Sunday, 19 December 2010

Just about working.

The winter is truely upon us now and after the last post it immediately got a bit stressful. The snow was about 40cm deep and the temperature dropped locally to below -10celcius.

Which not only left me unable to work - with frozen nuts (ahem!)

but also on the coldest night the boiler ,mysteriously, vindictively almost, stopped working. To help add to the worry that same night water started dripping through our bedroom ceiling !
Being a practical person (and i also loathe to spend money on a plumber), I dismantled the boiler whilst trying to decipher than boiler manual. The facial expression summed up the experience !

 I found what I thought was the problem and that morning found the the new bit locally online- flame failure electrode . Then the van would not start, completely frozen solid and I was about to walk the three miles to plumbers in the minus 10 temperature when they offered to deliver it for free immediately. Now thats customer service - Thank you City Plumbing Supplies in Loanhead !

I installed it ,proud of my success

- only to fall flat on my face immediately when it still didnt work !

Once again it looked like a confusing pile of unknowable stuff and not a rational machine!

So, I rang "John the Boiler engineer" who made the correct call over the phone - frozen condensate overflow and I managed to sort it out immediately at no further cost.  The reason it had failed wasnt the cold - it had been badly installed in the first place - the pipe ran slightly uphill and the hot fluid just sat in the pipe till  the frost got in.  Yet another thing to re-do in the spring...

...along with sorting the leaking roof gutters which run behind the top of the wall . Blocked with ice they had overflowed into the bedroom - I managed to thaw enough of the drain with boiling salty water - two problems sorted in one day ! The next two days were spend feeling morose and ill - brought on by the stress and working outside in the extreme cold.

The snow has been fun  - some igloo building helped pass the time for the kids (big and small!)

and using the motorbike to ferry shopping to and fro the van at end of track certainly beats walking !
(yes, that really is the drive !)

At last the weather eased off and I managed to clear up the shed that collapsed (in last blog) and start to dismantle the one next to it - the "car parking" shed. Not much point having a shed that keeps your vehicles snow free if you cant then drive them up the hill !

I rather foolishly got April to drive down the ice covered hill with the shopping - only to find we couldnt get back up it (having lent the van out over weekend as well!) Luckily I used up most of the building sand to get enough traction to get back out ! 

Demolishing  the "car parking" shed (the nearest shed above) was proving a little challenging on my own and I was just struggling away and saying "This is WAY too laborious on my own" when who should come walking down the hill towards me but my brother Sam and Dad - with the setting sun immediately behind - quite a dramatic entrance.

My Dad is staying to assist and the sheds are being cleared to site the new eBay caravan . With two of us working the next day we got that shed down and cleared easily if slightly dramatically!

It is quite fun up on the roof - its surprisingly huge when you're high up there! It also had a thick layer of frost on the corrugated iron to make it even more excitingly slippery ! Its not very cool to fall off the shed roof if one of  your  parents are watchingwhich explains the concerned look I'm getting maybe !

 And that section is now down - I'd have taken a photo of the appearing brick walls , but of course its too cold to go back out to get one ! You'll gave to wait till next time ;-)

In the meantime heres something Willow built with "Grumpy" !

Saturday, 4 December 2010

winter is a coming

One of the things we were quite excited about when we moved here was the chance to get some proper snow. We had visions of pristine snow fields and woods that were untrammeled, snow men that didnt get knocked down immediately and maybe even "getting snowed in".  Ah it would be winter wonderland indeed !

 And of course it snowed, and then snowed some more and ... well if you live in Britain you know the rest !


Which presented the first problem - how to get up the hill (in the photo foreground). Luckily I was smart enough to drive the car and van up  the night before. But not smart enough to park at the end of the drive (300+ m long) . So guess who didnt drive the car to work...

I eventually managed to dig the van out to drive along track (by letting most of the air out of rear tyres) before the heaviest dump of snow. The car is still there (although its more like a snowdrift now !). The van made one trip for supplies to Tescos before it froze up as well ! So we acheived the "getting snowed in" bit (vehicle-wise at least)

The snow man that didnt get knocked down  was next on the list. Would you try kicking this one in ? She's still there after a week .

Next thing we wanted was the perfect snow fields. Well they were certainly very lovely until I got out on the bike for a blast about. It even inspired April to have a go for the first time in five years.

However this is where owning property starts to be a liability. The snow looked lovely on the fields, trees and barns but as it got deeper and deeper it also got heavier and  heavier. I got a bit worried about this after some branches snapped of the massive cedar tree - it was already damaged from previous winters as well but you can just see the fresh scars in this shot .

The sheds were looking very creaky - some of the beams looking a bit  banana-like ! I had a raging fire going to protect the tractor area in the vain hope it might melt some of the snow off - there was about 40cm by this point. At least I knew I'd tried to do something if it did collapse. The tractor still has its front axle off (at the engineers in Edinburgh) so I couldnt move it or use it for snow clearing.

