Bill and Gentley

So! Billy and Gentley.

Dream builders.

You dreamt of me

with your loose idea.

Your planned design.

Your grand design,

for a home to suit you.

You two,

who are one.

I am settled now

into my new skin,

my new bones,

my new me.

My soul is intact,

you made sure of that.

You two together,

you two,

who are one.

You have touched

every stone,

every timber,

you have touched my heart,

but can only guess

of those that

touched before you.

You two.

who are one


When you leave me,

even for an hour,

I call you,

I tease you

I miss you

I want you

and I know you hear.

You two

who are one.

Render me asunder,

then build me anew.

Render me inside,

and point me out.

Oil my beams,

old and new.

Store your joy in me,

I will return it to you.

Sand me

Soothe me

Touch me

Warm me

Be in me

Love me,

For I am you two,

who are one.

I am Billy and Gentley

I am love.  

As the Agoraphobic Skinhead said "Inside"

When looking at the front of the hose the left hand side (originally concrete block) had no upstairs at all. It just went from concrete floor to ridge beam. 

The idea as to have a corridor from the back to the front the end of which would be a toilet under the small velux at the front.
The floor to ceiling window, at the front, was to be in a large bathroom thus keeping all of the plumbing at the front of the house. However, as Mrs B pointed out, it would be a bit tricky getting out of the bath or shower with any sort of decorum, (or in my case without scaring the neighbours) in front of a two meter high window.
Fair point, so it was decided that the bathroom. 3.5 metres by 3.5 meters would be at the back and get its natural light from the large velux there. And the front would be an office 3.5 x 2.5 meters
The corridor would be 1.1 meters wide and have fan lights above head height as it passed the bathroom bringing in any natural light from the bathroom to the corridor. Likewise the top half of the toilet door is to be glazed (with opaque glass) to bring natural light in .  

After taking advice it was decided that the corridor and bathroom floor would be done in 22mm marine ply (which I bought in the UK and bought over in a truck) The saving made on buying the ply in the UK paid for the truck and the ferry and enabled me to bring all of our remaining stuff over. 
After consultation with my building guru it was decided that the strongest way of doing this was to use steel H section as cross members and then have short 1.7 meter spans for the joists. 
Because we will be chucking a few quid at the tiled floor of the bathroom along with large steel bath and bespoke marble shower floor (2 meters X 1.2 metres) I wanted to be sure there would be no movement or spring in the floor so I space the joists at 300mm centres, I used quite chunky wood for them held in place by “bat hangers” nailed in every hole. 

First we built up some concrete block pillars in the studio room to hold the H section steel beams that would hold up the floor above 
Then we built a wooden frame 20 x 50mm to hold up the rear end of the floor and bolted through and into the concrete lintel at the fron end. 
Once we had the steel beams in place (pre-drilled to take the wood cladding) resting on their concrete block pillars (on of which maker up a wall to the downstairs loo and shower) it was a case of bolting the wood to them. 
After that it was a case of putting up the bat hangers making sure the tops of the joists were level and then putting up the joists.

Here you can see the steel beams up and the first joists in place (that’s my son Zak helping me out) 


In this next one you can see where we have made the opening upstairs for the door to the corridor (more detail on that later.) It also shows the framework at the other end which holds up the floor at the ends


It was then a case of getting the ply upstairs and screwing each piece into position 6 screws across the width of the ply in each joist. (1.4M)
The concrete block wall on the right is to be the downstairs loo and shower.



In this one you can see the framework at the front of the house that is bolted to the concrete lintel and holds up the floor at that end. 


Here it is upstairs with the plywood down in the bathroom corridor and toilet with the joists still showing where the office will be. We have chestnut wood for the floor of the office.


Here you can get a better view of the doorway through the old wall. The corridor is as wide as the doorway and the bathroom takes up the rest.


Here is the floor down and you can now see the demarcation of the rooms.
These photos were taken before the velux’s were installed. 



This is the same from underneath giving us bags of space to run electrics and acoustic insulation. 


The plumbing for the bathroom is easy as the bathroom itself sits above our intended thermal store. 
When I built the pillars I incorporated a 55 mm waste pipe behind them with a y section do it will take the waste water from the bath, shower and sinks. (I can increase eiteir size if needs be but 55mm should be enough to cope with shower and bath water (or am I wrong???)
It runs to the front of the house where it picks up the waste water form the washing machine and sink situated at the front of that room. 

The upstairs toilet sits directly above the downstairs toilet for ease of plumbing and drainage. The bath sink washing machine water exit the house on the left of the front door and the toilets on the right and they join together into the fosse or micro system.

Badness & Spite

When I hear stories like the Thai property theft scam it just opens up a whole series of links in my mind that extend from general crime, to organised crime, to so called white collar crime and the sheer numbers of people out there who are willing to rip you off. It is to my mind the greatest malignant infection that the human race suffers from.
We have a bad case of “bad”. I don’t think there is a cure for it as it seems to be an inherent trait of the human animal, which is why such a large percentage of them are prepared to profit at other peoples expense. I include the smallest scam to global cons perpetrated by those in positions of power.
All one can do is bimble along with your life as best you can, being as honest as you are and being as vigilant as possible for the thieves that surround us day by day, be they bankers, a taxmen, politicians, pickpocket’s greedy merchants or any other of the myriad of predatory badness there is.

I get a little irritated when I hear the phrase “Oh yes but there is a lot of good in the world” as it is often accompanied by other bleeding heart false hope and platitudes that mean nothing and are the verbal equivalent of hiding under the duvet when the mad axe wielding maniac bursts into you bedroom.
It is the ‘meekness’ of the statement that irks me so because, as any sane person knows, the meek wont be inheriting the earth or anything else. In fact if the meek do inherit anything there will be some bad bastard waiting around the corner to take it off them.

Some would consider my attitude to be cynical or bitter but I feel neither (well perhaps the slightest hint of cynicism) instead I think it is a realistic appraisal of how the world is and perhaps how it has always been.
I am quick to place many of the woes of the world firmly in the fault of rampant capitalism, which I still believe is a foul bane to human kind and it is only ignorance or vested interest that stops us form searching for a better way, however I see it as much the fault of the most dominant human instinct which appears to be greed. Plenty or sufficient is never enough and so it goes on.

It is because of that thinking that I can say understand (but do not condone) the badness that abounds in the human, which leads me to one of the things that I have really noticed this year and that is the staggering amount of “spite” some people possess. In some cases you can almost smell and see the bile oozing out of them as they seek to spread their vitriol and malice.

I have noticed it often in cyberspace on forum land, but also in proper real life and there seems to be no obvious reason for it. Some people are just plainly spiteful and yet if (as I did with some people I know earlier in the year) you suggest their actions or words carry some spite then they deny it by aiming their malevolence towards yourself, (thereby ironically proving your point).

I am sure there are many psychological reasons that spite would be related to or been nurtured by, things like youngest or middle sibling issues or spoilt childhoods or deprived childhoods, lack of emotional intelligence and role models with any, or as a result of some childhood incident that traps them in victim mode throughout life, or it could be like the greed and badness of some people, in that it is just an inherent trait of some parts of the human animal.

I marvel at the amount of emotional energy it must take to carry that amount of malicious mental venom around all the time, how it must taint every thought and occupy so much mind space that could be utilised so much more beneficially but for some it would, seem that their spite defines who they are.

One of the mysteries to me about people who live in “spite” is “what do they think it achieves”?
Surely it isn’t much use as part of a life strategy because it is something that has to be nurtured and formulated and requires energy (mostly negative) to create and maintain, all of which seems like a tragic and dangerous waste of time to me especially where the object of their vitriol is either probably unaware, or in the worst case scenario, couldn’t give a flying fuck.

The people I know in proper real life who I would class as spiteful tend to share the mannerisms of narrowing the eyes, pursing the lips, or tightening them into a line and clenching their fists when they are venting some spite, the really pus filled ones may even stamp their feet.
I have no idea what the web-spite mongers look like however I would bet a tenner to say they probably do the same, although they must unclench their fists sometimes in order to be able to type.

I say it dangerous because hanging onto or fermenting that amount of vindictive nastiness because the associated stress it induces can lead to illness which bizarrely and sadly would probably lead to more spite.
I think that, unlike the genetic trait of “badness”, spite is an affected ailment and could be treated to relieve the carrier of the burden but the treatment has to come from, and be desired by, the person themselves.
They need to have a long look at what benefits they are getting from producing spite and if there would be any possible  improvement in their lives if they were to adopt a more gracious and benevolent attitude, even toward those that for some reason they disliked.
For most, who suffer with spite, it is probably far easier to do nothing, deny they are vitriolic and continue spitting their bile at those they harbour ill will towards, however perhaps the world would be a slightly brighter place if they made an effort.

Love and Peace



Bentley Animals

I realise I have missed out an important family member in the story. 
You have seen photo’s of Mrs B, Minnie the dog and me however Smokey the cat has also been involved and here he is in YeeHaw shed assuring us of his interest in the proceedings and how to look cool when you are asleep.


Although you have seen many action shots of Minnie this is her at rest.  


It would seem that the Bentley animals have fully grasped the concept of getting comfortable 

What it was and what it has become

I thought this:- 
might be appropriate to listen to as you look at the changes we have made to the exterior of the house. 
We wanted the front to retain its originality or “roots” whilst at the same time having an interesting makeover. 
A hopefully subtle “nip and tuck” that I think we have pulled off. It still retains that old French peasant farmer spirit with some minor light enhancing tweaks.

