Thursday, 15 December 2011

Continuing progress

I've always been in a believer in the maxim...  "Start with the end in mind"

It contains two parts of what is required for all creative work .

1) "Start" .  The most exciting day of any project when you are full of energy, determination and hopefully some resources ! On this latest mini-project (rebuilding the kitchen )  within the main project (the farm restoration)  I'd already dived in headfirst as seen in the last couple of blogposts . I'd even made some healthy progress, getting well past "starting".

click to enlarge any photo

 2) "The end in mind" . Which can sometimes be as much fun as starting - the truely fluid part of making anything - visualising what could be . This part however always gets compromised by the inflexible realities of time and space, money, enthusiasm and energy reserves and it is knowing where the line must be drawn between the ideal and the "realistic" that enables any project to succeed. After much late night frantic kitchen designing I came up with the layout for the new kitchen using SketchUp
Which, unsurprisingly perhaps, looks quite a lot like the last kitchen!

The maxim, true as it may be, misses the most important and difficult part of the process, the part which slots inconveniently in-between starting and ending. The maxim  should of course be... "Start and continue with the end in mind".

3)  "and continue". For the last three months ( I started on 15th September 2011) I have been mainly "continuing". And continuing and continuing and....

 ...slowly, slowly , hour by hour I have been getting there (and bear in mind that I have chosen to do EVERY different trade myself). 

Its easy to forget the work that goes into the smallest parts of a build
 One of the jobs I dislike the most is plastering - I gladly paid someone to skim coat our last house. This time finances were different so the neatest option open was to use Ames taping on the plasterboard (also known as drywalling).  Three coats of plaster followed sometime later by 2 coats of paint just about did me in mentally ! Trying to be a perfectionist is hard work ,not always required and slow ! 

not forgetting the sanding before painting which is THE worst job

Times like this often remind me of a quote from Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", not "The horror, the horror!"  (its not THAT bad working on your own house!) but the equally insightful view of the stoic riverboat captain Charles Marlow...

“I don't like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work--the chance to find yourself. Your own reality--for yourself not for others--what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”

I suspect he'd spent time plastering when he wasn't exploring the dark heart of Africa.

Meanwhile,  "time, tide and buttered eggs wait for no man".  
The apples ripened ,got picked, eaten ,given away or fed to the mules...
From a tree we planted only last year
Hallowe'en came and went , decorated with home-grown pumpkins from the site of the demolished silo shed...

Eeek !
The autumn leaves fell and were enjoyed...

Willow playing in the Edinburgh Botanics
 Wooly hats were knitted and modelled in readiness for approaching winter...

"Can I have some wooly socks next Mum?"
and still the kitchen job continued. New enthusiasm was forthcoming with the arrival of the kitchen bits and some brief extra help...

Dad helping
...and continuing and...
but enthusiasm is a fleeting thing and hard to maintain !

not looking enthused !
Still, there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, when I got to the flooring I would  get someone in to fit it.

A stylish Amtico vinyl 'plank' floor was found and priced and ...

"Bloody hell I cant afford that!".   Momentary despair and then some lateral thinking resulted in the same solution as always. "I can just afford the materials only- but I'll need to learn how to fit it!"

Off I go again...

But first it was sheeted in ply and nailed by hand every 6 inches square. Urgh !
Thick as two, short,vinyl planks me !
 in fact it was even quite entertaining occasionally...  (very short video)

Elsewhere on the farm, teeth fell out...

The tooth fairy currently pays £1 a tooth. Now thats price inflation for you !
...trees fell down...

storm damage on the approach drive
...barn walls fell down...

the brick was already like this when we bought the place

...the barn roof blew off...

the big barn roof viewed from above towards the drive
over 50 sqm of roof came off !
... the wood we'd chopped up got wet...

...lucky thats the small pile !
... and yet more wood got chopped up...

Sam dispatches the tree that blew down on drive

...the glasshouse took a slight 'de-glazing'...

about half a wheelbarrow full came off
...Dads'  caravan got pole axed by a flying 8"x3" beam and he nearly got decapitated as the windows broke either side of him and the wall buckled inwards...

 ... and it snowed, which was at least opportunity for the kids to be creative...

Lundy's first ever snowman looks like Les Dawson !
All the while, for three months, April bravely organised all the meals  in the caravan

awaiting the day when "continuing with the end in mind"  would eventually become "the end that was kept in mind".

Well that day is almost here...

The end.

Nearly !


Tuesday, 25 October 2011


While watching  the million pound television home makeover shows or reading  the glossy magazine adverts  its easy to believe that a major requirement for a house is that it should have STYLE. And the place to show your style is of course in the kitchen !

Having lived with a sleek, white, shiny, easy to clean, quite expensive and modestly stylish kitchen our move to Grove Farm over a year ago was a step back in time. By 2011 standards, our 'new' kitchen had NO STYLE.

 Here it is ...

However , it was at some point (early 80's?) all new and presumably had some of the style of the time. Brown swirly carpet, Artex, floral tiles, lowered ceilings, uPVC windows the whole image presumably replicated across the country.

When we got here I was determined to spend as little money and effort on cosmetic alterations to the house as possible for as long as possible. The whole property needs so much work that changing the style of the kitchen seemed a little frivolous.

But then last winter it was COLD ! Here's a reminder of the insulation effect on the kitchen.

Big icicles usually mean all your heat is going through the roof to melt the snow rather than warm you up inside ! And then we had rats, maybe half a dozen or so leaping about in the compost bin living under the floor. A reminder of the first two in case you missed them...

and of course they were impossible to stop from coming in as is often the case in old buildings . Then there was the damp coming in through the ceiling and up around the floor  which was also collapsing . All coupled with the general gloom of those low, entirely inappropriate, uPVC windows.

