Tuesday 31 January 2012

Bye bye C4

Mission accomplished yesterday as Dad offloads the beloved C4 on the Main Dealer (Thank You, Hidson's of Rainham). This is not without pain as the economics work out badly when you try to surrender early - cars depreciate very fast to start with and slow down later, whereas you are paying a fixed amount per month (paying for depreciation in a 'straight line'). It all works out OK if you keep the car for the planned 3 years, but we aren't. There was a bit of a settlement fee anyway which had been worked out on Dad's description of the car as clean and never having had anyone smoking in the car. What no-one had thought to ask or mention was "does it smell at all doggie inside?"

We now know that there's two things that put off 'nice customers' when they stick their head inside a possible new car, the smell of fags and the smell of dogs. Ours mings of dogs apparently. So much so, according to the Dealership blokes that they are going to have to take out all the seats and soft furnishings to shampoo and freshen them, so that'll be another £300, thanks... Ker-ching!

Ah well, Dad didn't have a lot of choice; we need to cut our spending per month and the car and it's insurance are a way of chopping nearly £500 per month off the budget, so we swallowed hard (sorry, Dad!) and signed all the paperwork. Dad walked out of the showroom not owning a new-ish "nice" car for the first time since he chopped in the old Land Rover over 20 years ago. He walked to the railway station and caught a train back to Faversham and to Diamond's.

Bye bye C4. You were a good a reliable car, fast and comfortable. We did some good trips together and enjoyed owning you for these 18 months.


Monday 30 January 2012

Preparing Floors

Some pictures of the various stages of preparing the floors for the final concrete. They are in no particular order. First is Dad using the whacker plate to whack down the 2nd 4 inches of 804. Another shows Sparks finding a level in the 804 using his laser level and a piece of hi-tech string. There is actually a gentle fall of about 2 inches front door to back wall. We have kept this rather than introduce a silly 2 inch step out of the kitchen. There are a couple too of the 6 inch thick insulated sheets which sit on a level of blinding sand on top of the 804, with the damp proof course in between. The DPC is also 'radon proof' as they all get a bit excited about radon gas leaking through your floors and giving you cancer. If it's coming out of the ground, we can't see why it isn't also in the garden and will get us where there's no DPC, but hey, when in Rome.


Apropos of Nothing

A small variety of photo's just for a catch up. On the Thursday morning we woke up to a small amount of snow. We took a few pictures but this was about as Christmas Card as it gets. The picture of a 'pond' is actually a mistake. Having given us mains water on Friday but with curiously low pressure (about half the pressure we'd seen out at the road), we turned up on Monday to this expanding pond outside our wall but running into our run-off channel. It turns out there may have been a cattle drinking trough at that position which had been removed, and the water pipe cut though and buried. Sensible? Dad phoned the water boys on Monday and they showed up very fast, promising to return and fix us in days.

The fix was fast if a little rough and ready - expose the pipe with a mini digger, plug the end and secure the plug with a dodgy bit of wire you found in a handy fence. Re-bury the pipe. Ta daaaa! Full pressure at the house.

The big yellow lorries are the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) coming to turn on the mains power which involved running some new cable from the road and replacing the 'head', the fuse-box in the house and the meter. The kit was 15 years old and "we've moved on a bit since then".

Finally, this is what "shopping" looks like these days. On one day we bought woodworm treatment, a knapsack sprayer and masks for same, bitumen primer and a burner for torch-down felt, buckets and a plaster stirring weapon, yellow 'speed-line' spray-paint, a trowel, float, expanding foam, gloves and PVA (Unibond), steel mesh reinforcing, a tonne of sand and 24 sheets of 4 by 2 polystyrene sheeting.

Proper Man Shopping

Midnight Joker

We are so impressed by 804 Pete and his work rate, that you'd know that anyone he recommended and vouched for would be as good. Even so, Maurice impressed us. He was the guy we used, on Pete's say so, for laying our floors. He's actually a plasterer mainly (which will be useful in the future) but can do most things. A big 6 foot 3 or so Sligo man with a soft heavily accented voice, he is a real laugh, full of banter and joking.

With the floors all painstakingly prepared and readied for Friday, Dad and Sparks barrow in first some concrete which Maurice levels loosely, then treads down with his feet. They then change to the screed (sand mix, no stones) which is thumped down with a 16 foot long plank, carefully levelled and then smoothed down with a couple of floats. He works carefully but reasonably fast, finishing first the kitchen, then the living room, and finally the dining room, finally smoothing them selves into the front door corner, leaving each floor mirror smooth. It takes from 10 am to about 3pm and we are all very pleased with it. At that point, no-one can now go into the house, so we lock the doors and head away, but the boys fancy gathering up all the scrap we've offered them before they go, so there's some fun and games with the mini digger and the lorry, loading the old diesel tank, some railway lines and some bits of cattle feeder which Pete had found in the brambles he cleared.

We love these guys

804 Pete, One in a Million

We Love 804 Pete! A brilliant bloke, a good worker and a genius with a mini digger, who also comes in very useful as he knows everybody round the new house who will be of interest, including Maurice the Midnight Joker, of whom more later. Pete arrived on the scene first as just the delivery driver for our first load of the '804' crushed stone sub-base. We'd ordered it through Sparks's supplier in Dublin but he'd got hold of a local firm to actually find and deliver it. We got talking and showed Pete round the house just out of curiosity, but it turned out he had a whacker plate we might want to borrow, and a mini digger he could see some jobs for around the place. a 'no-bolt' scaffold we might need when doing joists, a cheaper source of 804 if we needed any more (cut out the middle man) and that he knew a bloke who'd be very good at setting the new concrete floors and was also a good plasterer.