From this 



And that is before we have pointed the old stone on the right

At the rear we knew the new dorma would make an big visual impact however we hope we have stayed true to and in a way enhanced the original two stories swooping down to one, with the long roof at the rear. 



It will only really reveal itself fully when all the windows are in but we are very happy with the result and the journey so far and hope that, as followers of the process, you are starting to get a feel for the place..

Making the front look pretty

We obviously wanted to clad the front wall with stone to try and match the right hand side and fit in with the old terrace of cottages to the left. 
There was a slight problem in that the block wall was about 25cms “in” at the bottom on the right and only about 10 at the top. 
We decided that it didn’t matter if the new bit stood a bit proud as we had placed the drain pipe so that it would disguise that when fitted properly.
We dug in some concrete footings just as a precaution and then installed the first wooden upright. Although we would have preferred to do it all in stone because of the thinness of some parts, we decided to put in some wooden uprights to act as beam /lintel supports.


Once the footings had gone off Mrs B set about building up the wall. 
When it was up to a level that we could put the beam on the following sequence shows how it was done. 
(May I suggest at this stage if you don’t own a chain block and you are about to start a major project like this then buy one. About 75 quid for a 1 ton block) 





Once the beam was in place it was simply a case of building up on it. 


Once it reached a level where Mrs B spent more time hanging onto the scaffold than concentrating on the stones I took over and finished it off the higher bits.



This summer (2011) we will be pointing right across the front which will bring it all up to the same sort of colour and over a year or two the frost and rain will remove any discoloration caused by the lime as it has at the back.
From an exterior point of view we completed the work in September 2010 and that is the outside pretty much as it is today (July 2011) as we are now concentrating on the interior.

Veluxes and wood cladding

I am now going top employ a tactic used by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (which if you have never seen I would strongly suggest is one the best films ever made) 
By doing a QT I don’t mean I am going to get a couple of homeys around with pliers and blowtorches and get all medieval on your sorry asses.

Oh No!, 
What I mean is that I am going to take some liberties with time sequencing.
What we did in the autumn in 2009 was to start work on the inside upstairs doorways and the first bits of flooring for upstairs. However before I take you “upstairs” so to speak I will continue to show you how we have got on with finishing the outside so far. Then we can go inside and have a look at how it is progressing there.

The internal layout meant fitting some velux windows at the rear and also the front to utilise as much natural light as possible. (It’s free as well) 
My roofer had explained that it was much quicker and easier to install Velux after the roof was on and come up from the inside, which is exactly what we did. 
They are fairly easy to install and come with instructions however I left this to my roofer and he had all 5 fitted within just under two days. 
Having seen them done I am comfortable that I could do them myself in the future although it would take longer. 
You can see the ones at the back in the following photos which are also of the cladding going on.
To do the cladding we just battened over the waterproof membrane and then secret-nailed and glued the Douglas Fir through the battens into the more substantial wooden frame beneath.
The Douglas Fir is tongue and grooved all round and is 18mm thick. 
Each piece was treated, first with two coats of wood preservative as well as two coats of Xylophene.
The finished article has had one coat of Danish oil so far although will be receiving another two or three later this summer 
The cladding was fitted in the late spring of 2010 and the Veluxs about the same time. 



As a finishing touch we added a small peddy roof to prevent wind driven rain sliding down the front of the cladding and pouring over the large window door combination below. 
The little roof will I hope add some protection to that arrangement.

You can see the Velux for the bathroom and office mezzanine sleeping deck (top small one) in this one on the right side of the roof. 
I am searching for a shot of the back where you can see the whole roof from the rear with both eyebrows and velux so you get an idea of the symmetry we were trying to achieve.

The back bedroom window is exactly half the size of the main opening . 
The side windows downstairs are a third the size of the bedroom one. 
The eyebrow windows to the side are a quarter the size of the bedroom window (or as near as makes no difference)



In the above photo you can also see Mrs B’s walls in their weathered glory. 
I may be biased but to me they look like they have always been there.

That’s pretty much where the back is to this day. 16-07-2011 and we are now mainly working inside while I save up for the windows. 

This summer I am hoping to fill in under the eaves on the side of the roof with more Douglass Fir and we will be sealing up with stone all the way to the base plate in between the corbles. 
That will just leave the windows to go in and the terrace to put down with the incorporated rain water harvesters (if possible die to ground rock) and drainage down to the garden.

The Roof Part 5 The technical and the reasons

Some technical stuff about the roof and reasons for decisions taken to do it how we did it.  
We had no option but to cut into the very top of the chimney as the gable is not in the middle where we needed to dorma gable to go to maintain the symmetry of the back. The ridge sits about 4 cms from the gable and structurally sound and I have not heard about it being allowed or not. 
The ridge from the left side of the roof was already in the outer side of the chimney as thats how they were built and there is little heat by the time the smoke gets to the top judging by the state of the old main ridge we took out. 
What I have done since is, after building up the rear edge of the inner gable, I have installed vertical wooden supports wedged in just to take any undue weight form the chimney although my building adviser has assured me it wasn’t necessary and I was being a bit “belt and braces”.
The chimney is to be used but there is no danger at all from heat damage as the flue for the wood burning cooker boiler will be the stainless double lined insulated stuff.

I am laughing away to myself as I type this about the roof drawings
I designed it but was just not capable of drawing it nor did I know how to make it become a reality. Thankfully the roofer did. 
If you remember earlier in the record of the build I said that we did our own drawings, with measurements etc, to submit with the planning. These were fine for the simple “plan” views required by planning and anyone with a set square, ruler and sharp pencil could pull them off. 
In my minds eye I could “see” the shape the roof had to be but it was beyond my drawing skills to represent it on paper, despite numerous teeth gnashing, paper and pencil throwing, dummy spitting attempts.
I had tried numerous ways to explain how it looked to Mrs B but she couldn’t picture it in her imagination so her attempts to copy and and enhance my rubbish scrawlings was a bit comical and not really to scale. 

I did, in my frustration, consider making a model but it would have been a waste of time as the roofer knew exactly what I meant and it was pretty simple to do once we got going. 
With the main roof already mainly chevroned and battened out (apart from where the dorma roof and eyebrows were likely to land) we chevroned out the dorma from front towards the back.
Once we got to the bit where the eyebrow started the chevron just kept on going down until it met the roof as did the next and the next and so on until the eyebrow was complete. 
Then the chevrons just kept going but cut to meet the main roof 
If you look at the photos of the timber work already posted you can see how that works.
Any excess woodwork that was going to be under the slates is just simply cut away after slating had occurred. 
I think this one shows it best. If you look closely you can see the cube shape of the room that the dorma creates with the stud wall inside forming one side of a 110 cm wide corridor inside. The eyebrow starts at that stud wall and continues back to the internal stone wall and then fades into the rest of the roof. The idea of the eyebrows is to gain head room for the stairs and I put in two for symmetry or else it would have looked like the house was winking at you. 

Where sometimes I was looking at timber work and thinking “how does that have any structural integrity” the roofer explained that once you start getting the chevrons on and then the battens the whole roof (every part of it) holds the whole roof (every part of it) together.
The down force (or weight if you like ) is spread over the A frames pearlings and gables. Because it is hand built, bespoke if you like, it is amazingly strong. 

This is looking up at where the left hand ridge and the dorma ridge go into the chimney stack. later on when I post the pictures of the work inside over the last couple of years you will be able to see the extra supports I fitted to the dorma ridge.

The slate material is difficult to describe as they feel like slates but it is a composite material, (black colour guaranteed for 25 years). 
I will send more details once I get back and have access to the spec. 
You cut them easily with a special tool. It is the same f sort of size as a hand help pop riveter and looks like a large pair of tin snips with one flat bottomed blade and one sharp one, almost like an elaborate pair of wick trimming scissors. 
Any decent builders merchant or roofing supplies place will have them and they are easy and accurate to use.
The French also have special “roofing hammers” which have a cutting/trimming blade on them but they are better suited for trimming real slate however they do have a notch cut into the head for twisting out a hook should you need to. 

The Roof part 4 "Sorted"

This is how the front of roof looked in December 2009, with all the window openings secured and weather proof. 
You can see in the second photo how having the dipped dormas in the front didn’t cause any planning issues as although next doors are in roof dormas ours were not really radical and fit in. We were very happy (very very very happy) with the result



And this is how the back panned out. 
I know it look s a bit “slum dog millionaire” in the middle section but it is weather proof and that’s what counts for the winter. The plan was to clad the back to the dorma room in wood but that would wait until spring 2010.




And from the right side showing the shape of the eyebrow and the rendered chimney. 
You can also see the benefit of all the measuring and setting the lines out for the hooks as the sign of a good roof is that when you look up at the hooks they should all be in neat straight and parallel lines. 


Winter 2009, and there it was done. 
The new roof was on.
The roofer had always said that with such a complex series of angles it would be a big surprise if it didn’t leak to start with and he identified where the problems might occur and he was right and wrong at the same time .We had one small leak on the left hand side, where the water came off the dorma roof and forced its way in sideways near the eyebrow. 
It took about 4 hours to strip of some slates insert a couple of bits of wider tin and the problem was solved. 
The roof was finished September 2009 and it is going to be 2012/13 before I fit any insulation so “if” there are any hard to detect “seepers” they will become obvious in the 2 to 3 years the roof has had to settle.

