Friday, 30 December 2011

Car maintenance

But not the full 12,000 mile service kind of maintenance - just the sort of tweaks to our children's cars which always seem to need doing during their visits - and this Christmas, happily, all 4 and partners have been here.

Odd one out this time was younger daughter's car - she almost always cadges some screenwash, but must have forgotten this time.  Biggest job was on younger son's Golf, as he relieved me of a set of steel wheels and winter tyres which had fitted our Mk5 hatchback last year but resolutely refused to go on our Mk6 estate this year (bigger front brake calipers). This means his summer wheels are stacked in our workshop now.

Easiest job was a new headlamp bulb on older son's Fiat Idea - a car I never much like the idea of working on - starkly contrasting with the grief of fitting similar item to older daughter's Ford Focus.  Her husband and I seriously considered taking the battery out to get access to the holding clip after the best part of an hour's fiddling and knuckle-skinning, but then he somehow managed to get the thing back in place.  Odd how some car manufacturers make it so difficult to do these basic jobs - we heard from a friend of the same kind of problem on a Toyota Avensis.

Is it that the car manufacturers are trying to protect their dealers' workshops and are against us keeping such items in stock ourselves?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas tree

Four years ago (or was it 5?) we planted 5 tiny Nordman fir trees in the field behind the cottage with a view to providing family members with Christmas trees some time in the future.  They have had a hard life, as soil conditions are thin and dry, and don't enjoy being driven over by our kindly neighbour's tractor each year when he comes to flail our hedge. 

Four now survive, and this week we decided that one was large enough to be our festive tree in the house.  Trying to dig it up with roots intact was not the work of a moment, as it had a sizeable tap-root, but eventually it was in a pot.

Fortunately we had a couple of strong men available to carry the earth-filled pot up to the house, where sundry skilled decorators set to work with our box of decorations, many going back 30 years to when the said decorators made them at playgroup.  The adult decorators were assisted by younger grandson, aged 2, so continuity is assured.

Time will tell whether the tree can be successfully re-planted to grow on.  In the meantime, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Privacy without blinds or curtains

Five years ago, just 12 months or so after we moved to North Wales, we had our bathroom completely re-fitted, and waved goodbye to the dark blue suite and leaking shower, as well as the cork-tiled walls that had been all the rage in the early 80s when the room last received attention.  Just about the only thing we enjoyed about the original bathroom was the view from the window over our side garden and bird feeders, so we decided not to have obscure glass fitted.  I found a supplier of vinyl film and chose a striped design so that we would be able to see through the gaps.  The closer you are to the window, the better this works.

However, for some reason or other, the roll sat in a corner of our bedroom for 5 years or so - a splendid example of a stock item.  It was only when we recently had the outside of the house painted and limewashed, and had to have a kitchen window frame replaced (wooden and single-glazed because of the Listed Buildings Regulations) that we found ourselves ordering secondary double glazing.  This was the ideal answer for the bathroom, too, because by fitting the film on the secondary glazing, we can plan to take out the sliding panes in the summer when the views are best and the foliage on the trees will prevent us from traumatising our neighbours as we take a shower.

Installation was a mite tricky - perhaps it would have been less so if the film had been fresh.  After all, it relies on some fairly high-tech adhesives.  You float the cut film onto the glass on a solution of soapy water, and then strip the backing paper off.  Sounds easy, but I did have a bit of a wrestle.  However, it worked in the end and we can now look forward to family visitors over Christmas being less self-conscious about their showers than for the last five years.

Friday, 9 December 2011

After an interlude

Quite unreasonably had to spend a few days this week pursuing paid employment, but it was good yesterday to get back to jobs around the house and get my hands (and many other bits) dirty again.

