Sunday, 14 December 2014

Quick Trip

At about this time last year, we went for a quick weekend trip to Cambridge, and we've done the same again. We stayed with Philip and Rachel, and had a nice time with year-old Luke, who's grown again since we last saw him. I'm told they do that. Very relaxing, and we called in to see our old neighbour on the way home, too. We're back to work for a short week, and have made our cooking plans for the holiday...we're doing quite a bit of entertaining, actually, so it's going to be fun.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Decorating for Christmas

We've had a long weekend, with a very pleasant two-night stay in Scarborough, before coming home yesterday morning. We've turned our attention to decorating for Christmas, which is always a two-day affair, and which is now did involve wiring up the new outside socket, in order to put lights on the acer in the front garden, and also replacing the double light switch on the hall wall with individual pull-cord switches in the cloakroom and downstairs toilet. That's been on the to-do list for years, so it's nice to get it done. It means that the little bit of wall where the switch was, which is about the only hanging space in the hall, can now have something attractive on it, instead of a two-gang switch. While were in Scarborough, we visited the excellent Stained Glass Centre, where Liz's grandparents have bought her a lovely stone-effect arched mirror, which now graces the space—the final impetus to moving the switches.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Master En Suite

Yesterday we connected the new bath in the master en suite (waste and both taps), levelled the tub and fixed it down, and then tiled around the bath. That was followed, this morning, by grouting the tiles, which now look really good; we've also attached a shower-curtain rail that doubles as a normal curtain, and installed the glass shower screen.

While Liz grouted, I've properly hung the door between the guest room and that en suite—it couldn't be done until the blockwork wall was down, because the door couldn't open. That's now up, and allows access as intended. On the landing, we've put up the last section of plasterboard in the lobby, as well as finishing the stud wall separating the side guest room from the en suite, and plasterboarded the unfinished guest room side. That also meant hanging a wall light (reusing the cabling for the shaving light from its bathroom incarnation.

That really does bring us the end of major operations, which has meant that we've been able to clear the dining room, which has been the staging arena for tools, consumables, and building material for months, now—since August. We've been able to return tools and the small remaining amount of materials to the workshop and garage (as was), and collect up the waste, which is broadly either scrap metal, wood for recycling, and a small amount of 'domestic' waste. It's lovely to have the dining room back, which now feels like a big room again.

We've also resorted to turning on the central heating, as the stove is starting to struggle as the only heating in the house. Not bad, turning on the boiler right at the end of November.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

New Hostas

New hostas arrived today, barerooted and looking more like multi-tentacled aliens. I've potted them up, and popped them in the greenhouse to overwinter. Although they don't need the protection, I prefer having them there, where I can keep a better eye on them.

They are:
  • Wide Brim
  • Sieboldiana 'Elegans'
  • Francee
  • Halcyon
  • Pizzazz
  • Snow Cap

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Front Guest Room

This weekend's been a bit of everything, getting the front guest room more-or-less finished. There was some electrics (moving the lobby light; adding a wall light above the head of the bed; and getting a switch wire from inside the stud wall into the ceiling space of the bathroom, ready for the electronic lock).

We wanted to put a little niche into the side of the chimney breast, instead of a bedside table (there's not room in the alcove created by the chimney for the bed as well as a little table), which meant propping the wall, taking out some brickwork, and replacing with a lintel and wooden frame. These things take time...

Once that was done, we put up the wall cupboards, which in turn meant we were able to get the contents of the room a bit more rational. With the space that created, we've been able to put up the plasterboard on that side of the dividing room, and do the electrics in it (the PSU for the locks; the lightswitches, and sockets); as well as the plasterboards in the en suite that were missing. We've also put up the plasterboard missing from the sitting room wall, and the kitchen, which have been long overdue. Slowly getting there!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Last Walls Insulated

It's a little frustrating, really, how long it takes to get electrics sorted. It took a long while yesterday, finishing the wiring in the new guest room: new sockets, changing the light switch to a rocker switch (it was a bathroom pullcord), removing a wildly unnecessary coax cable that passed from ceiling to floor, disconnecting the old cable for the shower, and re-routing a wall light (necessitated by removing the wall it used to live on).

Never mind. One advantage of doing this room's work, and having the floor up in several places (and no shower monolith) was that I could rectify a design error in the kitchen. Since re-designing it in 2010, we realised that when stood at the sink, you were in your own shadow, which made washing up out of daylight hours (the sink's under the window) rather gloomy. Our solution has been to add a recess mounted LED light above and slightly right of the sink, which entirely remedies this.

Pleasingly, it's the only thing we've wanted to change in the kitchen, after four years.

Back in the new side guest room (old pink bathroom), we then set to insulating the room, throwing up the battens, insulation, and plasterboard rather quickly, actually—it's showing, now, that we've done some 250m2 of this stuff. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it: because we wanted to start plastering today, we wanted to give any dust kicked up by demolition as long as possible to settle, and the two messy jobs we knew we still had to do were the fireplaces in our bedroom, and the front guest. (There's some plaster removal in the front guest, but it's minimal, and the room can't be plastered for ages, and only one wall is plasterboarded.)

Our bedroom's fireplace is in the same stack as the working sitting room fireplace, but obviously off-set. It was an extremely unpleasant job, but I stripped the breast of plaster, and broke out the stone/brickwork blocking the mouth of the fire. I looked as though I'd been coal mining when I was finished, as there was an enormous amount of soot, ash, and dust in the chimney. I was working in a confined space; a tent we'd put up to protect the room. It worked to protect the room, but I was horrible by the end.

The front guest room's fireplace was a lot better, partly because I knew what to expect, and had the vacuum to hand to suck up soot as I went. I found, unexpectedly, a letter lost in the stonework, which was from the summer of 1937: more on that another time, but it gives a date around which the fireplace was probably last used, before being blocked up.

That drew to a finish a long (0430 finish on Sunday morning) day, but the last of the mucky work. Today, a comparative lie-in (we only started work at 11: the laziness!) was followed by putting up the triple wardrobe in the side guest room, doing a variety of sorting and cleaning, and then, while I used expanding foam to finish the landing and master bedroom's walls, Liz started to plaster the side guest room. It's amazing, the difference it makes, even though it's only 70% done. We hope to finish it tomorrow evening, or at least get another bucket of plaster onto the walls.

This weekend sees the end of major operations, in a way, with the remodel/insulation. After this, the job list has the following, which, compared to what's gone before, feels much more manageable. I misquoted Churchill a while ago, but now I think we're able to say that we're at the beginning of the end.

  • Plaster everywhere (sounds awful, but each room should only take about three hours, making about 27 hours work);
  • Skirting board everywhere (ditto: there's only 90m or so to do);
  • Paint everywhere (yes, this is awful, I admit);
  • Tile the two bathrooms;
  • Wire up the electronic locks for the bathrooms;
  • Put up the cupboards in the front guest room;
  • Put in the sockets in the diagonal wall dividing the guest rooms;
  • Strip the last of the wallpaper upstairs (not much of this, in the master bed, and front guest);
  • Single last plasterboard to go up in the sitting room, the landing, and kitchen;
  • Window reveals & boards in the front guest room.