The Roof part 3 Now you can see what I have seen

Here you can see how we have run the ridge of the dorma back to the main gable of the house, (we actually had to cut it into the chimney)
On the far side you can see the chevrons cut down to meet the angle of the main roof. 


Here is some of the detail from the left hand side of the roof of creating the valleys and angle changes needed to make one roof of it all and you can also see the formation of the eyebrows. All of the valleys were covered in zinc to maintain watertight integrity. 




Here the eye brow can been seen. The face of it closest to the camera is level with the last upright of the Shed Room. Then there is one meter from that upright to the stone wall.
This was to give us head room to get up the stairs from down below without crouching. There is to be one on each side because it looks balanced that way.

Here is the right side with in the second photo the chevron coming down from the dorma roof to dictate the “eyebrow” start.and shows the corridor gap between the ShedRoom and the wall. 



Here it is looking up from the front towards the back of the house. 


This is it tidied up and all cut in with all the battens and membrane in place.



Now it was time to get some slates on. The roofer gets a long piece of string and it is in a plastic bottle full of red dye. Works out the width of each tile in comparison to the roof and where to start laying so it looks right and therefore where the hooks go. He gets up the top and I was at the bottom, and we move a measure piece of wood across the bottom and he does the top. Then you take the tension on the string at batten level and lift it, under tension, then let it slap onto the battens leaving a neat line of where the hooks need to go on each of the battens. These marks act as a guide to indicate if you are coming off line when you lay out the slates.

This is us from underneath doing the lines and getting ready to lay the relatively easy front slates


Here is a shot of the front with the integral gutters fitted already just waiting for the tiles. The grat thing about these gutters is that you can stand a ladder in them and nip up the roof from there. You can also see the old original, and slightly less ornate, corbles still in place. 


That’s the first half of the front. 


And here is the front nearly finished with just the trimmings and the sealing and splicing of the sides left.


Just a quick word on the hooks used to hold the slates in place. The are stainless steel and hook over the batten (or nail in where the hook position and a chevron coincide) This leaves a slot where the tile sits in. The next set of hooks go in the batten above and that holds the next slate but it also hols the ones below tighter in place then the next row go on and that holds the new slate and also the other two rows in place. Once you have a few rows on it is near impossible to lift the slates without first having to bend over the end of the hook that is showing. 
I think a wind would lift the entire roof off the house as opposed to dislodging a couple of slates. It is a very good way of holding a roof on.
If you are doing it do not be tempted to use the “cheaper” galvanised hooks (unless you are a complete tightwad) as they rot out leading to slates shifting after a few years. 

So now for the back with the dorma first and hopefully you can really see the sweeping curves of how the roof is going to finish. You can also see the scratch coat of lime and mud render on the chimney stack. 



Now sadly it was 11th Sept 2009 and I had to go back to sea and Mrs B had to run a training course back in UK so we had to leave with the roof not finished. 
We had started work on 4th August and it was now 11th September. 
Out of 38 days we had worked 34. 
We were fortunate in that we only had one late afternoon, later in the build when all the membrane was on, when it rained and we couldn’t work. 
We used the time very productively by all going to the local bar and having a pool competition among ourselves all afternoon

With heavy hearts we had to go and leave the roofer to it, but we were both feeling very fit, healthy, tanned and very very satisfied or if you prefer “chuffed as nuts” with the roof progress. 
I received an email 10 days later to say that the roof was complete. 
OH Yes.

Total cost was under half what you would expect to pay however that was because I was the labourer and a fast learning, semi skilled helper, comfortable at height, and, as the client, I was prepared for the job to “take as long as it took”. 

If you have the cash but not the time nor inclination to do it yourself, you are left with no option but to pay, however if you can find the time and a roofer who is willing for you to be a significant part of the team then you can make enormous savings that you can spend elsewhere on the project. The total cost of the roof came in under 12,000 UK pounds and that considering the complexity of it  has got to be a bargain. 

Mrs Bentley becomes Mason

It has to be said that Mrs Bentley is not a great fan of heights that involve the use of ladders or scaffolds and so for the first few days had spent her time clearing out the side of the house we hadn’t touched, sorting out the garden and sheds into some sense of tidy and cleanliness and kept us fed and watered. She was also cleaning up the old wood we had decided to use as lintels for the back windows, as shown here.

After about 5 or 6 days most of those jobs had dried up and she was getting a bit restless and wanted to be more hands on with the build. 

She felt a bit disenfranchised due to the heights we were working at and didn’t want to be a “passus” which is basically a “pass us that love, no not that, pass us that”.
It was decided that she would have a go at the back walls covering the concrete block with a 30 cm thick stone wall. 

Being no stranger to the cement mixer she soon knocked up a suitable mortar mix ( multiples of – 3 coarse sand, 1 lime, 1 sieved mud/torchis ) and as Mick and myself clambered up the roof for another mornings “daring do” Mrs. B set about the wall.

We came down for coffee, which Mrs B had made, after about two hours but she then tried to get us to drink at the front of the house. 
We wanted to see the wall but an unhappy and despondent Mrs B was none to keen on us having a look . In fact her exact words “It’s f@#ing sh!t, I am going to tear it down and start again. I just don’t know how to get it to look right” 
I don’t think Mick had ever heard her swear before so was a little taken aback, but when we looked at the wall it was difficult to disagree because, in fairness and all honesty, it did look like she had upended a wheel barrow of muck and spent two hours throwing stones at it. 
Mick having done quite a lot of stonework as well as carpentry also showed of his sitherto unknown diplomatic skills and said “I think I can see what you are doing wrong. Can I show you?”
“Please do because I know I am doing something wrong” says Mrs B 
So Mick sets about showing Mrs B how to use a length of stick to ensure that the wall stays level all the way up (rather than mucking about with string plums lines etc) 
How to pick your stones (every stone has a place and should normally only be picked up once and placed) 
Finding the right face of the stone for the wall, placing it in face out, and then move along. Then just fill in behind with any old stuff you have knocking about and what you have dropped and some fresh mortar for the joins and to bind it all together. 
So muck first for a couple of feet, then stone, then another stone, then another stone, or one big one, fill in behind and the gaps and move along, making sure the stones cross over the gaps on the row below. 
10 minutes later Mrs B says “I’ve got it” 
She then ripped all the old stuff down and set to work on “her’ wall.
If either one of M and me were in the ground and a big corner stone needed lifting into place she would explain what one, and what way up it had to be, thank us for our efforts and get back to the stones.
So these were the bare block walls before she started with just some earlier big foundation ones that had been put in the previous summer in place. This is about 9am

When we came down at time things were starting to take shape and as you can see it was starting to look like a wall.

The next photos are taken over a period of about 4 or 5 days and by the time we had finished the whole roof in terms of timber and batten Mrs B had completed both walls. Up to the level where they just needed the last layer of stones to seal them up. 

In this next shot you can already see where she has begun work on the left hand side wall

This is Mrs B sussing out and foiling my pervy plan of getting a “down shirt shot” whilst perched 
on the beams.


The dog on realising the Mrs B had found her own job decided that she felt a little left out as well so she decided to ask if she could come up on the roof and help as well.


And made a good attempt at getting there


Now if you can stop all the “Awww isn’t that sweet” business for a minute and look behind her attempts to get up the ladder, you can see the second wall near enough complete as well. 

It must be mentioned at this stage that about 4 days into the wall building process we were tucked up in bed in Number 1 shed having a read before dropping off to sleep when Mrs B suddenly said “Oh look at this page, if you don’t see them as words they all look like different sized stones fitting together”

I suggested she take a day off the wall

Next up joining the roofs together and putting in the eyebrows. 

Mrs B is now the official stone mason on site and is responsible for all pointing and stone facing work, as will be shown in later installments. 

The Skill the Maths and the Hurt

Technical bit about the battening.

This is where the roofers skill and knowledge comes into play as you don’t just start hammering them on (as I thought) hoping that the tiles will fit when they get to the top. 
I have to say it was a joy to watch a skilled professional measure, check, test, then re-adjust and finally go “Yep were ready to roll”. 
I love learning how much I “don’t” know and then adding new skills to the knowledge base that I do have.
It makes me feel “wonderful”

You have to take accurate measurements from top to bottom of the run, so in effect from end of the base plate to the ridge. This enables you to work out any anomalies because with these old houses straight lines are difficult to come by. 
You then need to work out what slate overlap you have, our overlap is about 70% so if a slate is 30 cms long you only see about 10cms of it. 
Once you know it is going to hit the ridge square (this is important if you want the roof to look right,) any adjustments need to be done at the bottom. 
To be honest I cant quite remember how it was done and how the overl;ap was worked out (I am a seaman, not a roofer) but it is dependent on the sort of guttering you chose (see photo for mine) and then you can adjust at the bottom to get the line right at the top.
I know that every 10 battens or so we would measure from the bottom one to where we were, to ensure we were staying straight. If there is a difference something is wrong and needs to be sorted before you go to far. 

