Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Pish. I've just logged on to the office system to check my emails. And I'm now informed that the IT equipment I ordered can't be charged to the project because the office manager didn't put the right code on the requisition.
Welcome to the world of local government.
What's the deal?
Because this project* is being paid for by the EU (or maybe because it's been drawn up by some anally-retentive bean-counter with an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek), my funding is allocated in quarterly tranches. This is the first quarter, and the target is ridiculously high. Nonetheless, I have to meet it, lest I be branded a workshy, lily-livered, whey-faced, do-nothing dullard.
The set-up costs were meant to come from that first quarter, and I had hoped that the meagre IT request I'd made would go a little way towards meeting that target. Needless to say, any monies not spent in one quarter cannot be carried forward to the next.
Ho hum.

* The project is, officially, a heritage project. Am I alone in absolutely bloody hating the word heritage? To paraphrase Goering, when I hear the word heritage, I reach for my Browning.

Nearly done

Now looking more like a house. It's gone up about 14 inches at the eaves to give some more headroom upstairs, and the awful brickwork has been replaced with stone throughout apart from the stacks themselves. Overall, a satisfying job - though still not quite finished. It's been delightful working with a client who just wants the place 'as it was', but with mains electricity (instead of the diesel generator it had) and proper extensions rather than the timber and asbestos sheet lean-tos that had once surrounded the place. The house has been in the same family for the best part of a century but had been virtually uninhabitable for the past few years.
Inside there's still all the interior plastering to do, plus first fixes for power and water, but a corner has been turned. And, if truth be known, it's projects like this that make this job is vastly more satisfying than the other job. Not a word to the council though!

Getting there...

There wasn't a lot left by the time the fragile bits were cleared away, but nearly all of the stone could be salvaged and - immodest as it seems - a rather better building has resulted. The original house was extended upwards in the early 1900s, and the standard of workmanship was mind-bogglingly bad - bricks were laid stacked with no bonding, bits of loose timber were used structurally and overall it was a miracle the place had stood as long as it did.

Then the extension could go ahead, properly tied into the stonework. Yes, blockwork, I know - but given the work involved, I'm bloody glad they didn't want the whole thing in rubble-stone!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Nothing to see - move along. Just the early stage of a project that's nearing completion. If the weather's half decent tomorrow I'll get some 'after' pix.
This, by the way, is an object lesson in learning to question your local building control officer. Rubble stone walls do not like being undermined, even if the BCO says it's necessary to dig straight down in order to lay a raft for an extension. Two days of rain, and the house falls down.
Always dig on a batter of at least 45 degrees. And, if in doubt, get an engineer in.

Fading away...

It's nice sometimes to find only good words to say about people or organisations.
Yesterday I was looking at the war memorial in a village. It was a cut above the average; a statue of Peace with an olive branch above a rather grand red marble plinth, the whole thing set about with an ornate set of wrought iron railings.
It's only a small village and, back in 1923 when the memorial was put up, it must have meant a lot. As it should, given that 13 men from that small village were killed in the Great War.
As the UK's National Inventory of War Memorials has it:
It also describes the condition as "GOOD". Which it isn't.
In truth, the memorial is looking rather sad. The olive branch has crumbled away, Peace herself is streaked and grimy, the marble is dull and the railings are corroding and splitting.
Surely something could be done to help, I thought. I could find some money from grants, but it would need to be matched. And how, in a depressed rural area, is one to come up with match funding?
Enter the War Memorials Trust, a charity which does what it says on the collecting tin. The trust is able to give grants towards the restoration and reinstatement of memorials. Not huge grants, but enough to make a difference.
The trust doesn't make a fuss, like the RSPCA, and I imagine that very few people make bequests to it or offset chunks of their hedge fund for gift-aid tax relief. But it chugs on, doing invaluable work. Bloody good it is, too.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The secret of comedy...

...dear boy, is timing.
And of largesse, it would seem.
In the normal course of events, riding into town with a wheelbarrow full of cash to help restore the historic features of vernacular buildings would be seen as a pretty nice thing to do. OK, it might not make auburn-haired temptresses swoon at your feet, but it should make you rather more popular than the night-soil man.
But that's the normal course of events, and not events as manifested through the prism of a national assembly and the EU, and launched at precisely the moment when economic confidence and the will on the part of punters to invest in such things has gone through the parquet.
So I find myself in the odd position of having money to give away and yet no-one's queuing up to take it. All I get are rather suspicious looks.
The problem is that the cash in question is grant money that needs to be match-funded. Nasty plastic windows? You really need some nice timber windows instead. One snag. You need to fill in a nine-page form, seek three tenders, get planning permission, be granted a unique case number by the national assembly and have the work done and signed off in three months. Just enough time for the pigs to get their pilot's licence, I would have thought, given the way things work in these parts.
Oh, and you've got to pay 20 per cent of the cost.
Normally the 20 per cent wouldn't be too much of an issue, but two things have thrown a spanner in the works. One is Joe Sixpack defaulting on his tar-paper shack and sending the world's banks into meltdown, and the other is the fact that the areas I'm targeting have just been blitzed by a uPVC window company practically giving away their shite on the never-never. Walking down the road is a depressing experience - every other house has brand new plastic windows, many of them still with the paper protective tape round the frames. And, understandably, the owners aren't too gruntled at the prospect of forking out to replace the windows they've already bought and will be paying off over the next ten years.

Thursday, 22 January 2009


Still just to the east of Herts.
But anyway.
I was struck by a post on the Period Property forum in which someone made much of their professional work on a house near Birmingham. To me the place looked absolutely bloody awful - a weird mix of materials left exposed inside and outside and clearly a 'renovation' rather than a sensitive repair.
Yet the website made much of their use of traditional materials, and seemed to tick many of the right boxes. To the casual browser it would seem that this was the 'proper' way to treat an old building.
OK, the work done was not destructive to the fabric of the building, and my gripes are largely aesthetic, but it still rankles.
And, yes, it might be that the client specifically asked for the exposed stone and brick, but if that were the case I'd be a bit embarrassed to showcase it quite so boldly, let alone pimp it on another website.
The moderation on the forum in question does seem odd - on the one hand it allows this sort of bollocks, yet it bans people who say anything remotely contentious.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Manage Blogs

At least that's what it says on the admin page. And then, in parentheses , '1 total'. As if that's meant to be some sort of reproach. How in the name of all that's sweet can anyone manage more than one? I imagine I will find it hard enough to manage this one - there will be lacunae and longeurs; times when bugger-all appears to happen. But enough of my blathering...

A sobering thought

Two Google searching equivalent to a nice cup of tea. The tea would be preferable.

A tentative toe... dipped into the waters. So, a solipsistic piece of onanism, a tree falling in the forest or just a stream consciousness punctuated by mood swings, tiredness and cheap booze; Molly Bloom with PMT? Yes. Yes. NO!

We'll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, there are sheep to feed, silage to move and water troughs to check. Hey ho - of course he's the fucking farmer, Withnail - or has he come on holiday by mistake?

Things could prove sticky with this keyboard - it's been so sore abused that the keys stick like snot to an oven door, and typos and literals are guaranteed unless I hammer the keys with enough force. The gentle patter of touch-typing it ain't

So there you are. Like most losses of virginity, vastly over-rated. Not as sticky as some, however.