Cutting down a Christmas tree

In the 14 years that I’ve owned the place, I’ve never spent Christmas day at the barn before; I’ve abandoned my nearest and dearest at the crack of dawn on Boxing Day and driven the 500 or so miles ‘up the road’; I’ve even had a couple of norman-no-mates New Year’s Eves up there too, putting up plasterboard while everyone else is letting off the party poppers and guzzling the champagne.

But never Christmas Day. So this year is a first. And it will be a first in a couple of ways:

  1. I’m going to have to cook a Christmas dinner on the Aga
  2. I’m going to have to put some Christmas decorations up

Well for the first point, at least now I’ve got my nice shiny new fridge freezer installed, so I’ve been able to do the necessary Christmas food shop and make sure I’ve got a turkey in. And I’ve got good old Mary B’s Christmas bible for how to cook it on the Aga. So what could possible go wrong? (And let’s face it, if all else fails, at least there’s plenty of ice on demand for the G&T!)

So that just leaves the decorations – starting with a Christmas tree.

Somewhere in the 196 boxes that were brought back on a shipment from India, there is an artificial tree. But a) I’m not entirely sure where it is now, and b) with my nice big high ceilings I want something a bit more impressive.

Well that shouldn’t be a problem. About half an acre of my land is covered in Christmas trees. Nothing simpler – all I need is an axe…. How hard can that be?

Well in the 14 years I’ve owned the place, I have to confess I’ve never been in to my forest. But there’s bound to be a tree in there somewhere that would look a whole lot better for a bit of tinsel and a few fairy lights.

So I’d tentatively picked out a couple of trees I could see from inside the house, put my wellies on, and gone out to explore. Hmmm…

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The first one I’d identified:

It looked like it might do , until I got up close – it was actually about 25ft tall. Clearly my whole spatial awareness thing doesn’t work on fir trees – from inside the house, to me it had only looked about 10ft tall.

I know I’ve got high ceilings, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to work.

 

So I explored a couple more options: These ones don’t look quite so tall.

But I thought there were three trees here; in fact there were only two – both about 10ft wide – I might get it in the doors, but I could see it doing a bit of damage to the piano if I tried dragging it through the music room, so that’s not going to work either…

In the whole half acre, they were all either too tall, too wide or looked too bedraggled to survive being cut down and dragged indoors for a couple of weeks.

So I’ll have to fall back on the artificial one. I eventually hunted it down in the cupboard under the stairs in the library, fortunately together with a large box of tinsels.

At 6’6″ it’s a respectable height in the average house. It just looks a little bit lost in a room where the ceilings are 5 metres high!

Well that’s it. Decorating the tree is the last bit of DIY for this year – time to hang up the hard hat for the festive period.

Here’s hoping you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you all in 2016!

Ice on demand…

It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, which means most normal people will be madly dashing about buying presents, decorating the tree  or writing out Christmas cards to all those people they haven’t heard from since last year.

Me? I’m plumbing a fridge.

The downside of having bought one of those fancy all-singing, all-dancing things is that I needed to get a supply of water to it – ideally before Christmas so I can actually use it for that excess of food and (more importantly) drink that is the custom at this time of year.

I had at least done a little bit of forward planning on this one. A fridge that dispenses ice on demand for the G&T was always fairly high on my list of wants in the kitchen, so when the main water supply was being run through the house, I’d asked for a pipe to be put into the corner of the kitchen.

Quite why anybody thought a water supply should stick out of the wall 8ft above floor level is beyond me, but I’ve given up trying to figure the thinking behind Mr Incompetent Builder’s actions. At least he put a water connection in – when I eventually have the kitchen fitted, I’ll have to hide all the pipework behind cupboards or something.

But before you can plumb a fridge in, you have to get it out of the box. The lovely chaps who’d delivered it had brought in a great big box, put it neatly in its chosen location and then left.

Tearing off all the cardboard was like Christmas come early. But when we had cleared all that away, we were left with the fridge sitting on a polystyrene base, and no obvious way to get it onto the floor.

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I call this picture ‘The art of procrastination.’ We had looked at it, we had endlessly discussed it, we had gone away and had another cup of tea….

We came up with a cunning plan. Dad and I would tilt the fridge and hold it, while Mum cut half the polystyrene out from under it. Then we would tilt it in the other direction and take the rest out. Simple!

Our endless discussions had been about the fact that it weighed 138kg, so how could we safely hold it, while the base was removed? Flattening Mum under 138kg of fridge if we dropped it was not really an option.

Apparently we were taught the same things at Physics lessons. We decided the law of the lever theory would work – there is a point when an object is tilted where it is equally balanced on its fulcrum so no effort is required to hold the weight. Well that’s the theory…..

So after another cup of tea, when we could procrastinate no more, we put our theory to the test. And it worked. Or at least it did to begin with. We got the fridge tilted to a point where it required very little effort to hold it. Unfortunately my Dad & I are unevenly matched – I was applying more pressure holding it my side, which meant I started to pull it towards me. Which meant it was out of kilter. And the perfect balance/fulcrum was lost. At which point it became very heavy, very quickly…

I think I yelled quite loudly at this point. Fortunately we did still have enough grip between us to lower it rather than just drop it, and Mum did have time to get out of the way.

Time for another cup of tea. And another lengthy debate about whether we should try again. I was still a bit too shaky from having nearly squashed my mum under a fridge to want to try it again in a hurry.

Time to call in the cavalry. I went and knocked on my neighbour’s door. With an extra pair of strong hands supporting the weight from the other side there was no danger of dropping it. Five minutes later and the polystyrene base had disappeared.

In future, any company offering to unpack the goods when they deliver have got my vote.

