Friday, 3 April 2020

Fifty Shades of Green

As described in a previous blog entry,  painting the Entrance Hall at Balintore Castle has proven unexpectedly problematic. Here is an update on the saga.

From the remaining evidence, the original wall colour was a very slightly yellow cream. I suspect this was to all intents and purposes the Victorian version of white - whether it had discoloured over the lifetime of the castle is uncertain. Where there has been a particular colour choice in the castle, I have tried to put this back as it was. However, where there was just a neutral colour or evidence of wallpaper, I have taken this as a cue to seek inspiration for a new colour choice.

For the Entrance Hall, a large tin of British Racing Green was duly bought. Despite 5 coats, the paint never once painted true. It somehow defied the lays of physics, and from the one well-mixed tin of paint, various shades of green appeared. The resulting patchy appearance was unacceptable. Gregor was definitely unconvinced by the racing green and I speculated on the possibility of sabotage. :-)

patchy "British Racing Green" paint

Anyhow, the racing green was darker than I had wanted or expected and it had quite a high proportion of black in it. So while I had got to like the effect, when a replacement green was chosen from a different paint company, I went for something lighter and of a more intense green shade. Everyone I showed the colour charts to picked out an "Emerald", as I had myself.  :-) With the builders and my friends on board, the order for two 5 litre tins was placed.

When Greg opened the first tin, a shocking pastel green was revealed, almost a pea green. See the top tin in the photo. When the second tin was opened, a much darker green was revealed. See the bottom tin in the photo. The dark green was lovely and was precisely what I wanted, so I presumed this was the emerald, and I contacted the paint company to send me a replacement tin for the pastel error. The company seemed to be in denial that the colours could be different saying that their mixes were checked against colour charts and I had to photograph labels for them, which revealed the same mixing codes.  Finally, they sent a replacement tin. However, this time the green was a new one matching neither of the previous tins. :-( See the middle tin in the photo. Despair was setting in. The green was between the other two in tint, nearer the darker one, but still distinctly different.

three tins of the same (?!?!?!) "Emerald" paint

I requested yet another replacement tin but the company were reluctant stressing that they could not have made a mistake, yet admitting that the colours in my photograph were very different. Eh? They wanted to collect the tins of paint I had already been sent instead. At this stage I was made to feel like a criminal i.e. cadging extra cans of paint from them. I communicated that my previous purchases from them had perfect colour matching, is an attempt to reinstate my bona fide customer credentials, However, once I agreed to the tin pick-up, the company said they could not pick them up as they were not in their original packaging. Eh? I tried explaining that the packaging was just black plastic shrink wrap, and there was no way this could be recycled but I could wrap in an equivalent manner myself and duck-tape the top. No response on this, but finally they agreed to send a second replacement tin.

Anyhow, the second replacement tin did match the first replacement tin - phew! Presumably by the laws of probability this has to be the true Emerald. The first two tins must have been a momentary hiatus in the mixing shop. The Emerald painted true thankfully. There is still some cutting-in to do with the Emerald as well as some patching-up work, so I cannot say whether the war has been won yet, just the previous battle.

The Emerald shenanigans consumed many evenings of email work and delayed the re-painting of the Entrance Hall by a month.  However, I like the colour very much indeed and cannot wait for the new oak mouldings and skirtings to be installed in the room, as it is the contrast of the rich green and the dark oak that gives the real Baronial pleasure. Colour perception is a very odd thing, as we painted over the British Racing Green with the more vivid Emerald, the racing green turned brown!

correct "Emerald" paint in situ

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Italian Comic

There is a default Facebook page on Balintore Castle here. Neither did I create this page, nor have I added content. However, checking this page out today, I spotted this wonderful illustration which has been made the page's title picture around a week ago:

Father Brown moonlighting at Balintore Castle

This is by a talented graphic artist called Werner Maresta from Genoa who now lives in Granada. The work was done for the cover of a "Father Brown" detective comic based on the short stories by G.K.Chesterton. The comic, published by an Italian company Renoir Comics, may be found here. The front cover is shown below:

cover of Father Brown comic

Surfing around, I spotted another version of Balintore Castle, by the same artist. 

Balintore Castle by Werner Maresta

By an amazing coincidence, illustration is one of my favourite art forms. This is for several reasons. Firstly, most illustrations are not intended to be "art" in the rarefied sense. They tell a story or serve an illustrative purpose. In short they are functional, so the pressure to have any of the high-bar attributes of art is off. 

