Saturday, 15 December 2018

Rotas Rules and Rectors

I am pleased to announce that my book "Rotas Rules and Rectors - How to Thrive being a Churchwarden" was published in November 2018.

This book is aimed at helping existing Anglican churchwardens to understand the job better and even thrive while doing it. I hope that it will also both encourage potential churchwardens to stand for nomination and discourage the no-hopers who get elected and then stop after one dismal year as they didn't know what they were getting into.

In my view the published books which purport to be on this subject only cover the legalities of elections and meetings etc, and fail to cover the actualities of what you need to do. This book covers that sort of thing using my own experience of 11 years in the job at two different churches since 2005.

"Rotas Rules and Rectors" is published by Matador (ISBN 9781789016314) and is available widely on-line (just search for the short title), but please buy from my own website if you want a copy as that will maximise the profit to my church's re-ordering fund. I am currently offering it at £7.99 (which is £2 off the RRP) plus £1.95 P&P.

You can also find more details of the book, including extracts and author details, at

Follow me on Twitter @AChurchwarden and Facebook @beingachurchwarden

Monday, 20 August 2018

The Last Sash Window - Pictures

Well, at last I've done the fiddly bits on the last sash window,and so the job is effectively finished and I can now post a few photos. Firstly, here's what it looked like before we bought the place (first seen in August 2010).

Then, here's what it was like after removal of the ivy (and we moved in - July 2011):

Here's what it was like after a quick coat of paint on the (concrete) cill and the fake stucco (probably later in 2011, or else in 2012):

Finally, here's the finished product (2018):

As you can guess, I am pretty pleased with the result, especially as the old wavy glass can really be appreciated when it catches the reflections and, of course, the fact that both windows work as intended!!

I am now certainly qualified to give advice on refurbishment of Victirian sash windows, having started with absolutely zero knowledge.

Edited 25 Aug 2018: I just found that I made a miscalculation. I added a nice brass latch and a solid brass handle to each of the windows, and then found that one of them wouldn't stay in place as it did before. Clearly my weighing to make my lead weight was too accurate as it didn't take account of the brass handle, which has now been removed. Drat!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Last Sash Window

Well, it's really time to celebrate, as I have just finished a complete renovation of the last sash window on my house! There were seven sashes on the house and in the restoration of the house we added two more - one in the rebuilt extension and one in the kitchen replacing a Crittal door (where there used to be a large sash); of the existing seven, one was a complete renewal job (the large venetian sash at the front bay) as it was too far gone. I did the first of the other six in 2015, followed by two more in both 2016 and 2017, leaving just the one. I deliberately started with the largest and then the next four were all pretty well the same size, leaving the smallest to last. I'm glad I did this, as I used two larger damaged pieces of glass in the last window, and got them cut to size; one I had managed to crack on removal (grrrr.....), and the other was newer, thicker and not wavy, so having the wavy glass available it was a no-brainer to replace it. BTW, if you want to see the effect of wavy glass, hold it in sunshine and look at the image on the ground - this is why it is valuable.

The window concerned was the front window with two lights, both just one over one, separated by a cement mullion on the outside; this window is for the bathroom/loo upstairs. The top pane on each side is a rectangle with a half round at the top, and I checked with my glass supplier that he was able to cut such a shape (just in case I broke one) but in fact both those came out OK. The top pane on each side was a fixed window, lacking pulleys and cord, and in fact some of it was unpainted - obviously it had been installed unpainted, so had probably never been removed in 150 years.

All my sash windows have needed a complete renovation. All of the latches were solid and unusable, all the pullies except one* were worn out, with huge gaps between the spindle and the housing, most windows were painted in solidly, the bottom half of the putty was usually falling out, and only about six cords were intact out of 24. So the complete renovation involves removing all glass and brass, strip to bare wood, repair as required, paint, fit same glass with fresh putty and refit with new cord, new pulleys and new latches.

I had one issue as three of the weights were locally cast lead (2.1 lb) and one was a standard 6.5 lb iron one, just like the rest on the house. The issue I had was that I could not get the iron one out easily. Eventually it came when I worked out a way of levering it out longitudinally, forcing the gap apart a bit. When it came to re-instating the window, I made a new one out of lead sheet, wrapped around a long plated screw. This was made at the same weight as the others, because I was using the correct thickness of glass; the 6.5 lb was serious overkill by some repairer in the past - that one weight was more than the required weight of two, and of course being on the one side it meant that the window would always have been sticking by being unevenly weighted.

