Doing your own survey

Posted on Updated on

If you are investing a lot of money in a house, it makes sense to engage a professional surveyor to make sure everything is in order structurally. But this will only come at a later stage in the buying process when you have put in an offer on a house. In the meantime you should take trouble to examine the condition of the houses or flats you are inspecting, to minimise the risk of the surveyor finding nasty surprises and you having to call the sale off whilst still having to pay your surveyor anyway. If you are renting, the same applies apart from the fact that you will be more concerned about whether the house will be comfortable to live in than whether it is likely to fall down at the first puff of wind. Look for the following commonsense issues as you go around (we are into checklist territory here once again):

  • Do the windows fit well, or do they rattle or have draughts coming through? Can you open them easily, to air the house? 
  • Are there any cracks in the wall big enough for you to put your finger into? If so, there may be a subsidence problem. 
  • Are there any damp patches in the upper parts of the walls? If so, there may be a problem with the roof or the guttering.
  • What state does the plumbing and wiring seem to be in, as far as you can tell? Dark sooty patches around sockets or light fittings are a giveaway that all is not well with the electrics, and funny smells indicate drainage problems.
  • Ask about whether the house has cavity wall insulation and whether there are any other energy saving measures in place.
  • You should also check older properties have what is known as a damp proof course, or a layer of waterproof membrane a couple of bricks up from the ground (you can usually see evidence of this from outside with the naked eye). If things have been built on breaching the damp proof course, or there is a lot of soil in the form of a flowerbed pressed up against the wall, then the property might have potential problems. Check whether you can smell damp, as this is also a giveaway.
  •  How recently was the boiler serviced, and is it likely to need expensive repairs in the near future? What will it cost to heat the home? If you are going to have to rely on storage heaters, you will need to cost their use particularly carefully, for example.
  • Do the neighbours seem friendly and compatible? There is no worse fate than to live underneath a party animal when you need your sleep, or next to someone wanting peace and quiet when you have three under fives.

Image: Simon Howden /


What’s on your kitchen bookshelf? Here’s mine …

Posted on Updated on

Here’s my collection of wierd and wonderful books in the kitchen. Look on Amazon for the out of print ones if you fancy tracking them down.

Ager, Stanley and St. Aubyn, Fiona (1980)

Ager’s Way to Easy Elegance (New York, Bobbs-Merrill)

Conran, Shirley ( 1975) Superwoman (London, Sidgwick and Jackson)

Holcombe, Gill (2007) How to feed your whole family a healthy, balanced diet with very little money …. and hardly any time, even if you have a tiny kitchen, only three saucepans (one with an ill-fitting lid) and no fancy gadgets – unless you count the garlic crusher: simple wholesome and nutritious recipes for family meals (Oxford, How To Books)

Hitching, Wilena (1910) Home Management Manuals, Volume II: Second Year’s Course (London, W and R Chambers)

Innes, Jocasta (1993) The Thrifty Decorator: A DIY guide to style on a shoe string (London, Conran Octopus)

Jeremy, C (2003) Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes (London, Kyle Cathie Ltd)

King, Aileen (1961) Better Home Management (London, Mills and Boon)

Luard, Elisabeth (1986) European Peasant Cookery (London, Bantam Press)

Oldknow, Jay (Ed) (1984) Toshiba Book of Microwave Cookery (Frimley, Toshiba)

Oliver, Jamie (2001) Happy Days with the Naked Chef (London, Penguin)

Smith, Delia (1977) Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes (London, Coronet)

Surety, Sarah (1997) Feng Shui for your home (London, Rider)

Tee, S (1987) Good Food Fast (London, Ebury)

Wilkes, Angela (1994) The Children’s Step-By-Step Cookbook (London, Dorling Kindersley)

Books at bedtime?

Posted on Updated on

What is your bedtime routine? In this age of obsession, there is a lot written about how to get children to sleep well, in fact there’s a whole determined industry surrounding it, but less is written about getting adults to do the same. However similar principles apply. Evenings should feel different from the earlier, busier part of the day. Lighting should be dimmer and more intimate, which has the effect of slowing down the body. Your last meal of the day should be sociable and take place in the early part of the evening, preferably around a table with the rest of the family. Ideally you should then aim to have at least an hour to yourself to unwind after putting children to bed or encouraging teenagers upstairs.  A useful inducement to children to support this is the offer of helpfully removing their pocket money if they bother you after 9pm. Failing that, demonstrating physical affection between parents is another useful weapon in your arsenal as far as older children are concerned.

As any granny will say, you will probably sleep better if you set yourself a bedtime and try to keep to that fairly consistently. At bedtime itself, avoid having the TV on in the corner and/or using the computer while you get ready, as these stimulate the brain in the wrong way for the time of day, as does texting friends or posting on websites. Instead, try to adopt little rituals such as the time-honoured warm bath, pampering skincare regimes (even if it is only using a warm flannel on your face and then dabbing a bit of own brand basic cream here and there), and light reading to make this time of the day enjoyable and relaxing. Wearing nightwear made from natural fibres can also help with developing an overall sense of wellbeing, especially if it helps you maintain the optimum body temperature for sleep. Surprisingly, supermarkets often have very impressive ranges of flattering pyjamas and nightshirts if you feel like indulging at comparatively low cost. If you’re selective, shopping for nightware in such places does not have to mean sporting a compulsory pink fluffy Snoopy motif across your bosoms every evening, like an overgrown nine year old, fatally compromising your sex life for ever. You can find glamour if you rummage a bit.

A postscript to all the sleep advice of the last couple of posts is that obviously in a real life family situation, all of these strategies won’t be possible all of the time, but the more you manage, the better your sleep quality is likely to be. And then you’ll be less grumpy and more able to face what life throws at you.

Image: Maggie Smith /

Any mountain can be conquered after a good night’s rest.