Loft

It’s been an awfully long time since I last posted, and for that I apologise. I went through a nasty bout of tonsilitis which took me completely out of commission for a few days. Also it’s been incredibly busy at work – this is our busiest time of year, and it’s our busiest year ever – so I’ve been completely knackered in the evenings and therefore not had enough energy to post.

So what’s been going on? Well no monumental news in the world of expectant twindom. Ever since Ursula got over the worst of the sickness a few weeks back, it’s been pretty much life as normal, much as we knew it would be during the second trimester. She still gets the occasional bout of nausea, and she gets very tired in the afternoons, but it’s nothing compared to before. And thank goodness, because there’s been plenty going on in life-in-general. We are now well and truly into Hirschkorn birthday season. My grandma was two weeks ago (OK, so she’s not a Hirschkorn, but that’s a minor technicality), then my dad, who had just about the worst birthday of his life with work so busy and both me and our warehouse manager off sick that day. Then last week was my birthday. I suppose it’s quite depressing when birthdays just aren’t exciting like they used to be. Ursula took me out for a lovely meal in the evening, and I got a good haul of presents, but otherwise it was just like any other day. And if I’m honest, 33 really isn’t significantly different to 32. 

The next birthday is Ursula’s – oh shit, is it really next week? Better get moving on the present front! Then in October we have both Max and Jacob, with my sister-in-law and nephew in between. Thank god the twins are going to be born at a totally different time of year. I don’t think we could handle any more Autumn birthdays, both from a practical and financial perspective.

So the main topic of conversation at the moment is loft conversions. One of the first thoughts to go through my mind when we found out about the twins was that our house is in no way whatsoever big enough for a family of six. We only moved here about 10 months ago, from a bigger house on a nicer street, because we were forced to because of this government’s ridiculous policy of catchment areas for schools. It’s a very long and complicated story which maybe I’ll tell another time, but the short of it is that if we wanted Jacob to go to a decent primary school, we couldn’t stay in our previous house. So now we live here, a few minutes away from a really lovely school, surrounded by hundreds of other families with young children. Despite the slight downsizing, the move was well worth it.

Jacob's new school uniform on his first day at Frith Manor
Jacob in his new school uniform

Incidentally, it was Jacob’s first day of school last week, on the same day as my birthday. You would expect this to be a monumental event, but it actually passed by with little fanfare, as he’d already been at the nursery of that school for the last year and a half. So he’s only moved to the classroom next door, with longer hours and a slightly different school uniform, but otherwise it’s much the same as before. It’s a relief to have him back at school as he was starting to get a bit stir crazy after 7 weeks of summer holidays. Max has also started going to nursery 5 mornings a week (up from 2 a week last term) but I think that’s all still a bit much for the poor little sausage, who’s been getting rather tired and emotional in the afternoons.

So back to the house thing. Our house is a relatively small 3-bed semi. When we found out Ursula was pregnant, the plan had been to move the boys in together and put the baby in the small box that is currently Max’s room. But having twins changes the whole thing – the room is probably not even big enough for two cots, let alone all the other stuff babies need like change tables, wardrobes, etc etc. Having only just moved in here, and with the property market the way it is, moving to a bigger house isn’t an option. So the only thing left for us to do is extend into the loft.

Ignoring of course the roughly £40,000 this would cost, it seemed like the perfect solution. There was this niggling thing in the back of our minds that an estate agent had told us when we were looking for this house, about how you have to do loft conversions before ground floor extensions in this area, and you wouldn’t be able to do it the other way round. Since a massive proportion of the houses around here have both, we had always assumed he didn’t know what he was talking about – a fair assumption for an estate agent. Our house already had the kitchen extended out the back when we bought it, so we thought we’d better check with the council, just for peace of mind. 

Whatever the polar opposite of peace of mind is, that is exactly what we had when Ursula spoke to the council. Due to some totally absurd loophole in the planning regulations, you can do the kind of loft conversion we need under what’s called “permitted development” so long as there are no other extensions on the house. Once the loft is done, you can apply for planning permission for a ground floor extension and permission will be granted. But if you do the ground floor extension under “permitted development” the council will then not grant planning permission for the loft conversion. 

PANIC!!! We went on a major rollercoaster of emotions that afternoon, believing that the only way we could get the space we needed was to sell up and move out of London and have to start the whole school thing all over again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’ll never understand where my children get their drama queen tendencies from. It certainly isn’t from their father.

But then along came my mother, who, in her usual way when things like this happen, set off on a course of meticulous and detailed research to try and figure out a practical solution to the problem that wouldn’t involve emigration.

Thanks to her research, it turns out that the regulations regarding planning permission for loft conversions are due to change on the 1st of October. In typical British government fashion, nobody actually knows exactly what the changes are, and remarkably not even anyone in the loft conversion industry knows anything about it, despite the fact that the new regulations will totally transform their businesses. In essence it seems that, as of next month, loft conversions will be allowed under “permitted development” regardless of whether you already have an extension on the house. We’re very dubious about accepting this interpretation though, as it seems hard to believe that this government would introduce a change in legislation that would actually make life easier for middle-class homeowners. But if it is the case, then we’re free to go ahead and get started on the loft in two weeks’ time. If our interpretation of the new regulations isn’t correct, then we’ll have to figure out a way to do a smaller conversion that does fall within the existing rules.

Either way, we want to get things moving as quickly as possible, as the last thing we want is a house full of builders when we’ve got two new babies. So we’ve had hundreds of loft companies round (OK, so it’s actually about five or six, but it seems like hundreds) to give us quotes, and we’ve now whittled it down to the final two. They’ve both come round for a second visit in the last couple of days, and choosing between them is going to be about as easy as a…well as something not very easy at all. The sales guys from both companies seemed like nice enough chaps, but that has bugger all bearing on who the people actually doing the job will be. I’m sure whichever one we choose, we’ll always wonder if we’d have been better off with the other one. I sense there will be tossing of coins at some point in the next few days.

Ursula commented to me this evening about how, if she hadn’t got pregnant, life would have been so simple these days. We’re both pretty settled in our careers and alright financially. We’re settled and happy in our house. The boys are at a lovely school and nursery. Life’s pretty good. But that’s all about to get completely blown out of the water. We’ll have no money, no time, no sleep, no hope! Babies – I hope you appreciate what your parents are going through for you.

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