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!

Stairs within stairs….

One of the (many) jobs on my infinite to-do list was ‘Finish the stairs’. It’s a job that had been on that list for quite a while because, as with so many things in the barn, it was never going to be a straightforward job, so as a professional procrastinator, I’ve been putting it off.

My original plan had been to carpet the stairs so I’d asked the builders just to put in a cheap softwood staircase. After all, no need for anything fancy if I’m just going to cover it with carpet.

So that’s what they did. A bog-standard straight flight of stairs. Can’t go far wrong with that can you?

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Well clearly that depends on your builder. Mine, as I might have mentioned once or twice, wasn’t the best in the business. Spot the problem…..

Yep – it doesn’t line up. Obviously he had a wonky tape measure. Or he didn’t take into account the additional height of the finished floor upstairs. Or maybe he just should have gone to Specsavers.  Whatever – it looks like the perfect trip hazard to me.

The top of the staircase touched just below the steel lintel. By the time you add the thickness of the wood floor and the underlay there was more than 3cm difference in height. Enough to give any conscientious health and safety officer nightmares.

I did briefly consider getting one of those ‘reducing thresholds’ that are specifically designed to cover the join between wood or tiles and carpet. An inch or so T-bar strip of wood, higher on one side, angled to accommodate the height differential. But they’re meant for between rooms and under doorways where you’re not likely to trip over them. I’m not sure I like the idea of a sloped bit of wood like that right at the top of the stairs – feels like an accident waiting to happen.

So I thought instead about just putting an extra bit of wood on the top stair just to level it. Then cover it in carpet so it was all nice and level with the wood flooring. Simples?

Maybe, but that then creates another problem – the top step would be a higher than all the others. Now I haven’t read the Building Regs on staircases in any detail, but I’m fairly sure that alongside the lengthy paragraphs about minimum treads, maximum risers and level steps there’s probably quite a bit on the need for even heights. Apparently our brains are wired for rhythm and uniformity. Having one step at a different height to all the rest makes us stumble.

(Put ’36th St station NY tripping staircase’ into YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. Lots of unsuspecting commuters falling over because one step in the subway staircase was a fraction of an inch higher than the rest – after that video went viral the powers that be in NYC sent in the repairmen.)

What I really needed was to find a way to raise the whole staircase by 3cm, preferably without all the mess, hassle and expense of taking the whole thing out and starting again. I tried my faithful fall back – Google it. However, if you type in ‘How to improve an uneven staircase’, all you’ll get back is a million decoration ideas for staircases, from the weird and the wacky to the elegant and the refined, but nothing that actually solves the fundamental problem – the difference in height.

Then I had an Archimedes-in-his-bath moment. Why not just build a staircase on top of the existing one? Inspired by a website selling stair treads and risers I figured that if I buy a load of decent oak stair parts I could just cover the existing one adding the necessary height at the same time. Posh oak stairs, no carpet, right height. Honestly – it’s not as mad as it sounds. So I ordered thirteen oak treads and matching risers.

One minor issue, even ordering the thickest treads possible, I still needed another 1cm to get the height exactly right on that problematic top step. But in true Blue Peter style, I just happened to have a whole lot of 1cm offcuts that came out of some balustrades parts I’d ordered. What could be simpler – stick a load of offcuts on the existing stairs and put the new treads on top of those.

Unfortunately – because nothing can ever be that easy in the barn – the risers that I’d ordered were still slightly too high to fit under the treads and would need to be cut down to size. For somebody who hates sawing wood, and who cannot saw in a straight line, the thought of sawing half inch off the long side of thirteen metre-long bits of oak was enough to relegate the ‘Finish the staircase’ task right back down to the bottom of the infamous Infinite List. In fact I nearly gave it all up as a bad job and had almost resorted to a tin of paint with a bit of that yellow and black tape to stick across the top step as a warning to would-be trippers.

Then I had another Eureka moment. (Must be something in the Scottish bath water.) Why not just rout a groove in the underside of the tread. Then the risers would just slot in to the treads, perfect height, no need for any sawing and with the added bonus that it would hold the whole thing together. Genius!

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Sorted. So now all I had to do was get out the glue, rout the other 12 treads and stick down a few offcuts of wood.

All it needs now is a bit of finishing off. Time to call in the man with the can – aka my Dad, the King of all things varnishable. An afternoon with a can of Danish oil and a lint-free cloth and there you have it – a beautiful oak stair case with no trip hazard!

One more thing crossed off the Infinite List…….

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!

 

Making space in the (22ft) wardrobe…

Apologies to everyone who’s been missing my updates. Life has been a little bit on the hectic side just lately. Work (as in that nasty 9-5 stuff that pays the bills) has been a bit crazy. It’s silly season in the FS industry – as organisations start to worry about what their Half Year results are going to look like to the sharks in the City. So anybody who can count past 10 without removing shoes and socks is press-ganged into service to help come up with a good explanation of why the company is so good at spending money but not so good at making it.

