Saturday 31 March 2012

..and then we got Plastered

The biggest story this week has been the plastering. This has been carried out by a team of lads Sparks knows from working in Dublin, but who actually hail from County Mayo. Instead of using ladders or trestles and planks to reach the high bits, these guys put on 4 feet tall stilts and stride around at heights where they can just reach up and work away. The boss we will call Mayo Joe (the stilt-walker) and he turned up on day 1 with his labourer, huge tall broad Lithuanian 'Robbie' (possibly not his real name!).

Joe does the actual spreading and smoothing of plaster, Robbie the mixing in a big bucket with man-sized whisk, as well as racing round in front of Joe preparing rooms by 'scrimming' the joints (scrim is a mesh cloth tape) and filling gaps with 'bonding coat' (undercoat plaster) or jointing compound. He tidies up out-facing corners and edges using mini-mesh 'corner bead' strips and stop-bead. He also checks that our fixing of thermal panels and plasterboard is done well enough (no movement) and fires in more anchors (mushrooms) if he thinks it needs it (More of that later).

These two guys are joined on day 2 by another pairing, Mayo Joe's brothers Kenny and Tony who are also plasterers, in this case Kenny 'labouring' for Tony. The four of them make a very efficient, fast and accurate team producing a brilliant result. Their preparation is meticulous, all corner and end beads being carefully cut out as mitre joints and set in spirit levelled both ways. All our imperfections (a mushroom thumped too hard or a bruised edge to a gyprock (plaster board) sheet, a panel not quite lined up with its neighbours or a gap left at the ceiling/wall join, are fillered and sorted. The plastering on stilts is brilliant to watch although the humans are only allowed into the house occasionally to take pictures and dogs are completely banished lest we get under the stilted feet of a bloke who is concentrating on a ceiling. The plaster gets smoothed and re-smoothed, wetted and fussed and stroked till all surfaces have a flat sheen to the eye and a marble-like smoothness to the touch.

My little comment about Robbie-the-Whisk firing in the anchors brings up the guys' one and only mistake, which they luckily got away with. Robbie concerned about our panels being a bit proud near ground level at the bathroom door led to him to reach for the drill and whizz a quick hole in order to thump in another 'anchor' (mushroom). Sparks raised his head from bathroom tiling on hearing the drill just in time to see Robbie potentially drilling into 'plumb central', the cavity which takes many water pipes and mains cables just beneath the surface.

"NO!!! Robbie! Stop!". Where Robbie had drilled, Sparks could not believe he'd not hit something vital. The only option was to open up the panel, cutting carefully down and examine the vitals below. Some how, and unbelievably, Robbie's drill bit had slid between a water pipe, only grazing it, and a thick cable (grazing that). You could not have done that if you'd had deliberate, millimetric layout knowledge. With huge sighs of relief they closed up the hole with bonding coat, no harm done. Robbie drilled no more holes after that!

The indoor plastering is finished by the Thursday evening so we take our leave of Mayo Joe the Stilt Walker and Robbie the Whisk, with just Ken and Tony returning on the Friday to mop up a few outdoor rendering tasks. There are one or two windows where we have adjusted the position or fitted a lintel, there's a broken patch of render by the front door where one of the boys has hit it with a barrow going out, and there's the new bit of the Utility room. All these jobs are handled with the same care and precision as the indoor plastering was done.

We really cannot praise these boys enough and Dad says, if anyone needs a plasterer or render-wrangler in the east or the west, we can thoroughly recommend these guys.

Well plastered

Utility Tank

In terms of transformation, the jobs in this project do not come more transformative than the story of our Utility room. This out building on the eastern end of the house was a small, dingy damp cold 'shed' with a low and mouldering roof which featured corrugated metal sheets, tar felt and chicken wire, the door on the end hanging off its hinges, half rotted away. It was full of wood worm infested desks, chairs and drawers full of old farm paperwork and, curiously, old school books and stuff relating to the school time of the Three Sisters and TK Min. We called it the "office", and wondered what to do with it.