And I think that's it. By the end of our Christmas break we should be there, or thereabouts; the painting will probably take us beyond that, realistically, but let's say 'by my birthday', we'll be done.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Last of the Old Plaster

In preparation for the weekend's work, which is mainly focussed on the old house bathroom, we spent some time this evening stripping the old plaster off the old chimney breast. We hadn't really registered that this existed, until we started work on the other en suite bathroom, which it jutted into, just, next to the toilet.

Before we did this, I had to finish up some of the plumbing, removing a few pipes that were connections to the hot water cylinder, when we had one, and which ran up the front of the fireplace. Once these were out, we dismantled the brickwork blocking the mouth of the fire.

After doing this, I removed as much of the old toilet waste pipe as we could from inside, and rebuilt the wall where it came through. There was a bit of a cavity, which has been filled with mineral wool batt, and I've used expanding foam to consolidate the section.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Pink Bathroom

After, I think, five years and three months bemoaning it, we've finally demolished (as it were) the pink 'house' bathroom. Tiled lovingly from floor to ceiling in a pink rose pattern, with monolithic shower plinth, and 'cosy' loo in the corner (tucked between said plinth and the wall), it's never been much loved. The tiles were augmented with two mismatched white tiles at some date, too. Anyway, it is gone.

We started on Saturday by taking out the sink, and then took the ceiling down. It sounds drastic, but it was a false ceiling, with the 'real' ceiling hidden a couple of feet above it. We're not entirely sure why it was put in: it's got some quirkiness to it, though. The upper ceiling is higher than any of the other first floor ceilings, with a sloped section at the front/back of the house. However, the finish matches the ceiling material in the far end of the house (~15cm T&G planks)—where, in fact, the ceiling is lowest. The lower ceiling, which is at the same sort of level as the middle compartment of the house (master bedroom and landing), matched the finish there, which is a kind of long panelled effect.

We decided we had to take it down, because, oddly, the master en suite and house bathroom had the false, dropped ceiling, but the airing cupboard, between them, didn't. Because the new guest room was going to absorb the bathroom, airing cupboard, and a slice of the master en suite, the ceiling had to be consistent; and as it was, it was carried on a beam affixed to the wall we were going to take out.

Down it came, in not too horrible a fashion.

Next, we started to dismantle the walls: the walls separating the bathroom from the master en suite, and forming the airing cupboard between them, were all coming down, replaced by a new stud wall that made the en suite slightly smaller, but the soon-to-be-guest-bedroom a better size.

Eventually, by mid-morning today, we had all the walls down, generating a huge heap of cement blocks (breeze-blocks) outside the kitchen. It revealed a number of pipes and cables we'll need to sort out, that were previously hidden in the airing cupboard. We've then taken out the toilet, and attacked the shower plinth.

I described it as monolithic above, which proved unexpectedly accurate: when we took apart the tiled ply exterior, we discovered that the shower tray had been set into a three inch slab of concrete, itself held in a timber frame and on top of a foam base. Why, I have no idea. I managed to lever it up, and then break it into lumps, but it must have weighed around 200kg. In combination with the high-density cement block walls, the floor was carrying an unexpectedly enormous weight, which, to be frank, I'm glad it won't have to support any more.

By early evening, we had the contents of the room removed, now forming an absurd glacis of bagged plaster, tiles, and cement blocks outside the kitchen window, waiting an eventual skip/grabber truck plan. We then set to work stripping the plaster from the walls, with the remaining pink tiles. Eventually, we finished about ten, and the room is bare.

I'm going to try to sort out the pipes in evenings this week, and next weekend we'll insulate and plasterboard the room, and, with a little luck, start plastering first floor walls.

Christmas Cake

We started soaking the fruit for our Christmas cake earlier in the week, and it was ready, this morning, to make the cake. Last year, we used Mary Berry's recipe, instead of the Delia Smith recipe we've used for many (nine, I think) years. We've tweaked it slightly.

Dried fruit:
  • 6oz glace cherries
  • 1lb 2oz currants
  • 7oz raisins
  • 12oz sultanas
  • 2oz mixed peel
Soaked with 150–200ml strong tea for three days.
  • 9oz butter
  • 9oz light sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1tbsp treacle
  • 4oz flaked almonds
  • 3tbsp marmalade
All beaten together, before folding in:
  • 9oz plain flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2tsp cinnamon
  • pinch salt
The fruit is then stirred in, before it's spooned into a 9", double lined and greased tin. It cooked for 4:45, at 140°, covered from the start with a greaseproof paper lid.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Compost Turning

I've had a day off today, getting a few bits done around the house while Liz works from the sitting room. It's been a useful one, with reasonable weather, too, and we finished the day with a trip to our local garden centre's Christmas preview evening (with 15% discount on everything...irresistible).

A lot of this morning I spent getting the plumbing and worktop in our bathroom sorted, and now the sink is properly connected, and the worktop is in place, attached, and sealed. This is rather necessary, as the plan is to dismantle the pink (house) bathroom at the weekend, so we wanted a working toilet and basin, even though we'll be using the guest en suite for showering for a while yet (until we can tile ours).

I've trimmed the old hollow-core back door, ready to re-use in the doorway between the master en suite and the new guest room. For now, it's just secured in the frame: the existing wall prevents it opening, so (as I can't, therefore, get to the hinges) it can't be screwed to the frame until the wall's taken down.

I've finally got round to labelling the plants we bought at Tatton in July, before they die back and vanish for the winter—unfortunately, I've lost track of a eupatorium, and the two echinaceas ('Secret Love'), so I'll have to hunt again for them.

Over lunch, we set soaking the dried fruit for our Christmas cake, which we'll make at the weekend. It has loads of dried fruit, nearly three pounds, which we soak with a mug or so of tea for a few days.

Before dusk fell, I managed to turn the compost heaps, thus freeing up (kind of) the first bay, which promptly half-filled with the mound we'd formed nearby. It has let me empty the bin outside the kitchen, though, which is good. Hopefully the space will suffice until spring, when we'll start needing compost again, thus emptying the third bay, and creating trickle-down space in the system.

I also managed to knock a long-standing job off The List, and cleared a silted up corner of the drive, and the drainage channel between it and the track, so the drive will, hopefully, flood less badly this winter.

This evening's shopping trip was good, with a few Christmas decorations, including a long string of lights for the acer in the front garden, and a half-priced holly (the variegated form, 'Silver Queen'), which will go on the hillside, to complement the pure green hollies already well established.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

First Frost

This morning saw our first frost of the winter—coincidentally, on the same date as last year.

Fortunately, it wasn't a hard frost, hitting only the windscreen of the car, and not quite reaching the ground, which is as well, because we've not lifted anything. A frost was predicted for Wednesday morning, but not last night, so we were lucky. The house, too, protects the front garden, where the zonal pelagoniums are: we only have a limited number of non-hardy perennials, and these are a high fraction of the total.

