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!

A Time for Toilets

Don’t worry, I’m not about to regale you with a horror story about the aftermath of a late night kebab from Ted’s tapeworm van….

A bit of over-enthusiastic exercising earlier this week has resulted in a cracked rib, so I’m currently staggering around clutching my side, a total space-cadet high on painkillers. I should probably avoid the ladders this weekend. And heavy lifting probably isn’t a good idea either. Oh, and it might be wise to avoid the kind of contortionist acts with the plumbing I enjoyed so much last week.

Note the liberal use of the words “should”, “probably” and “might be”. Because there’s only 3 weeks to go till the Invaders from the South arrive, and looking down my long list of jobs still to get done before then, if I avoid all of things mentioned above, then the only thing I’m fit for this weekend is staying in bed with a good book.

Nice thought but really not an option!

So I’ve re-ranked my list of jobs in order of ‘least likely to cause further injury or pain’, and decided that it’s toilet time.

Having got my bath sorted and half the grouting finished, it’s time to finish off the bathrooms completely. The only major thing left to do, apart from a bucketload more grouting, is connect up the loos.

All of the pipework is in place, so it’s just a matter of connecting up the cisterns. Job done. How hard can that be?

Ha! Remember where you are – my barn could never be that simple…

To start with, the exact layout of the pipes connecting to the toilets in the last two bathrooms is a little bit of a mystery. Normally it wouldn’t be too hard to work out. Just follow the cold pipe run. The feed to the toilets just comes off of that.

But In a moment of madness a number of years ago, I decided that Scotland was clearly at risk of running out of water so I installed a 6,000 litre rainwater water collection tank. The plan being that I would use recycled rainwater in the toilets and the washing machine. So a completely separate pipe run was put in accordingly. But I’m not entirely sure what route it follows.

And I can’t just ask the plumber. He got about halfway through putting in the first fix pipework and then downed tools because he said I hadn’t paid him. After his lovely wife/incompetent accountant had got to the point of illegally threatening to add daily Wonga level interest rates to my non-existent outstanding bill, Mr Plumber realised I’d been given different bank details and therefore they hadn’t noticed the money in their account. At that point I sacked him. But he didn’t leave me any plans so I don’t know where exactly the pipes have been run.

I think the pipe comes through the bothy wall and then goes down to the downstairs bathroom first. Then along the wall and back up in the corner of the bathroom upstairs. I think.

And some time ago when I was installing the bathroom at the bottom of the house, I think I put in a stopcock on the rainwater pipe. And I think I put another one in further along the pipe before it goes through the bothy wall. So I think I have a circuit of pipework that can come from the main water supply or the rainwater collection system, with a series of valves that will divert the water from either source.

But hey, that was a while ago. And I’ve got a memory  like a whadyacallit. So I can’t remember now the sequence of valve opening and closing that will ensure the water flows into the toilet cisterns rather than out through an open ended pipe in the boiler room. Oops.

Parking that problem for a moment, my more immediate concern is just physically getting to the pipes to connect up the last cistern. Until that’s connected, nothing gets switched on.

And to get to it requires some of that contortionist stuff I said my ribs wouldn’t allow – like climbing through a very small hole

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and contorting myself to work in the wall space….

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Not my idea of Saturday fun.

Particularly when I cut a hole in the tiles for the toilet flush but then realised I should have checked behind the wall first. I’d cut it in the wrong place. So I had to get creative with a few bits of wood and improvise a structure to support the cistern – all while squashed sideways on behind the wall with a broken rib….

Eventually I got it sorted and all connected up.

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So now all I need to do is switch it on. At which point my self-invented phobia kicks in – that ‘fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn’.

Because the pipes have never been tested. And they’re buried in the wall. And I don’t know which valves are on and which are off, and I hurt too much to go up and down ladders into the loft space trying to figure it out…

Do you know what, I think I might leave the grand switching on ceremony until next weekend….

 

The blind contortionist plumbers game

Only 4 weeks to go…

OK, I admit it. This weekend I had a bit of a meltdown. The list of things to get done before the Invaders from the South arrive doesn’t seem be getting any shorter, but the number of available weeks to get it done in definitely is.

My plan for this weekend was perfectly simple. To get the two remaining bathrooms finished. There’s not that much needed – a little bit of tiling to finish. A bit of grouting. And plumb in the toilets. Hardly a weekend’s work, right?

