Why is the quiet life in Britain reserved for the rich? | Mary Dejevsky

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Celebrity complaints about building disruption hog the headlines. But with regulations not fit for purpose, the rest of us have to suffer in silence

Critics of the royals have found another stick to beat the Cambridges with. Residents of their select corner of London are reportedly up in arms over plans for a double-storey extension beneath the Orangery at Kensington Palace, citing the noise, the pollution and the general inappropriateness of the whole idea. Defenders of the scheme insist that it is about making more space for the duke and duchess’s charity staff, and improving facilities for visitors.

High-profile planning disputes, especially about so-called mega-basements in the capital – because that is where the payback from additional space is greatest – have become a feature of the city landscape.

There are supposed to be air quality and noise controls, but they are lax compared with most European standards

Related: Council planners like me could solve the housing crisis - if ministers let us

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The Complete Thumbtack Bathroom Remodel Guide

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We surveyed nearly 500 pros on Thumbtack — including contractors, plumbers, electricians, tile installation specialists, and handyman — to tell you how much bathroom remodels cost, what the hidden costs are, how long they take and what brands to buy. It’s your complete one-stop guide to a successful bathroom remodel.

Personal debt: how you can shred your borrowing this year

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Left with a financial hangover after the festive period? Here’s how to cut your credit card payments, overdrafts and loans

Friday was Twelfth Night (unless you subscribe to the idea it’s on 6 January), when we traditionally take down Christmas decorations. But while the baubles and lights may be back in the box, for many people their festive (over)spending will continue to cast a long shadow over their household finances for weeks, or even months, to come.

An estimated 7.9 million people are expecting to fall behind with their finances this month as a result of Christmas costs, according to research published this week by National Debtline, run by the Money Advice Trust.

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Mortgages available for nuclear fallout shelters - archive, 28 April 1980

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28 April 1980: Building societies are happy to lend money for the building of fallout shelters as they have had a spectacular revival this year

Building Societies are trying to ensure that some of their customers will be left come the nuclear day of reckoning.

The majority of major societies, it seems, are quite happy to lend money for the building of fallout shelters. Such buildings have had a spectacular revival this year.

Related: If nuclear war broke out where's the safest place on Earth?

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The daily grind could do us a power of good | Brief letters

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Chores and bones | Sallie Thornberry | Mating signals | Doorstep scams

Following this research (Pounding grain gave Neolithic women bones to beat athletes, it would be interesting to study the difference, if any, between the bones of women before, say, the 1970s and today. Before most households possessed automatic washing machines, washing clothes, scrubbing floors etc must have contributed to healthier bones; even if, before rubber gloves, knuckles, hands and knees became sore.
Catherine Roome
Staplehurst, Kent

• Emily Thornberry’s mother, Sallie, was a Labour councillor in this mainly Conservative town and later mayor (Enter stage left, Weekend, 25 November) . She was also a highly respected English teacher in a local comprehensive.  Those who witnessed her delivery of The Green Eye of the Yellow God in a school music hall performance will not forget her sense of humour and lovely voice.
Sylvia Jones
Guildford, Surrey

Related: I thought being a homeowner would solve all my woes – but it’s a bigger pain than renting | Stuart Heritage

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Goodbye things, hello minimalism: can living with less make you happier?

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Fumio Sasaki owns a roll-up mattress, three shirts and four pairs of socks. After deciding to scorn possessions, he began feeling happier. He explains why

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m 35 years old, male, single, never been married. I work as an editor at a publishing company. I recently moved from the Nakameguro neighbourhood in Tokyo, where I lived for a decade, to a neighbourhood called Fudomae in a different part of town. The rent is cheaper, but the move pretty much wiped out my savings.

Some of you may think that I’m a loser: an unmarried adult with not much money. The old me would have been way too embarrassed to admit all this. I was filled with useless pride. But I honestly don’t care about things like that any more. The reason is very simple: I’m perfectly happy just as I am.

Related: Three shirts, four pairs of trousers: meet Japan's 'hardcore' minimalists

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'I like uncluttered design': in Essex homes, the only way is modern

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Far from being the place that taste forgot, Essex has a radical past as the cradle of British modernism. We meet the owners of some of the county’s architectural gems

When it comes to the stereotyping of British counties, Essex beats them all, from Towie to fake tans, bleached blondes and brassiness. But Essex doesn’t need a makeover, only a bit of historical balance.