We have taken him up now on a good few of these offers and he is as good as his word and very favourably priced on all of them. He is an unstoppable hard worker and very skilled with the mini digger. Mum is actually calling him an 'angel' at this stage and suggesting him for beatification. He has delivered us more 804 as well as concrete and plastering sand. He has used his mini digger to spread more 804 into holes in the drive and to scrape the 15 years accumulation of pine needles and cow poo from drive, cattle yard and 'the bit round the side'. He had cleared bramble patches and opened up the drainage ditch from the yard. He has loaded our 20-odd tonne rocks and clay pile onto his lorry and taken it away and come back for the plaster-board mountain. The digger becomes like a living thing in his hands, smacking stuff hard where it needs it and gently brushing and kissing bits out of the way or smoothing them flat if that's the requirement. It's an impressive display of digger dexterity. He works really hard too - there's no stopping him. What can I do next?


Show Dogs

Just a couple of pictures of the competition looking very splendid after their professional grooming last week. Lily, the bitch (no offence meant) turns out to have quite a hard coat and grooms up like a proper show dog. Maxwell, the boy proves to have very soft hair with a goodly curl in it so there are dark mutterings about Bichon DNA getting mixed up in there somewhere! There I am, in the middle, doing a romantic back lit bonfire look. I manage to stay reasonably clean for most of the week but then go to some mystery place where in seconds my back gets lathered with black oily stuff, possibly sump oil. This friday that led to Mrs Silverwood taking one look at me and getting that shampoo look in her eye. I was barely in the door than I was wrangled into the sink / shower for the hair wash of my life. Mind you, Haggis, Coco and Maxwell got it too. The theory is that with Mum and Dad away much of this week in England, I might actually stay clean for a few days.


Saturday 28 January 2012

Short of time

OK, so this may be a bit quick and condensed looking, but I will expand on this soon. The situation is this. We have had a good week (and a hard one) getting floors laid in the Roscommon house and we are briefly at Silverwoods just for a quick shower, laundry and 2 nights of overnight before we head for England on Sunday, on a mission to offload the 'posh' car back to the Main Dealer. The car is lovely, as well as smart, fast and reliable but it's on one of those main dealer semi-lease deals where all you ever pay for is 3 years of depreciation (and servicing, tyres, etc); you never actually own it. Get to the end of three years and you have a car on which you still owe a big lump of money, so you choose whether to buy the car at this stage, hand it in and walk away, or start another 3 years with another nice shiny new car. This is great and works well if you are in a well paid job, but it is expensive per month and we can not now justify owning 3 cars including a posh new one, while both Mum and Dad are effectively unemployed. So back it has to go to the Main Dealer in Rainham who have agreed to buy it back and clear the debt to the finance company (all be it with Dad shelling out yet again to cover the gap between the 2nd hand value and the outstanding "early surrender" value).

Never mind all this money wrangling. To us it means being left with the Silverwoods while Mum and Dad head off to Dublin Port and the Ferry early Sunday morning. They will then drive across the UK back to Daimond's to stay there, Dad will sell the car on Monday, on Wednesday they will attend the funeral of Diamond's John's aged Dad who passed away at a ripe old age some weeks ago. On Thursday they fly back, car-less but into Knock Airport which will be a new experience. Knock is Roscommon's 'local' airport, being only 30 km from the Roscommon House, so they will get a taxi across to the house where they will re-unite with the remaining cars and Sparks, who will have been getting on with those bits of buildering he could most easily do on his own. This will be their first chance to see, and to walk on, the new floors.

It was a good week up at the house, starting with the arrival of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) to connect us up to the mains. This is brilliant. We suddenly have some real warmth in the caravan; an oil filled radiator running on low all the time. This pumps out dry heat with no water vapour, so warms and dries the caravan like it has not been warmed before, as well as being able to dry clothes, tea towels, boots and so on. The little generator, which served us so well across the intervening weeks is now silent and waiting in reserve. On the same day the phone company and broadband boys also showed up to wire us up, but BB is still a couple of days off. Also this week, the Rosco Water Supply people came back to cure our low pressure. It turns out that the farm may have had a cattle drinking trough just outside out wall which was removed but the pipe merely cut through as everything had been turned off at the road. The guys just had to find the open end and terminate it.

For us the week was all about getting ready for the arrival of the concrete (ground floor) floors on Friday. The three rooms had to have the remaining 804 crushed stone whackered down, then an inch or so of sand spread over and levelled and smoothed. On this went the 6 inch thick, 8' by 4' insulation boards, with offcuts used to complete the jigsaw. Expanding foam went into the remaining cracks and crevices and 6 inch square 2.8mm steel reinforcing mesh went down on this. On Friday, 804 Pete came back with his floor-laying mate, Maurice the Midnight Joker, plus 4 and a half cu yards of concrete and screed. Dad and Sparks barrowed the concrete and then the screed in to Maurice while he levelled and smoothed floors, while Pete made merry with the mini digger spreading 804 on the drive, clearing the mud and grass off the cattle yard, opening up our outflow ditch, battling the bramble patch behind the caravan and pulling out the bramble-grown scrap metal which we'd offered him, including some bits of railway line.

More detail on this in future posts, and some pictures.


Sunday 22 January 2012

Garryhinch Forest

On a beautiful, warm sunny day the whole family decide to take a walk in Garryhinch Forest to make a pleasant change for us from all the hard work of buildering; this was taking exercise for pure pleasure. Garryhinch is a big public forest, owned by "Coillte", the Irish equivalent of the Forestry Commission. Mixed pine blocks and broad leaved woodland, it is looped around and through by good hard based tracks, so no mud!