So STYLE wasnt really the issue with this kitchen. The real problem is its cold in winter , too hot in summer, easily rat infested, damp, smelly and dark. What the kitchen units look like really doesnt matter !

So at the end of the last blog I had just started being creative (/destructive)...

 ...the plan being to reinsulate the ceiling only.

Well I've never been a great one for sticking to plans , which is just as well, because the plan expanded and expanded and... well, now you know why theres been no blog for six weeks !

Very quickly it became obvious that the ceiling in its entirety needed to come out and the original height of the ceiling replicated - but to modern building standards -and replace several defective sections of roof at the same time ,doubling up some roof beams replacing a window lintel and incorporating two Velux windows  to solve the gloom; partial re-slating and two slate vents.

Quite a big job. Best get started...

The self builders version of the alien in belly scene in the film "Alien" !

Luckily we had a big pile of  barn timber for the recycled beams.

What do you want to do it like that for?

My eighteenth Velux window I reckon.

 Some interesting bits of recent history appeared amongst the crumbling sodden plaster - evidence of the changing taste of kitchen decor of the years, the changing STYLE !

Starting with the beige material look of the most recent wallpapering , underneath it moved to faux tile wallpaper...

 ..and sticking with the natural theme, behind the lowered ceiling, back to brown tones...

In a break towards the "modernity" of its time, a geometric blue/green pattern with five millimeters of polystyrene "insulation" smothers  the natural world of the river fowl who had survived destruction by roosting in the most inaccessible part of the ceiling behind a long-gone hot water tank .

Below that and under more recent crazy paving styled polystyrene super-thick insulation (10 millimeters!) some fragments of the oldest  layer that is ironically the most "modern" looking of all the designs...

Proof enough that STYLE is something that cycles and changes with time as well as owner !

Back on the roof, another section had to come out - half the roof beam and corner had  rotted away...

...which had of course allowed the entire back wall to become saturated from the top downwards over the years,  much of the tiled plasterboard kitchen walls were held up by rotten timber. The lack of dampcourse in the walls  and missing guttering had allowed most of the internal plaster boarded wall to become saturated from the floor upwards as well .

So down it all had to come.

Which exposed the wooden planked flooring edge - which was all rotten around the sides and a horrendous damp smell came wafting up. This was perhaps fortunate, because now we could see what the rats had been eating (other than the food in the kitchen units!) . Because of very poor re-construction of the older part of kitchen, the rats had been able to eat holes in the plastic DPM (Damp Proof Membrane) and chew the ends of the floor joists ( which were saturated wet and rotten of course).

So up it all had to come.

The other end was better built but laughable by modern standards. Half inch floorboards on widely spaced two inch joists resting on two inches of concrete resting on TOPSOIL!  So soft that the rats had eaten a three foot square hole under the concrete next to the radiator - stuffed full of old food wrappers !

So up it all had to come.

Note the rat undermined concrete slab above !

I was getting a little concerned by this point- especially when I realised the ring main for electrics and the cooker wiring had also been eaten by rats through to the copper wire in places and that the boiler and plumbing was all going to need moved as well, partly to ensure there was no way rats could get in ever again along old piping runs.

So I was pretty pleased to be filling it all up again- using locally sourced recycled glass aggregate to help reduce rising damp and keep the costs down... (lets see the rats eat that !)

Lucky I had some help with that glass pile (about four tonnes had to be barrowed in!

 New heavy duty DPM , big slabs of Kingspan insulation and a pefectly flat , 'floating' chipboard floor brought the floor back to its original height. I was actually quite pleased about this - it went from looking like a muddy hole to a proper floor in about... well , lets just say it took as long as it took !

The DPM has been continued right up to the ceiling and well taped to stop the saturated walls ruining the new work. All the 'studwork' previously done in  wood offcuts has been rebuilt in galvanised metal which will have Rockwool insulation with further insulated plasterboard on top. A proper job - well over engineered by me of course ! Should last 200 years  !

 Thats about where I'm up to on that - the boiler has now moved onto the 'blue' back wall and we're ready to get it all plumbed up and new kitchen wiring sorted out next.

Finishing the STYLE theme , I have yet to fully decide what our offering to the history of this kitchen will be. But it will probably (eventually) be a reflection of the Zeitgeist - "the spirit of the time". Or more likely, judging by the rapidly expanding bill for materials, it will be that old kitchen with new worktops since its all I can now afford !   Maybe I could call it "Retro 80's" or "Shabby Chic".

Now wheres my brown paint?


Ouside the autumn is upon us . Time for looking at the last of the summer flowers...

Time for watching the rapidly growing children...

Time for autumnal damp days...

Only seems like just now we were doing this at our last house ! - 8 years ago!

Time for gathering winter firewood by the river on those shortening sunny days- thanks to Sam and Dad

Removing last winters tree fall damage from the river

Now thats what you call a log ! Wheres my axe !
Time for refreshment and reminiscence...

Cant work, its our tea break Guv'nor
Time for fairies at the bottom of the garden...

I do believe...!

...and even some time for gathering the harvest. From the only remaining big apple tree.

Its not just blogs and kitchens which come to the end of their time ! The last complete apple tree  has just snapped in half with the weight of its apples and the wind.

So this will probably be its last harvest, although it does give me an idea for the wallpaper in the new kitchen....

Just kidding ! I do have some style !


No picture of April for some reason this blog- so by way of apology, heres a photo of the first ever homemade pie with homegrown vegetables that she made me especially for my 41st birthday !

Thank you April!
Mmmmm !   Pie !