|11/03/2014||Filled under Carradale, house refurbishment, Scotland|
My original plan for refurbishment of the kitchen was to start at the top, the ceiling, and work downwards via the kitchen units until all that was left to install was a new floor covering. Very soon, however, I realised that this was the wrong way to go about things and some time later it dawned upon me that kitchens have their own sequence of tasks, and that this is one of the special secrets known only to professional installers.
In the six week journey I have just completed during which our new kitchen has risen from the ashes of what once was, many of those special secrets have magically revealed themselves to me despite my non-professional status. Our cupboard doors, for example, each of which required the accurate drilling of two holes for the handle, now all look identical because I had a spare Breton Chartplotter, a clear plastic device whose purpose is known to navigators of small ships, which I was prepared to sacrifice in order to make up a template so that the position of the screw holes was replicated on each door. When it came to the electrical connections for the central heating boiler, the programmer and the thermostat these required a complicated wiring junction box, the mysteries of which only became clear after extensive research on the Internet. Discovering this special secret took time but I now have the satisfaction of knowing where each cable leads and what its purpose is, knowledge which I suspect is deliberately withheld from most human beings for health and safety reasons.
When it came to tiling the walls I was on more familiar ground as my expertise in this area has been tested before. As it happens I can tile in both French and English having a few years ago spent some weeks tiling a new floor just outside Lyon chez our friends Guy and Noëlle. In our kitchen only English was needed although there were other words spoken from time to time when a tile didn’t quite break according to plan. Looking back, had it occurred to me in advance that shaping large tiles around kitchen units, powerpoints and worktops meant that so few could be fitted without cutting I may have never started at all but this particular special secret only emerged into the light of day once the job was well underway.
I now realise now, of course, that a bottom to top approach to refurbishment works best in kitchens and by the time I had finished putting up the shiny white ceiling panels, running up and down a ladder for hours on end, the whole job was done. Suddenly my urge to get going on the next task has nowhere left to push me and I feel a strange sense of guilt at my own laziness.
Alongside this I must confess to a sense of achievement at having negotiated so many pitfalls to finish the job to a standard I am happy with. I may never fit another kitchen again so if this one stands forever as a testament to my skills then at least I am not ashamed of it. It also has one rather novel feature that you will not find in most kitchens. The forest mural came from an idea we had to cover a rather untidy wall with something spectacularly eye-catching. It is visible only from within but mirrors the world outside our doors so perfectly that we just love it!
Click on either picture to enlarge.
|27/01/2014||Filled under Carradale, house refurbishment, Scotland|
Kate: As part of our kitchen refurb we order a fridge-freezer and dishwasher via the Currys website and are informed by email that it will be delivered direct from the manufacturers, last Wednesday. We sort of ignore this because we know from experience that Thursday is Currys’ delivery day here but then after Thursday has come and almost gone we decide to give them a call.
‘Ah,’ they said, ‘there has been a “weird glitch” [my words] and the order has not got through to the manufacturers. But don’t worry, we have the items in stock now’.
Anyhow we settle down to enjoy Friday, knowing that the delivery surely wouldn’t come on Friday and we didn’t feel like irritating the elderly grump genes by calling them again to ask when it would arrive.
Sunday arrives, the rain is lashing down again outside, and Malcolm has just about demolished the old kitchen and is studiously filling and sanding down holes in walls, a by-product of the demolition, whilst trying to leave in place the cooker and the sink so that we can continue to live reasonably normal lives. I am upstairs doing some ironing when I hear a bark as our son Mike and his lady, Eleanor, come in the back door with their dog, Ebony. Almost simultaneously there are two men ringing the front door bell, neither of whom will see the age of 50 again, with a white van marked “Hebridean Haulage”. They are here to deliver our new kitchen appliances and to take away the old units so we frantically shovel fridge and freezer contents onto any surface available whilst apologising to the men that we have had no notice of the delivery date and had almost lost faith in mankind, especially the online kind.
The men are very good and stagger in with the new equipment in the foulest of weather conditions then take away the old fridge and freezer, all without a cup of tea or anything else to sustain them, before driving themselves back to Glasgow. The shock of all this excitement happening at once is almost too much so we all sit down for a cup of tea and abandon the kitchen works for the day.
