The Great Wall of Gin…

Southern England continues to be deep fat frying, and I’m sure the weathermen must be getting bored with telling us that “today was the hottest day on record ever”. But normal service is sort of resuming as far as the weather in Scotland goes. Okay, it’s a bit warmer than usual, with temperatures still regularly starting with a “2” instead of a “1”, but the rain has returned, so it feels more like a normal Scottish summer. On the plus side, the water supply is replenishing, tea is no longer rationed, and the garden is growing a treat. On the down side, the garden is growing a treat…

The weeds are growing faster than I can keep up with them and ‘wet and warm’ has brought armies of midges out to play. I spent half a morning valiantly battling against the nettles and the biting insects – until I ran out of insect repellent and had to wave the white flag and beat a hasty retreat back indoors.

Thereafter I decided to focus on some indoor projects for a while. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of things that need doing. Clearly I need to prioritise my time.

So I decided to build my wall of Gin. (Like I said – priorities.)

Before anyone starts thinking I’m a gin-obsessed alcoholic, I’m going to blame my brother and his family for this one. They started it by buying the clock. Personally I’m of the opinion that the sun is always over the yardarm somewhere in the world; therefore it is always Gin o’clock. The Clock just backs up my theory.

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But there’s no point in having a permanent Gin o’clock if you haven’t got any gin in the house. Living in the frozen North, you never know when there might be a random three feet of snow that keeps you housebound for days at a time, so I like to keep the supplies topped up. I’ve even joined a Gin club, so every month some lovely chap leaves a box of gin on the doorstep.

Clearly I need somewhere to store it all.

Fortunately I had an empty bit of wall space that needed filling, so I came up with a genius idea: I would build The Great Wall of Gin to keep the clock company.

My original plan was to frame it and board it so it looked like lots of separate niches in the wall. I even got as far as building the frame that would be needed for one side of the wall.IMG_0390But then I thought about the amount of effort required to cut the plasterboard to fit the stonework, and all the fiddling around to board out all the individual niches.

OK. Maybe not.

Plan B: I decided I would put shelves from wall to wall. I mean, how hard can that be? Well that depends on the walls you on which you want to fix the brackets for your shelves. Nice straight plasterboard wall – no problem; either you’re just screwing into wood battens or it’s heavy duty plasterboard fixings. Jobs a good’un.

But the opposite end of the shelf would have to be fixed into solid randomised stone. Mostly granite. There have been a number of occasions throughout the umpteen years of this build where I have had to fix things to the stonework. It has usually ended in tears. And wonky holes. And broken drill bits. For a few piddly shelves to hold up my gin – it’s really not worth the swearing.

So that’ll be Plan C then. Glass shelves. With floating shelf brackets in the back (straight, plasterboarded, battened) wall. Simple.

But when I started trawling the internet for glass shelves the only ready-made options I could find were bathroom shelves that were a maximum 600mm wide, which would look a bit pathetic in a niche that was somewhere between 850mm & 920mm wide (depending which stone you measure from). And they were only 6mm glass, which seems a bit flimsy for my needs. (Might explain why you don’t often see 6 bottles of gin on a bathroom shelf. Even in my bathrooms.)

So I googled bespoke made-to-measure glass options. £££££££Ouch. I’d have had to give up my craft gin supply for a year to cover the cost – which sort of defeats the object of building a gin wall, doesn’t it?

And then, when I’d all but given up on the idea, I came across some ‘end-of-line, clearance sale’ glass shelves in B&Q. 12mm thick – so definitely able to handle a few gin bottles – and 800mm wide. Perfect.

But as clearance items they weren’t available for home delivery. Or the ever useful ‘Click & Collect’. So I jumped in the car and drove down to my nearest store at Dundee. They only had one shelf. I needed 5. So I went round the corner to Perth. They had none left. So I stopped in at Glasgow and found another one. And then I went to Edinburgh, Hermiston Gait store. Where they sent me on to Newcraighall. Where I finally hit the jackpot and found my last 3 shelves.

235 mile round trip just to buy a few shelves. I hope my gin appreciates my efforts.

