Things you don’t expect to hear from your electrician

“Do you have a small make-up mirror I could borrow?”

I’m quite used to Dougie phoning me from down the road to answer queries, but that one threw me a bit, not least because I’m not really a make-up kind of girl.  However, one rummage through the dark recesses of the bathroom cupboard and I turned up a Clinique blusher compact with a mirror in it (bought for my wedding in 2011 and used about twice since!) and took it down to the house to find out what he needed it for.

As it turned out, he wasn’t planning to restage Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Armadale-style, but had left his own small mirror behind and wanted to check the position of some wiring from underneath the new fuse box.  All was well and we now have sockets upstairs with power to all of them.  The smaller white fuse box in the middle is a breakover switch – this gives us the ability to switch the house onto a generator if there’s a power cut.

Dougie has very carefully covered all the new sockets in protective film and taped around the edges, so they don’t get covered in paint when I’m decorating.

The heating manifold is beginning to fill up, though I’m still trying to get hold of Derek to find out when he’s going to come and finish off downstairs and switch the system on.  The reason I’m getting a bit angsty about it is that we need the heating on for two weeks to warm the wood flooring up so it expands before it’s laid.  David will be doing the laying and then installing the kitchen on top of it, but he has sheep and we’re getting perilously close to the beginning of lambing season!

And I’ve been working away at my bannister – my new specialist sanding tool arrived yesterday, so I hope to have a play with it tomorrow, but I did manage to get most of the upstairs hand rail done with what we had.

Sunday was sheep-moving day.  There was so little grass left on the fields around the house that we decided to move them out to the hay field on the point, which hadn’t been grazed since it was baled in August.  To get onto the track down to the point (Reismeave, to give it its proper name), you can either come out of the front gate, turn left on the road and then turn left again just before the next house, or you can go out of the back gate and through a little gap between the corners of two fields which has been deliberately left for sheep to hop through, dropping straight onto the track and avoiding the road altogether.

Well, the latter option seemed like the most sensible one to us, so Mick set off in that direction rattling a bucket of sheep nuts with 14 hungry sheep following him and Jack and I blocking the escape route to the road.  Unfortunately although the gap is large enough for a normal-sized North Country Cheviot hill ewe, which tend to be on the skinny side, our lead sheep, Bella, hasn’t had a lamb for several years and is therefore a somewhat portly lady.  Bless her, she tried her best, but even with Jack barking encouragement from behind, she was not going to fit through that gap!!

So we went the longer way round and managed not to (a) lose any of our sheep or (b) pick up any belonging to anyone else and the ladies are delighted to have some thick grass between their toes instead of mud.  It’s not a bad view for them either.

It’s amazing what you can do in two days

We had David and Dougie for two days last week and they’ve got a lot done 🙂

Dougie has been tunnelling again – we now have holes in the wall and cables for the outside floodlight, the satellite dish and a switch for all the external lights.

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Inside, the cable runs are just getting more and more wires in them – this was taken standing in the hall and looking up, so all these are running underneath the landing.  I have to confess, I had absolutely no idea how much wiring was in a modern house until now.

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Not to be outdone, David has been working away in the kitchen and spotted a problem – two of the joists weren’t actually resting on anything, they stopped just short of the window!  One quick trip home (fortunately he lives about 6 miles away, which is just round the corner in Highland terms) for a suitable bit of wood and problem solved.

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The framing is up in the hallway and around the front door.

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And the first of my window seats is taking shape – I LOVE it!  Eventually that wooden fence will be replaced with wire stock fencing, so there’ll be less of an interruption to the view.

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And last but by no means least, my wonderful husband has been cracking on with things as well.  The living room ceiling is completely plasterboarded over.

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He’s started on the coombes upstairs – if you’re wondering why he’s not gone all the way to the floor, that’s where the tongue and groove panelling is going to be.

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He’s also put in recessed dwangs ready for Dougie to attach the socket backs to.

