Goodbye, Yellow Brick Wall

Things are hotting up. The competition is getting intense. Arthur has started to try to speak. He will burble away to himself and make various sounds for hours. He has also found the top end of his vocal range as he is screeching his little lungs out. He is reaching a pitch that is so high only dogs can hear it. Eileen, our neighbour, has a couple of Jack Russells. They think Arthur is trying to communicate with them as they go wild every time he hits a high note. He is obviously amusing himself though because his grin stretches right across his little face all the while he is doing it. His face seems to have changed in this last week too, as though his grin has started to define his facial features. He is so cute, in fact they are both so cute (even though I do say it myself) that sometimes I could just squeeze them in much the same way a child would grip so tightly to a hamster that their eyes bulge.

Of course we, Mrs Aitchworld and I, are trying to capitalise on this new found vocal skill and each of us, while we think the other isn’t looking, is coaching him to say either Daddy or Mummy, or some assimilation that sounds something like. Naturally as a result of this his first proper word will probably be Dave, or Charlie, or some other word he hears a lot.

Thinking about it, his first word will probably be bellend. The boys hear this often from me because as I push the boys around in the pushchair, whenever I encounter an idiot that thinks parking their vehicle on the pavement is a good idea, this is the first word I utter.

We have a new soft toy to add to the large collection the boys already have. Mrs Aitchworld was out somewhere today and had a go on the Tombola that was being held. She won the star prize, which was a life sized hippopotamus. We have imaginatively called him Hippo. Of course, it isn’t the size of a full grown adult hippo, that would be ridiculous, but it is at least the size of a baby pigmy hippopotamus. I’m not entirely sure how Mrs Aitchworld managed to get it home. The cats are terrified of it. Dave even hissed at it tonight when I carried him past it.

On the subject of toys, I discovered a laser pointer the other day when we cleared out a piece of furniture to take down to the local auction rooms. We have done a lot of clearing out in the last week or so. I’ve never known anyone to use a laser pointer for anything other than to entertain themselves by pointing it around their room for cats to chase the little red dot. Well I’ve found a new use for one – the boys will track that little red dot around a room for ages. The cats and the boys are starting to merge into just offspring, rather than pets and children. The boys, Arthur in particular, like nothing better than a game of Peekaboo. Just uttering the word “boo” can break Arthur out into another grin. Late at night (well, 9.30pm feels late nowadays) we sometimes find ourselves saying “boo” to Dave or Charlie. We’ve yet to hide their little catty faces with a muslin cloth, but it is only a matter of time…

We also have a new “things people say about twins” experience. If I had a pound for every time I have heard someone say “Double trouble” to me as I walk down the street or through a shop, I would have enough money to cover a month’s childcare fees, which is not insubstantial. If Mrs Aitchworld received the same remuneration, we could probably cover most of next year as she spends all day every day with them and walks many miles a week with them to various places. There are many variations on this theme, but the other day Mrs Aitchworld’s mother was out with them and attracted a live one when someone approached her and asked if the boys were twins? Naturally the reply was “yes”. The next question (and there is usually a next question) was “Are they the same age?” These are people that are allowed out unsupervised. Be afraid. At least their windows will be clean.

As if having twins wasn’t hard work enough, last week we had some major building work done to the house. Aitchworld Towers is quite a traditional Victorian house, the main part of it being built in about 1850, the kitchen (and bathroom above) being added in about 1900. There were more houses attached to it at one point, but these were demolished some time in the early 1980s, for what reason nobody knows, because they weren’t replaced with anything and only parking spaces and a turning area plus a small ornamental garden now occupy the space where these once magnificent houses stood. They would be worth a small fortune these days. Nurse Brown, the lady that lived in the end house, which is ours, refused to move. So they knocked the rest of the houses down and built a brick wall as a gable end. The result is a slightly odd shaped house, which is very deceptive as to what lies beyond the big bluff wall. The house was then converted into two flats at some point in the late 1980s, presumably when Nurse Brown died, and a small extension was built into part of the garden apportioned to the lower flat shortly after this. We converted it back into a house about 5 years ago and have been tinkering with it ever since. God (or any other deity you choose to believe in) bless Nurse Brown for her stubbornness, otherwise we would be homeless.