Last year, an initiative named Radical Essex sought to do just that, by retrieving the county’s progressive past. With its proximity to London and Europe, and relative lack of country estates, Essex in the early 20th century was fertile, affordable ground for grand plans, pioneering lifestyle experiments and, above all, modern architecture. Modernism had a difficult time crossing the Channel, but this is where it made the greatest inroads.

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The Best Places in America for Veteran Small Business Owners

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Top 5 Cities for Veterans
In celebration of Veteran’s Day, we here at Thumbtack would like to applaud the 2.5 million veterans that own their own small business. Today, more than one-in-four veterans in the workforce are running their own business, a rate that is 7.7 percentage points greater than the national average.

New house DIY: are you ready for a fixer-upper?

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Properties in need of renovation can be an affordable choice, but quite how much will be based on your current skills and budget. What can you do yourself, and what should you leave to the pros?

As first-time buyers, PR manager Robyn Morrison and her fiance had a choice to make. Should they find a one-bedroom flat they could move straight into but would outgrow quickly, or a bigger house that needed a lot of work? The latter was a daunting project for the DIY novices and, watching water pour through the kitchen ceiling a few months later, Morrison admits wondering if they’d made the right choice.

“Living in rented accommodation, we’d never even put up a picture on a wall,” she says. “The closest we’d got [to DIY] was putting together Ikea furniture, and even that was hard work. I went into [the project] slightly with rose-tinted glasses, thinking all [the house] needed was a lick of paint and a new carpet. Actually there was quite a bit more.”

Related: Going up or digging deep, how to finance a home extension

There is still an appetite for DIY among homeowners, some of which has been caused by cowboy builders

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I was not prepared for home ownership. Or country living | Brigid Delany's diary

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In almost all matters to do with my first home in the country, I am shockingly ignorant. What are rates? What is that creature? The fence will cost how much?

It’s been more than 12 months now since I’ve moved from an apartment in Sydney to a cottage in the country on a largish piece of land. I am often not there because I am frightened of where I live. And I am frightened because I do not properly understand it.

Sydney I understand. You read the sea a certain way and know not to swim in the difficult currents, or the traffic lights where it’s OK to jaywalk or the bus stop where the least people will get on. Urban jungle stuff. But urban stuff doesn’t mean much in the country and the knowledge required to live in the country does not come with the land title.

Related: How much? Sydney auction showcases soaring property prices

Related: I tried moving to the country. Now I spend the savings travelling to Sydney | Brigid Delaney's diary

Related: Your home town is a safe harbour. You don't want it to change like you do | Brigid Delaney's diary

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Can we get planning permission before we purchase a house?

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We like a place, but only if we can get an extension. How do we proceed?

Q Please could you give us some advice about purchasing a property on which we would like to do an extension – but which we wouldn’t want to buy if we cannot get planning permission. There has been no survey as yet. How does the process work? SB

A In theory, once your offer is accepted you can make the purchase dependant on getting planning permission before you exchange contracts. However, the extra time this adds to the transaction, as well as the inconvenience of architect visits for the sellers, may mean that in practice they won’t sign up to such an agreement, especially if they have found somewhere to buy themselves and are keen to move quickly.

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Love shack: how a disused garage became a vital family space

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Why use your garage to park a car when it can be a workshop, kids’ hangout space and hobby room all in one?

A few years ago, Ina Porras faced a dilemma: with a growing brood, her beloved Georgian bungalow outside Edinburgh was feeling squeezed. But the family didn’t want to leave. Porras and her husband, James Mayers, had moved to the seaside suburb of Portobello from London in 2002, with their four-month-old son Finlay. “We love the sea, beaches, and its proximity to Edinburgh,” she says. “It’s such a vibrant community.”

So the couple – plus Finlay, now 14, Carmen, 12, and Pedro, nine – decided to convert the crumbling stone garage at the bottom of their garden instead. The walls, which in the early 1800s housed horses for the then owner’s carriage, were rubble and the roof was collapsing.

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