Comment: Mixed emotions as building work begins

The builder's made a speedy start to digging up the back garden.

An hour into building work and the garden had never looked so good. - Credit: Jane Howdle

We started building work this week, after well over a year of moaning about our rubbish kitchen. 

Even getting to this point has been a saga; we approached about 10 builders to come and quote, about half a dozen of whom actually responded. Of that lot only three came up with the goods.  

Turns out builders are hotter, ahem, property than ever in these pandemic days. 

The ground workers arrived at 8.30am on day one, and by the time I'd got back from the school run half an hour later they'd already dug up half the patio and left a pile of rubble on the drive for me to climb over. 

Two days in and we have a mound of earth and a portaloo on the drive and a massive hole in the back garden. 

Having never done anything more than a basic kitchen rejig before, the prospect of an actual extension is as thrilling as it is intimidating. 

We're living in, and as nearly everyone we know seems to have had something done, I've been seeking their advice on how we should manage the process without going mad. 

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My sister, who's still seething over the builder who tapped on her kitchen window and unleashed the universal "cup of tea, please" mime, says a hands-off approach is best. In fact, her motto is: "Don't make friends with your builders".

A fabulous hostess friend went the opposite way, regularly cooking rounds of burgers for her lucky builders. Another warned me to be prepared to "bleed money". 

Hence the mixed emotions! What have you taken away from your own building endeavours? I'd love to hear your top tips. 

This week's area guide is Hemel Hempstead, a town beloved by some for it's cinema and branch of Primark. Yes, these are the main reasons I visit Hemel. 

Others are regulars at the ice rink, DJ's soft play and/or Sapphire Gymnastics, but while Hemel’s amenities may exceed St Albans and Harpenden's by some margin, an element of snobbery remains. After all, can any amount of entertainment options really help Hemel match up to either of our affluent areas in the pretty or posh stakes? 

If you get the chance, it's worth paying a visit to Hemel's Old Town which is a world away from the post-war town centre most of us know best. (Its fundamentals are fine but, like our kitchen, it could do with a bit of a revamp.)