The builders Jones and Maher of Carmarthen have continued demolishing the interior of the house and by the first week in July they had inserted the new structural steelwork to support the new mezzanine level and where we are extending our bedroom into the existing bathroom (which is really too large).
John tends to see Phil the site foreman most days and we’re pretty sure that he (Phil) now thinks that he has a client with OCD. We’ve spent the best part of a year planning this work to include the extensions, underfloor heating, increased insulation in the floors and vaulted roof, solar hot water, and a new kitchen (as we are relocating some of the old one into the utility room). So getting is a ‘right’ as possible is one of our main aims.
Much of our time is spent just trying to think ahead; for instance it is necessary to decide on the floor finishes as the finished floor heights for the extensions will need to be calculated taking these into account. As the windows and front doors are being ordered from Rationel, a Danish company (with manufacturing plant in Poland) and come pre finished it is necessary to decide on colours at the outset; so that they can be ordered in advance to arrive at the correct time.
Of course having decided to start work in summer the weather has remained extremely wet, which hasn’t helped with digging the foundations for the new extensions.
The new concrete is then ‘tied’ to the existing footings by inserting and resin bonding steel bar into the original concrete foundations.
After moving here to Wales we had the idea of building a porch to help reduce the draught into the house in Winter. This was quickly followed by the idea of building a ‘sun room’ on the other side of the house. Oh how naive we were!!
Realising that this needed to be done well we set out to find someone to could put our ideas on paper. This lead us to local architects Llewelyn Lewis Sennik (Gareth and Anita) who also concluded that if we were going that far we might as well have a Utility Room as well and also do any other upgrading at the same time.
We did consider installing a ground source heat pump but ultimately decided against this on the grounds of cost. As we already have solar PV providing some free electric and indexed linked payments of around £1500 per annum and our own woodland providing us with free wood for the woodburner we decided that a few hundred pounds of oil a year will be all that is needed to keep us warm in the coldest periods (I think that is what economists call a cost benefit analysis!) with all the extra insulation we are installing. I estimate that we should receive around £600 or £700 a year more in payments for the PV panels and solar HW than we will payout in energy costs.
To cut a long story short, after a 6 month battle with the planners (including having to employ Planning Consultants) we ended up with Planning Permission to build two contemporary timber clad extensions. In addition we would ‘gut’ the house to add underfloor heating throughout, upgrade the already good insulation to ‘super standard’ and refit most of the house. In addition we would be improving the heating and fitting Solar Hot Water Panels to compliment our recently fitted solar PV Panels.
So after 18 months of design, trauma and an ever increasing budget we moved out of the house on the 11th June 2012 (into rented accommodation) and the builders moved in to start gutting what most people would see as a perfectly adequate dwelling. Mad or what?
And after a week or so the builders stripped out the house now the long process of putting it back together starts! It now looks like the photo below.
Unfortunately because of the impending work on the house we haven’t been able to take off to a Republic somewhere whilst the rich woman with several large houses and numerous servants, paid for by us, continues with her PR offensive to ensure that when she ‘shuffles of this mortal coil’ the family will continue to get ‘loads of dosh’. As Newsthump puts it: ‘The Queen, who has been the head of the UK’s most prolific family of benefit claimants since 1952, said she felt “deeply moved” by the amount of cash she has received over the years without even having to queue up and sign for it.‘
‘The Family’ went through a fairly rough patch for a while. Joe Public was starting to see through the pantomime what with Charles being an adulterer whilst he was married to that lovely ‘Saint Diana’, some of the others getting divorced (despite mummy being head of the Church that frowns on such things) and Andrew being friends with an American paedophile and having meetings with Muammar Gaddafi.
But ‘hey ho’ lets soften up a gullible public with an expensive Royal Wedding and then go for the full on PR offensive with a Jamboree. They’ll soon be shouting ‘hurrah’ and doffing their caps in a suitably servile manner once again.
