It’s been awfy quiet over here for a while, you’ll be thinking I’ve fallen off my perch. Far from the truth (I hope you’ll be pleased to hear) It’s been a wonderfully long summer and I’ve managed to get quite a bit done. There’s plenty more, but the porch needed a dry spell to make reconstruction easy, various visits and general goings on have slowed its progress, but since I’ve been meaning to rebuild it for the last 10 years at least I guess the actual job was quite quick.
I was fortunate enough to have a couple of helpers. Derek who lives just down the road, whose church conversion I have assisted with, and Andrew an old friend of Fiona, who used to live in the village before I got here. When I say an old friend I should point out he and Derek are younger than I am and have more years of experience in house construction. I’d feel old, but I don’t do that kind of thinking, and anyway most people have a few bits of wear and tear, so I often find I can do a few things younger ones cannot, and the younger ones occasionally (very occasionally) don’t know something I do. Both of those work the other way as well, so it balances out. One thing I have found is that if I move slowly, measure twice - or more often three times - then I remember a better way of doing something before the saw gets to the wood. This saves wood, and time. The porch, as mentioned previously, was in a sorry state, not helped by a series of overlaid bodges, professional incompetence and penny pinching, poor design and inadequate materials. I couldn’t help improve it to some degree, and given a bit of assistance transform it. Primary changes were a new floor, roof, windows and walls, which meant the door was re-used and a few bits of wood. Fortunately I had collected some resources being surplus to the requirements of others and a fair bit of the necessary raw materials from my local builder’s merchant conveniently close by. My objective, apart from mitigating the eyesore, was to protect the door from the weather. It sounds a bit daft but I never thought a front door would be less than weather-proof especially since it started out at £400. That might have been connected to the fact that I bought it from B&Q for £40. Perhaps they knew something I didn’t.
As was, I had replaced much of the structure over the years, but always just patching.
Still, since it was facing the worst of the weather, which can get a bit extreme viewed from the south, 20ºC below, zero horizontal rain and 60mph winds I thought it would last longer turned away from it. Apart from the position of the door I wanted to simplify the roof and improve the walls, the double glazing had started letting damp in and the ivy was preparing for a massive offensive. I have yet to persuade the electricity company to replace the old 1960s Vulcanised India Rubber mains cables but I’m hoping that will happen soon. It’s not causing the water ingress that it had been, but it causes most builders, craftsmen and hobbyists to suck their teeth, shake their heads and, in extreme cases, enter the house by a different door. It’ll give you an idea of the age of the stuff from the fact that they went to a wooden fusebox when we arrived. To make life easier I left the roof up until I’d replaced the floor and walls. Nature was kind enough while I lacked windows. I was able to build up from the ground and then go back and replace the floor before replacing the roof. It involved a certain amount of to and fro (‘from’ presumably) and a spot of back and forth, but avoided working in midge infested rain. The first significant rain waited until I had it weather-proof. I don’t like plastic and avoided it where possible but the shiplap stuff was the only practical alternative to very expensive wooden cladding. The least warped floorboards were recycled and the ‘trim’ largely recycled church. ‘Pitch Pine’ was very popular at the time of construction. It resists rot and insects, looks much nicer than modern DIY wood and there was enough for the job. I’m hoping to convert what’s left of the pulpit into some internal lining and cupboard.
Down with the walls, replace them with block-work and shift the door.
Off with the old roof, on with the new. Clad the walls and build the window frames.
More or less waterproof, a small thermostatic window above the door. The black line is the temporary sprinkler system which I needed during the heatwave. I’ll need to rearrange the path to the door.
The wooden cladding around the top is 40 year old recycled tongue and groove, possibly Scots Pine, that was around the previous porch at ground level. I was surprised how much was still sound. Sadly the silvery patina will take a few years to return.
One proposed use for an old pulpit. It would have been used by the Minister who lived here when it was the Manse. It was this or a mini-bar. The floor has to come back up nine inches and the wall needs lining
As previously mentioned we had taken a short break in the Scottish Borders. Just a week but long enough to have a look around. Mainly based in Melrose we stayed in the middle of town where there’s a convenient caravan park and all the necessary facilities. Nearby is Sir Walter Scott’s pad where we popped in for a peek. The weather was very pleasant most of the time and the folding caravan (it drops to half its height) functioned well. It can be a bit tricky setting it up if you try to hurry, but if the bits are done in the right sequence it only takes 5 minutes. Remembering the right sequence is the most important bit.