This is one of those classic cases of measure once measure twice three times and then make your move. 
Then having the first batten in place you use a cut piece of wood as a guide (two if there is two of you on the roof) and then up you go up nailing them in (using a nail gun with 30 to 35 mm nails to speed the job up) making sure the battens are exactly the same distance apart all the way up. 
This is ankle wrenching, back bending, finger nipping, toe curling, hanging on with one hand and one knee, buttock clenching, work, but, none the less, very satisfying. 
Once the battens are on and you are feeling a bit more confident you can just simply walk up them (where they cross a chevron) like little steps. 
You lay the membrane over the chevrons and then batten over the top until you reach the bit where you have to overlap the membrane (10 to 15 cms) so any ingress of water runs down to the eaves and just keep going until you reach the top. 
You should have a neat straight line when you reach the ridge. The ends of the tiles will be hidden under the ridge tiles anyway to hide the odd few mm difference. 
Very difficult to articulate and explain, and no doubt to visualise, but I hope you get the gist of it and if you have a good roofer he will walk you though it anyway. 


Next I will answer the question that maybe poised on some of your lips “what has Mrs Bentley been doing during the roof build as she hasn’t been mentioned for a while. 
Well she has been busy as the next installment will show.

The Roof part 2 The Dorma Arises

The next stage is to build up the framework of the dorma so we can angle the roof into and past it. 
The idea was to build up the framework of the bedroom that would eventually become known as “the Shed Room” which will be a part wood paneled affair (in homage to the sheds) with a large window looking out over the view that we now enjoy from the sheds.

You will notice e that Mick is on a step ladder balanced (and cargo strapped to the beams whereas I am on the stable platform of the tower scaffold. It wasn’t heavy work but it was awkward however as the photos progress you see it all up.  


In the above photo you can see where we have installed the corbles and face plate on the right hand side so we can continue the roof right down to it and then get the waterproof membrane on and battened out that would make that half of the house near enough water proof again.
Here is a photo of that done and you can see the framework of the Shed Room as well.
The missing battens is and area where the dorma roof will swoop down and join the angles of the main roof and also allow us to fit in the “eyebrows at the side of the shed room. This wil make sense in a few photos time. 


We had put the membrane on and battened over on the right hand side so now was time to take down the left hand side of the roof. If you have a zoom facility you can see the old a frame and construction with the pegs still in place. Both myself and M were taken aback by the skill and ingenuity of the original builders however we got a 
bit of a shock when we realized that the a frame on the farthest left wasn’t actually touching anything or holding anything up. 
I commented that we were saying “wow look at this it’s all drilled and pegged and chiseled and M said that in a maybe 50 or more years time time when they take our roof off they will be saying “wow look at this they were using a “nail gun” how old fashioned is that?” 


Now we could go ahead and complete the timber work of both sides of the roof and put the membrane on and batten it. First photo is of the first A frame in place on the left side We put another next to the neighbours red terracotta block wall as well, as you can see in. The buit sticking up on the left was the original slated rise from next doors roof up to ours so we kept it in place and formed a natural seal when we slated over. 




The eagle eyed will soon notice that it is not a breathable membrane and I was concerned about this as I had heard that in the right circumstances water proof membranes gave rise to condensation. According to my roofer man that is only the case if thee is no air gap which in our case there most certainly is. 
Air of the same temp can circulate easily on either side so no worry about condensation, although it has to be said that I would still have preferred a breather just in case, but when your main man tells you of the dozens of roofs fitted using the same technique with no condensation problems in any of them it is time to shut up and get it fitted.


So here we are at the stage when we need to get the roof onto the shed room and cut it back into the main roof. You can see the main parts of the a A Frame allredy cut and balanced on top of the shed room frame ready for fitting and the scaffold in place. The scaffold itself is resting and cargo strapped to the main beams. 


When my Mrs B first showed this next photo to her friends, they said, “Why have you got a couple of blokes from the pirates of the Caribbean building you roof?”


I think I am doing more of a Jack Nicholson face, however when you see where we are it is hardly surprising I am grimacing a bit as M uses the nail gun while I hold the two uprights of the “A” in place while we both try to balance.


Now it was case of roofing over the dorma and joining it to the rest of the roof, so in the words of Rolf Harris “Can you see what it is yet??”


Peddy and Corbles

Sounds like the name of a northern firm of solicitors doesnt it? But no here is some detail explaining more of the construction and how we carved the corbles 

Here is some closer detail of the peddy. 


In this photo you can see the base plate and a couple of the “Corbles” (or crows heads) we had carved to support the plate. This is a feature you often see on houses around here and although decorative it also allows the roof to overhang the wall.


The Corble or known locally as “crows heads” are an oft seen feature under the eaves of roofs in this area. A simple shape said to resemble a birds head. 
They act as a support to the base plate where the chevrons end. 
The ones we have made are old chestnut and it goes in stages like this 

Step 1:- Select the likely candidates 


Step 2:- Make a couple of cuts to get the basics of the shape  then shape with flappy paddle sander in a 4.5 inch angle grinder


Step 3:- Use a flappy paddle sander disc on a grinder to round them off.
Step 4:- soak in wood preserver and bug killer
Step 5:- Stand back and admire your handiwork 



Step 6 Install  


\We like them as an original and authentic looking feature and we both thoroughly enjoyed making them by basically just giving a bit of TLC and recycling perfectly good and beautiful old wood. I hope yopu like them as much as we do. 

At the front the ones on the old stone part of the house are bigger lumps of wood and less ornate however they are functional, we have left them in place rather than change them for the smaller versions we had made ourselves as they were/are part of the fabric of the house. We just gave them a good soaking of xophpolyne (or however you spell that wood worm and beetle killer/repellent stuff)

The New Roof

It was now time for the big one, the roof. This would give real shape to the house we had imagined and help create the living space we desired. 
There is to be a large dorma coming out from the chimney to the back block wall about 20cms below the main roof ridge height. This will provide a 4 X 4 meters bedroom at the back where it was once just single story.
The back stone wall of the house is only 4 meters high and as the ceiling below the extra bedroom would be 2.5 meters I need to put in “eyebrows” in order to give us head room to get up the stairs. One either side for symmetry. In other words a fairly complex shaped roof at the rear.
At the front we were just putting in what are known as “dipped dormas” to give us floor to ceiling windows in the two rooms at the front of the house. 
We were replacing every timber in the roof and tiling with brand new “composite slate” using stainless hooks to hold them in place. 
My building consultant and roofing expert had measured it all up for me and we took delivery on Aug 2nd of 6,500 euros worth of timbers, membrane, slates and hooks.

To say my carpentry skills are a bit limited is a bit like saying Snow White needs a step ladder (they are, and she does) and it had been arranged that as designer I would be the labourer for the roofer/carpenter. 
He asked me just before we began the project if I would be happy for his son, who is a trained joiner and had worked on dozens of roofs with him, could take it on as his first “solo roof” with him as the advisor when required. We trust our friends judgment implicitly and happily agreed that the arrangement suited us.
He would do the first few days and get the thing started as we had to make sure that it met the old tin roof of the derelict next door correctly and remained sealed.
I had spoken to the owner of the old bit it next door and he was happy with the arrangement and I assured him that we would put up new tin where required to ensure the integrity of his roof where the two joined. He was happy with that. 
So there we were with all the equipment we needed and on the 4th August 8 am we started work on taking down one side of the old roof . 

This is how it progressed on the first day.



In this next one you can see the big beige tarp covered section in the lounge where I had taken out all of my tools and other equipment that we knew we would not be using and protected them should it choose to rain.


An all action shot of the three of us (Mick the carpenter and his dad Chris my building guru)  clearing the roof late afternoon on day one with just the pearlings (the big ones) and a few chevrons left.


End of day 1

Next day (Michael the carpenter) balanced on the old ridge marking out its height in preparation for removal and installation of new timbers.. 


Once we had removed most of the pearlings and stashed them out of the way it was a case of forming a new A Frame to make it level with the original ridge on the gable. 
We did this by leaving a pearling either side in place to give us the correct angle. 
Put up the tower scaffold and hauling the two angled pieces of the “A” into place and letting them cross over at the top until we had the right angle. Then measured the angle at the bottom and cutting it in. and likewise marking and cutting the angle at the top. Both done in situation with a bit of grunting and heaving required. We than had to haul up and level the cross piece of the “A” that gives it its rigidity and also sets the potential ceiling height. 
This was all down to math’s as we had no floor at this stage so Mr Middleton’s geometry classes at Barnstaple Grammar School finally came to be of practical use after all these years. 



Next we had to take the a frame apart and the n reconstruct where it was going to end up. This point was chosen to allow for the dipped dorma windows at the front and also the veluxes 1 at the back to take light into bathroom and one at the front to take light into the toilet. As with much else on the build you had to keep projecting forward in time to what the next few stages were likely to be to ensure you didn’t hang yourself up and have to take down your hard work. 

We prebuilt the A frame in situation and secured in place with a chevron to keep it upright. 