Fortunately the actual fixing was relatively straight forward. A few super heavy duty plasterboard fixings – I don’t want to risk the shelf collapsing and sending all my gin smashing on the stone floor – and job done.i%0SWr0DRFWosviYGRHUKgIce ‘n’ a slice anyone?

 

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?

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……

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!

 

Ugh – my conservatory is ginger…

My barn is collection of spaces that evolved over time, starting from the original bothy (about 200 years old) to which an aspiring shepherd/farmer/property developer added a bit, added a bit more, stuck a bit out to the side, put another roof over the space in the middle, etc….

All of which has created a pretty awesome living space, but which wasn’t without its share of architectural challenges. There was a small doorway from the bothy to the tractor shed. There was a garden fence in what is now the living room. The hayloft, which is now my dressing room, could only be accessed by a ladder. Ditto the kitchen.

My architect was some kind of creative genius to join everything together without losing the integrity of the original building. But a few changes were needed – so, to accommodate my (fairly modest) wish list of rooms and features, he decided to block up the original doorway from the bothy to the rest of the building and add a conservatory/walkway that would lead from the main house to the bothy bedrooms. This conservatory was to be the grand entrance to the house, described in the plans as a glass and oak structure that would enhance the existing stone structure. Grand Designs – here I come.

The conservatory was the final construction required to make the house wind and watertight, so after all the years of rain, wind, snow and all the best of the Scottish weather flooding through the house, when it was finally installed towards the end of 2009, it was definitely a mile-stone to celebrate.

At the time, I had just relocated to India, so I was project-managing from 5,000 miles away. But hey, I’d seen the plans, the contractor I’d sorted to put the thing up had confirmed the design with me. It was to be made out of meranti, as I couldn’t afford oak, but would be stained to match the rest of the windows. What could possibly go wrong? So when I got the email telling me my house was now fully watertight it was Tiger beers all round (well have you ever tasted Indian ‘champagne’). It had only taken 8 years to get my barn to wind and watertight!!

I should have known better.

I didn’t get to see the conservatory in all its real glory until a couple of months later. I was in for a bit of a shock.

Imagine going to the hairdressers to get your roots done, and when they take the towel off you discover you’re a full-on redhead.

Yep, that kind of shock! My conservatory was ginger.

It blended in with the rest of the house like a zebra at a Pride march.

Unfortunately there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t seen a sample of the paint in advance – logistically that had seemed like too much of a challenge from 5,000 miles away and anyway, how hard is it to match a paint to the existing windows???

Clearly this contractor was colour blind.

So I have been living with a ginger conservatory for 8 years, and have never really liked it from the moment it was installed.

To be fair when it was all finished inside it didn’t look too bad.

But it has never really fitted with the outside of the house. So when it came to building the other conservatory – the one that creates the entrance to the cottage, I made quite clear that I wanted to see the finished colour of the wood before any building work started.

Unfortunately there was a bit of an issue with getting conservatory #2 installed. My contractor had overstretched himself on the jobs front, and having taken a hefty deposit from me, spent the next 8 months coming up with all sorts of excuses for why he couldn’t get the job done. Fortunately he’s a fairly decent chap as contractors go, so when he did eventually get started, by way of apology he said he would build a green oak structure rather than the original meranti structure we had agreed, for the same price. Not bad as upgrades go.

But not entirely altruistic as it turns out. Ha! He’s not daft my contractor chappie – he specialises in green oak. And he knew full well that once I’d seen the finish of this conservatory, I wouldn’t be happy until I’d upgraded my ginger monstrosity at the front of the house.

Well it’s taken a while, but last year I finally decided to go ahead and upgrade the ginger stuff with a green oak frame.

However, this project needed careful planning on the timing front. I think I mentioned that the conservatory links the bedrooms in the original bothy and the main house. So taking it down leaves two gaping great holes in the sides of the house. There was absolutely no scope for an 8 month delay this time – or indeed any kind of delay; this was a very weather-dependent project. To take down the old conservatory, put up the new structure, glaze it and slate the roof, would take 2-3 days. So we needed at least 2 clear days of warm dry weather. In Scotland. Right – no challenge there then!

