Unveiling and deliveries

Our repaired wall
The tiles in the very full garage
The new Office takes shape

Today Kevin Critchlow arrived out of the blue to repair the dry stone wall that had fallen down before we moved in. He had promised to do this job as soon as he had finished the other wall he was doing near here, by the end of the day it was all repaired and looking very ‘bonny’. Kevin is from Shropshire but he has been building dry stone walls for most of his life and last year he ran a course on dry-stone walling so if he runs another one I might sign up.

On Wednesday this week the John Rae Society organised the unveiling of a standing stone and brass plaque to Dr John Rae by the Hall of Clestrain, we had no idea how many would turn up but a marque was put up with displays of our work and hot drinks and food were laid on. I had intended to turn up early to help but a last minute problem with the build meant that I was considerably delayed and so just got there half an hour before the start. My job was to take photos of the event for the society. In the end we had a good turn out and the press in the form of the Orcadian and Radio Orkney turned up to see the stone that was presented by Historic Scotland being unveiled. A toast was made to John Rae and everybody then retired for refreshments. The day went very well and everyone enjoyed meeting up and ‘blathering.’

I then came back home and had to upload the photos and get the web site , Facebook and Twitter pages updated as well as dealing with bunch of stuff in the office, it was a very busy day, in fact this week has been pretty busy which is good as it makes Anna being away a little more bearable.

On Thursday the two pallets of floor tiles arrived a day early and as each pallet weighed a ton the issue of getting them off the lorry could pose a problem. I popped up to see Tommy Bain one of the local farmers to see if he could help, which he was more than happy to, and when the delivery lorry turned up Tommy drove down in his tractor with a fork lift attached. I just love it here that everyone is so willing to help out! My shoulder is still playing up so there was little I could do but between the four of them the job was done and the tiles were unloaded into the garage in to the space I had made ( see I did do something to help! )

Dwayne the plumber is here sorting out the final pipework before the plasterboard covers them up.

Today I was having a chat to Anna via email and she emailed ‘thanks for getting the washing done’, this threw me as I hadn’t told her, I looked through the photos I had uploaded to see if there was one of a fully ladened washing line, there wasn’t, very strange. I questioned Anna how she knew about the washing, apparently Ross had taken a photo of me hanging out the washing with the caption ‘A woman’s work is never done!’ and sent it to Anna! 

An Indian Odyssey

Somewhat to my disgust, the World Championships have clashed big time with my personal life – rather as they did last year when I was out of the country leaving Mark to pack the house up ready for our big move.

This time I am in India while Mark does battle with decisions about the building that’s going on … things like windows, lights, plugs and door sizes. We had hoped to be further along with the build before I left but it wasn’t to be (thanks to the decorator …) but Mark is being wonderful, emailing me pictures of different styles of doors and things so that we can still decide together. And it is all going on apace as you will have been able to see from his blog and the photographs.

I was decidedly nervous about the flight out because it had been booked leaving me just an hour and 10 minutes at Edinburgh to change planes and another hour and 15 at Heathrow. My baggage was checked right through from Kirkwall, Flybe did what they are supposed to do, BA likewise and it all went smoothly. And my case was one of the first ones off the plane when I finally landed, so I was safely re-united with all my clothes.

So – I am in Chennai, which was Madras, about ¾ of the way down India on the right as you look at a map. Outside it is hot and very humid. Inside it’s downright chilly ! I brought some sleeveless tops but won’t be wearing them – it’s cold even for me !! But the hotel is lovely .. excellent wifi, the desk in my room has hdmi connectors, usb charging points, sockets for English plugs, audio/video outlets. All the services are controlled from a customised i-pad, even ordering from room service is automated, as are all the lights, the TV, the air-conditioning – the only thing I can’t seem to do is switch the shower on from the bed !!


The bathroom is palatial – three rooms, one with the bath and basin, one with the shower and the other the loo. I could live without the mirrored walls in the loo cubicle but you can’t have everything.

You may or may not have seen news of the cheating scandals that have rocked the bridge world and as a result have made the atmosphere here … interesting. A lot of meetings ( and I mean a LOT) to try and close stable doors etc. But the players are all just getting on with playing and everyone seems quite cheerful – I was afraid it would be quite toxic but it isn’t thank goodness.