Malcolm: We are dog-free once more and have a new fridge-freezer and dishwasher, although these are not yet installed in the kitchen, the guts of which will arrive later this week. We know this because it was not ordered online. The installation job is down to me, something I have done before in no less than five previous houses, and although the timetable for arrival of some of the parts still needs some filling in, by the end of this week we should have some of the new kitchen units hanging from our walls, perhaps even a new sink. What is also certain is that by this point it will still have little resemblance to the computer-generated view provided by the suppliers. I work at my own speed.
|15/01/2014||Filled under Carradale, house refurbishment, Scotland|
Suddenly it has gone quiet. The storms we have lived with for the past few months have deserted us and for a short spell there is calm. The rainwater-soaked ground will gradually dry and even where the sea encroached on the land the residue of salt will eventually be flushed away. Residents along Carradale’s Shore Road can now sleep peacefully at night knowing that there still will be a road in the morning.
Within our house we make small steps along the ‘improvement’ road, gradually ticking things from the list we hold in our heads. When the wind blows hard we notice how it passes through the house as well as around it so I am blocking up all those hard-to-reach places with cuddly-warm insulation material. This involves me crawling into some of the less easy to get to corners, balancing on my knees across wooden joists with a head torch and face mask encumbering me, whilst pushing thick pieces of fibreglass material around the numerous obstacles; pipes, wires and old mouse droppings. I emerge into daylight from time to time for fresh air and to remove another layer of clothing, for it is warm work. Beads of sweat are soon dribbling across the lenses of my glasses, adding to my misery, but I tell myself the effort is worthwhile; as each gap is closed a draught ceases, one less passage for a cold wind to follow, one small step towards a warmer house.
The least accessible part of roof space is the coombe, a triangular area lying outwith our upper floor rooms and tapering internally where the roof overhangs at both front and back. We have access doors which allow us in to use this space for storage but at the front of the house the coombe is narrow, barely enough space for me to wriggle my body through, and since the builders left some forty years ago very few humans have chosen to go in there. Access is gained by crawling from a small cupboard at either end of the house, one of which entrances I created myself by cutting a small doorway in a bedroom wall. There are plenty of reasons why nobody would want to visit this space, not least of which is that once inside, the space does not permit the average human body to turn around so the only way out is in reverse, wriggling across the joists feet first whilst trying not to poke a hole through the ceiling below. Cursing and swearing I finally emerge having closed off a few more draughts and insulated the bare ceilings from above. Job done.
By way of light relief, we borrow ‘Harvey’ for a week, giving his owners a short break. By using a factor of seven to express his dog age in human terms, it occurs to us that we have a 98-year old animal living with us, but this does little to describe his physical condition or his capabilities. In his head he is still a puppy, the spirit still being as willing as ever to go for long walks through the forest. But then there are times when the weaknesses of his body are evident and he exhibits some of the same muscular creakiness that we do. He is no trouble for us though, well mannered and gentle he is content to sit at our feet and doze for much of the time.
Then whilst taking him for a walk one morning along the forest track I notice that the landscape here is beginning to change, man-made earth ramps appearing on the hillside, suggesting that access is being made so that the trees we have grown so used to can be felled. At first this is quite distressing to me for I have grown comfortable amongst these trees. I have walked by them and got to know their smells and their sounds. I have used their shade in the summer and their shelter in the winter. I have explored them for mushrooms and toadstools, watched deer disappear into their cover and gazed upward through their branches at the sound of a raptor’s eerie cry. I feel a sense of ownership for this environment, as it is now, with stands of tall conifers creating deep darkness below. It comes as something of a shock to think that all this will change suddenly when the trees are felled. I must recognise, of course, they are a crop, planted there for one purpose only, to be cut down once they have reached a certain size. This whole landscape is not a natural one, it is farmland and there must inevitably be a cycle of growth and harvesting, albeit that this takes place over forty years instead of four seasons.
