All I want for Christmas is….. an island!

The last time I blogged about my kitchen it was just before Christmas 2015, when I was attempting to install a fridge without squashing my mother. The fridge went in, but beyond that there was an Aga and a couple of rickety old workbenches rescued from the builders. All water related activities – other than what came out of the fridge were up in the freezing cold kitchen in the cottage.

There was plenty of ice on demand for the G&T, but otherwise cooking the Christmas dinner was a bit of a challenge….

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I decided that I would aim to have a properly functioning kitchen before the next turkey roasting session came around, so we entertained ourselves one day by planning the kitchen layout with a tape measure, lots of newspaper and sellotape.

Well how else do you decide how big your island should be?

I’d got my kitchen designer lined up already. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, or so they say. So whenever Mr Incompetent Builder had really hacked me off, I’d take my plans and go for a wander around some of the posh kitchen designer shops. If your house is big enough that your plans don’t fit on anything smaller than A0 size sheet of paper, and the plans show that there are two kitchens in the house, those designer chappies get really excited.

“Would Madam like a glass of wine………?”

Well nice as some of those designs were, I really didn’t really think I could justify spending more on the kitchen than I did on the house. But I did find a decent local designer who was more or less within budget – not quite up there with the name-dropping designers where you really do need to re-mortgage the house to pay for the kitchen, but still pricey enough that I decided to to do it by instalments.

Fortunately they were happy enough to work with me on that, so towards the end of 2016 I arranged for the central island – which would house sink and dishwasher – to be installed first. The logic being that not only would that provide a nice large work surface area – perfect for turkey carving – but would also mean that we no longer needed to traipse up to the arctic kitchen in the cottage every time we needed to do some washing up.

In October I had the final get together with the designers to go through all the last minute details and we set a date for the work to start in a couple of weeks. At which point I jumped back on a plane and headed back to India, fully expecting that the next time I arrived home, I’d have a fully functioning island.

Hmmm. Well have you ever tried managing a building project from 5,000 miles away? First I got an email complaining that they’d turned up but no-one was there to let them in. Clearly my message about where to find the key under the proverbial doormat hadn’t got through to the delivery team. Next I got a panicked phone call asking where to turn the water off because they’d unclamped a pipe without checking where the water supply came from….. (Apparently my Aga got quite a good wash).

Still, I finally got an email saying they were all finished. So how excited was I walking back into my kitchen 6 weeks later?

Spot the deliberate mistake.

Yep. No taps.

I really should learn to read the small print when I get the contractors in. In my naivety I thought when you were building an island that included fitting a sink and integrating a dishwasher, installation meant plumbing it all in. So it all worked. And was ready to use.

Apparently not.

It means making sure there are the rudiments of pipework and (disconnected) cables in place before you build all the cabinets over the top of them, putting the sink in before topping it off with your nice granite work surface (complete with tap holes) and hiding the dishwasher in its appropriate cabinet. And leaving the taps in their box under the sink. Without connecting anything up.

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It was 10 days before Christmas. So once again, whilst most normal people are down at B&Q buying last minute Xmas trees, fairy lights and singing reindeer, I was in the Plumbing aisle buying U-bends and plastic pipe. Bah humbug to you too.

But hey, I’m an expert at the plastic pipe plumbing malarkey. Can do it in my sleep. So a couple of hours and we’ll have it all fully functioning. No worries. Right?

Wrong.

  1. The cabinets were custom made and beautifully fitted. And solid. And immoveable. The plinth was removable to access under the cabinets. And there was a gap left at the back of the cupboards under the sink. Theoretically there was enough room to fit all the waste and water pipes. If you had arms like an orang utan and were a contortionist to boot.
  2. Well I’ve had a bit of practice at the contortionist plumbers game. But on this occasion I’d ended my stint in India in a hospital in Chennai suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy. When I was finally allowed back on a plane to come home, I was still dosed up to the eyeballs on painkillers and struggling to breathe. Having to lay on my back with my head in the cupboard under the sink was probably not the best way to recuperate. It hurt. A lot.
  3. I did, with much swearing, pain and probably a few tears and tantrums, manage to get the waste and plastic water supply pipes all connected up. Only to discover that one of they tap levers was faulty. And since the shop was now closed until after the festive holidays, there was no way of getting a replacement in time for Christmas.
  4. And finally? A power cable for the island had been run under the floor when I’d had it screeded. But kitchen installation hadn’t included a sparky. So there was no socket for the dishwasher.