The frame was all built at the workshop and turned up on the driveway looking like a giant IKEA flatpack – all suitably numbered and minus any instructions.

The plan was for the team to come up as soon as we had a weather forecast giving 3 dry days. (In Scotland – only slightly better odds than winning the lottery.) They would take down the old structure, put up the new frame and board it up on day 1, and come back on day 2 to put the glazing and roof slates on.

For once the weather played ball. 3 dry days forecast so the boys turned up to do their stuff.

Part one of the plan worked pretty well. Though of course, the minute the old frame had been taken down, the skies started to cloud over and it looked like we were in for some proper Scottish weather.

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Fortunately rain held off long enough to get the new frame up and boarded. And by the end of day three I had a brand new conservatory – one that actually looked like it belonged to the house!

It’s just a bit of wallpaper…

The smallest bedroom in the house – which OK, I admit, by the standards of the average British house is still a good size double – might have fantastic views out of its one window, but it is North facing, so tends to be a bit on the dark side.

I’ve painted it purple (hey, I’m a girl remember), in a shade that when used elsewhere in the house actually looked quite light, but in this room seems quite cold and gloomy.

So I decided it was time to lighten it up a bit. A bit of Wallpaper. How hard can that be?

And of course, thanks to those countless DIY/home interiors programmes on the telly, the concept of the ‘feature wall’ has become quite trendy. So up and down the land there are hundreds and hundreds of DIY sheds, decorating shops and interior design outlets selling the stuff in reams. Which clearly means they think it is not beyond the wit of common man to do something with it.

You see them in their multitudes on the Spring Bank Holiday, the handy home DIYers loading up with a trolley full of rolls of paper, paste, buckets and brushes. And a bit of mad manic glint in their eyes….

It’s not actually something I’ve ever tried. But hey, surely any idiot can slap some paste on a roll of paper and stick it onto the wall. I’m the girl in the hard hat; I’ve tackled more challenging tasks than that.

In any case, I’ve got the T-shirt remember….

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What can possibly go wrong? Well I do recall going to a friends house once where she showed off her newly decorated living room…..The wallpaper had more bubbles than a chocolate aero. Though admittedly she did confess that she and her partner had a bottle of wine or two before they started…. there is clearly a message in there somewhere – alcohol and wallpapering aren’t a good combination.

So in the interests of doing the thing properly I put aside my bottle of wine and went out and bought myself a handy little ‘Wallpapering kit’ that had all the necessary tools – large paste brush, large pair of scissors, sharp blade for trimming the edges, and a plumb line. A bucket of ready mix wallpaper paste and we’re all set.

IMG_1697Now if it hadn’t been included in my handy DIY kit, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the plumb line. I mean it’s surely not that hard to tell how straight something is by eye, right? Well maybe not in most normal houses. Most weekend DIYers are probably heading home from B&Q to a house with nice straight flat walls. You can probably just align the edge of the paper to the edge of the wall. Whereas me? Well this is the barn that doesn’t have any straight walls. Even from this angle in a photo, it is blatantly obvious that my walls are not straight. In this case, there is about a 2cm difference from top to bottom. So there you go. Useful tip number 1 – use a plumb line.

Now I’ve got my straight lines sorted I’m all set. Of course, I could probably have made my life a whole lot easier if I’d moved the furniture out of the room before attempting to hang wallpaper. But that was the weekend I had driven up overnight, unpacked a carload of stuff, and had to head back down the road to catch a plane to India. I didn’t have time to be moving furniture around as well.

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No problem. I’ll just work around it…

So now I’m all ready, time to start. Roll out a length of paper. Splodge a load of paste on it and stick it on the wall. Job done. But as I was opening the bucket of paste, a few words on the side of the container caught my eye. “Leave to soak….” What do you mean “leave to soak”? Leave what to soak? It’s paper. It will go all soggy if you soak it.

I read it properly.

Apply paste liberally to back of paper. Leave to soak into the paper for 5-8 minutes or in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Failure to do so may result in air pockets forming behind the paper as the paste dries”

So there you go. Useful tip number 2 – read the instructions…

Though I was right in one respect. When the paper has soaked up all the paste, it does become quite soggy and harder to handle as it tears quite easily. Strip number one went up OK.

