Category Archives: house

a clear pure light

One of the most successful things I have done in this cottage – still after six years in the throes of restoration – was to restore the old wooden ceiling. When I did that, I found a nail near the door. Almost certainly the nail on which in the past the hurricane lamp was hung to be easily reached down when one was heading out of the door to grapple with a crisis. This January brought the usual storms and power cuts, and I have got another hurricane lamp to hang in the same spot. IMG_1320I was glad of it on Friday night when my hear torch packed up and refused to work at all. This was not a good moment for it to pick, because the geese were in the middle of the pond. I have been having fox trouble again. Foxes are beautiful and destructive. Also, because urban foxes are being dumped in the countryside in large numbers, currently they are a real problem. I have recently lost my gander to a fox, and the sorrow of his poor widow was pitiable. I was lucky enough to be offered a breeding pair of geese, and took them, offering every assurance that I now had a safe fox-resistant (little is fox proof) pen for the nights. And there they were, in the middle of the pond. And there I was, running round the edge, trying to persuade them to leave the pond and get into their pen. Well, actually, just to leave the pond. I was wonderfully well placed to see both the beauty of the hurricane lamp, with its gentle glow, and the down side of it. A very gentle glow.  I would have given a good deal for a nasty bright modern light to help persuade the geese. The trouble is, the pond is deeper than my wellies. Round to the left I went, and round to the right the geese. Down to the right I went and round to the left they went. I waded in as far as I dared. They went to the opposite bank. I splashed the water with a long stick, and they edged right up to the bank. then the water was half an inch away from the top of my wellies and a backed off. And with that the geese went back to the middle of the pond. This was repeated for an hour or more. Even outside ones wellies, the water chills the feet. I got more and more fed up. The geese remained unruffled. Finally, tired and exasperated, I made an error. The water came pouring into a wellie. That was it. I had little to lose. I set off across the pond, and the geese looked at me in horror. Actually it must have been very funny to look and I do have a weakness for comedy. Making people makes me happy. Those wretched geese did not even have the decency to laugh. They did however at least shuffle up the bank, and very shortly, into their proper pen. And I went back to the house, poured the water out of the wellies, stripped off my soaking wet jeans and socks and hung the lamp back on its antique nail



I have been having trouble with my balance lately. Not physical balance (though I am as clumsy as ever) but my life balance. At all times, there is a pretty fine balance in my life between work and play, which is not helped by the fact that many of the things I really ought to do present as play.

There are a number of hours a week dedicated to simple hard graft for dosh. These are non-negotiable, so we will leave them to one side. Of the remaining hours, there are a number of possible activities, all of which need doing. They are: prayer, writing, reading, learning Hebrew, riding, animal care, rest, home maintenance (tidying, cleaning, washing), gardening, restoring the house, and dress making. Oh, and blogging. All of these need to be done. Few of them can be combined by any other. And that is the problem.

Currently what I actually burn to do is dress-making, and I spent last weekend making a ‘dressing-up’ dress for one of my grand children. It was a beguiling but tiring job, and it brought great joy to both me and the child. I did rather therefore miss out on actual rest, and as I get older I do find I need down time doing nothing. Not even blogging.

Hebrew, gardening, and until yesterday, house restoration, and riding have been all but non existent, and this must not continue.

So this week sees a renewed effort to parcel out my time – oh and if any of you have solved the work/life balance thing – do let me know!


I have now been in this house, still my ‘new house’, for three years and one week. Tonight, for the first time in weeks, I have a working oven – a happy reminder that despite occasional despair I am making progress with creating a home.

I have managed to get the property re-roofed, and the rising damp is dealt with either by tanking walls, or by an injection damp-course except in one tiny area where work is, as they say, ‘pending’. All the new floors downstairs are in, and insulated, again except for a small area at the two outside doors which need different treatment. The ‘new’, that is to say, re-cycled, kitchen is going in, hence the oven. The living room has a new door, as well as floor and walls, and its old wooden ceiling is exposed and restored. The upstairs bedrooms have Velux windows. That is the positive stuff.

The negative is that I still have nowhere to sit and to be other than in the bedroom, which is not decorated, or, well or anything. The new shower-room is not completed, the downstairs bathroom is not touched, and there are no lights in the living room, although the wiring is there.

And there have been losses – all three sheep who moved in with me have died, and all the chicken – the cheering thing with the chicken is that I have the descendants of the pioneers. And I have things like guineafowl which I did not have before.