And then the shed next to it DID collapse - during the night - the one Sam and I had been mixing mortar in a few weeks ago !

Luckily the cement mixer was against the wall and didnt get squashed

The shed was going to be demolished soon anyway so this helped , however I hadnt planned on demolishing that cedar tree BUT... demolished itself ! Thats about a quarter of the top left side gone. The right side was looking ready to go as well - it was practically a flat snow field on top of it

Not a lot of work got done other than hours and hours of snow shovelling - which I quite enjoy luckily since its a good workout ! I have managed to unscrew and knockdown some of the vertical panels in the big barn which is now huge since the silos have all gone.

and also started on removing the fixed asbestos cement panels on the outside .

The reason for this is to accomodate a 35 foot caravan I just bought on eBay on behalf of my Dad who is coming up to help soon. The caravan is going to live in the opened up shed for the winter. Although I suspect if we get that much snow again Dad will be in the spare room.  That should be a little safer but maybe not much warmer...

It has been an excellent week and perhaps the best bit of all was being able to crunch through the pristine snow in the woods at 11pm one night when it was otherwise absolutely quiet ( all the local roads were closed)  and almost as bright as day. Very calming after all the excitement !

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Scrap Iron Will

"The law of the soul is eternal endeavour 
That bears a man onward and upward for ever"

I've been toiling over the last two months  at sorting out the junk. The plastic has been bagged, the wood burned and the asbestos cement piled up. The only "good junk" is the scrap metal because it pays to collect it - now 17p a kilo. It is however the hardest junk to collect. Its heavy, its sharp and its often hard to get out.

As a result it requires the most effort physically and mentally to remove but has the greatest  reward although not just financially. It is satisfying to know that it is entirely recyclable and can be reused almost indefinitely if recycled before it becomes rust .The metal is "saved" rather than lost forever, a  a mini-metaphor for saving  the farm itself. So by selling a small part of the farm, it helps preserve both the thing sold and the farm itself. 

All thanks to my effort, which relates to my "will" to suceed in saving the place as best I can.

Thinking about this "will" aspect  attracted my attention to an audio book available (free) this week from  .By author Orison Swett Marden, it is called "Iron Will" and led to the choice of blog title and opening quote. (Clever pun eh !). Some of the quotes may be attributed to other authors within the book.

I'm quite a fan of self- motivational books like this one - they've been around for longer than most people would suspect. Some of the examples are a bit dated, the book is over 100 years old , yet the message is eternal. I've added a few quotes from the book  to this post in bold since they helped keep me going this week as I was toiling away.

The week  started with shifting quite a bit of wood - the final remnants of that massive shed , some saved for future projects, some destined for the fire . It would have been easier with two people but I managed...just !

It felt a little like I was carrying my own unfinished cross at this point !

But luckily the van counts as my extra pair of hands usually !

Later in the week I started a major push on metal collection. I got a bit of assistance from Sam to help unbolt some of the seven metal grain silos / bins. It made that days work much easier - after that I couldn't be on the inside and outside of silo at same time to undo the bolts (unless my arms were like Mr Tickle!)


The other problem was the rust, many of the bolts couldnt be unbolted with a power tool, so they had to be taken off with an open ended spanner - one sixth of a turn at a time .

"1,2,3,4,5,6. Great thats one millimeter further out. 
  1,2,3,4,5,6. Great thats another one.....     "

Slow, slow slow !

Orison Swett Marden (OSM) suggestion for success was as follows ...

" The quality of persistance is never absent from a successful man.
 No matter what opposition he meets or what discouragement overtakes him,
drudgery cannot disgust him, obstacles not discourage him, labour cannot weary him"

So I had to grind them off one at a time instead. And there were lots !

Its not very nice working in the silo all day, really dusty and noisy.

The view on the other side wasnt that inspiring either although the pile of heavy panels (about 50kg each) was getting bigger and bigger.

After a few days "in the bin" another of OSM's quotes  seemed appropriate.

"Success is the child of drudgery and perserverance and cannot be coaxed or bribed, pay the the price and it is yours"

Success. The bins would have been down today - unfortunately I managed to break the Hilti drill right at the end so decided to take the remainder of the day to sell some of the scrap at the local yard

These are my piles of scrap ! Awaiting their next  re-incarnation.

The yard is far more impressive with BIG tools that dont break !

My silo panels can be seen in the foreground  - they got there along with a small delivery the day before.

The obvious reward was the £0.17 a kilo  multiplied by 980 kilos ! Thats just the first two van loads as well !

The less obvious reward was the pleasure of knowing that through application of will power and perservering  the farm is a small step closer to being sorted out and the environment a little better as a result.