Talking of servile if I have to listen to the gushing, sycophantic ramblings of Nicholas Witchell for much longer every time I turn on the Beeb I’ll be feeling more nauseous than I do already. Whilst I’m a big fan of the BBC they really should just report the facts, somewhere towards the bottom of the news agenda. Personally I find the fact that about a billion people go to bed hungry every night needs bringing to Joe Public’s attention rather more than this bean-feast. The BBC seems to have become the official 24/7 propaganda channel for the Royal Family and the Olympics.
It really is like we’ve fallen through a time hole into an age where nobody questions the utterly bizarre situation that in a modern country in 2012 some people get given a load of castles, servants and treasure simply because of who their dad was; then the rest of us are expected to bow down in front of them. Mind you it’s even more bizarre that people accept it.
Now before Mr Angry Royalist of Royal Tunbrige Wells starts posting about how disgusted he is about my lack of patriotism I should just point out that I have no personal hatred of the woman and she’s more than welcome to call by for a cup of tea any time (although I’m not installing a new WC for her at a cost of £5000 as she seems to expect; does she crap solid gold or something?). It’s just that I take exception at her and her entourage living in unbridled luxury, at the expense of hard working folk, just because of which bed they were born in or (in certain cases) because they were deemed suitable breeding stock (i.e. there isn’t too much mongrel in the blood).
And before someone else starts off the ‘but she works so hard and brings in loads of tourists’ crap can I just say I’d agree with the former if she’d been working12 hour days, six days a week cleaning NHS toilets for the last 60 years and as for the latter that’s hardly a good reason as no doubt turning the Palace into an upmarket brothel would pull in the overseas punters.
Of course the cynic in me would also say that Dave and his public school mates are loving it because it’s a distraction from what’s really going on; but then Bread and Circuses aren’t exactly a new concept. Deep in debt? Lost your job? Lost your home? Never mind; wave a piece of coloured cloth on the end of a stick and everything will be fine.
Today has been another glorious day at the beginning of summer; the weather has been spectacular for the last few days. It has probably been the hottest day of the year so far and it was one of those lovely summer evenings that you remember nostalgically in the winter. The daylight slowly fades into the late evening twilight as the sun sets and the wood pigeons ‘coo’ in the trees.
The sun was setting in the valley as we set off for an evening walk from home. You can just make out the slate roof of our house in the trees in the bottom left of the picture below. The land beyond the trees running up to the skyline belongs to us.
The valley is spectacular with wild flowers our route takes us around the valley, crossing the river twice on a circular route.
Harebells are amongst the myriad of wild flowers on the roadside.
The hedgerows are alive with wild flowers, the primroses and bluebells are just starting to fade but soon there will be wild strawberries that we pick and eat on our walks.
The whole valley, with virtually no traffic or road noise is a very special place.
We cross over the river in the bottom of the valley via the small footbridge.
It is cool in the woodland by the river.
The evening sunlight starts to fade across the floor of the valley.
Look at the ivy on the old clinging wall
Look at the flowers and the green grass so tall
It’s not a matter of when push comes to shove
It’s just an hour on the wings of a dove
~ Van Morrison
Almost the last sun of the evening falls on the recently cut fields. The small road beyond leads down to our house. Three Red Kites honoured us with their presence and soared overhead nearby.
We cross back over the river by the small metal road bridge that leads to our house.
Liz lingers on the bridge that leads back home to look for Dippers and Wagtails.
The very last rays of summer light fade as we walk home.
Early May 2012 saw us setting off in Huey, our campervan, for Ireland. We headed off at first for East Clare and after calling in to Peppers Bar to see who was about we visited our good friends Michael and Dorothy and their family in their excellent B&B at Clondanagh Cottage. If you are ever visiting the west of Ireland I can’t recommend their hospitality too much!
We then headed just across the border to Kinvara in Galway for The Cuckoo Fleadh, a rather extended weekend of traditional music and drinking, to search out a few sessions before going on to Connemara. We then drove south, heading for the Baltimore Fiddle Festival stopping off on the way on the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas. Finally we travelled back north east to Dublin staying overnight in the Wicklow mountains on the way before returning to Wales via Rosslare.