I have never had an issue with heights as the early prt of my working life was spent up aloft on a moving vessel overhauling running and standing rigging on cargo vessels in the days before safety harnesses were considered sensible things to wear. Imagine my surprise when stood on the top platform of the tower scaffold (set at a piddling 6.5 meters) holding the two uprights of the a frame together while M located the bottoms I had a set of wobbles. 
That is where the scaffold sways a bit and you automatically try to counter balance and you end up doing a sort of cross between the twist and an Elvis style crotch thrust just to stay in position. It completely unnerved me and I had to stop the operation for a couple of minutes to get myself together. I was surprised embarrassed and p!ssed off as nothing like that had ever happened to me before. Mrs B (wise as ever) suggested it might be my subconscious accepting the fact that I wasn’t a fit, lithe 20 year old anymore (like M) able to spring about on the roof like a monkey. I had to plan my moves and move with caution as it in reality had been a long time since I had worked for prolonged periods of time at height. You cant bend as far or as quickly or reach as far or in general move as well. Anyone about to attempt the same should be aware that it wont be as easy as it once was. 
Mrs B sorted me out with some deep relaxation and self-affirmation techniques over lunch and all was well. I just had to accept my limitations and once I had acknowledged that (albeit reluctantly) I was back on the roof (or what was left of it) 

Now it was just a case of fitting the purlins into place (again allowing for velux fitting, dipped dorma and ceiling height)
In the first photo you can see the ridge beam is in place. To get this to the right height and so that the “A” Frame supports it we had to level it between the two roofs and then you put up two thick pieces of wood either side of the a frame resting on the cross piece and cut to the correct height. If you look closely you can see the construction of it and where the uprights sit just proud of the apex of the “A”
This gives to a level platform for the ridge beam. 



Then the chevrons go on the back side of the roof 


Looking up to see the shape 


Build up the dipped dormas or (peddys as Michael the roofer/joiner called them) at the front



And that’s the first fifth of the roof basic timbering done.

It is starting to look groooooovy

How to rebuild a firelace.

The next task was to rebuild the bottom third of the chimney and replace most of the timbers in the fireplace. As you can see it was a bit tired and the bottom had come way from the wall enough for me to be wary of it. 
This was how it looked at the beginning 


Here is where it had slipped at the bottom section



This was way over my level knowledge of the building game so I called in someone 
who did know what they were talking about. I asked a professional builder mate, who has specialised in old French places for years, to give it a once over and he assured me that the majority of it was absolutely sound with no cause for concern. The slippage he said was due to age and the wood in the wall decaying. The cracks were old, however if I was worried he said it would be simple enough to pin it about a third of the way up and then demolish the bottom stone work, replace the rotten wood and then rebuild the stonework up to the pins. 
Sounds easy enough, and in reality it is, but it was without doubt the scariest job I have done to date and for the time it took me to do it I constantly lived with the slight edge that I would be squashed flat in a second under several tons of slate. Luckily the builders of a a couple of hundred years ago knew a thing or two about what they were doing and I lived to tell the tale.

How these chimneys were constructed was the wall would be built up to 1.5 meters or a little more then they would lay in two shorter shaped bits of wood (see the bottom two in my pictures) and on them they would lay two longer bits of wood. (thick oak).
They would would build up the wall for a meter or so and lay/fir a cross beam (mantle ) on the outer edge of two sticking out bits (don’t know what they are called)
Then they would also start building the chimney tapering it in to form the fire place until it was about half a meter out from the wall. 
They would then continue to build up the wall and chimney up at the same time on top of this and every half meter or slightly more they would lay in a big oblong piece of slate (about 150mm x 100 mm x 500 to 700 mm) buried in the wall and extending out. These were the key stones that held the chimney to the wall, with the chimney being built around these and the whole thing just canterlevered itself to stability. The higher it went the stronger it became. 

So how do you repair the bottom third and all the wood, well it goes like this  

Sharpen up some 22mm threaded steel bars


WARNING:- What you don’t see in the above picture is another near fatal accident about to happen because I was wanting to push on with the job. 
I was happily grinding away without first assessing if there was anything flammable in the line of fire of the grinder sparks…. Like the two one gallon petrol tins half full of petrol for the mower and chain saw that the sparks were happily cascading over. Nearly had a “full trouser” moment when I realised what was happening and quickly removed the petrol and any other flammable material out of the way.
Make sure when you are doing jobs like this that you assess the risk first. 
All it takes is about a minute of your time before you are about to start the job, 
Just stand back have a look around and ask:- 
“What could go wrong?” 
“What are the dangers?” 
“Are my leads clear? 
“Are my access and exit routes good and clear”
“Am I using the right tool for the job”
“Am I wearing the right protective clothing, goggles, gloves, hard hat, ear defenders etc”
Then when satisfied start the job. 

Once we had the sharpened bars we had to choose a suitable stone to drill below and into the chimney void and then into the gable.


Once done push the spikes in and then (with a nut on the end to avoid damaging the thread) hammer into the wall. Once firmly in use a large stilson (pipe) wrench to screw them in even further.
Drill holes in a strong beam and slide over the bars and use nuts to hold in place. Then prop up the ends of the beam with acro props secured in place with some nails to prevent slipping


Once in place and all secure, take a deep breath and carefully begin to take down the stone work (and from personal experience keep taking sphincter clenching glances up at the rest of the chimney)


Until it is all down


This is the view that had me arse twitching 


Then remove the old wood, treat what’s left with bug killer and preservative and replace with new wood to your own design. (we used new wood for the inserts and cross beam but old wood from the roof for the new (additional) supports. 

The oak support beams (horizontal) go all the way through the meter thick wall (replacing the old ones) and are wedged and fixed in place with stones and lime mortar having first been treated with several coats of wood treatment and preserver.

I have been told I didn’t need to put in the outer vertical supports but we felt more comfortable with them in place helping to hold it all up and we are very happy with the rustic look of it. 




Then it was just a case of building up the stonework to the pins. You can see the key stones that I mentioned earlier here.


And there it was done. 


And this is how it looks now without any treatment yet


So that’s how to do a fireplace if you ever need to, but make sure you have a pro in to do the pinning and to check the whole thing first.

So it is late June 2009 I am due back to sea and we had achieved in 6 weeks:- 
Fitting two new 5.5 meter beams in the kitchen, 
Building up the oak framework at the back to hold the dorma extension,
Rebuilding the fire place. 

I was off back to sea and due home at the end of July when we were going to pop “daahnn sarrf” to near Montpellier for a mate’s wedding party and when we returned on Aug 3rd were due to start the new roof. 

Nearly Killing Mrs Bentley

Well the title might be a bit dramatic but it was the closet major near miss, close shave almost really really bad accident we have had and it certainly could have been fatal. 

The next stage was to create a framework out of oak that the dorma extension would sit on and would also frame the 4 meter window in the lounge. 
The wood for this had been delivered in June 2008 and had an extra year to dry inside the house. 
Mrs B and myself used levers and rollers to move the 5.5 meter 25cm x 25cm beams (4 of them) and the 1 X 4 meter, and 2 X 3 meter 30cm x 25cm into the house after they had been dropped off. It is a very satisfying, if not knackering, experience to be able to move large heavy chunks of wood just using the bare basics. 
If it was good enough for the Egyptians and the Druids to construct their special buildings it was good enough for us. 
I will admit to cheating on 4 of the beams as where they had been dropped was down a slope and just the two of us found it near impossible to move so I took the Range Rover round the back of the house and set up a rope to help pull them through into the dry. I am not sure what the Romans and Egyptians could have achieved had they had a Range Rover at their disposal, the mind boggles. 


The first job was to put in the uprights and which we managed fairly easily making sure we had heavily treated with wood preserver the part standing on the concrete to prevent damp from rotting it out. I also stood them on a tar backed foil flashing strip to further prevent water ingress. 
We got them upright by placing the bottom end close to where they needed to go against the wall. Then using brute force lifted the other end up onto a block of wood then onto a milk crate then onto a B&D Workmate then I could get my shoulder under it and could manage to lift it higher with Mrs B putting the milk crate and block of wood on top of the B&B workmate. 
Once we had it high enough to get both my hands on it at shoulder height, I remembered watching how weight lifters prepare for a big lift. Much to Mrs B’s initial confusion I began walking around slapping my hands together and staring at the wood for a while, I then let a out a huge grunt and whoosing noise before I lifted, (because that’s what weight lifters do).
Mrs B said “What are you doing?” 
I replied “Two words Mrs B, Precious MacKenzie” 
Then I just lifted pushed and walked forward as it tipped upright while Mrs B whisked away the work mate and other obstacles. 
Once upright it was easy to walk into position and strap in place. 
Once we had them both upright I drilled in some holes and fitted hardwood pegs to help stabilise and stop them from moving. I had also cargo strapped them to the block wall just to be sure there was no movement when we placed the cross beam and main beams on. 


I had done all the measurements of the height of the uprights together with the cross beam and the main beams sat cut into it. 
In the cross beam I had pre cut slots for the beams to sit in. I did this with some very careful and gentle work with the chain saw and a chisel. Fairly new oak is a joy to work with and even for a wood butcher like me, the results, if you measure carefully and cut accurately, are good.
I thought I would be reducing the strength of the cross beam by cutting into it but I found out that as soon as you place the beams in the hole and they are a snug fit the full integrity is restored. 

We used the laser level again to make sure the beams would be level once fitted and then dug out the holes for them in the main back wall. To make sure they sat on level beds we used super treated (wood preserver and bug killer) hard wood beds with slate as shims you can see the pre-prepared holes here and see an orange line that was painted on the laser level. 


Then it was case of using the Manatu to lift up and place each of the main beams up and manoeuvre them so that they were well in to the main back wall on the pads we had provided and balance on the block wall ready for final installation after the cross beam had been fitted. 

