So, time to be clad. Inevitably this needs nice weather, so as with the Mono-blocking, it started snowing on the second day. I can only assume the storm gods disapproved. The mono-blocking was to get around the problem of a drive that, after the Ground-source heat pump trenches, was essentially badly drained mud, grass, and gravel. This project was to get around weather, mainly rain, snow and cold. Both being under the heading of environment. We've got a lot of environment up here, mainly geography and meteorology.
    With a bit of luck the insulation will reduce the heating bills. They are already quite low because the solar panels pay for the electricity bill, including the ground source heat pump which heats it. The objective here is not so much to save money as to reduce our carbon footprint, also the less electricity we use the more we can export. 
    The expression 'Four seasons in one day' was made for Tarbrax, although I've seen more dramatic 'rapid change' in the Western Isles, where you can see the next four quarter-hour's weather by looking south-west. In Shetland it changes less often, but comes at you faster. Here, if I'm getting bored with the computer, I can look out of the window and see what it'll be like for half an hour or so. Usually. At this point in the writing it is the 28th of April, and we've had snow, hail, rain, blazing sunshine and high winds. I was puzzled by the grey snowdrifts, but that turned out to be insulation dust.
    The cladding is 120mm thick and covered with layers of special adhesive cement, webbing and then a coloured adhesive layer which the gravel sticks to. The panels are held on with a kind of rawl-plug with a wide head (the white dots) which need drilling in. The cat is getting used to the noise, but considers it a bit of an intrusion. Fortunately the noisy bits will soon be finished. 
Exterior Cladding April-May 2015
Ready to start
insulation slabs attached
    Next is the scaffolding, which went up quite quickly and with a reasonable amount of elfland safety. The rainwater drainage system and the irrigation, which looked after the plants in front of the house, will need re-routing, but it'll give me the excuse to re-design them, tidier and more efficient I hope. The little window above the conservatory is the computer room and general office. Since we both spend some time there, the cat sometimes joins us and was perplexed to see people walking past the window. 
    Not surprisingly the house is far from 'square' to the point where masons would probably be upset. The builders seem to have been able to adjust to this, and only occasionally throw things at each other. The cladding blocks are added from the bottom, so the lines follow the ground level. This meant the scaffolders kept scratching their heads trying to reconcile  their spirit levels with their eyes. The damage to the plants is not too bad so far, although all builders work in a sort of vacuum where anything underneath them is 'ground' and no structure is relevant except as a prop. I did see one chap lean a 10 foot steel scaffolding pole against a lamp-shade made of something like mica and brass. It made a sad little crunching noise, and I think it may need a bit of attention, it is part of a set of 8.
North corner. Before.
North corner. Midway.
Yes the scaffolding goes through the roof.
Managed to span the smaller conservatory.
    It is only when you start doing this kind of thing do you realise how complicated houses are. Our house seems to be built almost entirely from elbows. Most of the down-pipes are now re-routed, several drains are extended, and satellite dishes, window-sills and taps have been moved, re-positioned or adjusted. I'm not looking at the garden, builder's feet seem to have an unerring knack for finding the most delicate plant, fragile ornament or frightened wildlife. Fortunately nature will rebound, I hope, they are actually quite careful as builders go. ( As I typed that there was a crash......)
    Generally there is not much swearing, that might sound rather twee but it's a good sign. Apart from those that swear the whole time it is generally a lack of excitement and shouting that indicates that a job is going well. Swearing used as a form of punctuation is quite normal. I think of it as a kind of 'buffering', it gives the speaker time to formulate the next word. I wonder if pipe smokers and Italians swear less, as they have pauses and displacement activities built in to their conversations.
    We are up to Friday the 1st of May now, I was rather expecting a delay from Thursday night to Tuesday morning for the bank holiday. That means rather less time to the finish, at which point I can put the panels back into the conservatory roof. It has stayed remarkably dry inside so far, but I would like to get weather-proof as soon as I can. The storm gods are bound to notice sooner or later. I made a suitable sacrifice, by cutting holes in a Midge tarpaulin and using up a large roll of duck-tape (or is that duct-tape) it seems to have appeased them for now. Hopefully there will be a sunny bank-holiday weekend for the rest of the country as well, but traditionally it means wall-to-wall rain, so I'm concentrating on my patch, others will have to make shift for themselves. 
    The south-east wall has now been fully boarded, so the two blue-tits trying to nest inside the barge boards have been frustrated. One, on the West corner, just left, having spent several days pecking at the wood and plastic boarding, but the one trying to get in near the satellite dish was very upset for a few hours, I just hope we haven't entombed his wife. I was unable to discourage his nesting activity which started two days before the scaffolding started to go up, nesting sites must be in unusually high demand, as they haven't tried that area before.
