Snowing solidly for three days

Snowing solidly for three days's like Little House on the Prairie

the kitchen taking shape

Friday, 3 December 2010

In at last and warmer than we've ever been! The water connection was delayed for a week much to our irritation so didn't move in until Nov 23. Turned out to be just in time as it started snowing a week later and hasn't stopped. Snow over the top of my wellies now and I can hardly walk across the fields - there's too much of it. Ordered the sledge just a day too late as I got it from amazon on Monday, but there's been no deliveries since then.
All that insulation has really helped - it warms up quickly and stays warm. The woodburner is fantastic. Big relief to have finally completed something.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

too much water in the wrong place

We moved into the rented house to escape building work and have a warm place to stay until the barn was ready. But the kitchen is now awash with water as the flat roof has started to leak all over the place. An electrician has been to dismantle the electrics and I am mopping up dripping water from every surface!
Ironically, we can't move into the barn yet even though it is almost finished, because there is no water connection. At least the barn is watertight and feels warm even without heating - it is so well insulated. Our rented house is now damp and cold and feels miserable. As soon as that water is put in this weekend, we are moving out.
Had a big bonfire on Saturday. There was lots to burn and one of the builders does fireworks displays. We used the builders' barn for food and drinks. A good way to repay all those people we've upset with our building work over the past year

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


The earth moved last weekend - in large quantities! Amazing how different it all looks now that the site is levelled off and the mounds of earth cleared. Starting to get some sense of how it will be when finished. Loads more space.
Everyone working so hard and til late to get it done. I just make the tea and cakes - preserved ginger is a good one.
It's a hive of activity this week with the phone and broadband installed, worktops in and TV set up. The windows have arrived for the south barn and are now being put in. That will make it look more homely. I screwed up on the measurements for the bathroom window though and it's too big. A new one has to be re-made which is an expensive mistake.
Might be able to use it again, or sell it on ebay. Since we sold the abandoned scimitar for £156 on ebay, I'm now putting all the old farm machinery on there.
massive bonfire ready for fireworks night.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Big diggers

Big earthworks to dig out the patios have left the place looking much tidier. All the straggly weeds have gone and its a bit lunar landscape. But this weekend is for the more dramatic stuff with a big excavator coming and massive dumper trucks. All the earth and debris is going to be buried in one of the fields. Sheds to be pulled down for the new-build have been cleared by unemployed teenagers.
Water now due to be connected on November 12, worktops on Tuesday, doors all in and the woodburner on Nov 1. Time to arrange a moving date. Can I drive a 10-tonne dumper truck?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The bath might look good, but the feet don't fit on properly and the plumber can't get a trap to fit underneath. That's the difficulty of buying from the internet. I've bought a trap from the same site, but the delivery man apparently couldn't find anyone to sign for it - even though it's a building site with eight people working there. Will wait up there for him tomorrow.
The extractor fan now installed - looks like something from Nasa space control and so it should - it cost a fortune.
Work on the south barn now stepping up, but we have fiddled with the plans so much, there is a bit of confusion about where the windows are going. I am the one who briefed the window people so I hope I've got it right. Windows are nearly finished and should be installed soon.
Just waiting for the water to be connected to the first barn and then everything can be tested and we can think of moving in. The utilities certainly work to their own time scale, it's a year since we first contacted them. They're not bothered whether we have a bath or not.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The man from Jewsons offered me a job at a builder's merchant as I was helping unload 50 sheets of insulation. He doesn't realise the power of yoga!
Work on the south barn has started and north barn almost finished. The kitchen is nearly installed - all black units with a few cream ones thrown in which I think is effective, but the builder is more sceptical. I've ordered an extremely expensive extractor fan that comes up like a computer screen from behind the cooker when needed - a downdraft extractor. This is to get round the difficulty of extracting the cooker from the barn roof. The building inspector has agreed to it, but no-one has seen one before so not sure how it is installed.
The laminate floor stretches down the corridor and all the lights are working. The bath arrived today - cast iron, so very heavy, but the builders carried that.
Need to work out proper addresses for these barns as all the utilities are getting confused, but am trying to avoid anything too twee.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Working out where all the cables and pipes go is a bit of a headache. We keep thinking of extra branches to add while the trenches are open. The two barns will share a garage, so they need to have a branch cable to provide the electricity in their own half of the garage rather than end up paying for someone else's power.
Telecoms wires have to come from a pole at the end of the south barn which means digging another trench. Gas is all in even though the traffic lights are still in the road, much to everyone's annoyance. That is a big achievement though, it's about a year since I first contacted the gas company. Water pipes are also in but not turned on.
EDF inspected for the power connection to the south barn on Monday, but can't put that in for another six weeks. Trenches need to be filled in as it is difficult to get in and out of the site. The electrician's van slipped into the trench last night and took a while to push out.
Bathrooms are looking fantastic although the tiler did not think me saying it looked like a hotel was a compliment!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Bravo for Bravoliner