I decided to start with the bath downstairs.

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The bath has been sitting like that, tilted up on its side for months, because when I first tried to plumb it in, it had a leak in the waste pipe underneath. I tried a couple of times to fix it to no avail. So I left it and went on to something more exciting on the principle that if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. If after try, try again you still don’t succeed, ignore the problem and hope that the DIY fairies will somehow magically sort it out when you’re not looking. (Never works – can’t think why.)

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while will remember the saga of the bath with the plughole at one end, where my phenomenal lack of organisation resulted in the waste stack coming up through the floor in the wrong place.

The design of the bath means that even if the waste pipe had been put in the right place, it’s a bit of a tight fit. With the stack in the middle of the floor, I’d decided even a shallow waste trap wouldn’t work, so I’d custom made one by buying a flat bottomed bath waste outlet, cutting it in half and adding a bit of extra pipe so it would fit under the cross bar that supported the bath legs.

Easy peasy. Except that when I connected it up, one particular compression joint refused to play ball. No matter how tightly I screwed it, it leaked. Even with what felt like half a mile of PTFE tape wound over the thread and a bucket load of plumbers putty squidged into the joint, still it leaked.

I decided to take it all apart and start again.

Of course, none of this is made any easier when you’re having to play the blind contortionist plumbers game. Ever played that? Try joining two pipes together in a compression joint while lying on the floor on your back with your hands over your head underneath the bottom of a bath, so you can’t see what you’re doing, and trying to work out by feel whether you are turning the joint clockwise or anti-clockwise….. Trust me, it’s a whole lot of fun – not.

And it didn’t work. The pipes were still leaking.

In the end I decided to take the whole section out to see if I could get the offending joint to work, before putting it all back. Another mile of PTFE tape, and the joints tightened as much as I possibly could, I filled it with water and left it.

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Hallelujah – it’s not leaking.

So I put it all back in, playing the blind contortionist plumbers game again, poured a load water down the plughole, stood back and waited, and……it leaked again.

Cue the meltdown. Tears, tantrums and toys well and truly thrown out of the pram. Along the lines of “I hate this house; I’ll never get it finished; I can’t possibly have people to stay while it’s in this state….” You get the picture.

And then I drove down to B&Q and bought another shallow bath trap. One last ditch attempt to make it work before I give up and hang a ‘Display model only, do not use’ sign on the bath when my guests arrive.

But this trap was a slightly different design to the first one. And very slightly shorter. Which meant that if I turned it to one side, there was just about room to put a 90° solvent weld joint, which could then be welded to a length of pipe to reach the waste stack in the middle of the floor. No dodgy compression joints.

In the hope that the divine God of plumbing would look favourably upon my efforts I even drew a smiley face on the pipe, before welding it all together and leaving it overnight to ‘set’.

 

Next morning and the moment of truth. I poured a load of water down the plughole, stood back and waited. And…… that insidious little trickle of water appeared. It was still leaking.

Not, admittedly, on the scale of the puddles of the previous day. But enough to make me want to give up, shut the bathroom door and put up an ‘Out of Order’ sign.

But instead I tilted the bath up again and looked underneath to see where the problem was. All of my welded joints seemed to be dry. As did the compression joint on to the bottom of the bath. The problem seemed to be in the cap that shuts of the access to the trap. Which, it seems, I had forgotten to tighten. Duh!

So I do have a working bath after all. The smiley face worked.

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So that was my weekend. One solitary bath plumbed in. In the grand scheme of the to-do list, just a bit pathetic really.

Fortunately Mum and Dad were there to save the weekend.

While I toddled off to B&Q for my plumbing bits, Mum got on with the grouting. Which is a job I hate!

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So that means that bathroom is practically finished.

And as for Dad – well I’d asked him earlier in the week if he could frame the back wall in the kitchen so we could plasterboard it. Another job I’ve been putting off for a while as I didn’t really know how to go about it.

Neither did my Dad apparently. Rumour has it there was a fair amount of procrastination, head-scratching and general unwillingness to start. Possibly even the odd 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.

He deserves a medal for having created the only truly straight wall in the entire building. It would almost be an act of vandalism to board over it!

