Building Control

Now that my Dad has plumbed in the cylinder-that-means-we-can-lose-the-water-tank (which, by the way, has transformed our rather limp shower into a veritable POWERJET, happy days!) I have been getting my head around what we need to do to get our work approved by Building Control. This isn’t the same thing as getting planning permission – though it’s only now that I’m dealing with it that I have fully understood the difference. I figured it might be useful to do a quick post on this in case anyone out there is starting a project of their own in the New Year – see how good I am to you?

Basically, planning permission (in the context of a house reconfiguration) deals with the external appearance of the development and its impact on the surroundings. Building Control deals with making sure that fire safety  and environmental regulations are adhered to, both for layout and materials, and that the plans are structurally safe. I haven’t been that interested in this side of the project so far, until it dawned on me that ‘structurally safe’ actually means ‘will not fall down join the middle of Sunday Lunch’.  Oh, see, NOW I’m interested – NOTHING comes between me and my roasties!

So, the good news is I now understand the importance of Building Control – and the bad news is that this means hiring a structural engineer (for a loft conversion, this can cost anywhere between between £300-£1,000). His/her role is to look at the architectural plans in conjunction with the existing structure of the house, and to provide a detailed plan, backed up by calculations, for the builders to work from.

At this stage, the overall costs can change quite drastically as the structural engineer’s calculations will dictate how much steel is needed for your project. Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll need at least a couple of steels put in to take the load away from existing joists; you may need more depending on the details of your conversion – we do because we’ve included a large dormer.

Once your Structural Engineer has made their recommendations and you’ve cried a bit at the price of all the steel, you will need to submit the plans and calculations to your local authority for approval before you start building. This is generally a much quicker process than applying for planning permission but guess what – it also comes with a cost – for our loft we are looking at between £400-£500. Huzzah!!!! It’s the throwing money out the window game!

When you submit the plans, you have a choice between asking for a full inspection or a ‘Building Notice’. Both options cost the same but if you are in a hurry, the ‘Building Notice’ route means you will be able to start work within a couple of days, whereas the full inspection will take longer – as the name implies, this will involve a detailed check of the plans along with a visit to your property, before approval is granted.

A note of caution here – if you start work on a Building Notice, you will still have in-progress inspections of the work; if at any point the Building Control Officer is unhappy with the work from a technical/safety/structural point of view, you will have to undo what’s been done and redo it to the appropriate specifications – this can add time, costs and tears to the process. Whereas if you go for the full inspection, and then stick to the approved plans, there is no risk of having to pull out the work already done – unless, I guess, something majorly unforeseen occurs but let’s not think about that!

Because we’ve taken such a long time to get to this point so a few more weeks don’t seem to matter, and because our house has some idiosyncrasies, AND  because we absolutely CANNOT afford the risk of taking stuff apart to redo it, we have decided to go for the full inspection up front – if it is straightforward, and if the Party Wall Agreements go smoothly (more on these at a later date…) we could be looking at a January start!

More soon….

Purple Poppadom, Cardiff – Review

One of the really lovely things about this blogging lark is that sometimes, extra special treats come your way, and one such treat appeared on the horizon recently when the Millennium Hotel Group asked me to pick my favourite thing to do in Cardiff for their popular Millennium Guide.

I did think long and hard (well, for about 30 seconds) about choosing a family experience that we could enjoy with the kids, since this blog is technically mostly about them. But then the voice of reason pointed out that this might be a perfect opportunity for the Husband and I to actually spend some time together, in a date night type fashion. Get us!

It didn’t take long to choose our favourite Cardiff activity – we both love eating out (or used to, before it became a wallet busting test of logistics, patience and endurance) and we both love Indian food. There’s no shortage of excellent curry houses in Cardiff but our absolute favourite is Chef Anand George’s award winning ‘The Purple Poppadom‘, which has been reviewed in glowing terms by Jay Rayner for the Observer among others, and which also gained a spot in the 2014 Michelin Guide.

If you’re visiting Cardiff, the Purple Poppadom is right in the middle of what Jay Rayner called ‘the endearingly scuffed Canton district’.  Very handy indeed for us endearingly-scuffed type people who live in Canton,  however it’s also an easy 20 minute walk from the centre of town, and well worth the trip. And what better than a brisk walk to set you up for the feast that awaits you!