Drains fully repaired with new wonder lining from Germany. Bravoliner bends to fit the pipe, then is heated up and sets hard. It's guaranteed for 50 years. A bit expensive, but a lot cheaper than digging up the road.
We have a new hi-tech version and it is the first drain in the UK to use it.
A lot of digging is going on nevertheless. EDF had to dig up the drive and replace a T-junction from the 1930s, tropical fish saved and street lights back on. Only managed it by this afternoon though so power was off all night. Trenches still being hollowed out for gas and water.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Digger drama

Digger got going to try and get the trenches in before the gas arrives next week. Just nudged an electricity cable which then cut off the power, not just for us, but the church across the road and next door to that. Mercy dash for a generator to keep some tropical fish alive - they need an electric pump for oxygen. Even though EDF came out, they couldn't see what the problem was with no obvious damage. Power is still off, EDF men still pondering!
Water pipes going in at the same time along with phone cable. So all can go into the same trench and make best use of the digger while it's there. Bathroom tiling started and all moving swiftly.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Hay is being cut today. Although it is not very high quality and flattened by the travellers, three farmers wanted it. Dry summer means there's a shortage of animal feed, not to speak of high prices for wheat because of wild fires in Russia and lack of rain in Canada. Fields looking good now.
Starting to put in all the orders for fitting out the barn. Had my card frozen because my spending pattern was consistent with fraud so the bank tells me. Although their calculations on the mortgage are totally off-whack so accounts are all in a mess.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

It's beginning to look like a house rather than a shed. Real progress made, plastering fantastic, loads of insulation so should be warm. Cutting down logs for the woodburner, but that's not been delivered yet - seems to have disappeared. Drains mystery continues - some were filled with concrete, maybe by disgruntled, unpaid, former builders. Finally tracked the connection to a manhole in the driveway two doors down. Looks like this can be "sleeved" putting a liner in - made in Germany so high quality. Let's hope this is not storing up problems for the future, but everyone seems to think it will be OK.
It's groundhog day on the second barn, starting to look at doing that now. Hope to move into the first barn by the end of October - can't wait, the rented house is a bit cramped and everything still in boxes.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Now living on the set of Desperate Housewives, all twitching curtains and lawn mowing. Seems a bit quiet and out of the way as well as cramped. Need to get to the farm before I go completely bonkers.
All planning permission now approved on the barns but with a list of conditions as long as your arm, some of which are so detailed. You wonder whether planners just want to keep making work for architects and professional advisers in one extended bureaucratic circle.
I can see why the owners of the Milton Keynes shopping centre resisted it being listed for 10 years.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Windows are in and looking fantastic. No more leaky draughty sashes like we've got now. We should be warm too with the amount of insulation going in - cracking on and builders now working flat out.
The woodburning stove turned up today....a month too soon. They had the wrong date in the diary and didn't even have the farm address!
In the meantime, we are moving to a rented house. Surrounded by boxes and packing which is soul destroying. Teenagers no help at all - just an excuse to make more of a mess.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Electricity cable connected today, but no power yet as the meter man came yesterday and wouldn't put the meter in until the cable was connected. I'm sure that EDF told me it was the other way round. Have now made another appointment for the meter man.
Still slow progress with the builders. Their previous client is proving very demanding and keeps changing things that have been finished and delaying most of them from coming to us. I don't have many demands - just that they get on with it!
The guy in the caravan is in a ridiculous squabble with the roofers over them scratching his chair. Trying to get me to intervene as if I'm their (or his) mother. He is spiritual (apparently) so needs special treatment.
More details to be changed on the drains. The latest price for connecting to the sewer is £26,000 and rising. Maybe we could do without a kitchen altogether.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