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Pete dropped round today.  He’s been trying to get his hands on a beautiful piece of Caithness slab that he’d spotted way out west of here for me to use as a replacement hearthstone, but after weeks of gentle negotiation its owner has decided not to part with it.  Instead he gave me a 2″ x 2″ stone sample to check I was happy with the colour and will get it cut exactly to size at the quarry for me.  The quote for a 75mm-thick piece was over £700, which he choked at a bit, so since it’s a woodburner going on there rather than an open fire (i.e. no direct heat) and the floor’s being raised by the underfloor heating anyway, we’re ordering a 50mm piece and Pete will raise it to the right level – a far more reasonable bill of £350 for that stone and you won’t be able to tell the difference.

David is back tomorrow, I hope, and I must remember to ask him (a) when I need to order the tongue and groove, (b) how much of it I need to order and (c) which supplier he would prefer me to get it from, if any.  Tomorrow he’s hoping to get the window seat in the living room done and perhaps put in the studwork for the internal walls upstairs again.  It’s going to feel quite strange not having it all open up there any more.

Let there be paint

“You need Magnus,” said Pete the Roofer, when I double-checked with him that I’d understood all the stages I needed to go through to paint the outside of the house.  Magnus has an air-free paint spraying system that does a beautiful job on houses and was subsequently recommended to me by two more people, but I was also warned that he was very busy and could afford to pick and choose what jobs he took on.  Well, I got his number, tried to call him, got thwarted by a dodgy mobile signal, sent him a text – and this evening got one back saying he’d been to have a look and was interested in doing the job, weather permitting 😀  (Maybe word has spread about the cake!)  He asked me what colour from the Sandtex range I’d like:

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White paint is traditional, but Mick and I agreed a while back that if we went for Brilliant White, with it facing east we’d probably blind the two houses opposite until midday in summer, so wanted something a bit warmer, but not too yellow.  Out of the ones above, Cotton Belt is my top pick, but if Ivory Stone works out significantly cheaper due to it being available in 10l cans, then I can live with it!  Magnus has warned me we’re going to need about 160 litres to paint the whole house, so £35 for a 10l can versus £20 for a 5l can is a saving of £80.  Of course, the other way of looking at it is it’s only £80 more to have the colour I really like…  We’ll see what the quote comes in at 🙂

ERG came on Friday and it was the surveyor who’d come in initially to measure up rather than the fitter, I’d misheard his name when he rang.  We cleared up the slight confusion caused during his first visit when he’d thought I was simply the keyholder for the house rather than the owner, and he’s gone back to ERG with my proposal that rather than paying my joiner’s estimate, which I was never expecting them to do in the first place, they simply remove from the invoice the amount allocated to finishing off the insides – I’m sure they must be able to calculate the materials and labour cost for that.  Jeff helpfully told me that in future, if I find myself pulling apart a house on another project, I can ask for a first fix quote, which I wasn’t aware they did.

The Howdens kitchen designer was on holiday until yesterday, but I dropped my drawing off on Saturday so it was there waiting for him and was very chuffed to be told it was one of the best drawings they’d been given – usually they get something scribbled on the back of an envelope!  It was clear enough that the guy who took it thought the lady who helped out by drawing up the plans would be able to get started, so I’ll call in tomorrow when I’m in town and see how they’re getting on, as Dougie is now running out of things to do until David and Derek move forwards with the framing and pipework, and having the official kitchen plan would mean that he could finalise the wiring in there.  He made an heroic effort single-handed at the Kentish apple cake on Tuesday after Derek got diverted to another job!

Travis Perkins delivered some plyboard today, which is for putting down over the top of the underfloor heating when it goes in, so we won’t squash the insulation by treading on it directly but don’t have to lay the engineered wood floor while we’re still making a huge mess.  The delivery guys were fab and even had the good grace to tell me I was the first person to make the joke about their hi-vis jackets, though I suspect I wasn’t (when you spot one of them has ROBIN printed in large letters on the back of his, you naturally ask the other if his says BATMAN, right??  It didn’t, it was GARY, but I’d be getting a marker pen out if I was him!).

