Tuesday 26 July 2016

A long-awaited catch-up

It has been a funny old couple of months since I last wrote a blog post and I'm not sure I want to tell you why. I mean I want to, but perhaps I shouldn't... some of it is quite personal.

My aunt counts her fingers to see if Grumble has eaten any while my mam
feigns arthritis to avoid having her arm ripped from its socket.
Dad draws the short straw.
For one, the introduction of Grumble (as he's been formally named) to the family has changed our routines and focus a little bit - naturally - and setting the unfinished Living Room up as a functioning Living Room for the doggy home-check proved to be an irresistible draw and has remained that way ever since. Such an arrangement isn't conducive to Getting Stuff Done.

But there have also been significant problems which, for June at least, made things completely grind to a halt. Over the past year our only neighbours, who we share the access track and gates with, have been gradually becoming the kind of neighbours you only read about in the newspapers once the justifiable homicide starts and things have been bubbling over with them recently as our my tolerance and politeness rapidly ran out (we briefly considered selling-up at one point). I've also had a couple of non-life-threatening (!) health issues to deal with too.

So I might write about it all one day, but then again I might not. The main thing is that we're all fine and dandy and things have started to move again with the help of our parents who have gently cajoled us in to action and even done some of the work to help egg us on.

I'll blog about the bigger jobs which have happened in separate posts, but here is a run-down of the things which don't need much in the way of wordage:

The Dining Room has been de-junked

aka the Murder Room, the Dining Room has been used for storage since we first moved in, attracting a tiny bit more clutter on the hour, every hour.
It spent a little over a year playing host to shelving, boxes, cabinets, boxes, the TV stand, boxes, drawers, boxes, the sofa bed and even the bathroom door, with the gaps between all of those being filled with more boxes, some of which had split and spilled their guts all over the place.

Imagine our surprise when we found a massive beige dog
lying at a funny angle under the old carpet
It was in desperate need of sorting out and as we wanted to get the old red - possibly asbestos - tiles off the concrete floor we thought we'd kill two birds with one stone.
The sofa bed was already in the Living Room being used as our main settee, so we dragged everything else in there, cleaning as we went, pulled up the disgusting old carpet then prised up a manky tile only to find that it had been glued to the floor with thick, still-sticky, black bitumen tar which stayed right where it had been slopped many decades ago.

Well that was that job scuppered. We weren't going to spend untold days scraping and dissolving the black stuff off only to pull the concrete up at a later date - which we will be doing, so we decided to skip that and leave it for such a time when we begin 'proper' work in there.
So the whole room was vacuumed top-to-bottom, the floor was mopped and dried (for what it was worth), a thick tarp was laid over the tiles and the cabinets et al were reintroduced with a semblance of order this time, giving us room to actually swing a cat. Of course more clutter has been appearing hourly again, but at least we can now kind of get in there.

Old Oily has been dismembered

Death throes
Way back in March the gigantic oil-fired boiler in the Dining Room decided that something in the region of £700-worth of servicing and repairs wasn't enough to keep it going and it decided to die for want of another £500 pump.

But being connected to the electricity, water supply, radiators and the oil tank meant that there was no way on earth that I was going to dismantle the thing myself, unless I wanted to set The Lodge on fire then put out the flames with a flood of Biblical proportions.

So Terminator Trevor And His Trusty Bag of Tools were drafted in and the poor old boiler was slowly and methodically pulled to bits, ready to go to the tip. Bits of it are now piled in the back yard while its main innards are out back by the bins, where they've been for a few weeks now.
We just can't bear to see it all go, but on the plus side we've gained a whole new section of Dining Room floor on which to pile stuff.

Every cloud and all that.

Replacing rotten water supply pipes

Once the boiler was out of the way we had access to a boxed-in corner of the Dining Room which housed the main water supply pipes to The Lodge, complete with stop tap.
Yanking that boxing off revealed (c)rusty old pipework which had obviously been caused by the tap which had been leaking since the dawn of time - just a tiny bit - and a small weep on the joint of the incoming water pipe. The two combined had made a right old manky mess of the pipes while keeping that corner lovely and moist right against the external wall.
The water supply in the back garden has limited uses at the moment...

On a related note we had been meaning to get Severn Trent Water in for some time so they could locate the main external stop tap, which we thought was one of two that we'd found, but one didn't turn the water off and the other one was about 6ft below ground, so we got them to come over and investigate.

It turned out that one of the taps we'd found was for something unidentified, and may have been disconnected altogether, and the other extra-deep one fed an independent water supply in among the weeds in the back garden area which we discovered last year. So that was a nice bonus. They found the one we actually needed with a metal detector, hidden under the gravelly/stony area at the front of the building. 

Once they were done and we were able to turn off the water to the property completely we called the providers of our home-emergency-assistance-cover-type-insurance-stuff who came and replaced both the decaying pipework from the external tap to the house and the leaky stop tap in the Dining Room.