All the Silverwoods plus a house guest, Sarah, and Mum an Dad with our three dogs load up into 2 cars and head on out the short distance to the forest, which is on the Portarlington road out of here, actually in Co.Offaly. The newly groomed and beautiful Maxwell and Lily head off at speed with me in tow, closely chased by Coco, but Haggis only has one speed these days, and that's a slow, bouncy amble. Mum stays behind with him following us along as afr as a big river. We have all the Silverwoods and Dad in our group and we speed round a 3.2 km way-marked trail. We take about an hour and a half to complete with the little ones, M (6) and R (4) variously keeping up, lagging, or scrounging shoulder rides.

It makes a lovely change; we've not been for a forest walk since England and the Challock Forest, so it's good to remind ourselves of those woodland smells. The party returns home for a chicken risotto knocked up by Dad.

Tomorrow, we are back to Roscommon and once more away from the internet, so we will catch you all up again on Friday or Saturday, by which time the house will, we hope, have its new floors downstairs, freshly poured from the readymix lorry and then left to dry and harden over the weekend.


Saturday 21 January 2012

5000 Euro and a Breakfast roll

These last few pictures this week, I bring you just for a bit of fun. The Euros just because no-one had seen that much money in one place at one time. These materials suppliers like to be paid in cash and one of them was asking for just under 10,000 Euros, so this was a down payment of the first half. The breakfast roll, ex Supa-Value's hot counter is just the most ridiculous amount of fried meat to try to fit into a baguette - 2 rashers, 3 sausages, 4 slices of black pudding, 4 of white and a hash brown. Yours for about 4 Euro and God Bless your arteries.

Sparks has finished his week at 4 on Friday and we are left alone for the night having to look after the arrival of the Poetic Plumber on Saturday with his JCB. He is contracted by Roscommon County Council to connect us up to the mains, which he manages by very skillful use of the JCB in a couple of hours. In the middle he hits our old branch-line and slices the terminated end off it. There is no problem with water pressure at this point and a fountain quickly fills his trench, the water board man having to lep into the hole in wellies ith a closing device to stem the flow. When they are all done we have water to the house and to one of the outside taps but it's at low pressure pointing to an issue somewhere between the main and the house, possibly in one of the many sub=branches feeding outhouses, cattle drinkers and so on. Poetic will come back with appropriate blokes (at our cost, naturally) and sort us out soon.

And that's it for the week. More soon, when I am less tired.

Taking Deliveries

Thursday should have been a relatively easy day. Had the delivery company taken note of Sparks's warning about narrow lanes, sharp turn into the driveway etc, they might have showed up in sensible lorries. As it was we took delivery of most of the building materials for the project in 2 hits, one on a full size 40 foot artic which assumed we'd have a forklift, the other on a 28 foot Hyab (flatbed lorry with crane), neither of which could make the turn.

This meant that both deliveries were going to be made to the country lane and we'd have to wrangle stuff up to the house. Add to that, some of the stuff was to be the modern composite wall insulation boards, plaster board bonded to thick foam sheets. Plaster board in any form hates to get wet (goes soft, sags and forms bellies in your ceiling which do not go away even if it dries out, as anyone knows who has had a plumbing leak above a ceiling). It was threatening rain and kept delivering heavy squalls which had us racing to cover any exposed stacks before running for shelter ourselves.

Luckily, just along the road from us is one of those magnificent 'Celtic Tiger' big houses which never got occupied (more than one visitor has asked why we didn't buy THAT one!) but which has a hard lay-by out front big enough for a 40 foot artic and a van alongside on the roof-rack of which to tip sheeting from the lorry floor, with still room for cars to pass. But is was another arduous day (not as bad as clay-shovelling, but close!) taking sheets off the lorry 10 at a time and shipping them to the house on the roof rack of Sparks's van.

The 40 footer was emptied by 1pm and we had a 20 minute break before the Hyab arrived, laden with our one ton bags of gravel and sand, the joists, floorboards, door frames, wood for stud walling, bags of cement and plaster, rolls of bitumen sheet for the extension roof, sheets of plywood for same, lead for flashing etc. At least this guy had the crane, so was able to drop piles in and around the entrance or over the hedge. The boys then had to wrangle it up the drive in the van or on the 2CV with trailer in between the showers. Knackered again by about 5pm they left some sheeted till the morning and one of the one ton bags right in the middle of the drive.

This is all a bit physical for Mum so she heads for Dublin to take a belated chance to visit family and friends who we have not been to see since moving over. Questions were starting to be asked! Luckily, Mum's wee Fiat can slip out between the sand bag and the gate post.

Friday is then, of course, filled with squaring away the remaining building materials, left the previous day. It had rained all night but, as seems to be the way of these things, by morning it was clear and sunny and plaster board could be unsheeted and moved at will. We have to move all the stuff from the entrance up to safe places; the timber, the plaster board and the plywood roof sheets for the extension roof. None of it is particularly heavy - plasterboard sheets are 25kgs, so they are mainly awkward and need two men to carry them. They all get carried upstairs one by one and stacked flat. We have now and embarrassment of building materials, meaning the build is turning into a bit of a game of solitaire. We need to move this to get to that, but we can't start that because these are in the way. Sparks is scratching his head trying to plan a sequence of moves and tasks which will work. The wall sheets alone take up the entire living room floor to ceiling.

First Construction

In a big sense the project turns a corner on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the first delivery of new building materials turns up, underlining the fact that we are moving from destruction to construction. This is the crushed stone sub-base material which will be compacted down with a 'whacker-plate" as the bottom layers of the new ground floors. Called '804' for some reason nobody seems clear on, this stuff also gives us a new character in our cast, 804-Pete, the delivery driver. He turns out to also own a mini-digger and volunteers to scrape the mud off the drive and get rid of the rubble and clay mountain for us for a reasonable payment. We loves 804-Pete!