The à la carte menu is a mixture of familiar sounding dishes along with more unusual options, and seafood is strongly represented, not least in Chef Anand’s signature dish, Tiffin Seabass. I’m indecisive with food choices at the best of times, however help was at hand with the newly introduced 5 course Christmas Tasting Menu which offered a mouthwatering range of dishes, along with suggestions for the best wine to match each course – great if (like me) you’re nervous with a wine list!

Our amuse-bouche (delicious) was followed by Tiffin Cup Hake – named for being the dish that won the prestigious Tiffin Cup earlier this year. The hake was served delicately balanced on a bed of tapioca mash, surrounded by a coconut and smoked tamarind sauce, and a petite naan that literally melted in the mouth – it was a million miles from any naan I have tasted before!

A platter of tandoori chicken, curried lamb ball, pig’s tenderloin sheekh and Bombay Chat followed – this sounds an overwhelming dish but in fact the portions are the perfect size for enjoying the different tastes and textures; the dish was complemented by another petite naan, this one laced with garlic.

The penultimate dish was Varutharachia Beef, served with rice and thoran – the latter is a sort of dry curry made with cabbage, carrot and coconut. Light, crunchy and flavoursome, this offered a perfect contrast to the richness of the beef; I enjoyed it so much that I’ve even found a recipe so I can give it a go at home for my packed lunches – not that my efforts will be anywhere near as special as Chef Anand’s but hey, a girl can dream!

Though the five course menu is undoubtedly a lot more food than I’d ever usually eat in one sitting, the sensible spacing of the courses meant that we were still able to do justice to the final course – and wow, what a final course it was! Have a look at the picture at the end of the post – in case you’re wondering, that is in fact a triangle shaped bomb of chocolate ganache – flanked by a crême brulée and a piece of tandoori pineapple – oh my goodness, perfection on a plate.

At this point Chef Anand popped out to say hello – I must admit to being a little starstruck by this! I needn’t have been nervous – like the whole Purple Poppadom team, he was absolutely lovely, and was very keen to know our thoughts on the new menu, particularly whether we thought that five courses was the right amount for a meal. I was amazed to learn that due to customer demand, a seven course menu was also available – I honestly do not think I could have managed another mouthful, let alone another two courses!

An evening at The Purple Poppadom is so much more than a curry.  It’s a very special treat indeed, and one I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Cardiff. And if you live here, and you’ve not visited yet, then take it from me – you’re missing out!

 

Purple Poppadom Cardiff
Dessert!

**Disclosure – Millennium Hotels and The Purple Poppadom invited me to a meal in exchange for an honest writeup for the Millennium Guide to Cardiff**

 

Titanic Experience, Belfast – Review

Some time in the summer of 2014, my two biggest kids developed a fascination with all things Titanic. I’m not quite sure why or how this came about, but for a couple of months it was question after question – was it really the biggest ship in the world? How many people drowned? How did the rest of them survive? Why didn’t someone see the iceberg? Why were they on a ship at all – aren’t planes loads quicker? Why didn’t someone just call 999 on their mobile phone?

Even the endless Minecraft videos were ditched in  favour of searching for Titanic related footage – once they had got over the shock that nobody had a smartphone to video its final moments they consoled themselves with reconstructions – this one, from the National Geographic, was their favourite. Until of course they happened across the inevitable Minecraft reimaginings of the story – I kid you not, there’s one right here, and plenty more where that came from!

Minecraft aside, I think this is the first time that my kids have shown more than a passing interest in any historical event, and this, along with the fact that I wanted to nip my eldest’s fear of flying in the bud, led me to book a trip to visit the Titanic Experience in Belfast. (This also meant that I got to spend a couple of days with my lovely friend but that is neither here nor there – oh no, it’s all about the kids, honest!)

I didn’t know what to expect from the exhibition at all, though I did vaguely wonder if there would be enough material around the fairly short life of the Titanic to keep the kids interested for a reasonable amount of time. In fact the opposite was true – there was plenty to keep us occupied and with hindsight I’d probably plan a slightly longer visit with a lunch break in the middle.