    Avid reader(s) of my newsletters may know of my dislike for heights, and may be sympathetic to my dilemma. The scaffolding gives me access to parts of the roof normally out of range, inevitably there are small repairs and modifications that could be made if I can summon up the proverbial. I shall start at the lowest and see how it goes. It is not helped by the fact that, being a relatively low build, it gives a rather more 'wobbly' feeling than taller ones that are fixed to the wall. I know it is safe enough - I've seen the builders wandering about on it, but there is only one of me, and I'm fond of it.
    You'll be happy, I hope, to note my safe return to the ground. Various small pieces of plastic on the barge-boards and facias have been re-attached properly, and some cables secured. None of it was vital, but it looks tidier. The only problem is that as the rest gets smarter so the remaining bits look contrastingly scruffier. I shall have to improve the porch and the conservatory, after that I shall dye my hair and get some smarter clothes. Maybe varnish the cat.
    Once the insulation installation was initiated the various attachments to the house had to be adjusted, most were fairly simple, like re-arranging the plant irrigation, moving the rain collecting barrels, and moving the various plant-pots and the like. One problem emerged in that the garden hose reel couldn't be mounted on the surface of the cladding. Taking it off revealed that the stopcock inside the house didn't actually turn it off, so I had to use the toby tap out in the drive, and disconnect the whole thing. Over the bank holiday week-end I put in a new garden tap and repositioned the hose reel. It took rather more work than I expected as I had to run it under the porch floor. That took a fair bit of wriggling and general contortion. I may be getting stiffer as the years pass, but I think the stretching of several joints in the process helps keep me supple, and don't seem to have strained anything. The hose will need tidying up, but I'll leave that until I've re-done the porch, which is looking decidedly scruffy now.
    I took the opportunity to re-route the sewer from the wee loo and the sink drain from the main bathroom, thereby solving a few long-standing niggles on the way. It is Sunday now, and the pebble-dash should complete the job on Monday, after which the scaffolding can come down. The cat will be pleased as he finds the loss of his multiple conservatory 'seats in the sun' tiresome and doesn't like the way the tarpaulin rustles in the wind.
A bit of thinking and some tarpaulin keeps the floor dry(ish)
  The rental house cladding has been almost completed, there are a few drains to reconnect, a light and clothes-line to reinstall and some debris to clear. Our tenant reports that it 'looks very nice' and feels warmer.
      I'll wait until the down-pipes are reconnected before photographing it. The next tasks will be to improve the loft insulation and replace the oil fired central heating. It'll take a while for the investment to pay back, but the work will keep the value of the house up and make it more attractive as a home. I doubt I'll be able to charge much more rent, but I'd feel a bit of a green hypocrite insulating my own house and letting my tenant shiver in an oil fired one. People might think I was a Conservative politician.
A lonesome reel
  That'll do for now, I'll see if I can treat you all to a completion photo of the cladding, but I'll want some sunshine for that, so it may take a while. The BBC weather forecast indicates sunshine tomorrow. It should be reasonable, here at least, on the 7th for the election. A point to consider, did you know if everybody voted for the party they wanted, they would get it? It seems that most people who would vote Green don't because they don't think there are enough of them to count. The number of people who vote tactically to keep the ones they hate out, combined with the people who don't bother because they 'can't have any effect' means we end up with the Conservative / Labour mix we've had since the war. I suggest you go and vote green if you are in England, they won't get in first time, but it might start to shift the main parties. I'm voting SNP, but I'll be heading for the green side of it, once we are independent.

​Political bit.
   I'm not really interested in politics, but there comes a point when you just get sick of being ignored, stitched up, and mis-represented by a bunch of self serving, greedy, lying, corrupt, ignorant, war-mongering, elitist incompetents. This is just my opinion, you don't have to agree.
West end Late April
East end Late April
  There hasn't been much work done on the tractor recently, I'll have to split it to get the clutch out and that will take a bit of concentration so I'm leaving it until the house-work is done and hopefully the traditional wet cold weather, that marks most easter bank holidays, is replaced with a bit of sunshine. It hasn't been too bad, but if it doesn't get a move on, we'll be into summer before we've had spring. There was a sharp frost, which made me worry about the poly-tunnel irrigation system. That turned out to be OK and the rain has re-filled the water tank, so I can't really complain. Fiona's plants seem to be coming on well, although I have to confess to only recognising the more obvious vegetables. I think the green bags contain exotic potatoes. Spellcheck and my natural typo propensity combined to make that erotic potatoes. I'll leave that image in your mind to bother you later. It looks as though the path in the middle is rather wide, it fills up as the crop expands.
Scotland has consistently voted Labour and got a Conservative government. We've been asset stripped by westminster for too long, and now we find the Labour party indistinguishable from the Tories. Time to leave an abusive relationship.