I had a nice friendly email from the Council Tax people today explaining what I needed to do to get the bill back down to 100% from 200%, so I’ve gathered up all the invoices from the last month, scanned them into a PDF and emailed them back with a list of what we still need to do, when we expect it to be done by and an open invitation to inspect the property any time they like.  Fingers crossed they issue me with a revised bill.

More clearing out

As I need somewhere to store the hay I’m hopefully going to be baling on Thursday or Friday, this week I’m concentrating my efforts on clearing out the biggest of the byres, which will apparently hold 250 square bales when it’s empty.  It’s the one we’ve been storing all the wood we stripped out in:

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Behind that piece of framework is an old electric cooker, which I found a load of nearly-new muffin trays and casserole dishes inside, and behind the hot water cylinder was the carcass of chest of drawers – in the one remaining drawer, I found these:

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I’m asking around to find out who they were.  It’s looking like the man is Hugh MacDonald (who I think was Ethel’s father-in-law and my neighbour Christopher’s uncle), but no-one has yet identified the lady.

Whilst shifting some of the wood pile, I found another dated board.  This was on the underside of one of the shelves we took out of the kitchen pantry:

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And this week’s cake?  Well, on Monday night Pete announced that since a packet of Silk Cut had reached £10 in the village shop, he was giving up smoking, so I thought I’d better come up with something a bit spectacular!

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I’ve had the quote through from SSE Power Distribution for moving the overhead line and it’s come back at a very reasonable £194.28.  I forwarded it to Dougie for him to check that they’d included everything he needed, and he rang back this evening to say (a) it was fine, go ahead and (b) he was nearly non-contagious again and hoping to get up to us for a day this week.

A very big delivery

We’ve made some pretty good progress this week.  Dougie has now got about as far as he can with the electrics until the studwall goes in, but we now have all the cables coming down the walls to where the sockets and switches will be, and they’re all neatly bundled up where the fusebox will be moved to on the landing.

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As we had a bit of bad weather earlier in the week, I asked Pete and the guys to take the kitchen and bathroom ceilings down – Mick strained his back over the weekend so we weren’t able to do it ourselves and I didn’t want it to hold Dougie up.  They found the kitchen ceiling was painted, so at some point it must have just been open to the floorboards above.  I’m very wary about going upstairs now though, as I don’t want to fall through Dougie’s cable runs!

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We did have our first on-site accident though – a dropped crowbar whilst taking down the bathroom ceiling unfortunately bounced the wrong way off the stepladder and took out the sink.

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Never mind, it wasn’t a particularly pretty basin, I’m almost pleased to have a good excuse for replacing it!  The bathroom ceiling is nothing to write home about and will be covered up with plasterboard once Dougie has done his stuff.

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Today is Mick’s birthday and fittingly we had a very, very large delivery – all the Quinn Therm insulation and my flooring 🙂  It took up most of the Rembrand lorry on its weekly trip west!

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Amazingly we just about managed to squeeze it all into the living room.  In theory, once David and Dougie have gone through upstairs, we can fit the 100mm stuff into the rafters, which will free up enough space for them to work in the living room.  In theory…!

We’ve had a pretty good day for weather today, which means the roof has made great progress.

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Fingers crossed we can get hold of David for next week, otherwise we’re going to grind to a halt again, but for now we’re moving forwards at pace.

Let there be light!

David arrived on Thursday and had a quick site meeting with Pete and Dougie, the upshot of which is that he put the Velux windows in on the side of the house Pete is currently working on and will be back again at some point this week to put the studwork in for Dougie.  I went down on Thursday evening to have a look at the windows and was so pleased that I almost cried!  The amount of light coming into the top floor now is amazing.

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Dougie is still tunnelling, very neatly.

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And having had a look at our kitchen layout, he’s now more convinced than ever that venting the extractor fans from there and the bathroom through the roof is going to be too much distance for them to work effectively, so he’s having an exploratory dig through the wall to put them out of the back instead.