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Strip number two was a bit more problematic – there was a double socket to get around. So what’s the proper way to deal with this? Turn off the power, remove the socket, paper over the box and then cut it out? Or cut a hole in the paper before putting it on the wall?

I went for the latter option. By some amazing coincidence, the edge of the next strip of paper aligned to the edge of the socket. So I actually only had to find the right starting point and then cut 3 sides out of the edge of the paper.

Which was all fine, until I actually came to hang it. Soggy paper tears quite easily. So although I’d managed to cut my hole out in the right place, as I was manipulating the paper into place, it tore slightly on one corner of the cutout. A few choice swear words were uttered. Don’t have time to cut another strip and do all that cutting out nonsense a gain. So I just manoeuvred it back into place and sort of brushed it together to hide the join. If anyone really wants to spend their time on their hands and knees trying to find the join, well hey, have fun.

 

After that, well hey – I’ve got the hang of this now!

 

The loo in the Long Drop…

It feels like my tales of plumbing woes are endless on this blog, but this, I promise, is the very last one. Because it’s the very last room that needs any kind of plumbing.

The Long Drop. I’m not entirely sure when it first got its name. It is a ridiculous room really, a metre long, a metre wide, and 4 metres high. Sitting in there feels a bit like having a loo at the bottom of a lift shaft.

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It has been sitting at the end of the corridor, neglected and ignored for quite a long time. Partly because there were plenty of other rooms to be getting on with, but partly because it is a room that has a few issues that I’ve been trying to avoid.

Because of where it sits in the house, the walls up to the first 6ft or so are technically below ground. And when Mr Incompetent Builder built the retaining walls, he appears to have skimped a bit on the damp-proofing. Since this part of the house faces up the hill, it  bears the brunt of the rainwater coming down. And the problem has been exacerbated by the foundations that were built for the conservatory on the cottage, that has acted like a giant concrete trough, collecting all the rainwater that poured out of the valley of the roof. (And let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of that in Scotland). With nowhere else to go, the water sat there, slowly seeping away through the cracks and under the building, straight down to the wall of the Long Drop. The resulting rising damp got so high it probably started to suffer from vertigo.

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With the recent construction of the conservatory, and gutters to take the rainwater from the valley away properly, the room does seem to have dried out, but it has retained that damp musty smell and feel, so I’m not entirely convinced the problem has gone away.

The other reason for avoiding this room is my age-old phobia ‘the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn.’ The cold water pipe into this room is the one that randomly and inexplicably exploded apart a while ago. Fortunately I was at home at the time so I managed to shut it down before too much damage was done. But even though the stopcock was replaced, and even though it hasn’t given me any trouble since, I am terrified of touching it again.

Unfortunately, if I ever want this as a functioning loo, I can’t keep avoiding it. So this weekend I decided it was time to get it sorted. I’d already put some of the first fix pipes in place, and though they weren’t connected to the main water feed yet, all I need to do is put a loo in place, bolt a sink to the wall and connect up a few pipes. How hard can that be?

I started with the loo. Since it’s a fairly bog -standard (sorry, couldn’t resist) loo, it’s not that hard to fit. Bolt a couple of plastic brackets to the floor and screw the pan in place. A bendy toilet waste connector and a bit of washing-up liquid, and the toilet is connected to the soil stack. My only slight irritation here is that Mr Incompetent builder has stuck the soil pipe so far out of the wall that he appears to have assumed that I want my toilet sitting in the middle of the room!

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Since the pipe comes out of a solid brick wall, not much I can do to change it. I’ll just have to build a false wall to hid the gap.

Next job – install the sink. I shall gloss over the pain of drilling into engineering bricks with a blunt drill bit. Suffice to say I got there in the end – and I have the blisters on my palms to prove it. After that, fitting the tap was the easy bit.

Next the waste pipe for the sink. Again, Mr Incompetent Builder’s handiwork seems to be designed to cause me hassle. Every other waste pipe that’s been installed in the house is 40mm. For some reason, this room got special treatment and he put a 50mm pipe in. So I had to trudge out to the nearest plumbing supplies shop to get an adaptor to fit. But when I got home I discovered that my newly purchased adaptor fitted the 50mm pipe, but the ‘adapted’ end of it didn’t fit the 40mm pipe I had.

