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Builders! {**”!]%&’#!

This week:

Builders! }**”!]%&’#!; Sunday meeting; Following the plan; This week’s plantings; Bleeding brakes!;

Wild flowers
Wild flowers

It’s Friday night and unusually, I have written nothing about my week. Although I’ve spent the last six days “doing things”, I’m actually struggling to think of what I have actually spent the past 60 working hours doing. I was awake, honestly!

Builders! }**”!]%&’#!

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The question can be encapsulated in the psychologist’s description of the question calling it the Nature versus Nurture debate.

Decades of research suggest that feedback loops are self reinforcing. “Nature” and “nurture” constantly cross influence each other with each reinforcing the other side of the argument.

It is well known that each of the six defined personality types are drawn to certain career choices and occupations.

Extroverted-Sensing-Thinking-Perceiving (ESTP) MBTI Types are well suited to team work, have attention to detail, good motor skills, are project managers and problem solvers. Builders are very definitely in this type group.

The one key skill which to me seems to be missing, is ‘understanding the customer and his/her requirements’ !

I have given up on the local contractor who I engaged last year to build my extension. Having taken my deposit for the work to start in March 2019 I’ve had lots of promises, but nothing more.

He now doesn’t answer emails, SMS messages or the phone. When I was talking to one of my neighbours this week his response was, “Oh. He is a real Croatian then!”

But everyone, in almost every country seems to have the same love-hate relationship with their builder. With one or two exceptions they all seem to be about the same.

Look on any internet forum about finding a “good builder” – define good in any way you wish – and then sit back and be prepared to be assailed by the horror stories…

At least being a one-man-band, means that I have only myself to answer to, and if I take 45 minutes for lunch instead of 30, so what!

Sunday meeting

On Sunday afternoon my door bell rang. I was in the middle of a delicate electrical task. It was the new building contractor I have found, from the village. I have accepted his quotation for building my long overdue extension.

We have already had one meeting when I discussed the timetable for the proposed work. He and his team hail from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosnian’s are known as hard workers) . One problem though is that he doesn’t speak any English.

However with my friend translating, we agreed that work would start in late February/early March, once the need for central heating has passed.

Based on my previous experience, by the middle of February, it is warm enough not to need my wood stove. Because the water pipes are external runs between my buildings, once work starts, I will need to cut and remove the existing pipes and install the new system.

External hot and cold pipes connect the buildings

I explained the problem and was reassured that that would be OK.

On Sunday afternoon, he came with his son who speaks excellent English and they told me they wanted to start the work next week.

Oh $#1* !

We did a site inspection and I showed them the pipes. Their thoughts are that they can be removed just before the walls reach the height of the pipes, so they can still start work next week.

I have waited two years to get all the permissions for the building. I have a folder with some 20 official documents, each signed and stamped (some paid for, some free as I’m a ‘regular customer‘), with copies to everyone possible.

Since February last year all these permissions have meant the building work can take place. I’ve then waited another year for the contractor.

So after three years of waiting, I said “OK”, somewhat reluctantly, but if I had said “No, keep to the plan”, I’m not sure if or when the work would start.

It does make the UK system of planning approval look like a model of efficiency – even if there are the same problems with builders and their personality types…

So on Sunday night I very rapidly put together a list of tasks I needed to complete, in the rough order of completion, before the work starts.

And now here we are on the following Saturday night and I have no idea if or when next week the builder and his team will actually turn up!

Following the plan

I have had to start early every day this week. Early means before the sun is above the hills to the south, but fortunately the overnight temperatures have not been too low, so it has not been too cold outside.

However trying to cram a month’s worth of work into a week, simply doesn’t work and I have had to prioritise.

I needed to get the working areas clear as possible for when the builders start. There are materials I want to keep, like good soil and pure sand, and rubbish, like the pieces of broken concrete, that had to be added to the pile to go to the tip.

Then there are the weeds which have grown and had to be removed to the compost heap, so I could at least see the work area.

