Thursday 19 January 2012

Let There be Light

Let There Be Light

Further work on the attic room today, namely wiring and plaster-boarding. I have some brave friends who will be attempting to sleep in the room on Saturday night, so the rush has been on this week to get things as habitable as possible beforehand. With just one work day to go, I shall be delighted if the plaster-boarding gets finished - though the schedule is pretty tight. In any case, the plastering proper will have to be for another time. Overall, working to such a deadline has been fun - the less one does the more one's friends have to slum it. It's win-win for me! :-)

My builder started to become very fussy indeed when electrical fittings appeared on the scene today. :-) I don't think he wants anything in bad taste to spoil his excellent work. The torchier wall lights with flambeau shades (pictured) were declared to be horrendous, and I must admit I bought them in a weak moment, when I called in at a warehouse full of lighting reclaimed during pub refits. However, I stand by my view that they give the attic room, largely devoid of character, a little lift and of course they have a suitable castley feel!. When we wired them up and switched them on (lower picture), he acquiesced that they looked better "on", and he had no end of fun at my expense: "Will the Mr. Whippy tune start, when you switch on the lights?". You get the picture. :-)

We changed the light switch 6 times, as the builder become concerned about possible non-coordination of  the brass fittings, and I wanted to make sure he was happy. :-)

The light switch in the first picture was plain white plastic (just to test the circuit) and after moving through both showy and plain antique switches, we settled on a repro brass one (£1.99) shown in the second picture - which looks fairly period but is understated and should fit in with modern brass sockets. The "Victorian" and especially the "Georgian" sockets you can buy on eBay, etc, most certainly aren't! :-)

today's plaster-boarding and wall light installation

the wall lights' grand "switch-on"

Elegant in Ermine

As I walked through the castle courtyard today, a stoat in its white winter pelt crossed my path and dashed into the wood pile for refuge. Whoa - this is the first time I had seen a stoat in ermine. :-) What a beautiful animal. I had been hearing a creature moving in the castle's loft during the night above my bedroom, and had assumed it was a mouse even though it had seemed a lot bigger and louder than usual. Mystery solved - it was the stoat. This would also explain why the mouse numbers have been down inside the castle of late - this is a good thing.

It was also in the mountains above Balintore, a couple of winters ago, that I first saw hares in their white winter coats. My friends pointed them out. Up to this point I had been thinking "Most unusual for sheep to be up here.". :-)

The Ugly Mystery

Today, I received a DVD through the post of the horror film "The Ugly". I did not order this and know of no-one who would send me this. I am somewhat concerned - ID theft or insult? :-( Did you send me this film, or know who did? The envelope was empty apart from the DVD - no documentation whatsoever. Even Sherlock Holmes would be stumped. :-) I will have to view for clues!

"The Ugly" mystery - do you know anything?

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Attic Room Dry-Lining

Yesterday, I helped my builder construct a stud wall on the east facing gable end of the attic room in the entrance tower. The day before (Monday) I helped with the stud wall on the west facing gable.

Now with all surfaces insulated, it is the one and only WARM room in the castle. You can literally feel the temperature difference when entering. It's all I can do to hold myself back from moving in - however, it is sensible to do the wiring and plaster-boarding first! :-)

We built the walls directly underneath original Victorian roof beams. For once, Victorian precision was lacking and the beam on the west side sloped down from left to right by a whole inch. This took some working around.

new west gable end stud wall

new east gable end stud wall

Sunday 15 January 2012

Secret Carvings and Roasting One's Own Nuts

Today (Sunday) my friend Andrew and I assaulted the outstanding roof insulation at top of the entrance tower of Balintore Castle. I was still guiltily in bed when Andrew arrived (was it 10AM?) but despite the late start we managed to finish the insulation around 6PM. So a particularly rewarding day's work.  I proved singularly incapable of hammering in any nail with enough force to tack things into position, but hopefully made up for this by crawling round the minuscule loft spaces around the cold water tank to guide the insulation into position.

completed insulation

completed insulation - detail
There are always new things to notice at Balintore Castle, and while standing around for a minute or so, I noticed that a block of stone that had been hidden behind a wall (and was now exposed) had an intricate corner carving on it. Had the mason messed it up and just used the spoiled block in the fabric of the building, or was it a little apprentice piece? The stone is limestone, which in only used in very small quantities at the castle, generally for carved internal details. It looks like it might have been intended as a detailing for the internal windows between the grand saloon and the principal bedroom corridor.

secret carving that was hidden behind lath-and-plaster

One of my life principles, which I expound regularly to Andrew, is that it is ALWAYS possible to do something new every day of one's life. It is both an exhortation to behave "out of the box", but also to observe "out of the box". Fortunately, today's new task was not hard to identify: roasting one's nuts on an open fire. Neither of us had done this before, and Andrew had never even had a chestnut before. We found that around 10 minutes in a wood-burner wrapped in foil was about optimum - caramelised and delicious but not too burnt.  There is something about chestnuts that limits one to not having that many. One of my errors was once buying a large can of canned chestnuts. They need to be used sparingly, so I didn't use them all before they went off. However, loose chestnuts are another matter - one can roast on demand.

