Refreshing the bathroom

We completely refurbished the bathroom 14 years ago and have done very little to it since then.  Not surprisingly, it’s been looking rather “tired” for a while now.  Corners and edges of the textured, white-painted wallpaper were lifting and it wasn’t even all that white any more.  The grout and sealant in the shower were even more discoloured, despite much scrubbing with bleach.

Bathroom before

Grubby walls and lifting paper

Shower before

The embarrassing shower

Last weekend I decided I couldn’t ignore this state of affairs any longer.  It had got to the point where I was embarrassed to let anyone into the bathroom, even family.  So I took down and removed everything fixed to the walls (mirrors, window blind, pictures, hooks, rails, etc) and deep-cleaned the room from top to bottom.  Then I set about sticking down all the loose edges of wallpaper by sliding glue underneath with an artist’s paintbrush and pressing the paper down with a seam roller.  I sent my dear husband off to a DIY store for a tin of kitchen and bathroom emulsion – the type that can withstand a lot of moisture and cleaning – and when he got back we started painting while the enthusiasm was still with us.

The repainted walls and ceiling

The bathroom looked an awful lot better after just this lick of paint, but the evil-looking grout still needed tackling.  I tried a diamond-encrusted disk on a vibrating tool and a Dremel-type multitool fitted with a cutting disk before concluding that the manual grout rake we’ve had for donkeys’ years was as good as anything.  It was hard work raking out all the old grout from between the tiles, and very tedious cutting out the old silicone sealant where the tiles abut the shower tray and the enclosure.  I did it in stages, an hour or so at a time, over a couple of days.

Shower after regrouting and sealing

The shower – what a change!

We’ve just finished the re-grouting and re-sealing.  The room looks like new and I am no longer too ashamed to let anyone see it. Fortunately, we have a separate bath which is so seldom used that its tiles and grout are still in pristine condition after 13 years, meaning it hasn’t been necessary to shower at friends’ houses while this is going on.

Chair covers

Chair cover 1I’ve been sewing this week as well as decorating.  I still need new chair covers for the old dining chairs we use in our bedroom for piling clothes on (as you do).  I found two remnants of John Lewis fabric in The Shuttle which are a very good match for the carpet and I’m in the process of making the covers.  They will have an inverted pleat in the “skirt” at each front leg and another long inverted pleat down the back to allow room to get the covers on and off.  I need to decide how to hold this rear pleat closed at seat level; the previous chair covers have a button on each side with cord wrapped round them and tied in a bow, but the new fabric isn’t as strong and I’m afraid the buttons will pull and distort the fabric.

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Hi-fi unit makeover

Hi-fi unit before the makeover

Before the makeover

We have a rather horrible hi-fi unit that we acquired in the 1980s.  It’s black, came as a flat-pack and is completely out of place in our cottagey sitting room.

Over the years we’ve modified it to suit different sizes of electronic equipment – a VHS recorder, record deck, CD player and amp to start with, later a DVD player, Freeview box and games console.

It does the job, but it isn’t pretty.

Well, I’ve finally done something about this 1980s monstrosity.

I rubbed it down to dull the shiny black finish, squared off a ragged opening we’d made in the hardboard back at some point to allow electrical plugs to pass through…

Rear opening before

A raggedy mess

Rear opening after


 … filled all the shelf holes meant for things we don’t use any more (like racks for LPs and cassettes), primed and undercoated the untreated blockboard edges and the underside of the top, and then gave the whole thing two coats of eggshell paint in a pale leaf green colour.

Hi-fi unit afterIt’s still an unlovely piece of furniture but it looks a thousand times better than it did. And it matches the standard lamp that I originally bought the paint for.  All done in three days, thanks to water-based primer and eggshell which dry in a few hours.

I dunno why we keep the LPs when we haven’t had a record deck in years, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to ditch them. All those memories!

