Scaring sheep on a sunny Sunday

Apologies to all those who have missed the blog in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been a bit distracted by starting a new job recently which means I’m back into the weekly commute up and down to London. And just because life should never be simple, I’ve also decided to take up flying trapeze lessons as well. So not so much time for blog-writing.

(It’s a back-up plan – if the job doesn’t work out, I’ll be able to run away and join the circus…)

Anyway, back in the real world of building the barn…..

Remember last week when I said I would regret saying I wished it would rain? Well that was a prophecy of doom. Not long after my last blog was posted, the skies darkened, the wind picked up, the power cut and the heavens opened. It was a proper torrential downpour.

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. It was just a wall of water coming straight down. For the first 30 seconds I looked out with awe. And with glee. All that lovely water replenishing my borehole.

And then I heard it. The dreaded phobia – the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-the-barn. Only this time it wasn’t just the sound of running water. It sounded more like an indoor waterfall!

Way up in the heady heights of my 5m high ceiling in the living room I have a couple of skylights. They had turned into the source of an indoor shower. For the amount of water that was coming in they might as well have been wide open. They weren’t. But they might as well have been.

I’m guessing that there’s a slate or two come loose. Chances are they’ve been loose a while but I haven’t noticed. The reason there was so much water coming in was simply due to the sheer volume of water pouring down outside.

Nothing I could do there and then. And since I’m now away for most of the week I’ve called in the cavalry. My helpful contractor chappie is going to come up and take a look.

Not that there appears to be any need to rush the job. Apart from Niagara Falls doomsday, the weather continues fine. And the helpful chaps at the Met office have predicted that it will go on for a while yet. I’m not sure whether I should worry about my water supply or not. I mean it should be OK – I’m just one person, I’m now only up there a couple of days a week, and lets face it – it’s not that long since I was blogging about being buried up to my waist in 3ft of snow. When that lot all melted, at least some of it must have replenished the underground supply I depend on!

But just in case, I’m rationing my cups of tea and am drinking G&T instead.

In the meantime, the long list of jobs inside the house will have to wait. Proper sunshine in Scotland is rare enough that I’m going to spend all my time outside until it starts raining again. So another sunny Sunday afternoon found me continuing the Battle of the Weeds in the front garden.

The bit of land by the garage was all but done. I now have a treasure trove of scrap metal piled up  waiting for removal. So I decided to move on from the bit at the side of the garage and tackle the last remaining untouched patch of weeds at the front of the house.

I thought this bit was just going just a simple matter of pulling up weeds. But no! Mr Incompetent Builder clearly liked to scatter his belongings far and wide. Treasures found on this side of the garden included lots more fencing wire, barbed wire, a couple of circular saw blades and so many random lengths of electric cable that I actually began to wonder if I’d commissioned a garden lighting scheme that I’d forgotten about.

Fortunately it was a much smaller area than the last, so it should have been doable in a day. And there was even free entertainment laid on. A quad bike carrying local farmer and a couple of sheepdogs whizzed up the track early in the morning and came back driving a load of sheep down to pen them up outside my kitchen.

Quad bike, dogs and farmer then disappeared, leaving sheep milling around in that very idiotic way they have.

I have started to put chicken wire along the outside of my kitchen fence in a vain attempt to stop the rabbits coming in and feasting on my herb garden. But I haven’t quite finished the job, so there is s small part of the fence where the sheep could stick their heads through and have a good munch.

They clearly don’t get the irony when they started chewing up my bushes of mint. Self-flavoured chops anyone?

I ignored them and carried on with my gardening efforts. Until part 2 of the entertainment arrived. A lorry, a landrover and the quad bike pitched up bringing a few farm hands. It appeared it was sheep shearing time. The lorry opened up to reveal various ramps, railings and shearing equipment – it was a mobile hairdressing salon for sheep – without the shiny sinks and mirrors.

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There was a very lengthy discussion on how to arrange the various pens to set up an efficient shearing process. One holding pen, one pen to drive them into the lorry. Chuck them out of the side of the lorry into pen number three, and from there they can run back up the track to their field.

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Simple. But apparently there were a few of the farm hands off with the lurgy. There weren’t enough of them to keep an eye on the penned in sheep and keep the mutton conveyor belt moving.