HOT - peel carefully
roasting one's own chestnuts on an open fire

Thursday 12 January 2012

Breaking into One's Own Home

Returning from my Christmas break was considerably more traumatic than expected.

I drove the 300 km from my friends' in Norfolk to my place in Oxfordshire ..... only my new lodgers had locked me out of my own house. :-(  The door had been locked from the inside so my key wouldn't work. However, no amount of knocking on doors or windows could summon anyone from inside. After 20 minutes of this, I tried to phone the landline number to see if I could rouse anyone in this way. However, my mobile had locked up and there was no light to see how to sort it - the interior light of my new pick-up truck is presumably blown. Anyhow, I knocked on my neighbour's door: I like to draw them into my farces. :-) I used the light in their hall to sort out my mobile and phone - after 5 minutes of ringing my front door was opened. Phew !!!!!

What had happened was that I had told my lodger that I would be arriving, but he did not communicate this to the girlfriend.

After seeing my dentist in the area (the final check up of the dental repairs carried out after I was mugged last year and repeatedly punched in the face), I was able to drive off to the castle in Scotland.

After 700km of driving, I arrived at 3AM in the morning at Balintore Castle. Only I could not get in. My builder had left a heavy duty padlock in place - and he has the only key. I had emailed when I would be arriving, but it transpired that removing the padlock had simply slipped his mind.

After 30 minutes of going round the building checking for openings, and after some climbing I managed to break in through a sash window. When I was half-way through, the sash slid down on top of my hips and held me fast - I was stuck! And yes, I did scream like a girl. No help arrived, but by wiggling and lifting the sash with hands behind my back I got free. The only problem was that I was now in a room locked from the outside. To get to my bed - I was now desperately tired after 11 hours of driving - I tried to break the locked door down. However, nothing I could do would make it budge. I tried flying kung-fu kicks; running forwards into the door full force and running backwards into the door fill force. Backwards is better, as bottoms absorb shocks better! Anyhow, after 30 minutes I eventually bent the catch enough to get a narrow implement through the gap at the edge of the door to try to hook the bolt out. Knives did not do it - finally I used the round handle end of a metal kebab stick as a hook to pull out the bolt. It took about 10 goes even then.

So around 4 AM in the morning I collapsed in bed totally shattered. The next day I had arranged to pick up an antique oak fireplace in the morning. However, because there was no sensible way to enter the castle, I was unable to unload my laiden truck. Fortunately, my builder came to my assistance - much appreciated on a Sunday morning. He unlocked the padlock and then we could unload the truck. My friends from Dundee came round to help me collect the oak fireplace, and we got to the antique warehouse just in time. Ironically, one of the things I was unloading from the truck was another fireplace bought over 10 years ago, just in case I ever bought a castle later in life! :-)

I breathed a huge sigh of relief over lunch on Sunday - getting home had been quite a trauma. My friends had considerately brought over a casserole - much appreciated as I had had no time to shop.

It has been deeply unsettling psychologically that I was unable to get in to either of my two houses through no fault of my own. It took several days to make up for the lost sleep.

Anyhow, it is superb to be back at the castle and trying to make a difference - even if this is only working as my builder's assistant, and sourcing materials to keep things moving.

The current little project is flooring and insulating the loft space at the top of the entrance tower. This tower is being plumbed-in, and insulating the loft space where the tanks are held should help prevent burst pipes - last winter the temperature went down to -15C and the kitchen plumbing simply did not survive. So the idea is to also squeeze a small extra bedroom/study into this loft space as a refuge from the cold weather. The room is sufficiently small to need very little heating and we are insulating this to within an inch of its life - see the photos taken today of the work in progress. Of course, it makes sense to insulate to the max for the building as a whole. We are placing rock-wool insulation behind solid insulation. The rock-wool was obtained with an amazing £1-a -roll government-sponsored scheme from NPower. For once I seem to have grabbed the moment, as this has now gone up to £3 a roll.

Needless-to-say, when I arrived back at the castle the telephone and the InterNet were not working, The BT engineer finally came out on the third day. He had to replace a section of line due to shotgun damage. I'm not pointing any fingers, but I am surrounded by a shooting estate. :-) The day after the InterNet came up, my lap-top went down. :-( This was collected today, via a return to base HP warranty, by UPS. Fingers crossed this is repaired soon, as I am improvising this blog on an ageing desktop!

IT support seems to be such a full-time job here, that it's a wonder any castle restoration gets done!

north pitch of entrance tower roof - insulation almost finished

south pitch of entrance tower roof - insulation in progress