Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Progress: Slow, But Steady...

What with all the visitors we've had over the past month or so, I feel like these posts have become slightly more focused on our lives and what we're doing rather than actual house. That's fine, of course, having moved 580 miles to a different country across the sea, finding new friends and getting used to a new way of life is quite an important part of restoring the house. We have to know who to ask when there's something we don't know-most of the time this is Topsy, or for more building related questions, Roland one of the owners of the Islay hotel.

There's been quite a few changes over the past few months. Notably, for us, living here, the addition of plumbing in the bathrooms! Tom, who owns the other half of the house, came up for a few weeks at the end of July and worked on it. We have a large tank up in the rafters above the bathrooms, which is connected by a pipe line to the bore hole pump line. My cousin Ben helped Tom one morning to uncoil the pipe for this! It's not simple though-is anything here??-We have to check the tank fairly regularly and connect the pipe as its joining pipe also joins the one that fills the tank we use for everything else (washing etc.) Once the tank upstairs is full, about 7 minutes, you then have to disconnect the pipes again, which usually involves getting a fair amount of water up your sleeves! Or maybe that's just me... The other difficulty is checking the water in the first place, a seemingly simple task, actually involves climbing up the rafters about 10ft and shining a torch into the tank. I'm sure there's a simpler method, but we haven't quite got round to working one out yet. One day perhaps. Anyway, Nick has now built a permanent ladder up to the tank, which makes the whole thing significantly easier. All problems aside, we now have toilets that flush and taps to brush your teeth and wash hands! Thanks Tom! And Nick and Ben for their parts.

I'm going to stick with the house for a while longer before moving onto the more homely aspects!

I don't really have any idea about electricity and meters and things, but there has also been progress on that front. Again, Tom is in charge of this. Since we've had electricity at the house it has all been going onto a card, which we have to top up at the co op. Always a stressful, time consuming business as he co op staff don't see it very often so they have to work out how to do it every-time. However, now we have meters! The house used to be on a single meter, but as we are going to split it in two, we have had to have another one put in and the original one moved. For the purpose one half of the house is now called 'The Annex', but I don't know which one... 

As for the outside of the house, the roof is progressing well. Gary and Willie have had to go to work on other projects that were booked in before us as we were rather last minute. While they were gone however, Mary-Ann has been working hard to find us some more slates. A couple of weeks ago we had a bit of false alarm-Gary let us know that there was some going on the Oa, and when we inquired the lady whose house they had come from seemed really keen. However, when we rang again Mary-Ann spoke to the husband, unfortunately it turned out that he didn't want to sell them at all, which is a real shame. They had their house re-slated with Spanish slates, so the 20 crates (each weighing about a ton) will all just go to waste, but the husband won't let anyone have them. I suppose it's their loss. In the meantime Nick, Joe, Adam, Mary-Ann and I stripped off the north facing end of the roof to get more slates as Gary and Willie were running out of the right sizes. We worked out a pretty good system. Nick stripped them off, Adam and I stood one on either side of the dormer window and collected them and stacked them-for a while, until there got to be so many we just had to pile them into one giant pile...  Mary-Ann then started to sort them. Quite a lot of the slates which come off the roof have nails that are so rusty and old that they just stick in the slate and are really hard to get out, so that was Joe's job-remove all the nails, which I think he really enjoyed! He wasn't keen to sort the ones he'd stacked up once he was done anyway! Later on, once Nick was done and had moved onto another task, (of which there are an infinite number) both Ben Clarke and Ben Short joined us and whilst Ben Clarke helped sort, Ben Short carted the sorted slates off to their piles in one if those giant red rubber buckets. We all worked really well as a team and while Nick and Adam got on with removing nails from the sarking (timbre under the slates), replacing rotten pieces and stapling on the membrane, we managed to sort out the whole side worth of slates. 

As the saying goes: many hands make light work! For the past week, Gary and Willie have been able to come back and have got a huge amount done. The seaward side of the house is now completed, minus the dormers-massive progress!

 They have also, with the help of Nick and Rick, stripped the middle third of the road side roof. They can't come next week, but we have plenty to get along with as we have to sort out all the sates they have taken off. Mary-Ann has bought herself her very own slaters axe (also known as a zax, the perfect scrabble word) as she got on really well with Nicks. I, on the other hand, got a blister after taking the edge of off two slates...

Finally, we have actually managed to get some slates! They came off Cairne Cottage in Port Ellen. There's 3 crates in total, and we're just hoping they'll be enough. We had to go and sort them into palates, Nick made one to start us off, which we had to take on the roof of the car!

There are a lot of jobs we need to get done before winter sets in, or it will be too late. Many people have told us that we caught the house just in time, and that if it had been left for another winter it would have been significantly more work. Pointing the chimney is one such of these jobs. Nick has bought himself an industrial sized drill in order to do the pointing, as eventually we are almost certainly going to have to do the whole house-that can wait though!

 First all the old cement has to be drilled out, this can be quite risky if there is any wind, Nick ended up with a very bloodshot eye last week after the old cement blew into it under his safety glasses. Next the gaps need to be filled with new cement, and quite quickly too, as before this is done, the stones are left balancing with next to nothing holding them together, or on the roof. Nick and Gary have already reset the chimney pots on top of the stacks, so it would certainly be a shame to break them now!

 Mary-Ann has become quite good at the cementing stage, as Nick and Rick have so much else that Mary-Ann and I can't, or don't know how to do.