Sheep appear to be scared witless of pretty much everything. So they were all pushing and shoving en masse away from the lorry where the shearing was happening. So much so that some of the sheep were being forced right up against the gates and were in danger of suffocating.

I should have got on with my gardening. I should have kept my head down. As it was, it was a bit difficult to say no when the farmer spotted me watching and asked “Have you got half an hour to spare?”

Which is why I found myself roped into the sheep shearing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. My job was to stand at various strategic parts of the fencing and scare the sheep so they kept moving around.

Well that’s a new one on my CV. I’m officially a sheep scarer.

It wasn’t the pleasantest of jobs. 100 sheep penned together at close quarters can be a bit whiffy. And they bring armies of biting flies with them. But hey, doing my neighbourly bit for the community.

And if my new job doesn’t work out, and the circus won’t have me, well maybe I could take up sheep shearing….

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Or knitting….

I wish it would rain…..

Apologies for the late post this week – you can blame it on the weather; we are currently enjoying endless days of glorious sunshine, which is such a rare event that I’ve been making the most of it and spending all my time out in the garden. So the blog took a bit of a backseat this week.

I could well regret saying this, but I’m actually sitting here in Scotland wishing it would rain. Here. In the middle of sunny Scotland! It is close on a month since we last had any proper rain. There’s been a couple of misty mornings with just enough moisture in the air to fool the plants, but the promised thunder storms and lashings of rain seem to have passed us by.  So the sparrows are happily taking dust baths in my flower beds, and the only bit of grass that I claim is a cultivated lawn is looking like tumbleweed.

And I am getting nervous. For unlike most of the country, I can’t rant at the water companies if the water supply dries up. My water is from a private borehole. It is pumped up from 60 metres below ground level in my back field. People laughed when I said I was also putting in a 6,000 litre rainwater collection tank. Like I’m ever going to run out of water in Scotland. Well this could be the year I get the last laugh. Except that, having installed said tank, I’ve never quite got round to connecting it up. There are rainwater drains from all the gutters taking the rain into the tank. There is lots of complicated pipework in the house to divert the rainwater supplies to all the loos. But the two aren’t actually joined up yet…..

(Note to self – must call a plumber)

Such are the pros and cons of being (partially) self-sufficient. So I’ve instigated a self-imposed hose-pipe ban and started rationing my cups of tea.

Not that the lack of rain seems to have hindered the growth of the weeds in any way. They are continuing on their mission to turn my garden into a jungle and in places the nettles are now 6ft high. But at least if it isn’t raining I can get outside and do something about them.

The garden at the front of the house is now looking vaguely presentable.

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So I decided to concentrate my efforts on the bit of land at the side of the garage.  Unfortunately, in the absence of any proper compost bins, I confess I have been using this area as a bit of a dumping ground for all the weeds I pulled out of the front garden, so it has become a bit of a compost heap. Still, it’s only about 6m x 4m, so should be manageable in a couple of days if I get a welly on.

Right. Famous last words.

I got started with my shovel, bucket (for collecting the weeds), sieve (for sifting the stones out of the soil), and cup of tea (to keep me going).

Within a couple of hours, the bucket had been replaced with a wheelbarrow and the sieve had been abandoned. Way too many weeds, and way too many rocks in the ground.

I revised my estimated time of completion from a couple of days to a couple of months. This wasn’t just an oversized compost heap; it was a builders scrap yard.

So far I’ve unearthed 6 steel security gates, about half a tonne of concrete, yards of barbed wire and fencing wire, some steel reinforcement mesh, a bag of concrete, a couple of bags of sand, several lengths of broken plastic drainage pipe and enough chocolate wrappers and coke bottles to start a sweet shop.

Oh, and discovered a long lost manhole.

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My neighbour suggested I get a mini-digger. That’s what he would do. Be finished in a day.

I do love it when people stand around offering helpful advice while watching you work!

Well, as anyone who’s followed this blog for a while will know, me and JCB’s don’t get on too well. In fact I have a 100% track record on trashing them. OK, I’ve only hired the one, but I’m not sure my nerves could stand the experience a second time. In any case, with all the bent and broken up steel I’m uncovering, I’m not sure it would be safe – I doubt a mini digger can shift a 6ft security fence panel that is tangled up with a mangled steel concrete reinforcement mesh. Not the way I drive it.

