Like many houses in Sheffield, our house is on a hill. Of all the cities I have ever been in - only San Francisco can compare with my adopted city in that respect. Last October we visited Rome with its seven "hills" but to me that seemed a pretty flat city with minor gradients - nothing like Sheffield.
In our sunny west-facing back garden we had a little patio, paved with huge Yorkshire stone slabs and a metre of block paving that I added to extend the patio ten years ago. Trouble was that because of the hill, this patio was never entirely level. When we put our picnic table on the patio, stuff would slide.
An English TV obsession is home improvement or D.I.Y.. Perhaps this is where we acquired the idea for decking over the old patio area. Two thousand pounds later and the decking is in place. We got a man who runs a little landscaping business to do the work. He had been recommended to us by one of the doctors that Shirley works with down at her health centre.
So often, tradesmen will let you down - overcharge or fail to keep their promises, leaving shoddy workmanship behind them. We're used to it. But this time we came up trumps and the job the guy has done is brilliant.
We had the vision of knocking out our old back room window, sticking in French doors and then having two levels of decking built with steps between. Mark - the landscape man - suggested a wrought iron ballustrade rather than wooden lats and so we went for that. We are so pleased we made that choice because it gives a lightness and style to the whole construction.
We have enjoyed some lovely summery weather in England recently and the benefits of our new decking have been noteworthy. The back room opens out onto an airy balcony overlooking the garden and the main decking area is completely level so that our new glass table doesn't slope any more and dinner plates don't slide.
I have manoeuvred some of the old slabs to lay a little path beneath the decking to our barbecue area and the compost bin. Perhaps the only downside of all this work - apart from shelling out a huge wodge of cash - is that you now have to bend down to access the underhouse workshop and storage area but we anticipated that and it's not really a big inconvenience.
So that's it - decking. This year's main home improvement project. I think we'll put off other major plans till 2007. It's amazing to think that in 1989 when we moved in - this house cost £60,000 - but now it's worth £220,000 - and that's another peculiarly English obsession - the "How Much Is Your House Worth" game. Perhaps we should just get on with living...