastics, tiles, rubble, glass, polystyrene, landfill, etc. That's a lot of sorting, but we'd rather recycle as much as we can, even if it's a palaver.

Because this is a massive job, and dedicated though we are, it's going to take forever, we're also planning a work day on Saturday to which we're inviting willing victims volunteers. If you'd love to wade through sedimentary layers of skank in the pursuit of us one day having a magnificent permaculture plot, then please do get in touch. If you don't fancy that, but do have a vehicle, we'd be over the moon for you to take a load or two of chopped up vegetation to the dump for us. Being vehicle-less has it's downsides, and the inability to cart stuff away is definitely one of them. If you can help, there'll be tea, biscuits, and one of Flick's delicious dinners in it for you.

All this and more awaits you!
I feel I should note that this is not for the fainthearted. We don't know what we're going to find, and it's all pretty gross, but if you like a challenge, we'd really appreciate your help. In the event that our garden pursuits are rained off, we'll have some work ready to do inside the house, though this is likely to be of a more fiddly DIY nature, just so you know.


In other news, we have a shower... sort of. The mixer tap in the upstairs bathroom looked ever so shiny and nice when we got here, but it turned out that it was perpetually stuck in the limbo between spout and shower, spraying water pretty much everywhere but where you wanted it. We dismantled it and tried to fix it - oh, how we tried! - but to no avail (nothing made of metal should have a tiny, vital moving part made of plastic), and new taps are too pricey to contemplate.

The downstairs bathroom... well, that's another blog post, but it did have a working mixer tap which we decided to purloin for upstairs. The mission involved in this was pretty epic, and resulted in the realisation that the bath would have to come out to get the taps off. What luck then that today the washing machine waste pipe, which runs under the bath, sprung an almighty leak! We are lucky golems indeed. Within ten minutes of this discovery the bath was out in the garden, the pipe was bodged back in place pending a decision about the layout of the bathroom, and Rob had the precious taps off.

Getting them back on the upstairs bath was another matter, but he persisted, and lo! We now have a mixer tap with shower attachment upstairs, which is dead exciting after weeks of washing your hair with a jug, even if there's no bracket on the wall yet. Sometimes it's good to be easily pleased.

Our new workflow chart - blutacktastic!
In the midst of all this activity we also had a workshop. I know! We're basically superhuman. Anyway, this thrilling workshop was run by yours truly, and involved sticking lots of coloured paper to the wall. We were trying to get to grips with all the essential and non-essential jobs that we need to do, and put them in some kind of order. Although we didn't quite manage the order bit today, we did sort things into sequential and stand-alone jobs, and group things together into related tasks. An example of this is that we need to scaffold the building and fix the roof, but it will be easier to get scaffolding in once the back wall is rebuilt (possibly with steps to street level in) so it makes sense to do the wall first. It's much more complicated than that, but you get the idea. I've included a picture above for your enjoyment.

So, a busy day, and everyone is buzzing and planning on playing board games, and I'm feeling all happy to live with such a lovely bunch of people.

Fun times indeed.

- Hannah

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hidden Corners

So, there's this thing where we bought a house without being able to see all of it. Three lofts without hatches, lots of mysterious boxed in bits in the eaves, and half a garden which seemed to be one thing and then turned out to be another.

The Other Stuff *shudders*
Joe has been hacking and slashing at the buddleia with gusto, and today Sven even got his machete out. Huge swathes of buddleia have been flattened in order for us to clear the way for the garden wall to be demolished and rebuilt (more on that in a minute), but there is still more to go. Much more. And once the plants have gone, there's the other stuff.

Previous tenants, or perhaps the previous owner, or perhaps previous builders working on the property, or perhaps all of the above, appear to have been using the garden as a rubbish dump for some time. Possibly all of the time. The ground level we thought we had is clearly not the actual ground. It's a sort of densely compacted layer of general building rubbish and household waste, upon which the buddleia have made their home. This leaves us pondering if our garden is heavily sloping, or perhaps even terraced. The rubbish is so deep, we can't tell. Honestly, it's disturbing.