As a result, we went out after getting back from work to lift the other vulnerable plants, as well as the geraniums in the front garden. The variegated agapanthus, Tinkerbell, and tulbaghia from Tatton last year, the three chocolate cosmos from this year, and the Queen Victoria lobelia (also Tatton Park 2013, I realise) have all been potted, and are in the greenhouse. That extends the time they can stay outside, before we have to find windowsills for them to go on, although they can't stay out there over winter, as the greenhouse isn't heated.

We've left the dahlias (Bishop of Llandaff, Twying's After Eight) for now, as they can wait until a proper frost kills the top-growth, before we lift the tubers for the winter.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Solid Door

Yesterday, we spent a bit of time getting on with the 'left behind' insulation in the kitchen and sitting room. In the former, there's a patch of wall near the old front door, which is partly an internal wall (dividing kitchen from sitting room), partly a cross-section through the old cottage wall, and partly a cavity'ed external wall (part of the kitchen extension from 30–40 years ago). In previous years, it's suffered from condensation, and been quite cold, although it's not a proper solid external wall, so we thought it worthwhile insulating it. It's been left to do, though, as it's just a single metre width of wall, which we're not insulating to quite the same standard as elsewhere, due to the scale of the problem (limited), the stone arch that's adjacent, and the limited space. The insulation and electrical bit of this is done, and the plasterboard will follow: the stash of plasterboards is currently buried under adopted furniture in the garage, so it has to wait.

We've also put up the roller blinds we ordered: new, more durable ones for the kitchen, matching ones for the bathroom windows, and a very wide, insulated blind for the patio doors. That also required us to get round to putting back the curtain poles in the kitchen, and to hang the curtains, which are now back up, which is good.

Today—a short day because Cath and Jason came round for dinner—we've replaced the utility room door with a new one. The old one was, bizarrely for an external door, a hollow-core door, which was neither secure nor warm, so we've replaced it with a solid wood door. The hollow-core door will serve in the short term as a bathroom door upstairs: we hope to replace all the first floor doors with attractive natural wood doors in a few years.

The solid wood door came blank, so it took me a while to mount the hinges, cut the recess and holes for the handle and lock mechanism, and re-mount the rack bolts, as well as hang it. Fortunately, the size was off-the-shelf, so I haven't had to trim it down, which would have been fraught with peril.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Just a short note: after several months of not doing so, I've spent this afternoon sawing, splitting, and stacking a load (or thereabouts) of logs. Several loads have built up on the drive, and we needed to clear some space. Secondly, as we're now running the stove, we're starting to burn wood for the winter, so it's time to start filling the shelter as it's emptied. Liz was working today, but helped with transporting the wood down, and stacking. Light ran out after 19 barrows (25 is a full load), but there we go.

In other news, Jenny and Philip have properly moved out, their sale/purchase completing at noon, and the new owners beginning to move in.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Of Cheese

After a frankly hellish week, the contrast with a delightful weekend couldn't be starker. Although we've had a couple of hours each morning helping Jenny and Philip load their removal van—the culmination of their relocation to Shropshire—while Ann and David enjoyed a well-earned lie-in, the rest of both days has been entirely relaxing. We've made far too much food, played many games, and enjoyed a film or two. They've been excellent company, and we've all benefited from a revitalizing rest. Although we're back at work in the morning, they're still with us, and will make an early start too.

The work to get to this point's been pretty tough, and taken a lot of energy. However, we're glad that we had something to aim for, and a motivation to get to where we are, without which the work might have dragged on. The end, now, feels in sight. Still to come:

Finishing off both bathrooms: the en suite needs some worktop fiddling, a couple of bits of plasterboard, and tiling on walls and floor; the master en suite needs basin and worktop attaching, bath plumbing in, and tiling throughout.

The locks for both en suites need installing.

We need to dismantle the pink/house bathroom, including taking down the walls making the airing cupboards, and insulate the external walls. That, including some electrical work, is the best part of a weekend.

The cupboards in the front guest, and the new guest room replacing that bathroom, need to go up.

There's a few small patches of external walls to finish: behind the cellar door, in the kitchen, and a plasterboard that's mysteriously missing on the landing (the mystery is why we never put it on).

The back door from the utility needs replacing with a better one: that door's being recycled upstairs.

Skirting boards, and a lot of injectable foam insulation, need putting up.

Then, we need to plaster the whole house, ready to paint. The next deadline is a visit by Jenny and Philip just before Christmas (when we need two rooms, two bathrooms, which have working locks); and then late January, when we need everything to be functional ready for a Cambridge-crowd house party.

However, comparing the list above with what we've managed since July, I hope that things can slow down somewhat for the next two months, and we can have fewer 15-hour days, no more 18-hour days, and certainly no more 42-hour marathons.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Forty-Two Hours of Madness

(This is retrospectively posted, as I was in no fit state to be writing at the moment it's time-stamped, but posterity calls.)

David and Ann have long been scheduled to visit for this weekend, which has given us a key milestone and deadline to aim for in our work. Quite reasonably, I think they'd expect a functioning bathroom, and a live-able bedroom.

They were due about 2300 Friday night. Unfortunately, as of 0800 Thursday, neither bedroom nor bathroom were ready.

Also unfortunately, the tiles for the bathrooms, which I ordered some time ago, have been badly delayed (they need to all come from the same batch of stone, for consistency), and instead of arriving last Wednesday, were eventually due to turn up Thursday morning.

Perhaps predictably, the delivery didn't go smoothly, and they ended up arriving 1745 Thursday evening.

In order, then, to get a guest bedroom and working bathroom, we stayed up from 0700 Thursday morning, until about 0100 Saturday morning, working basically non-stop for the forty-two hours in between. I was functionally narcoleptic by then, and we collapsed in to bed as soon as we'd had a cup of tea with Ann and David, after they arrived at about half-midnight (a much delayed journey on the M1).

It has not been fun.

In the last couple of days, in the new en suite alone, we've:

  • installed the cabinets;
  • connected the bath to the drain;
  • levelled the bath;
  • affixed battens to the wall;
  • tiled the critical few square metres around the shower (the rest will have to wait);
  • grouted the tiles;
  • silicone sealed the bath;
  • constructed the toilet cabinet;
    • built the cistern into the unit;
    • plumbed it in;
    • modified the door to attach the pan through--both flush connection to it and soil pipe from it;
    • connected the flush button;
  • attached the water supply to the basin;
  • built the trap and drain;
  • cut the worktop;
  • mounted the sink and waste; and
  • made a frame for the small worktop at the foot of the bath.

In the guest bedroom, we've mounted four wall cupboards above the bed, and two full-height units on one side. One full-height unit is up in the front guest (the old study), but that's it: the wall units will wait.

In our bathroom, taken out the suite, and installed the cabinets, repeating the toilet cabinet work, and cut the worktop. I've not plumbed the toilet or basin in, yet, though.

A massive tidy-up of the house has made the dining room passable, and the living room is now basically normal; the master bedroom is fine, the landing is tidy, the old house bathroom (the 'pink bathroom') is less cluttered, thanks to the new wardrobe/cupboards; and although the garage is pretty full, the house is actually miraculously straight. Thanks to this go entirely to Liz, who's been madly tidying while I stumble in a sleep deprived haze through many of the construction jobs.

