Sunday 5 April 2015

"A Tint of Whiskey"

Happy Easter. What a clever widdle
bunny wabbit is .Nugget'!
I come reeling home from the dog walk this afternoon. I have been shanghai'd by JD Bob who spotted me going past his house with the three dogs and called out to me to come in for a "cup of tay", dogs and all. This is a frequent occurrence and I love it; the dogs feel the same way because he usually plies them with fruit scone or fig roll despite my (admittedly rather light hearted) objections that he'll spoil them. We get the impression that Bob has not had a lot to do with dogs in his life but he is learning to love and trust our three and now likes to treat them and then to try a very quick and nervous pat on the head for each one.

The flowering cherry just starting.
Today, though, being Easter Sunday is one of those days days which Bob sees as a 'High day and Holiday', so he also reaches for the whiskey bottle hidden in the 'press' and announces, "I'm going to give you a tint of whiskey". He doesn't drink at all himself so this really is a special event and he promptly pours a socking great measure - a good inch deep. I know this will happen so I only ever accept when I have no more driving to do that day, as today. So, we sit and chat while I sip my whiskey and my tea and nibble on a couple of fig rolls. All very pleasant. Bob's actually just cooking his lunch, so I make sure I am good to go when that comes ready and we wish each other "Happy Easter and Good Luck now!" as is the local habit.

The main job today, though, is white washing the outbuildings as postponed from Good Friday. The weather has been as good as promised in the local 'Riabhach Days' lore (see earlier post). Once the 3rd of April was gone by, the nasty wind died away, the sun came out, the temperature shot up into the 14s and 15s and the bees have been out and flying all day and late into the evenings - well into my orchard dog-run sessions which are around 6 to 6:30 pm these days. The improvement happened at roughly dinner time yesterday, so we sat on it for the day knowing that if we waited till today everything would get a good chance to dry out. This morning we were all geared up.

Last time we white-washed these buildings (2013 see post at ) we were complete beginners and we were advised by our man at the local builders' providers, to use a mix of White Rhino hydrated lime and white cement. We have since been told we do not need the cement, so today we are trying out a new formula (again off the internet) which advises 9 parts water, 3 parts lime and 1 part salt. The lime is fairly noxious stuff and you need to take care not to breathe in any dust when mixing, and use eye protection all the time in case of splashes. There are plenty of those because this is very definitely a 'wash' not a paint. It is also very different from paint in that it goes on a translucent grey which just makes the wall look wet, and only changes to that bright, dusty, glaring white as it dries in the sun.

Starting to dry out here - you can still see the grey 'wet'
areas low down though.
It is all very traditional and we love doing it but we can see why most people now point up these stone walls and even render them with a smooth concrete finish, and then invest in Dulux's white 'Weathershield' masonry paint. Some of our walls are rendered and take a good coat, but others are very badly pointed and the bare stone sheds the wash badly. I am thinking that I may need to look into proper old-style lime-mortar and have a go at re-pointing these but I'd need a lot of it. The gaps between these rocks are not the neat little half inch slots of modern brickwork; some are more like 3 inches wide and deeper than 3 inches - some are actually holes right through the walls! The old lime mortar is supposed to be superior to modern cement in these situations as it lets the stonework 'breathe' and to move slightly with the frost, so that it is less likely to crack. I am sure friend Simon has had a go at this - I will have to go on a fact finding mission.

We chugged away for a long morning and got round all four walls of both buildings including me up the ladder doing the sloping "barge end gables"* and the vertical gable ends. The whitewash needs a half hour or so of 'setting' after you have mixed it, before you can paint it on (some say leave it overnight but then contradict themselves by saying that they have tried it without and it doesn't seem to make any difference). We work a system of using 5 buckets. When you run out, you mix a fresh bucket but put it at the back of the queue, and take the oldest mix from the front to use. That way all the mixes get a good half hour sitting.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon for some.
We've not done a bad job but we now wait rather anxiously while it dries and we can see any thin patches that might do with a second coat. It is, as I said, splashy stuff, but at least being completely without oil is washes easily out of your overalls and clothing. You apply it with a very 'flappy' ended Y-shaped brush and on the roughest bits of wall you are almost throwing or splatting the wash into the crevices by slapping your laden brush-end against the stone work. Very messy. Don't even think about putting down "dust sheets" to stop the splashes on the paths, they'd be soaked with whitewash in no time.

Having a rest.
Anyway, we were busy and the bees were at it hammer and tongs in the warm sunshine but everyone else seems to have gone for a lie down. I can see all 5 geese plonked down on the front lawn - not even the usual one head up, alert, keeping a look out. The sheep are all stretched out on the grass, the chickens all sleeping or dust bathing on a sunny bank. The rabbits are stretched out with their back legs behind them, presumably feeling the warm grass on their tums. I think I might just join them in their siestas. It is that kind of a day.

* I think that is the proper name - our outbuildings are in the old Irish style where the stonework goes up a bit above the corrugated roof sheeting and the tops of the walls are poured concrete into shuttering covering the thickness of the wall and the start of the sheeting.

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