Saturday 28 May 2016


It seems that we have accidentally become four.
Say hello to ?TheDog.

?theDog was stinking and shedding on the trip home in the ManTruck.
By the time we got back Dawn and I were wearing most of him and we needed a shower.

We have wanted to get a mutt for some years now but circumstances have always conspired against us. We've looked at rescue dogs online now and then and seen many we love the look of... then weighed-up our options and decided against it with a tear in our collective eye.

But usually unbeknown to Dawn I've dipped in and out of the myriad pet adoption websites from time-to-time, just "idly looking to see what's around" (my lame excuse when I've been caught), then closed them down and carried on with life.

But a fortnight ago I was rumbled again.
There I was, just idly looking to see what was around, when Dawn caught sight of my laptop. I was looking at a big lump of a dog called Kan, when: "Oooh, I like him," came the voice from beside me in bed. Perhaps that's why I was caught - I wasn't being very subtle about it.

Known as 'Kan' back in Croatia, where we think this nervous-looking pic was taken, he was very close to being sent to
the big kennel in the sky before he was rescued by Action Aid for Animals

Talking then happened.

I'm at home all day.
We enjoy going for walks but need an excuse to do more.
We live in the woods.
We love dogs and I grew up with them, so we've got an idea of what to do.
I'm a non-practicing part-qualified dog groomer. Yes, really. Don't ask.

We live in a shed.
We're renovating a house.
We've got SausageTheCat, who has been our only pet for a number of years.

This led to a visit to meet Kan in 'person', which was followed a week later by a home-check, and yesterday we became the proud - but nervous - owners of a stinky, shedding, two-year-old Irish Wolfhound with German Shepherd legs from Croatia whose breath could knock out a squirrel at 50 paces.

Family portrait minus SausageTheCat, who was somewhat reluctant to join in

And he's lush. Proper lush.
Despite only having had him for 31 hours he is showing all the signs of being ideal for us - he's delighted when we walk in to the room; slept soundly all last night; lies elsewhere when the Humans are eating and doesn't give The Eyes; is bouncy and happy; doesn't misbehave too much when on the lead (which he will be for a month or two at least); seems to get on fine with other dogs and loves a good brushing.

The only downside so far is the whole SausageTheCat situation.
When we first warily introduced them there was barking from one and hissing from the other, and there has been very little contact since then.
Having said that, StC was sleeping in the house last night (which he occasionally does anyway) and ?tD was in the shed with us in his new bed, but at 5.15am during a heavy rain storm, Dawn and I were woken by pathetic meowing from outside, which also occasionally happens anyway.
I popped our new family member's lead on and trapped the end under a heavy piece of stored furniture then carried StC in without fuss from any quarter. And it stayed like that for the rest of the night, although I'm not sure ?tD really woke up during the whole episode.

I don't claim to be anything like a pro groomer, but ?tD was bathed and had a haircut today.
He doesn't like the bath/shower, the electric clippers, the hair blaster, his head trimmed or his paws messed with, but it was still a partial success although he still whiffs a bit.

As I type we're trying to get them used to at least being in the same room as one another.
I had to go and find StC because we've barely seen him all day, and he's now ensconced in his basket on the Living Room windowsill with ?tD fast asleep on the floor with his head on Dawn's foot. He's snoring.
The past hour-and-a-half has been a mixed bag though with ?tD alternating between sleep and barking and StC alternating between sleep and growling.
Who knew that cats can growl? Mad.

The barking is so sudden and sporadic that I'm now making an attempt at isolation training, but only time will tell how that works out.

We've had friends over so we set the TV up temporarily a couple of days ago.
Our new mate appears to approve.

Finally, his name.
We can't call him ? forever and Kan is a bit rubbish, but we're at a loss about what it should be.

We'd ideally like something so uncommon that nobody has ever heard of a dog called that before, and I also like normal human names, but what should it be?

Here are some of our musings so far

Chops (we're almost set on this, but keep getting swayed)
Buggerlugs (which I love because one of his ears is a bit duff, but Dawn mistakenly thinks it's a mild swear word)
Dave Growl (only people with a decent taste in music will get it)
Charlie (too common?)
Grumble / Mister Grumble

There have been many more names mooted but the last two are based on an adorable habit that ? seems to have.
Whenever he lies down on the floor to rest his eyes for a few minutes he makes a surprisingly-loud, deep, rumbling grumble like an old man easing himself in to a chair. It almost sounds like he's deflating, thankfully from the front end.

Two hours of this...

...leads to many hours of this

On a personal note - rescue pets all the way.
Why anyone would be shallow enough to want to pay many hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds for a pedigree animal with potential future health problems from a breeder (who is only in it for the money) when untold numbers of amazing animals are sitting unloved in shelters or about to be put to sleep is beyond me. It makes me mad, it does.