We just about managed to hoover, too. So, when David and Ann rolled in after a particularly messy journey up the motorway, we had a respectable suite to accommodate them, and I'm delighted that's the case.

To paraphrase Churchill: this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; it is, perhaps, the beginning of the middle.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Cabinets, Bathrooms, and Blinds

On Tuesday, the order of cabinets arrived. Nominally, they're kitchen units, because this, for whatever reason, is the most economic way of obtaining cabinets with hardwood doors, even for bedrooms or bathrooms. Anyway: they've safely arrived, a collection of eighteen or so cabinets, with extra packages of shelves, side-panels, shelf supports, and a massive, 4m piece of worktop, which had to go all the way round the house and in through the patio doors. That was rather hairy, as the weather on Tuesday was atrocious, with high winds and heavy rain at the time of delivery...and peace to either side.

It's since been cluttering up the downstairs, although we're gradually taking cupboards up. The 'broom cupboards' that we're re-purposing as full length wardrobes are slightly tricky to manoeuvre: they're 210cm tall, 40-50cm across/deep, and not light. We're getting there, though, doing a couple in a sitting, then taking a break.

Once upstairs, we've positioned the two cabinets for the new en suite, with the basin and toilet placed 'dry' with them, to get a feel for the room. Actually attaching everything is next.

We've also ordered blinds, one for each bathroom, a big one for the patio doors (which are as draughty as predicted), and two for the kitchen, replacing those on the big window behind the sink, and on the old outside door.

It took the best part of a day, but I've also done the plumbing and wiring works for the shower, ready to install the bathroom suite.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Window Reveals

For the last three days, we've mostly been putting in window reveals and heads, and, in a few cases, windowboards. Because of the difficulty installing the insulation foil into small thicknesses, many of these have been foil laminates, and they've all been plyboard sheets, rather than plasterboard. It's given the windows quite a consistent, and nicely-framed feel. Also advantageous has been the way it's really well sealed the windows, which were previously very draughty. There's still some improvement to be made, as I shall go around injecting insulating foam behind each board, to fully seal it.

The best one has been the big window in the master bedroom. When we stripped off the plaster, we found that what appeared to be a square lintel had only been 'regularized' with the plasterwork, and was in fact a beautiful wonky shape. We were loath to lose this behind squared boarding, so for this one window (and the dressing room, to complement it), we have used plasterboard, and followed the curves of the reveal, rather than box it in. It's worked really well, to our delight, and this one window has a uniquely organic shape.

While doing these, we've also put the planks (curtain boards, we're calling them) above each window, onto which are mounted the curtain rails. These can't be reliably supported by the plasterboard, and there's never (a quirk of of the design of the battening) an appropriate batten, so we have to have a board to span several battens and carry the load of the curtain to them. They're almost all up, now, and Liz has begun re-hanging rails and curtains.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Plumbing Woes

I don't enjoy plumbing. I much prefer electrics, despite their greater inherent danger, because I know what I'm doing, and I can normally tell if it's not working properly. Plumbing, with the potential for leaking pipes (worse, leaking pipes sealed behind expensive tiling), troubles me more.

Partly, of course, it's because it often takes me a while to get things nicely sealed up. Today I've been getting some of the plumbing ready for the new en suite. That's meant identifying the cold water supply where it runs through the room, breaking into it to install a pair of equal-tees (one to feed bath and shower; one for sink and toilet cistern), and getting pipe and valves to roughly the right places. Trickier was identifying the little-used hot supply, and doing the same. It's all done, but I'm sure that something's not quite sealed properly, as there's a bit too much water around. Some's inevitable, as I'm cutting into pipes that are full of water, and they won't drain fully, even with a low-level tap opened. But I think there's too much...

Other than that, we've finished insulating and dry lining the new en suite with plasterboard, now that the drain is in, and I've made a big shopping list of the last (hopefully) things we need to finish the bulk of the work, starting on Saturday.

Monday, 13 October 2014

New Drain

On Wednesday last week, work started on the new drain for the new en suite. They didn't manage to get it all done in the day, unfortunately, as access to the drain was more concrete-y than expected, for one thing. Today, though, they arrived after lunch, connected up the soil stack and diagonal drain, and waited for us to arrive.

Once we could let them into the house, they were able to diamond core drill the hole through the gable wall, and add the exit pipe. As the light had gone, they'll have to pop back in the morning to make the final connections, but all being well, we'll have a complete drain by this time tomorrow. It's just as well, as the bathroom suites arrived last Wednesday evening, and so we can now finalize the last few orders.

All being well, we plan to catch up with a lot of the part-insulated windows on Wednesday, before starting work on fitting the bathrooms next weekend. That might take a while, but we've got seven days (Saturday onwards) to get to the point of having at least one functional guest room, and two working bathrooms, before David and Ann arrive...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Finishing the Dining Room

We insulated the front wall of the dining room in two stages, having started in early August, but breaking for other rooms. We've now gone back, and yesterday insulated the back wall of the room. This was relatively simple, with just a couple of sockets, a light, and the big patio window; but there was also the old cellar landing, which we have bookcases in, and which is a slightly awkward shape. Anyway: we stripped most of the plaster off on Friday night, and finished the insulation by relatively early on Saturday night (midnight, or thereabouts...which is a definite improvement on some days).

We discovered that there was, at one point, a back door at the top of these stairs.

Unfortunately, I accidentally screwed a plasterboard screw through a cable, which necessitated a thirty minute delay while I repaired it and replaced the fuse.

We got there in the end, though. Today, we've insulated our walk-in-wardrobe in the corner of the master bedroom, thus completing the master bed. This afternoon was spent putting up the new stud wall that will separate our en suite from the new small bedroom that the house bathroom is becoming, and plumbing in the two radiators that go on this wall. One will be replaced by a towel radiator later (probably in the spring, really), but the other's permanent.

Finally, this evening, we've put up the removable insulation on the gable end of the dining room. Removable because we want to retain the stone wall, so we've come up with a way to insulate it over the winter, but have our stone wall back for the summer. We'll have to see whether it works: if not, we may have to sacrifice the exposed stone wall.

Sunday, 5 October 2014


This weekend's work has been focussed on dividing the end compartment of the first floor, which contained the two spare rooms, into more equally-sized rooms, and an en suite bathroom. We had to start by taking down the rest of the stud wall dividing the two (Saturday morning), and stripping off the remaining plaster from the guest room, and the back of the study (Friday evening). Although that meant a late night on Friday, it did pay off in a much pleasanter start to Saturday.

Once we'd stripped the room back to bare stone, we were able to put up the insulation on the back wall of the guest room, and the gable end a bit further than where the new wall of the en suite was going. It went reasonably smoothly, not least because that stretch has only one window and one radiator; and we added some sockets, as normal.

Messing around with the electrics took, as normal, a little while. We had to separate off the light at the end of the study, which will now be the light in the bathroom; add a switch for this light; and add double-throw switches for the lights in both bedrooms, so that they can be controlled from next to their door to the landing, and to the bathroom. It was a little complex, but we got there. We also added one ring main looped socket, which we shall extend to further sockets later.