 Once the cement is dry, the stones hen have to be painted with a watered down solution of PVA glue, to seal them against the rain and therefore protect them. We've done the seaward facing side of both chimney stacks so far and Nick had drilled out one of the road side stacks. (We have to call them road side and seaward side as we all have different opinions as to which is the front and which is the back. Dad and I think that the road side is the front for example, but Mum thinks the seaward side is the front... Pretty sure we're right though, otherwise we wouldn't have a front door and what sort of house doesn't have a front door?! (Anyone got any opinions on this?) The last chimney related task, is to work out which of the sixteen chimneys actually work. A lot of the chimneys are cemented up just above the actual fireplace to support the walls, so obviously we can't use these. Others are bricked over. This doesn't necessarily mean they don't work though, so Nick spent a rainy day poking the chimney brushes up all the fireplaces we've found so far (not all sixteen yet..) to see which work. Only 6 out of sixteen so far, unfortunately- four on our side and two on Sandy and Tom's, however, hopefully we will find another 2 in their half once the house is entirely gutted . We're hoping when we gut the remaining three rooms we find some more, but it seems unlikely. 

There's been quite a few photos in previous entries of various people helping Nick rebuild the dormer. Now, about two months ago, when Mary-Ann started coming back to Dorset and talking about the dormers, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about until I saw them for myself. These are a very necessary job as they all leak, and given time they will ll need to be slated as well. Before they were rebuilt you could push on one side and make them wobble... Which is never a good thing when they are supporting windows. To repair them, Nick has had to completely take apart all ten of them and then put them back together again using new cement and often some new rocks that he's found on the beach! This isn't a easy as it sounds though, because the two triangle shaped stones on either side are actually all one piece rather than two, so are consequently ridiculously heavy, hence all the helpers, who have been required to help lit them back into place.

 Nine are finished now, with only the north facing end to do. The other issue we have had to tackle this week concerning the dormers, is what to do about slating them. Because they are each miniature roofs in their own right they take an awful lot of work from Gary and Willie, the roofers, as they have t find the right type of slate out of the stacks and then cut it o size, with every single slate. As a result Gary told us last week that it was unrealistic to use the highland slate on them if we wanted the job finished in time for winter- which we definitely do. He suggested we use Spanish slate instead, just for the dormers, as from the ground you can't actually see the sates at all well, and they are much easier, and quicker to work with. After consulting Sandy and Tom, and a lot of thought on our part, we decided that going with Gary's idea was the best plan. We can  order them straight in from buildbase, rather than having to traipse around the Island desperately trying to find someone to sell us their disused slates. As a result, two days later, we had a buildbase delivery of three hundred Spanish slates, and by the end of that day two dormers were finished. It was very satisfying for all of us to see this! The south facing and north facing dormers are going to be slated with west highland slate still though, as we decided that they could be seen much more easily. It's very nice to see quick progress like this!

Now we're getting into autumn, we're having more rainy days. As it's impossible to stop Nick working, this means that he has to find jobs to do inside, which obviously, we're not lacking in. He's been working on replacing the joists in the attic on and off since he arrived in February. I don't really know anything about this as I haven't been here whilst he's been doing it, but from what I've been told... Quite a lot of the joists are in a bad way and either need replacing in their entirety or just a small amount. The rafters around the dormers have also got quite wet and therefore rotted, so they too have needed replacing. Both these things are big jobs and have been very time consuming, but also very necessary, it would be a shame for the roof to fall in after we've just slated a whole side!

I have been working mostly on the shed in between odd roofing jobs, and it's coming on really nicely. But enough about that, I've got enough to say to fill a whole entry...

Once again this week has shown us how friendly and helpful the people of Islay are. Topsy has given us two sofas, a jar of homemade marmalade, a bucket of apples and a double mattress this week. One sofa is in Mary-Ann and Nick's bedroom and the other in the kitchen by the fire. Unfortunately, Archie has claimed this one, so we don't get to use it much! It's surprising how much difference a sofa can make to room, but it's like a whole different place! Much more homely. 

On Saturday Mary-Ann and I went to the Islay book festival to hear a lecture by Marie Hedderwick, who is the author of Katie Morag, she was actually there to talk about her autobiographies of her travels around the Scottish isles, and said that as Katie Morag is now 33, she would quite like to kill her off, but can't as they're making a TV series based on the books! Whilst there we met a man who knows all about the wildlife on the island, especially the otters. He is known universally as 'Mick from Port Ellen', and Willie had been telling us about him because Mary-Ann wanted to talk to wildlife expert. We actually recognised his name from Ardtalla holiday cottage visitor book from years ago, as apparently he travels the ten miles from Port Ellen to Ardtalla every year in the autumn for a week, which we have always laughed about! We have had close encounters-one very close-with otters all week and between us Mary-Ann and I have got some brilliant photos. They seem to have come back to our bay for the autumn, along with the seals. Willie tells us that this is because the salmon have started to come back to go up river. Anyway, we bought one of Mick's books about his experiences with the otters and he gave us his wildlife DVD for free-another example of island friendliness. 

Speaking of island friendliness, Willie came round today to give us 6 trout! He is an avid fisherman, and competed in a competition yesterday, hence needing to give away some fish! They were frozen, so we are going to have them tomorrow, once Nick has gutted them.

Sorry about the very long entry, but at least now the house side of things is completely up to date!