The 804 turns up in the morning but we are not really ready for it, so it gets tipped in the drive. Sparks and Dad have several gruelling hours across a couple of days yet, shovelling clay and trying to get down to the magic 17 inches below original floor level. Neither of them are particularly young or fit, so it's taking its toll. They ache in places they didn't know they had by evening and are barely able to galvanise back into action the next morning. When it rains the clay gets sticky too, especially out on the waste pile so they are slithering around with clay clagging their boots, the wheel barrow wheels and the shovels. By popular concensus this is the worst job and these are the worst days. Cheating a bit, they actually tried to engage some of Sparks's "Polish lads" for a couple of days but the lads did not want to play.

By Wednesday afternoon though, they have broken the back of it and the kitchen and living room are down at the right level, along with part of the dining room. With floods of relief they turn from shovelling clay uphill, to shovelling the lovely slippery 804 down hill to form an 4 inch layer all across the house, ready to be whacker-plated down. Suddenly the shovels do not stick, the barrows move easily and their boots are walking on glistening crushed stone instead of clay. Joy! A corner has been turned. We are BUILDING instead of breaking and demolishing things! There are a few bits of wrecking still to do, but we have seen that first glimmer of light!


The Return of BGL

Although we'd tried to put him off on the grounds of not enough space, floors in a mess etc, Bill D of Big Green Lorry fame is on the way and timed to arrive at about 11 on Monday with all our stuff from the Kentish house. This time he really is using the big green lorry on the business card instead of the rinky dink little Bedford, so despite several attempts, he is not going to get round the turn from country lane onto the drive, so the only alternative is for him to park 100 yards down the lane in a layby and for Dad in the 2CV and trailer, and Sparks in the van with roof-rack, to run a shuttle service from the BGL to the house. No matter. Bill turns up with 2 extra bodies for humping and it's all accomplished amicably in a couple for hours, the stuff being stored in the Tigin, the 'milking shed' and the other end of the milking shed (calf house?). The boys stop for coffee and a slice of cake and an explore of the house and how we've got on, then they are on their way.

The rest of Monday is spent on the serious business of shovelling out clay and rubble. We need to get down to 17 inches below the original floor level, 8 for compacted down sub-base, 6 for foam insulation sheets, and 3 for ready-mix screed. That, across the ground floor, is a lot of digging, shovelling and barrowing, and the boys ache in places they din't know they had. One good thing is that the garden tools turned up with the 'stuff' so Dad now has his stainless steel spade and fork, which are a lot easier on the damp clay than traditional Irish pointy-end shovels.

We now have the generator on site, so the boys can work on after dark by electric light and are still at it at 17:30. Mum is doing "on-site catering", so we retreat to the caravan for stew, wine and Scrabble. (Yes, Scrabble lives again, as Sparks has brought his board up this week.



This week, with Dad having to be there for the Saturday as well as the Friday, to play host to the Poetic Plumber and his JCB, we have even less time than usual to blog, so some of these stories are going to be pared down to the minimum, but I will stick in plenty of photographs to make sure you are kept up to date with most of the goings on.

Like many other areas of these islands, the citizens of a specific area get tarred with the same brush of stereotypes, sometimes light heartedly and sometimes a bit maliciously. Liverpool folk become 'Scousers' after the working class food of the same name, Yorkshire folk become tykes, Lincolnshire people are either 'yellow bellies' or 'moonrakers' according to taste, the Irish are Paddies, the Welsh, Taffs and so on. Then you find that within these areas subgroups are named by other groups, so Dublinners are 'Dubs' and to a Dub, country folk are 'culchies'.

It seems that Roscommon folk are widely known as "Smokies". No relation to the Arbroath smoked herring of the same name; this comes from the perception that Roscommon people all smell of bonfire (or camp-fire) smoke because they are all of a Traveller persuasion.

Meanwhile, Tigin Beag may not actually be the original cottage. Aged neighbour, tractor driver "John-Deere Bob" (there! another new member of the cast!) drops by again to see how we are doing. He says the Tigin would have been an outhouse, with the chimney and fireplace being where they would boil up the mash for the pigs.The original cottage, he says, was single storey and roughly in the same position but extending further out west towards our gate and thatched roofed. Our Project Manager, Sparks has always said the walls here are of very varied ages, as if the house has been knocked about a few times in its life.

Smokie Deefer

Sunday 15 January 2012

Irish Expressions

This being very much an Irish adventure, so it's an exploration into a foreign country for Dad, he's been very much enjoying getting a bit Irish along the way. This first showed up when we were engaging "Aerial Keith" to get rid of our scrap metal. His children play GAA (Gaelic Football) at a local club and the kids collect scrap to sell it to make funds for the GAA club, in his case the "Western Gaels". We were joking that we were happy to be supporting the local club and he joking warned us that GAA was actually SO locally based that the Gaels were not actually our 'local' club, because half a mile to the NE of us is a club called Eire Og (Young Ireland; sorry, you purists; I know there should be an "acute" accent (Fada, pronounced like fodder) over the O but this blog input page is not letting me use my cunning ALT-number ASCII codes, so I can't do accents! Even the "fada" should have an A-fada as its first 'a'.)

Anyway, as I was saying, the GAA is so parochial that were we to show up supporting the Gaels we would be frowned upon by our neighbours. Dad was even going to buy a smart "Castlerea GAA" sweat shirt out of loyalty to the area, but (gasp) Castlerea is EVEN FURTHER away. It's your local team (Eire Og) and then County, or nothing.

