Category Archives: Restoration


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.



I had a whole day of holiday – not just a day off, but a holiday. I left home in a leisurely manner. I bought a magazine, an expensive one. I read it on a train. I bought a hat, with an odd grey and pink tartan which goes with my wonderful pink Doc Martens. I had lunch with a friend. I went to the Scottish National Gallery, and among other things, looked once again at Ruben’s amazing ‘Feast of Herod’ and pondered its symbols. I came home on the train, and bought a cup of tea from the trolley.

But none of these, dear and good things as they were and very life-enhancing, were quite the point. The point was that, apart from the time for lunch (for which I was just nicely hungry there was NOTHING I had to do. I was free. Free for all the daylight hours. I could, if I wanted, suddenly and arbitrarily decide to walk into a bookshop and buy a book (I did) or go the long way round to a destination or anything. No constant need to be efficient, to get it done, to just press on, and not to take a break yet, but to get a bit more done first.

After a summer of almost constant pressure it was like – well, NOT like rain on dry ground, so much, I think, as like sun on soaking ground. I could feel myself expanding.

A justified sinner

At the moment I have no kitchen. That statement is misleading, in so far as I have had no kitchen since Christmas and see no prospect of having one before the autumn at the very best. However, this kitchenless state leads to fantasies of kitchens, kitchen equipment and cooking. I find what I most yearn for is not shiny cupboards, wooden cupboards, slate surfaces (though I do yearn for slate surfaces) but most basic things like ovens – and knives. I broke my only really good knife, a proper staining steel knife, some time ago and due to the kitchenless state did nothing about it.

Until today – when at the Royal Highland Show, a wonderful array of knives came into view. At that moment I was light-headed with a sudden drop in blood sugar (previous famine foolishly relieved with a kindly-offered child’s sweet lead to one of those disastrous falls in blood sugar levels) and I did have enough sense to get a snack before returning to view the wonders on display. Then I saw before me many different kinds of really good knife. In the end I decided on the best and most horrifically expensive – a damascened steel blade, glittering with the folded layers of steel, made in Japan. I bought the set with their whet-stone.

Gentle reader, this may well lead to economies elsewhere in the kitchen (I bought my ‘new’ kitchen for £30, though it cost a further £100 to get it home, so there I made a good start) but I think it will prove well worth while. I look forward to impeccably sliced tomatoes, the finest Julienne veggies, and the ability to bone out my meat dishes perfectly when I need to. I feel the extravagance was well justified.

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.

Des. Res.

Yesterday I went to the place with a friend. Despite that I had no news at all of the royal wedding until the evening. We went to Falkland Palace because my friend has a camera and the ability to use it, which at the moment is a dangerous combination, because it means I am very likely to exploit you. She took some really stunning images for me. And you too, if only you really want it, can make over a ruin into a des. res. Would you like to be inspired to create a simple bathroom?

Would you perhaps prefer somebody to create a relief of your children to ornament a small cupboard?

And if you need some woodwork restored, it can be done very sympathetically and still allow you to see where the old ends and the new begins.

As usual with Bute buildings, despite having already seen Falkland several times, I spent the first hour going ‘Wow’ and the second recovered enough to start looking at what is actually there in some detail, causing me to become every more inspired to do some serious academic work on the property. But for now all I can say is that I owe my friends a huge debt, and I think the illustrations in the book with be both varied and stunning.

Colours and shadows

One picture says it all – back to Bute overnight. A joyful afternoon choosing fabric for my new living room with the help of a good friend, dinner with another, then a night of peace and bliss with the dogs at St Ninian’s Bay.

The dogs love camping. The little tent you can see cost me ten squid at Woolworth in the good old days – I had been searching for a tent with a very limited budget. I went form Tiso to Blacks to Millets, with increasing alarm – all too dear. then in Woolies, I found what appeared to be the exact same tent, with the same specs, and the same fabric – only with a different pattern. The choice was Barbie Pink or camouflage. I have never regretted it – and it does just hold one woman and two large dogs. I am never cold – though sometimes too hot.

I lay at night, happy in the consciousness of glorious colour to deck the living room if it is ever finished, and listening to the oystercatchers. Max soon came to the conclusion that if I was resting he should, and Bridget too finally decided she could call it her bed. They lay up against me, and moonlight alternated with showers. There was no sound but wind and rain and water and birds and soft breathing.

But the next day when I came back to Ayrshire, it was home. The barn owls were very busy with the raising of their family. Bernadette and Martha were hopeful of food, and the ponies jostling for position, and I could see, at least, that one day the house WOULD be in order. I came back with renewed zest to get on with it all.

I will always go back to Bute – sometimes. The people, the peace, the wild flowers. But things are happening in Ayrshire, and I want them to happen. I have moved.

‘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.

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.

David Wilkie

I have (finally) settled on somebody to do the bulk of the work in my house – he is David Wilkie. Well, no, really he isn’t. As you know, I dub all my tradesmen with the names of artists, the better to understand what my subconscious tells me and the better to refer to the in public.

So for instance, I can now tell you that John Singer Sargent really behaved very badly. Not only did he agree to do the work on my house and the decide he did not want to, but he also failed to tell me. Indeed, he failed to tell me again and again, despite messages left on his phone again and again. In the end I caught him on the hop and found out. Not good enough.

But David Wilkie is I am totally sure, an honest person, and a kindly one. He is a joiner, and I suspect this is bigger than his usual jobs. But he seems sensible, and is very ready to talk things through, accommodate my wishes, and work with me. He is to start very soon which is just as well, as summer is now well on. The first stage will be the installation of a shower-room upstairs, so that I can move up there while everything, but everything comes out downstairs.

If I did not have twice as much to do in September as seems reasonably possible, I would be dancing in the aisles.