The blind contortionist plumbers game

Only 4 weeks to go…

OK, I admit it. This weekend I had a bit of a meltdown. The list of things to get done before the Invaders from the South arrive doesn’t seem be getting any shorter, but the number of available weeks to get it done in definitely is.

My plan for this weekend was perfectly simple. To get the two remaining bathrooms finished. There’s not that much needed – a little bit of tiling to finish. A bit of grouting. And plumb in the toilets. Hardly a weekend’s work, right?

I decided to start with the bath downstairs.


The bath has been sitting like that, tilted up on its side for months, because when I first tried to plumb it in, it had a leak in the waste pipe underneath. I tried a couple of times to fix it to no avail. So I left it and went on to something more exciting on the principle that if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. If after try, try again you still don’t succeed, ignore the problem and hope that the DIY fairies will somehow magically sort it out when you’re not looking. (Never works – can’t think why.)

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while will remember the saga of the bath with the plughole at one end, where my phenomenal lack of organisation resulted in the waste stack coming up through the floor in the wrong place.

The design of the bath means that even if the waste pipe had been put in the right place, it’s a bit of a tight fit. With the stack in the middle of the floor, I’d decided even a shallow waste trap wouldn’t work, so I’d custom made one by buying a flat bottomed bath waste outlet, cutting it in half and adding a bit of extra pipe so it would fit under the cross bar that supported the bath legs.

Easy peasy. Except that when I connected it up, one particular compression joint refused to play ball. No matter how tightly I screwed it, it leaked. Even with what felt like half a mile of PTFE tape wound over the thread and a bucket load of plumbers putty squidged into the joint, still it leaked.

I decided to take it all apart and start again.

Of course, none of this is made any easier when you’re having to play the blind contortionist plumbers game. Ever played that? Try joining two pipes together in a compression joint while lying on the floor on your back with your hands over your head underneath the bottom of a bath, so you can’t see what you’re doing, and trying to work out by feel whether you are turning the joint clockwise or anti-clockwise….. Trust me, it’s a whole lot of fun – not.

And it didn’t work. The pipes were still leaking.

In the end I decided to take the whole section out to see if I could get the offending joint to work, before putting it all back. Another mile of PTFE tape, and the joints tightened as much as I possibly could, I filled it with water and left it.


Hallelujah – it’s not leaking.

So I put it all back in, playing the blind contortionist plumbers game again, poured a load water down the plughole, stood back and waited, and……it leaked again.

Cue the meltdown. Tears, tantrums and toys well and truly thrown out of the pram. Along the lines of “I hate this house; I’ll never get it finished; I can’t possibly have people to stay while it’s in this state….” You get the picture.

And then I drove down to B&Q and bought another shallow bath trap. One last ditch attempt to make it work before I give up and hang a ‘Display model only, do not use’ sign on the bath when my guests arrive.

But this trap was a slightly different design to the first one. And very slightly shorter. Which meant that if I turned it to one side, there was just about room to put a 90° solvent weld joint, which could then be welded to a length of pipe to reach the waste stack in the middle of the floor. No dodgy compression joints.

In the hope that the divine God of plumbing would look favourably upon my efforts I even drew a smiley face on the pipe, before welding it all together and leaving it overnight to ‘set’.


Next morning and the moment of truth. I poured a load of water down the plughole, stood back and waited. And…… that insidious little trickle of water appeared. It was still leaking.

Not, admittedly, on the scale of the puddles of the previous day. But enough to make me want to give up, shut the bathroom door and put up an ‘Out of Order’ sign.

But instead I tilted the bath up again and looked underneath to see where the problem was. All of my welded joints seemed to be dry. As did the compression joint on to the bottom of the bath. The problem seemed to be in the cap that shuts of the access to the trap. Which, it seems, I had forgotten to tighten. Duh!

So I do have a working bath after all. The smiley face worked.


So that was my weekend. One solitary bath plumbed in. In the grand scheme of the to-do list, just a bit pathetic really.

Fortunately Mum and Dad were there to save the weekend.

While I toddled off to B&Q for my plumbing bits, Mum got on with the grouting. Which is a job I hate!


So that means that bathroom is practically finished.

And as for Dad – well I’d asked him earlier in the week if he could frame the back wall in the kitchen so we could plasterboard it. Another job I’ve been putting off for a while as I didn’t really know how to go about it.

Neither did my Dad apparently. Rumour has it there was a fair amount of procrastination, head-scratching and general unwillingness to start. Possibly even the odd bit of cursing when he discovered that the wood I’d bought would have been better used making wonky corkscrews.

