Tuesday 25 April 2017

Only 8 sleeps to go! 😴😴

The countdown has begun in earnest and the packing has started! Yesterday I packed one case (we are allowed 2 each) and filled it with:
  • my muesli ingredients - in case there are no supermarkets in England, you understand,
  • the curtain material and bumpf lining that I brought back from the boat in 2015 to make up - still in the same vacuum bags that it arrived here in and still in the same unmade state,
  • a very big windlass that for some inexplicable reason is in NZ with us - who the hell knows why, given windlasses are no use here
  • the boat manual that I marked up to edit because of changes we've made to the boat's electrics etc - still marked up, still not re-done
  • various papers about the boat
  • 2 jars of feijoa jelly (homemade)
  • 1 jar of feijoa chutney (purchased)
  • 2 x 500g tubs of manuka honey
  • a glass serving bowl
  • three large envelopes of photos some of which will be made into a book for a special occasion
  • papers for David's tax return that he will do on the boat in a spare moment - most likely to be found at the very last moment before he would incur a penalty for late return that will cancel out and overtake his likely refund ... 
However, re the last point, I cannot criticise my lovely husband's procrastination, given at least two of the bullet points above demonstrate my propensity for that behaviour too - I can't use the excuse of work, because I've had lots of weekend time where I have blobbed and read instead of being gainfully engaged in curtain making or manual preparation. 😀

I have a few more days of work to complete - the project is nearly over and we are in administrative closure mode, so best I get on.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Why have we got a large concrete pad outside the garage?

The concrete pad is in preparation for when we bring back a motorhome from the UK after the northern summer on the boat. If I am to retire (I say 'if' advisedly, as I am notorious for changing my mind about this event - in 2001, 2007, 2009, ...) then we would like to be replicating our peripatetic boating lifestyle in NZ. However NZ doesn't have canals and the rivers are not connected and they move too fast and are not suitable for liveaboard launches and I don't like being on the sea where launches do fit, and boats need to be launched, unlaunched (what is the word for that?) towed, etc.

But a motorhome, on the other hand, is like a narrowboat but wider and faster! 

We have decided we wanted to explore NZ more than we ever have: A few months ago, David came down to Hokitika for a weekend and we went out exploring from there just a little bit. One place we went to was Lake Mahinapua, about 10km south of Hokitika. There is a Dept of Conservation camp there, and we fell in love with the place. We got chatting to a couple who were there in their motorhome and listening to them talking about their travels, how they fit that in with their work lives, just made us think how much of NZ we are missing out on. Over the years when we have travelled in NZ it has always been with a destination and a timeline for getting to and from - that kind of travel doesn't allow for the kind of pootling about and exploring the highways and byways (well, more the villages and paths) like we do on the boat.

So instead of doing more exploring that day, we went back to the motel and started researching motorhomes. I was happy to get a secondhand one, but David was keen to look at new ones first and then look at secondhand - in terms of eventual outlay, that was a very crap idea, because once we'd looked at new, secondhand didn't look anywhere near as attractive. So new it had to be. GGGRRR!!!

Over the next few weeks we looked on line at several that were available in NZ (or would be at the end of this coming winter) but almost all of them had really small stoves. I'm a bit of a cook, and while I am really happy with the stove on Waka Huia which Jaq Biggs describes as a Barbie camp oven, I cannot be doing with anything smaller, i.e. slightly deeper than standard grill - the salesmen all told me you can cook a chicken in it, but I reckon it would have to be spatchcocked and not with its wings or legs sticking out ...

We visited a couple of dealers in Auckland and the guys (always guys) explained that a bigger oven wasn't required because you use a BBQ  but BBQing isn't our standard way of cooking even at home, and I noted the juxtaposition of the small oven and large fridge - I suggested that clearly beer is more important than food ... You will not be surprised, dear reader, to learn that this was greeted with affirming nods and laughter!

We did find one brand in NZ that had a decent sized stove plus a good sized fridge and 16" wheels (to deal with humps and hollows in the off road approaches to freedom camping sites) but the cost was more than we wanted to pay.

So we started looking at sites in the UK and found that a) the purchase price is less than in NZ; b) we get the VAT back if we bring it in to NZ when we have owned it for less than 90 days; c) we do pay GST on the total of the purchase price less the VAT, the import duty, the freight and the insurance; and d) all up it will still cost about 20 - 25% less than the cost of buying it in NZ.

