There’s a bird in my bedroom!

Oh the joy of the Friday night commute. The plane was late as usual, and when we arrived we were parked on a remote stand because, according to the air steward, the airport wasn’t expecting us (Eh????). And then the lovely people at Edinburgh airport have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that buses picking up passengers from remote stands should drive round to the entrance that is the furthest possible distance from the arrivals hall…..

And then I got stuck behind a tractor. On the A93, at 11.30 at night. Wtf??

So when I finally crawled into my bed at well past midnight  I had no plans to get up at the crack of dawn in the morning.

Needless to say, I wasn’t best impressed when I was woken up at 6.30am by what sounded like an army marching through the loft. And then a bird flew out of the bathroom, through the bedroom and into the snug – where it proceeded to headbutt the glass roof, chirping madly. Finally deciding it couldn’t escape through the glass, it gave up and presumably flew down into the living room. There was an almighty bang, and then silence.

Well how’s that for an alarm clock? I contemplated just going back to sleep again, but since I was awake and the sun was streaming in every window, that seemed a bit pointless. So I got up. At half past six on a Saturday morning. There should be a law against it.

When I got downstairs, I discovered what the ‘bang’ had been. Mr Chirpy had seen the daylight through the large windows in the living room and had made his bid for freedom. Full pelt into the glass. I’m not sure whether he died of shock or a broken neck….

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Well that’s a nice thing to have to deal with before breakfast! I disposed of him outside and went back in for a cup of tea.

Since there weren’t any open windows or doors, he must have got into the loft and found a way into the house from there. Well at least that decided on the job for the day – time to seal up any bird-sized holes in the building.

There were two obvious places he could have got in:

Where I installed the flue for the woodburner, there is a gaping great hole at the point the flue goes into the loft.

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It’s been on my to-do list for a while; it kind of defeats the object of lighting the stove to get all cosy and warm if you’re sitting under an arctic draft coming in from the loft. And clearly it’s an invitation to any wildlife that takes up residence in the loft to come in and explore.

It’s not actually that hard to fix. The lovely chaps at Stovefitter’s Warehouse do make a finishing plate that fits around the flue and just screws into the wall. A tricky little bit of ladder work, and some fire-rated expanding foam, and job’s done…

It’s a bit of a shame that the foam is fluorescent pink, but hey, nothing that a black marker pen won’t hide….

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Option two for unwanted bird intrusions is through a hole into the loft just above the bath upstairs.

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It’s been there forever – one of those fiddly little finishing off jobs that I have done my best to ignore. But since it appears to be another entrance for birds in the house, I need to get it sorted. Again it’s not a difficult fix; a couple of bits of wood wedged into place and a small piece of plasterboard. Job done!

So that should see end to birds in the house…

Well at least until 6.30 on Sunday morning, when I was once again woken by a bird bashing itself silly against the glass roof, chirping loudly and leaving its obvious signs of panic on the floor. Clearly the non-return of Mr Chirpy the previous day had caused concern amongst his relatives and a search party had been sent out. But since I thought I’d blocked up all the holes, I had no idea how it had got into the house.

Not succeeding in getting through the glass roof, this one followed Mr Chirpy and flew straight at the living room windows. Fortunately it didn’t manage to kill itself; when I got downstairs it was fluttering feebly on the floor and looking rather stunned.

I let it out the back door, where it flew up to the roof of the pump house and sat there glaring balefully at me like it was all my fault. Really??? How do birds manage to migrate half way round the planet and back again, when they can’t even find their way out of my loft and back?

This time I did go back bed, with a cup of tea and a good book. 6.30 in the morning on a Sunday shouldn’t exist for anyone.

But 10 minutes later there was a mad fluttering, tweeting and cheeping in the corner of the music room and a bird dropped out of the ceiling and fell to the floor.

I’m now starting to feel like I’m in a Hitchcock film. I think this might have been the same bird I’d just released, come back for a second look and got lost again. They really are stupid creatures. But at least I’ve discovered the secret entrance.

When we came up at Christmas to a broken down heatpump and a freezing cold house, I cut up an old duvet and went round the house on a mission to block any unwanted draughts. Including the Siberian Bora wind that was blowing down from above the music room window. This, it seems, is where the birds have found an entrance to the house. I suspect they’ve been nicking bits of duvet for nesting material and have created a hole.

So today’s job is to find a more permanent solution than half an old duvet shoved up with a broom….

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Whilst it is mostly hidden by the overhang from the roof, anything I put up there will be visible against the glass. So I need to find a solution that looks vaguely decent from the outside.

My cunning plan is a long strip of varnished wood, attached to battens so I can screw it into the window frame, stuff it full of insulation to keep out the draughts and fix a piece of plasterboard to the bottom.

That should put an end to those unwanted early morning wake up calls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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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