Friday 25 December 2015

What to put in a time capsule?

Hello, people of the future.

That's the opening line from our time capsule letter that was buried in the Living Room fireplace on Christmas Eve, 2015.
That was yesterday, for those of you who have indulged in too many chocolate liqueurs after dinner. Merry Christmas and all that. I'm writing this so I can avoid Strictly, Corrie, EmmyFarmy and Downty at my parents' house. It's a never-ending assault of terrible telly. Dawn's with her folks 200-odd miles away. We haven't spent a single December 25 together since we met and our own Christmas Day is always on the 27th.
A little bit of seasonal trivia for you, there.

I'm digressing already.
The only people who will get to read the rest of the 24-page time capsule letter - including 3,271 words, 27 photos and 10 blog screenshots - might not have even been born yet, which is a strange concept to get your head around. So if you want to read it, you'll need to buy The Lodge first.

I'll miss that hat, but he's in a better place now :(
I mentioned this briefly a little while back, but having dug out the fireplace only to find nothing but sand, rubble and actual foundations, such as they are, we decided that because this was likely to be the focal point for the house for a very long time it made sense that we should hide something secret and meaningful there, to be discovered in 25, 50 or even 100 years from now. Who knows?

Because it's entirely possible that Dawn and I will be long gone by the time the letter sees the light of day again, we spent a couple of weeks working out exactly what should be in it. If we had discovered something similar ourselves, what would we want it to tell us?
So it details who we are; when and where we were born; a breakdown of our families; our circumstances; what we're doing to The Lodge; why we're doing it; what our plans are for the place; the history that we know of so far; what's happening in the world at the minute... and loads of other stuff.
It mentions a variety of things from Star Wars to hoverpants (my prediction of the future) and Donald Trump's hair-do, but the one thing I forgot to put in it was how much we actually bought the property for. I guess they'll have to do some research.

Toodle pip, chaps.
Please don't rot.
The omission would be okay if it wasn't for the fact that I sealed the letter in an airtight plastic tub, gaffa taped it to within an inch of its life and buried it under bricks, gravel and sand. Inside, future readers will also find a shiny 2015 pound coin and a 64Gb memory stick holding an electronic version of the letter, all 2,000+ full-sized photos of our Lodge journey so far, loads of albums that we currently listen to and some movie trailers that were released in 2015, among them Mad Max: Fury Road and Southpaw.
I wanted to fill the stick...

Not content with that little lot I also bought Christmas Eve editions of The Times and the local weekly paper and buried them in a heavily taped-up plastic bag together with the Christmas TV Times because everyone wants to know what's on the box at this time of year.
When I first dug it out the muck beneath was at
100% humidity, which doesn't bode too well
I then chucked in a pair of holey rigger gloves that I had been wearing out and my work hat that I knackered a few weeks ago. I also included our very first Christmas card of 2015 - because it features on one of the photos we've included, and the oddly banana-shaped Bic pen that I used to scribble some prophetic lottery numbers on the back of the letter. Oh, and some silica gel packets that we found - for any moisture, not that they'll do much.

I think that's everything. It's not easy choosing stuff for a time capsule, you know.

Our beautiful new slate hearth, which we collected a day earlier, will be set in lime screed on top of the sand in the next week-or-so followed by the log-burner, which we also have waiting to go in.

After that, to all intents and purposes, our little slice of history will be lost...

...until one day...

It's a pretty weird feeling. I hope we've done it right.

EDIT - 27.12.15
The fireplace now appears to have been adopted by SausageTheCat as his lavvy. He's in the doghouse.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Merry Christmas from me and the wife

So with Baby J's birthday fast approaching things are slowing down here in preparation for the arrival of the fat furry-hooded burglar with the drinking problem.

We've had issues getting our lime plasterer to confirm a date so we're looking at our options to see if we can get things moving again. That one job is holding a lot of other jobs up.

Meanwhile the Living Room is a bombsite of dust, rubble, sawdust, wood, 120mm Kingspan sheets and work benches so tomorrow's job is to restore order in there so I can see what's what again. There's a possibility that our log burning stove might arrive tomorrow too, so that's going to have to live somewhere until the hearth gets made (it's on order), which makes the clean-up even more necessary.