We have also been tinkering around the edges of the Irish language. All our people are Dublin city-folks and definitely English as the first language, reluctantly forced to learn Irish at school and living in horrored memories of the eponymous heroin of one of their "miserable" school books Peig, the sad life story of Peig Sayers (says Mum) and all the miserable people whom she knew, lived with and watched die. The young Silverwoods are a bit keener on Irish and Peig is long gone from school book lists. They are quite good at it. Over in Roscommon, though, we are all a bit closer to the genuine Irish speaking west of Ireland, so Mum, Sparks and co are dusting off some of their old skills and trying to use them.

The old out-building we believe is the original farm cottage is sometimes known as the Tigin Beag (Small wee house; again, Tigin beag, (pronounced Tiggeen Beyogg) should be bristling with fadas but cannot be here). It's not an easy language to learn, though, being riven with bizarre grammatical changes depending on context. The Tigin is the small house, but the word becomes "Teach" (pronounced a bit like "chock") if it is not being described as small, and if it is in a possessive form such as the "The Lady of the House", it changes again to Bean an (lady of the) Ti (house).

Can't see Dad being able to pick any of this up very soon.
Deefer Beag (or Deeferin)

The Poetic Plumber

Our campaign to get onto mains services marches on. We've paid the money and signed all the forms for the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) and have been given a 12 week predicted lead time. Sparks thinks this is nonsense because they are assuming we are a brand new connection which would involve erecting telegraph poles and digging up roads. He thinks if he has a word in the right ear someone will realise that all the hardware is actually there and only a new fuse is needed plus an official turn-on. It might be far fewer than 12 weeks. Meanwhile though, we are buying a 3kW generator to see us through and to be there after the build in case of power cuts.

Broad band and telephone are on the way, but need power, obviously.

Water starts off a bit more complicated. The address has only ever had an "agricultural" feed, so we are liable for the €1600 (gad!) fee of a new connection. We must also engage a local approved contractor willing to connect us up out in the road and also insured to the tune of €6,400,000 as demanded by County Roscommon Water Services. We contact our Estate Agent (and now friend) John C who suggests a local man (Lough Glynn) whose name is the same as a poet in a famous Irish poem, so he becomes "The Poetic Plumber" in our cast of thousands. He's a brilliant bloke, silver hair, quiet spoken and with an accent to die for and both Mum and Dad fall in love with him. He knew our former owners (TK Min and TK Max) and went to school with the "Three Sisters". He knows our 'vendor', Anna L, quite well. He lives in a similar house to ours and is impressed by the hard work we have put in so far. He comes up to the house to see the job and even volunteers to come back after dark to see us in the caravan to stamp and sign the application, suggesting that we take the paperwork into Castlerea on the Friday morning to pay the fee and we could be connected as soon as next Saturday (he almost whispers the word, with the accent on the 'Tur'). He has a JCB, of course, and we are keen to engage him in also digging some french-drains for our roof run-off.


Banging up the floors

The noise levels rise on Wednesday when the boys break out the hired kango hammer. The concrete floors of the hall, dining room and kitchen are uneven so that they would not sensibly take a lino or tile finish and are, anyway, not insulated, so they are cold and damp, especially the kitchen where we have not been lighting the daily fires and range. In the kitchen this is partly because the gutters round the house outside are so arranged that a downpipe drops water into the small 8' by 8' garden 'gap' between the dining room and the original cottage with no where for it to drain away, so the clay and peat soil is saturated, the wet quickly leaching through under the house wall to make the clay under the kitchen floor wet too. Our mission is to 'break out' all this concrete and then dig down till we are 17 inches below the original floor level. The floor will then be backfilled with two layers of a crushed rubble 'sub-base' which builders call "804", the first 4 inches being stomped down with a whacker-plate before the 2nd 4 inches is spread over and whacked down. Over this will go a thick layer of modern insulated sheeting followed by self-levelling concrete.

This, you will appreciate, is a big job; possibly the worst part of this renovation. Breaking out the floor with the kango is probably the easiest bit. It's a big heavy tool which does all the work itself. The driver merely has to hold it upright and pull the trigger. He doesn't even have to listen to the infernal racket as he has ear defenders on. After each drilling he lifts it out and back towards him 6 inches or so ready to crack away the next small chunk of concrete, leaning the hammer down to prise the bits up a bit to make then easier to pull out by hand. It's hard to start when the unbroken sheet of concrete has nowhere to go, but once you've started an edge it's easier to bite bits off the sides.

The hard bit is the digging out. We have two barrows, one new one, one an old rusty whangy thing left to us by TK-Min. We have two Irish style, pointy shovels. These are 'pointy for a reason', says Sparks. When trying to shovel rubble, a broad ended straight English shovel jars on every stone and is impossible to work. Your Irish one slips in between the blocks, nicking them up onto its face with no jarring. The new barrow is brilliant. The old one is a total pain in the a***, flopping around trying to break off its handles when loaded. The boys decide to scrap it and buy a 2nd new one. It joins the scrap metal pile.

These are brutal, hard work days, just lifting this much broken concrete into a barrow and barrowing it out to the rubble heap, is a killer. The pulling up the loose rubble underneath by hand or shovel is as bad. Some of the boulders are big ones, over a foot long and get carried out singly, saved for some kind of garden rockery use. This gets us down about 9 inches to the clay. We need 17 inches, so the boys must then start shovelling sticky moist clay. It seems to take for ever. They can see where they have been but progress is slow. Dad comments that they load a barrow, take a breather, move the barrow, take another breather. He is feeling like the 54 year old, rather lardy ex computer systems manager he was, rather than a ruffty tuffty construction worker he needs to turn into.