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I went to Rembrand at the weekend and ordered up the insulation, which came to an eye-watering £1,778.  I keep telling myself that it’s paid for itself once I’ve saved about 4,200 litres of heating oil…  Seriously, as I intend to own this house for a very long time, it’s a good investment.  While we were in there we saw they had an end of line special offer on 18mm engineered oak flooring, so today I’ve been measuring up the ground floor as it looked really nice and at £21.99 a square metre, worth grabbing if they have enough.  (A similar thickness bought online is around £29.99 a square metre.)  Measurements are as follows:

Kitchen – 3.36 x 4.00 into bay window = 13.44sqm
Living room – 3.90 x 4.00 into bay window = 15.6sqm
Hall – 3.20 x 1 plus 1 x 0.52 plus 1.09 x 0.9 = 4.7sqm
Total = 33.74sqm – so I’ll order 35sqm, which will be £769.65 (assuming the price they were showing included VAT…) and if I go and see them tomorrow, it can be delivered with all the insulation on Thursday.
The bathroom will need something different, as engineered wood usually isn’t suitable for use in it, but I measured it anyway – 1.7 x 2.15 to the shower tray = 3.655sqm.

Today we’ve been baking to feed the team next week.  I’ve made a lemon drizzle cake and Mick has gone all in on the sausage rolls after they got rave reviews last week – he’s done sausage, pate, cheese and onion, Mexican-spiced sausage, and wild boar and mushroom!  Also pictured are the custard biscuits I made last week, after I raided Mum’s recipe book while I was away.

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Lift off!

I have actual people working on site 😀  It’s no longer just me, Mick and the dog, proper professionals are now getting to grips with my house (and one of them has told us we’ve saved a considerable sum of money by doing everything we’ve done so far by ourselves, which is good).

Dougie the electrician has been here two days this week and has removed all the old cabling, sockets, switches and the fuse box:

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He’s taken up the floorboards upstairs to run the new cabling underneath:

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And he casually mentioned that he’d need a plan of where I wanted all my light switches and sockets to go.  Not something I’d actually got round to thinking about, so last night I scribbled it all out on some rough paper, showed it to Mick who made a couple of suggestions, and then this morning made a clean copy, photocopied it and went up to the house to present it to Dougie with the comment of, ‘Please tell me where I’ve been an idiot.’

Fortunately he thought it all looked sensible and made some suggestions of his own, namely an optical smoke alarm for the living room (where the burner will be), a heat alarm for the kitchen, and he’ll run two shotgun cables from where the satellite dish will come into the house up to a splitter in the attic, so two screens in the house can watch two different things if required (there’s no reception for a standard TV aerial here, the only way to get any television is satellite).  The new fuse box and meter is going on the landing in the corner and we’ll probably put a slim run of cupboards along there to hide it, as the roof is too low for that space to be walked in anyway.

We are currently down a roofer, poor James has succumbed to the lurgy going round locally, but Pete and Connor have been here putting up scaffolding and today, since it was wet and windy, picking out the north gable end wall inside.  It is now looking almost certain that we won’t be able to open up that big kitchen fireplace 🙁  Pete’s insurance company will give him an extension on his policy to cover it, but they want £2,000 (yes, that’s right TWO THOUSAND POUNDS!!) to insure against it collapsing and that’s before we take into consideration what Pete’s annual premium would go up by if it did actually all fall down.  He’s asked them to review their figures and should get a reply from them tomorrow, but sadly it does look like it’s game over for the fireplace.  Never mind, the smaller one in the living room is still lovely, just not quite as dramatic!

One thing I believe very strongly is that anyone kind enough to come all the way out here and do a job for me deserves looking after while they’re here, so there’s now a box down the road with a kettle, mugs, spoons, tea, coffee, sugar, a Thermos with milk in, squash and some home baking.  This week it’s been my chocolate brownies, which Pete has had before and likes:

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(Each of those little squares – and they’re about two bites – is around 250 calories, they’re totally sinful and completely worth it!).  I asked what they’d like next week and Pete, who’s from the south east, was reminiscing about Kentish Apple Cake.  Now, I’ve only found two recipes for it on the internet and neither of them sounds like his version, because they have chunks of apple stirred throughout the cake and Pete’s one has all the apple in a layer in the middle, so it’s going to be a bit experimental.  I may have to put bowls and spoons in the box on Monday!