My biggest regret? The time I spend on the wretched biography, which I enjoyed writing but which has brought nothing but grief since I began the process of getting it published, and which, after further serious glitches this last week, is something of which I would be happy never to hear or see ever again. If I had that time back, I would be living in a real home. In real terms, that book has cost time and money it will never repay.

But, tonight – I shall celebrate. Maybe, just maybe, in this house all the hard work will begin to pay off. Maybe, one day, I will sit in my living room, and round me will be those books I have not seen for three years, and my biscuit barrel (ditto unseen) will be full, and my television on (10 months and counting) and I will see the lights reflecting on the polished wood of the ceiling, as the fire burns in my new wood burning stove. And, unlike the process of publishing the book, at least there has been some fun along the way with the renovation of my house to balance the hard work and the disappointments.

Surprised by joy

The three weeks since my last post have been pretty fun-free, really. Work on the copy-edit of my book which is tedious and de-skilling in the extreme, leaving me feeling that I simply cannot write and should quit trying, and work on the house, either the ceiling – which was back-breaking and rather ended in tears when the finish on the ceiling mysteriously turned white (it should have been a clear finish) or sanding, which results in needing to shower and change every stitch of clothing since one ends covered with grit and dust.

However, as always there are moments of joy. The rescued orange tree in my bedroom has recovered form the hormonal growth-stunting spray applied to make it a bush for Christmas 09 (not by me, I rescued it in Jan. 10) and is putting out new leaves and flowering … an orange-grove in my bedroom. The azalea I rescued in B & Q this year for 10p is growing very well, though it will take a year to look normal, I think.

Outside a family of coal tits have been using my nesting box and delighting me – a reward for finally getting the feeding right this winter. Best of all, mysterious noises come from the nest box put up for the barn owls and I see the parents regularly.

‘With many original features’

This is one of the ‘original features’ of this house. Before Friday night I had no idea at all that it was here. It is the ceiling of the living room, which used to be the farmhouse kitchen. It has been covered up with modern plasterboard, put up with iron nails, not galvanised, which creates interesting little rusty lines over the white.

So now I have another thing to do, or, more honestly, to cause to be done. I have to take down the plasterboard and expose the first beautiful ceiling. Oh, and hide the wiring, and somehow box in the drainage for the shower-room, and replace the central plank, destroyed by the job-worth, prove-a-point employee of the wood-worm treatment co.

It is vain to reflect that had I known then what I know now, the en-suit would be in my bedroom, and holes in the plasterboard would have allowed treatment of the wood without destruction. And indeed what is life without challenges?

Work in progress

This is a slightly surreal Hogmany. I am more-or-less confined to my bedroom, while down stairs in the living room the work of demolition proceeds.

The fireplace is now all-but empty. Work yesterday by my neighbour revealed the extent of damage to the back wall when the back boiler was put in, and that the pot chimney lining is fixed with cement. I have been working on indoctrinating him with stories of the Evils of Cement in Limestone Mortared Buildings, so we jointly shake out heads over this – and in addition it is gripping on so firmly that it is hard to get enough out to make the view from the front appropriately aesthetic. I have condemned the modern, nasty and clumsy in filling of the damage to the back wall, and we will discover more about the existing stone back (a wire brush job) in order to recreate it as well as we can. I have also vetoed a whole new back wall. I have so few authentic features left here I really do not want to lose any of them.

Work on taking out the modern plaster-board wall by the fire so far reveals a nice stone wall behind it. I am considering leaving it as stone – the bottom reaches will be bookcase-lined anyhow. I do know stone is totally inauthentic, but despite that it is appealing. And plasterboard is not authentic anyhow. The only down side will be my need to point out in Eyoreish tones to every visitor just HOW inauthentic it is. I will give blog readers a free pass so they do not need to undergo this expereince. The password is SVBWG or Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group.

But it IS odd to see Hogmany devoted to the creation of an ever-growing pile of rubble, and I cherish the hope (I fear a vain one) that next Hogmany I will be found sitting calmly in a immaculate house, tidy and clean in every part, with a Christmas tree sparkling and a crib set glowing, and family arriving with exclamations of delight at the general ambience. Past experience suggests it is more likely to be a day of rubber gloves and frantic activity … but we can always dream.

C’mon baby, light my fire!

Oh dear, a long absence of posts. I have been frantically busy at work on the house. My youngest daughter tells me it is not a restoration, but an up-grade. My neighbour, hard at work on it in his allegedly free time, says it is one hell of an up-grade.