It was Sparks's suggestion that we actually use it as part of the house, a Utility room for washing machines, a sink, chest freezer etc and that we therefore re-roof it, slab it with insulation sheets and have it plastered, wired and plumbed and give it a new door. Further, we could increase the size of it by knocking down the inner wall which ran along parallel to the house wall and 6 inches away, the gap between having long since been used as a dumping ground for scrap metal, bottles, bags and junk of all sorts. We could also build a new roof, attached to the house wall and sloping at a more useful, water-shedding angle.

That is what we've now done and these pictures show some of the stages. We rebuilt the roof and are giving it the 2 stage torch-on tar-felt treatment. The extra height was made with timber frames mounted on the old walls, covered with waterproof plywood, then meshed with "expanding metal" (mesh) to which render would stick, and the whole rendered by the plasterers on the Friday as a bit of a parting gift after all the plastering. It is now an impressive, clean space, a whole foot wider following ripping out the wall.

During the demolition phase of this we found that all wall-corners coved and there was 'plug hole' at the lowest point, so we wondered whether this might be a design made to enable jet washing the room. Perhaps it used to be a slaughter room or a butchery room where you'd need to hose down the walls? No such thing, we now know having met and shown round Anna-the-Vendor (more of that in another post). The room, prior to the door being cut in, was actually a rain water container - 4 walls of water-tight concrete. This explains the 6 inch separation from the house wall and the bizarre aiming of a gutter down-pipe straight at it, which we'd always been curious about. Apparently, once the TKs had got mains water, they no longer needed the huge water tank, so they cut the doorway into it and used it as an outbuilding. You live and learn.


Sunday 25 March 2012

Apron and Plastic

While Sparks wrangled his plumbing joints into order as manifolds, Mum and Dad got a chance to work outside in the spring sunshine. In Mum's case she was trying to wrestle from the ground some plastic sheeting just behind the caravan. This is, we think, the old wrap from a couple of silage bales. The silage has long since rotted away leaving just the plastic half buried in the grass, trying to trip you up every time you walk by. This should have been and easy job. Follow each plastic end back to ground level, cut off with the inherited (from TK Min) "psycho-knife" (it's a big shiny kitchen knife which was about the most useful thing we found in the house, but J-M decided it was proof that murderers had lived here). However Mum decided to follow some of the bits of plastic below ground and ended up knackered from an afternoon of pulling muddy plastic up and scrunching it into a one-tonne builder bag, which it filled. Heavy, tiring work.

Dad, meanwhile, was back at the old familiar achey job of digging the damp sticky yellow Roscommon clay with its head-sized boulders. The west end of the house, which is to be the kitchen garden needs an apron of concrete, sloping away from the house to try to stop the last of the damp at that end. This meant digging out to 8 inches along that side of the house for at least a metre from the wall. Much of the scraping and some digging had already been done by 804-Pete in the mini digger, so this was not as arduous as it could have been, but it was still heavy work. We decided to extend this concrete 'path' along beside the Tígín as far as the door, which also then meant we might as well carry on that line and make an apron which would be more like 1.5 metres wide running alongside the house itself.

Being Roscommon, this clay is peppered with the big boulders of hard sand stone that we also dug out from indoors when we were digging down into the floors. We now have quite a collection of them which will be used about the place for a rockery by a pond, or maybe attractive groupings on the gravel of the yard.

Not so much 'gardening' as landscaping and physical stuff, but it all needs doing so that we can end up with a garden and grounds to be proud of, and lovely work in the warm sunshine.


