Bits, Bobs, Odds & Sods – the confessions….

This was supposed to be written yesterday – sitting in an airport lounge with a G&T in hand, doing the ‘Confessions of a self-builder’ thing. Unfortunately the fog intervened, my flight was cancelled twice, and so I’m now stuck on a train – hey ho, the joys of the 500-mile weekly commute.

Anyway, confession time – did I spend all weekend prevaricating, or did I get any of those odd jobs done?

Well one thing I did realise this weekend – there’s actually only a few reasons that jobs don’t get done:

Excuse #1.  I hate sawing wood by hand…

… so the steps leading into the snug have been put off for quite some time, because I need to trim a whole length of oak flooring that I was using to finish the steps.

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This weekend, I thought I’d discovered a crafty alternative to the  hand saw – a router with a flush trim bit. A whole lot less effort than sawing. Unfortunately I hadn’t really bargained with the amount of sawdust it creates and since it had to be trimmed in situ, the wood trimmings scattered far and wide into the music room below. It probably took me longer to clear it all up than it would have done to saw by hand!

Excuse #2. It’s just too fiddly

I put so many jobs off because I know they require time, patience, and attention to detail – 3 things I don’t have much of!

Having trimmed the oak floorboard and secured them all down, the steps needed some sort of finishing edge. Cutting the trims to fit isn’t difficult, but getting the corners to mitre properly isn’t just fiddly; as far as I’m concerned it’s Mission Impossible. Which is why wood-filler can be a girl’s best friend…

Still, one thing to be said for this kind of job – it’s not messy and there’s no heavy lifting involved. So as an expert in the art of procrastination, putting off some of the less palatable alternatives, I went on a bit of a mission to finish trimming everything I could find….

The landing by the stairs:

The shelf in the snug:

The edge of the bedroom flooring:

I know there’s a few I’ve missed, but they’re the extra fiddly ones. I’ll get round to them next time. Promise.

Excuse #3. I hate cleaning the cement bucket

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So I never actually bother. Whenever I’ve finished a job requiring cement or grout or any similar kind of goo, I dump all the tools in the bucket, fill it with water, and ‘leave it to soak’. Well it used to work in university days on the burnt spag bol pan – most of the time.

Unfortunately, dried cement is a bit more persistent than even the best student cooking efforts, so cleaning it takes considerably longer – which is why I keep putting off any jobs that involve ‘the bucket’.

But this is non-procrastination week – so the bucket got cleaned and a few long overdue jobs got done.

The steps in the kitchen need some plasterboard and plaster filling, so I’ve been
putting them off because of ‘the bucket’.

But unfortunately, until I get them finished, I can’t paint the walls either side, and I can’t put the kitchen floor down. So there’s a couple of major jobs dependent on getting that bucket cleaned!

It may not look much different to most of you, but it was a couple of hours work with my bucket of cement and a tub full of plaster skim.

I also had a bit of plasterboard to cement to the wall on the cupboard I’ve built to house the heating manifold. Most of the board was screwed onto a wood frame – a nice, easy job that creates no mess and doesn’t require ‘the bucket’. But there was one small strip that had to be cemented in place – which means it’s been left hanging randomly ever since I first built the cupboard (quite a few months ago!)

Another job to cross off the list – and I think I can put the bucket away again (without cleaning it). Though I think between the kitchen steps and the cupboard, I’ve now let myself in for a fairly major painting job next weekend…

Excuse #4. I really haven’t worked out how I’m going to do this…..

I think I’ve mentioned wonky walls before. Well one of the issues this created was a huge, irregular gap between the string of the staircase and the walls. I hadn’t really worked out what to do with it. A few weeks ago I got a bit trigger-happy with a can of expanding foam:

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And not knowing quite what to do with it next, I ignored the giant slug-like protuberance growing out of the side of the staircase.

But since it’s ‘finish the job’ week, I decided this was probably a good one to tackle.

So I attacked the slug with my trusty Fat Max knife, sanded it to within an inch of its life, covered it in layer of plaster skim, and finished with a coat of paint. IMG_1012

It seemed to work out OK. And it’s definitely another job I’m really glad to see the back of.

Excuse #5. I just never got round to it…

For the wall between the bathroom and the stairs, I’ve painted (or at least base-coated) one side, and tiled the other. But I never quite got round to finishing the end of it. But in the spirit of ‘just get on with it’, a couple of bits of plasterboard, an edging strip for the tiles, a bit of plaster skim, and a lick of paint….. jobs a good’un!

