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A hole has appeared

This week: Making preparations; A hole has appeared; Manpower makes all the difference; A severe weather warning; Black scorpion; Looking back;

Empty streets
Empty streets in Stari Grad signal the start of winter

It is a damp and dark Saturday afternoon as I write this week’s epistle. Gizmo is asleep on my lap, which makes typing difficult, but that apart, it is an ideal time to review this week’s progress.

I was back up on the roof on Sunday because of some more chewed wires.

One of my outdoor video cameras had stopped working. Knowing that the cables were in the same area where I had the problem with chewed wires last week, I decided to have a look.

With the tiles removed I quickly found the problem. The rodents had chewed through the cable in several places.

I used a pair of circular junction connectors to re-join the wires. The video cameras use 4-way telephone cable and whilst these junction boxes are designed for 220V lighting, they will work with 12V cable too.

Re-joining camera wires
Re-joining camera wires

Everything was sprayed with peppermint afterwards, to keep the little critters away!

Staying with the theme of cabling, I have been working in the Konoba and workshop on several wet afternoons, to connect the mains wiring circuits up.

I needed the various sockets and front covers which I bought on the mainland last week.

Konoba wiring
Wiring up a Konoba wall socket

So while the weather has no been fit to work outside, I used the opportunity to get on with some of my many inside jobs.

If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well goes the old saying and I have really tried with the installation of these sockets into the old walls, to make the look as through they fit in.

Making preparations

With the offer of building work potentially starting this week, I had a good Monday clearing out the remainder of the old utility room.

Inside the U room
Inside the U room

This is in my oldest building which I refer to as “The cottage”. At some point it has been a single ground floor room, with a loft above.

Then it has had a central dividing wall built with a new door and the old wide arched doorway reduced to make a narrow door and a narrow window, creating two rooms.

The old cottage
The old cottage

Water was pumped from the rock cisterns up by the donkey track and when I moved in the old pump and water filter was still in place in one half, which had been turned into a very makeshift bathroom.

Pump and filter
Pump and filter

On top of the pump was a very basic pressure sensor. This sensed when a tap was turned on because of a drop in down stream pressure, and switched the electric pump on.

Antique pressure switch
Antique pressure switch

I removed the water tank and pump, but left the pipework, and installed my washing machine, fridge and freezer in the room.

This building was really the VERY last job on my “to do” list, but because of the lack of progress elsewhere, now is the right time for renovations.

I started demolishing the dividing wall in the summer, with the intention of having it all done by Christmas.

Pantry dividing wall
Pantry dividing wall

But for a variety of reasons, I have not got much further than breaking half the dividing wall down.

Half a dividing wall
Half a dividing wall

But now Cvjetko has a gap in his schedule, the work can start, like now!

A hole has appeared

But fear not, I am looking into it!

A hole has appeared
A hole has appeared and I’m looking into it

There were no plans of any of my buildings when I bought the property.

The first thing I did was to accurately measure each room and the outside, then draw a set of scale plans.

At the Kadastar, the local land registry, their building plans are from the 19th century when Austro-Hungarian surveyors mapped the country for the first time.

The Cottage wasn’t even shown on these plans so before buying I had to have it added, and assessed to confirm it was built before 1968. It passed that test without difficulty.

The lack of plans means that I have no idea where the original underground services run. However everything I have installed has been mapped and photographed.

The old water pipework in the Cottage, which feeds the kitchen and a garden tap, will have to be removed and new pipes installed in the new floor.

Damp corner
Damp corner and old pipes

I set out on Tuesday morning to try and track the pipes, which are live, back to the outside, so I know where I can cut and then lay new Vargon plastic pipework.

Being live and not knowing exactly where they ran underground, I started with my small breaking hammer to try and get into the old mortar between the stones.

Although quite nice looking, these stones are basically slates that have been laid into a mortar. So as I broke into the mortar, the slates shattered into layers.

I needed my 20 KG large breaking hammer to get through the mortar around the water pipe. I didn’t want to fracture a pipe, so I started wide and away from the wall, so I had more room to work.

It took a little bit of work to begin with, then suddenly the hammer blade sunk right in. There is a foul water pipe somewhere and I suspected that I had broken into it.

Even working carefully, the same thing happened twice more. As I lifted a piece of slate, there was a black void underneath.

Fetching a bright torch, it lit up the inside of a spacious void which had been covered over with unreinforced concrete. I covered the hole and waited until Cvjetco arrived, to consult him.

On the very old Austro-Hungarian map, there is a well marked, but this is in the wrong place. What I think it is, is a cesspit or soak pit.

This is where the water from my washing machine has been going.

There is no municipal sewerage system here, so every home has one or more what are called “Septic tanks”, known colloquially as black holes. These are nothing more than excavations into the porous sandstone/limestone which are then covered in concrete.

Some have access pipes for emptying, but many are just completely sealed. This was one, with no indication of where it was – that was until I broke through the concrete…

The decision was to leave it covered.