Spring in Rocommon

Dad has his first go at shuttering up and mixing concrete. This was the run of cables and pipes from kitchen to utility room (the former "office"). The walls of the house here are 50 cm thick and it wasn't realistic to drill through from utility room into the dining room, so the run of 2 cables, 4 water pipes (hot tap, cold taps, hot feed to radiator, cold return from radiator) and the waste pipe from the utility room sink were run outside the house at the base of the wall, then in through the kitchen wall which is a sensible thickness. The waste actually then falls down below the new concrete floor and unites with the kitchen waste to go out to our sewer/drain on the west end of the house. These pipes and cables were fixed to the wall at heights to give the waste a fall (slope). Dad then erected shuttering made of wood and old slate and poured concrete in to enclose the whole and protect it from the weather. The cable is of a special grade (NYM-J) which can handle being buried in concrete.

The other pics here show general spring-ness. Haggis is at the back door gazing out, we think wondering when the job will all be finished and he can finally lie down and sleep in front of a warm stove. There is a picture of the front door with its tete-a-tete daffodils in their pig-mash boiling cauldrons. The other picture is of the Tígín looking in the outer door and through to the yard through the other door. In our dreams the yard is a lovely sunny place, especially in the morning. Finally free from mud it is flattish and covered with pea-gravel, populated with nice terracotta pots of flowers and herbs, plus maybe a decorative piles or groups of the big boulders we have dug out of the house floor and apron. A white painted metal café table and chairs provide the breakfast coffee support. The resident coal tits, wrens and chaffinches nip about and the dogs laze in the morning sunshine.

Ahhh... soon.

Plumb Central

The weather turns beautifully warm and spring-like as befits the passing of the first day of spring, the 21st March. As I sit here typing away on Sunday morning at Silverwoods, the sun is shining and the 2 small children, R and M are playing reasonably nicely together out on the decking and the trampoline. The deck was subject to a major cleaning blitz yesterday when the whole family got roped in - the yard wall was painted white and the shed, decking furniture and railings were painted brown. The children, J-M, Em-J and a friend Emma were painted brown and white although the grown-ups managed to stay reasonably clean. The kitchen window is open and we can hear the little angelic voices of M and R as they occasionally break off bouncing up and down to "discuss" who should go and get shoes, hula hoops etc. and who can play with whose Nintendo. It's all very peaceful. Kissinger has been stood down.

Main achievements in all this warmth and and springlikeness were to get through the very last stages of prep for the plasterers who are in the house from next Tuesday. Any remaining gaps , ends or corners which needed it were plaster boarded or smeared with bonding (undercoat plaster). Sparks went into plumbing mode at the bottom of what is to be the airing cupboard (= "hot press" in Irish) connecting up all the pipe runs into 4 complicated looking arrays of brass T-junctions called manifolds. There is a manifold for the hot taps around the place, one for cold taps, one for the hot feed to radiators and one for the cooler return from radiators. These are assembled along with the central heating circulation pump and the power-shower pump in the base of the where the airing cupboard will be and the airing cupboard then built in stages as each bit of plumbing lost its need to be fully accessible.

By the end of the week the cupboard was built and plaster boarded and ready for the plasterers. Friday's final job was a massive tidy-up. Lots of Sparks's tools and bits are now finished with (reels of cable and so on) and can go back to Dublin in the van but, anyway, the floors need to be as clear as possible for the plasterers who don't want to be tripping over surplus junk while they are concentrating on the ceilings. While Sparks played plumber, Dad plaster boarding and also tried his hand at shuttering and concreting, but that's another story.


Sunday 18 March 2012

Final round up

And now rounding up some final pics which I don't think I've included yet. The blue item (really white, but covered with blue protective film) is the enormous shower tray which is now laid in place in the bathroom so that the boys could measure up for the waste outlet. It's 160 by 80 cm, enough space for a party!

The other two have to do with the fact that the floor tiles have now been selected and delivered. They are 60x60cm (2 feet by 2 feet) and pale sandstone pattern with an eggshell finish. They are to go across the whole floor of the place downstairs, the bathroom floor and the window reveals, where they should bounce a fair amount of light back up into the rooms from the rather low windows. Dad and Sparks have been trying them out as a dry-run (they won't be laid till the plastering is complete). In a house where no wall is straight, or parallel with any other, or perpendicular to any other, you just have to go with what "looks right" as seen from the front door, or when looking from one major room to another. The boys laid these out roughly, then settled on a position, marked it with a tight string, then spraying yellow 'speedline' paint over the string so that the string created a dark "shadow" line on the concrete. Cunning. We now need Mum to see these lines and agree they look right.