By now I have got a good idea of how to do this job but even so I reckon that each complete window takes about 30 man-hours and an elapsed time of almost two weeks. Although this last window was smaller and one over one (all the others were two over two, with two frames), it is a double window with four frames so took me just as long as the larger ones.

So, this last window is basically done but I just need to re-instate the pointing and sort out the cills; I think I'll leave that for a couple of weeks time. I'll offer free advice on Victorian sashes but I hope I don't have to ever do another. Now, I have work to do on the church opposite in August, so I expect little more will happen on the house this year - the tiles in the hall floor are just about the last major job on the list.

* and that was only found serviceable after I had wrecked the face plate in getting it out!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Another End of Year Review

One good thing about a blog like this is that it helps me keep track of what I have achieved with this house and, possibly more importantly, what I have NOT achieved! Hence this end of year review is largely for my own benefit.

Frankly, I don't feel I've done much here in 2017. I did accomplish the previously reported refurbishment of the two remaining large sash windows - both hard work but very satisfying to see (and feel the benefit of reduced draughts). I also managed to repair the corner of a back wall where many stones were loose - I was worried that if my neighbour's side was as bad then the wall might collapse but, fortunately, his side was better anyway. The rest of the list from earlier this year is still outstanding.

There has also been a lot of clearing out in the second bedroom where I have made a wardrobe. This clearing task was made much easier after August as our daughter's wonderful wedding dress was used for its intended purpose and now lives at her house. Otherwise my shed is now full of stuff from my Dad's house that I would like to use, restore or sell - that last task seems to be a lot more work than one might think. I have not done much in the garden except to keep it tidy; I was really annoyed when the people at the back started to cut the ivy on my back wall - I asked them to leave as much as they could as it breaks up the appearance of the wall and adds some privacy, as well as giving food and shelter for birds.When they finished, it looked the same on my side, but on their side they had given the bit on top of the wall a short back and sides - the vertical wall was totally clear and so all the ivy on top had been cut off from its roots! Sigh.

It might be considered that I must have been lying around doing nothing this year, but this is definitely not the case. Leisure wise, I have bought a one-tenth share in a small aeroplane which is older than I am, and refreshed my private pilot's licence, so there is a bit of flying to look forward to in 2018.

At the church, we have done a £250k job on the exterior, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. In the course of this work we suffered some vandalism when some little sod got up the partially completed scaffolding before the alarm was fitted and literally kicked a couple of stained glass windows to pieces - this repair should be complete at last in early January. You can hardly imagine how much work is caused by an incident like that, and most of it fell on my shoulders.

That reminds me of something that I need to pass on about the erection of scaffolding. It appears to be customary trade practice not to fit a scaffolding alarm until the erection of the scaffolding is finished. Now, I can understand why that should be the case for scaffolding around a house, as the alarm will get in the way of the next day's erection work. However, when you are putting up 13 lifts of scaffolding around a church tower, the job will take several days so I cannot understand why the alarm cannot be fitted once you have done the first three or four lifts, as all subsequent work will be above the alarm. If I was the insurers I would be insisting on a change to the current practice, but fortunately they are paying (apart from our excess)...

At one stage recently, one of the two temporary plastic sheets fell out of the window and made everyone very cold for one weekend. To fix this, I hired a 7.2 metre double width scaffold tower which was erected and dismantled by me and two men of similar age. To my surprise, I found that the double width tower was no more difficult to erect
and, in fact, the platforms were easier to manage, so I will use one of these in future. The window job itself took only 25 minutes and our end result is much more secure than that of the professionals who fitted the stuff.

This year we have had a cruise from Jordan to Malaga through the Suez Canal, seeing Petra in Jordan and calling at Crete, Malta, Palma and Gibraltar; we also spent a week in Sicily in September, so we have done OK for holidays. (NB From our cruise we flew back from Malaga and had the most dreadful airport experience of our lives - don't go there! If it's a bad as that on a Sunday in early April, what was it like in August?)

We have become used to being in each other's company for most of the day, almost every day, now that we are both properly retired, and I expect to end my six years as Churchwarden in May 2018, so I will then have even more time on my hands.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Sash Window Surprise and Mystery

Yesterday I started to tackle the complete renovation of the last large 2 over 2 sash window
in the house - this one is in the hall (photo right), and there are still two small sashes in the bathroom to be done but they are one over one, so they hardly count. (NB The front door is at right angles to the window, behind the wall to the right.)