The hotel food is very good as long as you stick to the Indian cuisine. I have now tried a club sandwich (bleurgh) and a cheese and ham panini (double bleurgh), but the chicken tikka wrap was very good ! And last night we were taken to the Madras Gymkhana Club for dinner – quite a long bus ride there through the most appalling traffic (memo to self and all friends : don’t even THINK about trying to drive a car in India) but the bus ride back was about a quarter of the time thank goodness. Anyway, it was a buffet, but then we were told that the food had been “toned down” for our palates but there was some spicy food that would normally be served if we wanted to give it a rock. I couldn’t get my hand up fast enough and I am so glad I did – it was DEEEEELICIOUS. Only about 4 others tried it, I was amazed.

Tonight it is the President’s dinner and we are going to a different hotel for an Italian meal. It’s a posh frocks occasion so I am going to stop this soon and go and change.

More to follow ….

Weekend on the tiles!

This weekend was more like a weekday. Ross came over to finish off tiling the roof and this took him Saturday and Sunday with a short break when Peter came past whilst out for a ride on his motorbike. The weather has been fantastic, no wind and clear skies, not very hot but still quite warm. It was tempting to go out but having Ross here, someone had to supply the coffee and biscuits!

Anna always had a a seemingly endless supply of home baked cakes and cookies so I felt that I should try and keep the supply going the best I could so using a recipe that Anna showed me I managed a batch of chocolate chip cookies which seem edible, although I have a backup two packets of chocolate digestives just in case!

Sunday afternoon I managed to get time to watch the recording of the Japanese Grand Prix whilst Nimbus cuddled up on the sofa. Then it was out to a John Rae Society meeting in the evening to sort out the final details of the plaque unveiling on Wednesday where I seemed to have been volunteered to be the photographer!

Monday was a busy day in the office and the new windows went into the extension, the floors were swept and everything generally tidied up as well as the floor being filled where the dividing wall used to be, all ready for the studwork to go up tomorrow. The floor tiles for the entire area have been despatched today to hopefully arrive on Friday, I hope they look as good as we have imagined from the sample!

Beam me up!

Today is Friday and work progresses apace. The wall between the kitchen and the living area has been removed and the custom designed beam has been installed. This beam which was designed by our structural engineer Di of Breck Designs had to ‘hide’ in the ceiling space whilst supporting the old flat roof joists. We particularly wanted the ceiling to flow from the kitchen to the dinning / living rooms area with no visual breaks. This has now been achieved, and with this wall down and the hole for the new window being made the whole space has been transformed and flows beautifully ( I think I may have been watching too many ‘Grand Designs’ ! )

I popped down to Stromness this morning to Merrimans the electricians to put the deposit down for the Solar PV panels on the Garage roof before the Government reduce the feed in tariff as they are planning to do in January.

Last night was my first night ‘home alone’ as Anna is in Indian for a couple of weeks. I decided to take myself to a presentation at the Pier Arts centre in Stromness entitled ‘Art & Archaeology’. The place was packed and there were several faces that I recognised. The first speaker was Alex Leonard who is an illustrator and does the weekly ‘Giddy Limit’ cartoon in the Orcadian. I love this cartoon series and have one of his prints on the wall here (well actually it is in a box currently, as we don’t have any wall left to hang it on at the moment!). Alex was talking about his planned new story ‘Brodgar Boy’ based in the Neolithic Ness of Brodgar, the characters look great! His talk was funny and very interesting. The next talk was a more serious one about the Neolithic artwork that has been found at the Ness (The largest collect of its type in Northern Europe). The final talk was from the artist in residence at the World Heritage Site and I must confess that a lot of what he was explaining was lost on me. My concentration levels were probably not helped by my stomach complaining that there was no sign of dinner yet!


As usual more photos on Flickr

Wall comes down

The hardest material known to man ?
Anna puts her trust in acro props!
The new view from the kitchen

I’m writing this at 8 am on Thursday having got up at 5am to run Anna to Kirkwall airport to start her journey to the World Bridge Championships in Chennai in India. I hope all her connection flights go smoothly and I am already counting the days when she will be back in about two and a half weeks’ time.

A lot has been happening on site, but not at the rate everyone would have liked. The walls of the new extension are up and the roof is on. This all happened in a couple of days. Now there is the more fiddly bit of sorting out the fibreglass and lead valleys. Cutting the tiles to fit is a slow job particularly that up here the tiles are not just laid on the battens but each one is twin nailed and clipped, that is one of the reasons that the roofs her can withstand a 140 mph wind! All this work is progressing well, what has slowed things up is the supposedly simple job of cutting a window into the existing living room wall.

