Saturday, 20 December 2014

Happy Christmas 2014

2014 has been a roller-coaster ride! I was contracting for Schlumberger in Abingdon, yet again, for the early part of the year. I've always been very happy there, but was still looking forward to taking the summer off to be hands-on restoring Balintore Castle.

I find the transition between the south and the north painful, because I am doing totally different things at the two ends of the country and I hate abandoning the current tasks when I leave. The re-motivation and re-connection period at the other end is around a fortnight. Then I'm fine!

Anyhow, I was just getting into the swing of things at the castle this summer when my back "went" slightly. It wasn't too bad but it was worrying as the pain felt similar to my herniated disc 18 years ago.

Shortly afterwards I headed down to Norfolk for a small holiday, looking after some kids, while their parents attended a conference in the US. The first morning I was alone with the kids, I got out of bed, put on my underpants, had got one leg in my trousers then collapsed on the floor in total agony. It took me 2 hours to get my trousers on fully, so I could go downstairs tell the kids something was not quite right.

All-in-all, I spent around 10 weeks in my kindly and very accommodating friends' guest room, unable to walk, sit down or even lie down. The one position where the pain was less was on my left hand side so this is where I stayed. As time wore on, I was able to get around by crawling on all fours, and hobbling upright for short periods before the pain got too much. My major "excursion" every day was to my friends' hen house and poly-tunnel all of 50 yards down the garden. Some days the journey was easier than others; on other days it was impossible. So even though I was unable to go shopping, I didn't starve, and had a very healthy diet. Though it will be several years until I can eat another courgette. :-)

The major problem was getting medical attention - the same disc had not just herniated/bulged but burst. The waiting list for the operation is 20 weeks in Norfolk but I simply could not get on this list and the bureaucracy went round and round in endless circles for months. My mind had started to go with constant intense pain and isolation, and I knew that over 6 months of this would send me off the deep end. Some neighbours in the village were great, they would have me over for a meal every-so-often and we would have a good laugh which worked wonders for short-term morale.

My next move was to phone Ninewells Hospital in Dundee to make inquiries about having the operation there. I explained that I was crippled, and that someone would have to drive me to Scotland and that I would need the operation very soon after this as I could not look after myself. Anyhow they found me a slot in a fortnight. :-) Andy, my builder, was a complete star and drove all the way down to England to pick me up. I had one day at the castle before the operation. I wanted to see the newly installed bay windows in the drawing room. I felt I should get some benefit from the big money I had paid for them, in case I died on the operating table. The windows looked superb, and the amazing view across the glen, through them, would not have been any compromise as a “last view”.

After the operation the pain totally disappeared. :-) A friend collected me the following day. He couldn't keep up. I was so pleased to be mobile and so keen to start living again that I was literally running out of the hospital! I've had a few twinges subsequently, but life has definitely restarted.

I was forbidden from lifting anything for 6 weeks afterwards and standing on the sidelines while Andy worked away at the castle was frustrating. However, I did manage a few weeks of light manual work after this, which were incredibly satisfying, before having to head south again to look for work over the winter.

Snow arrived at Balintore the week after I left. Here is the obligatory snow-covered Christmasy image than Andy sent me.

Happy Christmas from a chilly Balintore Castle

I had planned to put in underfloor heating this summer, but the extremely curtailed restoration season put paid to this. With such a long term project as Balintore, you have to be extremely philosophical. If illness puts an extra year onto the schedule then that's just the way it is. Ironically, the permission to make the first part of castle habitable (the kitchen wing) came through from Angus Council while I was crippled in Norfolk. I have been waiting for this permission for 7 years, freezing every winter at the castle as I have not been allowed to put in insulation and heating. Now I had the permission, but was too ill to act on it.

In contrast, Andy with the occasional help of other local craftsmen, has made great strides this year in the main body of the castle: fixing up turrets, installing new/reconditioned windows and (re)building floors. In terms of being able to walk around the interior spaces of the castle, this year has seen the biggest gains. Before this, the interior was pitch black due to the boarded up windows, and due to the dry rot it was unsafe to leave the corridor and enter most of the rooms if indeed the room had a floor.

Now you can walk around a reasonable proportion of the building and the feel is very different. There is a re-connection to previous inhabitants, as you realise this room would have been regarded as the best bedroom and that room would clearly have been used as a private sitting room, etc.

This year a number of followers of my blog have come out of the woodwork! It was a delight to discover that there are more people than I suspected who enjoy reading it. So for your interest, support and numerous small kindnesses I would like to thank you.

Anyhow, I send my best Christmas and New Year wishes to you, family, friends and friends of Balintore!


  1. Happy Christmas to you also! So sorry to hear about your back. I can totally relate, only there is no good surgery option for mine :-/ .
    Btw, I had received some sort of notice of an appeal on the windmills? I thought that had been exhausted. No?
    Anyway, loving living vicariously thru your blog, in the castle realm.

    1. Thanks Laura - sympathy on the back. Yes, there has been a worrying appeal regarding the wind farm. At some stage the Scottish government will be sending an official inspector to Glen Quharity to assess the site and to make a decision. Let's hope I can provide you with more vicarious fun in 2015. :-)

  2. Unless you leave the blog, you will. :-)

  3. Merry Christmas, just found about this through the internet and hope to read more, I love castles, old buildings, doing them up etc. I can live a wee dream through your writings as I couldn't restore my property in Italy and although it wasn't a Castle it was quite old and I had hopes, but never mind, now I am in Scotland, who knows what the future will bring.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments. I have a wee dream myself of moving the castle to a warmer climate - Umbria, as mentioned in your blogs, would be perfect! :-) You must pop along and visit some day, given you are in Scotland now.

  4. Hi David, I'm a reporter for The Courier and was wondering if I could speak to you about doing up the castle. You can email me at
    Many thanks,


  5. You poor wee thing !! I have friends who suffer from back pain and it impacts on their lives greatly, me it's migraine. I have been reading through your blog for two days now, quite a bit to go ! loving it all, you are so brave and honestly your writing skills deserve a book !! so funny !! my best wishes xx