For us there are two different Irelands. The one that is represented by the traditional musicians who keep the tradition alive with their amazing musicianship. Just in these few days we listened to Edel Fox, Andrew MacNamara, Thomas Bartlett, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Sam Amidon, Cleek Shrey and Nic Gareiss. Most have devoted much of their lives to learning their craft and tradition. The other Ireland is the one that rushed headlong into the nonsense that became the infamous Celtic Tiger. A land of speculation, institutional corruption, garden decking, hot tubs and men in pink shirts driving 4x4s and talking excitedly into mobile phones about their next ‘Real Estate’ purchase in Bulgaria.
This two-facedness was apparent when we stepped into a bar in a village on the Dingle. The pub looked very traditional and even sported a plaque giving it some ‘Trad Pub Music status’. I should have known better when the menu outside was promoting their Chinese food. Inside there was a cosy fire and a large plasma TV which, about 5 minutes after we sat down with a pint to await pretty much the only non Chinese item on the menu, was turned over to ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or some such programme. Until now I’ve not watched one of these shows and my worst fears were realised. A variety of truly dreadful acts were loudly cheered by a studio audience of imbeciles and was presumably watched by many millions of cerebrally challenged morons who clearly don’t have two neurons to rub together. First came an appalling girl singer followed by a dance act who cheekily misspelt their name to start with a ‘K’. I can’t remember what they called themselves but it should have been ‘Kuntz’. The teenage girl singer, whose sole talent seemed to comprise a pair of decent legs in a short skirt, was ‘singing’ some anodyne song with a voice that had all the charisma of public service broadcast in North Korea. When she had finished the judges, the two female ones of whom seem to have just come back from a face painting competition, pronounced their verdict. By now I’d lost the will to live so finishing my food and resisting the need to vomit (not from the food) we headed out on onwards to Baltimore Fiddle Fair.
As I write this I wonder if I’m just a miserable old git, elitist or probably both? Am I just sneering at what other people seem to enjoy? So what if someone enjoys such banality? Then, no doubt like my elders before me, I muse over the lowering of standards to the lowest possible denominator. Are people so fecking stupid that they can’t even get out and watch some live music for themselves and decide if it is good or not?
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we Love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
People seem to be sleepwalking into a packaged world where the advertising executives are trying to control what they think so that they can sell them more crap.
A world where people are so divorced from nature that thy think meat comes wrapped in cellophane in TWATCO’s. A world where people think they have talent because their ‘friends’ on Facebook tell them they have.
Baltimore Fiddle Festival was the antidote I needed. It was our first trip here but the amazing list of musicians that have been here over the years and played in small bars, rooms and marquees is almost a ‘who’s who’ of traditional music. This weekend was no exception and it would have been great to stay longer but we had to head up to Dublin.
Things only got better when we did get to Dublin, via an overnight rough camp in the Wicklow mountains, and not just because Liz got to see a shower for the first time in a week! We were in Dublin to see ‘The Gloaming’. This band are made up of some of the best trad musicians around who are pushing the boundaries away from the ‘trad’ tag. This Irish new wave doesn’t suit all the traditionalists; but of course music always evolves and needs to or else it just becomes repetition. We had been at their first ever gig in Dublin last August and now we were back for a ‘one off’ gig this year. It was a very, very special night; it must have been because even the Irish President turned up to the rather unglamorous venue at Vicar Street. Their trad tunes and songs were played on the edge with Thomas Bartlett (who also opened with his childhood friend Sam Amidon) playing some sublime piano. I probably shouldn’t use the word ‘play’ it’s more that he feels the music throwing in single notes and chords together with plucked and damped notes on the piano strings. Iarla Ó Lionáird’s singing (and I can’t understand a word of Gaelic) made you want to cry at the beauty of it. But I doubt that the media muppets who trotted out the bilge on the plasma TV will ever understand that music is about emotion not the plastic crap foisted on an acquiescing public between the commercials. The principal purpose of the whole exercise being to sell them even more crap (such as air fresheners) that they don’t even need in the first place.