The stud wall itself was reasonably straightforward; two roughly 2m walls defining the bathroom, with a door into each bedroom (we're recycling doors for now, with the intention of getting nice new ones when we can...), and then a slightly longer one joining the square bathroom with the square lobby diagonally opposite.

It was a little hard, without the wall, to get a sense of the two rooms, but they've turned out really well: they both feel ample for double guest rooms, or permanent single rooms.

On Wednesday, work on the new drain for the en suite starts: they'll be drilling through the gable wall to create a 4' drain, taking it across the gable end of the house, and dropping it into an existing septic tank sewer behind the greenhouse. While they're here, they're going to reline that sewer, which has been damaged by the berberis growing straight over it.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Wiltshire Cured Ham

As I noted, we collected the half-pig from the butchers after getting home from Ludlow yesterday. As normal, we're turning some of it into bacon and hams, and leaving some as joints for casseroles or roasting. There are also a number of chops (which, it turns out, are huge), and we've also got a bag of 'bits' (tails, trotters, kidney, heart, liver), which need different processing.

In previous years we've also made sausages, but we've actually still got loads left from last year, so we're not doing that. (It must be said, we also don't really have time for sausage-making at the moment.) Instead, we're mincing the trimmed scraps of meat (about 5lb), mixing them into sausagemeat, and freezing them in patties. If we do run out of sausages before next autumn, and want to, we can always make them as needed, after all.

The sausagemeat made, we mixed up the curing brine for the bacon and hams. We're repeating the Wiltshire cure, which is a beer-based brine:
  • 4l beer (again, the Harvest Mild I brewed a few months ago)
  • 1900g salt
  • 1000g black treacle
  • 65g saltpetre
  • 50g black peppercorns
  • 50 juniper berries
Once mixed, that's brought to the boil, and simmered for 10–15 minutes. I'll chill it overnight, and add the joints in the morning. They're refrigerated, stirring whenever I remember, for 36 hours (the bacon) or 3.5 days (the hams).

Monday, 29 September 2014

Malvern Autumn

We've had a weekend away, visiting Ludlow, and spending Sunday with Liz's grandmother at the Malvern autumn show, which we've not been to before.

It's less of a garden show than, say, Tatton Park, with only a few gardens, and a lot of 'country living' stallholders. However, there was a very good apple pavilion, with an impressive display of apples from RV Roger (who supplied all of the maiden trees for our apple walk earlier this year). We watched a very entertaining, and pertinent, 'conversation' between Joe Swift and Monty Don in the Good Life theatre, and spent a lot of the afternoon browsing the plant nursery stalls, and wondering over the size of the mammoth veg. The prize-winning pumpkin was 472kg, which was, frankly, astonishing, but only slightly more so than the 152kg cabbage, or the 6.3(ish)m beetroot and parsnip, each, apparently, world records. How one digs up a 6m parsnip root, I know not.

(Why, I know not, either.)

Anyway, we managed to fill grandma's not insignificant boot, with thirty-five plants of our own, and a number of hers, and we added a few from her garden to take home, meaning our little Corsa was well loaded for the return journey.
  • Two Crocosmia 'Sunglow', and two 'Buttercup'
  • a 'Twyning's After Eight' dahlia
  • Three white Japanese anemones, 'Honorine Jobert'
  • Two giant scabious
  • Three new heucheras, 'Fire Chief', 'xxx' and 'xxx'
  • A pair of variegated sedums, 'Frosty Morn'
  • A painted fern, 'Burgundy Lace'
  • Three Panicum grasses, 'Squaw'
  • An astrantia, A. major 'Lars'
  • And a tray of obscenely cheap Cyclamen hederifolium; fifteen at a pound apiece.
We finally, definitively, learnt the reason for the riduculously low end-of-show prices. Apparently, the nurseries want to offload the last of their stock at almost any price, because for the quantity involved, the cost of transporting them back to the nursery exceeds the market value—hence selling things at a pound/pot is actually financially better than transporting the stock 'home', and selling it at market value later. I'm happy to help.

We got home about five, and I nipped out to pick up the rest of our pig, having collected the bucket of blood last Wednesday, before planting everything out.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Autumn Cut

We've enjoyed the wildflowers in the orchard this summer, which is one reason why I've left large swathes of it uncut for some time, only clearing paths through it. However, as autumn enters, I've now gone over the entire orchard, cutting it back as close as I can, so that it stays neat, and walkable, over the winter. Heavy work, even in the milder temperature, but it actually only took about three hours, which isn't bad. It looks a lot neater, even with the strewn vegetation.

Before doing that, though, this morning I've painted the arches of the apple walk, coating the steel rebar with cream-coloured metal paint. The arches now really stand out, and will stand the weather much better.

I've planted out the autumn-planting onions (100 Radar) and garlic (30-odd Marco) in the herb garden, through weed-proof membrane.

Last thing, I managed (just, before the light faded and drizzle set in) to mow the lawn. I managed to do the games lawn a while ago, but it's been some time since the rest has been done, and it really needed it. Hopefully, as the weather cools and the days shorten, it'll be a while until I have to do it again. I am hoping to manage to keep trimming it through the winter, weather permitting, this year. I do still need to take the brushcutter to the copse, though, and tidy the verges of the lane, so my grass-cutting isn't over for the year...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Fitted Furniture

As hoped, I've been able to order the cabinets today. There's a lot of them, because it includes cabinets for both bathrooms, and wardrobes for all three guest rooms. All being well, they should arrive in late October, ready to go straight in when we have a few days off. And in two weeks, the drainage works will happen, meaning there's actually a pipe for everything to plumb in to.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Doors & Studs

Moving doors took longer than expected. The doors into the guest room and study have always had a relatively large lobby outside them, which is another example of space we'd rather have in the rooms, rather than the landing. Today's first work was taking them, and the bit of wall they hung in, down, and rebuilding the walls in a more efficient position. It took a while, though, to get the doors straight, level, and latching, which meant it was late before we got on to the other part of today's work, removing the stud wall dividing the two rooms.

As a result, it's not entirely down. 90% of the plasterboard is out, and a good fraction of the timber frame. With a couple of sheets hung up, the eventual feel of the front room is there, but the remaining frame makes it harder to get a sense of the back room. However, it seems to be working.

Getting the wall down, and the front wall insulated, has allowed us to finalize the measurements of both, which means I'll be able to order the fitted furniture this week.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Chimney Breast

It's proving, inevitably, to be another long weekend of work on the house. Today we've been working on the current study (the larger spare room, at the front of the house; it's going to wind up being one of two similar-sized guest rooms). We had hoped that the chimney breast in the room would turn out to be an attractive bit of stonework, hidden behind plaster and awful wood-chip wallpaper (soon to be entirely banished from the house: only a small quantity remains...).

It turned out not to be: instead the original stone lintels and mantel have been built (rebuilt, I assume) around with bricks (scuppering my long-held belief that the bricks we dig up in the garden are rubble from elsewhere). We'll have to see whether it's worth exposing those stones, and the fireplace, or better to plaster in the whole stack. The fireplace, like in the master bedroom, is on the left of the breast: to the right is the flue for the fireplace below—in this case, the unused one in the dining room, which is capped in that room. Of course, neither of these two are useable, as this chimney ends in the loft space, and no longer penetrates the roof.

