Pay day!

Excuse me while I jump up and down and whoop a bit, because when I checked my business account today I saw that £75 had been deposited yesterday, which is 3 x £25 deposits from our first three bookings 🙂  We get the balance month-end before the stay, so at the end of February I’ll get the balance of the 3-day stay booked for March less the annual property registration fee of £105.  We’ve also had another week booked for September.

I had an answerphone message from BT on Monday telling me that the engineer would be visiting again on Wednesday 31st January and please could I be in from 8am until 1pm?  The line was a bit crackly, so I double-checked with BT’s Live Chat who confirmed the engineer was booked.  I’d picked up some new plaster, so was able to get those last few screw heads and plasterboard joins filled in, but confidently expecting that BT wouldn’t let me down twice in a row, I hadn’t taken down much else to get on with, and I couldn’t carry on painting the hall over wet plaster.  So I made a big snagging list (it runs to three pages):

And I discovered that my phone talks to the TV as they’re both Samsungs.  I can throw my phone screen to the TV or put the TV screen on my phone, and if you put the phone screen on the TV and then switch the camera on, you get this:

(Can you tell I was slightly bored by this stage??)

Anyway, no-one showed up again, so I stomped back down the road, and at 1.12pm an email pinged in saying they were continuing to work on my line installation and would contact me with further information on 5th February – at which point I was so icily polite to Live Chat that they opened a complaint without me asking them to!

Today I’ve been re-doing the screw heads in the plasterboard, because the first lot of plaster shrank a bit, and then decided to have a go at sorting out the hole David had to cut in the plasterboard to put in some stud to attach the extractor hood to.  I mean, plastering a wall around a freshly installed extractor over brand new hob and wood worktop, what could possibly go wrong??  I did the sensible thing and got a sheet and some masking tape.

And amazingly managed not to make too much of a mess!  The nice thing about this paint, annoying as it was to apply, is that all its claims about being washable are true.  Once I’d plastered around the cut-out line and filled in the screw heads, I was able to wipe it over with a J-cloth and take most of the excess plaster off.

(Those three little dots are nail holes, I have no idea how they got there.)  I’m not 100% certain I’m going to be able to cover it up properly, but I’ll sand it tomorrow and then see how well it takes another coat of paint.  I need to get rid of David’s pencil marks as well.  If it doesn’t look good then we’ll go back to the original idea of getting some brushed metal cut to size and attach it to the wall.

Another month gone

I have 31 days left until we’re officially open for business, which is really quite astonishingly scary.  BT was supposed to come this week (although on Wednesday, not Thursday as I wrote in my last post) and even phoned me on Monday to remind me to be at the house for the engineer.  I got there just before 1pm, took the lid off the plaster ready to fill in the remaining plasterboard screw holes in the hall from when David had to make the door into the kitchen smaller, and found that it was (a) solid and (b) mouldy.  So I masked off the front door and the skirting boards and was happily slapping a base coat of white matt emulsion over the walls that didn’t need filling while listening to Judge Rinder and Escape To The Country (I do like having the TV working down there).

Escape To The Country finished, so 4pm and still no engineer.  I’d run out of things to paint, took my overalls off, sat on the sofa and played backgammon on my phone for a bit.  At 5pm I saw headlights, which got my hopes up temporarily, but it was Mick home from work and come to see what was happening.  He went home and let the dogs out and I stayed until 5.55pm when I decided the engineer probably wasn’t coming, went home and got straight onto Live Chat with BT.  They were extremely apologetic – apparently there’s an issue at the exchange which meant my line couldn’t be connected that day and they weren’t expecting an update until 5th February.  They’re going to compensate me for the missed appointment, I didn’t ask them to, it was offered automatically, and I’ve asked them to make sure that I won’t be billed for the line and broadband until it’s actually installed and working, because my first bill is supposed to generate on 3rd February.