(Well maybe apart from increasing my carbon footprint tonight- can burning wood REALLY be carbon neutral?)

"Go on sir, go on!  
 The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. 
 Proceed, and light will dawn, and shine with increasing clearness on your path.”

(quote within "Iron Will" attributed to Jim Rohn )

We will succeed !

Monday, 15 November 2010

Getting safer, drier and warmer

My high priorities at the moment are  to get the place safe, dry, and warm so  the battle this week was mainly  on three fronts.

1) Aim - Safety.   Problem -Mice.   Solution -KILL THEM !

After hearing some (rather terrifying) sounds coming from the walls late at night recently I wasn't then surprised to find some midnight kitchen feasting going on. When our daughter wanted to know why the lovely seed picture she made yesterday was now just paper with holes in, I had to admit
"Willow , we've got MICE !" (and hopefully not RATS !)

Every night it/they  got braver and last night it decided to attempt to eat two apples right off the table presumably to rehydrate after eating into 3 packets of flour the night before ! Mouse , thats one small step too far !

This all sounded like a great excuse to buy our first "animals" for the farm.
So along we went to the Lothian Cat Rescue to find our new team members responsible for mouse eradication  and here they are...   please welcome... "Bonkers & Monkers Marmalade"
At the moment they have managed to almost catch one fly between them.

Not bad for £130 plus 60p a day

2a) Aim - Keep Dry.   Problem -Water leaking out .   Solution -Rip it up!

Had to tackle this quickly - the radiators lost all pressure overnight having already topped them up once already when we moved in.  Obviously a leak . Luckily I found it straight away - the living room carpet had soaked up most of it !
The radiator had been installed rather inaccurately and the pipe had slightly detatched. To fix it I had to lift the wet carpet and the flooring underneath to bend the pipes below.  While up it gave me a good chance to look at the state of the floor joists in that area. Not very good - half the ends seem to have rotted off on that side from rising damp over the years! Urk!

So while the living room was being dehumidified I though I might as well rip up the hall floor to trace the existing pipework and see what other horrors I could find. The pipes were all fine...(phew!)

however the insulation seems to have been EATEN in many places under the floor. I then found two rat skeletons and half a small cat . Presumably the rats ate the cat rather than the other way round which doesnt bode well for Bonkers & Monkers.

That now brings the total to 4 different cat skeletons I've found here... nice ! Hopefully its not as a result of rat poison, of which I have found a few tins lying about.

2b) Aim - Keep Dry.   Problem -Water leaking in!   Solution -Rip it out!

The rest of the damp has taken up most of the week to start fixing, though luckily I have had some labouring assistance from my brother Sam for a couple of days (which made it far more pleasant.). 

The joints between the roof slates and gable ends (known as  "skews") have cracked in three of four places so they all had to be chopped out and rebuilt in lime mortar (rather than cement which had been used incorrectly previously).

 It was really nice weather on Day 1, which is why Sam is smiling. Or maybe it was the good company!

You can see the crack running along the middle of this "skew" - one of the better ones ! Driving rain has got in over the years and this makes the loft damp which is a problem , especially now its well insulated - wet rot doesnt hang about and one rafter end has already completely rotted away (which is where the wasps had got in and built their nest)

The trouble with chopping out the "skews" is that a number of slates were (already) broken or loose so rebuilding also involved some re-slating  . Less fun on Day 2 when it rained most of the day and I got one skew done since so many slates were needing attention.

Day 3 , on my own, and I just managed to get the last skew done - its hard going without a labourer to lug stuff up and down the first ladder as well as doing the work on the roof.

While up on the roof (great view when not raining !), I also found several other instances of poor installation of the lead work as well as  cracked slates - which probably explains why the roof has at least seven places that leak ! Sam also spotted a major crack in one of the hidden  wall head gutters which might explain why the kids bedroom smells damp. Other parts have sagged badly (poor construction again) and will probably leak during heavy snow I suspect. All a bit tedious to say the least. Its irritating things like this that reinforce my attitude to doing building jobs - DO THEM PROPERLY ! Some poor shmuck has to sort it out further down the line !

Mind you you should see some of the people that get employed as builders...

3) Aim - Stay warm.   Problem -I'm cold!  Solution -Eat more food! 

Despite the cold we have managed to grow and harvest our first crop which have been grown inside from scratch (unlike the tomato plants which came with us during move).

Cue the fanfare....

 Our B&Q "Grow your own mushroom kit" produced the grand total of five mushrooms after watching patiently every night for a month. Willow, Lundy and Piglet were all very impressed.

£5.98 for five mushrooms....!