We've caught no more rats up in the kitchen ceiling, so we're switching tactics - we're swapping lemon curd for Nutella. If that doesn't work we're pulling out all the stops and going down the peanut butter route. That's when we'll be at the Big Problem stage because neither of us like peanut butter and we don't want to end up with a jar of the horrible stuff in a cupboard, contaminating our kitchen.

Finally, we've got the tree up.
Neither of us have ever had a real tree before so it's nice to break our duck at The Lodge for our first Christmas here. Sitting on the oriel window's huge sandstone sill it's only modest, but then so are we.

Next year we'll be setting up a giant inflatable snowman and a blowy-up Homer Simpson in a Santa hat, swigging a can of Duff.

It'll be epic.

There may well be a blog post or two on the run-up to the big day, but Dawn and I would like to use this lull in the action as an opportunity to wish all of our readers a very merry Celebration of Meaningless Consumerism and a happy 48 Hours Of Near Death Experience Binge Drinking.
Be good - your chosen imaginary deity is taking notes.

Saturday 5 December 2015

Door-dipping and installing a reclaimed oak beam

The boring work has resumed at The Lodge on the run-up to our Grand Designs-esque moving-in date of 'Christmas' (which will never happen) so I have amused myself by writing a list of things that need to be done in the Living Room.

The items above 'LIME PLASTERING' either need to be done before the plasterer arrives or at any time in the future, and the stuff below it has to wait until we're plastered - so we're a bit stuck until he gets here and we still haven't got a date.

Italics = must be done before we can move in!
  • Fill, strengthen and level fireplace where I've been digging it out
  • Buy/size/install solid slate hearth (to regs)
  • Install log burner with stove pipe (also to regs)
  • Tidy up internal oriel window WoodWool-boarded roof
  • Decide how to deal with exposed cabling - Conduit? Make a feature?
  • Repoint and stabilise (against dust, not falling down) chimney breast
  • Insulate and cover oriel window's massive sandstone heatsink sill
  • Fit curtains/blinds/shutters (I want shutters but Dawn isn't fussed on the idea)
  • Fully restore and protect quarry tile floor
  • Buy/fit/raise 2x radiators by 2" and renew pipework
  • Move one of those radiators to a different wall entirely with new pipework
  • Scrape out cracks in ceiling and face-up with lime putty
  • Renew doorway architrave and refit door
  • Make and fit 6" Victorian skirting boards
  • Limewash/paint/wax/oil/garlic butter the walls/ceiling/woodwork where applicable
  • Buy or clean/move furniture in from upstairs, the Dining Room, the shed or wherever we've got it squirreled away among piles of dusty tat boxes 
  • Set that furniture on rugs that we've neither decided on or bought yet to protect the floor, keep it breathing and help retain heat
  • Buy/fit new sockets and switches
  • Buy/fit new lighting
  • Make and fit oak windowsills
  • Set up our new 4k TV
  • Buy a Playstation 4
  • Never lift a finger again (unless it's to shoot baddies on telly or change channel)
But a couple of things which were originally on the list have been sorted out in the last few days and they have made us very happy:

Restoring the Living Room door

Other than the uPVC front door, all of the doors in The Lodge are wooden (probably pine), old (most appear to be original) and covered in layer upon layer of elderly white gloss paint.
All of the knobs were missing when we moved here, but many internal doors still have old locks (sans keys and also thick with paint) and hand-forged hinges which are partially hidden behind painted architrave. Scuffs, scrapes and chips are pretty much the norm and overall they're quite grubby.

We'd been wanting to strip a door to see what surprises lay under the paint for ages, so the Living Room seemed like the best place to start as we're concentrating on that room at the moment.

I found an antique restoration place a few miles away and, after removing the door from the frame, I carted it over there in the car. As soon as he set eyes on it he estimated "early 1800s", so that's enough for us to assume it's original.
Over the next week it was dipped in hot caustic soda in a giant bath, complete with lock and hinges, then blasted with a steam jet and hand-scraped with a Stanley knife...

...and when it came back it was bloody lovely.