 

Propping up the bar…

Having taken a couple of days off work to get cracking on my very long list of jobs, I arrived at the barn this week feeling decidedly under the weather and disinclined to do anything. If I’d been a bloke I’d have declared to the world that I had ‘Man flu’ and skulked off to bed for a few days to recover.

But I’m just a girl. It can’t be anything worse than just a bit of a cold, so I’m sure I’ll survive. In any case, with just 5 weeks until the Great Invasion from the South, I don’t really have time to be ill.

I’d had two goals for my long weekend:

  1. I’d ordered all the stove and flue and it was all due to be delivered while I was there, so I wanted to  get as much of the preparation for fitting the fire done as possible.
  2. Last week I’d made a start on the balustrade in the kitchen, so I wanted to get that finished so I could make a start on the ones upstairs.

But with as much energy as a anaesthetised slug, I wasn’t really in the mood for any of the bigger jobs on my list. So I probably wasn’t at my most welcoming when Laurel & Hardy showed up to drop off a woodburning stove.

To be fair to them, they were making a special effort; they’d phoned a couple of hours earlier to say they wouldn’t be able to deliver as planned because the tail-lift on their van was broken and they were having to head back to the depot.

I’d made it clear I wasn’t best impressed. I’d taken the day off specifically to take delivery, and if it didn’t turn up that day, would they be working the weekend to deliver because I wouldn’t be around the following week to sign for it, and could they make sure somebody phoned me when they got back to the depot to keep me informed…..blah blah blah.

Which was a bit mean really; it’s hardly their fault that the tail-lift was broken, and I’d completely forgotten that my parents were due to arrive later that day so in fact there would have been someone around the following week to take the delivery…. well like I said at the beginning, I’m not feeling at my brightest and best at the moment.

Anyway, my ‘obviously-not-impressed’ voice clearly got through. I got a phone call about an hour later. “Er, we think we’re outside your gate.” And sure enough there was a great big delivery van reversed up to the gate. Laurel & Hardy had decided they would make the delivery anyway, even without a functioning tail-lift on the truck. Which meant they would have to manhandle the stove off the back of the lorry without the use of the pallet truck.

At this point I started to feel slightly guilty. I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t be covered by any insurance if they put their backs out in this scenario….

They started bickering like an old married couple about the best way to lift 150kg pallet.

I offered to help, but got the distinct impression that they didn’t think girls were any good at heavy lifting. So I offered to go and knock on my neighbour’s door to see if he would help. They agreed to that happily enough. Long live sexism….

But as I was walking back down my neighbour’s drive they suddenly yelled out that it was OK, they’d managed by themselves. Hmmm. Maybe they sent me off so I didn’t actually get to see how they got it down.

150kg of stove was now sitting on the concrete slab outside my garage in the pouring rain, as Laurel & Hardy drove away, still bickering. I decided to leave it there for the night; it felt like far too much effort to attempt to move it just then.

But the next day, the task could be postponed no longer. Aided and abetted by my honorary builder parents, I went outside to discover exactly how heavy my stove was. The three of us could barely lift it. (Though it did become slightly easier when I realised I hadn’t actually cut all of the straps that were holding it on to the pallet…..Duh!)

I have an old but serviceable sack barrow, which in my head I was convinced could take a load of up to 200kg. We managed to lift the stove off the pallet. And just about managed to get it tilted on to the sack barrow. (I’ve changed my mind about the load capacity of my barrow – I don’t think the base is flat any more….!)

So we stood it back upright, left it where it was, and went indoors for a long confab on the best way to get a stove-on-a-sack-barrow over a step into the house. I found a couple of lengths of decking the could act as a ramp up into the house. But we would still have to get over the doorframe. The merits of using long bits of wood were considered, so they could act as a seesaw into the house. There was probably a cup of tea consumed. (We’re very good at procrastination…)

Eventually we could put it off no longer. Having decided that the short ramp would be sufficient, we went back out to the abandoned stove, got it tilted back on to the sack a barrow and wheeled it in. Just like that – dead easy really!

Lifting it over a foot off the ground to get it up on the hearth might prove a bit more problematic, but I think I’ll save that for another day!

As to the second job I’d hoped to get completed. Well there wasn’t that much left to do for the kitchen balustrade. A spirit level and a few hefty screws had got a couple of half newel posts fixed to the side walls. The ‘pre-grooved’ base rail screwed pretty easily into the brickwork floor. And a nifty little ziplock bolts means the grooved hand rail can be taken off again when I get round to ordering the glass.

