As usual, December was taken up entirely with work and dealing with the Christmas period. Every weekend was spent in the unit packing orders so no time (or energy) was left to work on the house. We also ran a small stall in Rochester High Street selling models in the Rochester Christmas Market with the help of Leigh, Laura and Mel who braved the cold weather. Karen finally finished the studying for her MA and submitted her last assignment.
Because the RSPCA Inspector has not come back for the second visit we decided to remove the dog fence which obstructed our view of the garden. Karen decided to perfect her acrobatic skills in the process.
One Sunday Brian and Stephanie came over for lunch to bring the Cheriton Horse piece that we had commissioned. A fantastic piece of art that will take pride of place in our home. While they were here we noticed that the drive was not drying after the recent rain, instead it seemed to be filling up. We went outside to have a look and saw the water bubbling out of the ground in the gateway from a burst water main. We called Southern Water who came out and told us that the pipes were not the responsibility of the water board but were private. Luckily for us he called in their crew anyway and said if questioned he'd "made a mistake". About an hour later they turned up to dig out and repair the pipe, just in time as the whole drive was under an inch of water. Coincidentally, one of the guys was Damien who my brother went to school with. When they got down there they found 3 old iron pipes which had already been repaired 3 times. They are not going to last long before they need completely replacing and it appears that the pipes are our responsibility all the way back up the street to the other houses, about 500 yards.
The front of the Summer House was basically just dirt because the over hanging roof stopped any rain from watering the groung. I therefore decided to create a decking "porch" so that Karen and Anne could sit and drink Gin in the afternoon sun. Emma and Luke rolled up their sleeves and helped me. The Summer House has now been nick-named, The Gin Palace. This month Karen also arranged for a company to come in and grind out the stumps of the old conifer trees so that we can start to put new plants in their place.
After the extension was finished we called Keith to come back in because we had water coming through the landing ceiling. He arranged for Paul Brown, the very good roofer, to come and repair the leak. Upon removing a large section of roof he discovered that the leak was due to a badly fitted waste pipe by the plumber. Now there's a surprise!
The extension has been going at good speed although the plans had a serious flaw meaning the passage into the bedroom would have to be at a 45 degree angle. Luckily Glen noticed this and worked on a new design which he discussed and passed with the buildings inspector. Our only disappointments with this job were the quality of the plastering which was "OK", some of the work of the electricians, and the plumber.
When the builders had almost finished, at the end of the month, our very dear friends Julie and Graham came over to help us remove the Conifers that shadowed the front garden and were damaging the front wall. Two days of chainsaw action saw the trees from the front removed and also 6 conifers from the back garden where we plan to grow Rhododendrons. Near the end of the weekend we got a little bit relaxed about tying the trees so one of them fell the wrong way, falling into next door's garden, smashing the fence on the way and taking me with it. A good way to get to know Wendy and Rodney, send Karen round to ask "can we have our tree back?"
Apart from the general maintenance, topping the conifer hedge etc, August was spent preparing for our first garden party. We bought all our garden games, table tennis table, dart board etc. and I drove to Watford and bought 40+ garden chairs and 6 tables, all second hand off eBay. A real bargain. The party was great and so many people came. I got to meet up with people I haven't seen in years like Jeremy Bickers and Malcolm Briggs. Two days after the party Keith's crew turned up to start the extension, lead by Glen, a really nice guy and a fantastic carpenter.
Our first month at York Cottage was like a holiday, we ate our dinner in the garden every evening and it felt like we would have to pack our bags after two weeks and head home. It only became real when we got Sascha (the Labra-hound) from the RSPCA and had to erect a 100' fence to make the back garden "dog-escape proof". I took the two record breaking hottest days of the year off work to get the garden ready for the RSPCA home inspection and working alone I discovered just how full of flint the ground is. The metal meta-posts would not go in without twisting and bending like bananas. I had to drink so much water that I flushed all the salt out of my blood and couldn't retain any of it. The dog damn near killed me, just as we nearly killed Richy Rich when we accepted his offer to mow the field with the old lawn mower that was left in the garage.