It's all pretty boring really, but when the washing machine decides to explode when Dawn is at work one day I won't have to run around outside waving my arms in panic as a tsunami sweeps through the downstairs - I'll be able to calmly turn the water supply off at the shiny new stop tap then have a little sob while rolling up my trouser legs. Minimal drama.

History hiding in plain sight

Planning the various stages of the Living Room means looking at all of the detail that'll be present when it's finished. Which led us to a surprising little discovery.

The modern pendant light in the middle of the ceiling has been screwed to a wooden pattress all this time, but because it had been layered in white paint over the years we had never spotted it (thinking it was part of the existing plastic fitting), even though I've scraped Artex from right around it.

It rhymes with mattress 

I unscrewed the light fitting and spent an afternoon carefully stripping the paint back while trying not to frazzle myself, revealing a solid disc of turned pale wood (I'm rubbish at ID-ing wood) which I'm guessing is old but not original.

An original mid-late 1800s pattress in that spot would likely have supported an oil or gas lamp which would have caused it to discolour with carbon build-up and scorching over time, but because there is none of that I'm assuming it was put there to support an early electric light - maybe around the 1930s when the National Grid first made an appearance.

It's not terribly important to us to find out minutiae like that, but we're happy to think of it as something worth keeping when we come to install the new lights. We're yet to decide whether or not to stain it to match the light or keep it as natural wood against the white ceiling.

Out in the garden

We could do little but shake our heads at Sausage in the hope he'd get the message

Months ago I knocked-up a couple of raised veg beds for Dawn in the front garden by the shed, and although that particular area could do with quite a lot of care and attention at the moment, the greens are coming along a treat in the one which has been put to use.
I know nothing about growing veggies other than celery is evil and shouldn't be entertained, but I'm told there are peas, mangetout, yellow courgettes, butternut squash, leeks and tomatoes in there.
Before it was planted there was also a SausageTheCat in there more often than not - doing what cats do - but a couple of dozen well-placed wooden BBQ kebab skewers soon convinced him to go elsewhere. It's not like there isn't a million acres of woodland on the doorstep.


We've been donated a ride-on mower which has pleased Dawn no-end because she has wanted one since she was a puppy.
The fact that the carbs need cleaning out regularly, the battery doesn't hold charge, the 'key' is a screwdriver and one of the rear wheels literally falls off every 10 minutes is of no matter. It's a ride-on mower and that's all that counts...

This is a 'pre-loved' Westwood Gazelle which, when one of the rear wheels overtakes you
and heads off across the grass, becomes a Westwood Donkeytrike

I didn't realise until it started to fruit last year, but we have a large wild cherry tree in the front garden which is extremely productive.
Not having made jam before I didn't want to jump straight in to it without doing the necessary reading, so I waited until this year before picking a whopping 2lb of lovely ripe cherries, pitting each one by hand over an entire afternoon (they're too small for a hand-held de-stoning thingy), throwing a load of sugar, lemon juice and pectin at them, boiling them up and producing a paltry two-and-a-half jars of surprisingly-lovely jam that's absolutely jam-packed (pun intended) with fruit.
I'm quite proud of my first ever Country Kitchen moment, but I'm not sure I can be arsed to do it all again even though there are still thousands of beautiful dark red cherries on the tree.

By the time I was finished pitting them I was sick of the sight of wild cherries

I keep getting wood

I'm not complaining - at all - but we've now got more wood for the log burner in the Living Room than I know what to do with.

When I first built the woodshed I figured that four decent-sized bays full of split logs would get us through a couple of years on rotation, with one or two bays providing seasoned logs while unseasoned wood in the other two had time to dry. I'd either scrounge or buy wood over a period of time to keep it all topped-up and things would tick along nicely.

However, for a start, we're rattling through wood like nobody's business. Up until the last couple of weeks the British summer has been nowhere near warm enough to heat the (stone) house on the inside to any kind of survivable standard so we've had the log burner on during the evenings to keep the place warmish and the damp at bay.
I'll admit that being male I'm somewhat enthusiastic when it comes to fire, but we've already emptied one seasoned bay and started on the other - wasps' nests and pied wagtail nests notwithstanding, meaning I need to get chopping and fill the first one up again with the sycamore cross-sections we've had stockpiled to the side of the woodshed since early April, of which there are many.

Holy cow... and there's another truck-load coming tomorrow

Except the tree surgeon fella from further along in the woods (one of our distant friendly neighbours) has decided that he doesn't want some of his latest good-but-not-great-firewood acquisitions and donated a flatbed full of willow a couple of weeks ago.
Just today he's dropped off most of a 90-year-old lime tree in the form of branches and trunk sections and another load is due to arrive tonight or tomorrow. Again, I'm not even close to complaining, but I don't think I've got the strength of character or the muscle power to work my way through it all.

So if anyone has a decent heavy-duty hydraulic or electric log-splitter that's either dirt-cheap or even going free please let me know. My back and arms will thank you.