It’ll probably be the last use of the little folding caravan, it has served us well considering it hardly ever gets used, and is still water-tight, but the impending electric car (EV) in January doesn’t tow so it is time for it to go. There are several other trailers to be disposed of, I have always had a trailer or two for the bulky or dirty shifting, but the EV will have good capacity for the bulky and I’ll have gravel and other materials delivered. It took a while but the Nissan company has finally come up with something like a Zafira. It has seven seat capability, although we probably won’t need the extra two, and well over 100 mile range. One of the complaints by motorists is that EVs don’t have the range of a petrol car, which is true, at the moment, but recharging doesn’t take long, given a bit of planning. My approach is to ask if the driver would be prepared to stop for half an hour, just on longer journeys, each hundred miles or so in exchange for £50. In practical terms it’s no harder to keep going than a Midge. Mine has a range of about 80 miles, and bringing it up from Somerset required quite a few stops and about 10 hours. The Nissan eNV200 will do seventy for 120 miles, and will take an 80% charge in 40 minutes. Ideal for stretching your legs, a wee and a cup of coffee. The coffee will cost more than the electricity which is free at a lot of outlets, and I will charge it to 100% at home for £5 or so on a cloudy day unless I find a way of adding a few solar panels to do it for free. I haven’t driven for more than a dozen miles in an EV so experience will test the statistics. I’m expecting to have to make a few compromises, but as yet no problems. So far the solar, insulation, ground source and other ‘new’ renewables have been proved as good or better than the adverts, and none of the naysayers have been right. We shall see, I think most of the stories of doom are ill founded, and in the end the legislation and climate stats mean it’s the way to go. Either way our current car, although good for a few miles yet, will need replacing soon and an internal combustion engine will be a no-no by 2030. Quite a few will disagree, that’s fine, but I’ll only react to experience. Unproven tales of doom don’t cut it. Some of the horror stories I heard regarding wind turbines, and even solar panels were so wide of the mark you begin to wonder if the raconteur knew what they were, or maybe worked for the oil industry. One told me, on hearing that solar panels could make hydrogen, said that’s what they make atomic bombs with. Errol continues to survive, though moving cautiously on occasion, and still enjoys a trip into the garden for a spot of sun. Seen here on some nicely warmed slabs, but out of he direct heat he watched me clear the gutters out, and seemed quite unconcerned by my being 15 feet in the air above his head. He can become quite energetic, but usually only when he thinks we are eating something he should be sharing. I suppose it’s a matter of enthusiasm, but I’ve seen him getting over three foot walls and standing on two legs while trying to capture a piece of fish he deserved more than I. Those two activities were not at quite the same time, but if the fish had been on top of the wall I think he would have had it.
Ice cream has become something of a temptation, and he forgets his mother’s ‘polite cat training’, but cats don’t do guilt and patience is variable at best.