Here is Mrs B as stevedore helping to guide the first one into place using tag lines


It was her first time ever being a stevedore and doing something like this and did a great job to my often shouted instructions (advice) from the cab.


In this last photo Mrs B is looking looking a tad worried after the first one is now in place. 

This new nervousness in the vicinity of the beams is to be expected as it is only minutes after I had nearly killed her in what was the worst accident / near miss that we have had on the entire build. 
I had placed the beam in about the same position it is in the above photo but it hadn’t sat quite right. I put the Manatu in “park” mode and left it  jibbed up with the slings connected, but with no weight on it, and got out of the cab and used a sledge hammer to biff the beam square which luckily it did with one bash. 
We agreed then to stop for lunch and I jumped back in the cab and reversed back up the garden……….. having forgotten to disconnect the slings which in turn pulled it from its position and sent all 3 or 400 kilos of it it, still on the slings, swinging across the back room. 
Mrs B’s screams alerted me to what was happening and I looked up in time to see her throw herself to the floor as the beam crashed into the opposite block wall and upright support which stopped Mrs B form being pulped. 
As you can imagine she was extremely (and rightly so) upset with me for making such a stupid and elementary mistake as failing to check my load before moving, and she was also in some state of shock with fear at what had almost happened. 
Out of embarrassment as much as bravado I said we had to do it again and get it into position before lunch so she had to get back in the saddle. 
Very macho and non empathetic of me, however I soon found out how much the amazing effect stress can have on a person’s vocabulary and the power it gives them to put together a sentence and character assessment consisting entirely of swear words.
It would only cast her in an unsavoury light and shock those who know her if I posted the rest of the justified tirade, which called into question my parentage, manhood, intelligence, man management skills among many other deficiencies.   I tugged my forelock in respectful deference, declared my undying admiration and love and begged forgiveness for my unintentional transgressions and vowed to exercise extreme caution with the work practices. 

It gave me a needed wake up call that my wife is not an experienced rigger (even though she had the hat and gloves) nor was she used to working with cranes and heavy loads as I am. I had to be extra vigilant when we were doing this if we were to both live to see the end of it. 
I have strived to ensure since that incident that we are “safety first” gang when doing a major job. We always have a “tool box talk” about what we are going to do, and how we are going to do it, and what each of our jobs are during the operation.
That method of working has been saving lives through safer workplaces for years and just because it is a DIY project there is no need to forget the basics of safety. 

After lunch and humble apologies and assurances that it wouldn’t happen again, we continued into the afternoon until we got to this stage which is with all 4 beams seated in the main back wall and resting on the concrete block wall ready for final placement, and with the cross beam in place.   


Then it was a simple case of lifting each beam and moving it into place. 

And this is the “battle worn” but safely attired (if not still a little shaken) and very proud Mrs B stood below our days work.


There would be a bedroom sat on the beams and the inner ceiling of the lounge would 2.5 metrs level with the top of the beams in the middle then at the sides starting at 2 meters at the block wall rising to 4 meters at the stone wall. 

Things were starting to take shape. 

Scam artists that abound around the world

Ten days ago I was sat in the bar at T3 Heathrow and enjoying a couple pints of Belgium’s finest sleeping draught in preparation for my flight to Singapore, when a scouse chap (judging by his accent) asked if the seat at my table was spare and I indicated it was.
The normal airport social etiquette then ensued, whereby as he was the guest at my table the onus was on him to start any conversation overtures, the most common of which in airports is “Where are you off to?” and that is what he asked.
“Singapore, back to work” I replied “What about yourself?”

“I am just off back to Thailand to see the wife because I think I have just been scammed out of 130,000 pounds”. 

Eyebrows raised, I said “ I work with, and have done for many years, lots of blokes who have married out in Thailand and sorry to say it is something I have heard before, to a greater or lesser degree”

“I don’t understand it, as she isn’t a bar girl or hooker or anything. She is in her 50s and nothing special to look at and even has her own hairdressing business which is where I met her when I went for a haircut”

I couldn’t help thinking that whilst possibly an honest description of his wife it didn’t sound very warm and loving, so asked “Do you live there full time ?”

“Off and on” he says “but I come back to the UK quite often for business and had left her to sort out the sale of the house. It is great place with its own grounds and pool, just outside of the city and in a good area. Had it built a few years ago but we fancied a change but lately the market has been a bit slack.”

“So why do you think you have been scammed then? Did you buy it under the Thai law where foreigners are not allowed to own property so it has to be in the name of a Thai and she has flogged the gaff while you were away and done a runner with the cash? 
I ask because I know at least half a dozen blokes who that sort of thing has happened to, although to be fair they were in the mostly bar girls with one being a brochure bride“

“Nah” he said “If only it were that simple. 
I think she might have been stitched up by the local mafia who have been pulling this stunt for a while. On the other hand my suspicion now is that she may have done it herself. Like I said it has been on the market for a while and we recently dropped the asking price from 150 to 130 as we are keen to move and have had no viewings. 
I was back in the UK and shortly after the price drop two couple s came within a week to look and were sort of interested making offers of about 100. She said no thanks as we had only just dropped from 150 and would wait.

Then a very well dressed young Chinese couple turned up and made a big fuss about how much they loved the place and how it was exactly what they wanted and then offered the full asking price as long as she agreed, there and then. He said he had the cash so they could cut out the agent and proceeded to show her a briefcase full of money, which he said had come from a recent successful business deal. 

They said they were keen for a quick decision, although they did have two other places they liked (but not as much as this one) so if she was unwilling they would settle for one of those because they had to return in the next 48 hours for a business meeting in China. 

She said that she needed to check with her husband and phoned me. When I spoke to her she seemed so sure that all was good and it was the asking price I said OK.

Unbeknown to me he had explained to her that he didn’t have all the money with him there as the rest was in the hotel safe (they said they were staying at the Plaza Deluxe Hotel, which was the best hotel in the area with room rates up into the big big bucks,) but they still wanted a decision now. She said that I had agreed and they said why don’t we take you to the hotel for a drink and dinner to celebrate and we can sort out the lawyer in the morning . 
She thought she would be silly to let a full asking price offer go by and perhaps a bit carried away wit the moment and excitement of making a sale she agreed to go to the hotel with them to celebrate the deal . They said they would send a car for her later as they had some more business to attend to and left with hand-shakes and smiles all round.

A taxi duly arrived in the evening and they met her in the hotel lobby took her to the bar and started to have a few drinks. 
A few drinks became a few more and then they suggested that they eat in nearby restaurant that they could recommend and half sloshed she readily agreed. The restaurant was OK and still the booze flowed”

I had been nodding in the appropriate places as he had told his story so far but he could see me frowning in response to the last bit where she is now drunk and I said “right” with that “are you sure about this” or “I can see where this is heading” type of tone. 

He said ‘Oh it gets worse mate, I can assure you”

“So she is well p!ssed by now and they suggest going to a nearby casino. These casinos are often illegal and set up by the local gangs mafia etc and are here today gone tomorrow type operations, which being a local she should know, but flushed with making a successful deal and well drunk she thought it would be a good idea, although she said she had no money for the casino. 
‘That’s OK” he said “I will lend you a thousand and you can pay me out of the sale”.

An hour or so goes by and the woman of the couple says she has a bad headache and has to go back to the hotel but the man says he is enjoying himself and will stay. So with the chap at her side covering her bets she wins a little bit and then starts losing a bit and then a bit more and an hour later she notices that the bloke has gone. 

She leaves the table and goes looking for him and as she is about to leave the goons on the door ask her where she is going as she owes them the equivalent of 4,000 she says the man she was with was covering her bets, to which they started to get very heavy and said “What man?? There is no man here. You must pay before you leave” 
Obviously she didn’t have that sort of money so they made her sign a document which is like a legally binding loan pledge common with these set ups in Thailand and comes at an interest rate that would make even the directors of Wonga or Payday Loans flinch at. As she was drunk and confused she didn’t question at the time how they had a document with her name address already on it. 

When she woke up and remembered what had happened she took a taxi to the hotel to see the man and get the money to pay off her debt, but when she asked the receptionist for the room number of name on the business card she was told that no- one of that name was checked in the hotel. 
She asked for the day before and the day before that and the answer was the same ‘no-one of that name had checked in or out’. 
She gave a description of the couple both well-dressed wealthy looking Chinese early thirties and the receptionist gestured around the opulent hotel lobby of the expensive hotel and she saw that nearly 50% of the clientele fitted the description.

Realising she had been duped and rather than phoning me, her husband, to explain, she drew out of her business all the money she had which just equaled the debt, but took nearly a week to get and, when she showed up at the backstreet casino was told that the debt and interest was now 12,000.

She was distraught (so she says) and obviously didn’t have access to that kind of money so tried to borrow from friends and family but by the time she had reached the figure the debt had trebled again and by the time she phoned me to explain what was going on the debt was equivalent to the value of the house and because she had signed the document it was only a matter of time before they claimed the deeds.

Because this is a mafia style scam you can’t go to the police because they would have been bought off (its Thailand and that’s how it works) so I am going out to see if there is anything I can do. It’s not the 130,000 grand that bothers me but the fact that I am now concerned she might be involved in it as well”

I asked if she had ever displayed signs of being a gold digger or thief before this event and did he have other money in UK or elsewhere etc

He replied that he had plenty to keep him going and although she had never shown any signs that she was just after him for money before, he just couldn’t be sure now.