When trees are taken out the debris left behind is not pretty and for many years the landscape will be scarred with brush and dying stumps. Eventually, however, whether or not new saplings are planted, nature will take over again, moss will creep over the stumps, the brush will rot down and life once starved of light will sprout forth everywhere, a greening-over process that is itself interesting to watch.
|23/12/2013||Filled under Carradale, Christmas, house refurbishment, Scotland|
We hear on the news that Scotland will soon be battered by storms again. But what action to take, this is the problem. When someone shouts “Warning!” or “Look Out!” then we all know to duck down behind the sofa or jump out of the road, whichever is more appropriate. But here we are close to the shortest day, most of Winter still to come, right in the firing line for the latest depression, and it is difficult to know what exactly we should be doing.
Maybe there is some action I should be taking in preparation; a checklist is needed.
Is the house roof fastened on securely? Well it was OK for last week’s storm and the one just before that so it should stay put for this one, shouldn’t it? It survived last winter’s gales too when dozens of our electricity pylons crumpled and fell over.
Will the garden fence survive? Not a problem as we don’t have wooden fences here. They are far too vulnerable, an open invitation to be blown over. A wire mesh fence is what is needed, something that lets the wind pass right through.
Is the wheelie bin tied down? We have always kept it on a leash, tied by a rope to an eye screwed into the wall just by the back door to prevent it from flying around the garden – this is just the way we do things around here – so nothing needs to change there then.
What about preparing for the inevitable power outage, the sort of thing that happens when a spruce tree uproots and topples over onto the power lines close by? Well let’s see now… Candles? Check; Portable gas heater? Check; Camping gas cooker? Check; Freezer full of food? Check; Kindles on charge? Check (a bit of a giveaway this as it shows just how bang up to date we are with technology. We both use Kindles, his and hers, which mean we can read books in total darkness. Strange behaviour really so we don’t brag about it).
By now our excitement levels are right against the stop. Dire warnings of impending doom are broadcast on all the media. The ‘Met Office Amber Alert’ thingy is ringing in my ears and I am running out of preparation-y things to do. There really is little else for it. We just have go out to see what is really going on.
The noise we hear when we step outside the house is of the trees, leafless though they are, growling and whistling as they thrash about. Leaves, or the remains of them, instead of being blown away are collected rather neatly in a small circular pile where the wind has formed a vortex on its path around the garden shed. The burn at the bottom of our road is full, but no more so than normal, although the water is being blown upstream in the gullies beside the forest track and there are pine needles spinning down to form a pale brown layer on the mounds of sphagnum moss. Amidst all the noise from the trees there is something else in the background, like interference on a radio set, a hissing, roaring sound carried to us on the wind from Carradale Bay.
The tide is high at the beach, almost at maximum, but this is the sight that we came here for, to watch the white surf pounding in from the south. My glasses fog over with salt spray and white spume floats over my boots, continuing up the beach to the dunes beyond as we stand and admire the power of the sea where it meets the river, a boiling mass of confused water leaping in all directions. All along the tide line where we walk there are bundles of tangled seaweed into which are mixed the delicate shells of heart urchins, hundreds of them, ripped away from their comfortable homes by the storm. Large baulks of timber, some clearly natural, some fashioned by man, are thrown up randomly, the sand and sea having stripped the bark and smoothed the surface like a fine emery. As we walk along the beach the wind is now more on our backs so we barely notice the wave which launches itself at us coming up the beach at speed. If it could it would try to take us back with it, to mix us up with the foam and weed but we make a frantic dash up the beach, which would appear amusing if there were anyone else here to see it. But who else is crazy enough to venture out on a day like this. Very few, it has to be said.
Back home and inside the house things should be much quieter but the plastic sheet which covers the flat roof above our dormer windows has become loose and flaps about madly in the wind. Afraid of losing it completely – it is there to keep the rain from leaking through – last week found me climbing precariously up an extending ladder to try to tame the thing. But how can you control such a wild thing without nailing wooden battens across it, in the process making more holes in the roof for the water to leak through. Perhaps some heavy weights up there might hold it; but then I remember the power of the wind, the weight of it, the way it was throwing the sea about, picking up even wet sand off the beach, the way it bends trees to breaking point and beyond. Nothing I can think of (that I can physically lift up to the roof) would be heavy enough to resist being tossed about, thrown off the roof to the ground. For the moment the plastic sheet stays in place, until the next gale, or the one after.