I am not sure how much I am contributing, really. Just clearing rooms, buying materials, feeding the workers (Small Neighbour is usually here in the role of apprentice) seems to take most of the time. One offering I am making however, is starting removing the filling from the fireplace.

The more of the fireplace I uncovered, the more it became clear that it was the original, battered and splendid. And large. And filled in with Very Hard Cement and Well Jammed Bricks. I am getting somewhere, but VERY much doubt I will have all of the filling out by Friday, when Neighbour is supposed to start work on installing the new wood burning stove.

Any vernacular architecture experts reading? Do you think the slight ledge suggests it was made to carry a wooden beam at the top? Along the line of the recessed lintel?

The fall and rise of joiners

Oh dear. I have been disappointed my my joiner. He gave me a reasonable estimate, just like the estimate of the first builder, dubbed J S Sergeant, and then he came back and hiked it up. I was unimpressed. I was also unable to afford it.

My neighbour has stepped into the breach. While the Disappointing Joiner is still to put in my Velux windows, and the walls of my shower-room, my neighbour is now to spend his spare time putting in my walls and floor. It has both the up and downsides of employing a craftsman.

The first good thing he did was to discover that the walls of the kitchen, spare bedroom and sewing room already have modern standard insulation. They do not need treated. What he will do is to ensure they are standing on the new damp proofing, thereby saving me and the planet a good deal.

Then he came up with more than one ingenious way of sorting out the need to raise the kitchen floor without relocating the door (which is low to begin with, my 6’4″ neighbour stoops to move through it). He is full of sympathy for the old building and ways to keep its charm without sacrificing too much comfort, and has taken advice from colleagues at work (he works for a building firm) on good ways to tackle odd problems (like ways of damp proofing the stairs without reducing the width too much).

Finally, I have the right man for the job – though I need to watch like a hawk that he does not cheat. That is, you understand, cheat himself, because I know there is a danger that he will pour in more time than he should in order to arrive at an astonishing perfection.

Birds in the wilderness

Two years ago I was packing up to move house. I have to admit I found it grim. My one really happy memory of all that time was the farewell communion and party in my old house. One reading I chose takes the people of Israel out of Egypt. The reading which had often fallen to me on Maundy Thursday when I was Rector’s Warden, and other times when the priest would respond to my unspoken: ‘Pick me! Oh, pick me!’ I so love that reading.

‘This is how you will eat the feast – hurriedly, dressed for the journey.’

And we ate, with me ready to leave, with the packing cases around us.

I had thought of that Pass Over as taking me to the Promised Land,

More immediately, I thought it was taking me to a house I had no liking for, in a locality with which I had fallen in love, with space enough for all the livestock. It turned out the space was not there – instead of buying the ten acres I had been offered, there were less than four. Not enough. So I came here, to East Ayrshire instead.

And of course, the Pass Over did not take me to the Promised Land – it took me to the wilderness. Because that is where passovers take one. It took a series of comments on essays by a most insightful colleague to teach me that – I doubt he knows how much I owe him.

So here I have been sitting (like a bird in the wilderness, in the old song) trying to do wilderness as well as I possibly can. Beyond doubt it has made great changes in me. I am not sure I am yet able to articulate all of those in a public environment. And I no longer preach, so am not driven to dig the exegesis therapeutically, and pelican-like, from my own breast. (One of the sadder aspects of my particular wilderness, that.)

But one happy change I can note.

Once again I am packing and moving boxes, for the ground floor of the new home is about to start on its big adventure of renovation. Packing some boxes, and barrowing far, far more (ones I prudently left packed) into the old milking parlour, is tiring and boring. But this time I occasionally find old treasures, buried, as I peek in boxes. And I am looking forward, really joyfully, to having a clean warm dry decent home for the first time in two years.

Bosch and Sergant

Yesterday a bloke who fixes central heating arrived. I re-christened him Hieronymus Bosch. I have found this renaming of potential contractors after famous artists a great help. It tells me something about them, and also acts as a mnemonic. Or rather, it tells me something I already know about them. It lets me see my own understanding.

Despite his originality I very much doubt Mr Bosch will be working for me, the more so as he told me he was not a charity, causing me to wonder just how unreasonable his charges are. Time for another estimate, methinks.

Despite some misgivings I have asked Sargent to carry out the work on floors and walls for me. Technical mastery, I am sure, although a deal of modern briskness, I suspect.