However, in the execution art can sometimes be injected, and there's no doubt these images are graphic art of the highest order showing a confidence and boldness of handling, as well as a conciseness of expression. The book cover is handled in just four colours. As well as black and white, there is a blue to conjure up a gothic night, and a warmer yellow to introduce character: our eponymous hero Father Brown.

The second reason I like such graphic art is to be a bit of a maverick. The more people call it "not proper art", the more I will like it. :-)

The third reason I like illustration is its ability to concisely conjure-up mood, which is often useful in the fantasy genre. Could any oil painting do better? Book illustrations should not dominate the text, so it is often important that illustrations hint and suggest rather than fully tell. 

By another amazing coincidence, Werner is involved in his own architectural reconstruction project using authentic materials to build a mediaeval Genoese palace at a scale of 1:50.

Bite of Spring

While I may not be Stravinsky in the kitchen (or indeed for that matter on the podium) on Friday past the monthly Balintore Castle dinner party took place to celebrate the near arrival of Spring.

Clarence the lion door knocker greets guests in his spring flower ensemble.

These events were designed to cheer-up me and my friends, throughout the long, cold and dark winter season of 2019/2020. It will be interesting to how observe how these events will morph going forward into the Summer, and there have been initial discussions about holding a larger pop-up affair. However, this time round it was a small gathering: including some friends of friends who had come to last year's open day, but wanted to see the castle and more recent works in greater detail. I was only too happy to oblige.

table set for guests

Friend of Balintore, Elise, volunteered to do the flowers and the pudding. I was only too happy to relinquish control of said items.  The starter was baked aubergine with feta and pomegranate. 

baked aubergine, feta and pomegranate starter
spring flower centrepiece

The main was roast haunch of venison, with Thai sweet potato satay curry for the veggies. However, the best course was Elise's dessert. Her cheesecake with daubed with rhubarb in a ginger syrup; strawberries;  some pomegranate seeds stolen from the starter and even some dried roses brought by a friend from Iran. And to gild the lily, there was an accompanying rhubarb sorbet. One guest declared this to be a 5-star pudding, and he was not wrong. I dream of the pop-up upholding this standard. :-)

Elise's 5-star cheesecake dessert

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Spring Wreath

Clarence the lion door knocker is modelling his spring collection. This seasonal wreath was woven by friend of Balintore, Elise. Though spring is not yet fully here, the change-over from a winter to a spring wreath is to herald the imminent arrival of new life and new growth, that joyously feel just over the horizon.

Clarence be-wreathed

Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Still Room

The Still Room in the basement of Balintore Castle is a room that has remained untouched by the restoration - save for blocking the window opening with a reclaimed modern window. The intention was to keep out the weather and bring in the light. 

The room's neglect is due to the fact that basement accommodation is less appealing. However, Balintore's basement is half above and half below ground so there is natural light and the rooms are less gloomy than conventional basement rooms.

As the restoration moves on, a need has arisen to reclaim more and better storage space. Previously, we have just been throwing building materials in un-restored but dry rooms, but missing floors have made access and storage inefficient.

Re-flooring the Still Room is an easy win as the dwarf stone walls, which once held the wall plates in position, are in perfect condition. Gregor installed new wall plates, and on top of these, running perpendicularly, new floor joists.

new floor joists - looking towards window

new floor joists - looking towards door
I am looking forward to fully flooring, and this reclaiming this space properly!

Still Rooms date back at least to medieval times, but disappeared from houses after the Victorian era, when their function was replaced by the mass production of consumer products.

I am currently reading "Castle in the Air" by Lady Jean Fforde (1920-2017). She describes her childhood, at the end of the country house era, spending summers in Brodick Castle in Arran and winters in Buchanan Castle near Loch Lomond.

autobiography of Lady Jean Fforde

Buchanan Castle is the sister castle to Balintore, being also designed by Willliam Burn and being by far the closest stylistically. So of course, any revelations about life in Buchanan, sadly now a total ruin, have their echos at Balintore. Lady Jean describes the stillroom at Buchanan thus:

Back in history the distilling of beers and various medicines took place in the still room but latterly, under the jurisdiction of the housekeeper, the stillroom maids did all the decorating of cakes and made all the pastries, jams and chutneys, marmalades and pickles. (pp43-44)

So yes, there really were dedicated maids for Still Rooms! I first learned about Still Rooms from a plaque on the wall in Charles Dickens' first London townhouse at 48-49 Doughty St., which has a small Still Room.