So even after all my heroic efforts (- well I was seriously on the sick list), all I had for Christmas was a decent work surface, a sink that was plumbed in and usable, but without working taps, and a dishwasher that needed a very long extension lead. Still at least we didn’t have to wash up by hand any more!

 

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I promised myself it would be working by the next Christmas……

Guttered again….

Last time I blogged about fixing the gutters was after I’d spent a wet weekend outside up a ladder in the middle of Storm Abigail, carrying out some emergency repairs to sort out the mess created by a pair of contractors known as Bodgit & Fudgit. Needs must – the water was pouring down the inside of the cottage every time it rained.

At the time I just focussed on on the emergency repairs. There were other bits of guttering needing attention, but I decided they could wait for a bit of fair weather.

Two years later and they were still waiting to be fixed….

Hey, I’ve been busy with other things. And a bit of broken gutter in the garage doesn’t really cause any issues, does it?

Well actually it does. Given enough time water will erode anything. Add the extremely low temperatures we enjoy so often up in the frozen North, and the combination becomes lethal for brickwork. Over the years the saturated brickwork has been disintegrating.

It got to the point that I started to worry about the walls collapsing, so I got my helpful contractor to come out and do a bit of repair work. But that’s only going to be a short-term solution if I don’t actually fix the source of the problem.

So on a dry, sunny (but still rather cold) weekend earlier this year I decided it was time to  get repair the gutter at the front of the garage.

Problem number 1: It didn’t actually join up in the middle. Whoever fitted the new gutter to the house obviously didn’t see the need to connect it to the existing gutter on the garage. So rain water runs down the roof, between the gap and straight down the wall.

fullsizeoutput_908Well that one’s an easy fix. Take the stop ends off and and a new bit of gutter in the middle. Simple.

Except that a new length of gutter didn’t actually fit in the gap. So I had to take all the gutter down to shunt it along to make room for the new bit. Which involved a couple of screwdrivers, a couple of spanners, and eventually a sledgehammer to break through the rusted screws. Oh, and quite a lot of swearing.

Problem number 2: The gutter wasn’t actually broken, but a couple of the brackets holding it had bent out of shape, and for a number of years it has been propped up with a couple of random bits of wood.

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But I think I mentioned last week that I’m a bit of a hoarder and it just so happens that I have hoarded a few gutter brackets. (I knew they’d come in handy.) So all I had to do was attach a few spares to the rafters and problem solved.

Except the brackets weren’t long enough to reach the rafters. So a bit of creative thinking and a few extra bits of wood were required.

Problem number 3: The downpipe was broken.

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And not only broken, but firmly rusted into the wall. Not something a bog standard spanner is going to manage.

I measure my fear of tools on a scale of how much damage it could actually do if you accidentally drop it on your foot. An angle grinder ranks pretty high up the list, so I really don’t like using it. But when the sledge hammer just isn’t up to the job….

Fortunately once I’d cut through the brackets it was a fairly easy job to add a new bit of pipe. So now the rain will run off the roof, into the gutter, down the pipe and straight into the underground drains.

Well so I thought. But when I was back up the ladder putting a stopend on the gutter, I got a bit of a shock.

Some eject – and I can only assume it was Mr Incompetent Builder – had deliberately blocked up the top of the downpipe with a huge wodge of plastic. Why???? The whole point of a downpipe is that water runs down it – the clue’s in the name. I can only assume that because they couldn’t be bothered to fix the broken pipe, they tried to ensure the water would run out of the end of the gutter away from the wall. Except that the gutter didn’t extend out past the wall. So all this numpty achieved was to force the water to run all the way down the wall rather than just out the bottom of the broken pipe. Duh!