And if you want emotion no one really puts their ‘heart’ in to it more than Martin Hayes. When he plays music, he doesn’t just play notes; he becomes the music and when it is over you feel drained by the emotional journey he has taken you on. You feel spiritually uplifted and know that you have been transported and transfixed in some world in another place. I could of course just be talking complete bollocks as a tone deaf Englishman who has absolutely no musical ability in his body. On the other hand I’ve always been able to make my own mind up and I’ll choose Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionáird,Thomas Bartlett and the rest over what some TV executive deems to be talent any day.
It is a rainy morning here in Wales (no scoffing about the Welsh weather it has been remarkably dry up until now and our newly planted trees are enjoying a watering) so no need for us to rush to get up. When we did it was time for a leisurely breakfast of home made bread and home made marmalade.
Being a creature of habit I flicked on the radio which is pretty much pre tuned to BBC Radio 4 (which probably is the standard behaviour for middle class ‘old farts’ like us). Actually I don’t know how to retune it as nothing yet has grabbed my attention so much that I must listen to it. So generally I listen to a bit of the Today program to keep me vaguely attuned to what is going on in the world outside our valley. But of course, being a ‘prickly old git’ I tend to end up turning it off, or at least hurling verbal abuse at it, when yet another slime ball politician is given air time to feed the population more bullshit. Wouldn’t it be great if just one of the tossers was honest for once and said something like; ‘We’ve been enjoying lavish lifestyles on the backs of the poor in the ‘third world’ for years and borrowing way beyond our means to fund it. Growing of GDP (as presently worshipped to get us out of the shit) in the future is impossible in a world of finite resources. With the oilfields depleting and Peak Oil somewhere close by, cheap oil is a thing of the past. We have a large population living on a small little island, we owe huge amounts of money, have unsustainable lifestyles and basically we’re fecked. So you better get used to having less. Meanwhile us (politicians, bankers, royalty etc.) are keeping our indexed linked pensions, massive bonuses and palaces etc) because we’re worth it and you mugs can keep paying for them’?
‘Thought for the Day’ is also guaranteed to have me reaching for the off button as there is no way I can stomach having to listen to some ‘believer in some super tooth fairy’ spouting on about their thoughts and ludicrous beliefs. Even if I was being really generous and agree that these ‘nut jobs’ should be able to spout this bollox at least give us Atheists an equal platform.
Anyway, I digress, as it was still raining I made more fresh coffee and spread more marmalade on yet another piece of toast (yes readers this is the life of the retired) just as the clock ticked past 9.00 a.m. and Melvyn Bragg came on the radio muttering something about Plato. For fecks sake does that man sound boring or what? He may be intelligent (I’m not clever enough to know) but he could be prescribed on the NHS for insomniacs (take 5 minutes of Melvyn ‘nocte’ and you’ll be out like a light). Holy cow; I’d rather listen to ‘The Archers’ and that should have been put out of its misery years ago.
At this stage just before reaching for the off switch yet again I had a short fantasy about being in an episode of Farther Ted.
Father Ted: Who’s got the most boring voice?
Father Ted: Of the lot of us, who’s got the most boring voice?
Father Fitzgerald: (extremely dull voice) That’d be me, Ted…
Me: (extremely pissed off voice) That’d be Melvyn Bragg, Ted
Following on from our first page about building our own barn we have started constructing the piers to support the upright timbers that will form the barn uprights. As previously described these footings have had to be a substantial depth in places to get down below the in-filled ground where we are building the barn.
I decided to construct the deepest pier first and will then cut the shuttering down as we progress to the smaller ones. So the shuttering was carefully placed in the first hole on the concrete pad, ensuring that the centre of the shuttering in the hole would be 4m from the next. The shuttering was then given extra support with some soil around the base and bits of wood wedged between it and the sides of the hole. Liz gave the inside of the timber a coating of Aldi’s cheapest cooking oil to help stop the shuttering sticking. I then proceeded to fill it with concrete. I put some steel mesh (that I had left over here) in the centre (ensuring 50mm concrete cover to ensure that it wouldn’t cause the concrete to spall if it rusts). As I filled the shutter with concrete I used a thin stick to ‘poker’ the concrete to remove air bubbles etc.