Having established that, we turned to stripping the front wall of plaster, and getting the other preparations made. In this room, that meant preparing an extension to the ring main (that wall has a single socket, which has never been enough), and moving the pipes for one of the radiators ready to rehang on the bathroom stud wall that we'll be constructing in a few weeks.

The usual work then followed: horizontal battens, insulation foil, vertical battens, and plasterboard. There's one radiator staying, which went on with only minor kerfuffle (a slight mismeasure by me, sadly).

Quite enough for one day, with an 0200 finish (this is, as before, timestamped to the Saturday, nonetheless: at 2355 we were busily working, not blogging!).

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Apple Harvest

It's not been a good year, at all, for apples—the fruit, at least: the apple trees have all grown well, especially the apple walk, which despite only going in at the end of last winter, have established extremely quickly. We spent half an hour yesterday tying in the last of this season's growth, and several will be ready to be cut back to their third tier in January.

Fruit yield, though, has been rather poor. I've collected everything this evening, while Liz picked blackberries, and we've only got a couple of crates full. The best have come from the two established trees right on the left of the orchard. The taste and texture are good, and they're a decent size, it's just there aren't very many. Never mind: we also had about eight fruit off the James Grieve and Falstaff (planted February 2013), which are very attractive, and taste great.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Insulating the Landing

After yesterday's 17 hour day, we've stacked up another 15 today. Distressingly, that does mean that we've spent 64 man-hours on the landing, but at least there's something to show for it. Much of the insulation work doesn't actually leave one with much impression of what's been done. That's no bad thing, in some ways, as we always hoped that the insulation would make little visual impact, and not reduce the room size noticeably—but it's a little depressing, after hours and hours of work, to have nothing much to see that's changed.

The landing's rather different, though, as the room's changed shape and size, even if the external wall doesn't look that different.

It took nearly three hours to get the old plaster off, not helped by the fact that it's not all the softer lime plaster, but had cementitious plaster over large sections, and the section outside the guest room was a horrible laminate construction of two sorts of plasterboard, and two sorts of plaster, which was a dusty mess to get off.

We took a break from the wall to get the bathroom sink moved, which went surprisingly well, once I'd figured out how to remove it without destroying it. The tap connections have been 'sealed' (read 'bodged') with some sort of foam, meaning they're impossible to ever remove, if watertight.

As normal, the process of stripping the wall back, and then getting the horizontal timber battens attached, is what takes the time. As well as limited windows, there was only one single switch to replace, too, and a smallish radiator to take down and re-hang. The other, we moved yesterday to the opposite side of the room, as this makes the space rather more flexible.

Attaching the horizontal battens takes so long that Liz was able to keep pace with cutting these to length while I put them up, and also had time to cut the insulation foil to size. That did, though, mean that as soon as I had all the battens up, we could very quickly work together to hang the foil and attach the vertical battens. Attaching the plasterboard's always slow, but one does make reasonable progress, as they're tall enough to span the height, and 120cm wide. Rehanging the radiator has been made much simpler by a tweak to the insulation foil (basically, using a sort that doesn't have a non-woven mat of polymer 'wool' inside it, which is impossible to drill; making it a nightmare to mount the anchor bolts into the wall to hold the radiator brackets), so even that was reasonably simple.

A big tidy-up later, and the landing's done. Next weekend will, all being well, see us empty the guest room and 'old' study at the end of the house, into the 'new' study and house bathroom (as the en suite is now fully functional). We'll then be able to strip the walls and dismantle the stud wall dividing the two, ready to reconfigure the space into two guest rooms and a shared en suite.

Like I say, 'all being well'.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Reconfiguring the Landing

It's been a horribly long day: I've set the timestamp for this entry to be just before midnight, so that the date is 'right' for Saturday 13th...but we only finished the work involved at 0230 on Sunday morning, in fact.

Today's big exercise has been taking down the stud framework of the wall that divides the landing from the master bedroom, and replacing it with a new drywall a couple of feet further into our room. This takes the landing from being big but too small to use other than as a landing, to big enough to function as a study, too, with room along the new wall for a couple of desks, while still having room for shelves. It also has room for the chest of drawers/dresser that's been at the foot of our bed, which—because of having 600mm less space in that dimension—needed a new home.

While we were building the new wall, I've taken the opportunity to add a new switch for our bedroom light, so that there's one near the door, and one on the other side of the room (by my bedside), which I'll change, later, to a clever programmable timer switch. Similarly, although there was a double socket on one side of the bed, and a single spur socket on the other, this was never enough, so I've extended the ring main to give us a double socket on both sides. As there were no sockets at all on the reverse of the wall (the landing side), which wouldn't work for a study, I've also added two further double sockets on that side. In retrospect, I'm not sure that three on each side wouldn't have been excessive, in fact. Perhaps before plastering, I'll add more.

As well as this, we've moved the radiator plumbing for the en suite's radiator across the room, so that it will go on the (yet to be built) internal stud wall, not under the sink. The radiator in the house bathroom (which won't be a bathroom, soon) also needed preparing for its move onto the same unbuilt room, which meant fishing the pipes out from under the floor, and sending them under the newly discovered cement-block wall, to emerge from what is currently the floor of the en suite.

Through all the works on the house in the last weeks, we found that the construction (in this case, of a stud wall) was relatively quick, but the associated plumbing and electrics are what eats up the time. There we go.

Tomorrow, which we shall no doubt start later than today, given the time we're going to get to bed, we plan to relocate the sink in our bathroom (to the opposite corner: I've done some of the preparatory plumbing, but the sink needs to be attached to the water supply and waste pipe), and insulate the external wall of the landing. That could take a while, as it's actually the longest single stretch of external wall, of about 9m length. A double-edged sword is that, despite this, it only has two 'small' windows (relatively, I mean; they're about 100x120cm): that means there's more wall, but less awkward apertures to work around.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Planting Out

It's been a little while since we actually spent much time in the garden, so it's been nice to get out today. We spent the morning at Harlow Carr, enjoying the start of the transition into autumn in the shrubs and trees, and the long borders are glorious in their late-summer show.

Once we were home, we started by doing some weeding in the herb garden, which really needs it, although the addition of the membrane & chippings path has significantly reduced the impact of walking on the ground. It did get very compacted, which made weeding hard work, and although there's a lot of grass to dig out, it's much better. The grass will, I'm sure, continue to be a problem for a year or more, as we weaken the remaining, creeping roots.

We didn't have time to finish the herb garden, though, so once we'd made a dent in it, we went down to the kitchen garden. Having weeded those beds, I planted out a few clumps of spring cabbages (Durham Early), which may not amount to much, but might provide some useful leaves. Spring cabbages aren't, for us, a particularly useful crop, as they seem to come ready a little late, when actually we want to be putting in new plants in their space. Much more effective, to date, have been the winter Savoy cabbages (January King, the last couple of winters), which is harvested at a more useful moment. Anyway, we had some Durham Early plants, so in they've gone.