As soon as we erected high chairs in the kitchen it was quite clear the layout didn’t work. We had a fairly narrow kitchen and a fairly narrow dining room. When there was just the two of us, and the cats, it worked fairly well, the only complaint being that if we were having a dinner party, or family round for a meal, while we were in the kitchen cooking, we missed out on whatever conversation was going on in the dining room. As soon as the high chairs went in, we were tripping over them, stubbing our toes on them and generally hating them. We even sold the ones we had, which were admittedly quite substantial in size, for smaller Ikea ones. It made no difference and we continued to bump into them and our toes remained back and blue. So we did what any sensible people would do, and by sensible I don’t mean people who would buy even more diminutively sized furniture to make room, and we got in a man to remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room.

I’ve stated before I don’t particularly like to get men in to do things, but this wall was a foot thick and supported more wall on top of it, which is the wall to the nursery, so if that came tumbling down, the boys wouldn’t be too happy. So it made sense to get someone in who knew what they were doing and who would be able to get the correct sized RSJ in to stop the house falling down. To keep the cost down, and to let the builder get on with where his skillset lie, which is the business of building, or in this case the un-building, I offered to provide labour, shifting all the bricks out of the way and into a skip. As there were light switches and electrical sockets that required relocating, I said I would also sort out the electrics.

This isn’t as foolhardy as it may first seem, as Mr Aitchworld Senior was an electrical engineer before retiring. Admittedly his forte was designing printed circuit boards for automated machinery rather than simple wiring of a household electrical circuit, but as long as he can draw out a wiring diagram, he is happy. He loves a wiring diagram. He is however, somewhat colour-blind. It’s a bit disconcerting when he is asking me which is the red and which is the black wire as he is putting a socket together – even I know that distinction is quite important. He also has a habit of not turning the mains off at the fuse box if he thinks it is a short and simple job. There are rumours of him doing this at work too, having to be switched off at the wall when he got it wrong. I’ve only ever done this by accident when I removed a wrong fuse (I took out the lighting fuse but was working on the plug sockets), and I keep the molten screwdriver that resulted in this error as a reminder never to make this mistake again.

As I spend my working life either behind a desk or the wheel of a car, 3 days of physical labour took its toll. I didn’t think that a brick wall and a stud wall would create much waste, but it all filled a large skip and then some. And the dust it created… We knew it wasn’t going to be a clean job so we taped up doors with polythene sheets. We relocated essential kitchen items (kettle, toaster, microwave) to a safe, clean area and to get to this part of the house involved going out through the front door, round the house and in through the patio doors to one of the living rooms. We then had to move the kettle back again because apparently builders like tea. And lots of it!

Carrying the boys literally around the houses like this took as much toll on my back as the removal of the bricks. Each day we enquired of the builder whether there would be much dust caused. Each day he said it wouldn’t be too bad. I suppose what your definition of too bad is I suppose, but according to our builder it has to be more severe than not being able to see from one side of the room to the other. At the end of it all, when we took down the polythene, the brick dust had made it through it and there was a pink line of compressed brick dust all around the inside of the door frame. There was a thin layer of dust on the surfaces of the safe clean area where the essential kitchen equipment had resided.

By day three, the building work was complete and the electrics needed doing before plastering could commence, so Mr Aitchworld Snr was called into duty. My dad doesn’t like dust. It makes him sneeze a lot, he says. As soon as he turned up at the house the handkerchief was out, even before he had stepped inside. A quick bit of advice and he was off and I was left to the electrics all to myself. A glance at my trusty screwdriver ensured the mains was completely turned off this time. I’d like to report that it was a complete success. I’d like to, but when the mains went back on the lighting circuit fuse blew. My dad and his handkerchief returned and sorted it all out and off he went again. And then once it was all plastered up, all the junction boxes buried in the walls and ceilings, one of the lights refused to turn on. Fortunately it was just a lose wire in the back of one of the switches, but for a moment I really did think that I was going to have to but a hammer through fresh plasterwork to reconnect wires!

The result is a resounding success. Sort of. The floors in the two rooms aren’t at the same height and will require levelling, which will add to the number of days we are without a kitchen when we eventually get round to taking the old one out and installing a new one. I think we may have to book into a local hotel. I will make sure we get a ground floor room this time. But it does give us an idea of what the space is going to look like and how it will work for us. And neither of us have tripped over a high chair since. Despite being at home for three days though, I didn’t get to spend any of it with the boys, and on the odd occasion I did, I was covered in dust and couldn’t make their eyes bulge. And this is going to repeat when it comes to changing kitchens, which is going to take a few days at least. That aspect was tough. The best thing however, is that now the walls have come out, we were able to get the hippo through the house.

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