I set a small marker pin in the top in the exact centre to help with measuring to the other columns and also set a galvanised steel strap in the top of the column exactly 100mm from the centre. This strap should(!) be in the correct place to anchor the 200mm square timber uprights I’m looking to use for the barn columns.
After 48 hours I unscrewed the shuttering and removed it to leave an impressive concrete foundation column going down nearly 2m. I reckon this should be adequate for what is after all a rather large garden shed!
By running a string line and measuring we were then able to position the shuttering for the next column. However, we also had to ensure that the top of the concrete would finish level with the first (i.e. we are now having to work in 3 dimensions). Lacking an expensive laser level I bought a cheap water level off Ebay for a few pounds and used this old fashioned technology to get the columns level. By putting the shuttering in upside down first I could measure how much to cut off the bottom before inverting it and repositioning and rechecking prior to concreting the second column. This process will be repeated until we have done all 8 columns.
Disclaimer; I am not a structural engineer or a builder so the whole project is more ‘belt and braces’ than calculations and you should not rely on my design for your own building!
One of our projects on the smallholding is to construct a barn for storing logs and implements etc. I’ve looked at commercial barns etc. and decided that in light of the cost (especially as we are planning to undertake some expensive changes to the house as well) we will build this ourselves. Disclaimer; I am not a structural engineer or a builder so the whole project is more ‘belt and braces’ than calculations and you should not rely on my design for your own building!
Originally I was was thinking about building a simple pole barn from old telegraph poles and I scoured the internet for plans. In actual fact there isn’t much available in the UK with most information being in the USA. In particular I came across the Barn Construction Resource Centre which had some nicely constructed barns. As a consequence I decided to go more down this route. Hopefully building something that looks a tad more pleasing to the eye. Hence why the title is about a pole barn but the structure is more of a ‘cut frame’. However, the same technique could be applied and could be simplified by just putting the poles straight into the ground. Not an option in my case because of the ‘landfilled ground’ where I am building it.
The first thing was to check the planning situation and to ensure that it would fall within permitted agricultural development. So the first job was to contact the local planning department and submit an ‘Application for Prior Notification of Proposed Agricultural Development’. For this you need to submit 4 copies of the application form, describing the size and type of the building, together with 4 copies of the plans showing the extent of your land and the location of the proposed building. You don’t need detailed plans of the building. The council then has 28 days to confirm that the proposal doesn’t need Planning Permission (or otherwise). In my case I got a letter after about 6 weeks saying that it was permitted development and that I didn’t need planning permission.
Although I knew roughly the size I was going to build the next stage was to come up with some more detailed construction plans. So using the American site above I roughed out some plans for a monopitch barn with an overhang on the front that would be about 12m long by 6m wide with 3 bays. As the plans are going to evolve as ‘I work things out’ I’ve put small copies of my initial thoughts here and hope to put better and bigger plans together with construction details as I progress. Hopefully I may by then have ironed out any snags if anyone else wants to have a go!
The land I am building this on was quite low and has been filled with rubble. As a consequence the soil is not ideal for foundations; so the plan is to level the top then dig eight holes down to firmer subsoil with an excavator. I will then pour a concrete pad at the bottom of each hole approx 150mm thick. Once this has cured I will form shuttering on top of the pad to pour concrete pillars that will finish approx 150mm or so above ground level. These concrete piers will have to all be perfectly level and in the correct place as the wood columns of the barn will then be built off these. This section of photo from one of the barns on the above site shows you the idea.
So last weekend end a neighbour came over with his JCB and scraped the land level. We then carefully marked where the columns would be; checking it was square by ensuring that the diagonals were the same distance apart. We then dug out each hole; the back ones had to be quite deep to get down to solid ground. In fact the deepest are around 2m deep!