In theory all that is needed is the roof to be supported by acro props and then the hole for the window is cut using a diamond tipped stone cutting wheel. The cuts have to be made from both sides as the cutting depth of the saw is such that it will not do it in one. In fact as it turned out, with the rendering the two cuts were short of each other by about an inch. This should not have been an issue as a bit of work with a power chisel would soon have the blocks out.

This would have been the case if the wall blocks had not been made of rough diamonds welded together with kryptonite! The guys here could not believe how hard the wall was, it took Peter with some help from Ross at times the best part of three full days to knock the hole through, it should have taken half a day!

In the end only one sledge hammer and Pete’s sense of humour were harmed in the creation of this window!

Yesterday and today Pete is putting in the new lintel and the window ledge whilst Ross is having “a day on the tiles! “ Part of the dividing wall between the kitchen and the Livving area is due to come down today as well I shall let you know of the progress of this!


More pictures on Flickr

Roof On

Ross looking pleased at the progress
Brian wiring whilst the roof goes up

Saturday was a hive of activity, Ross and Graham turned up with the roof trusses which had been made by Ross to the drawings supplied by our structural engineer. The final assembly of these was done on site as they would have been too big to be transported in the trailer. Once assembled it was just a simple job to lift them up on to the top of the walls, raise them up and fix in place. I can say ‘simple’ as I was not doing it! The trusses were very heavy but by the afternoon they were all in place and the boarding started.

In the meantime Brian the electrician was busy below driving holes all over the nice new walls that Ross has fitted yesterday. The wiring is quite complicated in places but Brian doesn’t seem to be too fazed by my sheets of A4 with hand drawn diagrams, or at least that is what he tells me, what he says behind my back I don’t know!! : )

It is quite tricky deciding where everything thing goes and what cables are needed where,  when the rooms barely exist but I feel we are getting there.

Ross and Graham worked like Trojens so that the place would be watertight, just in case the weather chnaged. In general the weather has been kind to us altough it was threating a down pour at one stange today and the guys were getting a little concerned but in the end it turn out just to be a shower in a storm's clothing!

We now have a large bright blue extension. Blue being the colour of the waterproof breathable membrane that has been applied. Next week the outside block work will start to go up along with the tiles and the large windows in the living room will be cut in the existing wall which will be quite exciting! 

As usual more photos on Flickr

The Walls go up

View from new office
Anna enters the office
Mark knocking to be let in!

Just a short post so that you all can see the walls that have gone up. These walls are for the new office and the master bedroom. Today (Friday ) the scaffolding has gone up in readiness of the roof going on and Brian the electrician is working hard to get all the wiring in place before he goes away on holiday next week so that the plasterboard can be put in place at the tape and filling can be done. Everyone has allowed for working this weekend so that the jobs can get done before Brian goes away, this has been caused by the delay that our original decorators caused. It is incredible how just one delay can set everything back and throw everybody’s schedules out!

More photos are on my Flickr account as usual.

Floors go in

Pipes go in
All hands
The cat's efforts!

The weather was not a lot of help to us when came the time for the insulation and the underfloor heating pipes to be laid. It is impossible to do this when a forty mile an hour wind is blowing, but once this had died down, the next day all the piping was laid ready for the cement.

The day arrived that the concreate floors will be laid. Unfortunately there was a chance of rain and so a plastic ‘tent’ had to be built over the exposed areas. The cement turned up in a lorry and because of the location it had to be wheelbarrowed into place. Three guys did the barrowing with one doing the levelling out. It apparently was a very frantic day. I have to say apparently, as I was out for the day at a training course in Kirkwall so I missed most of the fun! Anna tried to keep the cats in as much as possible so we did not end up with paw prints across the new floors, this procedure was not totally successful but at least the cats were kept off whilst the floors were very soft!

The next day ( Thursday ) Ross and Graham started to put up the new walls and one of the first was the new office wall with the large window in it. This looks better that we had imagined the view is going to be great ( once the dumper truck is moved! ) Anna got very excited when she saw how the window will look. The same day one of our local farmers, Tommy Bain turned up with someone we hadn’t see before. He was Kevin Critchlow and is a dry stone wall builder, he came to take a look at the collapsed section of the wall by our garage. This wall had fallen down between the time we viewed the house and when we moved in. It is not an urgent job but it will make a nicer entrance to the place, we may even get him to build some other walls in the garden.