The Titanic Experience is structured around nine galleries, charting the story of the ship from ‘Boomtown Belfast’ right through to ‘Visit and Explore the Wreck’. Though the galleries all deal with different aspects of the story,  they are structured so that you’re not really aware of passing from one to another – rather, are you are drawn along the storyline, living the experience along with all those involved.

Though the kids were initially keen to get to the bit where the Titanic actually sank (obviously the disaster bit is the most exciting!) they were soon drawn in by the clever storytelling, and the brilliant presentation. Instead of simply reading about the life of children in Belfast at the turn of the century, they got to peer into windows:

Titanic Experience

 

Instead of just hearing morse code messages they got the chance to learn to transmit the CQT signal (the precursor to the more familiar SOS distress call):

 

…and rather than simply looking at structural plans of the ship they could dance in and out and through a constantly moving projection!

Titanic Experience

 

Best of all, those clever guys at the Titanic Experience had figured out that there is nothing like including an actual RIDE  in the middle of a museum to make it as much fun as possible for kids – so the Shipyard section of the story started with a trip up to the top of the replica of the huge Arrol Gantry, before entering pods which took us up close and personal with the noise, the heat and light and the sheer size of the project to put the Titanic together.

The excitement of the ship’s first launch followed, and there was a real sense of the pride that Belfast felt when this huge monster of a liner finally hit the water – empty and naked at this stage but a massive achievement nonetheless, with the glory and excitement shared by all from the Chief Engineer to the lowliest boiler boy.

At this point of the exhibition the ship begins to take on the characteristics we know so well – the huge funnels are added, the outside is painted in its distinctive colours and of course the insides are fitted out with the opulence of the First Class Quarters and ballroom contrasting strongly with the third class facilities; the kids loved seeing the cabins all made up exactly as they would have been. No less interesting to my number loving boy was the information about what was taken on board the Titanic – 40,000 eggs; 15,000 bottles of beer (‘Daddy would have been alright, then’) and even a couple of cars destined for New York!

The kids were beginning to flag a bit at this point and with hindsight I’d have planned for a break here. However the prospect of seeing the Titanic’s disastrous end perked them up, and so we followed the chain of events right up to the heartbreaking last messages:

Titanic Experience

 

And of course the sinking itself was brought to life brilliantly with a giant on screen depiction which the kids watched over and again. Even though it’s an old story, many times retold,  it was hard not to feel a real sense of loss for the ship and all the people whose stories were so inextricably linked – passengers, crew, engineers, labourers. This I this I think is the real marker of success for the Titanic Experience – it really does bring the story to life all around you.

The final three galleries dealt with the aftermath of the sinking, the inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic and the lessons learnt which influence maritime safety training to this day. There was also a fascinating section on how the media portrayed the tragedy, with stories of reporters doorstepping victims for the juiciest tales, and where no juiciness was forthcoming, making it up – plus ça change!! I would have liked to spend more time here but the kids were eagerly pulling me towards the final section, ‘Explore the Wreck’ and once I followed them I could see why – the chance to explore the wreck in life-size detail. My photos of this bit are truly awful so here’s one I pinched from the Titanic Experience website – as you can see the lighting is set to recreate the underwater gloom surrounding the wreck, it was quite a shock to emerge blinking into the light afterwards!

Titanic Experience

 

The fact that this review is turning into one of my longest ever posts will probably give you an idea of how much there is to say about the Titanic Experience – and there’s plenty from my scribbled notes that I have left out. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth a visit, I would say unreservedly YES – even if you’re not in the midst of a Titanic obsession like my kids, it’s a brilliant way to spend a day. As an added bonus, I have it on very good authority that Father Christmas himself is spending some time there over the next couple of weeks!

If you’d like more information on the Titanic Experience, including special events and family days, check out their website – and also Discover Northern Ireland will give you plenty more ideas for things to see and do in this beautiful part of the world. If you’ve already been lucky enough to visit, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below!

**Disclosure – we were given free entry into the Titanic Experience in exchange for an honest review of our visit**