The house cladding of The Old Manse, and of 253, our rental house, is complete. Herewith I shall bring you up to date with the final stages. So that you are not unnecessarily stressed I shall tell you now that, although there were a few tricky moments, it all turns out well.
When I wrote last we had a scaffolding tower, or 'bay' as it is apparently called, rising through the conservatory roof.
Incidentally, (and deviating immediately from my story), since I like building things and Fiona keeps filling any new rooms with plants, we have two conservatories. One to the East and one to the West of the house. To avoid confusion the larger one to the west is referred to as the west wing. Our house is actually quite small, but by a series of odd factors sounds quite large. 'The Old Manse' sounds like a great rambling draughty mansion, with a long gravel drive, large unkempt garden and elderly servants. The upper stories should house at least one clinically mad relative, and the owner should be secretive, rich and somewhat suspect. all these factors are true, for a given value of 'true'. It's rather like an Estate agent's way of looking at things. When he says compact it sounds convenient, easy to heat and neat. It actually means small, cramped and mean. Conveniently near the shops means you will be living over a chip-shop, and rural can mean anything from 'miles from anywhere' to 'there's a dead tree in the pavement blocking the living-room window'. The Old Manse is like that. You can enter the grounds and drive a half mile to the house, or you can use the short route which is 20 yards. There are technically 4 bedrooms, but only two beds, and it was only a Manse for a decade or two. The mad relatives only visit occasionally, and 'mad' really only means 'not me'. Comments are not invited at this point.
So, getting back to the point, we had scaffolding in the west wing, this meant that it rained and blew enthusiastically for five of the ten days it was up, hail fell on one of the others, and the tarpaulin, originally intended to keep a Midge dry, developed a new drip every few hours. By dint of tarpaulin, duct-tape, towel and torn up J-cloth we managed to keep the weather out and had nothing major blown away. The fire / burglar alarm was left dangling by it's wire for a day or two, resulting in my clambering around in rain, wind and, yes, hail on first the scaffolding and then the polycarbonate roof to prevent it battering itself to pieces on the wall. To my surprise I managed not only to re-attach it, but after a few minor electrical repairs, a spot of glue and a smidgin of silicon, it resumed its correct function and displayed it's joy by sounding an alarm when I patted it. Since the scaffolding had to come down before it was re-mounted, I also learned how to climb onto, across and safely off the polycarbonate sheeting. I should thank my Dad for his help at this point, he taught me to build with proper sized timbers, at least twice the minimum specified dimensions, so the structure was able to bear my weight, even when startled by a loud noise on a wet, slippery and high surface.
Referring back to the Cladding, we have re-established life in the west wing, and have tidied up most of the debris that builders leave behind. They were many and varied, being scaffolders, plasterers, renderers, general builders, satellite dish tuners, and those who applied the 'wet-dash' or small stone finish, of whose title I am unsure. There were lorries delivering and removing waste-skips and inspectors of work. They were generally well behaved and careful, though one has to recognise that builders have a different view of life to most, for one thing they never stay long enough to understand a place, and so tend to consider anything on the ground able to bear their weight, anything on a wall able to hold things up, and plants of no consequence. Fortunately spring is running a little late here, and most plants haven't really got going yet. I removed most of the more delicate structures and stood between the builders and the vulnerable / immovable.
I noted a complete lack of recycling, cans and bottles just went into the skip and any contaminated material was unceremoniously jettisoned, although I think that term actually means thrown overboard. Consequently I had the rare opportunity to do a little 'skip-diving' and retrieved a quarter ton of stone chips, which should be perfectly usable after a turn in the concrete mixer and a quick sieving. Enough wet mortar to fill the gaps in the garage wall and several useful bits of insulation, webbing and trim, of which the insulation is now in the garage roof. If any repairs are required in the future to the cladding, I should have enough matching materials for the job. it is unlikely I'll need to block up a window, but if I needed to, or if a car clipped the corner of the house then that shouldn't be a problem. Learning how to 'dash' might take a while, but I could practice on the now draft proof garage wall.
I was pleased to learn that, although all the waste materials went into the skip, the driver told me that the contents were sorted and recycled, including the polystyrene insulation, so the land-fill wasn't as bulky as I had supposed. The polystyrene is different to that which you know, apart from being black it is almost all air, lighter and fire-resistant. The last being a considerable relief as I wouldn't want any of that poisonous black smoke in the event of a serious fire.
I'll have to get onto the East wing roof to remove some of the detritus, mainly gravel, and clean a few windows, but overall they seemed reasonably tidy and certainly helpful. My main delight was that they seemed honest and capable, not always the case with builders, and even had lettered vans, I tend to worry when the professionals promised turn out to be two lads dressed in rags in a van that looks as though it might not start again, and shouldn't be on the road anyway.