But I really didn’t have the oomph to start upstairs. So I think I’ll just stay here, propping up the bar….

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Blowing up the electrics

It came as a bit of a shock to realise that it’s only 6 weeks till the Invaders from the South arrive. Guess that puts an end to my habit of lazy long lie-ins with a cup of tea and a good book. Time to get focussed about things.

So I went online and ordered my woodburner and flue – to be delivered next week. And then I’d made a plan for this weekend. Up early and off B&Q to stock up on a load of cement board and then back to the barn to crack on with preparing for the stove installation.

But having made my mind up that I would get up and don the overalls at the crack of dawn, Mother Nature decided to intervene again. This time in the form of heavy snow falling all afternoon on Friday, such that by the time I came to drive up the road, it was practically unpassable. Trying to drive up the track in these conditions, unless you’ve got snow tyres or a 4WD, is like trying to skateboard up a ski slope – not for the fainthearted. The only way up is to turn off the skid control, put your foot down and pray. I felt like I’d got about as much control over the car as Jeremy Corbyn has over his cabinet…

I did make it up, but abandoned all thoughts of an early trip out anywhere, particularly as it continued to snow for the rest of the night.

So much for the best-laid plans!

So it was going to have to be a weekend of ‘odds & sods’ again – though let’s face it, there’s enough small jobs left at the barn to keep me occupied for a whole decade of weekends.

To start with, I decided to hang the second chandelier in the living room. I finished making it a couple of weeks ago, but never got round to putting it up. (Well like I said, attention span of a kitten in a wool shop.)

I thought this would be a 10-minute job. Turn the lights off at the fuse box; take down the old fitting; put up the new one. Simples!

Well that’s how it worked for the first one. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the lighting being on a loop . Yes, I know, DUH! But the first chandelier I put up must be at the end of the circuit – it was just one cable in and one out. And the light fitting could cope with that, so I hadn’t really given it much thought.

But it wasn’t so simple for this one – not only was it in the middle of the circuit, it was also on a two-way switch. So, 3 cables in and one out.

It was only as I went to put the new fitting up I realised its simple little 3-strip of connectors wouldn’t be enough. Well that’s no problem; I’ll just nick the connectors from the old fittings and replace the ones in the chandelier.

But before I did that, I decided I’d try reconnecting the old fitting – just to make sure I knew how it worked before attempting to lug the whole chandelier up to the top of the ladder. I hadn’t really paid much attention when I took the old fitting down, but I had a vague memory of which wire had been put where. How hard can it be?

Armed with a minuscule screwdriver and the old light fitting I hiked back up the ladder and reconnected it all up how I thought I remembered it was before.

Back down the ladder to turn the everything on at the fuse board. And the light came on. Which you might think is a good thing. Except when you can’t actually turn it off. I tried both switches but neither had any effect. Clearly I’d mucked up the wiring somewhere.

Turned it all off at fuse board and climbed back up ladder to switch the wires around. And came back down to flip the switch on the fuse board.

And it went bang.

Oops!

Well that is the point of a fuse board isn’t it – to shut it all down before anything blows up. So I double-checked to make sure it was all off and went back up the ladder to rearrange the wiring. Third time lucky right? Back down ladder; switch on at the fuse board again.

Bang – again – oops.

So I did what I should have done to start with – I went into my library and found a book on electrical wiring……

Having figured out at last which wire went where, I went back up the ladder and tested my new-found theory on the old fitting. Turned it all on at the fuse board and…Silence – no loud flash and bang, and both the switches turned the light on and off. Hallelujah, it all works! So all I needed to do now was swap it all over into the chandelier. Which should have been the easy bit.

But have you ever tried fitting a dozen wires into a strip of electric connectors with one hand, using one of those piddly little screwdrivers you get out of posh christmas crackers, whilst standing on the prohibited top step of a very tall ladder, with a bulky 8kg light fitting in the other hand, in the dark wearing a headtorch. Trust me, there are better ways to spend a Saturday night.