It appears that a 40mm pipe from B&Q is not the same as a 40mm pipe from Screwfix which is not the same as a 40mm pipe from Plumbcentre. Which confuses me quite a lot. I’m fairly sure that when I went to school, rulers were all the same size…

Of course, this probably wouldn’t be a problem if you had a complete design for the whole house and went out and bought all you’re pipes, joint and fittings in one go, like most sensible people would. But that kind of forward planning  has never really been my style. I’m more of an adhoc, free-spirit kind of girl, with a very random approach to building a barn. I buy my materials in bits and pieces, as and when I decide to do something – and then curse quite a lot when it doesn’t all fit together.

Still there is a degree of bendiness in plastic pipes, so with some strategically positioned supports (aka a bit of wood wedged under the pipe) and copious quantities of sealant I got the waste connected.

So that’s it all done. Moment of truth time – time to turn on the water……

I started with the hot water a) because it’s just one run to the hot tap so not too many connections that could go wrong, and b) because I’m too nervous about the previously exploding cold feed pipe to want to touch it just yet.

I opened up the stopcock for the hot water and hared downstairs to check the results. Blissful silence. All the pipes appeared to be holding. I turned on the tap. Water came gushing out, just like it’s supposed to. See – how easy was that!

I opened the plug to let it all drain away. Hmm, a couple of small drips coming out of the connection between the waste pipe and the trap. Minor issue. I can fix that no problem. So I disconnected the waste from the sink again, to see if I could nudge all the waste pipes into alignment. Needing to get rid of all the water that sitting in the bottom of the trap, I emptied it away into the sink.

Er yes…. that will be the sink from which I had just removed said trap. So I poured water straight through hole in bottom of sink all over wood floor – a total muppet moment!

The air turned briefly blue while I mopped it all up again. But a bit of re-alignment of my strategic bit of wood and generously applied sealant, and the refitted waste trap was leaking no more.

So now I can’t put it off any longer. Time to open the cold water feed. But this time when I came back into the room there was a jet of water spraying out of the underneath of the cistern. Mad dash upstairs to turn the water off. Back downstairs to play the contortionist plumbers game, trying to get a spanner into the space under the cistern to tighten the connection.

Upstairs again (fortunately it is only 6 steps up into the kitchen where the stopcocks are – I’m not having to dash across the whole length of the building), turn on water. Back downstairs….and this time I came down to hear the sound of the cistern filling. Well that’s OK then. All sorted right?

So I thought. Until it had finished filling and the float valve shut off the water supply into the cistern, which increased the pressure elsewhere, causing one side of the T-joint connector to separate from the pipe and water to start gushing all over the floor……

Another mad dash upstairs to turn the water off. Another bunch of towels to mop all the water up. (Well at least I’ll have a clean floor at the end of all this!)

When I checked the pipe fitting, it looked like I just hadn’t quite pushed it together enough. So I rammed pipe and joint together as hard as I could and went and turned the water back on. At last, blissful silence again. I appear to have a fully functioning WC. Woohoo!!

By now it was too late to do any more, so I lit the fire, poured a G&T and chilled out for an hour or two for the remainder of the evening. Just before heading up to bed, I decided to check on my handiwork. Opening the door, all ready to admire my newly plumbed-in toilet, I found…… a fountain of water gushing up the walls. The same joint I’d had to fix before had separated again and the escaping water was rapidly creating an indoor swimming pool.

Mad dash up the stairs to turn off the stopcock, throw a whole heap of towels on the floor and go to bed in a sulk. It was a fairly sleepless night; I kept waking up thinking I could hear water – even though I’d turned it all off – and when I did get to sleep, strangely enough, I dreamt I was drowning.

In a slightly calmer frame of mind the next morning I examined the joint. When I took it apart it was clearly faulty – the little metal teeth inside the joint were missing. Relieved to find that I’m not in fact too incompetent to join a couple of pipes together, I went and found a replacement connection. (Well doesn’t everyone have a whole bag of leftover unused plumbing kit in their garage??)

