Studied Delight

August 16, 2018

As eagle-eyed readers have no doubt picked up from Twitter, we’ve more or less redecorated my study and today I finished moving all my stuff back in, including maps I’ve been holding onto for more than 15 years while waiting for a place to hang them all.

I’m delighted with the result, which is exactly as I’d hoped it would be, although I am sure it will not be to everyone’s taste.

new study

Minimalism, what’s that? And yes, it really is that orange

As well as storage (I was about to say ‘ample storage’ but to be honest my new storage boxes are already all spoken for) I now also have a place to put several years’ worth of cycle campaigning memorabilia.

Pinboard of POP posters

I still need more space for books, and no doubt it will never look this organised again, but I finally have a work space I am truly happy with. This leaves only one problem: I now have to get on with all the things I’ve been waiting until I have the perfect work space to do …

A Study in Scarlet

July 29, 2018

So, almost two years after we moved in, I’m finally getting around to sorting out my study …

study decorating preparations

This is not (entirely) just idleness on my part – like gardens, I think houses need a bit of time before you can be certain how you want to decorate and arrange them, especially a study, given that I work from home so it’s also my office.

Up till now, I’ve simply had the desk in front of the window so my back was to the rest of the room and I could simply ignore the resulting chaos that develops when someone who is never tidy at the best of times is attempting to run three separate cycle campaigns, a writing and editing career, and an occasional pop up bookshop – not to mention a knitting habit.

Every so often, I would run out of floor and then tidy up, as far as I could considering there was nowhere to put anything away other than old cardboard boxes and bags (this, for those confused, is the ‘after’ photo. I did take a before photo but there are some things too embarrassing even for me to put out there on the Internet).

study tidied

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have plans for what I wanted to do with it in the fullness of time. I’m not about to become one of those decluttering people (I was kind of interested in the idea of becoming tidier, until I read an article describing books as ‘clutter’, which is clearly the first sign of insanity) but it would be good to be able to have places to put things. And I have a large collection of maps that I’d like one day to look at, for what is a study without maps on the wall. And I have always had a hankering for a huge pinboard, if only so my wall planner doesn’t become a floor planner again. And one day it would be nice to make my cousin a happy man and stop double stacking my books, although to be honest, I don’t think that will ever become a permanent state in our house, where books seem to creep in through the cracks in the walls.

study storage

Ooh, storage

Anyway, finally, a plan has emerged and I’m now 90% certain I know how I want it to be. We’ve raised the stakes by doing this a fortnight before we have friends coming to stay, which at least gives us a deadline. The last little bits of wallpaper have been scraped off the walls, the holes filled, the surfaces washed and it’s all going to be ready to go as soon as I’ve decided exactly how courageous I want to be with my colour choices (note,it won’t actually be scarlet, although now I come to think of it …)

I have no doubt that, six months down the line, everything will undoubtedly be scattered around the room in complete chaos because it’s a bit late to be undergoing a complete personality transplant this late in the game. But at least I’ll know that, should I want to, I could totally tidy it all away, if only in theory.

At which point, I will probably take up another stuff-generating activity…

Box Ticking

November 18, 2017
duns recycling

No reason for posting this photo except that I spotted this slightly disturbing sight on a visit to the Duns recycling depot and I felt it should haunt everyone else’s dreams as well as mine

Bzzt-bzzt – my phone vibrates with an actual phone call (I find if you leave it on silent, you rarely actually have to answer the damn thing, which suits me as I dislike telephone conversations and I consider my mobile to actually be a handy camera and Tweeting machine, which has an annoying bug whereby someone can interrupt you by wanting to talk to you on it) and it turns out to be someone ringing for feedback about our adventures with Home Energy Scotland.

This made me realise that although we had a visit from a home energy adviser back in August last year when we moved into the house, I never actually got around to writing about it for the blog, which is somewhat remiss of me. I had feared that I might just get some bored youth with a clipboard running by rote through the basics of low energy lightbulbs and turning down your thermostat and not overfilling your kettle – but what I actually got was a visit from a proper, massively well-informed, insulation and renewable energy geek who wouldn’t know a box-ticking exercise from a hole in the ground. He stayed for around two hours, during which time he clambered into every corner of the attic, found the places where our cavity wall insulation had gone in (something the actual bored-youth-with-a-clipboard who clearly did the home energy report for our house sellers had utterly failed to do), explained the ramifications of the Eskdalemuir Listening Station on the local windfarms and introduced me to the concept of the wind-driven rain index (our house is on the high end of it).