We've cut down the fruited raspberry canes, leaving only the stems that have grown this year. Getting the pruning right (last autumn) has made a big difference to the plant health and the size of the harvest this year.

The spring cabbages are the last thing that we'll be planting out in the kitchen garden until spring, now, so the remaining empty space was weeded, raked, and sown with green manure. This is a winter mix of crimson and red clover (leguminous nitrogen fixer and weed suppressors), Italian ryegrass (good soil stabilization, and deep roots for mineral up-lift), and mustard (bulky foliage for digging in). We added extra Caliente mustard, which is a particularly good biofumigant, improving soil health when it's chopped into the ground in spring. The current weather is good for sowing green manure: the soil's still warm, and moist, so it should germinate well, and get a few weeks growth before it gets particularly cold. The mustard nor the crimson clover are particularly hardy, so they won't survive a bitter winter, but there's a window for them to do some work, at least.

The kitchen garden sorted, we spent half an hour tidying the long border, before planting out the plants we bought at York Gate and Wisley.

From York Gate: a white salvia (into the copse bed: Salvia paniculata, I think), a white Jacob's Ladder (P. caeruleum subsp. caeruleum f. album), a white phlox (P. paniculata), a helenium, and a golden oats (Stipa gigantea). Wisley yielded three variegated eupatorium ('Pink Elegans'), two variegated phlox (P. paniculata 'Norah Leigh'), three agastache ('Blackadder'), a crimson sedum ('Red Cauli'), and a molinia ('Skyracer'), which have, apart from 'Norah Leigh', gone into the long border.

Sunday, 7 September 2014


We tried to get an early start today, as we spent quite a lot of time first thing yesterday checking that we were happy with how, particularly, the master bedroom was going to work once re-sized. We're sacrificing about 60cm from the room to make the landing bigger, and moving the door to the other side of the bed, closer to the stairs, so that you don't come through the landing (soon to be the study) to get to the bedroom. Losing the space means that the dresser that was at the foot of the bed will need to find a new home, and the bed will need to move sideways as well as forwards, but not by much. All in all, we're happy with how it will turn out.

Master bedroom from three angles, before moving around into new layout (© Ian 2014)

As a result, after we finished insulating the bathroom, and fitting (and checking!) the new shower over the bath, we spent the last few hours of today hanging up a curtain to screen the bedroom from dust, and started dismantling the stud wall that separates landing from bedroom.

The en suite insulated and lined out (© Ian 2014)

From the ensuite through to the master bedroom, with the new shower and replaced bath on right (© Ian 2014)

The en suite's basin is still waiting to move... (© Ian 2014)

...over to this corner: the pipework's in the floor, ready. The cavity slab now fills the void where an old (first floor!) external doorway was: this was blocked up with a single skin of stone, and a timber frame inside. Interestingly, the tilework ran all the way to the door, so it was, presumably, a door into a tiled room before it was blocked, probably at the same time as the kitchen extension was built (the roof of which covers the blocked door) (© Ian 2014)

Before we did this, we actually spent a little while figuring out how the airing cupboard, currently between the two bathrooms, was constructed. In preparing for the shower installation, I spent some time in the loft, getting cable access sorted, and realised that the two bathrooms have a false ceiling. The original ceiling, about 10' tall and matching in finish the guest room and study ceiling (in the original cottage at the other end of the house), has been replaced some time ago (1970ish?) with an 8' ceiling that matches in finish the master bedroom and landing (the middle cottage). However, it's the only ceiling that was that high.

I'd never noticed, though the evidence has always been there to see: the ceiling in the airing cupboard, through which one ascends into the loft, is higher and different; and the loft itself is much shorter than elsewhere (much less space to stand). However, I only properly registered while trying to put a cable hole through the bathroom ceiling, and couldn't find it in the loft...

This has created a couple of complications. The airing cupboard is being taken out, and the space it occupied (plus a foot from the en suite) is being given to the bathroom (soon to be guest bedroom). That means all its walls are soon to be dismantled: but the ceiling is supported by them. Secondly, these walls, counter to my foolish assumption, are light cement block walls (not studs, as they are dividing bedroom from landing, and study from guest room).

We'll just have to cope with the extra work of dismantling cement block walls (fortunately, they're weak blocks, and not ridiculously strong mortar, like in the garage, which I eventually replaced with a deliberately weaker wall)

The unsupported ceiling, we'll probably deal with by removing the false ceiling from what will be the guest room, leaving it only in the en suite.

As this was not the job we had envisaged, we moved on to taking down the landing stud wall. It's come down reasonably easily, and we're now left with the timber framework.

The landing, with the shelves taken down, before we ripped off the plasterboard (© Ian 2014)

Landing from bedroom end, with shelves (© Ian 2014)

Landing from stairs end (© Ian 2014)

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Today we've spent working on our en suite: we're now finished insulating all the walls, taking out the bath to do so and replacing it. I've created new pipes to supply the basin in its new position (opposite corner: strictly, I've re-purposed the bidet's pipes), and we've had installed a new electric shower above the bath. Once the insulation is complete, we'll be able to come back, and install the fitted furniture (yet to be ordered), and the shower-bath, basin and toilet (all ordered, to arrive later this month).

Tomorrow then we'll finish fitting the shower (the electrics and plumbing are ready, it just needs attaching), insulate the walls, and put the floor back together.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Near the End of Mowing

I was a little pushed for time, and only managed to do the games lawn, but I've mown some of the lawn tonight: that bit grows fastest. It's nearing the end of regular/frequent mowing, and hopefully I'll only have one or two more 'weekly' cuts to make. I shall try to do it once or twice over the winter, if there's a dry spell, to keep it neat.

On the other hand, I also need to cut the grass in the orchard in the next month or so. When I have a spare day.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Bathroom Planning

Today we've ordered some of the parts for new bathrooms on the first floor. Over the next few months (hopefully), our en suite will become a shared en suite for the master bedroom and a small guest room converted from the current 'house' bathroom next to it. Although we started this room about five weeks ago, we actually left off part way through, partly because we hadn't, at that point, decided whether to combine the wall insulation work with the remodelling of the first floor—which had implications for how we handled the toilet, sink, and bath.

Having now decided on a layout for the first floor, we've ordered the shower bath, basin, and toilet for both: fitted cabinets will follow once the walls are in place (so that they can be measured for the final space), and we'll have the work for a new waste drain in the new bathroom done. For now, though, I've ordered my first bathroom.

Friday, 29 August 2014

RHS Wisley

After a very long day yesterday, we got away from Ludlow as soon as we could (eleven), and made the long journey down to Surrey over lunch. We'd resolved to visit RHS Wisley, as we were in the area without Katie and Dan (staying elsewhere, though we're all using their house for two nights).

It's an impressive garden, though, actually, I think Harlow Carr compares well, and has the advantage of being a more locally representative climate.