This one seemed to work. So I could spend the rest of the day doing fun things like building the false walls to hide all that nasty pipework. But even though I’d spent the whole day in the room, and there had been no evidence that the pipes were about to explode on me again, I was still very nervous when I went to bed.

I kept waking up and just laying there listening. I even got up at 3 am and went down to check. And then I woke up in a panic at 5am because I could hear the sound of water. I got all the way downstairs before I realised that actually it was raining outside, and that was what I’d heard.

Well like I’ve said. When it comes to plumbing in this house, I am totally paranoid.

But needlessly so in this case. I mean, OK, so it needs a bit of decoration, but I believe the Long Drop is now functional!

(But I admit it, I still don’t entirely trust those pipes. I did wimp out as I left and turned off the cold water supply to that room – well I’m not going to be there for a week or so, and I’m still a bit nervous about it. I don’t like unplanned indoor water features….!)

Raising the bedroom bar

Well the hole-blocking efforts of last week appear to have worked. This weekend I was not woken at silly o’clock by the frantic antics of a bird in the bedroom.

I was woken instead by glorious sunlight streaming into the house. With the large house party that invaded at Easter, I finally had to bite the bullet and move into the master bedroom suite upstairs, complete with the madly-mosaiced bathroom and 20ft walk-in dressing room. To die for – right? Of course. But….

Well personally I quite like being woken with the natural light, which is just as well because upstairs there’s no shortage of it. There may only be one very small window in the bedroom, but with the very open-plan, mezzanine-style layout, I have the advantage of light from the opening in the stairwell, the glass roof in the snug and the 17ft high window in the music room…

Of course, the minor problem is that in Scotland, by the time we get to the Summer solstice, it doesn’t really get properly dark that far North. And it is fully light again by about 3am. So I may not enjoy being woken with the light then!

But how do you fit curtains to a glass roof? And the music room window is proving equally problematic. Not because of its height, (any idiot can add a couple of extra metres to the bottom of a curtain), but because there is a gallery on one side of the window and a protruding brick plinth the other side – which are getting in the way of putting up a conventional curtain pole. It sort of defeats the object of having great big windows letting in lots of lovely light if you end up blocking most of it because you can’t open the curtains properly…

Well I’m handing that problem over to the resident expert curtain-maker, otherwise know as my Mum – I’m sure she’ll come up with a genius plan soon…

The other minor issue with finally moving my bed upstairs is the balustrade – or rather, the lack of one. I banned all visitors from the upstairs at Easter, as I didn’t really relish the idea of having to scrape anyone off the stone floor of the music room if they fell over the edge.

But I haven’t really given it any thought on my own account.

Admittedly to my knowledge I have never been prone to sleep-walking before. But you never know do you? With all the stress going on in my life right now I could well randomly decide to take a midnight wander without realising it….

So this weekend’s job is a Health & Safety one – get the balustrade put up in the bedroom.

It’s the same concept as the one I put up in the kitchen – pre-grooved oak and glass. Just screw the base rail to the floor, put up a couple of posts either end and attach the top rail. How hard can that be?

Well one or two minor differences to the one in the kitchen. To start with, unlike the kitchen balustrade which is only 1.5 metres, this beauty is over 4 metres wide. And secondly, where the opening in the kitchen is between two nice, normal, straight brick walls, the bedroom walls are stone – lumpy and solid. Not the easiest thing in the world to attach an oak post.

I was also initially concerned about attaching the base rail, since it sits across the top of a steel lintel and I had a few nightmares wondering whether I could get self-tapping screws that would drill through steel. But actually I’ve decided not to bother. The rail actually sits on a solid wood floor that in turn sits on a chipboard floor. 2 inch screws every 10 inches or so for a whole 4 metres – believe me, that rail ain’t going anywhere!

So next job is to fix the posts at either end.

Well here I should thank my architect for his trendy ideas for the vaulted roof, which means there’s a very convenient roof truss right at the point where the balustrade starts.