This has led to a few more discussions about the whole private rental market, especially student and generally dodgy accommodation, such as our house once was before we rescued it. Somehow it seems to be a system set up so that no one cares enough to look after anything, so it feels good, if daunting, to be liberating this small patch of earth from it's use as a rubbish tip, even if it is going to take us forever to sort through it for recycling.

If anyone with a penchant for unearthing layers of tat, or generally hacking, slashing and burning stuff wants to come over, there's tea, and probably dinner in it for you, and there is plenty of work to go round :D

We've also been doing a bit more hand-wringing about what work we need to do and how we're going to pay for it, and we have two workshops scheduled for the next week to help us all to plan and understand things. Hopefully this will make us feel like we can forge on with some of the bigger stuff, and in the meantime, there's all that sorting in the garden to be done. After that will likely be the roof, and then... well, then, everything else under it.

In all seriousness, if anyone feels the urge to do get any building experience, we will probably soon be removing a couple of roofs and putting them back on, as well as lots of smaller DIY jobs. We're happy to cook for you and generally foist tea and biscuits upon your person, so if you fancy a holiday in Swansea or already live here and want to help out, do get in touch.

- Hannah

Sunday, 1 July 2012


Well, I meant to blog more, and I meant to do more, and neither happened. We're having a few weeks in limbo as jobs are planned, superceded, and abandoned for various reasons. Hopefully a workshop is going to occur to help us plan work and budgets better in the future, so there is less uncertainty about when things are going to be done.

Sometimes it's very hard to remember that we're new at this: new to budgeting, planning major works on a house, living together, doing huge DIY missions, and trying to do all this while still living our ordinary lives, going to work, studying and raising a child. There have been quite a few frayed nerves, and not a little grumpiness, but also lots of laughter to act as a welcome antidote. We clearly have a lot to learn, but being aware of that is a good first step.

Small things have been happening. A lid rack for the saucepans has appeared. A third of the tiling that needs doing in the kitchen has finally been grouted. Cassian has made some fab pockets for our post to go in so it stops wandering off around the house. Lloyd has taken on the role of treasurer and made all our records digital, so we can all have access to our ongoing accounts and it's easier to keep track of spending.

Joe has finally had some time off after working some truly epic shifts recently, and he's been raring to go. The other day he cleared all of the existing rubbish in the concrete half of the garden, and today he climbed over to the fenced off bit and made a path through the buddleia to the bottom of the garden. The fenced off bit is full of rubbish and enormous swathes of bramble and buddleia, and until today afforded us tremendous privacy and looked rather green and lush, with the odd flower. This section of the garden is actually bigger than the concrete bit, so will more than double the existing garden when we reclaim it, the very thought of which fills me with glee.

It would be lovely to leave all this greenery in place until next year when we might actually find the time to do a permaculture design and get some plants in, but unfortunately the shrubbery is hiding a rather dark secret. The retaining wall at the end of the garden is roughly 7 foot tall, and atrociously built. It has a big crack running right up the middle and the surveyor described it as "at risk of collapse". This is not only terrifying on a general level, but the lane behind is used very frequently to access parking spaces in the offices opposite, and the potential damage to cars, and heaven forbid, people if it did collapse is horrifying to contemplate. Our plan is to get this wall taken down as soon as possible, and for a new blockwork wall to be built in it's place, but properly this time.

To get to this bit of the garden to do work, almost all of the buddleia need to go, so Joe got started today with a pathway to the bottom so we could see how far we had to go. I neglected to take a before picture, but got lots of nice ones once he's laid into it with the one pair of secateurs we could muster. It felt a bit weird to be complicit in such a mass hacking of plant life, but needs must. As a random aside, the buddleia is named after a potential relative of mine, so I've always had a bit of a sweet spot for them. Sad times indeed.

Finn helped to put the chopped up bits in our garden waste bag

A temporary reprieve for these lovely blooms

Joe took Finn for a bimble around our new bit of garden

That tiny pale patch on the left is our first view of he bottom of the garden :D

Finn made friends with this friendly snail

In other news, Lloyd got a first in his degree. If you want to have your brain warped by his sci-fi/horror radio play, you can listen to it here.

- Hannah