I’d probably have attempted to use the wood and ended up with a slightly corkscrewed wall. But my Dad, when he does eventually get going, is a perfectionist, so he went out a bought some properly square timber. And proceeded to build a beautifully over-engineered work of art.

It looks like one of those squirrel’s intelligence tests. You know – where you stick a hazelnut in the middle of an assault course and watch to see if the squirrel can work out how to get through it.

He deserves a medal for having created the only truly straight wall in the entire building. It would almost be an act of vandalism to board over it!


Propping up the bar…

Having taken a couple of days off work to get cracking on my very long list of jobs, I arrived at the barn this week feeling decidedly under the weather and disinclined to do anything. If I’d been a bloke I’d have declared to the world that I had ‘Man flu’ and skulked off to bed for a few days to recover.

But I’m just a girl. It can’t be anything worse than just a bit of a cold, so I’m sure I’ll survive. In any case, with just 5 weeks until the Great Invasion from the South, I don’t really have time to be ill.

I’d had two goals for my long weekend:

  1. I’d ordered all the stove and flue and it was all due to be delivered while I was there, so I wanted to  get as much of the preparation for fitting the fire done as possible.
  2. Last week I’d made a start on the balustrade in the kitchen, so I wanted to get that finished so I could make a start on the ones upstairs.

But with as much energy as a anaesthetised slug, I wasn’t really in the mood for any of the bigger jobs on my list. So I probably wasn’t at my most welcoming when Laurel & Hardy showed up to drop off a woodburning stove.

To be fair to them, they were making a special effort; they’d phoned a couple of hours earlier to say they wouldn’t be able to deliver as planned because the tail-lift on their van was broken and they were having to head back to the depot.

I’d made it clear I wasn’t best impressed. I’d taken the day off specifically to take delivery, and if it didn’t turn up that day, would they be working the weekend to deliver because I wouldn’t be around the following week to sign for it, and could they make sure somebody phoned me when they got back to the depot to keep me informed…..blah blah blah.

Which was a bit mean really; it’s hardly their fault that the tail-lift was broken, and I’d completely forgotten that my parents were due to arrive later that day so in fact there would have been someone around the following week to take the delivery…. well like I said at the beginning, I’m not feeling at my brightest and best at the moment.

Anyway, my ‘obviously-not-impressed’ voice clearly got through. I got a phone call about an hour later. “Er, we think we’re outside your gate.” And sure enough there was a great big delivery van reversed up to the gate. Laurel & Hardy had decided they would make the delivery anyway, even without a functioning tail-lift on the truck. Which meant they would have to manhandle the stove off the back of the lorry without the use of the pallet truck.

At this point I started to feel slightly guilty. I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t be covered by any insurance if they put their backs out in this scenario….

They started bickering like an old married couple about the best way to lift 150kg pallet.

I offered to help, but got the distinct impression that they didn’t think girls were any good at heavy lifting. So I offered to go and knock on my neighbour’s door to see if he would help. They agreed to that happily enough. Long live sexism….

But as I was walking back down my neighbour’s drive they suddenly yelled out that it was OK, they’d managed by themselves. Hmmm. Maybe they sent me off so I didn’t actually get to see how they got it down.

150kg of stove was now sitting on the concrete slab outside my garage in the pouring rain, as Laurel & Hardy drove away, still bickering. I decided to leave it there for the night; it felt like far too much effort to attempt to move it just then.

But the next day, the task could be postponed no longer. Aided and abetted by my honorary builder parents, I went outside to discover exactly how heavy my stove was. The three of us could barely lift it. (Though it did become slightly easier when I realised I hadn’t actually cut all of the straps that were holding it on to the pallet…..Duh!)

I have an old but serviceable sack barrow, which in my head I was convinced could take a load of up to 200kg. We managed to lift the stove off the pallet. And just about managed to get it tilted on to the sack barrow. (I’ve changed my mind about the load capacity of my barrow – I don’t think the base is flat any more….!)

So we stood it back upright, left it where it was, and went indoors for a long confab on the best way to get a stove-on-a-sack-barrow over a step into the house. I found a couple of lengths of decking the could act as a ramp up into the house. But we would still have to get over the doorframe. The merits of using long bits of wood were considered, so they could act as a seesaw into the house. There was probably a cup of tea consumed. (We’re very good at procrastination…)

Eventually we could put it off no longer. Having decided that the short ramp would be sufficient, we went back out to the abandoned stove, got it tilted back on to the sack a barrow and wheeled it in. Just like that – dead easy really!