Dougie has been back, fitting ethernet and TV sockets in the bedrooms, along with the outside lights and finishing off a few things in the kitchen.  The oven needs an inline 15amp fuse, which isn’t standard and he’s had to order, and when he opened the box for the weatherproof outdoor switch (we have two outside lights which will illuminate the back garden and the sheep fank) it turned out to be a socket, so that has to be changed, but we do now have the under-unit lighting working in the kitchen and it looks great – the spots in there are very bright, but these give the perfect amount of light for eating supper round the table.

Mick has been working in the bathroom all weekend.  For a man who claims to hate tiling, he’s really very good at it.  Shower screen up and shower fitted next weekend, we hope.

Finally, as we’re supplying all logs, peat and kindling for our guests, we thought we’d better get cracking on with our woodpile.  We got it delivered free because it came out of Strathy Forest when they were felling for the windfarm, which is only three miles away, so it’s been lying in the field for a few years while the sap dries.  Now Euan is turning it all into woodburner-sized chunks for us, so we can cart them down the road and stack them in the big barn to finish drying.  Jack is inspecting progress here!

We have doors!

David arrived on Monday and ended up staying for the whole week, much to my joy.  The doors have been an absolute pain, because we left the original doorframes in and they weren’t quite square, so there’s been a lot of shimming and planing.  But they’re in and they look fabulous.  (Please note how I have accidentally managed to buy a landing lampshade in nearly the exact same colour as the stair wall!)

The living room door has been a particular pain in the behind, because the area of the wall to the left was only half an inch wider than the oak surround David was using.  He suggested that he get some more oak skirting board instead and use that, rather than leave me with a tiny strip to paint.  It’s very slightly lighter, but not too noticeable and I think it looks neater having it flush to the wall.

I have some very careful painting to do on the inside of the door frames where David’s planed them down.  He’s also fitted the upstand and splashback in the kitchen and tidied up the cupboard doors on the landing – the composite board he’d made them out of has shrunk quite badly in the warmth from the heating manifold and there was a big gap between each pair of doors.  He’s carefully fitted a wooden strip to each so that they close flush again.  Not sure whether to paint these or not – they tone in with the carpet and I quite like the contrast.

We’ve had two further bookings, from complete strangers this time – both of them couples and bringing dog(s).  One is for a week in April and the other is three nights in mid-March, so we really have to get sorted now!  Mick has been doing more tiling in the bathroom this afternoon and now there are no more doors or furniture being carried around the place, I can get my overalls back on and paint the hall next week.  So nearly there…

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Or that’s what I thought yesterday morning, anyway, when I was feeding the horses and looked up to see David’s van coming down the road!  He spent yesterday trimming doors and is in town this morning picking up some more wood and some different hinges, as he thinks the ones he got originally will look too heavy for the smaller upstairs doors.

Even better, we’re now up and running on the agency’s website!  I’ve been taking some exterior photos this morning, which are so huge that my email provider refused to send them, so they’re going via WeTransfer and I hope one or two will be good enough to use.  I keep forgetting to check the fitting on the bottle lamps, but between Christmas and New Year I’ll get some lightbulbs and then start taking some interiors.

Two weeks to carpets

Time is sliding by remarkably fast.  My wonderful mother has solved the curtain problem by reminding me about John Lewis.  The pair I absolutely loved for the living room turned out not to be suitable for a window of that width, because the material is too heavy for that long a curtain pole, but they’ve got some plain grey ones that will be fine, plus plain pale blue ones in the same style for the kitchen.  Price?  Just £75 a pair.  I need to double-check the length of curtain pole and then I’ll get those ordered.

Other than that, it’s really been landing, landing and more landing.  The first job was to take the old coat hooks off the wall.  I was going to keep this until I realised that it had been made by sawing off the tops of double coat hooks and could easily slice your fingers open.

Mick carefully filled in all the gaps in the panelling and then ran the big orbital sander over it, to take the top layer of varnish off ready for painting.

I got to work base coating the landing in white and couldn’t believe what a difference it made to the amount of light up there.

First coat of primer on the panelling.

I finally finished sanding the bannisters.