Knowing many first hand stories of white boys being taken to the cleaners in Thailand I said “Well there is not much else you can other than trust her if you love her and try and move on as best you can, You won’t be able to take on the mafia because real life isn’t like a Bond or vigilante movie is it?” 

He said “I don’t know what to do, I can take the 130,000 loss but it’s the principle and that she might be involved that I can’t get to grips with and I don’t know if I can ever trust her again. I am going down and will be staying in the house until hopefully we can sort something out or until we get thrown out. 
I will go to the police and report it but they have a document that is legal despite how it was obtained and I don’t have enough to bribe the police against the mafia and they also know I am not going to kill them or maim their children if they don’t do my bidding ” 

“Do you think she will be there to meet you at the airport” I asked

“I would like to think so but until I get there I wont know”

Noticing the time and my empty glass I said 
“I have to go and get my flight, I would wish you a happy Christmas but you might think I was taking the p!ss so good luck whatever happens mate and I hope it turns out well for you both.”

“Yeah” he said wearily ”Me too”

There will be more added to this in day or so

Beams in the Kitchen

Its the beginning of May 2009

The first thing we had to do was replace the a couple of oak beams in the kitchen as a two of the old ones were too badly wasted at one end to be able to support the bedroom floor above. 
I propped up a beam with three acro props and used some 4 x 2 wood nailed to the top of the beam to the adjoining one to stop any sideways movement. 
I made sure that there were no nails in the area I was to cut and then used a chain saw to cut as close to the wall at each end as I could.
Once done I used a rope over each wall and just lowered them to the ground.
We then had to dig out the space where the new beams were to go, luckily one end of each would sit in conveniently placed hay doors and one end of each was a simple excavation job in the wall.
Next we put up tower scaffold inside the kitchen so that the beams would rest on it while we positioned them with acro props and some well placed grunting.

This is where the old ones had come from and you can see the doorways which were going to hold one end of each beam. This meant that it was easy to push them into final position. 

Here are the new kitchen beams arriving. I was hoping that the driver could use his grab crane and get them in the hay door but the electric and telephone wires prevented that so I had to come up with Plan B. Plan B itself was that he would get them in as far as he could by leaning them in through the hay door and then I would hire a manatu (which is a telescopic 4 wheel drive fork lift thing) and strap the beams to the forks and push them in the rest of the way on to the scaffolding towers. Once there we would maneuver them using a couple of acro props. 

Here they are from the inside awaiting the big push

Cargo strap the forks to the beams for safety and with Mrs B positioned by the door safely out of harms way she shouted out the orders of how far, how hard, and at what angle she wanted me to push to make sure they landed squarely on the internal scaffold. 
I am sure that sentence is rife with double entendres but I will resist the temptation!.

Once in place I had to trim the ends to size. I am unsure as to how many chain saw safety rules I am breaking in these next two photos and it is enough to give a professional a case of the “fucking hells!!” but although it looks hairy I was in control of the situation. Just.
Perhaps it should be mentioned at this stage that a higher and more robust platform would have been the safer option and although I “got away with it” the elimination of the risk factors would have enhanced the safety of this operation.
I did know that the saw would drop and had practiced a few dummy runs before hand so I moved it away form my legs while it was still spinning. I now have professional chain saw trousers which reduce the risk of injury still more.



Once in the room and balanced on the scaffold with a bit of acro prop work and some rope work it was fairly easy, if not a bit scary at times to manoeuvre them into position and level them up. 
This is them in place later. 

So stage one of the beam work complete. Two new beams in Kitchen
Now onto stage two. 
The big one.

Dan dan dan dan daaaahhhn.

September 20 2008

It had taken the pair of us 3 and half months of near continuous work to:- 

Take down the old back and tidy up, 

Dig down the floor and get it level. 

Sort out the problem of Bay Tree Corner.

Put in the footings and build up the block work to damp course level.

Lay the membrane and insulation, 

Pour the floor. 

We still had a few days left before I had to go back to sea so we built up the block work walls to the correct height with the window openings in and built up the interior stone wall that we intended to leave in as a feature. 

The building is 10 meters wide. The floor we are laying will be the lounge which is 10 X 5. the middle 4 meters of which will be glass.
The middle 2 meters of the glass is fixed triple pilkington X with a large wood burner with water jacket (thats what the pipe are for in the middle) and the two outside meters of the opening will be sliding doors doors. 
I hope that make sense to you reader and if not then ask me for more info or keep reading and it will make sense later. (I think) 

Here I am building up the blockwork walls which will be lime and mud rendered on the inside and stone clad on the outside the total thickness will be 500mm. As a novice at blockwork I was rather pleased with the result.

Next I had to build up the inside stone wall which we intend to leave on display. 
Having never attempted any stone walling before I was a bit unsure about it and my ability to get it right. 
There was much looking and putting a few stones up and then looking again to see if it in anyway resembled the old bit next to it. 
I called MrsB many times to just check and use her “arty eye” for me to see if it looked OK, and she kept telling me it looked fine so Icarried on  and it ended up like this 
It was getting really close to going back to sea time now and as I had a really busy winter work schedule planned we decided to wrap it up well and protect all the walls for winter. 

So MrsB and I started the work at the beginning of June 2008 as a pair of complete novices as far as proper building was concerned, and it looked like this. 
Although we’d had a few visitors we rarely took any days off and by September 20th it looked like this. 
The tarpaulins are to protect the torchis walls for the winter and worked a treat they remained bone dry throughout. 
I had fitted temporary gutters to the back with down pipes set up to take the water away from the new floor and out into the garden 

Mrs B and I were “well chuffed” as we felt we had achieved a great deal, had learnt masses and had made our mark on, and connected with the building. 
We had also created useful contacts in the local builders merchants timber yard and hire centres. 
It was with happy heads but heavy hearts we wrapped up the building to protect it for the winter, battened down the sheds and left for the UK on 20th Sept. 
I had to go back to sea and earn some money for the next phase and Mrs B had a winter of college.
I took a short leave inj the middle of Feb so we popped over for a couple of weeks and went over our plans and  checked the sequence of work we needed to do. We spent some time as either tourists or just snuggled up in the sheds staying, close and getting to know our home. 

Blog bastard bblah boom boom

Aye Aye m’beauties, well fuck my tall boots,
I drive a modern sophisticated multi million dollar ship in critical situations using pretty much up to the minute computerised systems as well as all the modern communication equipment that comes with, but can I complete the simple task and  become a follower of the blogs of other people that have linked to mine???
In the words of my building guru “Can I fuck as like”, and it is driving me nuts.
I have actually managed to end up following myself, and as wonderful as I think I am even my ego has its limits and following my own blogs is way over that limit.

When I click on the “follow” button it comes up with some screen that asks me to sign in using an account I have apparently already created “doh doh doh- no I haven’t ” but it doesn’t let me type anything or just sign in as this blog title.
I have gone blog blind now and system blind and simplicity blind and I cant see how to do it.
I have been reduced to a blubbering begging blog bastard  so please please please if anyone can explain to me simply and easily how I get “connected” to other blog sites then I would be very grateful and you may actually save my blog busted bruised bogbush of brain from melting.

I will sit by my computer waiting, occasionally twitching and suddenly bursting into the sort of giggling normally associated with the criminally insane and await the help I need.

Love and peace


The lounge floor

The idea now was to pour the foundation (or footings) and then build up to floor level with two runs of blocks. This would then give us the “bowl” into which our concrete floor would go. Before we did that I had to get romantic so the floor had some love in it!


We chose a day to do the footings on the back of the weather forecast that said it was going to be overcast. 
There was just Mrs B and myself to mix and lay the back wall foundation which was 10 meters long and up to 70 cms wide and 40 or 50 thick in places. We had a fairly early night and were up with the larks fart ready to get mixing.
Now comes the preparation bit:- 
We’d had the sand delivered in Big Bags along with gravel in the same which we had lined up next to each other so it was a simple case of dipping into one or the other and then swinging it into the mixer. 
The cement was in bags on a pallet next to the mixer so all within shovel reach. 
We didn’t have running water at this stage so I had spent a previous day running into the free tap in town and filling every available bucket and container we had. A round trip of 9 miles. 
When our visiting Parisian neighbour noticed he asked what I was doing and when I told him we needed lots of water to do the footings he insisted that I cut a hole in the chain link fence and use the water from his well. 
I am still thankful for that neighbourly act as it saved me many 9 mile round trips to get water. 

I lobbed the first load in which is 4 sand 1 gravel 1 cement which the mixer just about held, we then set up with Mrs B on the mixer and me running the barrows through the house for 18 meters to the footing trench. 
As I was fairly quick I could get back in time to help Mrs B do the last of the loading of the mixer.

A great plan, well thought out and it started well but it was somewhat thrown into a shambles as by 1100 the sun was beating down and the temp was up around 30. 
BY 1300 Mrs B was flagging under the unrelenting hard physical graft and fierce heat so we had to stop for some rest and lunch. 
We had been drinking lots of water but it was hard going. 
We had covered about 40% of the trench but it was obvious we needed some extra muscle to get us to the finish line. 
Any builder worth his salt will tell you that you should not split pour a foundation as it creates a weakness.
Although we were determined to do all the work ourselves I had to call my mate Kev (the magic digger driver) to come and help with the grunt work after lunch and three hours later the footings were in. Not only was he a magic digger driver but could keep the mixer going flat out. 