Manpower makes all the difference

After delivering timber shoring, a cement mixer and other heavy machines early in the week, rain curtailed the outside work.

Then Cvjetko arrived with his crew. The first job was to make the doorway wide enough to get a wheelbarrow through. That had been one of my limiting factors.

Narrow to wide
Narrow to wide – old doorway removal

With that job done, the timber was used to construct ramps to get down the four steps to the courtyard level.

Ramp construction
Ramp construction

And then up to the back of the truck.

More timber staging
More timber staging

Three wheelbarrows were in use moving the pile of spoil and whilst the first full truck load was taken to the tip, the team started breaking the remaining wall.

It’s amazing what a lot of manpower can achieve in a short space of time.

With a second full load, the room is now one.

Two truck loads of spoil
Two truck loads of spoil

We even discovered the original hinge rings, set into the stone door pillar with lead, where doors have once been hung.

Original hinge ring
Original hinge ring

The floors are not level so there may have to be a step across the middle of the room, but that is a decision for later.

Step across the middle
Step across the middle

Now it is back over to me. I have to install the electrical wiring, pattress boxes for the sockets and pipes for the central heating.

Once the installation of services is out of the way, Cvjetko will be back to concrete the floor, seal the room against damp and block up the small doorway.

Severe weather warning

With a name like the European Storm Forecasting (ESTOFEX) their role is sort of ‘given away’.

Late on Tuesday they issues a Level 2 warning for the Eastern Adriatic for wind, heavy rain and even Tornadoes, valid for Wednesday and Thursday.

ESTOFEX storm warning
ESTOFEX storm warning

You will not be surprised to learn that I spent most of Wednesday in front of the computer screens.

With the rain came wind and a drop in the temperature.

Temperature wind and rainfall chart
Temperature wind and rainfall chart

What it did do was to allow me to draw a scale plan of the inside of the cottage, once it is finished, and then to plan how I want the inside to look.

There will be a floor area of 15 square meters, so I will need to order tiles. However I also need to plan where the wiring, water, waste and central heating pipes will all go.

Once I had measured the appliances and the IKEA shelving which I already have, it was easy to move the various objects, drawn to scale, around a scale plan.

Scale plan of the cottage
Scale plan of the cottage

I have used a programme called CorelDRAW, since the time when it came on four floppy discs (remember them?) in 1990. It is now on version 10.

This is a commercial drawing programme which is accurate to 0.1 mm. I’m working with an accuracy of 10 mm, which is close enough for my purposes.

Cvjetko brought all the building machines on Thursday morning, but with him came more rain.

There is about three cubic metres of spoil to be removed and neither he nor I like working outside in the rain, especially heavy rain, so work was again postponed. But with good reason.

Black Scorpion

When you live with felines, you learn to recognise their different behaviours. These are common from young kittens, through to senior cats. This includes both the domestic and the wild cats, even the big cats.

I saw Argen adopting his “playing with prey” behaviour so went to investigate. I have found that if I can intervene quickly enough, I can sometimes save whatever it is that has been caught.

On this occasion, I thought he had brought home a young scorpion. The insect was adopting the high tail attitude and as he played with it with his paw, it was quite aggressive.

A young scorpion?
A young scorpion?

As I looked more closely, I could see that it lacked front pincers. Neither did it have a sting segment at the end of its curved tail.

We do have scorpions, Buthus occidentalis, although I have only seen one once, but these tend to be grey or brown. They can sting, but it is no worse than a wasp sting.

This is unlike the true Black Scorpion, found across the middle east, whose venom can be fatal to humans.

It took just a moment on the internet to discover that this is an Ocypus olens, known by the common name of the “Devil’s coach-horse beetle” .

The raised tail is a threat attitude, mimicking a scorpion. They will bite a human (or feline), inflicting a painful bite, but without venom. However the books say this is only if you try and pick them up.

Argen lost interest, so I let it go. It is another Gardener’s friend, being a valuable predator of slugs and snails, carrion, but also of spiders and small moths.

Devil's coach horse scuttling away
Devil’s coach horse scuttling away

This is another of those invertebrates which live almost hidden lives, alongside me in my Dol house. NCG

Looking back – Week 44

This is the start of the weekly section, with links to past issues of the blog.

2014/44 History written in the walls

2015/44 Orange/white, orange, green/white, blue

2016/44 See, we have rain here too…

2017/44 Waiting for the gutter man

2018/44 Spring blossom in November

2019/44 Foggy bottoms

Sunlight on Stari Grad Plain
Sunlight on Stari Grad Plain on a damp morning

2020/44 Some visualisation helps

Bright autumn sunshine
Bright autumn sunshine

2 Responses

  1. John Bailey
    | Reply

    Still having problems with rodents Norman. Sounds like you are lucky they haven’t caused a fire.

  2. Mark
    | Reply

    Thanks for your blog, nice to read. Do not stop.

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