It’s not a good thing to avoid writing a blog post just because one finds it difficult to write something positive, finds it difficult to share the dwindling enthusiasm, hard to invent some exciting news to announce…. But I haven’t written till now, exactly because ‘all of the above’. Start 2022 and we’re stuck somewhere, gosh and it’s so hard to get unstuck!
There is so much I can write about chickens, bees and cats. Even my hops didn’t provide an excuse as they couldn’t be used, lately, as the brewery is out of order until the renovation work is completed.
So here I am breaking a new record of not writing a blog post. Even WordPress has stopped trying to remind me or encourage me to come back.
In our teaching arena we are still suffering from a long crunch: it has been a very long period that we can’t reopen group activities. Be it the endless covid restrictions, our students’ fears to come to group lessons, everybody’s tiredness from on-line meetings (I can’t blame my students, who don’t absolutely need it, for not being eager to join an online lesson after a long day of working or studying ‘remotely’. After all, we do market ourselves as a place to learn while relaxing). Lastly, due to our endless and just-got-very-stuck renovation work. Apart from not getting much income, we truly miss our work!
Our most missed groups are Tea and Talk and seeing kids laughing, singing and dancing with their parents.
However, we are lucky to have a bunch of devoted, loyal and encouraging individual students that come to visit us at our building site and sit in the cold and messy teaching room or spend the time on the computer. Honestly, they give us lots of pleasure and , on the positive, thay managed to reconnect us with individual teaching (we used to discourage our students from individual lessons so that they can communicate with peers and practice in groups… but now we found the advantages on knowing our students better in one-on-one lessons).
The ‘Eco-bonus’ / 110 renovation saga
The renovation project I’ve only mentioned briefly in a few of our previous posts was supposed to have been completed in November 2021. I guess I was right not to write much about our plans as it all seemed too good to be true: a government initiative to encourage households to upgrade their energy efficiency class by paying back 110% of the funds to homeowners (yes, we read the fine details and it ends to be more like a 90% refund and a big boost to the banks, but still, it’s very generous) who embark on a renovation project for installing external insulation, double glazed windows and that can include other improvements such as an upgraded heating system and/or solar panels. We’ve included in the renovation project also anti-seismic ‘chains’ but kept interventions to the minimum so not much inner building is required.
Honestly, our old stable needs it! We can barely keep the bedrooms in winter to above 16C, and that’s the only two rooms we have a stove to heat with, the rest is sometimes below 5C.. (like a big fridge). We have big losses of heat from the old windows that are basically a wooden frame and a single pane of thin glass. Any intervention that can improve this situation is a very big plus. Our teaching room is cold and tiny. In the winter it prevents us from hosting bigger groups at a reasonable comfort.
So in short we were all in for the risk of starting a renovation project with four children around and the saga begins…
As we are very eco oriented we wanted to choose a company that will provide us with bio materials: hemp for insulation and sustainable clay materials for the external plastering. We contacted a big firm that had good reviews on their materials and recommended by many who work in the sector (I’ll expose their name if we have to take them to court) . Since there is a lot of paperwork involved in applying for the governmental refund initiative, we wanted to get them to cover most of the work (including the anti-seismic chains and preparation for window installation). It took us months to prepare the project with all the requirements from the governmental agencies, where nobody is really sure of what is needed. However, it took us even longer to negotiate a contract with the owner of the building firm which would provide the materials and workforce to do the work. At a certain point, we nearly thought of ditching the idea until we finally signed at the end of August. Soon after, the firm provided us with a builder who came rushing to put up the scaffolding before the actual project papers were submitted to the council (which caused an unpleasant fight between the coordinator of the project and the builders and his boss – the firm with whom we just signed). Then came palette loads of insulation material and our garden is like you see in the photo from early September. Our gas pipe gets disconnected so they can insulate the external walls… “no worries, you’ll have it all back and running end of November!”. Two weeks of work and the builders already put up 16 cm thick insulation blocks all around the ground floor, they rip out the back door, we block the exit with tables during the night and try not to leave the house un attended. The coordinator comes, gets upset with the builders not following proper health and safety protocols, writes an e-mail, gets angry on the phone with the firm’s boss and from there things seem to escalate and get even worse. Meanwhile, I have to somehow put the door back on my own… not easy but ,miraculously , I managed to find a solution. For now we can leave the house in a very twisted way: crawling and squeezing between scaffolding posts.
The saga continues when the window sills that the building company has ordered are all the wrong size and the builder cannot install them together with the window frames for the window installation company (who’s doing all they can to bring us new double glazed windows for Christmas) We say: “Hey, no problem we’ll stiff upper lip from end of November to after Christmas without windows…”
Then no one from the building company comes at all…. and we don’t know why. Luckily, the other companies involved are all super efficient: we get the new heater (but can’t connect it before the external insulation is completed), we get the solar panel frames on the roof and a new electric box, all ready to be hooked up as soon as the scaffolding is adjusted to align with safety regulations… even the window company phones to say: “Hey guys we can come and install your windows before Christmas…. as long as you have the window frames installed by the builders.. how’s it going, btw?”
We call the firm’s engineer but there is no apparent reason for the delays… “yeah, no worries, we are working on it, all fine”. While others suffer from delays due to backlog of material orders, we have everything in our garden-come-building-site. No one cares to tell us what’s going on. What’s the delay for? We just get angry replies (as if we did something wrong) and complaints that our coordinator is asking too much about health and safety, “oh, and maybe the anti-seismic chains will cost you 6 times more than stated in the contract… it’s all your fault! you got us the wrong measurements and you should pay for the scaffolding for all the time we haven’t worked”.
Christmas comes, New year and still nothing to get us unstuck. Rain comes and the eco-friendly hemp panels get all soaked and start to rot. Wind blows and pockets of water in the packaging causes some of the palettes to tip over. We ask for help getting the materials to a safer condition, for some covers, no answers.
The best we get is: “It’s your fault for not wanting to pay the extra for the chains” but they’ve never even asked us to pay anything or ever given a quote for the ‘new’ chains. I try myself, with my half cooked Italian, to speak to the director of the company, get him to soften a bit and give me reasonable arguments for why things are stuck… mainly how do we get it going? Nothing doing, I get a string of verbal attacks and complete irrational arguments that I can’t even reply to.
At the end, Elena called a lawyer, and we started negotiating on legal terms. threatening to withdraw from the agreement since their part is not being fulfilled. At least we have things on paper… for any future litigation. I must say that, it seems like muscles might work because we finally got a few replies. At the same time, we decided to take the situation more in our own hands and opened the palettes of material on our own. We tried to dry as much of it as we can in the sunny spells that the end of January sometimes offers. We’ve worked for a few days in a row, Elena with the baby on her back, at times. Children helping with everything else. The saga continues but at least we have the hope of getting over it, either by finding an agreement or by ditching the company and asking for compensation. We desperately need this project over and done with. We want to get unstuck!
I can’t possibly finish a post with sounding so depressed. I know we’ll look at this period later on and laugh. As usual, these episodes create more friendships, more family stories to tell at dinner parties. We fight together and bond.. or collapse. So far so good. As I write these lines, a new Spring wind is blowing and something seems to be moving. Work opportunities are looking like opening up… (I’ll definitely post about this soon), our lawyer seems to have done a good job as we started getting phone calls from a window sill provider, saying that he got an ok to continue from the ‘big boss’… but really!? I have to see this happening before I start celebrating.
Finally, we just planted three trees: An apricot, an apple and an almond tree that already has its first buds nearly opening.
We’ll get unstuck! and I hope writing more often.