So on the assumption that the trusses are not going to move – because if they do it pretty much means my whole house is falling down – the top of the posts have been secured to the roof trusses. And the bottom of the posts can be fixed through aforementioned oak flooring and chipboard. And behind the plasterboard on one side of the balustrade is a fortuitously placed timber frame. So that just leaves one hole to be drilled into a granite stone wall then. Which is a bit lumpy, so to get the post to be properly vertical, I had to attack the wall with a hammer and chisel first!

In the end, drilling into the granite was actually the easy bit!

After that it was just a matter of making sure the top rail was level and that the grooves on the top were directly aligned to the grooves in the base rail.

Hmm. Well on that one, to be honest, I won’t know whether I’ve got it right until the glass arrives. But I live in hope. In the meantime, this should be enough to keep me safe should I ever decide to go sleepwalking…

 

 

And relax………

Or maybe not. Apologies to all those of you expecting a blog last Sunday. I meant to write and post it before the Invaders arrived, but I was still running round like a lunatic trying to get things finished.

Including a bit of last minute putting up of curtain poles, (when I realised that anyone standing in the kitchen could see straight through into my bedroom)

Followed by some frantic cleaning up after the builders who had been in.

But hey – there’s nothing like a deadline for getting things done. And I have to say, the barn has never looked to good, nor has so much ever been achieved in such a short space of time as I’ve managed to get finished in the last 6 weeks.

Scotland did its best to entertain on the weather front – providing rain, snow, sleet, gale force winds, glorious sunshine and hail all in the space of one weekend!

We drove all the way up to Speyside for a nature watch at dusk. But it was not a pleasant drive home 3 hours in the dark, in a blizzard on some narrow country roads.

(I can’t take credit for the photo of the pine marten – my niece is clearly a better photographer than I am!).

Fortunately there were enough patches of dry weather to allow us to get out for an Easter egg hunt in the forest and a few long walks up the hill.

Not to mention the chance for a bit of Robin Hood practice:

Sadly I didn’t get to join in with the archery party. The piano man decided that Easter Monday was a good time to come back and finish the job he’d started the week before. Since it required dismantling practically every part of the piano, and it’s probably been about 10 years since it was last tuned, it took him a while to finish. But it certainly sounds a lot better now it’s done!

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All in all I’d like to think quite a successful first ‘house-party’. It was really lovely to have my guests to stay, and I think it’s fair to say that the barn has been initiated into accepting visitors – the heating survived, the hot water appeared to cope with the demands of seven people, and the log burner was well and truly broken in!

And whilst I didn’t have a fully functioning kitchen, the Aga and fridge seemed to cope with the food and alcohol requirements!

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But for anyone who’s worried that this might be the end of the blog – fear not. Whilst the invaders from the South might have spurred me on to make more progress in 6 weeks than I’ve managed in the last year, there was a whole lot of things that I didn’t quite get finished: The kitchen was just the Aga and the fridge – so although I could provide ice on demand for the G&T, we still had to go up into the freezing cold cottage for washing up.

And I didn’t quite get the balustrades finished – so upstairs was banned for everyone except me.

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And then there’s the cottage – which I’ve sort of turned into a bit of a building site…

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And although the new conservatory is looking great from the outside, the same can’t be said about the inside….

And at some point I really need to do something to clear out the boiler room… and the garage

The list of ‘finishing’ still seems endless. And of course, even when (if) the house is ever completed, there’s a couple of acres outside that need a bit of work……

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Hey-ho! I think I might be writing for a while yet…..

Addicted to the fire…

So this is it. My last weekend before the Invaders from the South arrive. I arrived up at the barn with a list as long my arm of all the things that need finishing off and with all good intentions to get up at the crack of dawn to get started. It’s going to be a weekend of ‘finishing things off’. Much like the ‘Bits, Bobs, Odds & Sods’ blog, there’s a myriad of little things that need sorting. And some bigger things too…

Well I did get up nice and early – but you know me and my ability to be distracted. The thing is, the lads had been up in the week and put the final bit of flue out through the roof. The fire was, in theory, now fully functioning. So I had to test it, didn’t I? It would have been rude not to…

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I sat there with my cup of tea watching the fire burn. And when it had all died away, I lit it again. No, I’m not a pyromaniac. Honest! But when you light a stove for the first time, you’re supposed to start with a very small fire – just a handful of kindling. And when it has gone out and the stove has cooled down, you do the same again.