That's it for this weekend. My paws are weary from all the typing.

Just the Three of Us

A quick shot to show the three of us in recent pictures. Bottom is myself, Deefer, of course, now 5 years old, middle is the H-Man (Haggis) at 15 and still going strong if a little confused at times and top picture is Coco, our newest recruit aged just 2. He was actually 2 on Paddy's Day evening so, sorry, Coco, we missed it! Many Happy Returns.


More Parade

Some more pictures of the St Patrick's Day Parade at Silverwood's including the pipe band, an eye catching rally car which definitely had Dad focussed and those crazy women from the ICA.

St Patrick's Day parade

Saturday is St Patrick's Day and the Silverwoods are all about the three girls who are in the parade as part of their 'baton twirling' club entry. Even little R(4) is in their with a huge over-sized skirt hoisted up round her chest and fixed with safety pins and 'braces', and her tee-shirt pinned up with a 9 inch hem. they don't make the uniforms small enough, and R isn't even the smallest! She and the tiny tots will be marching at the front of the group just behind the club banner with Mums in close attendance. The oldest, Em-J, will be marching along with the teenage group twirling proper batons, and daughter No.2's group of pre-teens doing ribbon-dances in the rear guard.

It's Dad first one experienced first hand. The parade is the thing, and the whole town turns out. Every child in town belongs to some club or other so they are all in it, if not as baton twirlers, then as members of clubs doing kick-boxing, young farmers, play groups, schools, amateur dramatics etc. There are floats representing the Irish answer to Womens' Institute, "ICA" (Irish Countrywomens' Association), Farriers/Blacksmiths, Sports and athletics teams (especially Hurling and GA Football), Classic cars, rally cars, tractors and agricultural implements, marching bands, a bloke dressed as Saint Pat himself, a unicyclist juggling hurleys (the 'hockey sticks' used in hurling), a stilt walker, people dresed as The Simpsons for no apparnet reason, busses, lorries and so on. It was just pure fun - no pretensions, no airs and graces, no attempt to be 'cool' or sophisticated. Brilliant.

Mum and Dad adjourn to the nearest pub (The Druid) for a well earned pint of Guinness and a glass of red wine.


Lawn Mower and Mitre Saw

The usual collection of pics to catch you up on what's going on around the main story of the week.
1) Dad gets involved in the cutting out of the wells for the electrical socket boxes and the fitting there-of. This is technically part of first fix electrical but Sparks says he's done a million of these in his life and has no issue with the apprentice handling these. They are all fitted standard distances from the finished floor, levelled with a spirit level, especially if they are in a row, and spaced a standard distance apart so that they look the business. Sparks is very particular about this (and everything else) and Dad is keen to do what he's told and impress. It is signed off as an acceptable job.
2) This week's new toy, a 'mitre saw'. This designed to cope with sawing to standard angles, so should be good for door frames, architrave and the spindles that make up the stairs bannisters.
3) With some time to spare on Monday morning and the lawn mower now un-buried from behind its pile of thermal panel boards (we're working our way through them, using them in the house) Dad decides to give the lawn a mow. He has half a tank of gas and 45 minutes and this proves enough on both scales to complete the front lawn, which is good to know. "Lawn" looks quite neat afterwards, too.
4) Any pile of rubbish dug out from this house and garden seems to contain more than its fair share of bottles and jars. Not all of them are booze, some are farm animal medicines and stuff like milk of magnesia but we wonder why they'd never heard of recycling.