Stripped

Mick decided to take the day off on Friday, got the bit between his teeth and completely stripped the living room.

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Sadly no enormous fireplace on this end.  We did have a brief discussion about the merits of swapping the kitchen and living room over, but decided that the extra hassle and expense of replumbing probably wasn’t going to be worth it.  It just means we rotate the kitchen layout 90 degrees and drop the idea of having a big dresser against a wall for all the crockery and cutlery.  There is, however, a lovely old hearthstone in that fireplace 🙂

As the plasterboard came off, it was clear that there was a membrane underneath the concrete floor, which is why it’s dry.  Unfortunately it doesn’t go under the walls, so a little damp has got into the old lime plaster.  We’re going to pick it all off, let it dry out and take a look at the stone, then see if it needs tanking before we put the studwork back up for the insulation and new plasterboard.

Dougie the electrician rang on Saturday with his quote.  Bear in mind that this was the list we ended up with when he asked us what electrical things we wanted in each room:

Front room

Main BT socket
Satellite connection
3 x wall lights
2 x standard double sockets
2 x double sockets with USB chargers
CO2 alarm

Hall
Smoke alarm
1 x single socket
1 x ceiling pendant light

Bathroom
Electric shower to be changed out
Electric towel rail
3 x large (about dinner plate size?) recessed ceiling lights
Extractor fan

Kitchen
6 x recessed ceiling lights (standard spotlight size)
Cooker
Heating control system
Hob hood extractor
Small spots for lighting the food preparation surfaces
3 x standard double sockets
2 x double socket with USB chargers

Landing
2 x recessed ceiling lights
1 x single socket
Smoke alarm
Move meter from hall and bring in power here instead of through the front door
Low-level, fairly dim lights up the stairs, wired to a switch in each of the three bedrooms to light people up and down to the bathroom at night, without waking everyone up by switching on the main landing light

The two larger bedrooms
1 x central pendant light
3 x double sockets with USB chargers
Satellite dish connection
Ethernet connection
Smoke alarm

Smaller bedroom
1 x central pendant light
2 x double sockets with USB chargers
Satellite dish connection
Ethernet connection
Smoke alarm

What do you reckon his quote was?  Mick was thinking in the region of £6,500-£7,000.  I was hoping it would be about £5,000.  He’s quoted us £4,655.  I was so surprised that I completely forgot to ask what I needed to buy and what was covered in that list!  When he was talking about the stair lights, he said the ones he intended to use were in pack of six, so lights must be included, but I know that I’ll need to pay for the shower, the extractors, the towel rail and, obviously, the cooker.  What I’m not sure about are the cover plates for the light switches and sockets, so I’ll have to email him and check.

Since he says he’ll want to start upstairs and can begin in about three weeks’ time, we attacked the upstairs again this morning and made good progress in stripping out some of the last bits of panelling – now David the Joiner has confirmed that all the internal wood that isn’t a sarking board or rafter is non-structural and can be removed, we’re being a bit more adventurous with the pry bars!  Only one worrying moment, which was when I was breaking out some of the panelling below the window in bedroom one, put my bar against an enormous rock in the wall to brace it and the rock moved….!!  It’s completely loose, so it’s been pushed back into place and we’ll get Pete to have a look when he’s next here.  A little bit of wet stone under the window in bedroom two as well, but we’ve had an easterly with rain in it all weekend, and I think it’s just been forced in around the window.

I also got to grips with a power tool for the first time – I used Mick’s drill with a Phillips screwdriver head attached to remove the handrail up the stairs.  It took a couple of goes to get the idea that I had to keep it pushed into the screw even though I was using it to take the screws out, as that seemed a bit counter-intuitive, but 24 screws later I was quite comfortable with it.