Having successfully wasted an hour or so, I finally stopped playing with fire, and went to Dundee. So much for being stood outside the doors of B&Q waiting for them to open at 7am. And after B&Q, I headed round to Topps Tiles to collect the half a dozen tiles I needed to completely finish the bathroom. Only to find that they only had half my order – even though I’d phoned the day before and they’d assured me it was all in.

Cue much sarcastic muttering about incompetence and a promise that I would be getting active on twitter just as soon as I could find a WiFi signal. Clearly that didn’t put the fear of God into them, since they knew full well that the chances of finding a WiFi signal whilst driving around Scotland are right up there with the proverbial needle and haystack. (But wipe that smirk off your face boys – when I get back to London I will write that review…. and blog it…. and tweet it….)

All in all bit of a wasted trip.

And of course the holiday season has started. All the world’s happy campers have attached caravan to car and are now wending their merry way around Scotland. Or that’s how it seemed to me on my very slow drive home. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing against caravans. I’m sure it’s a lovely way to visit Scotland. But if you could try and avoid the A93, the A94 and the B954 between Alyth and Dundee, I’d be eternally grateful.

It was just on 11 when I got home, and so far I’d achieved the square root of nothing on my list.

So I had a cup of tea and lit another fire. (Believe me – it’s addictive…)

Hey ho. There’s still the rest of the day to get busy in. Or so I thought. I’d just donned all my work gear and had gone to work attacking the tap in the bathroom, when the piano tuner turned up. I’d forgotten I’d arranged for him to come this weekend.

I don’t have a doorbell; people bang on the glass for a bit and then just open the door and shout. He was obviously too polite. Quite what he thought when I opened the door – a mad woman in a mouse-eaten jumper and cement/paint/grout/sealant covered trousers, wielding a large spanner in one hand and a hammer in the other – I don’t know. But at least he didn’t run away.

In fact he spent the next hour or so pulling my beautiful boudoir grand piano to bits. I felt obliged to stick around and make him a cup of tea and then listen as he tried to explain C19th damper mechanisms to me.

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But after about two hours, having more or less dismantled the entire piano, he decided that he didn’t really have the right kind of glue to fix a broken hammer shank, and rather than botch the job, he would take it away, make a new one and come back on Easter Monday to finish. So he reassembled the piano and left, without having tuned it.

It was now the middle of the afternoon and I had done absolutely nothing on my list. Clearly this is a day destined to be wasted.

So I lit another little fire. (Hey, this isn’t for my sake – I have to temper the new stove. That’s all. I can give this up any time I like…..)

By about 3 in the afternoon I realised that if I didn’t tear myself away from the stove, nothing would get done this weekend. So I went back the tap I’d been working on when Mr Piano Tuner arrived.

And finished fixing it. And then moved on to the shower – just a a dozen or so mosaic tiles to finish. And a bit of grouting.  And then seal the corners. And a couple of wall tiles to finish. And seal around the bottom of the bath….

And finally I think I can declare this bathroom, if not quite finished, at least ready for the Invaders!

But there’s no rest for the wicked, and I still have a long list to get through. Next stop, the bathroom upstairs. Remember my bathroom floor – the one with 8,000 mosaic squares that I put down individually? Well I have a confession. In spite of the pictures that made it all look finished, in fact, after completing the main part of the design, my ‘attention-span -of -a-hyperactive-kitten’ thing got in the way. I got bored, moved on, and never quite got round to finishing it.

So, this weekend, last chance before the Invaders from the South arrive, I finally finished the mosaic floor.

And there were half a dozen or so wall tiles to finish off:

And that just leaves a whole lot of grouting.

At which point I realised I could have made my trip to Dundee in the morning a whole lot more useful if I’d remembered to by some more grout. But I didn’t. Oops.

Still, at least there was enough to finish inside the shower, so at least it will be usable.

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Have I achieved everything I wanted to before the IFTS arrive. No, not really. But is the house habitable and working – well enough for what I need, yes!