Other excitements have included the search for the septic tank. The village is far from the main sewer systems so the council organises a man in a tanker to come and empty it occasionally. I’m not sure how often it is supposed to happen but we recently found they’d not attended to it in some years, perhaps ten. The previous driver, who knew where it was, was long since retired and it sort of fell off the map. Fiona and I went on an expedition with Andy who had seen it when he lived here thirty years ago. Sure enough it was still there. The council said they’d send someone but that was a month ago so I suspect they don’t want to. I could sympathise, you never know what might lurk. The system has obviously been stable for some years, but we do pay rates to have it done, and done it must be, although they may need a pickaxe. I enclose an edifying picture of the lid. We added a flag to attract attention, it isn’t normally highlighted. At the other extreme end of the collective digestive system, a bit of one of my teeth fell off recently. It’s always disturbing, but not too serious as I have several other teeth that are in working condition. It was just after a repair had been made to a nearby one. I’d complained to the dentist that I had what felt like a loose rock in there, but she couldn’t find anything as there was just a crack which usually stayed closed. To be honest I don’t think she believed me, and hadn’t looked too hard. I do wonder occasionally how so many supposedly professionals get away with the work they do and their ability to completely ignore what the customer says. The inside of my mouth is something of a mystery to me, I imagine that’s true of most people, and they’d prefer to keep it that way. I have looked at mine using an endoscope but I confess my sense of direction is no better there than in Milton Keynes. I think a previous dentist from Winchester, in the late sixties and now beyond retribution, was paid for unnecessary work and had weakened some of them, but the others all seem OK so I should be chewing for a while yet. I haven’t gone for any reconstructive work like bridges or implants. I’ll just wait for them to re-arrange themselves as these things seem to sort themselves out. I wonder how long it will be before we can grow new teeth, or other parts as required. There might be a fashion for the grin of a smilodon, although it might make soup a bit of a challenge and you could put your own eye out eating toffee. The long hot summer seems to be faltering here at the moment of writing, undoubtably to the delight of my reader as that's what sent me inside. It’s warm enough but it may be a bit damp for a few days. However it looks as though most of it will be fairly dry, well, not actually raining, and the breeze will keep the midges off. The farmers and gardeners will be happiest as things were getting a bit parched. Almost unheard of here north of the border, drought is not in the Scottish dictionary. Dreech (a cold wet day, usually with a fine mist or light rain) is more commonly used. The upside is lots of vegetative growth, especially with the longer summer days, and the farm land hasn’t all been built on. Scotland is known for mountains, and certainly we have lots of rocky ground with boggy bits between but the arable side is very good and produces more than the UK average. The only problem is keeping the midges off when on a slow moving tractor. The adaptation, come January, to an electric Nissan env 200, will make for some changes, although we’ll keep the petrol car for now, until settled in. I think I should be able to get a roof rack and there’s as much space in the back as in the Zafira.
When we sell the caravan it’ll free up a garage and I can develop my wood-working side. The building of the porch warranted a small spending splurge on a chop-saw (mitre saw) and I’ve replaced Dad’s old (40+) circular saw which was getting a bit tired. A new electric planer is working nicely, although Andy kindly fixed the old one and explained why the thing never worked properly. I always check for metal contamination but now I have a spare for bits of wood that are riskier in terms of hidden nails. I’m hoping to upgrade my table saw too, and give the old, quite serviceable, one to the Aircraft Museum in Montrose. The ex caravan shed will do nicely for a woodwork shed, although I’ll have to make some doors for it, and that’ll make the other work-sheds less cluttered.
The old porch where not recycled, was mostly timber, and a fair bit is destined for kindling. The remainder might just wait for November 5th if I can find a reasonably dry storage spot. The village usually has a firework party out on the bing. The trick is stopping people from putting inappropriate materials on the bonfire by reconstructing it at the last minute. We’ve taken the odd ‘humorous’ gas cylinder out before now, which would have been lethal, and large bits of metal thrown in to challenge any kind of common sense. Televisions…you do wonder sometimes. Back to the keyboard. Although the weather is pure blue again, I thought I’d better get this published before it’s out of date. I’ve managed a bit more woodwork in the porch, although it wasn’t intended for occupation, let alone work, at these temperatures. Fiona went off for 48 hrs paid leave with Helen (her sister) and I fended for myself, and the cat, for a bit. They went up Ben Lomond and I did some carpentry. Both seemed successful. This was followed by a bit of a scramble to find some petrol as the electricity went off just as the village hall was gearing up for the pop-up cafe that runs on the last Friday of the month. Fortunately I was able to ‘borrow’ some from a neighbour and get it running with the auxiliary generator the village organised perhaps 20 years ago. Of course the electricity came back on ten minutes later, but it was a good eventual test of real use and the bouncy castle, kettles, soup heaters etc all fired up in time. I celebrated my birthday with a large piece of carrot cake and, having run around getting over-heated, I wore my djellaba for the first time too. It worked a treat, but then it has been developed over thousands of years. Most people seemed to think I was dressed as a monk… although one did reference the second coming. I’ll have to get the berber head-dress to go with it