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A bargain light shade

Lotus shade 2I’m in the middle of making a light shade. Needless to say, my recent trip to France and Italy has delayed that project, but I have a new shade nevertheless.  While I was researching what type of shade to make I came across the lotus design made from polypropylene and briefly considered making one of those (there’s a project on Instructables) instead of using up my stock of electrical conduit.  Until I realised that it’s cheaper to buy a kit than to buy enough polyprop sheet to make a shade from scratch, and cutting out all the little pieces accurately without a laser cutter would be very time consuming.  So I ordered one from eBay for the princely sum of £6.51.

It arrived while we were away and I lost no time in ripping open the packet.  Inside were lots of bits of polypropylene, plus the fittings for a whole light.

Lotus light componentsI thought I’d just bought a shade, but there was a pendant lampholder and even a ceiling rose.  As they were quite cheap-looking silvery metal and the flex was only 2-core (ie no earth wire), I ditched them and just made up the shade part.

The first problem was there were no instructions in the package.  I found some on the internet and was pleased to discover by examining the kit that the shade would work equally well either way up.  All the supplier’s eBay photos show it with the lotus petals pointing upwards, which looks pretty but frankly the thing is going to be enough of a dust trap without that.

The next issue was that the rectangular piece which is rolled into a cylinder to form the centre of the shade had developed a bend from being folded to fit into the packet, something that was cured by ironing it with a very cool iron between two sheets of paper.  The final preparation task was to poke out all the little slots and tabs, most of which had not been completely cut out, and rub the rough edges off the circular pieces that fit into the top and bottom of the cylinder.  Then I was ready to start assembling, a process which took me 50 minutes.  I like to think I’m fairly dexterous from decades of knitting, sewing and other crafts, so goodness knows how long it would take a ham-fisted person to make this light.

One of the reasons why it is so cheap is that it is somewhat smaller than the usual lotus shades.  It has only three rows of differently sized petals, seven per row, whereas larger ones typically have eight petals in 4, 5 or even 6 rows.  The large shades would look wonderfully dramatic at the top of a staircase or in some other tall space, but perhaps a little over the top for our newly redecorated bedroom.  I’m happy with it the size it is, fortunately, and delighted with how it has turned out.  It looks great at night and the semi opaque polyprop does a good job of diffusing the light.

Lotus shade 3It’s a reasonable facsimile of the sort of high-end lights that come from Scandinavian designers and are found in hipster bars, hotels and restaurants.  And I like the fact that it’s 100% plastic, which means I can take it down and give it a wash under the tap when it gets dusty.  You wouldn’t want to put anything other than a low voltage compact fluorescent or LED bulb in it though.

Now all I have to do is finish the conduit shade to go at the top of the stairs.

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Riviera cycling – the good and the bad

I’m late posting this week because we’ve just got back from a cycling trip abroad.  We chose the route on the basis of where our local airport, Leeds/Bradford, flies to, settling for Nice to Pisa along the Riviera.

View of Nice

Nice is nice

Neither of us had ever been to that part of the Mediterranean before, and we didn’t do much homework in advance, just packing the bikes and a couple of panniers apiece and setting off.  If we had researched the route properly first we’d have discovered that the coastal road is both hilly and heavily trafficked, while roads a short way inland (where they exist) are so steep as to be uncyclable unless you are twenty-something, on a lightweight road bike, luggage free and with a propensity for lycra – none of which applies to my dear husband and myself.

View of the mouth of a bike tunnel

A few tunnels were cyclist-only, thankfully

We slogged up and down hills, through dark tunnels and around rocky headlands, almost always with a constant stream of traffic passing by.  In an attempt to get beyond Nice and Monaco before the road became busy we set off at 7am on the first morning, but it was already non-stop traffic.  One of the long distance Eurovelo routes is planned for this coast and will supposedly be in place by 2020, but somehow I doubt it.  There was little bike-specific provision and in many places it’s hard to see how a cycle path could possibly be fitted into the small gap between the sea and the high ground, fighting for space with the roads, rail links and harbours.