I removed numerous buckets of medium size stones. These will be needed for future walls that I have planned.

Then there were the large stones and boulders which I want to keep. The danger is that the lot will just get taken to the tip if I left them.

Good, hard stone is an expensive commodity. Which is why I have carefully dismantled the old buildings and taken everything into the architectural salvage area. It takes up more than 1/8 of the area of the Top Orchard.

One boulder was in the footings trench that was dug in 2017, before the municipality stopped the work. I estimate it weighs 350 kgs or more. Certainly way beyond anything I could lift.

I really had to innovate to raise it 30 cm onto the path and away from where the work will take place.

Fortunately I have the tools. I used a 3½ tonne hydraulic bottle jack and a wrecking bar, together with muscle power, to raise and pack under and around the boulder.

Stone jack
Raising and packing the boulder –
Now level, up from 45º down – a bit more to go

Each time lifting, packing then resetting the jack, until I got it to the point where I could pull the boulder out and onto flat ground. That was a lot easier said than done!

But with that last obstacle out of the way, I was able to once again accurately measure and mark the boundaries of the building.

Because the walls will line up with my existing buildings, joining them together at first floor level, they are not square. I do have one 90º corner though. It will be one more than most other rooms have.

Finally I used road paint to mark the lines of the building. The annoying thing is that I have done this once before, but over time the paint has become almost invisible.

Building lines
Building lines

When the surveyor visited some months ago, and I was talking about the accuracy of the building lines, bearing in mind the difficulty with obtuse angles, I said the lines were accurate to +/- 5 centimetres (2″).

He laughed and said I shouldn’t worry because with old buildings like mine they only worry if the measurements are more than a meter out.

Accurate to 5 cm

So between the hard manual labour and the cerebral work, I have not done any more dry stone walling – and I was going to use some of the stones I have moved this week.

This week’s plantings

Most weeks in the spring I am planting “things”.

There are seeds of course, some I’ve purchased, some collected by me in the wild. Then there are the plants I have in my nursery area, growing on until they are large enough to plant out.

There are also the cuttings I have propagated.

I look at other blogs, to see what other people are writing about. Few seem to do anything like my Life in a Dol House blog though. In a number of the media blogs, I notice that journalists have almost a standing title “What I’m reading this week”.

That wouldn’t work for me because although I have three or four books I was intending to read this winter, I have not actually started any of them, let alone finished one or more, in a week.

What I did think I would add from time to time though, in a similar vein, is “What I’m planting this week”.

I have had a number of different bulbs in bags, waiting for the right moment – and some time – to plant them. Then there are the early seeds which need to go into the heated propagator.

This week I started by planting some Bergamot Scarlet Bee Balm, Monada didyma. This is a herb.

I have a dedicated herb border which I would like to start with “A” herbs at one end and “Z” herbs at the other. Only 26 varieties are needed.

I already have Angelica .

Angelica flower
Angelica flower

Then there is the Zedoary or White Turmeric, Curcuma zedoaria, but this is in a cool shady damp spot, because it likes those conditions rather that the hot Mediterranean herb border.

Zedoary flower
Zedoary flower

I have also thought about Za’atar (زَعْتَر). Anyone who has spent any time in the middle east will have been offered Za’atar either as a drink, in the Omani fashion, or served on bread.

Za-atar on bread
Za’atar on bread

I find it a little bitter though. Also, the true Za’atar is the herb we know as Origano.

Then I have planted some Common Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, in a damp, shady spot.

Bluebell bulbs
Bluebell bulbs
Common bluebell
Common bluebell

Finally I put in some Silver Shamrock, Oxalis adenophylla, which has a gorgeous purple flower with a white centre.

Oxalis bulbs
Oxalis bulbs
Silver Shamrock
Silver Shamrock

Bleeding brakes!

As the 31st of January approaches, the day when the UK will leave the European Union, I wanted to apply to get local registration numbers for my motorcycles, whist we are still in Europe.