Utter, utter shame on those people.

Thursday 26 May 2016

The Living Room jobs list

Hello there.
Please ignore me, I'm just popping in to post my Living Room To-do List as its own entry because:

  1. It's the only list I've got to work from
  2. Although I've published it before it's buried at the bottom of another post and I keep forgetting where to find it
  3. I can't keep using "I can't find my list" as an excuse not to do anything

So here it is. I'll keep updating it as I finish things off and, rest assured, I'll let you know when anything interesting happens...

Note: The jobs on this list are unofficially sponsored by BBC Radio 5's Kermode and Mayo's Film Review podcasts which, at a rate of around three or four per day, I appear to be mainlining.
Hello to Jason Isaacs.

  • Buy oak skirting (acclimatise!)
  • Buy oak architrave (ditto!)
  • Buy radiators + feet
  • Buy switches and sockets
  • Buy light fittings
  • Buy door knob
  1. Sand ceiling (03.05.16)
  2. Sand walls (esp around sockets etc) (04.05.16)
  3. Scrape out chimney breast pointing (25.05.16)
  4. Brush down original exposed pointing in feature wall (13.05.16)
  5. Sand beams above oriel window
  6. Caulk ceiling edges to walls
  7. Strip door frame reveal in to hall (06.05.16)
  8. Fit oriel window wall light and chase electrics
  9. Make oak window sills x2
  10. Remove old radiator pipes from pantry
  11. Install new copper pipes to repositioned Pantry radiator
  12. Replace copper pipes to front radiator
  13. Brick acid chimney breast brick faces (26.05.16)
  14. Brick acid feature wall brick faces for final time and stabilise
  15. Patch delaminating sandstone window sill?
  16. Fill missed areas in front window ceiling with lime putty
  17. Putty-up Pantry wall where radiator pipes used to be
  18. Fill all accidental holes from previous jobs with lime putty
  19. Repoint chimney breast
  20. Cut skirting and architrave to size ready for fitting
  21. Re-sand mantelpiece
  22. Repaint around edges of register plate
  23. Decorate
  24. Wax and finish door frame reveal (07.05.16)
  25. Replace switches and sockets
  26. Replace light fittings
  27. Fit window sills x2
  28. Restore floor
  29. Fit skirting
  30. Fit architrave
  31. Fit radiators + feet
  32. Fit refurbished door (07.05.16)
  33. Fit door latch and knob (21.05.16)
  34. Rob bank to pay for new custom-made oriel window frame

    The Living Room chimney breast has been the focus of attention for the last two or three weeks.
    Scraping out the old, crumbly lime pointing by hand is easily as soul-destroying as having
    to scrape Artex from the ceiling

    ...and compared to scraping the pointing, using a half-inch paint brush to coat each individual brick face
    with neat brick acid in order to clean them up is a doddle

    Monday 16 May 2016

    When owls attack

    Despite all of the nice things we've been saying about our owl population during the last year and regardless of all the food we've left out for them, it seems it hasn't been enough.

    Last night they rebelled. At least I think it was the owls.

    Having dragged myself out of bed at 4.30am to visit the Little Boy's Room Garden (I'm old) I heard some noises that I couldn't quite place. Kind of like sporadic knocking from somewhere nearby. It was nothing frantic and not loud enough for me to attribute it to human activity, so it was more puzzling than worrying.
    Being half asleep and fully in the altogether I wasn't all that inclined to investigate either - and it was cold - so I returned to the shed, poked Dawn in the ribs and explained what was going on to the tuft of hair that was poking from the top of the quilt. Her barely-audible expletive gave the impression that I should forget about it... so I did.

    Then, as Dawn was about to leave for work at 8am she found this.

    Look closely at the pic, and other than the obvious mark on the front there are numerous ones on the upper left of the bonnet, the far right-hand-side of the bonnet, two-plus lots on the roof and on both wing mirrors.
    The back end was just as bad, as were the sides.

    It appears that at least one, if not a veritable squadron, of owls had taken a dislike to her shiny new indulgence and had spent some time flying straight in to it from all angles.

    There were a dozen or more brown dusty thumps all along the sides, the bonnet, the boot, the windows and even on the roof where the attackers had been body-slamming as many surfaces as they could during the night. I'm no Chris Packham but I guess the early hour - I'm assuming that that's what I heard - rules out pigeons and blue tits.

    Presumably stationary Audis are seen as a threat to (breeding?) owls, despite their inability to climb trees*. Maybe it was the shininess of the bodywork coupled with the full-ish moon that sent it/them in to a frenzy but we'll be keeping an eye open to see if it happens again, at which point we'll have to get either a cover or an eagle. That'll learn them.