I imagine that there are people who would be run a mile at the prospect of two hours talking renewable energy and loft insulation, let alone wind-driven rain indexes, but I love nothing better than delving into a relevant subject with someone who knows their stuff, so I was keen to give my extremely positive feedback to the survey company who rang. This left the poor chap on the other end of the phone struggling to squeeze my responses into his pre-ordained boxes, although I think he was enjoying the challenge (Him: “Was it important for you to have your home energy advisor visit you in person?” Me: *enthusiastically describes how he found the injection points for the cavity wall insulation by looking under the windowsills* (top tip if you ever need to check your own home) Him: “So I’ll put that down as ‘very important’ then”).

attic space

Look, just because I found loft insulating fascinating to talk about, doesn’t mean I’ve actually cracked on and finished it

Anyway, the call reminded me that I had neither written the visit up, nor implemented more than the very basic recommendations that came out of the visit. The latter will take a little time, but as for the former – if you live in Scotland and want to make your house greener and warmer, then the service is absolutely free and definitely worth every penny and I highly recommend it.

Lofty Ambition

October 4, 2017

Top up your loft insulation, they say. There’s no quicker and easier way to save money on your heating bills, they say. It’s a no brainer, they say.

attic space

Clearly these people do not live in a house with coombed ceilings.

So, previously on Town Mouse, we started the ‘top up the insulation over the bedroom’ project, a mere nine months ago, and then it sort of got a bit shelved when other more inviting experiences were on offer, like working, doing my tax return, and root canal surgery.* Fast forward to now, when I found myself with a few unexpected free days, my tax return done, and just the one dental appointment to replace a filling** – not nearly enough to act as a valid excuse – so we returned to the loft.

Reading back through the comments the last time I blogged about this I see that you all sensibly suggested a decent torch, which advice I have ignored (I was looking at the site lights in the Screwfix catalogue with unwonted interest though. This is where home ownership gets you: let my example act as a Dreadful Warning), and to pre-drill the boards, which we have followed, so we made better progress this time around and have now installed precisely one third of a roll of insulation. I’ve also renewed my resolution to get back to yoga if I’m to spend any more time wriggling around in confined spaces manipulating large rolls of what appears to be feral teddy bear fur. I did at least manage to get in and out of the attic with only one moment of thinking that I might actually be stuck up there forever.

Then this afternoon, I headed off to Notso Bigtown where the dentist replaced my filling without anaesthetic,*** and I can tell you that was less unpleasant than my morning’s activities.

At this rate, look forward to the final installment of the loft insulation story some time after Brexit.

* I actually have no idea what root canal surgery involves except that it seems to be the go-to example for ranking unpleasant experiences

** Apparently I don’t grind my teeth at night, I just clench them, very very hard, and I have actually managed to drive a filling down into my tooth like a wedge. Tense, moi? Clearly more cycling needed …

*** No, I don’t really know why I went along with it either. Apparently it’s better that way. Anyway it wasn’t *that* painful and it did mean I didn’t spend the rest of the day dribbling coffee down my front, or at least any more than usual.

Another Early Birthday Present

March 20, 2017

Seriously, how cool is this?

killer whale vertebra

I mean it’s only a killer whale vertebra which a friend has passed on. Apparently there was some concern that I might not be that keen on having bits of whale skeleton brought into the house, as this is the sort of thing that wives tend to object to.

boot for scale

Boot for scale

Not this one…

Drilling Down

January 25, 2017

I think I may have mentioned that our attic was previously insulated by someone who was in no way shape or form a completer finisher, and we’ve been working on rectifying that, spurred on by the combination of electric heating and a smart meter which tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Although, that said, progress has still been slow. We did the easy bits, and redistributed all of the loose insulation that was just sitting around in the attic into the gaps between the rafters along the side of the house, which was straightforward enough if I didn’t mind spending a lot of time inching along on my elbows trying not to breathe in too much insulation fibre and/or mouse poo.

Then we thought we’d do the other apparently easy bit, which was to top up the insulation in the apex of the roof which looks like this:

attic space

For reference, that’s just tall enough for me to wriggle into, but not get up onto my hands and knees, so it’s back to the commando crawling.

