Setting up Camp

The lovely dear I bought my house in Aberdeen from, Grace, had owned it since it was built.

Which was just after the war ended.

She had raised her family here with her husband Reginald Rust Bissett!

And the locals here make fun of English names!!

They call “us” Nigel’s! Haha.

It’s quite funny really.

At least a bit more discreet and wittier than the usual comeback of “Porridge Gobblers!”

Anyway, the house was in need of some SERIOUS TLC!

The conservatory and “greenhouse” soon to be kitchen diner! Tyneside burglars would have had a field day with this place.

I first went to view the house in May 2004 after viewing a couple of other contenders in the same area earlier that day. It had only been on the market a few days.

I didn’t have any grand plan to come to this part of town. I didn’t know it at all.

But I got a good feeling driving up the street this sunny Saturday morning.

When I pulled up in my “nana blue” Nissan Micra, from the front the house looked a pretty standard average Aberdeen granite semi detached property.

And walking through the front door my expectations of entering my future dream home where I would later raise my family were low.

I can see past material things, but the heavily worn 60s purple and orange carpets didn’t inspire much me no matter how funky they looked.

Then I entered the back room and the house took on a totally different feel.

It was was full of a lifetimes worth of clutter, but homely clutter.

A bright room with an old fashioned tiled fire place and old French Doors leading into the conservatory.

And there was this frail old lady sat at a half extended drop leaf table drinking a “nice cupppa tea” from one of those little cups with flowers on and she was writing a letter.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries about the weather as us Brits often do to break the ice.

She was very well spoken then told me in a pretty forthright voice that the letter was to the Guardian newspaper about the potential closure of the local post office.

She was not happy!

And it was clear she that she wasn’t going to let this go without a fight.

The person that mattered when it comes to closing post offices was going to feel her wrath.

I loved her passion. Go Grace I thought!

Then into the conservatory and the place just opened out into this massive stunning wall of greenery and trees.

I heard it though the grapevine! How could you not fall in love with that…

It was more or less un-overlooked at the back, mainly at that time due to the massive overgrown foliage within the garden.

There was a massive Rhodedendron with a blast of colour and trees the height of the house all around the perimeter of the garden.

And at the point I fell in love with the place and saw its massive potential beyond the leaky roofs, ancient fittings and overgrown garden to become a fantastic home.

I followed up the initial Saturday viewing with a second on the Monday or Tuesday I think.

And my mind was made up.

I wanted this place to be my happy home.

And I didn’t want to lose out on it to anyone else who was new to town and looking for their own forever base.

It was close to a nice primary school, shops, library, community centre and a VIDEO SHOP! Remember those?

I could see many families in Aberdeen wanting to take this project on. Especially with a Blockbusters so close by!

Or maybe just none of them were as daft as me!

So, having lost out on a house I was interested in previously (as my offer was £500 too low) I took the unusual step of making Grace an offer before she went to a closing date.

To explain, in Scotland once there are sufficient “notes of interest” registered for the property, the seller then sets a closing date when you have to make an offer for it.

It is basically a blind bid.

You only get one chance. And the highest bidder takes it.

I knew, from chatting to her that Grace couldn’t move into her new retirement apartment around the corner until September for some reason.

So I thought I would use this bit of knowledge to my advantage and put an offer on the table with the proviso that I didn’t need to move in until September to try to secure the deal.

I thought the combination of a guaranteed pot of cash plus giving her the last summer in this great home without the stress of more viewings and people encroaching into her sanctuary which must hold so many happy memories for her would help push the deal over the line.

I didn’t want to insult her with Mickey Mouse increments over the asking price of £180k and miss out.

So went with something I thought was a fair offer straight away.

But she was a wily old campaigner and wasn’t going to let this whippersnapper steal anything from under her nose and she declined my first offer of £200k.

This was £20k over the asking price but the market was so buoyant in Aberdeen at this point as I explained in my last blog so places were going regularly for 20-30% over the asking price.

Given the amount of work required to bring it to modern standards I set £210k as my top end.

I went back with an offer of £202k and the agent said she wants £210, no less. So I matched it and the deal was stuck on the Friday afternoon!

All of this happened in under a week.

The Scottish system is so much better than in England where that would never have happened so quickly.

Anyway back to the property itself.

Reginald was the architect of the company who built lots of these long grand tree-lined streets of Aberdeen west end granite houses and his dad was the owner of the company, Bisset builders who built them.

The house was obviously hand picked by him for good reasons.