Part of me wanted to just give up and sort it out in the morning. But the lights to the kitchen are on the same fuse switch as the living room. I couldn’t leave a live wire dangling out of the ceiling, even if it was 5 metres high and out of anybody’s reach. Which meant I’d be cooking dinner by candlelight and head torch if I didn’t get the job finished…

By the time I managed to screw all the wires into the connector, my arms were cramping and my legs were physically shaking. And the light fitting was proving tricky to screw into the ceiling bracket. Because I’d had to put a larger connector strip into the fitting to cope with all the various cables, it wasn’t an easy fit. But I couldn’t let go – the only thing joining the light to the ceiling at that point was the three wires screwed into the connector with feeble millimetre screws. That wouldn’t be anywhere near strong enough to hold the weight. So if I let go now, the whole lot would crash down and smash on the stone floor below.

Only one thing for it……

Brute force and an awful lot of swearing. I got there in the end.

 

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Next time I’m just phoning a sparky.

 

Nothing like a deadline…..

This is a bit of a cheat. I’m not actually at the barn this weekend, so this blog is a bit of a Blue Peter ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’……

I’m on a mission. In just over 6 weeks the barn is being invaded. I have a houseful of guests arriving for the Easter weekend.

On the plus side my helpful contractor chappy has been up and redone some of the pointing at the front of the house and finished off the gutters around the conservatory. So water has stopped running down the walls in the conservatory and dripping through plasterboard above the window in the living room.  Always a bonus if you’ve got guests staying.

And more importantly, following the heating engineer’s last visit the heating is back up and running so the inside of the house no longer feels like you’re inside a giant fridge. (I don’t think my guests would be too impressed with that!)

The picture of a happy heat pump…

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In truth, there is actually still a bit of work required. A valve that switches between the heating and hot water needs replacing, but the heating engineer didn’t have a spare when he came up. So at the moment I’m a bit dependent on an immersion switch to get the water properly hot.

The replacement valve has been ordered. But unfortunately Mr Heating Engineer can’t actually get off his island to come and fit it because of the rain/flooding/gales/snow… Living on an island is a bit of a challenge at the moment. But hey, that’s just minor detail. I’m sure the weather will let up eventually, even in Scotland – hopefully before Easter!

In the meantime there’s plenty of other things I need to ‘finish off’ before I’ll consider the house fit for a crowd of visitors.

So here’s my to-do list for the next 6 weeks:

  1. Finish the bathrooms: Two out of the four bathrooms are fully functioning, but given that one of those is effectively an ensuite between two bedrooms, and the other is up at the other end of the house in the freezing cold cottage, I really need to get the remaining two finished. And it’s not that there’s much to do. They are all plumbed in; I just need to finish the connection to the toilets. And then a bit of tiling needs to be completed.

    The only reason this hasn’t been done to date is because I’ve been avoiding it – really it’s just down to me having the attention span of a hyperactive kitten, and the fact that I really hate grouting!

  2. Getting a woodburning stove installed: Well OK, if the heating’s all working this one is probably a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential. But Mr Stovefitter and I have been exchanging plenty of emails, ideas and measurements, and whilst he did come back at one point with a concern that he didn’t really design for such complex buildings (haha – that’s my barn for you!), we seem to have settled on a workable option. Screenshot 2016-01-28 12.41.09So now it’s just a case of getting the stuff delivered and installed, within the next 6 weeks. How hard can that be?
  3. Putting up some balustrades: At the moment there is nothing to stop anybody walking through the gap in the kitchen wall (architect’s creativity at work) to the living room 10ft below:

    Or tripping over the steps out of the dressing room and falling over the edge of the gallery into the music room below….IMG_0949

    Or over the edge of the bedroom floor….

    To be honest, I need to get this one done  irrespective of guests arriving; the health and safety police at the building warrant office are unlikely to sign off a completion certificate if there’s any likelihood of people falling over these kind of edges!

  4. The kitchen: Excuse me while I fall to the floor laughing. There is no way on earth my kitchen is going to be completed by Easter.  But I do have a cooker, and a fridge/freezer (with the all important ice-maker for the G&T), so I’m not a million miles away.IMG_1120 If I can at least get a sink installed, then as far as I’m concerned, that makes it a fully functioning kitchen. Cupboards are mere detail.
  5. About a million other little jobs that I’ve been putting off forever….

Hey ho – nothing like a deadline for getting the world’s worst procrastinator to get a few things finished!!