    EDIT: May 19
    Courtesy of Google.
    The ends of its wings are certainly of the correct design...
    Dawn has been working away for two nights, but now she's back it has happened again. This time with poo and talons. Lots of poo and talons.
    While we await an appointment with Mr T-Cut we're going to have to think of an actual solution - I'm thinking move it closer to the CCTV, cover it and possibly stick a fake hawk or something on the roof.
    If it keeps happening after that, which it shouldn't, I'm seriously going to have to get the air rifle out and lay in wait if it turns out to be crows, magpies or pigeons. It's not ideal, but things are about to get expensive if the attacks escalate.
    Meanwhile, a quick Google search suggests that peacocks can get a bit tetchy around shiny cars, but I'm not sure. We've only ever seen one peacock, which must have been around nine or 10 months ago, and if I remember correctly they're not shy in verbally announcing their presence.
    More news as it comes in.

    * Well, they can get up there but they can never get back down again, much like cartoon cats.

    Friday 13 May 2016

    We've hit a Grade A snag

    Looking ahead to our longer-term plans for The Lodge, we've had a couple of architects over to give us some ideas for an extension.

    We're not sure what we want because this kind of thing isn't exactly our forte, but the Kitchen is pokey, as is the Bathroom and the upstairs landing area needs something doing to it because the stairs are too steep and there's a brain-rattling overhang halfway up.
    So with that in mind we mainly want a bigger Kitchen/Diner and a Bathroom which can accommodate both a bath and a human being rather than either/or which isn't far off what we currently have. Here's the current floorplan.

    This is the galley Kitchen (itself an extension) before we moved in and filled it full of stuff.
    It's so narrow that the units on the right are wall cupboards, rather than regular wider floor-standing jobbies
    which would have made the room almost impossible to get around. It's bad enough as it is.
    Because of the amount of money we've spent so far we very much doubt we'd be able to do the whole thing at once, if at all, so the (very fluid) idea for now is perhaps to get a one- or two-storey shell up and out of the ground when funds allow and then do everything else in stages over a period of years. But the very first port of call is to find out what we can and can't do, which is where our chin-scratching, clipboard-carrying architects come in.

    The first of those (two more are coming in a week or two) got back to us last night and presented us with a short list of all the lodges on the estate, under the heading Local List. We've seen this simple .pdf document before and although we weren't exactly sure of its purpose we filed it under 'quaint little lodges on our estate which someone wanted to make a note of for posterity'.

    Of course there's another way to look at it, and the architect, who knows what he's doing, assures us that this is the correct interpretation:
    The Lodge is LOCALLY LISTED.

    Listed. Protected by law.
    And just to twist the knife a little more, with options ranging from Grade C up to Grade A, guess what The Lodge is? Yep. You've got it.

    This photograph (from before we moved in) was taken from outside the Bathroom, standing on the landing

    I hope we're not the only people in the world not to know what something being locally listed means, so here's the very first 'what is a locally listed building?' search result from the Google, courtesy of Birmingham City Council:

    A Locally Listed Building is a building, structure or feature which, whilst not listed by the Secretary of State, we feel is an important part of Birmingham's heritage due to its architectural, historic or archaeological significance.
    The grading system for Locally Listed Buildings is as follows:-
    Grade A (107 buildings)
    These are buildings which are of statutory list quality, although not currently nationally listed. We will seek national listing or serve a Building Preservation Notice if it is imminently threatened...
    ...As with Statutory Listed Buildings, any works carried out should preserve or enhance the building and any features of architectural or historic interest retained and appropriate materials used.
    Inclusion in the Local List does not give the building any statutory protection but we has
    [sic] additional policies in the Birmingham Plan to help guide development. 

    Lovely. So the Brummies, if we lived there, could regard The Lodge as being important enough to slap a Grade I national listing on, which is the most restrictive thing imaginable in terms of building alterations and making a period property fit for modern-day living. It's the kind of thing grand stately mansions have to prevent cowboy builders destroying them.

    Although we're yet to find out precisely what our own authorities make of locally listed buildings you can bet your bottom dollar that our Olympic-sized swimming pool is out the window and my indoor/outdoor orangutan sanctuary could even be under threat.

    Further down the line we might even have to fight the council over things like windows, doorways, the roof, ceilings, internal walls, decor... the list is endless and chock-full of otherwise seemingly unimportant minutiae, all of which represent potential flies in the ointment. It could be a nightmare waiting to happen or it mightn't make the blindest bit of difference to us - I suspect we'll be somewhere in the middle.

    One question you may be wondering is why our conveyancing solicitor didn't get round to telling us this rather important detail before we bought the property.
    It's a very good question and one we plan to get to the bottom of. Perhaps it slipped his mind...

    Saturday 7 May 2016

    Throwing good money after bad

    The sun is out, the cuckoo is back, our swallows are crapping all over the courtyard again and I thought I'd do a quick update just to show that things are beginning to move again now that spring has sprung.

