Good Luck in Your New Home

One of the great things about moving into your very own home is the potential for making it exactly as you’d like it to be.

My first property, a small Victorian house in Harrow, North London, suffered from damp and neglect. The fireplaces and kitchen were vintage 1950s, and so was everything else. The first job was to treat the rising damp, then do some rendering and plastering.

CPR ventilating with bag

I had not long qualified as a doctor when I bought the house. My pockets were empty, but I was full of optimism. Flushed with success at two recent cardiac arrests, where, against all odds, both patients lived to tell the tale, I decided to have a go at home restoration.

Armed with a couple of trowels, a large bag of Marley Mix, and a smaller one of plaster, I got stuck in. It didn’t take long to realise that (a) this was very thirsty work (b) it required considerable expertise. As the rendering kept falling off the wall, and my plastering looked like a relief map of the Himalayas, it was clear I didn’t have those skills.

Suffice to say that a large sofa can conceal a multitude of mishaps.

Number One son has now bought his first home. While his learning curve hasn’t been as steep as mine was, there have been important rites of passage, like buying his very own drill.

And then putting up the very first towel rail or mirror. I believe I’m the ideal person to teach this, as I’ve put up lots of towel rails (oh, all right – just the one towel rail, but lots of times).  

Unfortunately, my son had lent his hammer to a friend, but a meat tenderiser does much the same job and can also leave a pretty pattern on the wall.

The man in the shop had warned that, once you get your own combi drill, you use it all the time. And so it proved. Why not drill an extra hole under the sink, just in case? That eye protection looks pretty cool too.

It’s great getting to know your new neighbours, but sometimes that happens more quickly than intended. Curtains became a priority.

Carpeting may come soon because, basically, how long can one live with other people’s stains?  

Here the trouble may be too much choice. Exactly which shade of grey/beige/greige to pick? Even more confusing when the products have similar names.

And then which underlay – crumbed or sponge rubber?

It’s all a bit too much. I think this calls for a nice cup of a tea and a biscuit before someone picks up the drill again.

FreeImages.com/Thiago Felipe Festa

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A Holiday Home for the Cat

Moving house is a real performance. Just ask my cat.

Even if your heart isn’t set on a pad with an eye-watering price tag, like London’s Princes Gate or the Bishops Avenue aka Billionaires’ Row, it’s a major expense, and that’s before stamp duty. There are also surveys to arrange, solicitors to pay, and a mortgage to sort out. Get ready too for the gazumping, gazundering and chains which make the property game an expensive version of snakes and ladders.

cats have no such worries

Cats have no such worries. All Mishmish had to do was let herself be transported to a weekend retreat.  “We’re going on a mini-break,” I tell Mishmish. She takes this announcement in her stride.

checking the cat basket

The weekend starts well because she loves her basket. This always surprises me, considering it’s only used for transporting her to the vet and back. Maybe it’s the ‘and back’ bit she remembers best.

The journey itself is no trouble, though it’s hard for the humans to squeeze into a car packed to the gunwales. It’s all very reminiscent of trips with my three children when they were young. Only in this case there are two cat trays, a favourite water bowl, the special cat food, her favourite toys, and of course The Blanket.

Not that anyone would call it a blanket now. You can always tell who has cats. Their blankets look like towels and their towels look like knitting mistakes, says the author of How to Live with a Calculating Cat. This little book has been making people laugh since 1962 because it’s so damn true.

Anyway, on arrival Mishmish bolts out of the basket and heads under the IKEA sofa. There she stays, oblivious of efforts to coax her out.

cat under the IKEA sofa

Husband and I put out food, water, toys, The Blanket, even a welcoming sign.

I love my cat

We talk to her in a silly voice. She sits there watching us make idiots of ourselves.

After a few hours our knees hurt and I wonder if she’ll be there until the sofa self-destructs. This could take a while. Many people I know have an Ektorp sofa and it lasts years, sometimes decades. As reliable as a Volvo, though without ABS brakes.

We tell each other that you can’t make a cat do something. You can only make a cat want to do something.

Actually, scratch that. If your cat doesn’t want to do something, it’s never going to happen.

Cats are highly territorial, but my first ginger cat was far more adaptable. Bananas went places. As a student, I’d take her from London to Brighton and back. When I was a junior doctor, I’d often have to spend 80 hours at the hospital, so I’d take her with me to my on call room if nobody else could look after her.

But I have to accept Mishmish is different. She’s a homebody. And now she’s turning a couch potato.

Over the course of the weekend, she doesn’t venture out, not even to use the tray placed about 5 feet away. I get that. If there are predators around, a fresh deposit will give away your presence faster than a big brass plate on the door. But still.

So after 24 hours we go home, with Mishmish having seen no more than the underside of the Ektorp sofa.

Back and seat frame: fibreboard, moisture-resistant particleboard, plywood, solid pine, polyurethane foam 20 kg/cubic metre.
Cover: 100% cotton. Machine wash, warm 40°C.

IKEA Ektorp 2-seater sofa

We try again two weeks later. It begins exactly the same way, with Mishmish heading straight for the sofa to complete her PhD in furniture construction. All I can hope for was that she might graduate to an armchair for her post-doctoral research.

The breakthrough comes on Sunday around 2 a.m. This, I can only assume, is the moment she realises she isn’t going to be mauled by a lion, and the ceiling won’t cave in if she emerges from her shelter.

Her eyes are wide. There are loads of new crannies to investigate and new places to play.

nooks and crannies

“Cupboards! Wow! This one must be mine.”

cupboard

“Ooh, windows!”

window on the world

“And what’s this? Instead of wooden flooring there are carpets! That means the whole house is a scratching pole. “

carpets on the stairs

We’re kind of sleepy but this cat, having conserved her energies, is ready for action.

Pets depend on us, but they’re not children. Still, I get a warm glow now I see Mishmish likes it here. And it thrills me that she’s now eating and drinking.

Over the next few hours she uses both trays, sending the cat litter flying. I’m grinning from ear to ear with pride. Was I this delighted when my kids first used their potties and upturned them over each other? I’m really not sure, because my eyelids are drooping and I’m done in. Must repair to the sofa for a rest.

On top of it, not underneath.

IKEA Ektorp sofa again