 

Nature’s revenge

Sitting in the airport on Friday night, waiting for my flight home, I have to admit I was struggling to come up with ideas for my blog this week. I’ve related most of the historical fun and games I’ve had with building the barn, so now you pretty much get to read it ‘live action’ (if you get my drift.) Which means if I don’t feel like doing anything, there’s nothing much to write about!

And having just had the week from hell at work, I wasn’t really feeling all that inclined to don the overalls and start grouting/plumbing/woodworking ….. Donning my PJ’s and spending a weekend on the sofa with a bottle of wine is much more where my head was. But that wouldn’t make for a great blog, would it?

Then I picked up a text from my neighbour: “Hi. Just to let you know, part of the big tree between us came down this morning….”

So, the revenge of  Mother Nature is the blog this week. Because OK, I admit, I’ve been bit smug about the fact that in spite of the ocean of rain that has fallen on Scotland in the last month or so, I am safe in the knowledge that I will never be flooded. Because I’m about 650 feet above sea-level on the side of a hill.

Unfortunately being stuck up a hill also means I’m a bit more exposed to the gale force winds that are becoming a regular part of the Scottish weather, and I’ve spent a fair few nights lying awake over the years, listening to the wind howling and wondering whether I’ll still have a roof in the morning. And it’s not groundless fears: My pump house shed did once audition for a part as the farmhouse on the Wizard of Oz, landing at the bottom of the next field – if 250kg of shed can just fly through the air with the greatest of ease, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a tree will come down one day.

So when I get a text like the one above, cue the panic. I instantly had a vision of a 60ft ash tree crashing through my roof. If I’d read the rest of the text before being distracted by my lurid imagination, I’d have discovered things weren’t quite so dramatic.

Remember that storm that buried most of the US under several feet of snow last week? Well by the time it got to Scotland it had turned into 100mph winds and yet more rain. (Like we haven’t had enough of that to last a lifetime already.) And it brought down part of the tree.

 

It didn’t come down through my living room roof – but that’s just the way the wind was blowing!

It meant I had to give up on the idea of being a couch potato all weekend. Since there’s more gales forecast for next week, I thought I’d better take a walk around the grounds to see if anything else at risk…

Well everything looks to be OK. The pump house shed is still in situ. There’s a couple of trees in the woods behind the house that look a bit the worse for wear, but I think they’ve just grown that way.

 

In any case, how would I actually know if a tree was likely to come down – it’s not like they hang a sign on their branches “I’m gonna fall soon”…

I’ll be honest, I’ve always been very nervous about the trees in my neighbour’s garden. Once upon a time there were four, but one of them was taken down several years ago when it was deemed unsafe.

Happily my neighbour has now decided the remaining three are also to come down. It’s a shame, as I do like having trees around, but I admit I’ll feel safer when these ones are gone. And there’s a silver lining in all this – those solar panels I’ve been planning will be much more effective if they’re no longer partially shaded…..

A great big ball of light….

My attention to detail is a bit like a politician’s promise – short-lived and unreliable.  So whilst I could dance around in a big, draughty cow-dung filled barn, getting madly excited with wild ideas of what it might eventually look like, I wasn’t really that great when it came to checking all the details on the plans.

I mean, yes there were lots of light fittings and sockets on the plan, but I never really tried to envisage what that meant in reality. That’s just plugs and lightbulbs – all ‘stuff I can deal with later’. But of course, all the necessary wiring in the first fix electrics goes in long before you get to actual light fittings. And once all the plasterboard is then put in place, it becomes a bit problematical to make major changes. As a result I do have a couple of unnecessarily dark corners. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – I do wish I’d paid a bit more attention. Hey ho! Guess I’ll just have to buy a few extra floor lamps!

IMG_1286The one place where I did actually intervene was in the music room. As a result of the irregularities of the stone wall and the way I decided to frame them out, I’ve ended up with a ledge half way up the wall. I decided it would look quite cool to put some uplighters on the ledge. And it does give a lovely wash of light up the wall.

But it was also almost the cause of me burning the place down.

The sparky had put the fittings in place; I was just adding the finishing touches. I decided to use up some of my leftover oak floor boards to trim the ledge. So I cut a hole through the boards to fit the first light. Then moved on to the second. And wandered off to get something, without realising I’d put a piece of floorboard over the top of the light fitting. And also without realising the lights were on. And got a bit distracted. (Yes, I know – attention span of a kitten in a wool shop..) A while later, at the other end of the house, I thought I could smell burning. I got back to the Music room to find the oak boards smouldering and the light fitting melted. Oops!