Tired Out

Original Features

This being an old stone-built house, Mum and Dad have been keen to preserve any original features they could get away with, sneaking them past the Project Manager while he was not looking. I may have mentioned before the Dad campaign to preserve a stone wall as bare, painted, and not covered in modern insulation sheets and new plaster. There is also the dining room ceiling which started the week as a black stained or painted tongue and groove boarding over which had been nailed the pathetic three-ply sheeting which we took down last week, being badly riddled with wood worm. Mum is wondering whether something can be done with it but Sparks declares it too damaged by nail holes and thicker splodges of the stain (or possibly the tar from the range chimney). It has to go. It proves to be one of the easier things to pull down being in whole lengths of 16 feet or so of the board nailed, apparently, only at ends and centre, so a crow bar hooked over each 'plank' and pulled downwards, pings it away from the joists where it can be pulled off the remaining end and slung on the salvaged wood pile.

The stone wall, by contrast, spends the week condemned to be buried under insulation and plaster but then gets an end-of week reprieve. We have chipped all the old loose plaster off it and turn our attention to the other end of the house where the range appears to be hiding an inglenook fireplace with a possible nice lintel. The range has to go, but is known to weigh about 16 ton (rough, possibly exaggerated, estimate). The boys remove all the easy bits, lift-off doors, oven shelves, the top plate and so on, and then attack the screw-on bits with WD40 and the rubber hammer (and screw drivers, obviously). The chimney is disconnected and the carcase can then be pulled out from the wall. Aerial Keith has his eyes on the range for use as part of a kitchen BBQ, but Mum thinks it will look nice in the out-building which may be the original cottage. Measurements suggest it will slot neatly into the fireplace recess. However, as it comes free from the wall the back pretty much falls off with rust, the insulation wadding tumbling out. Mum is called to look, just to make sure she still doesn't want it anyway but, no, it is not a thing of beauty. It is slid out over planks across the threshold to the front of the house to await collection by Aerial Keith for what ever purpose he likes, scrap or BBQ.

With the range gone, a proper exploration of the supposed 'inglenook' can take place, chopping away the remaining plaster. This unfortunately proves to be a real hotch-potch of repairs and changes, infill with small stone, holes blocked off with modern breeze-blocks. Some courses of block or stone are canted over so that the thing looks like it is tumbling down in sections even though (we trust) it isn't. It is nothing we'd want to see bare and painted, preserved as an original feature, although there is some interesting criss-cross-scratched textured plaster high up on one joist. It seems we are not to get Dad's "wall" but then Sparks reconsiders the western wall. "I don't know", he says, "We could get away with this one.... it wouldn't lose THAT much heat... the walls are lovely and thick (2 foot or so)... as long as we scrape all the moss and vegetation off the outside...". Peace is restored. Dad is happy again.


Saturday 14 January 2012

Baths and Jack Hammers

Day 2 of the first week with Sparks on site and the stud walls are coming down a-pace. So far we have left the two stud walls either side of the hall, although they have lost their skins. Even these two may be taken down and rebuilt, as they are sitting on top of some rather wood-wormy bits of floor boards which are on top themselves of a possibly sacrificial joist. For now though Mum is assigned the job of tidying them up, pulling out the many thousand nails which porcupine their surfaces.

One job which happens today which had not been possible without Sparks was to lift the big, cast iron bath, too heavy for Mum and Dad as a combination. With no mains water on site yet, this bath is being brought down to the cattle-yard and put under a down-pipe to collect rain water for use by cement makers and plasterers (not to mention chemical-toilet operatives). It's heavy lump and the boys turn it upside down to try to slide it down the stairs, so that the feet do not dig into the treads. Also on today's list, Sparks pulls down all the horrible old style fibreglass wadding which had been loosely wrapped around the water pipes and water tank in the loft space.

In the afternoon the boys head for Castlerea (we now know it's pronounced Castle-Ree as opposed to Castle-Ray which is the one up by Belfast). Castlerea and the nearer village of Lough Glynn (everyone says "Lock-Lynn" but with a softer 'lough' sound rather than a hard "CK") are becoming regular haunts and we are recognised and hailed by an increasing number of people. Mum is also getting to be a regular at the nearby town of Ballaghaderreen (pron "Balla-adreen" with a slight catch of the breath between the two 'a's so that la-ad is almost but not quite, two syllables). Castlerea is home to the builders merchants where we need a new barrow and 2 'pointy style' Irish shovels (of which more later) and home to the plant hire place where we must hire a generator and a 'Kango' hammer.

Now we look like a PROPER building site.

Sparks, Doors and Windows

It's been a big week for us down at the house, with plenty going on, so I'm going to cover it off in a series of posts over this weekend rather than try to squeeze it all into one. If you are seeing this version with no pictures, that's just because the pics are currently on another laptop which is in use. I will load some pictures on soon, so please do re-visit these posts when you get a chance.

The main bit of news is the arrival on site of Sparks, our Project Manager. He'd visited before Christmas and pointed Mum and Dad in the right direction to give us plenty of work over Christmas and the New Year (pulling down ceilings and pulling the plaster board off stud-walls, pulling up the living room floor (wooden) and chipping off some plaster, as well as more superficial stuff like tearing out cupboards, kitchen equipment, the bathroom suite etc.). Sparks is pleased with this progress and compliments us all on our hard work but now that he's on board we can step up the pace a good deal. He tends to go at it all a bit more vigorously than Mum and Dad, making more noise and achieving a whole new level of destructive ability. He wields the big hammer and the longer crow-bar with no fear of damaging something vital where Mum and Dad now look like they were pussy-footing it a bit. The frames for stud walling are ripped from their bases as 6 inch nails are prised free, the bangs and clangs of a lump hammer swinging reverberate and the serious crunch of damage being done to masonry echoes across Roscommon.