The garden. I think I’m going to need a bit more than those hand tools to tackle this beast!

The big corner plot it stands on gets the sun all day round in the kinda triangular shaped corner garden.

It is in a really quiet cut de sac so gets no passing traffic, but I guess in the mid 40s this wasn’t a huge concern!

And it is adjacent to Johnston Gardens.

The most stunning Victorian park which was donated to the council by Lady Johnson who lived in a big house which stood here before my street existed.

Anyway, the house had a SWIMMING POOL in the back garden!! HAHA! In ABERDEEN ?

A pool! Fair to say I saw it as a bonus.

Everyone thought this was hilarious and that I was a bit crazy for taking on this place which needed ripping back to bare brick really.

And some more!

But I always did love a project.

Not long after I bought the house I started a new job, as an engineer AND started a 2 year part time Masters Degree course at Aberdeen Uni!

As well as taking on this mega renovation project!!

Then it was discovered that child number 1 was enroute!

Bring it on.

An architect drew plans up to build a proper extension to replace the flat roof that was leaking like a colander and to turn the “greenhouse” into a large kitchen/diner and the bedrooms into spacious warm doubles from freezing cold damp ice blocks.

Between working full-time and studying part time I managed to rip some old stuff out and pay for an electrician to re-wire the place on Saturday mornings as that’s all he could do and all I could afford.

Trees taken down. Pool enclosure roof fell down under about 1 metre of snow that winter!

Every weeks pay was coming into one hand and going straight out of the other to the pockets of builders and builders merchants.

I got a few prices to get the renovations done but worked out that they were charging me an absolutely ridiculous mark up to project manage it. Totally disproportionate to the work involved.

So with little experience of renovations in the past apart from a little helping my old girldfriend’s dad in our place in Shields I decided to manage it myself.

I found a builder from out of town through a friend of a friend who agreed to take the job on. Again working only on Saturdays and the odd holidays.

Ali was tough wiry man of country stock and had clearly been around the block several times and I got a good gut feeling from my initial dealings with him.

We started off with some work on the original rooms in the house to modernise them, then once I had full confidence in my selected builder we tackled the main extension on the gable end side of the house.

It took longer to complete than it would have done if a single company had done it but I got far better value for money and also more involved in the process which I loved.

Plus it meant I could spread the payments out a bit!

It was only a matter of months into the main renovations work that my slush fund depleted.

So I had to get a further loan to be able to afford to finish off the works.  I always expected this to be the case

As well as the extension other works included replacing our massive deathtrap of a conservatory & swimming pool enclosure of 1950s vintage, ripping down a very unstable 8ft garden wall resembling something from Peterhead prison and completely re-landscaping the large garden.

The scaffolding was up for about a year and a half which must have really pissed the neighbours off and at one point I had 10 tonnes of large granite blocks dumped outside my driveway from Cove Quarry! And filling skips up with the dumper I hired must’ve all added up to pretty antisocial behaviour when things were going full pelt!

Thanks for being so understanding folks!

I’ve just went though my renovation notes and I filled 9 skips in total! But I was updating something 60 years old into the 20th Centrury!

So several years and about £100k later the work was complete.

The main work scopes Siberian Larch timber clad extension & replacement conservatory all complete

Somewhere in-between this story of how I set up our home the most important things to ever happen in my life made their appearances!

Sonny and Lola came along in 2005 & 2006 but I will save the joys of being a father for another time which I think is definitely deserving of a blog or ten in its own right (although I’ve been sworn to not write about them so will see how we get on with that one!).

All between this wee project I managed to pass my MSc with Distinction which I was really proud of especially since I ballsed around at Uni the first time around so did fully apply myself.

And I was woking hard at improving my Fire & Explosion Technical Safety Engineering skills at work to fund these ongoing renovations, some holidays home and away and loving my parental role with my 2 beautiful babies.

Unfortunately my relationship with Sonny and Lolas mam ended in 2012 and heralded a new period in my life which I’ll maybe tell you all about in a future blog.

So with the rain absolutely bouncing off our conservatory roof here in Aberdeen this Friday afternoon I’ll bid you farewell until the next amazing instalment!

Have a great start to your “little weekend” (you know the 2 days, before the “big” 5 day-weekend starts on Monday) and please comment or get in touch if anything I’ve written has sparked any memories or thoughts close to your life.



Aberdeen —
18 Viewfield Gardens, Aberdeen AB15 7XN, United Kingdom

South Tyneside —
44 Hartington Terrace NE33 4DE South Shields

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