That seemed like a straightforward enough job: another layer of mineral wool over the top of the rafters. Unforutnately, in practice it has been one of those projects that a colleague of mine used to refer to as climbing the bug tree: in order to get to the point where you fix the problem (not enough insulation), first you have to fix all the other problems which are in the way: no loft boards to crawl on to get the insulation down there, loft hatch too small to get spare loft boards up into the attic space, designated loft insulator (me) having a small panic when she got up into the attic space and then realised how impossible it was to move around with just two planks to balance on and couldn’t work out how to get out again. So, once I’d extricated myself from the attic without the assistance of the fire brigade, we went and bought some more loft boards with the plan of creating a nice crawl path down the middle, firmly screwed down, so I could work a bit more comfortably.

So then the next problem was cutting down the loft boards to a size where they spanned an integer number of rafters and still fit the gap, which would be easier if all of our rafters didn’t appear to be a different distance apart (naturally, whoever installed the first layer of insulation ignored this so there’s a gap of about 10cm in the middle but hey, that’s about par for the course for this house). Then I had to start screwing the loft boards down, which is where things began to come unstuck. Whenever I do a job like this I am confronted by the fact that I am quite extraordinarily unhandy. It doesn’t help that I’m left handed, nor that I never learned how to do these things at school, nor that I am actually not strong enough to hold up the other half’s super duper Makita power tools with one hand, making it difficult to hold down the loft board with the other. Nor indeed that I was trying to do it while lying on my front in a space you wouldn’t keep a chicken in, by the light of a small torch. I think I managed two and a half boards before the increasingly inventive swearing drifting down through the loft hatch alerted the other half to the fact that things were not going well. I could no longer hold the drill straight and steady enough to get the screw into the board, let alone screw it down onto the rafter, and I was ready to throw in the towel, followed by the screw, drill, loft boards and torch, directly into the nearest pond. Time to take a break.

Hopefully, in a day or two my arms will have recovered enough to get a few more boards down, but this is looking like a looong job – and that was the easy part. Still, looking on the bright side, I can now get in and, more importantly, out of the attic without freaking out.

Remind me why it’s so much better to own your own home again?

Turning Left

January 4, 2017

road left

I had occasion to visit our new Nearest Village this morning. As I turned left out of our road end, it occurred to me how infrequently I do this. Since moving, almost every bike ride I’ve done has involved turning right, down towards Bigtown. The odd bit of gadding about around Scotland aside, I have basically been wearing even more of a groove with the bike than I did before, when at least I had two regular routes instead of one. I’m generally a creature of habit, but this is getting a bit boring even for me.

I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions (apart from the one about not starting any new cycle campaigns, which I normally manage to keep for at least three months into the year) but this year I thought I might at least shake things up a bit. Nothing so formal as a resolution, but let it be known here* that I shall aim for at least one mini adventure, where by ‘adventure’ I mean ‘going somewhere new by bike’ in a way that involves at the very least getting the old Ordnance Surveys out and possibly even getting lost.

Largely this will mean turning left – to explore the roads north and west of here, roads which I’ve done very little cycling on in the past because it’s all been a little bit out of reach. So this should be the opportunity to take advantage of the move and see what new and exciting places I can discover.

Time permitting, of course …

* I had thought that publicly stating such intentions was a good way of holding oneself accountable, but according to the ever-erudite City Cycling Edinburgh forum, in fact it can be counterproductive as that way you get the pleasure of approbation for just saying you’ll do something and don’t bother to follow through. So you’ll just have to hold me to account here yourselves, if you want any vicarious adventuring

Crawl Space

October 3, 2016

After months and months of what has felt like October weather (wet, blowy, chilly but not freezing), October has decided to get going with a couple of days to gladden the soul.

october skies

The only thing distinguishing it from June (platonic June, that is, not the actual June we had, which was a bit like October, or at least the way October usually is, rather than the October we are actually having, which is a bit like – oh, never mind) is that it’s been a bit nippy at night. Not quite frost, yet, but getting there.