Sparks though, is also the project MANAGER, so he has all the planning, measuring, deciding and prioritising to do. He decides whether a floor should stay or go, whether a joist is bad enough for replacement, or needs repair or just needs spraying with the treatment chemical. He knows what order things should be done in, so he has mental time-lines of when to order stuff to arrive by, or on which days to hire equipment. He has the note book and the tape measure and the constantly ringing mobile phone. On Monday he has Nathan from the doors and windows firm (Munster Joinery) coming out to measure us up, let us choose styles and quote for the job. This puts a smile on everyone's face - where we'd all been half expecting the doors and windows to be one of the major expensive purchases, they turn out to be very reasonable. We accept the price and Nathan will send back two of his measurers/fitters tomorrow to measure up properly and dot the i's and cross the t's on the task.

So Monday sees the stud wall frames between the two halves of what will be the main bedroom torn down revealing what will be the final size of the main bedroom and what the Dining Room will look like united with the former 'hall', so that the stairs run up one side of the room and there is space under them for a computer desk. Sparks having had a good look at the joists exposed by our work around Christmas though, thinks we will probably need to completely replace the first 4 joists working from the west end of the house (including a bit of a weird bodge made to accommodate the then upstairs fireplace; we are not going to use the fireplace so we can revert to a simple single house-deep joist beam there). We will also need to re-end or repair a couple above the front door in the short bit of landing, and possibly a couple in the Dining room ceiling. They have suffered rather from woodworm or near windows where possibly because of the single glazing and 15 years being closed up, the condensation has left them continuously damp.

More in the next post

Saturday 7 January 2012

Chopping Plaster Off

Some pictures from the end of the week and into the weekend. With the bad floor up we'd been thinking we needed to wait for mains power so that we could use Sparks's funky mini-kango to strip plaster but searching the bags of tools which came in the cars rather than being put into storage in Big Green Lorry (BGL) we found the rubber ended mallet, the ten pound lump hammer and the two cold chisels with rubber hand grips. We have also now, two of the big "Curver" flexible buckets. Mum and Dad decided to start stripping the poor plaster off the living room manually.

In places this was dead easy. A smack with the lump hammer in the middle of a bit of innocently loitering plaster and a square yard would descend into the bucket in an avalanche of dust. In other places it needed a bit more persuasion, with the tip of the chisel being hinted in between wall and plaster-sheet. In others it was more like hard work, chipping away with shards flying and pinging off your safety goggles. More of the easy than the hard, we must admit. Especially in the bubbling stained damp areas which we have posted photographs of before.

Here-in lies a tale. Sparks is keen for us to get all this plaster off so that he can, sensibly and professionally. for all the right reasons, insulate the entire surface of exterior wall of the main house in thermal liner before plastering, thus saving us oodles of expensive heating fuel and keeping us warm at night. Dad, however knows that this is a stone built house and has seen some lovely pictures of bare stone work or brick work either left exposed or painted white so you can admire it for its texture and gritty reality. One thing we love about the barge is the fact that structure is exposed in various places, with real baulks of timber and planking visible between the 'manicured' stage-set bits. He is hoping that for the one wall with the real fire, we can chip and brush away plaster to reveal a lovely structure and texture worth keeping and that he and Mum can then persuade Sparks that this is a good thing to do.

There is only one flaw in the ointment. When we first learned that the house was stone built, Dad, in his ignorance, saw visions of lovely dressed stone blocks like in the Great Pyramids, neatly slotted together and with thin smears of mortar between. Stone-built here means nothing of the sort, of course. This is rough old stone jumble-stacked into the form of a wall with plenty of scruffy old mortar between to give the walls a loosely flat inner and outer face. It's more like an Irish dry-stone wall with lots of screed and cement stuffed in to let it go higher than a dry stone wall would. They are thick and solid, sure enough, but the surfaces never look like dressed stone. So it still remains a question whether Dad gets his wall, or whether Mum decides it's not beautiful enough, or the Project Manager vetoes the plan anyway.

On the subject of mains power, anyway, the wonderful Irish Electricity Board (ESB) have told us that their target date for mains power is 12 weeks anyway. To add to that, the Roscommon water authority are saying that as we have been unconnected from their mains for 15 years, they may have to charge us the 1600 Euro 'New Licence' fee as if the road had only just been built and these were new houses being connected up to the mains. Seems a bit mean.

The biking picture is of what's now become a regular weekend entertainment. Dad, riding Mrs Silverwood's "school-run" bike towing toddler-R (4) in the trailer bit, accompanies M (5) on his new bike from Santa exploring some local circular routes of lanes. M is allowed to pedal round the estate without supervision but in the winter, all his mates are cooped up in their houses; No-one wants to come out to play. But with a grown up, he's allowed anywhere and he's very careful and sensible on the roads, looking out for the traffic and staying in close to the kerb, extra care at junctions etc. So Dad takes he and R out for an hour or so round the quiet local lanes, and they all enjoy it.

Look out for us and don't run us over

Friday 6 January 2012

First Footing, on the Third

Mum and Dad are firm believers in the tradition of First Footing a house, letting the old year out the back door and the new year in the front. They thought it might be even more appropriate where there are 15 or so old years queueing up at the back door to be let out, years of neglect, cold, damp and some tragic and difficult times. So even though it would be the 3rd January when we got there, we were determined to do a good job as the first people who would cross the threshold in 2012. In our version at least, your first footer should be a tall, dark and handsome man. Dad says "Two out of three ain't bad!" We also believe that you should arrive with whiskey (representing good cheer). coin (financial prosperity), bread (food), salt(flavour) and a lump of coal (warmth). Dad had the coin and the salt was already in the car. We shopped in Castlerea for the drink and bread. We added champagne so that our good cheer would be bubbly!