Just as well I needed to get up there to add the stopend. Otherwise I would never have known the pipe had been blocked off and would have spent ages wondering why my gutters constantly overflowed.

But finally, when all repairs were in place, time for a bit of a paint job. And here I salute the genius who invented Direct to Rust paint. Does exactly what it says on the tin – just paint straight over the rust and it all looks as good as new.

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I was having so much fun I got a bit carried away and painted all the steel work as well as the gutters 🙂

What to do with your leftover stairs…..

I am a hoarder. An excessive one. From all my various job relocations around the world I seemed to collect a lot of stuff. And with each subsequent removal that stuff got packed up and shipped on to the next destination – sometimes without me looking at it from one location to the next. It is 6 years since I came home from my last overseas contract in India and I still have boxes that haven’t been unpacked from that move. Clearly there is nothing important in any of them, so why don’t I just dump the lot in a skip? Well you never know do you? There might just be something really useful in one of the boxes, so I need to go through them all first. One day. When I have time…..

But those boxes are out of sight, and therefore largely out of mind, shoved away in a space under the stairs. (I have big plans for that space involving sliding bookcases and hidden doors. Like I say, one day, when I have time….)

However, I have a more day-do-day hoarders issue when it comes to bits of wood, wire, metal or anything else that could ostensibly be used in the building of the barn. I have that horrible habit of always thinking “This might be handy one day” so I keep even the smallest offcuts of wood or leftover plastic pipe from any job I’m working on. To be fair I have probably saved myself a fair few trips to the DIY merchants when in the middle of a project by being able to dig out a random bit of wood/metal/screw/bolt/washer/bit of pipe/bit of flooring etc.

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But the problem is that I’m not particularly organised about storing all these useful bits and pieces. When I’m feeling totally knackered at the end of building a wall or plumbing a loo or tiling a floor, I really am not in the mood to tidy everything up neatly behind me. I favour the ‘shut the door and pretend it’s not there’ style of organisation. So I tend to dump all my tools and leftovers in my indoor builders yard (a.k.a. the bedroom in the cottage) and head for the G&T. Unlike most professional workman, I don’t live by the mantra of ‘Thou shalt keep thy Workshop Tidy’. I just keep piling up the leftovers, happily clambering through the mess to retrieve my scattered tools.

Until eventually even I got to a point when I realised I was actually becoming a potential candidate for reality TV and Britain’s Biggest Hoarders.

At which point I decided it was time to clean out all the dross that I had collected and order in a skip.

It was during this mammoth clearing out exercise that I came across my ‘leftover stairs’.

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about the revamping of my stairs. The staircase is just under a metre in width. The ready-made oak stair treads and risers I bought to rebuild my stairs were 1.2m. So when I finished I was left with 26 ten-inch squares of oak – which were promptly added to the ever growing stack of ‘wood that might come in useful’ in my builders shed.

Of course, I’ve said it many times before, but I have the attention span of a kitten in a wool shop. So, being thoroughly bored with tidying stuff up, and rather than throw the wood away or add it to the log pile, I decided to get creative and make a table. Like you do.

My plan was very simple. Just drill a hole straight through the middle  of all the squares, insert a steel rod and twist the wood around to make a creative, quirky, original oak side table. In the words of that irritating meerkat – Simples.

So I went on line and ordered a set of 2ft long drill bits. Doesn’t every girl need one?

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Well actually no. Because the only way a 2ft long drill bit can be used is if you have some way of stopping it from going off course. Like a humungous bench press. Or similar. Sticking a 2ft drill bit into your hand held drill, climbing up a ladder over the stacked up 26 bits of wood you’ve strapped together and hoping you can keep the drill dead straight through the centre of the stack is more than wishful thinking, it’s Mission Impossible.