Ordinarily we might be upset by this but another event has rather overshadowed things. Christmas arrives just a few days early when this delivery is dropped into our front garden. It doesn’t stay there long as our plumber, Tom, comes early the next day armed with spanners, blowtorch and determination. The heavyweight parcel contains our new central heating boiler, a modern, super-efficient machine which will give us plenty of warmth for years to come, a fine present from Santa and his elves.
|27/11/2013||Filled under Carradale, house refurbishment, Scotland|
Our slow journey towards house refurbishment takes another stumbling step forwards. The new (and wrong) central heating boiler is no longer taking up space in our house. It has gone back whence it came, to be exchanged for a more suitable model.
Meanwhile the old, and now partially dismantled, boiler sits exposed, undressed as it were, with its bare pipes and wires open to view. Not that it is a particularly ugly thing, but if we had the choice (which we don’t) then this is not something we would choose to have on display in our food preparation area. It is both noisy and rather smelly, not its own fault of course, but its naked presence tends to dominate the room, acting as a bar to intelligent conversation.
When originally installed the thing was contained within a massively constructed airtight cabinet which, although larger than strictly necessary, did at least blend in well with the rest of the decor. Dismembering this unit for access (a singularly destructive process) has led us to an important realisation… we no longer need the rest of the varnished timber cladding that enriches the kitchen walls from floor to ceiling. This decision is partly, but only partly, driven by the fact that the damage already wrought upon this room is difficult to reverse… oops! But then again it does feel appropriate for us to be putting our own mark on our house.
So it is that I arm myself with a range of iron implements – crow bars, several hammers, chisels, screwdrivers and drills – and set to work laying waste to our kitchen. Splinters fly in all directions and dust begins to shower down as the kitchen is transformed, from something quite presentable to a barren wasteland, a mess of patched walls with holes peeping out like plasterboard eyes and the pile of wood on the floor growing around me. Somehow along the way I manage to ensure that the light and power switches still function as the kitchen expands back to the dimensions the builders gave it.
Once the dust has settled we are satisfied with the result as it means that we can get down to planning the kitchen design from scratch without any excuses. No longer are we constrained by the pre-existing decor. Our imaginations can run riot. At least they can as soon as the new boiler is installed; still waiting, I’m afraid.
So having little better to do than wait around for tradesmen to call, I take to the water to try to find a different sort of exercise and another use for my tools. Just beyond the protecting wall of Carradale harbour are four mooring buoys laid down for use by visiting yachtsmen. Proper maintenance for winter, when they will not be used, consists of disconnecting the big, brightly-coloured mooring buoys and lowering the chain to the bottom where it will be subject to less wear. (A rope attached to a much smaller buoy is left in place.) The job involves undoing a large shackle which, having spent the whole year in the sea, is somewhat corroded. It is a task which involves two people using large spanners and a lot of muscle.
I find myself balanced on the deck of a small boat with friends John and Ian. John, very nobly I thought, makes no complaints when we heave the barnacle-encrusted chain from the water into his inflatable boat and pull off the long fronds of slippery kelp. Nor does he seem to mind when Ian and I start at the shackle with a crow bar and hammer, despite the risk of puncturing the dinghy. Sadly though our efforts are in vain. We reach the conclusion that the shackle pin needs more leverage than we can safely apply from this boat. And the immortal line, “You’re going to need a bigger boat” comes to mind.
Exercise comes in other ways now. There are small boys, well one in particular called James, to be carried around shoulder high on bonfire night and then there is a dog to be walked, a large black and white one called Baillie, who tugs at his lead such that my arm feels like it might come right off. Baillie, who incidentally has his own Facebook page, is a dog we have ‘borrowed’ for a short while and as well as needing lots of exercise, he is an ardent bird-lover. When he spots a crow or a gull standing on the ground his whole personality changes as he gives chase. His brain becomes focussed on nothing else as he charges off into the distance at full speed – which is far faster than I can run. Whatever sense was inside him has vanished in an explosion of red mist and no amount of calling will bring him back. The mist only begins to clear after the bird proves that it can fly, something Baillie has yet to master. Welcome to the real world, Baillie.