Which is bringing the matter of our insulation into sharp relief. The good news is that the new house has plenty of insulation in the loft. Some of it is even installed where you would expect it to be, between the joists, some of it was installed against the coombes or whatever the slopey bits are, and is now falling off in places, and some of it is still in its roll after whoever it was who installed it got bored of the project and left it in a discreet corner of the attic. In a way, it’s quite encouraging because sorting out the insulation is doable and not particularly expensive if you do it yourself, and it makes a massive difference to your bills – all in all, a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, the shape of the upstairs means that doing it ourselves means me inching along in the triangular gap between the roof and the bedroom wall, using my elbows and toes, because it’s too narrow to properly crawl. My reconnaissance mission on Friday was a good reminder that it’s been far too long since I went to yoga (and besides, I don’t think there’s a pose called downward SAS commando), and I woke up on Saturday wondering if I was coming down with a chest infection because it hurt to breathe, until I remembered that I had spent Friday using muscles that I clearly otherwise only use when I cough.

At some point – perhaps after an intensive yoga retreat to get bendy enough – I’m going to have to go back in there and actually start putting in insulation, which should be interesting. It’s fortunate that I’m not claustrophobic, although I can report that when you’ve crawled as far as you can into a tiny narrow space under the roof, and realised you can’t get any further because there’s a board missing, and you’re going to have to work out how to reverse – then that is a very bad time to have the thought ‘what happens now if the house catches fire?’

house on the hill

The joys of home ownership, eh?

It’s About Time

August 26, 2016

Apologies for the lack of posting in recent days – I’ve been busy, but with the sort of routine boring things that don’t really generate much that is blogworthy,* even allowing for the very generous definition of ‘blogworthy’ used on this site.

wall planner

When we moved, I carefully kept aside all the things I knew I was going to have to put my hands on in short order, while packing up all the things I wouldn’t need for aaaaages – ooh at least the end of August – into various boxes. This evening, I realised that almost a month has passed since we moved and it’s beginning to wear thin as an excuse. In short, the time had come and had to rootle through the unpacked boxes looking for things like the tin that used to live on the windowsill in the old sitting room with the duplicate receipt books in it (popup bookshop) not to mention the file of random correspondence and minutes (community council meeting) and bag of useful material for handing out at bicycle promotion events (bike breakfast) – oh and the large hairy spider (actually I was trying quite hard not to put a hand on that one it scuttled out of one of the boxes). And the fact that I don’t actually yet have anywhere to put all the stuff away into now that it’s unpacked suggests that my settled intention to be a bit more organised now that I have my own study may be something of a work in progress.


First find your desk

However, I have finally bought myself a wall planner so I can at least see how stupidbusy I’m about to get before it happens, although it’s slightly terrifying to discover it’s already almost filled in up until mid December, and we haven’t even started planning the new Pedal on Parliament yet…

* I did consider writing a short disquisition on my new rotary dryer, taking into consideration its place in the class hierarchy vis-a-vis the washing line and the pulley rack – with a short detour into the signifiers inherent in the Belfast sink – but it would only make all of my English readers think less of me, while baffling all of the non Brits** who had no idea there could be a class-based component to laundry accessories.

** Any Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish readers would just roll their eyes.

Territorial Gains

August 19, 2016

I have been doing some weeding.

weeded scree slope

Actually, I will say one thing about the baffling landscaping of this garden: it’s blissfully easy to weed, at least the bits which have been refashioned as a scree slope. Anyone who has ever battled with creeping buttercup would relish being able to not just pull up a single clump, but have half a dozen more follow, attached by their runners, as easily as detaching a strip of velcro.

artificial stream

Other bits are slightly more hard work (and where the dandelions have got their roots through the landscaping fabric and into the soil below, they have grown to the size of cabbages). We have yet to work out where the pump is for the water feature, but if we can get it working, this (above) will be a miniature streambed.*

work in progress

There’s plenty more clearing to be cracking on with – but I’m conscious of imperial overreach: there’s no point clearing out a bed if you haven’t anything to put into it. I’m not finding too many decent plants among the weeds – apparently the landscaping was done by the previous owners but one, and has since suffered a decade of neglect and death-by-hens – and I’m too tight to go and buy actual plants so I may have to start another batch of random perennials to get me started.

pink geranium

One of the nicer plants found lurking among the weeds

I did get a tour of the garden at the neighbouring farm, and the promise of a few offshoots in autumn, once things are dying down. They had the most amazing clumps houseleeks (‘deafy lugs’ around here apparently) growing on the steading wall, which must have been decades old. I wonder if anyone would notice a few going awol. Indeed, I’m beginning to cast covetous glances on any interesting plant I spy.

I am now beginning to understand why the gardeners at Kew were so leery of visiting old ladies with capacious handbags and a certain glint in their eye…

*I’m minded to put in a miniature ford to go with it