Lifting it over a foot off the ground to get it up on the hearth might prove a bit more problematic, but I think I’ll save that for another day!

As to the second job I’d hoped to get completed. Well there wasn’t that much left to do for the kitchen balustrade. A spirit level and a few hefty screws had got a couple of half newel posts fixed to the side walls. The ‘pre-grooved’ base rail screwed pretty easily into the brickwork floor. And a nifty little ziplock bolts means the grooved hand rail can be taken off again when I get round to ordering the glass.

But I really didn’t have the oomph to start upstairs. So I think I’ll just stay here, propping up the bar….


Blowing up the electrics

It came as a bit of a shock to realise that it’s only 6 weeks till the Invaders from the South arrive. Guess that puts an end to my habit of lazy long lie-ins with a cup of tea and a good book. Time to get focussed about things.

So I went online and ordered my woodburner and flue – to be delivered next week. And then I’d made a plan for this weekend. Up early and off B&Q to stock up on a load of cement board and then back to the barn to crack on with preparing for the stove installation.

But having made my mind up that I would get up and don the overalls at the crack of dawn, Mother Nature decided to intervene again. This time in the form of heavy snow falling all afternoon on Friday, such that by the time I came to drive up the road, it was practically unpassable. Trying to drive up the track in these conditions, unless you’ve got snow tyres or a 4WD, is like trying to skateboard up a ski slope – not for the fainthearted. The only way up is to turn off the skid control, put your foot down and pray. I felt like I’d got about as much control over the car as Jeremy Corbyn has over his cabinet…

I did make it up, but abandoned all thoughts of an early trip out anywhere, particularly as it continued to snow for the rest of the night.

So much for the best-laid plans!

So it was going to have to be a weekend of ‘odds & sods’ again – though let’s face it, there’s enough small jobs left at the barn to keep me occupied for a whole decade of weekends.

To start with, I decided to hang the second chandelier in the living room. I finished making it a couple of weeks ago, but never got round to putting it up. (Well like I said, attention span of a kitten in a wool shop.)

I thought this would be a 10-minute job. Turn the lights off at the fuse box; take down the old fitting; put up the new one. Simples!

Well that’s how it worked for the first one. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the lighting being on a loop . Yes, I know, DUH! But the first chandelier I put up must be at the end of the circuit – it was just one cable in and one out. And the light fitting could cope with that, so I hadn’t really given it much thought.

But it wasn’t so simple for this one – not only was it in the middle of the circuit, it was also on a two-way switch. So, 3 cables in and one out.

It was only as I went to put the new fitting up I realised its simple little 3-strip of connectors wouldn’t be enough. Well that’s no problem; I’ll just nick the connectors from the old fittings and replace the ones in the chandelier.

But before I did that, I decided I’d try reconnecting the old fitting – just to make sure I knew how it worked before attempting to lug the whole chandelier up to the top of the ladder. I hadn’t really paid much attention when I took the old fitting down, but I had a vague memory of which wire had been put where. How hard can it be?

Armed with a minuscule screwdriver and the old light fitting I hiked back up the ladder and reconnected it all up how I thought I remembered it was before.

Back down the ladder to turn the everything on at the fuse board. And the light came on. Which you might think is a good thing. Except when you can’t actually turn it off. I tried both switches but neither had any effect. Clearly I’d mucked up the wiring somewhere.

Turned it all off at fuse board and climbed back up ladder to switch the wires around. And came back down to flip the switch on the fuse board.

And it went bang.


Well that is the point of a fuse board isn’t it – to shut it all down before anything blows up. So I double-checked to make sure it was all off and went back up the ladder to rearrange the wiring. Third time lucky right? Back down ladder; switch on at the fuse board again.

Bang – again – oops.

So I did what I should have done to start with – I went into my library and found a book on electrical wiring……

Having figured out at last which wire went where, I went back up the ladder and tested my new-found theory on the old fitting. Turned it all on at the fuse board and…Silence – no loud flash and bang, and both the switches turned the light on and off. Hallelujah, it all works! So all I needed to do now was swap it all over into the chandelier. Which should have been the easy bit.

But have you ever tried fitting a dozen wires into a strip of electric connectors with one hand, using one of those piddly little screwdrivers you get out of posh christmas crackers, whilst standing on the prohibited top step of a very tall ladder, with a bulky 8kg light fitting in the other hand, in the dark wearing a headtorch. Trust me, there are better ways to spend a Saturday night.