This next one’s a good one. I made the steps up into the dressing by building a frame and buying some stair treads which I cut to size. But I never quite got round to securing them. Which meant that if anybody stood on the edge of the tread, it could have tipped up and pitched them down the stairs. Well there’s only three steps, so maybe that wouldn’t be too catastrophic, except that those three steps are directly opposite the edge of the gallery, which doesn’t currently have a balustrade. So a tilting step could have pitched someone down the stairs straight over the edge of a 10ft drop onto the music room floor. Oops – possibly a bit of a health and safety issue.

Well you’ll be pleased to know they are now all secured:

(Though it will probably still be a good idea to get the balustrade installed…)

And the last job of the weekend? Well remember that rat-trap I mentioned a couple of weeks ago – the one that was being shunned by the mice because of its lingering aroma of BBQ mouse? It appears there was an intrepid Dangermouse in the house who decided to explore. A flash and a bang, and Dangermouse was no more. Unfortunately, I’d been away for a couple of weeks; I don’t know when he was zapped, but he’d been dead in there long enough to become a bit ‘sticky’. It couldn’t be put off any more – the trap had to be blitzed. It was a job for latex gloves inside the Marigolds, but I do now have a shiny, clean, odour-free rat-trap.

At this point, frankly, I think I deserved the rest of the weekend off. Actually I think it’s been quite a productive weekend; lots of irritatingly small jobs done. But I don’t think I’ll be doing the whole confessional blogging thing again – much too much like hard work!

Waging war on the wildlife…..

I should probably attach a health warning to this blog. Something along the lines of “all animal lovers and squeamish people, read no further….”

For anyone who hasn’t worked it out yet, I live in the country; halfway up a hill, in the middle of remote nowhere, surrounded by the beautiful countryside of Scotland.

On the plus side, I wake up every morning to views like this:

On the downside, Waitrose won’t deliver, there is absolutely zero chance of ever getting a broadband speed above 0.000001 MB/s, in Winter I can be cut off for days at a time, and the nearest pub/bus stop/pint of milk is a 5-mile cross-country hike away.

And I get invaded by every species of wildlife imaginable.

Now for all you city dwellers whose idea of wildlife is urban foxes raiding the dustbins, I’m guessing when I put a few pictures like this up:

(taken  from my bedroom window one morning when I woke up and caught him looking in) you’re all thinking “How cute!”

Well maybe. But however cute they look, deer are a menace if you’re trying to cultivate a garden. Ditto all the fluffy little rabbits, who’ve built themselves a multi-floored des-res around the heating manifold in the back garden (- though they’re in for a shock when it finally gets backfilled next week!) They’ll treat your lovely expensive new plants as their own gourmet dining experience.

To be perfectly honest, given the state of most of my land, overgrown as it is with 6ft high weeds, Bambi and Thumper are not my greatest concern at the moment.

My bigger ‘wildlife’ problem is actually indoors, not outdoors. MICE. Eeek! The house is overrun with them, an unpleasant but inevitable consequence of living in an old building surrounded by farmland.

They get absolutely everywhere, but they do seem to have a few favourite places. For some reason, the top step leading into the music room is the choice spot for a nightly Meeting of the Mice. It also appears to be the mouse public lavatory.

To be honest, I could (almost) live with clearing up the mouse poo if that was the only issue. But mice will chew through anything and everything. They even managed to get inside my heat pump and chew through all the wiring, causing hundreds of pounds of damage. So war has been declared.

IMG_0898My first attempts at introducing a ‘mouse-free zone’ was with an electronic rat trap. Stick a bit of chocolate on the metal plate, switch it on and wait. Mouse goes in, a flash and a bang, and mouse is dead – hopefully without feeling anything. In the morning, all you have to do is tip dead mouse out onto the compost heap.

It did work quite well. Right up until the time some other kind of wildlife got into the house one night, found a dead mouse in the trap and decided to eat half of it. I don’t know what kind of predator the visitor was, but I suspect a stoat or a weasel – and how it got into the house, I have no idea. But since then, the mice have been a bit wary of the trap – maybe there’s a lingering smell of dead roasted mouse that is putting them off. I should probably clean it out, but to be honest, even with the Marigolds on, I don’t really relish the idea of scraping the barbecued mouse innards from the inside of the trap.