Working my way down the stairs.

The problem is that even after THREE coats of undercoat, it still looks as if someone’s been chainsmoking there.

So I’ve taken an executive decision and that wall is going to be pale apple green instead of milk white!  I went into town today to see if the paint shop had the colour I wanted, but they don’t stock the Crown Hall and Stairs range and I didn’t have time to go over to Wick, so that’ll have to wait until Saturday.

Mick has been brave and started tiling the bathroom.  It’s not a job he likes doing, but he’s better at it than me, so he gets lumbered with it.

The carpet fitters came over last week to measure up.  They were kindly fitting me in after a long day on two jobs roughly in my direction and even more kindly they drove round the village looking for me when they called at my house and found I was out.  I didn’t mean to be out, but my neighbour’s ram had escaped and I was helping her find it before it got anywhere near the ewe hoggs (this year’s lambs, which all roam loose around the village over winter) and we had some unwanted teenage pregnancies!  They called me back with a quote 48 hours later, which I agreed to, and they’re coming to lay them on Wednesday 29th November.

This gives me quite a tight timetable to work to.  If all goes to plan, it should work like this:

  • I finish decorating the landing, hall and bannisters
  • David comes back to lower the lip on the top step of the staircase and fit the downstairs doors
  • Dougie gets all the electrics finished
  • Pete fits the woodburner
  • Mick finishes bathroom
  • Carpets are laid (Wed 29th November)
  • David fits the upstairs doors (Thu 30th November)
  • Furniture is delivered (Fri 1st December)
  • Curtains, blinds, bed linen, kitchen equipment, etc. etc. put into house (weekend 2nd/3rd December)
  • Parking area scraped and gravelled, garden scraped (4th-6th December)
  • Snagging (w/c 4th December)
  • Scottish Cottages rep visits to take the initial photographs and get us on their website pre-Christmas (w/c 11th December)

I’ve been leafing through the Howdens catalogue this evening, choosing doors and door handles, and realised I have no clue whether I need to order 12 x the handle part number for 6 doors or whether they come in pairs!  I think this is the point where I just hand over the details of what I want to David and let him work out the quantities.  Next job: choose the fabric for the two Roman blinds for the dormer windows.

Is it really only Wednesday?

Because I feel like I’ve done a full week’s work already!

Monday’s jobs were to track down Dougie (done, he hadn’t got my text last week, but I spoke to him and he’ll be back as soon as he has a free day – he’s also been alerted to the boiler wiring issue and will take a look when he’s back), ask Magnus if he was free to help with decorating the landing and hall (no, he’s off on holiday – Magnus is a great traveller, so I look forward to seeing all the photos on Facebook) and turn the twin room purple:

Yesterday I had to go into town, so the house-related part of the list was:

  • Pop into Pollards to ask them a quick question about a house they’ve got for sale
  • Visit Elizabeth’s to have a look at curtains
  • Visit Janet Street Carpets to have a look at carpets

The house I had the question about had gone under offer that morning, so it was a bit of a moot point, but sales fall through with alarming regularity up here, so it may not be game over with that one.

I found curtain material I absolutely loved for both the living room:

and the kitchen:

and then had slight kittens at the price, which with window widths of 7’6″ worked out at just under £300 for the living room and about £500 for the kitchen!  I remembered that Riverside did curtains, so went and had a look, but the prices were about the same – until I found a pair in their sale bin almost identical to the black and silver pair above, for £59.50.  The one problem?  I hadn’t measured the drop I needed, only the width, and at 54″ I wasn’t sure they were going to be long enough.  I asked if they’d stick them aside for me so I could check, as it was the last pair, and they very kindly stuck them in a bag for me and told me to bring them back if they didn’t fit!  Sadly they didn’t, I need a 66″ drop, so I’ll be sending them in with Mick when he goes into town on Friday.  I’m not sure what to do about the curtains, might have a look at Curtain Exchange or eBay before I commit to getting some made.