Demolition Sunday

A phone call this morning from Dougie the Electrician, to go through the list I’d sent him of what I thought I wanted, electrics-wise, in each room.  In the main he agreed and of the things I’d asked his opinion on, thought that putting a connection to the satellite dish and a wired internet connection into each bedroom was a good plan, but as it was going to be a rental, wouldn’t bother with wiring the place for sound.  He also suggested that I put a smoke detector into each bedroom instead of just the hall and landing, which I thought was a good idea, as I’m sure legislation will eventually require it (at the moment, hall and landing would be sufficient for a three-bedroom self catering cottage).  He’s now going to price everything up and get a quote back to me.

I’ve had to work today 🙁 so Mick headed down the road to destroy a bit more house.  The internal doors are now all removed, ready to be thrown into the back of the truck and driven south (probably to Nairn, I need to get a quote) for stripping back to the original wood.

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We wanted to see what was behind those enormous window sills in the living room and kitchen, wondering if we could get enough space in the kitchen one to put the table there. So he broke open the living room one today and this is what he found:

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Lots of breezeblocks, which must have been put in when the window was enlarged in the ’80s, but see those two blocks on either side?  The *perfect* size for two small window seats – another job for David the Joiner, I think!  Boxed in with some nice oak, a comfy padded seat on the top and a coaster on the windowsill for a coffee mug or a glass of wine, it’s going to be a nice spot to sit and enjoy the view.

Then he moved into the kitchen and broke out the pantry cupboard.

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It’s amazing what a difference just taking off the door and removing the shelves has made, the room looks so much bigger.

Budget Day

Not just for Mr Osborne, but I thought I’d add up how much I’ve spent to get here so far, as the solicitor’s bill arrived this afternoon.

The only two expenses I’ve had (not counting the running costs for my sheep – I’m keeping my crofting budget separate) are the interest on the money I’ve borrowed from my family and the legal fees, so the accounts so far look like this:

Difference between money borrowed and purchase price – £70.51
10th Nov – Interest – £96.68
10th Dec – Interest – £276.88
11th Jan – Interest – £276.88
10th Feb – Interest – £276.88
10th Mar – Interest – £276.88
16th Mar – Solicitor’s bill – £766.00
Total:  £2,040.71

So it’s cost me a little over £2,000 just to get the keys.  In fairness, that’s not bad – I had to sit down when I opened the solicitor’s letter, as I was expecting that to be four figures and possibly starting with a 2!  I shall drop in and pay it tomorrow and leave a large Easter egg for Jane, my solicitor 🙂

I had a call back from Dougie the electrician this afternoon – he was up the road in Melvich, could he come and have a look?  Sure.  The good news is that he’s agreed to quote for it, so I need to think about what I want in each room in terms of lighting and sockets (I don’t need to finalise positions just yet), think about where I want the TV and the phone, as he’s going to hide all the cabling currently tacked to the front of the house for those, and decide whether I want the power to the byre to be on a separate meter to the rest of the house.  He’s also going to move the position of and seriously upgrade the heating controls (it’s a cheap clockwork timer and the noise is really annoying) and move the meter and fusebox etc. – he’d seen that the main power cable into the house is chased into the harling down the outside wall and then goes through a wooden panel above the front door, which isn’t ideal, so since we’re getting the door replaced and we’ll have someone patching the non-harled bits that will be revealed when Pete takes the fascia boards off, it’s going to go through the wall at the height of the connection and all be hidden in a little cupboard on the landing.  Mick has suggested that we ask him to also quote for putting in outside lights, particularly one to illuminate the fanks (sheep handling system), and also for wiring in a back-up generator so that if we do have guests in and there’s a power cut, it’ll cut in and take over.  We actually have a generator here, but it’s not wired in, so it can go down the road.

Another two hours stripping out panelling and bedroom one is very nearly ready for work to start.  The priority over the next few days is to get the surfaces with the Veluxes/proposed Veluxes bare so that if Pete wants to start cutting holes in the roof next week it’s all ready to go.  I uncovered a MAHOOSIVE spider which I thought was dead, but turned out not to be.  Mick really Does Not Do spiders, so I had to dispose of it out of the bedroom window.