The orchard, particularly, we enjoyed: there are hundreds of decades-old apples, which give a beautiful impression of what, eventually, we hope our orchard will come to be like.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Flower Arranging

[placeholder entry: awaiting photos]

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Down to Ludlow

Need list of the morning's work. We had a rather longer list of things to do today than ideal, but we managed to get them done, and set off for Ludlow at half-two, with a car full of presents, foliage, luggage, and flowers. We got to Ludlow castle at about half-five, and then had two hours to get the flowers arranged, with Jenny, and Dan's sister and aunt helping. Amazingly, it all got done, and we staggered back to Molly's for a late supper. The big day awaits tomorrow...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Finishing the Kitchen

A busy day, today, finishing the kitchen. To start with, we pulled the cooker and two side units out of the cooker alcove (the old fireplace), and stripped that wall to stone, as well as the small bit of external wall near the deprecated front door.

We then had to work quickly to get the cooker's wall insulated (with some difficulty getting the foil behind the pipework near the floor!), before our helpers turned up: Philip and Clara came down to help get everything back into the kitchen. Clara was particularly useful, cleaning the cupboards before things went back in.

Meanwhile, I went back to the dining room, which we started some weeks ago, with an unexpectedly free afternoon after the last houseparty. Once the kitchen was re-stocked, Liz joined me, and we've finished insulating the front wall of the dining room, as well as replacing the windowboards on the back of the sitting room, and the front of the dining room. We need more cavity-fill batts/rockwool slabs before we can do any more of these, though.

There's a list of things we want to squeeze in to tomorrow morning, and then we'll hopefully be able to set off for Ludlow shortly after lunch.

Monday, 25 August 2014

York Gate

In between work on the kitchen, we decided we deserved a break, and took a few hours off to visit York Gate. We went about this time last year, and got good ideas: we hoped for the same again. It's given us a few ideas for plants that will help fill what we find is a slightly 'subdued' period in the garden, where there's less flowering than we'd like.

Photos to come...

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Insulating the Kitchen

We've been putting off insulating the kitchen, focussing instead on the other downstairs rooms, until we've had several consecutive days to work on it. There are a number of reasons why, although it's a smaller area of wall than, say, the sitting room, it was always going to take longer. The kitchen units on the external wall, which include the sinks and the water heater (that is: lots of plumbing and electrics) all needed moving; so did the little units to either side of the cooker; the pantry is fiddly (the shelves are, for various reasons, basically un-removeable), and so it was always going to take several days. If it weren't the kitchen, that wouldn't be so bad, but we really couldn't face doing the work over two weekends, and being without use of the kitchen for nine days.

And that's assuming it all went to plan.

So, instead, we've waited until this weekend, which comes at the start of a week off. We only have four days, as on Wednesday we're travelling down to Ludlow, ahead of Katie's wedding on Thursday. Hopefully, though, four days are enough.

It took a long time to get the units removed (inevitably, they weren't installed with ease of removal in mind), but we got them out of the way, and have stripped the wall back and insulated it. Unlike in the other rooms, we've done the window reveals and boards as we've gone.

Tonight's gone on rather, but we've probably broken the back of it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

More Perennial Plugs

As expected (though we didn't think it would follow quite so hot on emptying the module trays last night), today we received 96 perennial plugs: 24 each of 'Mussinni' catmint (nepeta), echinacea 'Deep Rose', achillea 'Cassis', and a dozen each of 'Blue Queen' salvia, and 'Lady Strathden' geum. Interestingly, the cats don't seem as interested in the catmint as our other plants, grown from seed or 'Walkers Low', which bodes well for actually being able to plant it out.

Forgot to mention: I was finally able to mow the lawn yesterday, too, after not being able to coincide good weather and time for three weeks. The games lawn really needed it, but actually the rest wasn't too bad.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Late Summer Flowers

After weeks of sweetpea arrangements, they're starting to come to an end, and so this week's centrepiece arrangement is a bit different (apologies for the shaky photo).

Golden rod, achillea, echinacea, grasses, and lysimachia in this week's flower arrangement (© Ian 2014)

We went up on the hillside, too, and it's very pleasing how the apple walk and graftlings are coming on. The apple walk's structure is a lot clearer than I thought it would be, in its first year, and the shoots need tying in again. In the graft bed, I'm delighted that we seem to have three viable Hessle pears, two each of the apples, Crimson Superb and Craggy's Seedling (a third, of each, is in the walk, grafted directly). There's only one of each of quinces Ivan and Vranja, and medlar Dutch, which is, admittedly, all we needed to make the effort a success. Sadly, the medlar Royal didn't take, in any of the three attempts, but there you go. I make that a 12 out of 21 success rate, for my first grafting attempts.

Tonight, we potted on three giant scabious, a load of Lysimachia ephemera, and a tray of Hidcote lavenders; all seed-grown, the first and last from the RHS. That's freed up a couple of module trays for some perennial plugs that will arrive soon.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Back Sitting Room Wall

After finishing very late last night (early this morning), we only got started today at 10-ish, but wanted to press on to get the room back to normal today. We had a few problems with the radiator, but the electrics and plumbing were much simpler, as predicted, with only two radiator pipes dropping down the wall.

We think we've worked out that the big window was, originally, a door on the left (looking from inside), because the bottom part of the wall has been rebuilt with some cement blocks and newer mortar. Similarly, we think there was a window on the other end of the current window, for the same reason. The new window is much bigger, of course, and has a new concrete lintel inside. It's good fun, uncovering how the house has changed over the past two centuries.

Back wall of the sitting room, stripped back to stone (© Ian 2014)

We managed to get the battens on, the insulation in, and the plasterboard back up, apart from the right hand end. There's less space here, because of the cellar door, so we need an even-thinner insulation solution. Maybe next weekend, when we tackle the kitchen, which needs the same thing, we'll finish up.

Sitting Room

Although we haven't finished insulating the dining room, it's a much less inconvenient room to have half-done than the sitting room, so this weekend we focused on getting the sitting room done, in the hope that two consecutive days would suffice, and it could return to normality by the end of them.

Front wall, before work (© Ian 2014)

Back wall, before work (© Ian 2014)

We started with the front wall, which we knew was going to be trickier, stripping off the plaster to reveal the stonework. In doing so, we uncovered some complicated wiring for the room's lights, as well as the outside lamp-post in the front garden. Additionally, the wall under the window was, like that in the dining room, much lower on the internal leaf than the external. This was a bit of a pain, as it meant that the radiator brackets go partly onto stonework, partly onto timber frame. We're also going to need some more cavity slab to fill the space.

Eventually, though we sorted out the wiring, and radiator pipes: the former's now much improved, as there are two double sockets (was a double and a single), provision for an outside RCD socket (much desired, as it will allow Christmas lights in the front garden), the switches for the room lights are now in a more sensible location (inside the doorway into the dining room), and the outside lightswitch is separate.

We got the battens on the wall, the insulation secured, and the plasterboards attached, and all by 0220 on Sunday morning. Oops.

Horizontal battens attached; verticals ready; insulation is next (© Ian 2014)

However, it was done, and this was the much trickier of the walls (having electrics, a more complicated windowsill, and being a little larger), so we'd pushed on to get it finished. As a note: we're deliberately leaving the tops of the windows, and the reveals: we need to get the walls proper, with the radiators, done before we can turn the heating on. We'll then have some finishing up to do, but the heating won't be affected.

The insulated front wall, taken the next morning (© Ian 2014)