So when we went to the UK in October, my cousin and his wife took us to a motorhome sales place (Michael Jordans in Gomshall) a few miles from their home. We had Tim, Olek and Karol with us too, so the boys were hunting for the styles we liked - fixed bed, no luton, big stove, 16" wheels. At that time, all the ones we looked at were secondhand. We also checked out caravans to see if they would be an option, but towing one didn't seem like a good idea to me - I cannot reverse a trailer to save myself and, even though you can buy little remote control reverse thingies, I wasn't convinced a caravan would suit as we get older - lifting/manoeuvering to get the caravan off the towball didn't seem the thing for aging short people ... Yes, I know they have wind up thingies too to lift them, but no.

The salespeople were really busy that day, so David and I went back another day just before we headed home to NZ and looked at the new ones. We found the Swift Bolero 624FB and decided it was just the ticket. Decision made, and deposit paid when we returned to NZ.

When the GBP dropped on the announcement of the Brexit referendum result, we moved some NZ$ over to our UK account so the price would remain stable regardless of currency fluctuations.

So having made that decision, we had to make sure we had a suitable place to store the motorhome when it arrives. We got Derek to bring Doris the Glampervan over to ours to try out the space beside the garage - could she be reversed in? could she fit easily without being too close to the eaves or the maple? could the entry door be opened and allow movement around it? All important things. Especially important was that the fabulous cabbage tree on our drive would not be an obstacle and would stay safe from Luke's chainsaw ...

Thus the concrete pad was conceived. It would have been easier and much cheaper to just place several large pavers for the wheels, but that would have required me to reverse or drive on to them accurately every time. So a concrete pad it was. 

Silly me, but I thought we could just get concrete laid and job done. But no, it needed to be drained, and it couldn't go into the storm water drain - believe me, we (Luke) tried. But our stormwater drain pipe slopes very slightly up to the road outlet - that's fine when the water head is at the guttering on the roof, but not when it's at ground level. When the weather bomb hit while David and I were away in Reefton for the weekend, and the stormwater flowed back from the road as well as down from the roof, the water cascaded from our place over to Jillian's - fortunately she was home, and the rain stopped ...

So using the stormwater was no longer an option. Back to the drawing board! That meant digging down to where the water would drain away naturally, i.e. find river gravels as a soaking agent. Easy peasy? Not!

Luke, the digger boy, is happy!

Excavation of the drain hole starts

That's all clay in there - water won't soak away. I started to think we were digging to Spain!

1 metre, 2 metres - and Luke couldn't dig any deeper with the bucket on the excavator. So off to a hire place in Porirua he goes to get an augur and an extension. Meanwhile, Hamish the plumber goes to get a long 200mm diameter pipe to be inserted in the hole that Luke will be drilling. Hamish then drills holes in the side of said pipe to let water come into it from the ground it'll be in.

Luke comes back with the augur and they fit it and start drilling. Down, down to the reach of the augur. River gravels yet? No.
OK, fit the extension - b*gger, the bolt is too fat. But wait, Luke finds a coachbolt in his van and they use that - it's not the right size but is strong enough to hold even though there's play in it.

Down and down again. Test with the hose, is water draining away? Not well enough (so to speak). So down further.

That's about as far as the augur will go without the extension on

An augur full - still no gravel

Eventually we get there! That pipe is about 1.25m long, so the old river bed is well below ground level!

In the end, at a depth of 3.5m, Luke hits lots of gravel and the hole is finally deep enough. Hamish lowers the pipe in using rope and Luke uses the digger bucket to tap it in as far as possible. Then in go the two 600mm wide concrete cylinders, one on top of the other, lowered in on ropes suspended from the excavator bucket. Then around them, gravel to hold them in place and form a base for the concrete surrounds and the seat for the grill.  
Hamish in the hole compacting the gravel

The second concrete pipe ready to go in - has to be tied and secured on the excavator bucket to be lowered in safely and carefully.
 Hamish and Luke did a sterling job and the drain looks looks like it has always been there.

The next step was the concrete pad the following day. That was done so efficiently and well - the end result is wonderful. See what I mean?

The concrete truck arrives

Luke in his Red Bands and Rafe unloading for the pour.

Luke barrowing and Ben spreading

This bit was far quicker than I thought it would be - these guys have it down to a fine art.

Rafe spreading and doing the edges, Ben smoothing

All smooth

For a couple of hours afterwards, Ben had to smooth the surface to bring the water up to make it dry off faster. Amazing what you learn when people are doing work for you! I never knew that water rose to the surface of wet concrete from being smoothed over!

All done - complete with grooves cut by Luke the next day before it hardened off, to cope with any heat or pressure expansion

As I was writing this yesterday, Rob was out sorting out the garden by the trellis, so now the motorhome's new parking space is complete.

Luke has been back, and old and new adventures are about to begin

We are not far from heading back to the boat - this time in two weeks we will be on board, still in the marina and with a fair amount of unpacking to do - baggage and groceries, but on board we will be!