At the end of the process the 'snag' list wasn't too long, and was quickly dealt with. One late visit brought a small child when the father was dealing with a small gap between mortar and sill. He was there for half an hour, but in that time the child had found the entrance to the trampoline, the top of a 15" ladder, and a branch of Larch cones, for appraisal and dissection. Both father and daughter left undamaged, but it did remind me that having children has advantages and disadvantages. I think I'm quite happy just being an uncle.
Looking out of the little window near the computer, the wall does now seem very thick, although that bit does contain a chimney breast and some internal insulation. When driving near the house, I shall have to be more cautious than usual, It is one thing to encounter a novel situation, but when you know a place you tend to expect structures to stay where they were. The drive is now six inches narrower than it was. However, the inside is no smaller, distinctly quieter and feels warmer. The cat approves, and demonstrates by sleeping, occasionally yawning, and gently sticking his pins in my leg.
After all the kefuffle, a word that spell-check sneers at, it is nice to get back to the quiet contemplation of tractors, and the occasional bit of construction. the Summerhouse site has been unattended and the tractor un-split. The birds around the house have gotten well into the business of emptying the seed dispensers in spite of the disturbance, I had to move them further from the house by a few yards but they soon adapted, and because their freedom of movement is greater, they don't seem to mind my walking nearby as much as when they were on the side of the house. I took the opportunity to mount a couple of spare nest boxes on the east and west sides of the shed, but I think a few specialised ones for the dispossessed blue-tits may be needed. The house martins have never taken to our house, for reasons they fail to explain. This is good in the sense that I don't have to keep cleaning the roof of the conservatories, but I feel there should be one or two. Perhaps some special shelving in the garage roof, and a carefully sited bat box or two, would increase the diversity, although the Moth-man might have reservations as both eat moths. Apparently there are cases where bats have learned that there are easy pickings at moth traps, it's complicated being environmentally conscientious.
Getting out and about a bit between building matters I see that slightly less green types have been visiting Hermand Birchwood, or at least the car park, long enough to drop off some wood and a selection of plants turf sections and the usual cigarette packets anyway. I do find it strange that people will risk fines and approbation when they have perfectly good recycling facilities within a few miles, there again, the packaging indicates that they smoke, and if they are going to do that to their lungs, why should they worry about a car-park?
I was wandering around Hermand Birch-wood looking at birds, collecting a few mushrooms (Oyster I think) and noticed that two large Beech trees had blown down. The root plates were about six inches thick, and only about twelve feet wide, presumably because the ground is so wet. I was rather startled to see how shallow they were, I'm used to some of the trees in the garden being a bit wobbly because of the subterranean walls, but I think I might be a little more careful walking in the woods if they are so unstable. Sadly that doesn't stop the trees that I don't want in the garden dropping roots several feet into the frankly rather rubbish soil, and resisting extraction with great enthusiasm. I have had to build a stumpery to accommodate the results, having converted at least fifteen trees to firewood when they proved unsteady, awkwardly placed or otherwise compromised in some way. I'm glad to report that only one proved to have a bird's nest, and that was not occupied at the time. The Beech trees are under threat by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) anyway as they are considered non-native along with the Scots Pine, and to keep SSSI status we have to cut a few out each year. I can see their point, but I rather like Beech trees in moderation, as they generally have cleared areas underneath, presumably their shed leaves prevent undergrowth, and it is a good place for mushrooms, the squirrels like the beech masts (seeds) and it's a great place to throw frisbees, sticks for dogs, and for general bat habitat. our Pipistrelles and Natterers like the airspace. Having seen how unsteady the trees are, however, I think I might put bat boxes on opposite sides, to balance them.
When I'm not writing something on the web pages, perhaps kept indoors by the weather, I have been known to read the occasional blog written by others. Mine isn't really a blog, but I don't really know how to classify it. Vanity publishing perhaps. Other writers include Paul Camilli, who lives 'off grid' on Raasay near the isle of Skye. I find his writings useful and interesting especially related to general thinking, renewables and crofting. and Dave Stone who is also an author of books such as the Illmore Chronicles. Both are off centre, for want of a better way of putting it, and entertaining, so feel free to go and have a look at them.
In the meantime I have found an oil pressure gauge, the old tube type, probably for the tractor, but possibly for the Ford Midge. The only problem is that I'll have to rebuild the dashboard if I want to put it in the Midge, still, if I make a folding windscreen for it then I'll probably have to re-configure the dashboard anyway. The older type of car, I'm talking 1920-30 here, often had some instrumentation and switches on a removable section, usually wooden, that way the more unreliable devices could be accessed more easily, and gave the mechanic the ability to put his arm in behind, for fiddling purposes. This means more pootling about in the garage, but first I must clear the roof of the east wing of its scattered gravel, re-arrange the rain gathering pipework and make at least a gesture of work on the summerhouse. Then there's finishing the tidy up of the west wing, put the ladders away and go and give blood. Busy busy.