The body of the lock is a little
damaged, but that's known as 'history'
I'm not a fan of pine in general, probably because I'm used to seeing cheap mass-produced pine furniture in TV ads, but this was something different. The years had seen it age wonderfully, with bumps, little divots and scorching from previous paint-scraping attempts adding to the look.
The rim lock was silver underneath all of that paint and the rough detail of the hinges, where they had been hand-worked, was imperfectly perfect.

The first thing that needed doing was to remove the lock mechanism and take it apart for a further clean inside, then bash it about a bit until the catch started working. WD40 is great stuff!

...using the BACK
of the blade...
Next came the time-consuming job of finishing off scraping out all of the joints between the planks, from under the braces and from the tiny holes and cracks all over. Even though the restorer had done some himself there was still a lot left behind and it wasn't finished by a long chalk, so out came my own Stanley knife and I got to work for a couple of days.

Dawn calls me a 'perfectionist' whereas I prefer the term 'fastidious' (some may say 'anal' but they can bugger off) - but this is the kind of work I love.

It gives me a chance to be as picky and detailed as I want and I work on the theory that the more I do in preparation the better the end result and the more satisfied we'll be. So I took my time.

The whole door was then given a light sanding with 180 grit paper to get rid of the splinters and 'woolly' bits, then vacuumed to make sure all of the dust and loose paint was out of the cracks and wotnot.

Having got used to the new look over that time I was a tiny bit reluctant to do anything else to the door, but the plan had always been to wax it to finish it off.
So I used a tin of 'Antique Pine' wax that was recommended by the restorer and roughly paintbrushed it in to all of the visible surfaces, making sure to get it in to every nook, cranny, split and gap.
After that it was buffed with a circular brush attachment on a high-speed drill which brought up a satisfying (but not OTT) shine, then the lock was refitted... and that was it.

It's a door, yes, but we love it. All it needs is a new latch to replace the one which was obviously removed in the Olden Days, and it'll be done. Oh, and a new knob to swap for the temporary one we've got on there at the moment.

The plan now is to match the skirting and new architrave to the door to tie the whole room in with it rather than have a hotch-potch of different finishes in different places. It should look amazing when it's done.

Can't wait.

Fitting a reclaimed oak beam mantelshelf

Having stripped all of the chimney breast back to bare brick - and finding hints of past adornments - it was obvious that there was something missing.
It needed just a little touch to finish it off... something suitably big and grand without looking ridiculous. Understated but impressive. Simple. Nothing fancy.

It needed a reclaimed oak beam as a mantelshelf.
Not a stick-on fascia as had been suggested to us a few times, which would have annoyed the hell out of us because it wasn't real, but a bona fide structural oak beam set in to the wall. No half measures.

We're not sure what this was originally but you can just see a chamfer
along 90% of the lower edge and there's a matching one on the other side, so
maybe a post or some kind of plinth?
The chamfers will be hidden at the back when installed.
Our first visit to a reclamation yard didn't fill us with much hope. "Take us to your oak," resulted in us staring down at a soaking wet and filthy black pile of what was presumably wood, left out in the open for eternity in a giant muddy puddle.
I'm sure there were some nice beams in there but there's no way we were going to clamber around all over the pile, dragging the manky stuff out only to drag it back again. And that was despite being told "it'll all clean up lovely".

The next yard, which is quickly becoming our favourite one (where we bought the chimney pots from), was much better.
Their oak beams were set out under a corrugated roof on three- or four-tier sturdy shelving, and there were lots. Not only were they bone dry but they were also visible which, as a potential buyer, is quite handy because it means you can actually look at them.

Our new old beam gets a short back and sides
Our idea at that stage was just to get a general feel for what was available rather than buy one straight away, but we saw one that looked to be roughly what we were after so we went back home, did a bit of proper measuring, discussed it for a while, slept on it for a few nights then went back and bought it for a grand total of £108 on Sunday gone.
I have no idea how much oak beams usually cost these days, but included in the price was the very welcome personal service of staff member Big Verne who is one of the hardest-working and friendliest 'older' gentlemen we have met other than Terminator Trevor, my dad-in-law. When the place closes I imagine that the boss has to kick him out and send him home.