So I’ve steered clear of getting involved in the rest of the light fittings, which is maybe  just as well!

As a result, for the most part I’ve ended up with downlighters (about 100 of them in total) as the Mr Sparky’s failsafe-total-lack-of-imagination-fallback option. In the one room that I said I want proper pendant lights of some sort, he has put in a bog-standard plastic ceiling rose and left bare bulbs hanging. OK, to be fair, he’s a sparky not an interior designer, and he didn’t know what else to put up there, because I hadn’t managed to find my dream light fittings at the time.

But these bare bulbs are suspended from a cable that is about 10cm long in a room that has a 5m high ceiling:

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To say it looks ridiculous is being polite!

So this weekend I’ve decided to do something about it – though hopefully without burning the house down this time.

I found my perfect dream to-die-for lights on the internet ages ago. Unfortunately they were a couple of thousand squids each and I need 2 of them. I’ve been hunting everywhere for an alternative that doesn’t need a second mortgage, but without success.

So I have come up with a cunning plan. Baldric will be proud of me. I’m going to make my own by buying a couple of bog-standard chandeliers and creating some large globes around them using hula hoops (the gymnastic kind, not the ones you eat!) OK, it probably sounds a bit weird and hideous, but I know what I’m trying to get to. Trust me. It’ll work.

And for anyone who wants to try this at home, in true Blue Peter style, here’s what you will need.

  • A bog-standard chandelier
  • A couple of random spare bits of oak (I used leftover worktop)
  • Some wooden gymnastics hoops
  • Pliers
  • Glue
  • Varnish
  • Some metal chain
  • A large hole cutter
  • A small hole cutter
  • A router
  • A ball of string
  • A couple of 4 inch screws
  • Sticky-back plastic (just kidding)
  • The patience of a saint (not kidding)

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First problem is that most bog-standard chandeliers are made for bog-standard houses, which have bog-standard ceiling heights.

To make them long enough to look even vaguely sensible in a room with 5m high ceilings, I needed to make the drop longer.

So I went out and bought some chain. Fortunately there was quite a bit of extra cable, so a bit of nifty handiwork with a pair of pliers, and my ‘chandelier’ was a foot longer. (Could have done with another 3 feet to be honest, but there wasn’t enough cable length.)

Then to make the ‘globes’. Cut out a large circle of wood. Route it round the edges to give a more professional finish. Then cut a smaller circle out of the middle of it. Saw a few notches round the edges of each circle. Now all you need to do is cut the hoops in half and slot them in to the notches. Easy, right? Well in truth you’ll need a maths degree to figure out how much to cut out of each hoop to ensure that they still create a perfect circle when you join the whole thing together.

In the absence of a maths degree, I made do with a ball of string and guesswork….

How simple is that???

Now all I need to do is get it up to the ceiling and wire it in. How hard can that be?

The original light fitting was  a mere 4 kg. And although individually the wooden hoops weren’t particularly heavy, by the time I’d added half a dozen of them to each light, the weight had doubled. Bear in mind that in order to be able to secure it to the ceiling, I would need to be able to hold the fitting in one hand whilst wielding screwdriver in the other.

But hey. I’m a gym bunny – I can lift 8kg in one hand no probs. I think my PT would be insulted if I couldn’t. But the problem is, that one-handed 8kg lift has to be whilst climbing a step-ladder. And such is the height of the room, that I’m going to have to ignore this:

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The only way I can reach the ceiling is by standing on the ‘paint-pot shelf’…

And if it all becomes too heavy, or I lose my balance and have to let go of the light, well underneath it is my lovely hand-carved teak, glass-topped dining table – which is too heavy to shift out of the way. So dropping the chandelier is really not an option…

And finally, this was fairly late in the evening. Obviously I’d need to disconnect the power to the lights before I started playing around with the electric fitting.

So, carrying a rather bulky 8kg in one hand up to the very top of a large step-ladder in the dark with just a head torch to see by…… Well why make things simple????

I made it. But I’ll confess to feeling quite shaky when I got back down to earth!

Well that’s one done. One more to go. But I’m bored with this now – I want a different ball of wool to play with……….