As a rule, I try to leave my work in the office when I leave on a Friday night, not least because I don’t have any broadband or wifi at the barn. And though it is improving slowly, even trying to make a phone call still occasionally means walking up the hill to sit on a fencepost just to get a signal. So there you have it. It’s a real shame, but I simply can’t work at weekends! Unfortunately, at certain times of the year even the ‘Sorry-would-love-to-help-but-I’m-totally-off-the-grid-in-Scotland’ excuse doesn’t work. Which is why, a couple of weekends ago, I had to drive 30 miles to a Garden Centre to find a Wi-fi signal strong enough to allow me to long on to the office server. (I can recommend a Dobbie’s bacon sarnie while trying to figure out the best way to explain a multi-million dollar IT budget. A G&T would probably have made it easier, but might be frowned upon at 9am on a Sunday morning…)

And believe me, a weekend of playing with numbers on a spreadsheet would not make for a very interesting blog. So I didn’t. Sorry!

And last weekend I was moving house. Not the barn I hasten to add – I’m not giving that up after 15 years hard graft. Nope. I’ve given up my rented flat in London and moved all my stuff up to Scotland because I’m going to work in India. (There’s a logic in there somewhere…)

So after a horribly long week at work, I joined the madness of the Bank Holiday Getaway traffic, and spent 11 hours in the car overnight – finally arriving at the barn at 3am on Saturday.

To be woken at 5.30am by the b***** dive-bombing birds and brilliant sunshine.

Hey-ho. No rest for the wicked. Conscious that I had a lot to do and not much time, I got up and unpacked the car.

It’s really quite remarkable how much stuff you can cram into the back of a hatchback….

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Since the majority of this lot was clothes, I decided this might be a good time to finish off the dressing room.

Last time I wrote about the dressing room, it was the trials and tribulations of manhandling a 3m length of worktop up the stairs.

What I didn’t mention was that having coerced my Dad into putting up some battens for the last bit of worktop, I never actually got round to putting it up.

(Attention span problems again – I got bored with the routing, so I couldn’t be bothered to cut and rout the last post that I needed.) So the worktop sat there on it’s side, trying to make me feel guilty every time I entered the room. But since I hadn’t actually put any clothes in there, it was easy to avoid.

No longer. I have a whole car full of suitcases in need of a home. Time to focus the mind and get the room finished. At this point I have to say how relieved I am that Dad had already done the difficult bit. If I’d had to put the battens on the wall in my sleep-deprived state, they’d have been as straight as a politician’s expense sheet.

Fortunately I just had to cut a post to the right height and route a couple of edges.

So there you go Mum. I’ve finally built you your very own sewing table. Maybe you could make a bedspread or something……

So now it was time to unpack. And it has to be said, there is something utterly hedonistic about given a girl an empty 22ft x 14ft wardrobe….

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I finally got round to unpacking some of the boxes of clothes that had been in my shipment back from India 4 years ago! (Well I might be needing those saris again…) In total 6 large black sacks of clothes and 1 sackful of shoes were carted off to the charity shop or the skip. (In girl talk that actually translates as ‘Hey look, loads of space freed up in the wardrobe – time to go shopping!!)

But eventually there was order from all the chaos, and I now have a dressing room to enjoy. (Well, when I get a sofa in there, and perhaps a wine-rack, and an internet based whirligig clothes rail that picks out my outfits for me (No I haven’t been drinking, I really have seen it, and one day – if I can ever get more than a 0.0000000002 MGB broadband – I am going to get one)).

So that was my weekend. A bit of carpentry and lots of unpacking.

And then I got back in the car and drove overnight 500 miles back down the road, arriving home at 3am. Got up at 6am because I needed to clean the flat up a bit (just in case anybody wants to view it – would have been a bit off-putting leaving it in a state of total chaos). Dropped off hire car at 8am, on to Heathrow. To get on a plane at 2pm. Landing in India at 4am. In the office by 9am. Pretty much 36 hours travelling and straight into the office. Oh the glamorous life of the business traveller…

It’s taken me this long to actually work out where I am and what time of day it is. But now I’m sitting in the hotel bar with my G&T, finally writing up my barn blog, and contemplating setting up another blog on the life of an expat in India. (Because I don’t have enough to keep me occupied…)

Cheers!

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!

Setting a fire in the coffin

Woohoo!! I am celebrating. Remember those two toilets I plumbed in last week? Well I turned the water on and it all works. No puddles on the bathroom floors, no water running down the walls – all toilets fully functioning and correct!

IMG_1428Ha! Proud owner of the T-shirt…

(Perhaps I should give up the day job and become a plumber.)

But much as I would like to strut around feeling chuffed with myself, I can’t. Because it’s now only 2 weeks to go till the Invaders from the South arrive.

So this weekend’s big job is getting the fire installed. Obviously my success at plumbing in toilets has gone to my head. I’ve decided to install a woodburning stove myself. And for anyone sitting there shaking their head, muttering “You can’t do that”, well actually I can – and not just because my T-shirt says so.

When I was trawling through Google looking for info on what kind of woodburning stove to get, I came across the most awesome website. (At least, it’s awesome if you’re thinking about installing a stove. If you’re just looking for reviews on the local curry house, it’s not that helpful.)