Cote d'Azur bay

It certainly is azure

Even if a route could be found, this is a region of luxury villas and expensive hotels where land prices are sky high. Along the Cote d’Azur, and especially in Monaco, the cars were Ferraris, Bentleys and (curiously) Renault Twizys, while the boats in the harbour were of the ‘gin palace’ variety.

Once we crossed into Italy, both vehicles and vessels became more workaday.

Riding into Genoa was one of the scariest experiences of my cycling life – and I’ve ridden round the Damascus ring road in the rush hour.  The roads were mainly dual carriageways with very fast moving traffic, including heavy lorries headed for the docks, and nowhere to go in an emergency.  To make things worse, we had to cycle up some elevated sections – always an issue when you are going so much slower than the traffic, especially when you need to be in an outside lane to make a turn.  We chickened out every now and again and pushed our bikes, but that didn’t feel much safer as there weren’t always footpaths running alongside the roads, nor pedestrian crossings to enable us to get where we needed to be.

It took us two hours to get from the outskirts of the city to our hotel in the old quarter, and by the time we arrived we were determined that we’d take the train or a ferry in order to get out of Genoa a couple of days later.  In fact, we soon realised we’d have to anyway, to get past the famously hilly Cinque Terre area.

Ferries in Genoa's harbour

For some reason, Genoese ferries have cartoons painted on them

But we hadn’t banked on the fact that there weren’t any suitable ferries on the day we wanted to leave, and the stopping trains don’t take bikes during the summer months because they are brim full of tourists wanting to visit the Cinque Terre honeypots.  The faster trains aren’t so full, but they don’t take bikes anyway.  A kind man in the ticket office took pity on us and sold us tickets for ourselves and our bikes on a 7am train, but he warned us that it would be up to the train guard whether or not we’d be allowed to stay on beyond the stop before the Cinque Terre.  That would have meant a 40km ride up and down steep hills in temperatures of 30°C, so we were very relieved the next morning to find there was plenty of room in the bike compartment of our train and also plenty of spare seats. A bunch of Italian cyclists who were headed up into the hills assured us that bikes were rarely thrown off this early train, and so it proved.

It was something of a shock to leave Pisa in bright sunshine at 30°C and land at Leeds-Bradford less than 3 hours later to find it overcast and 15°C.  That’s a Yorkshire summer for you.  Actually, it seems that we have missed some good weather at home, but bits of me (backs of hands, knees, insteps) are tanned to prove I’ve seen some sun too, so I don’t mind.

So what was good and what wasn’t?

The good

  • Following a school of dolphins (or possibly porpoises) along the Ligurian coast one afternoon.
  • Three low-key but interesting Roman sites: Ventimiglia, Luni and Massaciuccoli, plus the town of Albenga which retains its Roman street plan and mediaeval walls.
  • Discovering farinata (gram flour pancakes) and wines made from the Pigato grape.
  • Stumbling across Carrara (where the marble for Michelangelo’s David was quarried) and learning all about marble in the museum there.

    Carrara marble

    A Carrara marble stockist’s yard, with the quarries in the distance

  • Staying at some charming small hotels and B&Bs.

The bad

  • The heat – a cloudless sky and 30°C (86°F) day after day is not ideal for long distance cycling.
  • Busy roads and poor (or no) provision for cyclists.
  • Italian tourist information offices that are never where they were when the town map was printed, and only open at obscure, unpredictable times.
  • Glorious scenery spoiled by overdevelopment along the coast, each resort merging into the next with no gaps between them.  It was a relief to climb into the Tuscan hills to reach Pisa.

    A Tuscan hill village

  • The proliferation of expensive, private beaches along both the French and Italian Riverias, meaning that anyone who just wants a quick dip or a stroll along the beach without paying through the nose for it must put up with limited access to the sea and crowded public beaches.  And don’t get me started on the prices charged by Italian thermal spas …
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High summer in early June

It’s been hot.  That’s pretty unusual for Yorkshire in early June.  In fact, it’s pretty unusual for Yorkshire at any time.  The sunny days have been interspersed with cloudy and thundery ones, but there have been several shorts-and-T-shirts days.