The frosts have appeared in earnest today so I'm pleased that I concentrated on the right things this week. I'm sure the winter will bring plenty more "entertaining" challenges!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Still in one piece

I'm trying to get the blog caught "up to date" so heres a quick rundown of some of the minor other jobs that have been done in the last 6 weeks or so. I've concentrated here on the ones that had the capacity to cause injury though there have been other ones as well.

My initial plan of attack - (and full frontal assault is sometimes what it needed !) was to focus on making the place safe for the kids, then keeping it warm and dry, then tidied up so April and I can enjoy it and eventually a Big Plan can be developed. Its sort of a practical application of  Maslows hierarchy of needs.

In the build up to our housewarming party I picked up an enormous amount of glass shards, literally thousands, scattered absolutely everywhere. There was also a plentiful supply of extremely dodgy electrics (some still live and at 450 Volts), old lightbulbs, rat poison, a few loose sheep syringes, a couple of hidden pitchforks, rusty propane gas cylinders and LOTS of broken asbestos cement .

This picture viewed from the glasshouse probably has most of the hazards demonstrated somewhere!

This has all been mixed with the most incredible amount of plastic rubbish - much of it mixed with well composted chicken shit, sheep shit and probably rat shit. Or just "MORE SHIT !" as I like to shout intemperately now and again.

The first pile took three days to shift, including stuffing thousands of old plastic bread bags into old plastic fertilizer bags that were buried alongside them! Almost exactly the right amount as well bizarrely. Now why didn't the bags go in the other bags 20 years ago ? I'll never know !

But this was all easy work really. The electrics were pretty scary by comparison,  I had to modify the main breaker and fuse board substantially including working on the 3 phase 450volts whilst live at one point- lucky I had my new 1000V insulated screwdriver and rubber pants on ! Once I'd disconnected that the other electric jobs were safer.... well sort of safer. Good thing I still have a head for heights

Nothing to a man with nerves of steel....

But by far the scariest thing that needed doing was insulating the roof of the house. Now thats not scary you say, however this one had two big wasp nests right at the back in a position that prevented me spraying them. I have vague recollections of my brother getting very badly stung by wasps so I was a bit concerned to say the least .I'd watched the wasps flying in and out for a few days so knew that one was still very active.
I decided to face my fears and surprise them early in the morning while it was still cold. The plan was to get all dressed up and hack out the nest with a handsaw, bag it and then spray insecticide into the bag which was then sealed.

OK, here I go...

It turned out to be a complete anti-climax, I didnt even see a wasp ! Not one ! Thats often the way with things you're afraid of. Once you confront them it turns out not so bad as feared !

The next day I emptied the bag out out and was tempted to keep the nest since it looked so beautiful...

Luckily I decided to set fire to it to be safe - turned out it still had a good few dozen groggy wasps still in it !

Another job I'd put off was the emptying the large chest freezer in the barn. Nothing wrong with that surely ! Well this one was probably more dangerous than the rubbish, electrics and wasps combined. It had defrosted about ten years ago apparently- half full of pig or venison  "or something". It had got so bad that no-one in the previous family dared open it - and it now smelled so bad since it was starting to rot its way out of the freezer. A major biological health hazard !

First of all I moved it away from the house with tractor and drained it on its side- thinking that would be OK after a month or so outside with the flies and maggots. The stench was unbelievable - enough to cause immediate vomiting at a dozen paces !

When I went back a month later the smell was just as bad . I got a respirator on and went for a proper look...

I can confirm now that if anyone out there is planning on disposing of any bodies, that hiding them in a freezer will not reduce them to a smell free pile of compost. Especially if they are wrapped in ....plastic bags. They would look a bit like this...

 And the smell Oh My God!!! I have never smelt anything as bad as that. NOT  EVER !

I buried it all in a shallow grave nearby after hand picking the leaking bags out of the "soup".

The smell from the freezer was so bad even after a few more weeks of rain that I eventually filled it with sawdust and  5 litres of petrol and torched it completely. And it still smelled awful! Incredible !

Apart from that I've done a lot of strimming to uncover more dumped rubbish , insulated the roof with 340mm deep of extra insulation, removed the inner big barn hanging ceiling (with my brother Sam) and got the tractor steering stripped down so it doesnt kill me when I next drive it. April, has had her hands full with the kids mainly, but has managed to clear out a load of weeds from the glasshouse (and, of course, loads of glass!).

Ironically the only near serious injury so far has been to Lundy (aged 18 months) who managed to stick three of her fingers into the kitchen door (hinge side) just as I was slowly closing it while fixing it the other side. I think I'd rather have had my own hand in there than see that again. Luckily for her they all still work. I havent felt that awful since I saw Willow trap her hand in the paper shredder (at about the same age as well)

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger"

 I wonder if Fredrich Nietzsche ever cleared up a farm, his quote certainly summed these last few weeks up accurately!

Lets hope it stays that way !