Bucket and spade it is…….

And of course, on top of all the builder’s garbage there’s the all weeds that I had piled up a couple of feet high which have now retaken root and started growing again…. The two brand new 500 litre compost bins are already full. More have been ordered!

My neighbour reckons I’ll be finished about August at the rate I’m going. I reckon he’s being optimistic.

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Mr Incompetent Builder has a lot to answer for.

It’s just a couple of bits of plasterboard….

So I have a nice shiny island, complete with fully plumbed-in sink (eventually), working Aga, and ice-on-demand for the G&T. So barring a few more cabinets everything in the kitchen’s rosy, right?

Well that depends which way you look at it. The view to the Aga is looking good. But the other end of the room clearly needs a bit of work….

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It’s been one of my major procrastination projects, mainly because I haven’t figured out what to do with it.

I did managed to persuade my Dad to start the job a couple of years ago, while I was away on a jolly somewhere. Apparently there was a fair amount of procrastination and  head-scratching even then. And a 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.

But it did mean that I could at least board up some of the wall. And I have to hand it to my Dad – it’s the only genuinely straight wall in the whole house.

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It’s stayed like that for a year or so, until I finally decided that I could put it off no longer and I had to find a solution for the rest of it.

The problem is the large bunch of wires feeding through the wall from the cottage to the fuseboard at this end of the house.

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There’s not a lot of headroom as it is. I couldn’t build a false ceiling because the door wouldn’t open. I couldn’t build a false wall because the door wouldn’t open….

I looked at it. I thought about it. I made a cup of tea. I sorted out some random bits of wood from my hoarded collection of offcuts. I looked at it some more. And had another cup of tea.

I thought about drawing a proper plan, but I had another cup of tea instead. And finally decided that the best way to approach it was to build little sub-frames and randomly screw them to the wall – if I put enough bits of wood up, surely I’d be able to hide the wires eventually…

So there you have it. I’d like to see an intelligent squirrel get past that lot.

After all the hassle with the frame, I assumed the finishing off would be a doddle. Just a couple of bits of plasterboard, a lick of paint, a bit of flooring and a new door. Then feet up and a G&T. Jobs a good’un!

Well the plasterboard went on easily enough (though I shall gloss over my efforts at getting a nice smooth joint between the boards!).

Then for the flooring. And I’m a dab hand at wood floors, so that shouldn’t take long.

Yeah right. This is my barn remember. No straight walls (apart from the one my Dad built) and no level floors.

So the concrete floor that comes out of the cottage has a slight uphill slope. The concrete steps built up from the kitchen floor are perfectly level, but slightly lower than the cottage floor. It creates a kind of cliff-edge mountain range right in the middle of the floor. So when I tried to lay my flooring, I ended up with a wooden see-saw. And guess what? The door wouldn’t open!

I had another cup of tea while considering my options.

Option 1: Chisel the floor level: I tried. But it was the masonry equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge with a lip brush. I gave up.

Option 2: Put a thinner floor covering down: Well in that case I couldn’t use wood – even switching to engineered board instead of the solid wood I was using would only save a couple of millimetres. So it would have to be tiles. But large thin tiles laid over a mountain range? They’d crack the minute you stepped on them. You’d have to bed them down on so much adhesive they end up as thick as the wood. And the door wouldn’t open. So it would have to be small tiles. Really small tiles.

Well I admit I have been known to go a bit mosaic-mad on occasion, but that really wouldn’t look right here.

Anyway, I wanted to use wood to match the rest of the kitchen floor.

So it would have to be Option 3: Buy a smaller door: The door is already slightly shorter than the average. The doorway between the cottage and the main house passes under the valley between the two roofs, so the existing door is already ‘vertically challenged’. Anyone over 5’8″ has to duck. What’s another cm between friends?

I managed to find a door company that would make a bespoke oak door that would match the rest of the house. Amazingly without breaking the bank.

Add a bit of paint and a couple of wine posters and then open the gin.

 

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A definite improvement on the old view, don’t you think?