Twatt Open Day

The Cinema
More cars!
Fly past!

It’s not all building works on Orkney, there are occasions when we get a break and visit something that is going on the island. Visitors are often surprised by the amount of events that are organised on the island and it is often difficult to choose what to attend. The Orkney Science week has just finished and there was also the Rock festival, shortly to be followed by the Blues festival, and in between all this there was the second open day of Twatt airfield with flights in a passenger bi-plane that used to serve the island. This open day was on Sunday afternoon and so as the weather was lovely although a bit too windy for the Bi-plane to fly as it turned out, we decided to pop up there shortly after it opened at 12.00 and I had promised Anna a Buffalo Burger if she behaved herself!

When we arrived there was already a number of cars there. Entrance was free as were the guided tours that were being run. We had a quick look into the remains of the cinema there, it was amazing how much of the original features were still there considering that the place has been abandoned for so long. The cinema was also a theatre and many of the great stars of the day performed there during the war, the likes of Gracie Fields and Vera Lynne.

 The airfield was run by the Navy in the second world war and hence was known as HMS Tern, there was another RAF base close by as well as two dummy airfields built to deter any bombers. Our guide gave us an interesting tour and we ended up at the control tower where there were refreshments and a small display of photos and maps from when the base was active. We knew very little about the place before this, it being a pile of buildings that we sometimes passed on the way to Birsay.

After coming out of the control tower we bumped into our friend and fellow John Rae Society Trustee, Norman Shearer who is a qualified guide. He told us that they have been caught by surprise at the popularity this year of the open day as last year they only had 26 people turn up! This year it must have been in the hundreds!

Anna didn’t get her burger as the queue was rather long and we had steak planned for the evening, so we drove up to the Tea Rooms at Birsay to see our friend Vickie who works there. We walked into the tea rooms and a couple of the other tables greeted us along with the staff. The tourists sitting at the other tables looked up to see if they recognised the celebrities who had just come it, they soon went back to their food disappointed when they saw it was us!

That evening we had a rather splendid steak bought from Williamsons and a glass ( or two ) of wine from the Brigg and we prepared ourselves for the laying of the new concreate floors next week.

Photos from the day 

Floors Gone

Peter and Frankie
Look no floors!
Anna is getting good at this lark!

The rest of the week has been taken up with Ross and Graham breaking up and removing the old concreate floors. Because of the limited access this had to be done by hand and wheel barrowed out. The two guys looked exhausted at the end of the day and were absolutely cover in dust. Anna did what she could to keep their spirits up with supplies of coffee and home bakes! By Friday the bases were levelled and the insulation was down ready for the underfloor heating pipes to be laid on Saturday and the concreate poured on Monday.

During all this work a second water supply to the house was found, but the stop cock to this was not. In fact no working stop cocks to either of the water supplies have been found yet. So Ross asked if I would phone Scottish Water and ask them if they could come and investigate. This I did on Thursday afternoon. Friday morning a man turned up armed with various pieces of equipment including a metal detector and started looking for our elusive stop-cocks. Whilst there are at least four visible out the front, none of these turn off the supply to the house! After some hours searching and testing he had to admit defeat for now but did manage to cap off the supply that we were not using so that it could be removed from the house. Scottish Water are going back to see if they can find someone who might know the arrangement here, failing that they will put a new stop-cock in. I’m very impressed with the fast response by them on this matter.

The slight worry we have at present is the possibility of the weather deteriorating however Ross has plans to make the now exposed rooms weather proof should the predicted storms arrive. What none of us want is the driving rain to damage the new decorations nor to soak the currently exposed electrical consumer units! We have four guys on site on Saturday as they will be laying the heating pipes so Anna and I are currently waiting to make coffee for them all before we go out into Kirkwall shopping.

Yesterday we met up with Peter and Frankie at the Skerries Bistro in South Ronaldsay for lunch which was great. The Restaurant has changed quite a bit since we last visited and we had a lovely time there. Before arriving there we had popped in to see Nick Card and we got a couple of Guides to the Ness of Brodgar signed for Frankie who is a keen amateur archaeologist.