There is quite a long procedure to go through for Homologation, but a couple of steps must be taken while the UK is still an EU member. One of the bikes had a problem with the hydraulic brakes.

Brake caliper
Brake caliper

I identified the fault and ordered parts. Years of being ridden on the UK’s salted winter roads causes corrosion.

Corroded piston
Corroded piston

Some had to come from the UK, others in a box from Belgium. But at the point of making the application, the bikes have to be ready for a government auditor to come and inspect them.

Not knowing when that might happen, I needed to wait until the bike was no longer in pieces on the dining room table and workshop floor.

Having fully reconditioned the complete hydraulic system, I replaced the pistons, seals and brake pads, then reassembled everything.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how long it would take to bleed them, having completely emptied the lines and reservoirs.

I found a new use for a Baby Boa from the kitchen drawer.

Baby Boa
Baby Boa piston wrench

I had purchased a suction bleeding kit, because that was suposed to make the job quicker.

Installing the pistons and seals was straight forward, although getting copper grease on the island was a little difficult. You cannot use ordinary oil based grease anywhere near disc brakes for obvious reasons. Installing everything went well, but then the fun started.

With the reservoir full of new brake fluid, I started to use the suction pump.

Then I discovered that contrary to what it says on the box, you actually have to pump the brake lever in time with the vacuum pump. All I got was a lot of bubbles.

I then found that the rubber cap that was over the bleed screw was letting air in, so precisely nothing was happening.

It is also difficult pumping the brake leaver in synchronisation with pumping the vacuum pump handle, whilst at the same time holding the bleeding tube onto the bleeding screw.

It is er, shall we say bleeding impossible?

I removed the rubber cap – made for the purpose allegedly – and got the pipe attached directly to the valve, then started all over again.

It took probably an hour and a half or more to properly bleed the system, and get the brakes up to full working pressure. All told a half day. But I have filed my request and had an acknowledgement back. So I hope I am within the time limits.

So to utter that immortal phrase, beloved of RSM’s everywhere,

“Parade ready for inspection, Saa!” NRC

Battery Sergeant Major Williams – Windsor Davies [BBC photo]

5 Responses

  1. Andrew Robinson

    Bloody hell Norman, I really hope the builders turn up after all your work!.. I’m surprised you haven’t visited the original builder and demanded deposit back…. Or is that to come?

    I hate bleeding brakes on cars so it must be a real pain on a bike!

  2. Andy Obridge

    Trust in the Bosnians Norman! I have had two minor works done my place, both by Bosnian crews, no problems at all. A few beers on site helps! If you intend to feed them check religious ‘requirements’.
    Re UK leaving. Apart from the transition period to 31/12/2020, when nothing will change, I see little change for us after that. I will update on residents permits when I have facts.
    Bleeding brakes, or anything hydraulic, a Gunsons Eezibleed is the answer, pressure bleeding. If still stuck, shout, and I will bring mine.

  3. Tony Griggs

    My humble advice Norman is to send that first builder a legal letter demanding payment otherwise a claim plus costs.

    We’ve had experience before with reticent builders.

    A legal letter usually motivates them.

    Otherwise a few strong Maori’s to accompany you on a polite house call! I detest people who having taken a deposit then renege on a deal. They deserve double the penalty!

    Good luck with yr new man. Yes, a few beers at weeks end always does wonders!

  4. Elizabeth Blackledge

    Builders… say no more. Good luck with them and don’t trust them to get it right. I am sure you will keep a beady eye and probably know as much as they do. Hope they turn up as promised and look forward to seeing how things develop. Happy planting/sewing etc. We have some snowdrops and aconites popping up. Cyclamen coum have been flowering all winter – so cheery on a grey rainy day. Take care.

  5. Hajo

    I still can´t believe what you are permanently doing in this part of the world. I´m since nearly 50 years coming there, but haven´t done not 10% of your work. Concratulations and hope you will be there again a long time.