In the meantime, we have been getting the house and grounds ship shape, partly for our departure and partly because my retirement and end of earning is getting closer and we need to make sure we've done the maintenance and any upgrading necessary around the place before the regular influx of contract rates ceases.

So for two separate weeks about 6 weeks apart, the cheese scone production line has been brought back on stream, and lunches have been cooked while Luke worked on:
  • in week one, putting down a concrete pad** and constructing a very high trellis out beside the garage,
  • constructing a two piece table top to transform our titchy table from one that seats 4 comfortably and 6 at a bit of a squeeze and 8 only if people breathe in constantly, to one that can comfortably seat 8 or ten.
  • and in week two, re-cladding the garden shed with a contoured ply to cover the deteriorating weather boards
  • waterblasting the shed roof and guttering
  • repainting the shed roof
  • cleaning and re-staining the gable ends on the house roof
  • building a trellis for a grapevine that I want to plant (grapevine on back order to be delivered to Bruce and Gary while we are away and then delivered here for Rob to plant)
  • finishing off the brick edging for the new piece of garden around the very high trellis, so Rob can plant a bourganvillea, transplant a rose and plant a pittosporum
  • putting sheets of MDF up in the attic so David can store more junk up there
  • driving huge nails in the garage walls for the ladders to hang on
  • reducing the width of the above mentioned tabletop by 60mm so that it looked less like a covered over billiard table and more like a generously-sized dining table (and incidentally fitted the tablecloths better as well)
  • and second to last but not least, while waiting for morning tea one day, wiping down the scotia and fridge top (I can't reach them or see them ...)
  • and the last task was helping us paint the shed - we needed to do that fast as Bruce and Gary were coming for dinner, and we all wanted them to see it finished. 
The cooking has taken place between my doing work, although I would have to say it was good that I didn't need to be fulltime on my paid work during these weeks, as what with cooking and supervising David's interventions of what he thought would be a good idea for Luke to be doing, I didn't have much time to myself!

Photos of some of this week's work:
The garden shed before Luke started - it looks fine from this distance (from my desk in the bedroom - I was working) but the lower corners were going a bit rotten. Last year Luke lifted one side of it and levelled it - the edges where it had been on the ground had got damp and the timber had finally given up the ghost.
Not such a sunny day#* as when I took the 'before' one above. But looks very smart in its new cladding (vertically routed ply and Stone Creek grey paint - which doesn't need primer or undercoat! yay!! and newly painted door) #* We were going to take a photo yesterday when the sun got on to it but we were out for several hours and missed that portion of a very sunny day at home, honest! When the sun comes out on it I will take another photo and swap this one out.

The trellis for the grapevine that is on back order: buffalo variety that we tasted when staying with Janneke and Nico in Hastings. Just yummy!

The cleaned and re-stained gable ends

** See the upcoming next post for more info about this.

Saturday 22 April 2017

Unwanted and non-paying tenants

When I posted the second to last time, back in mid January, I said I would say why Luke was replacing the insulation (known in NZ as batts - not sure if that's what they are called elsewhere), but only if someone asked. And Carol did - quite quickly after I posted, but I haven't been blogging recently, so the explanation has waited in draft until now. Here's what I started to write back then:

Thank you, Carol! I wanted to say but it's a bit gross. But seeing as you have asked I will be brave and do a post ...

We have recently discovered that some time before we bought the house there were rats living in the ceiling space - they could get in because there were trees overhanging the roof and there was a rat-sized gap all around the roofline between the guttering and the roofing material. We knew there was one dessicated dead rat up in the roof space when we did the kitchen refit back in 2014 - the electrician told us so. What we didn't know was that there had been rat families and the wider community up there at one time. The dead and dessicated rat wasn't causing us any trouble - he didn't bathe much, but he didn't smell, and he wasn't eating anything or throwing late night parties, so we let him be.

When Luke came to install the wardrobe doors late last year, he went up in the ceiling space to investigate why we had 3 stains on our bedroom ceiling that came through 5 layers of paint that I had put on, one of them an ineffective stain coverer. He found the dead rat and three rats' nests (made of batts) - one nest per stain. That meant the stains were caused by rat urine. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! And in another part of the house was a former wasps' nest - that must have been dealt to some time ago. So far, all tenants were dead and/or gone.

Flat dessicated dead rat - certainly not the key ingredient for rat au van a la Baldrick! Looks peaceful, doesn't he? Not sure where all his mates went.
But under the batts near the nests and stains, as large as life and twice as active, were millions of ants - well, lots of thousands. Now I don't mind ants, except when they come into the pantry and start eating the provisions - it's bad enough that they come to the house to live uninvited and without paying, but to be taking the food out of our mouths is a bit much!