Then this weekend I hired a mixer and got a couple of tons of ‘all in’ sand and gravel delivered and, with the help of our son who was visiting us for Easter mixed, enough concrete to fill the bottom of each hole to a depth of at least 150mm. Before tipping the concrete in we jumped in and cleaned the loose fill out by hand ensuring a nice firm base for the concrete.
The next stage will be to shutter the concrete piers of these pads and concrete these. I’ll try and keep you posted as we go!
One of the tasks that had to be done after planting our new woodland was fencing the area to prevent stock getting in amongst the trees and eating them. So in the last week or so we have had contractors here cutting back the overhanging trees and hedge and installing some new fencing and gates.
The contractor was hoping to be able to use his tracked post hole knocker for most of the work but the slopes and wet land conspired to make this a bit problematic. So some of the fencing work had to be done by hand. We also have a bit of ‘making good’ to do with the pasture once the land dries out a bit..
We also took the opportunity to fence around the spring that feeds our house water supply. It is good practice to do this to prevent the possibility of animals fouling the supply. Also this area should become quite wild and overgrown providing a moist habitat for insects and animals etc.
On moving to live here to Wales we decided to try and make the house as inexpensive and as environmentally friendly to run as we reasonably could. Not because we are ideologically driven but because it seems to make sense and we would like the house to be as comfortable as possible.
With the government scheme to pay a feed in tariff for home generated electricity it also seemed to make sense purely from a financial point of view if we had a bit of spare cash sitting in a low interest account. We originally looked at this in November 2010 and the installation costs for a 4kw domestic installation was then around £15,500. Since then the price of PV panels has dropped considerably. Unfortunately the government subsequently took a rather hasty decision to suddenly cut the tariff paid to householders. So we had ‘missed the boat’. However, this knee jerk reaction hit the industry hard and panel prices subsequently continued to fall in price.
So when we reviewed things at the end of January 2012 the installation costs had nearly halved; meaning that the return on investment would almost be the same. Furthermore the government’s decision is subject to ongoing legal challenge that could still possibly reverse the tariff decision. With this in mind we decided to go ahead with the installation on the south facing garage roof. There is a calculator for working out income and savings here.
Unfortunately the industry has become a bit of a ‘get rich quick’ scheme with plenty of ‘dubious’ solar panel installation companies springing up. At times it seems like the ‘Wild West’ out there! In some cases these firms are fitting installations in a pretty unsatisfactory manner; simply by drilling through slates or tiles and fitting rubber sealing grommets. Sometimes these are not even fixed into structural timbers but screwed into the battens. Even if they are watertight when fitted I can’t see how the wind loading will not put a flexing load on the slates and tiles causing some to break over time; nor can I see how the grommets will not perish over a period of time. I certainly wouldn’t want this type of installation on our garage roof let alone our house. How many of these ‘here today – make a quick buck’ operators will be around in 5 years or ten years time when these failures start to appear?
So having got a few quotes we decided to use a very local contractor Jones Electrical (who have been working in the area for over 50 years) reasoning that they were not likely to disappear next week and their reputation would be important to them. So last week their roofing subcontractor arrived and started on the roof whilst the electricians installed the wiring and inverter (which converts the D/C current from the panels into A/C for the mains).
The roofer proved to be excellent taking great care to properly fix the roof hooks to the structural timbers and to flash them all correctly with lead. The brittle Spanish slates meant he couldn’t work as fast as he had hoped but there was no way that he was compromising on the job. So full marks to the roofer and his son for their conscientious approach to the job. Jim Jones who started the electrical business 54 years ago personally turned up to check on progress and ensure that all was going smoothly. It is really refreshing to find small local businesses going the extra mile rather than just jumping on the bandwagon.
So today it was finished and the electricians came to correct an earthing problem on our existing system and to turn on the system and we are now generating our own electricity (or rather will be in when the sun shines as it was too dull by the time it was all finished). I’ll try and remember to update the blog in a years time when we know how much we are actually producing. All I have to do now is work through the paperwork to sell our electricity to our electricity supplier!