Saturday, 24 September 2011

Let's get ready to rubble

The front bedroom after we removed the old roof
There comes a time in your life when you stand on top of the walls of your home and come to a sudden realisation.

"Oh crap, I've spent £X,000 on a pile of rocks."

That was me last April after our neighbour Bruce the builder and I had taken advantage of what turned out to be the only decent fortnight of the year. I stood on the (impressively thick) wall of the house, just where the front bedroom used to be, and tried very hard not to get upset.

Having said that there was a cracking view over Westray Firth towards Rousay and Orkney Mainland from where the box bedroom had been until a few hours earlier so it wasn't all bad.

Easily the best view from a box bedroom in the UK
The construction of a new living room at the front of the house (complete with big windows for enjoying sea views, birdwatching, checking who is going to and from the ferry and so on) and of a new roof for the whole house has dominated our lives for the last 18 months, right from the moment I started the planning and building warrant applications to the point now where the extension is built and Bruce is attaching slates to the roof with extremely expensive copper clout nails.

I can't say I'll be disappointed when it's all over.

A hell of a lot's been done, but we still have some considerable way to go - small luxuries like ceilings, plasterboard on the walls, flooring, a light in the bathroom - and you can see why one builder asked us when we moved in: "Have you not thought of knocking it down and building a new house?"

Frida inspects progress in the utility room
The phrase "It'll be worth it in the end" is in danger of being worn out, but, now that we can at least sit in the extension and enjoy a book, cup of tea and the view, the optimism is a little less forced.

The old walls are, as I've already said. A metre thick, they are made largely of stone stuck together with red clay which apparently was beaten to a creamy consistency - a regular pain-in-the-bum (or arm) job given to the youngest workers on the site.

Over the last 150 years that's become damp and perished so it has had to be picked out and modern cement pointing applied before the walls can be lined with insulation and plasterboard.

The whole building process is satisfying, frustrating, infuriating, exciting and depressing all at once, but it IS going to be worth it - really it is.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The farmer has another wife


The Westray Wife - 5,000-year-old Barbie
I hurried from the back room to the front desk of the Westray Heritage Centre, put on my most winning smile and greeted a rather damp couple with all the usual "hello, how are you, are you having a good time in Westray, how long are you staying?" guff.

"Are you open this afternoon?" said Mr Damp Tourist, rather more abruptly than was strictly necessary, although our weather this summer has been enough to give anyone the hump.

"Yes we are, from two 'til five," said the pig farmer/morning duty person at the heritage centre, trying very hard not to take it personally.

"That's good. We'll go for a walk, have some lunch and then come back before we get the bus for the ferry," said Mrs D Tourist - clearly a woman with a plan.

And off they went in their brightly coloured anoraks and waterproofs, leaving me wondering if there was something wrong with my deodorant.

I've had a little part-time job this summer down at the island heritage centre. For three or four mornings a week, I help out doing everything from cleaning the toilets to burning CDs of Orkney dialect poetry. It also involves taking care of The Westray Wife (you may remember her from this), the 5,000-year-old-plus figurine found a couple of years ago up at Links of Noltland. I also take the money for Westray Wife keyrings, Westray Wife postcards, three different Westray Wife replicas and Westray Wife shortbread (really).

The job has been a real tonic. It gets me away from the "farm" for a while and I get to talk to real actual people as opposed to pigs, dogs and chickens. I'm also finding out all sorts of interesting stuff about the island. . . invite me round for tea, I'll be fascinating.

However, just lately I've noticed a disturbing trend. We don't exactly have to fight visitors off with a stick at the centre, but there has been a steady flow and by the end of the month (when we stop daily opening) the best part of 3,000 people will have come down the fuchsia-lined path and through the doors this summer. But for the last three or four weeks they seem to have been avoiding me.

The only shifts where no visitors have been recorded have been when I've been on duty (six out of my last nine, in fact). And that leaves a hell of a lot of time for dusting.

What's the problem?

Is it the wellies. . . the ruddy complexion. . . the vague whiff of pigshed? I need to know.

Monday, 12 September 2011

And the mouse police never sleeps

Reasons why you shouldn't go barefoot into the barn, No.435.
I only had to nip out to the freezer to get something for my tea. I couldn't find either socks or slippers and there was no way I was going to put my bare feet in a pair of wellies that get more unpleasant with each passing day.

As I was about to open the freezer door, I felt something moist, squishy and a bit furry under my toes. Looking down, I felt at least some of my appetite drain away.

"Oh triffick, a headless rabbit."

Frida, now top cat on the "farm" since Trevor handed in his dinner pail, likes to leave something hanging around for a snack to fill the gaps between the four square meals she has a day. Still, mustn't grumble.

With the possible exception of Mrs Pig Farmer and Molly the sow, she's the hardest working member of the household and mice are a rare sight around the place while rabbits have to keep their heads down or face the consequences.

Which isn't bad for a little feral cat who turned up one night a couple of years ago, bedding down next to a totally unconcerned old Kim in the pig shed before deciding she was going to live in the barn.

She steers clear of the dogs - who wouldn't? - and rarely ventures into the house, finding it pretty much impossible to settle when she does. But she seems to like my company and, while most farmers/crofters have a dog that follows them around the fields, I have a cat.

There are times when I think I can't do anything right.

And here's the song.

Back home

So, the new place wasn't right and we're back here. Please disregard the previous post and fingers crossed that I can rediscover some enthusiasm for the blog in the process.