Also to go back with Mick on his Friday afternoon trip to see his mum will be the two books of carpet samples that Janet Street Carpets lent me.  I’d remembered the Cottages.com rep advising me to go for a quality carpet with a high wool percentage, so I spent a fascinating 20 minutes learning all about how wool fibres react in a carpet and issues like reverse pile.  After a fun Tuesday evening with Mick spent holding carpet samples against the white woodwork and then putting bits of offcut oak from the downstairs skirting boards on them to get an idea of how it would go with the furniture, we’ve settled on an 80/20 wool blend from Summit Twist in Olympus, which is a dark neutral beige.  It comes in three grades, and as the difference between the middle and the best is only £2 a square metre £21 versus £23), I think we’ll probably go for the highest.  Wool carpets are graded by pile weight, which is the number of ounces of carpet pile (i.e. the wool bit, not the backing) per square yard, and the Summit Twist’s top weight of 50oz means it’s graded as suitable for heavy domestic use, so it’ll be fine for the stairs and landing as well as the bedrooms.  We also need a special underlay because of the underfloor heating, at £8.99 a square metre and I reckon I’m going to need about 40 square metres in total – they’re coming on Monday to measure up, as they’ve got two jobs in the area.

Today we had no rain forecast, so I bit the bullet and decided to paint the gate.  First job, scrubbing all the green bits and bird droppings off with a wire brush, then sanding down any wire marks.  Finn, my Welsh cob, came wandering over to see what I was up to and provided moral support by farting loudly at me whenever I looked like I was flagging!  Of course, sod’s law dictates that once I’d got started with the actual painting part, a load of showers came over.  After having to re-paint the same bit of gate three times to get the raindrop marks out, I gave up in a huff and went home for some lunch, which, of course, I ate in glorious sunshine.  Back down again once I’d finished and another two hours saw the first coat finished.  I’ll need to wait for another supposedly dry day to get the second on, but it’s looking pretty good, I think.

I’ve still got the dormer to paint in the twin room, but I did touch-ups on the purple today and I want to make sure they’re completely dry before I put masking tape over it, so tomorrow I’m going to attack the landing.  Wish me luck…

We’re on countdown

We’ve had David for 2.5 days this week and he has finished pretty much everything he can do on the list – the remaining items need someone else to do something first.  However, he broke the news that he’s going to America for a couple of weeks at the beginning of December, which means in all likelihood if I don’t nab him for those jobs before he goes, I’m not likely to get him back until January.

Since there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, Mick and I have agreed to put our collective feet to the floor and try and get the house completely finished by the end of November.  We’ve pushed on pretty well, with David’s help, and bits of it are now starting to look like a home rather than a project.

Painting the woodwork in the twin room while Ophelia lashes the windows.  The slate roof barely made a sound.

David has an incredible knack of taking my rather garbled description of something and making me exactly what I had in my head.  This little build-out hides where the underfloor heating pipes go into the wall and will be a useful shelf for keys etc.

The kitchen became a workshop while the weather was so vile!

One thing Mick wanted David to do was a piece of wood putting into the top of the dormers – there was a thin piece sticking down between the plasterboard, which I’d tried painting, and it just looked awful.  This is much neater and will be painted white.

It’s amazing how much more finished the house looks with all the skirting boards and door surrounds in place.  We had a big tidy-up downstairs this morning.

Also done by David but not photographed – a bead around the landing ceiling and the loft hatch, a thin piece of wood planed down and slipped in behind the bannisters to hide the underfloor heating insulation, and the top three stairs shimmed so that there isn’t quite so much of a difference with the top step, again because of the underfloor heating insulation.