One evening we were invited for a meal with friends who live on the other side of the River Wharfe.  Seeing as alcohol was involved and the weather was unbelievably hot, we decided to cycle.  That meant crossing the river on stepping stones at a place we’d never crossed before.  I was apprehensive because there has been a fair bit of rain in upper Wharfedale as well as sun, and it can take a few days for the water to find its way into the river.  I was half convinced we’d find the stepping stones under water, and carrying a bike across stepping stones is bad enough when you can see them clearly and they are nice and dry.

Bathing in the riverI needn’t have worried.  When we cycled down to the crossing point we found a benign river and wide, level stepping stones several inches above water level.  They were even wide enough for people to pass each other, which was just as well as I was rather slow with my bike balanced on my shoulder.  There were dozens of people swimming, picnicking, barbecuing, sunbathing, messing about in blow-up boats and frolicking in the water.  I have never seen anything like it in this country at 7 o’clock on a June evening.  There’s a really safe pool for swimming, between a weir and the stepping stones, so protected and shallow that even small children could bathe with impunity.  The sun had been beating down all day and the water was warm, as were the rocks on the bank.  Hard to believe that this was the same river that washed away an 18th Century stone bridge at Tadcaster, just 25 miles downstream, at Christmas the year before last.  That bridge was only reopened in February after being repaired.

We sat on our friends’ south-facing terrace overlooking the valley with a glass of wine and watched the sun go down.  It was an evening I’ll remember for a long time.  It was still mild, if not exactly hot, when we cycled home in the small hours of the morning.  If the weather were always like this, I’d never want to go abroad.

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A free macro lens for a phone

There are lots of tutorials on the internet showing how to make a removable macro lens for a smartphone using a lens recovered from a disposable camera.  I could do with a macro lens, so when I was in Leeds a few days ago I went in search of a film processing shop from which to beg a used disposable camera.  They all seem to have shut – I guess no one prints photos any more or, if they do, they upload them to a lab and then get them delivered by post.  But then I remembered Boots and, sure enough, they still have a photographic section that can handle rolls of 35mm film.  I chatted up a member of staff and he went to have a rummage through the bin in the store room out the back.  He came back a few minutes later with two disposables from which the film had been removed for processing.  Result!

Disposable camerasFrankly, it’s a crime against the environment that single-use cameras like this are sold.  As well as the film and the plastic case they contain a battery, a flash unit with associated circuit board and electronic components, a plastic lens, viewfinder and various thumbwheels, gears and ratchets for winding on the film.  They are presumably covered by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (forgive me, but I haven’t checked the fine print of that particular piece of EU legislation, I spend too much time doing that for work to want to do it for fun as well) as well as the Batteries Directive, in which case the electronic components and the battery should be recycled, but I wonder if all the retailers that take in a handful of disposables every week for processing bother to separate them out from their general waste.

Disposable camera partsI’ve disassembled one of the cameras, being very careful not to touch the flash circuit which has a large, scary-looking capacitor that might well be capable of giving me a shock even after the battery has been removed.  The salvaged circular lens seems to function quite well as a macro lens.  I need to figure out how to attach it temporarily over the lens on the phone, but in the meantime I took snaps of the flash circuit board with my phone at the same distance away, about two inches, without (on the left) and with (on the right) the additional lens.

Without macro lens With macro lens

Not the sharpest of images, and I managed to get my finger in both shots, but the “with” photo is definitely less blurry as well as having greater magnification.

I also salvaged the two rectangular lenses that form the viewfinder and was pleased to discover that the smaller one (which was on the rear of the camera, closer to the user’s eye) makes quite an effective macro lens too.  The slight curve on it means that it sits very neatly against the phone.

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