More bizarre demands from the planners. They don't want the roof lights on the big barn to be symmetrical because farm buildings aren't symmetrical! They also want granite sets leading in to the field entrance - this goes straight onto farmland so seems a bit over the top. They say they don't want to make farms look suburban and then demand something like that. They seem to like spending other peoples' money and making changes for the sake of it.
Picked up more rubbish from the fields including a milk crate, frying pan and a pair of Ugg boots.
Maybe we really are bonkers. Was interviewed by a woman from the local paper who clearly seemed to think so.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Interesting debate about travellers:
Strawberry shortcake did the trick - foundations for the farmhouse extension now all dug and filled with concrete. Building inspector has signed it off which means we have officially started on the farmhouse. That's good because the planning permission runs out in July and it took long enough to get it so don't want to start again.
It also means we can leave the farmhouse for a bit while we get on with the barns. The small barn is a priority and after that, the big barn and stables which will be a 4-bed house. I would like to get that watertight before the winter.
The farmhouse is a longer project as it is more complicated but hopefully can be done in tandem with the big barn.
Phase 2 is the new-build eco house as we will have run out of money by then. We will have to sell something to fund that house where we will ultimately live and is what this project was all about in the first place!
When we can move into the barn later this year, it should be easier. Then we can start sorting out the fields. My role at the moment is making sure everyone knows what is going on and who has said what to whom. Each of the houses has their own particular concerns so budgeting is also crucial. Like George Osborne, there will be cuts to come.
The council looks set to approve our new field entrance which is in record time. It means we can get the field access sorted before the concrete blocks are removed.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Farm now all barricaded with concrete blocks, looks like an urban slum, but safer I hope. A bit of demolition and foundation digging for the farmhouse extension should be taking place in the next couple of days. The builder is touchingly keen to preserve the wisteria, so we'll dig it up and plant it somewhere else.
I've been getting worked up about executive pay, as well as drains.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Spent all day yesterday burning old furniture dumped by the travellers and took another car load to the tip. I reckon there is about another bin bag to pick up. It's a bit pathetic really, all the debris of a consumer lifestyle. Can't help feeling a bit sorry for them, but they don't help themselves.
But the drains remain a mystery. They are a bit like the collateralised debt obligations invented by the banks - a way of insuring for the future, but no-one knows what they do or where they end up. Still trying to find the route through the neighbour's drive.
Windows due in on June 28 though which is a big step forward and most of the first fix electrics done. We still have to move in mid-July so will have to rent somewhere.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

