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.

Monday, 9 December 2019

1932 Fashion

In "The [Dundee] Courier and Advertiser" dated Monday, November 21, 1932, may be found this article:

article dated Monday, November 21, 1932

I have transcribed the caption from the photograph:

ANGUS SPORTSMEN who took party in Edzell Gun
Club's shooting match on Saturday. Left to right--Mr J.
Fenton, Balintore Castle, Glenisla; Mr W. Smith, Fetter-
cairn; Mr G. Caithness, Craigendowie, Lethnot; and Mr
D. Howe, Marykirk. Messrs Caithness and Howe are
international shots.

While the two figures on the right may be international shots, Mr. J. Fenton from Balintore Castle (on the left) is the standout because he is rocking his look of baggy tweed suit and tweed hat placed backwards on his head. It is unclear if Mr. Fenton is the owner of the castle, the shooting tenant, the gamekeeper or a relative of the gamekeeper. Around this time, there was a gamekeeper called W. Fenton whose name, we found written on one of the shutters.

I would like to think that as a later resident of Balintore Castle that I have picked up the style mantle. But I don't think this!

Changer d'Avis

There have not been many "changes of mind" in the castle's renovation. As there is so much of the castle to tackle, and a very limited budget, changing one's mind is an un-indulgable luxury and one has to always try to move in the forwards direction instead. As I am restoring the castle back to its original state as far as is practicable, then there are not really any gross stylistic changes of mind, but there are a few things I would like to revise. Certain detailings are slightly out of alignment and there are areas where I wished I had put in more insulation, etc.

The entrance hall originally had a flagstone floor, but the flagstones have long since been stripped out. A strip of flagstones survives under the fireplace and this will be kept. At £400 a square metre, new replacement flagstones are not an option. Accordingly, the plan was for the entrance hall to be floored in marble tiles. A typical Victorian look would be a checkerboard pattern at a 45 degree angle, so something in this vein would be suitable.

However, subsequent to a concrete sub-floor being poured in the entrance hall, the idea arose of building the entrance hall staircase economically out of reclaimed hardwood flooring, that had come from Eassie Community Hall just 10 miles away. The related blog entry is here. Then putting two and two together, it was obvious that doing the entrance hall floor in the same wooden flooring would tie the decor together and indeed avoid the expenditure of marble. So last week Greg jack-hammered up the old concrete sub-floor, which actually had done good service in the last few years. 

breaking up the existing concrete sub-floor

It pained me greatly to undo work already done, but it was a no-brainer that the wooden floor was the way to go. Such is my embarrassment over the wastage, that the title of this blog entry is in French: somehow it is a lessens the admission of the faux-pas.  The good news was that we managed to get 10 cm of insulation under the new wooden sub-floor; there had been no insulation under the previous concrete sub-floor.

rebuilt wooden sub-floor - looking west

rebuilt wooden sub-floor - looking east

The reclaimed flooring has been in storage for the last 8 years in the Great Hall - another point of shame. However, this makes the joy at finally using the material all the greater. At present, we are still laying the flooring as you can see in the image below. There was a great deal of preparatory de-nailing. We also spayed the flooring in an anti-dry-rot solution, given that there are still occasional leaks in the Great Hall so the storage conditions were not the driest.

laying hardwood flooring - looking east

So much to my joy, the entrance hall has undergone a recent spurt. There are still missing moldings (architraves and skirting boards), but the order with a carpentry workshop to duplicate extant moldings is just going ahead.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Early Christmas Meal

With the onset of the cold weather and the short days, I realised that my mood was starting to plummet. I am generally rather upbeat and indeed a friend remarked that I would have to be, having taken on the restoration of a vast ruined edifice. However, when it is dark most of the time and one is living with no heating, I defy anyone to not have a wibble. I am pretty cold-hardy but when the pain starts in my hands and feet, enough is enough. As I write this blog entry, I currently have an electric fan heater playing over my feet. At other times I direct the fan heater to blow over my fingers, so these do not seize up while typing.

Anyhow, my solution to improve my mood this winter is to have a dinner party every month throughout the season. The first dinner party was at Halloween, and this really cheered me up. The second, which has just taken place, was on the 6th December and again this did its magic. I was too hysterical with the cleaning and catering to take any photographs, but thankfully the friends who attended obliged, and the photos in this blog entry are theirs. I have noticed that in the throws of catering hysteria, one does not feel the cold at all. I suspect it is due to the high adrenaline levels, so there are unexpected beneficial side effects of winter dinner parties.

The Christmas tree and table decoration are courtesy of an accomplished friend of Balintore. This delegation allowed me to focus on the catering. If you wish to recreate this dinner party in the comfort of your own home, you can find the recipes as links in the picture captions below. All the recipes are foolproof - I do not attempt anything that is not. :-) The "yin and yang" poached pear dessert is my original creation. The Victorian dinner service mentioned in a previous blog entry here, had its first proper outing!

Many thanks to the attendees for their wonderfully therapeutic company, their gifts and their assistance. You can even catch a rare glimpse of the Laird of Balintore in the photos. :-) The observant will notice that I forgot to defrost my prawns for the starter and had to improvise with a fortuitously donated avocado.

table decked for early Christmas meal

smoked salmon in lime and honey dressing starter
the guests take their places

venison in red wine casserole

pears poached in red wine & pears poached in white wine

Christmas table decoration

Thursday, 5 December 2019

A Pilgrimage to Preston

I am an admirer of Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier". A mere 18 miles way I was recently on the road myself undertaking a pilgrimage to Preston. What is certain, is that my epistle (this blog entry) is of inferior literary quality...

Aside from the low cost, there are virtually no positives of Megabus travel. Dundee to London is 12 ½ hours of being locked into an uncomfortable seat. Reading on a bus gives me a nauseous headache, so I can only manage large print books for short duration. The resulting journey is both mind and body numbing. The best I can do is to try to "zone out" via sleep.

Do not doubt that there was the corporeal penance of religion for this secular pilgrimage. The pre-desiccation one undertakes, to avoid the widely ill-reputed on-board facilities, is a trial in itself.

Similarly, there are virtually no benefits of travelling to Preston. :-) It will therefore perhaps surprise our reader that travelling through the centre of Preston on the Megabus recently gave me a spike of unexpected pleasure, for out of the window I spotted Preston Minster: the huge Victorian edifice from which I bought some monumental radiators on eBay. See the blog entry here.

I never, ever, expected to see this building, but recognised it instantly due to previous internet research. Of course I did not have my camera ready, but on the latest trip on the Megabus on the 30th November, I was poised.

Preston Minster from the Megabus: 30th Nov 2019
reclaimed radiators from Preston Minster