You are meant to let the old year out first, so on arrival, Mum nipped round the back to open the back door, then came back round the front via grabbing a coal lump from the coal pile to unlock and let Dad in. It was a breezy day - we had to smile when a draught blew through the house slamming the back door as we came in the front! 15 years well and truly gone! Happy New Year, new house!

This week's major job was to rip up the floor of the downstairs living room. This floor has suffered most from the neglect mainly because the air bricks front and back were badly positioned and blocked anyway. It has holes where Mum and Dad have crunched through with their rigger-boot heels and feels, anyway, very springy and weak. We are told that most people simply rip them out and lay, instead, a modern insulated concrete floor covered with the covering of your choice (tiles. laminate, boards, parquet etc). Dad had thought there might be a chance that some of it was recoverable. We thought this might be a full day job, not only crow-barring up the floor boards, but then potentially having to saw through joists to get them out of the slots either end in two halves.

No such problems in fact. The boards proved to be riddled with woodworm so that most came up in short lengths, breaking at every joist, and the joists themselves were in poor condition. Sometimes, as Dad went to prise the boards up off the joist the joist would instead crunch downwards like a weetabix, almost hollow inside where the woodworm have eaten the structure away. No wonder the floor was springy!. The floor took much less time than expected as a result of this. It generated nothing for the salvage or firewood piles, but a good old stack for the bonfire heap, which is where 99% of it ended up.

With the job done much quicker than expected, we are left inside the house while Mum and Dad head for Castlerea where they need to set up an account in Euros from which to pay builders and contractors and to do a bit of shopping. There is also time to fit in a bit of gardening just for relaxation purposes. It's fairly wild gardening at this stage, clearing brambles, sawing down some elder and ash saplings growing where they are not wanted (in the cattle-yard for one). We are also on the phone to the water board people of County Roscommon, trying to get ourselves reconnected. In the excitement driving up the drive we did not even notice that the pile of scrap had vanished. Aerial Keith had come to claim it as promised. We'd been thanking Mike the Cows for pulling the old VW out of the brambles and keeping it, and the scrap. for him as first refusal, but he was happy, in fact, for us to give it to Aerial Keith.

AK is another character in our "play" having dropped by, interested in the car as a project restoration, in a big blue van with big ladders on the roof. Dad spotted these and, finding that AK was in the aerials business, asked him to take down the floppy TV aerial loosely lashed to our western chimney and looking like it would finally blow down and impale the roof any minute. Keith came back with van, took down the aerial in minutes, accepted coffee, offered to (and did) clear all the gutters, and then charged us nothing "if I can have the car". Everyone's a winner. His sons play GAA (Gaelic Football) for a local team, which raises funds by collecting and selling scrap metal, so we were happy to oblige - they took cookers, fridge, the olde washing machine, copper tank and pipes, angle iron, old oil drums, assorted farm implement bits etc; a fine olde load. As I say, we failed to notice all this vanish till AK returned with a big 4 by 4 hoping to tow away the Volkswagen. The VW, though, has all 4 wheels seized and would not budge to the tarmac-tyre shod "Chelsea Tractor" poseur 4x4. They will come back with a tractor and lift the car onto a trailer.

Surely enough for this one

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Back to it (and forwards)

Mum and Dad are back in touch with "Sparks" over the weekend. Today we'd been all due back up at Roscommon early hours for Sparks to look at our progress on stripping out ceilings and stud walling and to tell us what was next, but a technical issue has delayed him and he can't now make it. However he does tell us that if we want to start pulling up the living room floor (the only floor we have to get rid of completely, the rest are, all being well, floor board patching jobs) then that would be a good idea. He tells us that we can continue with skirting boards and removing any old wiring or plumbing as this is all being renewed and he also announces (ta daaaa!) that he will be joining us on site all week next week to do the electrical "First Fix".

Electrical installs in houses are done in a series of phases or 'fixes' because it's easier to do some bits before the plasterers or ceiling guys, for example, have done anything, and other bits have to happen after the plasterers or other tradesmen. Sparks will be laying the ring main(s) and any other big grey cables around the house, under floors, above ceilings and between rooms while there is no-one to get in his way. That will be the first bit of construction we have seen so far, after all the destruction, so it will fell good and positive, like we have turned a corner and passed a milestone.

Looking Good

Monday 2 January 2012

New Bed, New Year

A couple of pictures for the New Year. This is me trying to sit in Coco's new bed, even though Coco and his bed are quite a bit smaller than me, so I don't really fit. The other is of the table laid at Silverwood's for the New Year's Day feast. The menu was for Foie Gras followed by pea and ham soup, with roast lamb for mains and Eton Mess for pud. Dad is reckoned to be the roast potato expert round here and little R Silverwood (4) would eat just roast potatoes (or chips, wedges etc; any form of fried spuds)given a free choice, so he's asked to do enough roasties for the 8 humans, plus enough for another 8 to satisfy R! The 'Eton Mess' here takes the form of the usual meringue and cream plus a sharpish mix of currants and berries. The whole is washed down with a good red wine and followed by Calvados. Our menu was the local variant of dried dog food but with chopped up lamb, juices from the roast and even some jelly from below the duck-fat. This is going to be a good year!

Mum has the lurgy, a cold and sniffles which render her all "moopy" so that the last thing she wants to do today is bash houses in cold damp Roscommon and we decide to take the day off and stay the extra day in Silverwood's. It's a good decision in fact - the skies clear and the temperature plummets. There is black ice all over the pavements and freezing rain falling. Any plans we might have had to take the bikes out again are shelved. We opt for a stay at home day taking turns to mind small children while the grown ups slope off one by one for lie downs and rest / recuperation. Time enough for house wrangling tomorrow.