We've now done the run from Silverwoods up to the Roscommon House and back so many times that it's an old familiar route to us now. We mentally divide it into quarters and tick them off - to the M6, the M6, Athlone to Roscommon, theh Rosco to the house; roughly half an hour each and 2 hours total on a good day. We also find ourselves mentally ticking off some of the landmarks which caught our eye on early runs and we now see them as old friends. Here are some examples.

1) The antiques and knick-knack shop in Ballymoe does a good line in plaster (or possibly fibre glass) figures of farm animals and human figures. For weeks they seemed to have the same 3 foot high pink piggy on the pavement outside when they felt like it but sometimes not and Mum and Dad used to play a silly betting game predicting whether it would be "Piggy in or Piggy out?" Lately it's got a bit more complicated as 'piggy' became a choice of 2 pig figures, then a calf as well, and now these two 'villagers'. It's more like high stakes roulette now!
2) Famous racing greyhound Mick the Miller has a statue at the roadside in the village where he was bred, Killeigh, County Offaly, also the home of "The Seven Blessed Wells of Killeigh".
3) "Purple Pub"; this striking paint job is on the Clay Pipe pub in Knockcroghery (hich seems to be pronounced "Na-croggery") in County Roscommon.
4) Almost 'home' when we see this old ruin of a church outside Castlerea and many jokes have been made about this being the next project. When we were hunting properties all those months ago, J-M used to joke that Mum would like "that one", pointing to some old ruin with no roof. "Lots of character", she'd say, or "Plenty of potential".
5) Just outside Roscommon town is this strikingly bizarre tree which makes us think of the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter.

There are many others, whih I may bring you in posts to come.

Utility Room

The biggest single job this week was to start the Utility Room. This is one of the outbuildings on the eastern end of the house which we have up till now known called the 'office' because when we found it it was full of desks chairs and farm and office paperwork - invoices for milk and vet supplies, records for animals etc. It also contained a load of school reports from when the Three Sisters and TK min were at school. Much of this paperwork was cleared out by the sisters in the last days before we moved in.

In fact, the building was almost certainly some kind of slaughter house or butchery room. It has floor-to-wall coving and a drain at its lowest point out to the yard as if it needed to be hosed down or pressure-washed. It is six inches from the house with an annoying gap into which has been thrown, down the years, a whole lot of old rubbish, scrap iron bits, bottles and general waste which has built up a heap between the two buildings which collects damp right against the house wall. To make things worse a bizarre decision to route a downpipe from the gutter down into here adds to the wet.

This is right outside the range chimney and has almost definitely not helped with the damp, slow-burn, creosote build up issue in the bottom of that chimney which we are only now being able to sort out by opening it up inside and clearing stuff from against the walls outside, getting a bit of a breeze through the place.

The old 'office' has a very flat roof which is badly rotted and is also a bit low for Dad who is 6'1" tall. The boys decide to remove the roof, replacing it with a new more sloping one spanning from a ridge plate fixed to the house wall, to a wall plate on the office outer wall. They will then be able to demolish the inner wall altogether adding a foot to the width of the room. The roof will be waterproof OSB ply like the extension with 2 layers of torch-down tar felt and with insulated foam panels between the rafters. The walls will be insulated panels and it will get a new door. It will be plumbed and wired and should easily take the washing machine and any other white goods, a sink for dog washing and a chest freezer. These will be in rows up either side, with a galley walkway between.

The inner wall proved to be very tough, made of poured concrete with rocks and stones lobbed in and puddled down. It was, joked Dad and Sparks, probably the strongest wall in the house. Why do we have to knock down the strong walls and keep the tired, falling down ones? Anyway, my pictures here are of the process so far. The roof came off, the new roof beams were mounted on the new plates and the inner wall was demolished using Dad's sledge hammer. By Friday afternoon, all the beams were in and the wooden boards fixed down. The ends of the beams were then marked and sawn off to sensible lengths so that a gutter can be fixed along the outside which will feed into one of our new gulleys. Rain stopped play on any torch-down felting so this will be picked up next week. A nice space is coming together. A good job.

Dog washing sink? Yoiks!