Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What? No Plumbing?

On St. Patrick's Day 1983 the Man and I bought an investment property -- he would have been 42 at the time. It is an old building, circa 1868, and had been converted into several bedsits. At that time it was not uncommon in England to find building of bedsits and flatlets with shared bathrooms and sometimes kitchens. The owner, a rather unscrupulous rogue, had made 7 residences, including the cellar and was charging the optimum rent he could. For the time it seemed a reasonable investment and the Man was able to convince the bank manager to grant us a 10-year mortgage. What is it they say about 'going where angels fear to tread'?

Part of our reasoning in buying the place was that we would renovate the cellar flat and live there ourselves -- it was a long saga, but an invaluable experience which has meant that both of us appreciate many things about modern living and modern conveniences that we never would have otherwise. My youngest sister couldn't get over that I was living without a dishwasher!! When I explained that for a while we didn't even have drains she was totally speechless. At the time we moved in we had a baby barely a month old and a two-year-old, as well as a 12-year-old -- all boys. The room we had designated for a bathroom  would flood when it rained and so for a time we had a portable toilet and around the contraption were strategically placed bricks we stepped on to keep our feet from getting wet! The Man's favourite job was not emptying it, which required lifting the sewage drain outside ...

For a few weeks the kitchen sink had an interesting set-up. We invested  in a large washing-up bowl which we placed under the kitchen sink in such a way that when we washed whatever in the sink we could pull the plug and it would empty into the waiting container to be disposed of in the outside drain. I swear to  you that no one in the civilized world appreciates drains more than I do!

Just about the first thing we had to do was put in a damp course. We were fortunate to have a wonderful builder who was also a teacher in the local technical college and was willing to instruct the Man time and again on how to do various projects himself. The Man and the older son dug out all the land around the cellar and built a patio, put in French doors to the outside and a stone lintel into where the fireplace would be. All the work had to be done on weekends and after work and instead of holidays. It was a long slog. The flat wasn't really completed until 1986 -- just before we moved into the house where we still live! And another renovation -- but this house had drains and all the other plumbing in place! The difference between 'restoration' and 'renovation' is massive.

The investment property now has four self-contained flats. Our old flat is the largest and has three bedrooms on two levels. At the present time a Polish family lives there and they have 3 daughters aged 5, 7, and 11. Both the Man and I have become very fond of these girls and have been 'adopted' and made honourary grandparents and it is because I was going to write about them that I ended up writing about our earlier renovation project. The 7-year-old had her First Communion on Sunday and our attendance was required ...


  1. Hello Katherine:
    Believe it or not, we can readily identify with your drain experience and the feeling that never again will we take modern sewage systems for granted. When we lived in the countryside, there were no main drains and so a complex system of tanks, soak away and cess pit was meant to do the job. And so they did....most of the time. But when the 'soak away' did not 'soak' let alone go away then we were to be found, usually at the dead of night peering down manholes, prodding furiously with drain rods and, unfortunately, not smelling of roses!!!

    The Polish family sound delightful and what an honour to be adopted as grandparents. Lovely!

  2. Hi Broad,

    Gosh, your experience rings bells with me! around the same time we were renovating our old Welsh farmhouse and during the nearly 2 years it took us to afford to have everything done, our kitchen moved 3 times. We're on a septic tank there as well as here in France. so we know all about dodgy plumbing and drainage.....

    I love the idea of being adopted grandparents, especially in this international, cross-cultural manner.

  3. Three times!!! That would have done me in, for sure -- I'd never have reached my 66th birthday, that's for sure. Fortunately, being in town did mean we had 'merely' to connect to the town sewage system -- and that's another story!

    Having a garden full of girls giggling and prancing around is sure different from the den of boys kicking a ball and falling out of trees, breaking their limbs, etc. etc.!

  4. Jane and Lance: The previous owner of our 'Fermette's' Fosse Septique took her drain rods with her! The Man very cleverly put one together with pieces of hosepipe.

    The French do very, shall we say, 'interesting' things with their septique systems -- especially when choosing their location! I won't say more or none of you will come to stay!!!

  5. Oh my, you've lived in interesting places and have come to appreciate the simple things that keep us afloat, clean and running smoothly.

  6. Rosaria, thank you for your comment. What is it the Chinese say about living in 'interesting times' -- I think that must refer to 'interesting places' as well!

  7. No plumbing and a newborn baby! OMG! How brave you were! I'm in awe.
    After growing up in a house with very dodgy plumbing -- my father once removed the only toilet in a fit of rage and threw it out into the back yard and we had to use public bathrooms at local gas stations for several weeks until he reconnected it, but there was always a problem -- I've gone for houses with reliable plumbing. But how wonderful that you got through the renovations, still own the property and that it has connected you with such a special group of friends who are now extended family!

  8. G'day Broad. That was a very brave undertaking. But as you pointed out, it makes you appreciate certain things that a lot of people take for granted. It sounds as though you have a great connection with the family that live there now and that say's a lot. Take care. Liz...

  9. @Kathy: I so admire your ability to overcome so much pain from your early life and despite the problems you endured be so able to write with such love and understanding about a parent who could be so loving and so abusive. You really are a credit to the best of human spirit.

  10. @Liz: This Polish family is a reminder of what my ancestors would have faced when they came from Germany and Switzerland to America with very little English but plenty of energy and enthusiasm.

  11. Funny how we learn to live with things we might think would be hideous and impossible to cope with. And, in the end, it is the living with those things that invests our present with so much more than if we had had it easier.

  12. Sully, I so agree with you. I do believe that it is not so much the 'what' we do with our lives or how successful we are -- its really about the 'how' we do it that underlines not only our value to humanity, but our own happiness.


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