Anyway, it was eventually unpacked and in its place. That was last weekend. So all I had to do this week is plumb it in….

IMG_1136The instructions weren’t exactly easy to follow, being of the ancient egyptian hieroglyphic type – no words, just random, seemingly unconnected pictures.

I eventually figured out what I needed, but having rummaged through my bag of leftover fittings from all my previous plumbing jobs, it was evident that a trip to B&Q was unavoidable.

I felt a bit out of place at the checkout. In amongst the trolleys full of Christmas trees, light-up reindeer and singing snowmen, there I am with 2 lengths of PEX pipe, a bag of pipe inserts and a couple of connecting joints….Bah humbug!

To be honest, it wasn’t really that difficult to put together. A few bits of pipe, a couple of connectors. Pushfit makes it fairly simple. The trick I’ve learnt (from previous disasters) is making sure you’ve really rammed the pipes into the fittings.

But the phobia I’ve invented – the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water – still kicks in every time I have to turn a water supply on to test a new connection.

I opened up the valve and waited for the water explosion. There was a sound of rushing water as the pipes filled, and the fridge started gurgling madly as it came to life. But all my joints stayed connected and nothing was leaking. Woohoo! I have a working fridge. And half hour later I had ice on demand!

Well there’s a risk there may be no turkey on the table, and unless I get my skates on nobody in my family is getting a christmas present from me, but at least anybody who visits over the festive period will always have ice in their G&T. It’s called getting your priorities sorted….

There is only one shiny side….

After the trauma of last week, abandoning the house to avoid getting snowed in, I was looking forward to a much easier couple of days this weekend.

Hah! The Forth Road Bridge has been declared unfit for use until the New Year (though I don’t recall anyone saying which New Year that might be…) And instead of snow, this week’s extreme weather was rain, rain and more rain.

The bridge closure added about 40 miles to my journey. Trying to find alternative routes for roads that were closed because of flooding added another 20 or so miles. I got home at 1.30am. So I wan’t really in a very DIY frame of mind when I got up on Saturday.

But at least the flooring was all ready to finish. The self-levelling compound had done its stuff, the corner of the kitchen was now nice and flat. So I’m good to go.

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I’ll be honest, I thought this would take me a couple of hours – max. I mean if the underlay is all down and all I’ve got to do is line up a few planks of wood, how hard can that be?

Well to start with I’d forgotten that there would be a bit of cutting to do. The floorboards around the Aga needed to be trimmed to fit, as did the edges into the doors. Now I think I’ve mentioned before that I hate sawing wood. It takes forever, and I can never seem to saw in a straight line. Not to mention that the last time I picked up a saw I managed to cut the edge of my thumb off.

But for long straight cuts on planks of wood, I do actually own a table saw. Well sort of. It’s a combination mitre and table saw. Given the amount of wood I’ve got through in building this place, it’s been one of my better power tool investments.

But I usually only use it as a mitre saw because the table saw doesn’t really work. I think it must have come off the production line at 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. I can just about get the blade locked into position but it pulls the ‘table’ into an angle of about 45 degrees. Probably not that safe for trying to feed a plank of wood through. So I’ve tended not to use it much.

However, given the amount of sawing I was now faced with, I decided to get creative. There had to be a way to get the thing working; I just needed something to hold the table flat while I was cutting. I tried using a concrete block to weigh it down, but it just got in the way. And then I found the answer.

It’s what ratchet straps were invented for….

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way ……..

Admittedly it still wasn’t 100% flat, but with a certain amount of judicious handling it was usable. Which saved a whole heap of time on all the wood that needed cutting to size.

So with that problem sorted I could crack on and get the floor down.

It started off so well. Until the I reached a point where new strips of underlay had been put down.

I think I mentioned last week that in order to get started with this stuff you need to peel a portion of it back and put a bit of film over it so you can line up your floorboards before you stick it all into place. Simple….

It’s always a good idea to read the instructions that come with anything like this – no matter how straightforward it looks. In this case, the instructions pointed out that “you have to use the shiny side of the film.”

Really?? What shiny side? It is a totally transparent film that looks exactly the same on both sides. Apparently not. One side, when laid on to the black sticky back of your underlay, will peel off nice and smoothly. The other side, when laid on to the black sticky back of your underlay, will stick to it like you used superglue.

When I tried to peel it back, it would not budge. When I tried yanking it out with a bit of brute force, it lifted the floorboards out of place and pulled the underlay into a sticky black wodge of foam. It is fair to say that I swore a bit at this point. I ended up having to cut the wodges of underlay away, and trying to scrape the remaining lumps of foam off the underneath of the wood with a screwdriver. Not my idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

By pure good luck, most of the time I had used ‘the shiny side’. But I was still left with a couple of places where I needed to remedy the fact that I’d ripped the underlay out from under the floorboards I’d already laid. And I couldn’t just take out the couple of planks affected, because the ones all around it were already stuck down.

I tried lifting the whole floor and sliding a fresh piece of underlay underneath. I ended up with it stuck to me, the concrete floor, the scissors, the wrong side of the wood floor – basically anything within about a 3ft radius.

So I tried again, but this time without peeling off the film that protects the sticky stuff on the underlay. Which means there are places where the floor isn’t stuck down at all. But it’s only a couple of small(ish) patches. Who will ever know…..

 

Couple of hours. Right. I actually finished at 1 in the morning!

But at least that’s it – the last floor has been laid.

(Well apart from the half a tile that I need to finish the floor at the bottom of the stairs, and the half dozen slates I need for the cupboard under the stairs, and whatever I decide to put down in the new conservatory. But I think I’ll leave all those till the New Year. I wonder whether I’ll get them done before the Forth Bridge is reopened….? )