Part of me wanted to just give up and sort it out in the morning. But the lights to the kitchen are on the same fuse switch as the living room. I couldn’t leave a live wire dangling out of the ceiling, even if it was 5 metres high and out of anybody’s reach. Which meant I’d be cooking dinner by candlelight and head torch if I didn’t get the job finished…

By the time I managed to screw all the wires into the connector, my arms were cramping and my legs were physically shaking. And the light fitting was proving tricky to screw into the ceiling bracket. Because I’d had to put a larger connector strip into the fitting to cope with all the various cables, it wasn’t an easy fit. But I couldn’t let go – the only thing joining the light to the ceiling at that point was the three wires screwed into the connector with feeble millimetre screws. That wouldn’t be anywhere near strong enough to hold the weight. So if I let go now, the whole lot would crash down and smash on the stone floor below.

Only one thing for it……

Brute force and an awful lot of swearing. I got there in the end.



Next time I’m just phoning a sparky.


Nothing like a deadline…..

This is a bit of a cheat. I’m not actually at the barn this weekend, so this blog is a bit of a Blue Peter ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’……

I’m on a mission. In just over 6 weeks the barn is being invaded. I have a houseful of guests arriving for the Easter weekend.

On the plus side my helpful contractor chappy has been up and redone some of the pointing at the front of the house and finished off the gutters around the conservatory. So water has stopped running down the walls in the conservatory and dripping through plasterboard above the window in the living room.  Always a bonus if you’ve got guests staying.

And more importantly, following the heating engineer’s last visit the heating is back up and running so the inside of the house no longer feels like you’re inside a giant fridge. (I don’t think my guests would be too impressed with that!)

The picture of a happy heat pump…


In truth, there is actually still a bit of work required. A valve that switches between the heating and hot water needs replacing, but the heating engineer didn’t have a spare when he came up. So at the moment I’m a bit dependent on an immersion switch to get the water properly hot.

The replacement valve has been ordered. But unfortunately Mr Heating Engineer can’t actually get off his island to come and fit it because of the rain/flooding/gales/snow… Living on an island is a bit of a challenge at the moment. But hey, that’s just minor detail. I’m sure the weather will let up eventually, even in Scotland – hopefully before Easter!

In the meantime there’s plenty of other things I need to ‘finish off’ before I’ll consider the house fit for a crowd of visitors.

So here’s my to-do list for the next 6 weeks:

  1. Finish the bathrooms: Two out of the four bathrooms are fully functioning, but given that one of those is effectively an ensuite between two bedrooms, and the other is up at the other end of the house in the freezing cold cottage, I really need to get the remaining two finished. And it’s not that there’s much to do. They are all plumbed in; I just need to finish the connection to the toilets. And then a bit of tiling needs to be completed.

    The only reason this hasn’t been done to date is because I’ve been avoiding it – really it’s just down to me having the attention span of a hyperactive kitten, and the fact that I really hate grouting!

  2. Getting a woodburning stove installed: Well OK, if the heating’s all working this one is probably a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential. But Mr Stovefitter and I have been exchanging plenty of emails, ideas and measurements, and whilst he did come back at one point with a concern that he didn’t really design for such complex buildings (haha – that’s my barn for you!), we seem to have settled on a workable option. Screenshot 2016-01-28 12.41.09So now it’s just a case of getting the stuff delivered and installed, within the next 6 weeks. How hard can that be?
  3. Putting up some balustrades: At the moment there is nothing to stop anybody walking through the gap in the kitchen wall (architect’s creativity at work) to the living room 10ft below:

    Or tripping over the steps out of the dressing room and falling over the edge of the gallery into the music room below….IMG_0949

    Or over the edge of the bedroom floor….

    To be honest, I need to get this one done  irrespective of guests arriving; the health and safety police at the building warrant office are unlikely to sign off a completion certificate if there’s any likelihood of people falling over these kind of edges!

  4. The kitchen: Excuse me while I fall to the floor laughing. There is no way on earth my kitchen is going to be completed by Easter.  But I do have a cooker, and a fridge/freezer (with the all important ice-maker for the G&T), so I’m not a million miles away.IMG_1120 If I can at least get a sink installed, then as far as I’m concerned, that makes it a fully functioning kitchen. Cupboards are mere detail.
  5. About a million other little jobs that I’ve been putting off forever….

Hey ho – nothing like a deadline for getting the world’s worst procrastinator to get a few things finished!!