In the photo of the first barrow load going in you can see the re-enforcing bar box section that was about 10cms square. 



We let the concrete go off for a day and then set about getting the two layers of blocks down to bring the back wall up to floor level. 



This next shot is looking down the garden and the land will be brought down to halfway up the top blocks if that makes sense. There will be a terrace outside gently sloping away from the house to take any surface water away. (Beneath, if I don’t hit too much bed rock will be a couple of rain water harvest tanks but we will come to that later.) 

2nd Row the top of this row is basically the damp course level. 


Next was to level out the floor. 
We did this by setting up the laser again and using the tape on a stick method went round the entire floor at about 1 foot intervals (at dusk to see the laser better) and spray paint marked the high areas of the floor. 

Here is MrsB demonstrating the small load method. Perhaps I should have bought  a smaller wheelbarrow or bigger shovel. Either way it was how we had to do it as we didnt have the dumper truck now.

We dug these down with a robust SMS hammer drill that you can buy from any DIY store for about 45 quid (even in France)

Which even with earmuffs on can be very noisy as MrsB demonstrates here.

However one must be careful not to criticise the levelling prowess of ones partner

After it is near enough level with all the jaggy bits taken out you bring in the scalpings which is like a flat stone gravel with bits of mush between it. 
You would spread this out and then use a “whacker plate” (hire from local hire shop) to bed it down. 
I didn’t have any scalpings so I used the “excess” of gravel I had and then used sand over the top of that which we leveled down with the “welly boot feet together shuffle” method which worked very well and we soon had a fairly smooth level-ish surface on which to lay the waterproof membrane.

So next it’s the membrane

You can see the damp proof course on top of the blocks and the membrane when laid covers this. This shot also shows the level and smooth finish in the area where the membrane will sit.


Membrane in so time to put insulation on, This is hard packed polystyrene and each sheet is 50mm thick and we laid a double layer each player opposite to the other to eliminate any gaps

It is then just a case of running electrics, in gain, to where you want them.
Plastic cold water pipe in gain for garden water tap. 
Plastic protected copper pipe for the cold water feed and hot water take to where the fire will be, (with hindsight I wish I had bought 28 or even 32 rather than 24mm but I didn’t know at the time. It will still work but bigger would have been better me thinks.) 
The red stuff is my home made Under Floor heating, working on the principal that if you pump hot water through a concrete block it will get warm. 
It is a very rudimentary attempt and the one in the kitchen and studio will be better coiled as in neater and closer together but what you see is two loops.

So once we had all of that in position we ordered the concrete lorry. His conveyor thing wouldn’t go through the house so I improvised by using the dumper truck to ferry it round the back 

Here is the first load from the concrete truck to the floor 

And then 


The floor is in 

Not too shabby for a seaman and psychotherapist. if I say so myself. 

It is all in the planning

Those who know me will know I am seafarer and not a builder however I have always asked and listened to how builders weave their magic and when you look at people doing basic jobs you soon  realise that most of it is not rocket science. The trick is in the experience builders have of  putting all the skills and knowledge together to form a coherent plan of action that doesn’t leave you later on thinking “Oh No! if I had put the plumbing in then or done the floor that way I wouldn’t now have to dig up a big chunk of it”. 
It is all in the planning. 
In case any one missed that and is considering or soon to be starting a project like this I say again  “It is all in the planning” 
Plan it, then project forward in time to where you think you would be and then check that your plans wont “hang you up” and cause you to undo what you have already done. 
In some ways it is a bit like a game of snooker whereby in order to make a big break you have to be thinking two, three, or four shots ahead of yourself whilst making sure the ball you are on goes in the right pocket.

I often asked advice from builder mates who were only to happy to explain how to do something in exchange for a pint or two. 

I am from a practical problem solving background and just apply logic and some occasional sideways thinking to the tasks to be done. 
Often my seafarers tendency to “over engineer” causes Chris my building guru to pull his hair out, as in the day I explained to him why I used massive timbers to build some stud wall and explained that I didn’t want them to rock if the house moved a bit “He raised one eyebrow and said “Bentley houses don’t roll, ships do. Gravity works downwards on dry land”
(What can you say!!!

I bounce the ideas (the practical ones) off of Mrs B. On many occasions she has said “Yeah that’s great but what about when we come to do such and such, wont that wall or beam or whatever be causing an obstruction then” 

I think you have to have a sounding board who is as into the whole project as you are. It would be a lonely and tough “one man show” although it might suit some people to do it like that. 

Since we have passed the bounds of my original knowledge base I have had to up my game and make sure I research the next move thoroughly before proceeding. 
I am fortunate in that I have a good mate who lives here full time and is a wonderful, skilled, and imaginative builder who I pass all my ideas by before implementing them. He is called Chris and is my building guru.
I cannot stress how invaluable t it is to have someone who you can ask advice form who knows his stuff and isn’t hustling you for work out of it. The best people like that tend not to need your work because the best builders are always “busy”.

It must be understood that this is a labour of love, the fullfillment of a dream that we both share and as such we have no interest in the monetary value of the home we are building. 
Of course we have a budget and so far I am in that budget but keeping the cost down in the hope of turning a few quid is not the reason we are doing it. That said because it is “us” who are doing the vast bulk of the work our build costs are very low and when I do need something doing beyond my capabilities Chris will always get that work.

I hope the information we impart along the way is of use to others thinking of doing the same thing and if I miss anything or fail to explain a method correctly then please feel free to ask me to go into more detail.

Next is getting the floor down.

Bastard Bay Trees and their roots

This corner was a major problem as a bay tree roots had infiltrated right through the wall which you can see either side of the pink post at ground level. 

It took days of work to cut the roots away and we had to take down a section of the wall as the roots had grown right through it and pushed out the mortar. I had a 8 inch trenching bucket on the 2.5T digger and it barely made an impact although I am sure a larger machine would have made more impression. In the end it was hammer and chisel and pick axe and hand power as I was in danger of damaging the wall with the machine. Seen here is sister in law using the “handraulic” method.


I installed a tin shield and then poured a concrete corner over halfa meter deep and thick to prevent the bay from getting back in. 

The trees are on my neighbours side so as much as I wanted to I couldn’t rip them out as they provide us both with some privacy although I am faced with a constant battle to keep them at bay (s’cuse the pun)
I may get to the stage where I offer to cover the expense of taking them down digging out the roots and putting a fence up to protect both our privacies as a replacement. I will let you know how that goes but my advice to anyone with bays that close to their walls is have them down and replace with something less invasive. 
Lets face it, how many bay leaves can you use in a stew? 
Grow one in a pot and I am sure it will meet all your stew and casserole requirements for ever and never invade your garden.

Starting Work

June 10th 2008 and time to actually lay hands on the building itself. 

We had decided on a design that would put a 4 meter wide dorma in the back extending from the ridgeline of the original roof out to the rear of the property. 
In order to achieve this we had to take down the rear single story roof and back wall, dig down to establish a concrete floor with homemade UFH and re-establish a back wall that would be block faced with original stone half a meter thick. 
But first the removal; of the old roof using the time tested method of “try it and see” 
We hired a large skip (expensive but no other option) for the un-usable debris from the roof because the slate had had it and a lot of the small timber was beyond salvage. 

There is a method at work here which involves a long shafted flat bladed spade and because we knew the slates were knackered it didn’t matter how we got them off.


We saved all the old wood (mainly chestnut, oak and some old yellow pitched pine) that looked like it could be cleaned up and reused somewhere later. 

Once we started taking the back wall down we were careful to segregate the stones onto corners, reveals and faced and “the rest”. We also saved every shovel full of dry mud and torchis (cobb) that came out and sieved this and kept this separate to go back in when rendering and pointing was to be done. 



Here is our Initial neat and tidy pile of stone and salvaged wood it would grow and shrink and be moved then moved back and grow again in the next few years with al the wood being stored inside once we had an inside to store it in. 


Once the site was cleared it was fairly simple to dig down to the required level by using a laser level (shown in Photo on blocks and sand to get the right levels) and a tape marked stick. 
If the laser shone below the tape it was too shallow and above too deep. 
I took the height measurement from floor on the other side of the small doorway. 


I did a lot of the digger driving and loading and Mrs B did the dumper driving assisted, as you can see by Minnie the dog. 


The stones and dirt that came out of the floor we took down to the local farmer who was happy for us to tip as back fill on the site of new silage yard and was very happy to see Mrs B and the dog navigating in and out of the farmyard on the dumper. 

The final leveling I left to a mate of mine Kev who is a superb digger driver.
Once the floor was roughly level and the footings about deep enough we used the laser and then sprayed the levels on. 
You can see in the following sequence of photos the floor down to the required level and then the finished level painted on the wall over the laser line. 
The bit by the foundations is the height first of the concrete foundation and then the height of the block work to get it up to floor level. 


He dug the footings for the back wall while he was down at the new floor level on the same side as the floor and then “danced” the digger out over the footings and up the bank. 


We then rendered up the sides and corners of the “floor pit to cover any sharp stones in the wall from puncturing the membrane 


So apart form one troublesome corner, which I will cover in the next post that was the floor near enough down to depth and ready for the next stage 

To get to this level had taken 5 weeks of labour from Mrs B and myself and 1 and half days work Kev on the digger.