Given that we (Dawn) name(s) many inanimate things here at The Lodge for
no reason whatsoever, I've decided to call our beam 'Big Verne'
We didn't really want to waste anything from the beam, given that it's old and needs to be treated with a kind of respect, so we had chosen one that was more-or-less exactly the size we needed. Verne trimmed the ends off (giving us a decent lump of oak to use somewhere else at a later date) and took off a thin slice of what would be the top and bottom faces. The front face was in reasonable condition and just in need of a good sanding-down.
Then we struggled the beam in to the car and whisked it off to its new home for the next 100+ years.

My first slight regret with The Lodge project is that we didn't fit the beam ourselves.
Being such a big eye-catching piece in the house, it would have been nice if we could have done the whole thing together, but with the chimney breast being a vital part of the overall structure, we didn't want to risk knocking the house down and living in a shed forever, so I arranged for Roofer #2 (who contracts work out) to make a return visit with his minions and get it over with.

Before being sanded down.
Measuring-in at roughly 9ins x 9.5ins
and 4ft 3ins long
Unfortunately I only managed to get a day to do the sanding, because they turned up days earlier than I expected and Trevor and I hadn't even had time to sort out the over-long flue liner that has been gracing the quarry tiles for months. The register plate was going to be fitted at the same time, so we needed to do a little prep work first, which didn't happen.

So the fellas turned up and Trevor and I were relegated to 'audience' for the most part as they hammered, chiseled, swore a bit, and got everything done and dusted in just a few hours. I trimmed the liner down with an angle grinder and helped to heft the beam in place, but that was pretty much my whole involvement. Never mind - there'll be other chances to do important stuff.

But the end result is... fantastic. I can't even put in to words how great we think it looks.
We're keeping the edges sharp and clean and square rather than round them off or chamfer them, because the stove we've ordered is quite square and boxy - modern rather than fancy Victorian, which we're not keen on - and we want to keep the theme. The slate hearth that we haven't even sourced yet will also have sharp, square edges and will be exactly the same width as the mantel, keeping enough symmetry to sate my self-diagnosed OCD.

Once the lime mortar that was used has had a chance to go off I'll be sanding the visible faces down to 180-or-so grit, then we'll find a final treatment of some kind to finish it off and bring out the grain. From what I've read, using finer sandpaper might result in the final finish not taking properly, because the pores in the wood that hold the wax/oil/whatever would be too small.
I need to do some Googling to see what is most suitable, but a wax finish similar to the one on the door would be ideal.

I just don't know if it'll all melt like a candle when the stove is on...

I've run out of words now so I'll just show you some more pictures, complete with the final result!

Fitting the register plate (right).

The beam will replace the two rough brick courses above the opening, where a mantelshelf 
seems to have been before, and will also come one course lower - effectively the course starting at the white brick.
This is to preserve a small 'step' feature in the wall which begins above the third course above the opening. It's basically a quarter-inch lip which runs across the entire chimney breast wall for some reason.

Above the register plate is now an adapter which fits the 5" stove outlet pipe at the
bottom and the 6" flue liner at the top. When the stove arrives it'll be attached to the
5" end with the help of a 5" black enameled pipe to make it all pretty. The register
plate will also be painted black with heat-proof paint.

The chimney breast is two courses-plus deep here, with the second of those forming part of the actual flue as it sweeps upwards and inwards. I'm sure there must be a name for it.

Because taking the second course and more out would prove way more expensive and difficult, with greater risk to boot, we decided to use the beam to support the bricks in the front course which, at the central point, are only one brick deep in any event. You can kind of see them sagging a little in the pic. Shards of slate were packed in to the mortar joints between those bricks to strengthen them and make the whole thing less saggy. You can also see that in the pic on either side of fellamelad's head.
So it's partly structural and partly not, which is good enough for us.

A very odd angle - Trevor just isn't that long...
The beam is a pretty tight fit, which means it shouldn't tip forwards given that it's
4.5" in the wall and 5" out, and it has been limed in place with slate packing to
strengthen it even more.


After, complete with our first Christmas card - AT THE START OF DECEMBER
All we need now is the hearth and the stove!

Friday 4 December 2015

Oh, rats! (part II)


There is a reasonably grim photograph of an expired rat at the end of this post.
If that kind of thing makes you cry, look away now. Think about pandas and butterflies and kittens in cardboard boxes and stuff. Not all three at once. You'd never get a panda in a box, not with a cat chasing a butterfly around in there already.
If, like us, you're a bit morbid and that kind of thing doesn't really bother you, feel free to skip all of the following words and go right to it. It's near the bottom.
I guarantee you'll wince and say: "oooo, right through the head".