On to plan B:

Take my beautifully stacked wood apart and mark out and drill the centre of each one separately. Which took me a couple of hours instead of the couple of minutes I’d envisaged.

Then thread all my bits of wood onto a steel rod (I just happened to find one in my hoarded stuff). And add a bit of glue…..

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So there you have it. I haven’t yet decided whether to top it off with a square of glass. But it’s plenty big enough to hold my G&T, so I’m inclined to think “Why bother?”

In the meantime, the 2ft drill bit has been consigned to the pile of tools I will probably never use again in my life!

But for anyone who’s interested, I did go back and finish the tidying up the workshop job. Eventually!

 

It’s a long walk home….

Apologies to all for the no-show of the blog last week; I had a few internet issues – otherwise known as living in the remote backend of nowhere in the middle of Scotland! I did once read somewhere that you can get a better signal on Mars than you can in parts of the frozen North. Somehow I don’t find that hard to believe.

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Given how remote I am, it may surprise people to know that I don’t actually own a car. I got rid of my last one when I moved to Germany for a couple of years. And then Amsterdam. And then India. When I did finally come back to good old Blighty to live, I was London-based. Nobody in their right minds needs a car in a London. So I just got into the habit of hiring a car every weekend I was home. With hires numbering in the hundreds I’m on first name terms with most of the chaps at the car hire centre in Edinburgh airport so now when I pass through they just smile, wave and hand me an upgraded car key. No fuss. No bother. No queue. Works pretty well most of the time – and when it doesn’t, there’s always Twitter…..

BUT, and it is quite a big but, this is only really viable when you just need a car for a couple of days at a time, and not during high days and holidays, the Open, or the whole of August when the Festival is on. Because then you’re into ‘upping the mortgage’ territory for a couple of days hire. The rental companies call it Supply and Demand – I call it daylight robbery!

So when I recently found myself in the happy position of being able to spend a few weeks up at the barn, it left me with a bit of a problem. Hiring a car for a month? During a period that covered a couple of bank holidays? Maybe this is a good time to try a bit of an experiment. Can I survive without a car?

In theory it shouldn’t be that hard. Let’s face it – in this digital age pretty much everything is available as shop’n’drop. Even as ‘off-the-beaten-track’ as I am, most of the major supermarkets will deliver up the track – weather permitting and as long as someone is on hand to give directions from the field that SatNav stops in!

Couriers and delivery companies do hike up their prices the minute they see a Scottish postcode and I have come to the conclusion that you have to have failed geography O-level to design a website for a logistics/courier/delivery business.

  • “Free delivery to mainland UK” actually means “Free delivery to anywhere South of Edinburgh”
  • “Additional charges for delivery to Highlands & Islands” actually means “Additional charges for delivery to anywhere North of Edinburgh”

But as long as you’re willing to pay over the odds to get your goods, most delivery companies will make it up there eventually.

So as long as I can get to the barn, why would I need a car?

Well the first challenge is actually getting there. I am 5 miles from the nearest pint of milk, or the nearest pint of beer, or the nearest bus stop. So getting home from the airport by public transport is something of a expedition. An hour or so on a train to Perth. Another hour or so on a bus to Alyth. And then a very long walk over a few hills. Fortunately it was a (rare) sunny day….

 

Walking isn’t one of my preferred hobbies, so having made it over the glen I had no plans to go anywhere. Which is all well and good until you discover you urgently need to post a letter (nearest postbox 2 miles), or you’re running short of milk (nearest shop 5 miles). Fortunately we have a great sense of community up here. The postman offered to post my letter 🙂 And my neighbours, on discovering my car-free status, kept offering to take me to the shops.

So was the experiment successful? Is car-free life possible? Well sort of – with some tolerant neighbours and a willingness to walk. But I’m a fair-weather girl; I’m not sure I’d fancy the hike down to civilisation in the rain/wind/snow/cold that is the norm up here – even with these views as you walk.

Maybe it’s time to buy a car…..