And I thought drains was all I had to worry about. A group of travellers arrived at the farm on Saturday, putting off any further thoughts of sewage. They have now gone, after being told to move on by the police on Monday.
This was after we caused a big confrontation with another group that was trying to arrive on Sunday morning. We blocked off the gate they were trying to come in by, causing a huge tailback of caravans in the road, a big traffic jam, lots of screeching and shouting and even intervention by the vicar whose church service was disrupted.
Saturday's group cut through a chain on the farm gate, took it off its hinges and pushed it over, so about six or seven caravans drove into one of the fields at lunchtime.
Someone rang me from the pub to tell me about it and I was on my own all day so I went straight to the police. The police came with me to reason with them, but as it is a civil offence, they told me to get a court order to remove them which is impossible at the weekend.
We had inherited the mess from a group that were there two years ago, before we bought the farm, and that took weeks to clear up, so it really upset me to see them flattening the hay and driving their quad bikes around. I spoke to the travellers' boss who told me they would clear up and not cause a nuisance and only wanted to stay for a few days.
Of course, as soon as I'd gone, the neighbours are all ringing up about the noise and the quad bikes racing on through the night.
By Sunday, I was no longer upset, but angry. I went up there again without the police, but this time James came too. I spoke to the same boss and told him he had not been telling me the truth when he said they would be quiet and clear up and that I wanted them to go. He asked for £500 to leave, but warned me that more were on the way.
This is when we blocked the gate with our car. That didn't stop them though as they eventually realised they could get onto the land through another farm gate further down the road. We now have about 25 caravans on the field. By now, the police are taking it seriously as we have caused a blockage in the road and disruption in the village.
The police inspector arrives and he then talks to the travellers.
The police later say they will use their powers to serve notice on them to leave. I think this is using section 61 of the criminal justice act 1994 that was brought in to stop illegal raves. Anyway, it means we don't have to go to the courts and is a lot quicker. Some of them left on Sunday night and the others went at 1.50pm yesterday - ten minutes before the deadline set by the police.
A big relief all round after a very stressful weekend. I cleaned up 16 bin bags of rubbish and haven't even started on the toilet paper or the dumped furniture yet.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Connecting the drains to the sewer in the road is going to cost £20,000!! We need to look at other options, maybe we can re-use some of the existing connection. Roof is nearly finished now, more work starts next week.
Turns out I'm not as low-spec as I thought I was. The kitchen is way over budget so will have to try and knock some things off. Everyone else has voted for power showers rather than granite worktops, but even without them, the cupboards are more expensive than planned.
Big meeting on Monday to decide on electrics and radiators.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The scaffolders turned up, then they went away again. They have only put up half of the scaffold so that the tilers are running out of roof space to cover. Trying to track down the scaffolders now. We need to get the scaffold up in the neighbour's garden in the next week so that their side of the roof can be done while they're on holiday.
In the meantime, am now researching kitchens, tiles and bathrooms. A time-consuming process as they all look much the same to me and I'm not that high-spec. A modern Magnet kitchen looks good value and stylish. The wood-burning stove is high-spec though and will cost a fortune, but hopefully will keep us warm.
First date for a utility connection today - well done EDF! Gas and water are taking months.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Nigella's burnt butter cupcakes are a big hit with the builder. I said I could make them every day if they just get started. Our move date looking increasingly ambitious, but the scaffold is coming on Monday and the roof starts next week.
Need to choose the kitchen and bathrooms this weekend and try and get a discount on four woodburning stoves so that we can have one in each house.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Rather taken aback to hear that Southern Water had a six-month waiting list for drain connections. Luckily this has now been lifted and we are rushing to apply. But I can see this is going to take some time. The manhole is on the other side of the road and very deep so will need traffic lights. Am checking out composting toilets. Should be popular with the teenagers.
Just as worrying, the builder is on holiday next week.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Got the price now and amazingly, it's less than I expected so will get started this week with the roof. The old tiles were from north Vietnam with only one UK importer - he came round but said he had no record of them being delivered to the site so any redress from him is unlikely. More nettle cutting at the weekend so at least the verges and road edges look neat....trying to be good neighbours.
But our buyers want to move in on July 15 which made the builder go a bit pale - we will be in that caravan yet!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Bit of a blow. Looks like the roof will have to be completely re-tiled as the tiles are faulty. We thought they were just breaking off where thieves had ripped the lead off the roof before we bought it. But the problem is more widespread - a lot of them have got hairline cracks and are randomly breaking. It's a lot of roof to re-tile.
Met the neighbours who said the tiles had come from China and were very cheap. Maybe this was towards the end when the previous builder was running out of money.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

I'm now obsessed with drains. The drainage plan is a thing of beauty and so detailed. Still not sure how it will connect to the sewer in the road - a specialist firm will do this, but it's 6 meters deep. That's a lot of digging and traffic lights to hold up the cars.
Of course, it's impossible to co-ordinate between all the utilities so looks like we will have to dig up the road several times. One good result though, the electricity cable runs along our verge so can tap into this without too much trouble.
The planning officer is off on maternity leave this week so is passing things before she goes. An end to the paperwork is in sight! Looks like our intervention with the local MP may have swayed the council over the double glazing.
But we now have two offers on our house so will have to move into a barn soon.

Monday, 12 April 2010

My new life as a builder

The sun is out and we should be building. But one thing I have quickly discovered in my new life as a builder is that nothing happens quickly in the construction world. For the past month I've been tied up with paperwork, drawings, planning approvals - trying to cut through the red tape we've been bogged down with for the past nine months.
Minor victory today though. The cautious conservation officer at the council has approved our application for slimline double glazing in the new extension of the small listed farmhouse! Don't know why this has happened....he was minded not to. It's still bonkers, we are being forced to put in single glazing in the main part of the farmhouse because it is listed and in the barn. Don't know how we can improve the environmental credentials of these buildings with restrictions like this. But we should press home our advantage and challenge that in the light of today's breakthrough.
In the meantime, trying to broker the relationship between the (real) builder and the architect. My only management tool - as in journalism it was cake - with builders it is biscuits. Moods become quickly smoothed on appearance of the chocolate digestives or the viennese fingers.