A few years ago the Water People decided to renew a load of underground pipework right outside our old house and across the whole estate.
It was weeks and weeks of carnage - diggers, mud and chain-smoking monobrowed neanderthals everywhere from 9.01am until 4.59pm exactly, with about seven hours off for lunch.

Presumably unrelated, at the same time we spotted a new squirrel in the garden.
A couple of times a day we'd see him running across the fence at the back, often carrying acorns or bread from a nearby bird table, and once or twice we saw him burying his nuts in one of Dawn's long-dead pot plants. He was a grey, yeah, but we quite liked him.

This is the cute non-disease-carrying face of the Rat PR Machine, as spearheaded by Disney-Pixar.
Don't believe the hype.
At the same time both of those things happened, we started hearing noises in the loft. To be totally accurate, we started hearing noises in the kitchen cupboards, up the cavity walls and in to the loft.
Being a semi-detached bungalow our neighbour (Chris) also started hearing things going bump in the night and was getting quite concerned. But that was okay because there was a new squirrel in our garden so it was obvious that it was him getting up there. He'll nod off for the winter and never bother us again. Nothing to see here. Move on.

A month later and driven to the point of nocturnal distraction by Colin, as we'd named him, I ended up freaking out and found myself sitting in the pitch black loft with my air rifle at the ready, presumably waiting for a house-trained glow-in-the-dark squirrel to come bounding by and pause helpfully while I lined up my shot.

The turning point came when I was midway through thumping the bedroom ceiling at 4am in an attempt to scare it to death while Dawn muttered extremely rude words at me in her sleep. My lovely wife is a somewhat determined sleeper and nothing much wakes her but she can still do most everyday things while totally zonked-out. Including driving to work. It's astonishing.

Anyway, it was at that moment it occurred to me... what am I doing?

Still convinced it was a squirrel we ended up calling A Man With A Trap who basically told us to stop deluding ourselves - we had rats which had probably moved in because of the water works outside.
Half a dozen generous doses of poison later, some in the loft and some under the kitchen cupboards, Colin the SquirrelRat's fate was sealed. We never heard from him again and there was no poisonous smell/fly combo either, which would have been a big problem in our little house. I often picture him on a beach in the Bahamas sucking on a pineapple chunk and preening his sun-bleached whiskers.

I'm telling you this tale to illustrate how much we've changed since then.
The recent cold snap here at The Lodge has brought with it kitchen ceiling invaders, scampering around over the woodwork and skittering over the lath and plaster.
Of course by 'scampering' and 'skittering' what I actually mean is 'partying' and 'caber-tossing'. I swear I even heard music at one stage.
Our reaction this time, rather than having a screaming fit and calling the Army, was to barely shrug our shoulders and carry on making tea. We've turned so... so... so Country.

At first, still clinging on to my squirrel-based naivety, I convinced myself we had mice and set a wee trap just inside the tiny ceiling hatch, baited with the only available lure in the house - lemon curd on a bit of bread.

Of course the bread vanished without the trap being sprung, so there was only one thing for it. No more Mr Nice Muz. Out came the rat trap for the second night..

Dawn liked his "pretty" fur
I liked how his eyeball didn't explode all over the place

Weirdly, although rats are gregarious mammals that hang around in herds, this fella appears to have been by himself. We've had no more noises in the ceiling, the new trap we have up there hasn't been sprung in a week and all of our remaining lemon curd is still in the fridge.

Finding how he got in will be a challenge for another day, but because the suspended ceiling is so small and packed with rockwool insulation it's going to be impossible to get up there.
The only reasonable point of rat access that I can see is the drainpipe running up the kitchen wall outside. I'll check it out when I get around to it because we don't want his mates launching search parties and moving themselves in too.

One was enough, thank you very much.

EDIT (just a few hours after this was first posted)
It has taken me a week to get this blog post written and uploaded, and as fate would have it I'm standing in the kitchen right now where I can hear movement in the ceiling. Terrific. This could well turn out to be a saga.