We took a deep breath and ordered the furniture yesterday.  The shopping list consisted of:

  • 2 wardrobes
  • 5 bedside tables
  • 1 3-drawer chest
  • 2 2-over-3-drawer chest
  • 1 floor-standing cheval mirror
  • 2 small wall mirrors
  • 3 3ft beds
  • 1 5ft bed
  • 3 3ft pocket sprung mattresses
  • 1 5ft pocket sprung mattress
  • 2 upholstered dining chairs (these are going in the dormer windows in the two larger bedrooms)
  • 1 corner TV unit
  • 1 lamp table
  • 1 extending kitchen table
  • 5 cross-backed dining chairs with padded seats

All of the furniture is solid wood and I had a feeling that I was probably going to have to shut my eyes when I handed my card over, but the total, after a very generous £297 discount, came to £5,200, so thank you Riverside Interiors!  We also spent £3,050 with them on the two leather sofas and a friend of Mick’s was selling a coffee table in the same range of furniture we’ve picked for £100, so that makes our total furniture spend to date £8,350.  Looking at our original budget, we’re £300 over on the wooden furniture and £1,950 over on the sofas, but we’d originally budgeted for fabric, not leather, before we were advised by the agency that leather would be better if we were accepting dogs.

We had a visit today from Alex, who’d come over to have a look at the area in front of the house and the garden so he could quote for sorting it out.  We need the whole area in front of the house scraping back, a weedproof membrane laying and then covering in gravel, bar a long strip about a metre wide to the right of the gate, which will stay as grass.  At the back, we’re having a gravel path put in along the back of the house and then the rest of the garden will have the top layer scraped off.  As we know from our own house, the problem with making a garden out of a field is that it’s always trying to turn itself back into a field.  In theory, if we scrape back deep enough, we should hoick out all the docks, thistles and other unwanted field pests.  Unfortunately we’ll have to fork out for some turf rather than waiting for grass seed to take, otherwise the photos are going to look a bit weird when it’s advertised, but at least it’s the right time of year for laying it.

Lots for me to do next week, and I have a list that would probably choke all three of my horses, but tomorrow’s first job is to try and give my sheep a contagious disease!  About a third of them have come down with something called pinkeye, a mild conjunctivitis, and I’ve been advised that it’s best to try and get them all to develop it and get it out of the way, as it normally clears up by itself in 6-10 days and after having it they build up an immunity to it.  So I shall be down the road in the morning to fetch the feed troughs and then holding the sheep equivalent of a chicken pox party!

Oh Ecclefechan!

Back in December, I put up a post about what I’d like under my Christmas tree, and one of the three buildings I picked was Tigh Achenechan (or Tigh Ecclefechan as I keep calling it).

At the time, I thought the asking price of £200k was optimistic and reckoned £150-160k was more realistic.  It disappeared off the market a couple of months ago, but when I drove past it at the weekend the For Sale sign was still outside it and today it popped up in my Facebook feed from the agent.  It’s been repossessed and a new home report has been done.  The new asking price?  Just £129k.  Hopefully someone else will buy it before we finish Ethel’s because I suspect if I go and look round it, heart will want to overrule head!

We’re still inching forward down the road.  No David so far this week; if he hasn’t appeared by the end of next Monday I’ll drop him a text and find out what’s going on.  Mick finished sanding the twin bedroom and landing and painted the landing ceiling while I was lying on the sofa full of cold at the weekend and now I’ve got a base coat on the twin bedroom walls and will start on the woodwork tomorrow.

While I was away, Pete turned up and picked and pointed the little fireplace in the double bedroom and laid a new hearthstone on top of the old one.  He’s done a fabulous job.

I’ll need to stick some dried flowers or something similar in there to make it clear that it’s not for actual fires, but I’m so glad we’ve managed to show off some of the old stone.

One door closes, another opens

Very sadly the house we’ve been in the process of trying to buy for the past 5 months has fallen through, so bang goes the idea of our current house becoming holiday lets two and three.  However, in that weird way the universe has of sometimes saying, ‘Don’t give up,’ the same day that I found out it definitely wouldn’t be going ahead, I also got given a new opportunity.  A friend of mine has a house she lets to tenants, who moved out last week.  She’s had a couple of hassles with various sets of tenants in the past and is so busy at the moment that she doesn’t really want to have the headache of finding new ones and settling them in.  She’d really like short-term holiday let tenants, but definitely doesn’t have the time to sort that.

