You might have watched those Grand Designs programmes on television. You know the ones where that good looking, yet worthy couple, both city high flyers or doctors or New Age crystal therapists design their dream home in an area of outstanding natural beauty. They are used to getting their way with everything and part of the reason that they’re building their own house from scratch is due to this very control freaky: a Victorian semi in Balham is far too constraining.

They inevitably end up with a house too small because at least one child has unexpectedly arrived between plan and build and/or the build has gone way over budget. How we rejoice in Kevin Wossname’s wry asides to the camera or the fact that he is visibly restraining himself from vomiting at the worthy control freaks’ dreadful taste or the problems they have spectacularly failed to foresee.

Well it’s Day 3 of of our build and we’ve had a Grand Designs moment today. I’m not pregnant – far from it – but we had a visit from our friendly Bromley Council Building Control inspector today and we’ve had to readjust our plans.

blogIMG_0714.jpgDo you remember our next door neighbour’s willow tree and how we believed it might be responsible for what we thought was subsidence? Well, it was decided, after three years and endless drains experts and arboriculturalists (and about £10,000 of fees,) that the cracks in our house were not its fault at all. We were advised to ask our neighbour to have it cut back to a more manageable size just in case it was exacerbating things.

Our neighbour is a doughty ex-army Major and will never pay anyone else to do something he thinks he can do himself. In his 90s, he still goes up ladders to paint his house. Put out at our suggestion that he get someone in to remove this unsuitably-placed willow, he explained politely that his 10 year old son had planted the tree and it was there to stay. So it was that he hacked a few branches off and everyone was (relatively) happy.

We are having a box built onto the back of our house and we’re going to have new foundations built to support the steel supports that support the new building. A certain amount of underpinning was always going to be necessary. I could not understand how most other houses on our road – at the top of a hill on London clay soil – had been underpinned and we had not. The solution to this riddle presented itself today.

The Building Control officer, in a belt and braces mode, has decreed that the willow tree is actually posing a danger to the extension and has required our builders to excavate almost twice as deep as originally planned. On starting these extra excavations, the builders found that our house has already been underpinned. But only on one side and done in, let’s say, DIY style. It is now going to be necessary to underpin the underpinning. 

Apparently the different colours of structure show the previous underpinning of which we had no previous knowledge.

Apparently the different colours of structure show the previous underpinning of which we had no previous knowledge.

We are going to require an extra few days, an extra concrete pump and an extra 20 cubic metres of concrete to do this. All in all at least another £3,000 added to the job. Now, that might not seem a lot in the scheme of things, but it’s a bit of a blow at this early stage of the work. As I write this I can hear some distinctly fruity language emanating from our microlocal building community, who are not aware that I’m sitting 60 cms away from them, hidden by this low wall, and can hear every word. I’m only glad that the dogs can’t understand what it means. Patrick the builder is visibly (and audibly) distraught at having to add to his already substantial costs with little to show for this extra amount. At least in a couple of weeks when they’ve finished, ours will be the most secure house in Beckenham. We will still be in Kansas after the tornado, Toto.


I needn’t have worried about my lack of operatic stylee in singing Richard Strauss lieder. I think that, not having grown up exposed to much opera, I’m aware that my singing voice is far from huge and bracing, as chewy as a bavette steak. I confess, I don’t actually like that sort of full vibrato doughtiness – more evidence of my Philistine tendencies – but I feel weedy and girlish in comparison with some of the singers I hear on Spotify.

I shared my concerns with my teacher Sarah today and she, an accomplished renowned international singer, pointed out that she doesn’t sing like a Valkyrie and that style would not be expected in a Diploma exam, unless it was actually my natural voice, which is what they want to hear.

Currently, she reassured me, there is nothing wrong with the way I sing and I have a Mozartian opera voice rather than one for Verdi or Puccini or Wagner. Apparently, as I become accomstomed to training the muscles required for that sort of Big Voice technique, it will come, IF I WANT IT. I don’t really want it. I’m happy singing light and lyrical soprano parts, with actual words and tunes.

Sarah admonished me gently for worrying so much. She thinks I’m pushing myself too hard, worrying about OUTCOMES when I should be concentrating about The Now. It’s because I’m learning so much from these lessons and opening up a whole new world of musicianship that I’ve never experienced before. I want, need, to be GOOD at things. I want to be my best at singing.

Her advice is, of course, true of any musical performance. There’s no point chewing over duff notes that you’ve already played or sung or, equally,  fretting about difficult bits yet to perform. Live in the now, interpret the words, enjoy the music. It will come.


Apologies, incidentally, that this blog is all about the build at the moment. It’s taking up a lot of our life just getting it set up and off the ground. I’m sure there will be other things to write about in due course. I hope you’ll bear with.