Incidentally, many thanks to son-in-law for offering to try to smuggle this item from Oxford for me:

Fortunately (as his wife and son can't afford to have him arrested) my visit to London this week produced this fine pair, who have promised to try to breed and produce a baby for me early next year:

In the high wind and rain yesterday, I set about switching the wheels on the Golf for the steels-with-winter-tyres bought last year when we had the Mk5.  Very frustratingly, having fitted the rears, I discovered that the Mk6 front brake calipers are too big for the 15" steel wheels, so it was change back again, wash off the brake dust and put everything away.  A couple of hours wasted - or put down to experience?  I decided to look on the bright side, literally, and spent most of the rest of the day fitting an external power point to the bakehouse and rigging our fifth set of Christmas lights.  That job went well, but the flickering outside our bedroom window overnight indicates that I need to re-visit the electronic timer.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Kitchen (scullery) opening

So, the tiling is done, the grouting is done, the sealant is round the sink unit and the secondary double glazing is in place.  After a 5-months project, our 'back kitchen' or 'scullery' is officially open.  It's not the cooking part of the kitchen, but it houses the freezer and dishwasher, provides loads of storage, and gives us a long run of worktop which should make preparation work positively enjoyable.

This is what part of it looked like when I started:

One of the late purchases was the waterproof grout.  In spite of the fact that the pack promised enough grout for 300 tiles (and I had used 162) I only just had enough for the job - such a close thing, in fact, that there is none to put into stock.  This got me thinking about the business of estimating for jobs.  I think I have got better at this over the years, but I do still have a tendency to over-order (hence the stock items!)  This is partly because it's such a pain to be held up on a job if you run out of something, and partly because the cost of a job has to be assessed in terms of time as well as materials.  What I can't manage to do, however, is take the professional's hard-headed attitude to the bits left over and treat them as trade waste - even, these days, having to pay to dispose of them at the tip.  No wonder our children count on there being available cuphooks, shelves, windscreen wiper blades, etc, etc, for them to dip into in the workshop.  Just fine as long as they don't need any grout.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Walking along The Strand this afternoon - what a pleasure it is to walk in London when it's dry, bright and a temperature to make the body glow rather than perspire - my eye was taken by this wonderful large-wheeled cherry picker (high access platform).

What a Christmas present that would make for me!  Although we don't have any high buildings, the uneven ground around the house, cottage and outbuildings makes the use of ladders and scaffolding towers an uncomfortable affair.  Traditional scaffolding works well, but it costs a lot to hire, and creates pressure to work quickly, whatever the weather.

I have an ambition to change all of the plastic guttering installed around the place to cast iron, to match the front of the house rainwater goods fitted last year when the roof was re-slated.  I would also like to rebuild the chimney on the listed bakehouse and renew the leading: currently there are leaks.

I remember an MGS colleague buying a cherry-picker may years ago when he went off to Scotland to run a small estate of self-catering cottages. I've obviously been suffering from cp envy ever since.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


The latest (and almost last) job to be done as part of the kitchen refurbishment I've been doing since July (and planning for a couple of years) is tiling.  Having finished the fitting of the units, worktops, sink and tap in something of a flurry in the week after the spectacular Ikea delivery (the lorry was a bit too big for our country track), it had proved difficult to get motivated to finish the job off with the tiling.  After all, there isn't much to do: just the gap between the base and wall units, the window and sink surrounds, and a panel by the dishwasher door.

So, this morning, off to the stable (my workshop and store) for the tile cutter, tile saw, spacers, adhesive and bucket of assorted tools to get the job started. the tiles are matt grey, to blend with the riven slate floor tiles.  They are 200 by 100 mm, looking rather like bricks when laid.  There were calculations to be made to be sure that, in tiling around 4 double sockets, I wouldn't have any stupidly small bits of tile to cut.  Then.... just do it.

In the event stage 1 (i.e. today's work) went pretty well and I am about halfway through, having completed the worktop wall.  However, I have to remind myself that then there's the grouting, and the silicon sealant, and the cleaning.  And then everything has to go back in the shed.