    First of all, following Dawn's brief sojourn on to the roof to check out a duff tile, Terminator Trevor directed us to a couple of chaps who he knew would get up there and get our tiles sorted out without the need for expensive scaffolding, ropes, Health & Safety assessments or any of that trivial fuss. All they needed was a couple of ladders and simian reflexes.

    Like rats up drainpipes, they were

    The pair in question turned out to be Harry and TIMMY!, an old-fashioned father and son double act with about 180 years between them, most of it spent up on roofs.
    They only came over on Tuesday to take a look and give us a quote but within 20 minutes had actually started work and were getting the first tiles off. No messing about. The bad news was that every single ridge tile along both ridges was loose and as a result the tiles immediately below those were starting to crack, so large parts of the roof were gearing-up for relocation.

    Basically, sorting it out was a job that the woefully-inept and bone idle Roofer #1 should have done last year when the scaffolding was up for the chimney-rebuild but "no," he told us, "the roof's fine". It clearly wasn't - he was too interested in seeing the inside of the pub and taking our money in return for his name in 10ft letters hanging from the platform on a banner for the passing traffic. Not that I'm bitter.

    Harry, who was one of those fragile-but-not old-timers who never leaves the house without a shirt and tie on (even up on the roof) and TIMMY!, who I swear was the double of Benny from Crossroads (I don't mean that insultingly - he actually looked like him), not only re-mortared all of the ridge tiles firmly in place but also sorted out Roofer #1's mastic bodge on the west chimney stack's lower pointing; fixed the ropey lead chimney flashing that Roofer #1 was asked specifically to repair (rain still leaked through to Bedroom 1); removed all of Roofer #1's flash band that was just kind of resting against the bricks rather than stuck to them; cleaned and fixed the gutters that Roofer #1 should have done but didn't and replaced more than a dozen cracked tiles that Roofer #1 was also asked to do but also didn't. I'm really, really not bitter about all that wasted curry money.

    And they did that all in a day-and-a-half, working non-stop.
    No tea, no butties, no fag breaks, no nothing - just graft. It's a method of getting on with the job that I've really only seen once before at The Lodge, and that's Trevor who is also not quite right in the head, although even he pauses briefly for a cuppa now and then. It must be a generation thing.

    Note to self: employ more pensioners.

    I forgot to take a 'before' picture so this is the best
    I can find from back in November when we had
    Mr O in to blast everything
    So while they were doing that I set about stripping the Living Room's pine door frame. I've already started scraping out the chimney breast wall lime pointing but it's such a tedious job that I've decided to do it in stages to stop me going bananas and running screaming in to the woods. Probably naked.

    We've already tortured the (original) pine door by soaking it in a fizzy warm caustic bath before attacking it with a Stanley knife and giving it a liberal smothering of beeswax, so it was time for the frame to get the same treatment, minus the bubble bath bit because it's nailed to the wall.
    I started off with a heatgun and scraper to dig my way through the many layers of yellowing rubbery gloss white paint then, when I'd got as much off as was going to come off without causing damage, I glooped thick splodges of gluey paint stripper all over the surfaces and worked it in to all of the holes and splits with a paintbrush, leaving it for a few minutes to get to work.

    It's not easy to photograph, so I didn't, but as you come
    in to the room there are scuffs and small marks on
    the left of the frame near the bottom, The same goes as
    you leave the room - scuffs and marks on the left near
    the bottom. My theory is that it's from someone right-
    handed carrying buckets or coal scuttles in their left
    (opening the door with their right) and banging whatever
    they were carrying on the woodwork.
    Once that was all washed off with sugar soap and I had repeated that part of the process again, out came the trusty Stanley knife and I tested out my kneepads for many-an-hour as I pick-pick-picked at all of the tiny flecks and recesses of white, getting the wood as clean as possible.
    Then it was on with a light hand-sanding with 240-grade paper and another wash-and-dry, and I finished off with two coats of Flag Classic Wax 'Antique Pine' professional wax as recommended by the restorer who dipped the door, buffing thoroughly between the coats and to finish off with a soft brush attachment on my cordless drill. And when I say "thoroughly" I mean 'four full battery charges'.

    After that I gave the door another waxing/buffing and temporarily re-hung it, discovering something amazing in the process - nothing creates a room more than filling that gaping hole in the wall with a door with which you can shut off the rest of the house.
    We've now got a real Living Room and I can't wait to crack on with the rest of the jobs (apart from the ones I'm scared of).

    Finally a couple of random photographs for no reason whatsoever.
    Dawn and I went for a walk across the fields and through the woods this evening, setting off just 10 minutes before three opposing thunderstorms rolled through, bringing with them all of the associated rain. Fortunately, being Country, we were armed with foresight and were wearing our walking boots and waterproofs. It's boring being all growed-up.