Well, I can recognise a ball lobbed in my direction occasionally 😉 so I asked if she would be interested in giving me a 5-year commercial lease to run it as a holiday let.  She’s going to discuss it with her other half and then we’ll have a proper talk through the idea when I’m back from a week away with my mother and I can have a look inside, though if it’s anything like her other properties it’ll be immaculate.  The cottage itself is in a spectacular location, on its own on a headland, overlooking the sea, but from memory it doesn’t have an enclosed garden and I suspect she wouldn’t want dogs in the house anyway, which will limit income.

I think steps forward with this are, assuming friend is still interested in pursuing the idea after talking with her husband:

  1. Have a look inside.
  2. Make notes of what I think might need changing based on what I learned from the holiday cottage rep (e.g. I’m pretty certain it’s set up as two twin rooms, so one would need changing to a double)
  3. Ask holiday cottage rep for income estimation
  4. Crunch numbers

My very rough back-of-an-envelope calculations give an average monthly profit of £150-£250, which I was a bit sniffy about, because I was comparing it to Ethel’s, but then I thought about it and if someone offered me £200 a month for about 16 hours’ work I’d take it.

I’ve stalled a bit down the road, as David’s vanished again.  He asked me a week ago Friday if I minded if he did some work in his neighbour’s kitchen on Monday, but he’d be back, and I haven’t seen him since!  Dougie is back from Borneo, but I don’t feel I can chase him up until I’ve got the last two ceilings finished.  The twin bedroom and the landing are now mostly sanded down, just a few bits to go over where we touched up some sunken plaster, but I’m not sure I’ll have time to get them painted before I go away.

I also had a visit from Jeff this week.  Jeff’s a semi-retired heating engineer from Birmingham and a genius with boilers, but Ethel’s nearly defeated him on Monday.  The hot water wasn’t working, so Jeff dismantled various bits of the system and found that the paddle switch was working as it should be and the pressure switch was activating the pump correctly, but for some reason the boiler itself wasn’t firing up to provide heat.  There was a considerable amount of head-scratching going on until he took the casing off the circuit board and the mystery was solved.  Because John and Ethel had always run their hot water from the old Rayburn in the kitchen, the people who installed the boiler had completely removed the switching on the circuit board for it!  It can be sorted, but Jeff has been honest and said it’s way outside his comfort zone and he’d be happier if Dougie did it, so that’s another one for his list when he’s next here.  Once that’s up and running again, Jeff will come and service the boiler, because he reckons it hasn’t ever been done since it was installed.

David did manage to get a fair bit done in the three days he was with us.  The finished kitchen window seat – I was in town today and called in at the local haberdasher, who say they’ll be able to make me seat cushions for this if I make them a template for each end.

Knobs and handles fitted in the kitchen.  That blue isn’t quite so in your face with the units toning it down, so I think we might keep it.

Fireplace surround complete and skirting board started.

David’s back!

And he’s doing a wonderful job 🙂  The kitchen cabinets are finished, though we’ve decided not to glue the upstand in place until Dougie’s installed the extractor fan and we’ve put the splashback in.  The oven’s been slid into place to save space, as David’s brought both his saws inside due to the weather.  Just the knobs to go on the doors now.

He’s also nearly finished the window seat.  I’ll be painting this white and then getting a seat cushion made for each end.

Mick finished the wallpapering.

And Pete came by to put the ridge on the barn roof, so we’re now watertight again – no bad thing, given the weather over the past few days!  He’s coming back tomorrow with a hearthstone for the bedroom fireplace.

Finally, I have to commend the Highland Council’s Council Tax department for their efficiency.  After a few back and forths with them when they kept sending me 200% charge council tax bills and I kept writing back to say the house was still uninhabitable, I sent them this website address and said they could keep an eye on my progress this way if they liked – after which no further bills arrived.  They obviously have been dropping in occasionally, as about 10 days after I put this post up to say we were just about mortgageble, I got a new bill putting me back up to the 200% charge!