Given the function of a Still Room, we were not surprised by yesterday's discovery of drainage in Balintore's Still Room, which when tested still worked! :-) There is evidence of a sink in the window opening - see the brick supports on the right-hand side in the photo below:

note both drainage and ventilation below window

Roadside Castle Sign

A friend of Balintore, who includes stone masonry as one of her hobbies, very kindly offered to produce a new sign for Balintore Castle. I requested something as large as possible and close in style to the existing sign I had made commercially last year, described in a previous blog entry here. Both boxes were ticked with style.

There was a definite need for a sign to show visitors which turning to take to the castle, as the obvious approach, which is through the gate lodges, is so rough and uneven that many a car has bottomed out, even when I have remembered to tell the driver in advance not to come this way. :-) Now, all I have to do is say "Take the turning by the sign.". This should hopefully direct visitors up the bumpy but navigable west drive rather than the treacherous east drive.

Rather than building a cairn to hold the sign, or rather than constructing a wooden post that could rot over time, I thought that attaching the sign to a large boulder of local stone would win the prize for aesthetic longevity. Though a simple solution, the difficulty was finding and then moving a sufficiently large stone. 

I identified some candidate boulders during a dedicated walk in the vicinity of the castle, and today Greg selected one of these, which possessed interesting mottled colours (greens, purples and browns) and striated texturing. Andrew moved the boulder with a hired forklift. Et voila!

the new driveway castle sign

A chunk of stone broke off as we tried to angle the boulder, so the sign would be readable from the road which goes past the castle. And at one stage during the maneuverings, the boulder did take off down the hill - ending up with the presentable face at the bottom. Finally, perseverance paid off, and due to the brilliant sunshine today, no-one minded being outside.

Greg, Andrew and their winter woolly hats tame the errant boulder

Andrew's hired forklift

Monday, 23 December 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

Spending Christmas Present in a historic building, as this year at Balintore Castle, naturally puts one in mind of Christmases Past. What kind of celebrations went on at the castle, and who took part in them? The cynic in me says that winter was out of season for a shooting lodge, and that the building would have been closed down save for a small skeleton staff. The romantic in me, says that the lure of an isolated castle, in a wintry and snowy landscape is irresistible for the festive season. And certainly, my friends have been drawn here in the last month or so as we bravely try to party our way out of the depths of winter. I love having them around.

You know it's the Winter Solstice when your solar powered watch stops, and this has happened a couple of times in the last week. The situation can be remedied easily by propping the watch in front of a window for a few hours, but the cessation of horological time has given me a wrong steer on the perceived efficiency of my housework. :-)

As an adult, Christmas particularly holds echos of Christmases past when one was a child, and brings back memories of loved ones no longer with us. This march of mortality is captured perfectly by Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  The author also captures better than anyone I know, the bleakness of that bone chilling cold that I have myself experienced at the castle. Thankfully things have moved forward at Balintore, and I am writing this blog entry in a toasty enclosed room heated by a large wood-burner. I can recall the very same room with no windows and the bitter wind whipping through. Snow, blown in from the outside, lay on the floor and I clutched for warmth by holding tightly onto my cup of tea.

I thought it would be fun to play with Past and Present, by turning a modern photo of Balintore taken earlier in the month into sepia (via Google Picassa) and by colourising my favourite old photo of Balintore staff (via the website). The colouriser is advertised as deep learning but as far as I can tell most clothing is painted navy blue if at all. The result is fun, but a pale imitation of what a human artist could do, so beware the technological hype. I passed monochrome versions of the hand-tinted postcards depicted in this blog entry here through the same algorithm. It failed miserably - the building stayed resolutely monochrome and the only injected colour was the blue of the sky.

Christmas 2019 in Victorian Sepia

Victorian Servants in 2019 Colour

This winter has thankfully been largely snow free with just 3 days of lying snow earlier in the month. Even without snow, the low sun and mist of winter can produce wonderful lighting conditions. The panorama below was taken last week by an early morning visitor to the castle. 

early morning December light at the castle

2019 has seen much restoration activity at the castle, with an Open Day at Easter to show the public the progress being made. Such was the success of this event, that another Open Day is planned for around Easter time in 2020, and I will announce the date on this blog in due course. I was concerned that the Open Day was a lot of effort for no return, but I was very wrong. A price cannot be put on the new contacts and wonderful new friends made.

An exciting plan for 2020 is to hold some pop-up restaurant events in the Servants' Hall in the basement. This space, after all, was where the male and female servants dined together so the pop-up plan is good building karma. Of course, the restoration work for the Servants' Hall lies in the future, but knowing that the space will be re-used and enjoyed is the biggest motivator.

I would like to thank all "friends of Balintore" for their support during the last year. If you are reading this blog entry, then you are already a friend of Balintore by definition. I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2020.