Now You Know What We Did This Summer

Whoops, I forgot to blog! Well at least that's one of the good things about not blogging for money - if you take an extended summer holiday it doesn't make any difference. A couple of nice readers contacted me asking if we've moved house (ye gods, the thought - we are never moving again) or if I'd stopped blogging altogether (well not on purpose, I'm just absent-minded) and this reminded me that an update is long overdue.

Here's what we've been doing since April this year.

I took on possibly the biggest project of my life when I joined the Love Withington Baths team with the goal of saving a much-loved 100-year old local swimming pool from closure. I'm delighted to say that after a massive amount of hard work, an immensely steep learning curve and a whole load of fun, myself and a number of other equally bonkers locals are now the exceptionally proud volunteer directors of a group that manages a heritage swimming pool and leisure centre - run by the community, for the community.

The gorgeous entrance hall - the original tiles had been hidden under a horrible 60s-style carpet!

After handling the sweat-inducing white-knuckle-inciting midnight-oil-burning transition from Manchester City Council to our community group in June this year we've gone from strength to strength. We were closed for only one week while the council moved out and we moved in with our brand new top-of-the-range gym equipment and IT systems (during which we also scrubbed, cleaned and painted along with a team of fabulous local volunteers) before we became operational and started taking on new members - who have now signed up in the hundreds. We have a full team of fantastic staff who run the Baths on a day to day basis - Facilities Manager, Duty Managers, Lifeguards, Swimming Instructors, Gym Instructors - but we retain overall strategic direction of the facility on behalf of the community.

I don't think I've ever done anything that I'm more proud of than this project. Eva recently celebrated her fifth birthday with a swimming pool party at the Baths for all her friends, and I spent the entire time wandering around beaming at people - both as a proud parent and a proud community campaigner.

What else have we been doing? Finishing the wardrobe, of course. In my last update we'd just started painting the interior white. We finished this off and hung the wallpaper at the back.

We installed the lights (which switch on automatically when we open the doors):

And the shelves and drawers:

And all the other fittings:

Finally we hung the doors.

This makes it all sound easy - it sodding well wasn't; it was an absolute nightmare of measuring and cutting and swearing and re-measuring and improvising and running back to Ikea and fitting and measuring again.

But it looks ace so it was all worth it.

Temporary door removal for re-hanging purposes

Ahhhh, my shoes, my shoes.

Now we need to decrease the width of the middle doors - which involves cutting through the fretwork, of joy - and then fit and paint the face frame.

After all that we needed a rest, so we went on holiday to Tuscany for two weeks, and stayed on a beautiful tranquil agriturismo in between Siena and San Gimignano. Bliss.

The Siena campo by night.

We have also started preparing the land outside for the builders, who were *supposed* to arrive earlier this month and are now coming in November to begin what will most likely be a four-month external build of our side and rear ground-floor extension with internal re-modelling, followed by probably around twenty years of hard labour on our part to DIY the plastering, woodwork, painting, floors, tiling and kitchen installation.

We had to dig out a monolithic tree stump that was right in the way at the side of the house. Originally this had been a huge dead tree taller than the house, which we had cut down in spectacular fashion a couple of years ago. Unwilling to hand over the best part of £1000 to a contractor to remove the remaining trunk and roots, we set upon the world's most recalcitrant tree stump with a chainsaw, reciprocating saw, axe and spade. Don't be fooled by the scale of these photos - it was a good metre across, and the slices that we cut from it during the process weighed an absolute tonne.

The Stump mocked us mercilessly for several weeks, scorning our attempts to carefully excavate around its roots, but eventually gave in after the relentless pressure of The Man Who Would Not Be Beaten By A Piece Of Wood (Andre) and his power tools.

I'm pleased to say that it has now disappeared without a trace and the soil has been raked back over it as if it had never been there...

Clinging on bitterly...

We also removed the shanty-town style pergola outside the back door, along with the shrubbery and ancient collapsing trellis. Yes, yes, why didn't we do this earlier...

From this:

To this:

And now this:

We also made sure the kids had a lovely summer, kicking things off with a party bus for Natalia's third birthday which was enjoyed by children and parents alike, with trips to the zoo and various small animal farms, plus expeditions to the countryside to paddle in streams, and to the beach to eat fish and chips and ice cream and giant Lytham St Anne's eclairs.

Now we're busy tidying, sorting, recycling and/or disposing of the entire contents of the ground floor in preparation for safely packing what remains into the cellar so it doesn't get damaged by the building works. Bring it on!

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