So we decided the first step was to put ant-bombs up there to kill the ants. Luke did that while David and I were away over New Year. Ant problem solved, we all thought.

The next step was to replace all of the batts which were installed when the house was built 25 years ago and were getting a bit flat and tired. They would have kept doing their job of insulating the ceiling with slowly diminishing effectiveness; but as they were 25 years old and as we plan on living here for another 20 years or so, we thought it better to get them replaced now. So up Luke went into the maze of framing on Monday to start the process. However, he came down pretty sharpish to tell us that the ant bombs had killed the ants where he's originally moved the batts back, but there were thousands more under the batts that hadn't been moved - Note to self: fibreglass has very good filtering properties - must keep a batt or two handy in case of poison gas attack or smoke.

So, some internet research, a couple of phone calls to other friends who've retaliated to ant attacks, and off David and I went to the hardware shop to buy anti-ant invasion spray. On the way, we got a call from Luke asking us to buy him another protective suit as he'd broken the one he was wearing - he'd thought it was a one size fits all, and had bought an M - the man needs XL or XXL at the very least because he is so tall and has long arms and legs - his M sized suit came somewhere above his wrists and I told him he wouldn't be allowed on my work site with inappropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). It wasn't difficult for him to break it as it was paper thin anyway and one good stretch and it was history.
See what I mean about the suit being too small? I did also tell him he needed nitrile gloves with long arms but he scoffed ...

We do admire Luke immensely - he could have told us to get someone else to do the clearing of batts, as he is a tradesman and it's not a skilled job, but as he is a friend and a very kind man, he did it for us, and started clearing them away - a bit of a b*gger of a job as he had to move them from between ceiling joists and then get them over to the manhole and then throw them down then load them into the trailer and then stomp them down to make more room and then repeat all steps several times ...
There were several piles created like this. To load them into the trailer he used the pitchfork - he's not stupid!

Before it left, the trailer had about 3 times more batts loaded in it.
 So once all batts were out (which took a day and a half), he sprayed the whole of the ceiling area - appropriate PPE WAS worn, including mask, gloves, decent protective suit. I did try to get him to wear goggles but they fogged up so were discarded early.

The next task was to remove the stained gib-board in the bedroom. Much sheeting and covering of bedroom furniture, removal of the blinds, removal of paintings/plates hanging on the walls preceded this task - and a good thing too. Luke discovered that there were still ants alive in that part of the ceiling and when he pulled down the gib and the batts he'd not been able to reach the little b*stards were still tromping around merrily. But not for long! I sprayed them liberally with flyspray and I think they drowned rather than breathing in the toxicity - good job! Luke put Raid ant bait in wine bottle tops (see, drinking IS a good idea, and stelvin caps are excellent re-usable resources) and placed them on the ceiling joists. Then he jammed in some new non-ant tainted batts and affixed new pieces of gib board. Back up went the scotia, and he plastered the repaired area.

Since then he has done two more coats of plaster, and all it needs now is to be painted - that is the painting department's job, and David says he'll do it. But he is pretty busy on Weaving Memories work (understatement - he is working 12 hours a day on it), so it might be up to me.

I'll probably get motivated when the wardrobe doors go back, on courtesy of Luke, soon - he's been flat out on work for other people and the doors have been sitting happily in the garage for the last couple of weeks, having been beautifully spray painted by Sam.

So the ants and the rat and nests have gone. The rats can no longer get in as a) we've cut back all of the trees that overhung the roof, and b) we've had heavy duty gutter protection installed - no gaps for anything bigger than a small spider to get through.

Good old Luke, we say - it is worth baking scones daily and making his lunch to have him doing things for us!

Update on 23 April (Bl**dy hell, has it been three months since this all occurred?):

Luke ended up painting the ceiling when he came back to install the spray-painted wardrobe doors - took him an hour and a half all up to do two coats. That hour and a half included taking down and putting back up the blinds and cleaning up the roller when he'd finished. The man is a legend and we are way too slow!
Beautifully painted and fitted wardrobe doors - mine only - I cannot take a photo of David's from the bed where I am sitting. If you use your imagination, you can see in your mind's eye one set of double doors to the right of the picture. Got it? OK, that's David's wardrobe, half the size of mine as befits a person who doesn't like shopping for clothes or shoes. If he was in bed too, which he's not, as you can tell by the fact that his dressing gown is missing from its hook, (and, by the way, I am STILL waiting for my second cup of tea) I would get him to take the photo as he would be a couple of feet further away, but he's not, so imagination will have to do the job for you. PS I am going to have to get a new dressing gown - white and purple polka dots don't match the rest of the room ...

I do occasionally see ants outside on the driveway and around the side porch - more ant spray has been purchased and they had better watch out ...