The Stovefitter’s Warehouse website seems to be on a mission to convince anybody that they are perfectly capable of installing their own stove, and have written what it is pretty much the definitive ‘Idiot’s guide’ on the subject. And let’s face it, as someone who lives by the mantra of ‘How hard can it be?’, and who has pretty much converted a barn on the basis of having read a book called ‘Practical Housebuilding’, well I don’t really take much  convincing, do I?

Actually “How hard can it be?” probably isn’t the right question to ask this time. Perhaps what I should be asking is “What happens if I get it wrong?”

Well, I suppose potentially I could burn the house down, or possibly die of carbon monoxide poisoning. So no pressure then….

Joking aside, clearly installing a fire is a serious business, and I have been having a bit of a debate with myself about whether I really could or should DIY this. There’s a whole heap of safety issues to consider – minimum distances to combustibles, maximum number of bends in the flue, required height of the flue above the roof ridge….. But the Manual on the Stovefitter’s Warehouse website takes you through every step of what you need to prepare/think about/do, and what building regulations you need to be aware of. And if you’re still scratching your head, you can give them a call to ask for advice. With these guys, there really is no such thing as a numpty question – and trust me, I tested this theory to its limit.

Finally, after a lengthy email exchange with Mr Stovefitter as he was designing the flue for me, I asked the definitive question: “Can this really be installed by a DIYer?”

The response:

“Yes absolutely. It’s clip together stuff. Common sense required of course.”

So that’s it.It’s official. I think I can claim to have a reasonable amount of common sense. Mr Stovefitter says I can, and so does my T-shirt. Who am I to argue? (Anybody who thinks I shouldn’t be doing this – well blame the parents; they bought the T-shirt!)

Actually I suspect the biggest problem is going to be getting the stove up on to the hearth. It weighs 140kg. Getting it into the house was a bit of a saga, and that was with three of us and a sack barrow. This weekend, it’s just me. And I’m the walking wounded with a cracked rib.

So how am I going to get this up on to the hearth???

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Well I’ll confess I did just sit and look at it for a while. And had a cup of tea while I thought about it. And then possibly another one while I thought about it a bit more.

But you can’t put these things off forever. It’s that ‘bite the bullet’ moment. So I came up with a cunning plan – which involved 22 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a few random bits of wood.

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Where there’s a will, there’s most definitely a way. One book at a time. So anybody who ever tries to tell you that there is no place in the 21st Century for real books has obviously never had to lift a stove on their own, have they?

Actually, I’d got it propped up onto volume 17 when the cavalry arrived. In the form of my ever helpful contractor chappie and his sidekick. They’d come up to have a look at the roof, where the recent gale force winds have dislodged a few slates (and I’m feeling too lazy to get up there and sort it out myself…)

If I’d known there was going to be two of them, I wouldn’t have got the encyclopaedias out. Mind you after they’d gone and the stove was sitting nicely in its new home, I realised I still needed some way of propping it up so I could attach the legs.

But that only needed 6 volumes, not 22…

So, that’s the first step. Should all be a doddle after that, shouldn’t it?

Hmm. Maybe. Except that when Mr Stovefitter was designing my flue, he did comment “I don’t usually get involved with designs quite this complicated….” Well that sounds about right for my barn.

The challenge is in the design of the roof. The complexity of the rafters means that it is going to be quite a tight fit getting the flue in. The great thing about twin wall flue I’ve bought is that it only needs a clearance of 6cm to combustible materials. Unfortunately the positioning of the rafters in the ceiling above the fire means that I only just have enough room. Since I really don’t want to burn my house down, I’ve decided to go for a belt, braces and bits of string approach by building a little concrete box for my pipe. Concrete board = non-combustible, so that works!

So having worked out where everything is going to go, and cut a few holes in floors, ceilings and walls, time to join it all together.

A bit of fire cement to plug the vitreous pipe into the stove, and a couple of self tapping screws to join the two bits of vitreous pipe together and then just plonk the twin wall adapter on top. Well that was difficult wasn’t it?

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So next job is the twin wall stuff. Mr Stovefitter really wasn’t kidding when he said it was just clip together. All you do is insert one pipe into another put in the locking band and clip it in place. It really is that simple. My niece’s 2-year-old could work it out – though you’d probably have to paint it pink and cover it in Toy Story stickers to get her to have a look.

 

The hardest part was actually getting the angle from the snug up into the loft. It is quite a long reach and 2 metres of the pipe joined together is not exactly light weight. My poor cracked ribs were giving some serious protest by this point.

I’ve lost count of how many times I went up and down the ladder into the loft. But I got it all in place eventually.

And finally….. Well actually,  I am not taking the flue out through the roof. I’m paying someone else to do that. Call me a wimp if you like, but I really can’t face the thought of clambering around the roof at the moment.

PS: I don’t usually use this blog to promote anything, but honestly the Stovefitters Warehouse really is fantastic – so I’m promoting Mr Stovefitter to the Girl in a Hard Hat Hall of Fame – otherwise known as the ‘Tradesman I Trust’ page; only the second tradesman I’ve dealt with in my 15 years of building who I would actually recommend!