In any case, one mouse at a time is a bit slow going. Rather than invest in another dozen or so electronic traps, I decided to try an alternative – which was to put down poison.

Mice don’t like poison. Though to be fair, neither do I.

I mean, conceptually it feels wrong: Mouse eats poison and dies is fine. But then neighbour’s cat eats dead poisoned mouse and gets sick. Or mouse dies outside somewhere and his decomposing corpse releases all the poison into the ground for some other innocent, unsuspecting wildlife to eat…

I also had nightmares of hundreds of mice feasting on the poison I put down, and taking a carry-out back to their nests to continue the party. Only to die there, becoming hundreds of tiny mouse skeletons piled high in the metre-thick stone walls (well I did warn you – this is not a blog for the squeamish).

But poison is effective, and let’s be honest, the little b*ggers cause too much damage to ignore; they have to go.

So I quashed all thoughts of the hypothetical horror scenarios above and liberally scattered my trays of poison in the boiler room. And the evidence of mouse activity started to disappear. The poison worked.

It was all going so well, until the day I found Mickey – the mouse so sick that he couldn’t run away. He just lay there, curled up in a little ball by the water tank, watching me. Looking at the poor trembling little creature made me feel like a mass murderer (which I suppose, technically, I was). I haven’t been able to put poison down ever since.

But I do still need to get rid of the pesky blighters – I’m not so soft-hearted that I want to put up with continually cleaning up the mouse poo they obligingly leave all over the house. I just had to find a less gruesome alternative than poison to solve my little furry problem.

As ever, in a situation like this, the internet is a girl’s best friend, so I googled “Mice – prevention of…”

Some of the bright ideas Google came up with:

Block up all the mouse holes.

Really? What genius thought that one up? At a guess I’d say someone who has never lived in an old building where the walls are made out of stone, rubble, cracks and gaps. I mean yes, it’s the most obvious logical answer, but trying to fill all the holes in my walls would be like trying to fill a sieve with water.

IMG_0852I’ve had a shot at it – armed with a job lot of expanding foam, I’ve attacked some of the more obvious holes that I knew were being used.

One of the favourite entrance places was through a gap between the ceiling plasterboard and the beam, where they would come in and run up and down the wall (leaving a lovely trail of evidence behind them.)

Not any more!

But unfortunately, blocking every single hole in the building isn’t possible. So what else can I try?

Mice don’t like tinfoil.

Apparently it hurts their teeth. (I have some sympathy – don’t you remember, as a kid, accidentally chewing a bit of your KitKat wrapper??) So the suggestion was fill all mouse holes with foil and wrap all pipes and wires in the stuff.

I have two objections to this idea:

  1. There are hundreds of holes in my walls. Do I really want little tufts of tinfoil sticking out all over the place?? Hardly the kind of trendy interior design look I’m after.
  2. Given the size of the house, I have oodles of pipes and wires. I would have to buy up every bit of tinfoil in a 10-mile radius, creating a severe local shortage – and in the run up to Christmas turkey time, I’m sure that wouldn’t make me popular.

Any other brilliant ideas Google?

Mice don’t like peppermint oil

The jury’s out on whether this one works. I did try it. Peppermint oil drops on cotton wool, strategically placed around the mouse lavatory. To be fair, there was no sign of mice for a few days, but I’m not sure whether it was the pink cotton wool balls or the peppermint that scared them off. And they were soon back. I’d try spraying a stronger solution of the stuff, but I’m not really convinced I want to live in a house that permanently smells like a Trebor mint factory.

And then I came across this little gem:

An ultrasonic, electromagnetic, ionising super gadget.

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Apparently it makes the environment so uncomfortable for rodents that they’ll pack up their bags and move out, 100% guaranteed or your money back…

I plugged it in, switched it on, and stood back to see what would happen. It was instantaneous. The walls came alive; the mice went mad. There was a frenzy of scrabbling as they tried to escape the ultrasonic waves and electromagnetic vibrations.

But a few days later, the mouse lavatory appeared to be back in use. It may be that the stone walls are creating mouse protection barriers, so I’ve been moving the super gadget around to different sockets in different rooms – trying the attack from all angles. I may yet be asking for a refund…..

In truth I think the best solution is to get myself a cat. And maybe when my job no longer involves so much time away from home I will. But there’s a risk in that strategy – who can stop at just one? As I become the mad hermit cat lady on the hill…..