Now, the weather this August has not been too good, and this week is no exception. Having identified this as the last two week period this year when the job could be done, I started yesterday but didn't get very far in that weather. In fact it was pretty depressing as, having been pretty successful in removing the old glass on the four similar windows which I have renovated in the last two years, yesterday I broke three panes on only the one sash. Now, since the window is 2 over 2, by definition one sash has only two panes - I broke both those and, in seeing if a spare piece of glass from a previous window would fit, I broke that too! However, today was better. I got both wavy panes out of the top sash unbroken, and also stripped both sashes to bare wood, including getting all the putty out.

The surprise was the discovery that the top sash has never been a moving window. It has no pulleys and weights, nor even an attachment point for any cords.

The mystery is that although it was quite difficult to get the top sash out, this was entirely
due to the fact that it had been generously painted in on several occasions - there was no other visible attachment holding it in place. No screws, no nails, no wedge, nothing. How did they do that?

Left is a picture showing the pulley for the lower sash and an unpainted piece of wood with no hole where it should be for the pulley for the upper sash!

Fortunately, when trying to free the upper sash with a Stanley knife, I was well aware that there might be no cords holding it, so I did the job very carefully. I was most relieved when I had it in my hands complete and undamaged, and even more pleased when I had both panes out safely an hour later.

Edit following completion of the task: Mystery solved! The top sash was originally held up by a pair of very fine nails - basically long panel pins - which were nailed upwards at an angle of 45 degrees at the bottom of each vertical part of the sash frame. These of course were ferrous and so had rusted away a long time ago; it took me a long while before I found the traces of the tiny rusty holes as I knew they had to be there somewhere!

I am very pleased to have had the whole window repainted, reassembled and working on the eighth day of this project; it took about 30 manhours and looks pretty good. I didn't bother to even take any photos of the stages as it was just the same as the earlier ones, apart from the fixed window. Now all I have left are two small one over one sashes which form the bathroom window - that's a project for next year.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Plan for the Year

It might seem a bit late to be making a plan for the year in mid-May, but nearly everything I need to do is either outside or requires me to make frequent trips outside, and so the weather has been beating me. Right now I am feeling defeated as the forecast was for some cloud, clearing to the east, followed by scattered cloud with possibility of rain; we have actually had overcast cloud with drizzle for the entire day, punctuated by two half hour fool's breaks (you know, when you think you can do something and start, only for the rain to start again).

Anyway, there are jobs to be done and the first is to make a list:

a. Sash windows - two large ones are left to be refurbished, and there is a smaller pair in the bathroom. Hopefully I will get at least the two large ones done this year - one is in the kitchen and the other is in the hall (but there is also some remedial work to do on one of last year's where some putty has slipped).

b. Plastering - I need to do the inset bit at the top of the hall window which is hanging, albeit still complete, plus the three inset bits around the main bedroom window. These bits were all not done in 2010/11 as they looked OK then, but they are showing signs of wear around the edges!

c. Garden walls - I have been doing some repairs to two of the garden walls, and this could continue for ages as they are in pretty poor condition. In many cases I have to remove several stones and carefully remortar them (with NHL3.5) so that they are set solid before I do the next bit above. There is also the front (side) garden wall which I found last year was bowing horribly towards my neighbour's garden - and it is about 10' high, so that's quite a worry. However, that rebuild won't happen this year...

d. The back garden needs lots of tidying where the residue of 2011's work is still apparent, and there's still some ground elder to dig up carefully.

e. Redecoration - I think that 'Er Indoors wants some redecoration in at least one of the back bedrooms and, possibly, the lounge.

I have done some things this year - the wardrobe in a back bedroom was completed back in February, which has allowed a rearrangement of the stuff in our main wardrobe. As another consequence, we have been able to dispose of some items of furniture.

I have also been helping my next elder brother and both my sisters to tidy our parents' house. Mum died in 2015 and Dad is now in a carehome with vascular dementia; at 95, clearly he will not be going home again. I think the house will need to be sold by early next year to pay for the carehome which is really quite expensive. As part of clearing that house in London I have occasionally brought things back home for disposal or sale - such items always take priority over mere house jobs and selling things on eBay is actually quite time-consuming, I think.

The major change this year is that my other half has retired from full-time work. This has been quite an adjustment for both of us, as I had been so used to her disappearing early in the day and arriving back much later in time for an evening meal (made by me); this routine allowed me to work out the day for myself as I wanted, but suddenly there is someone else wanting to use the car, or the bathroom, or whatever room I wanted to work in etc. You get the picture!

I've been retired for nearly seven years now, and haven't really stopped until the last year or so - at last, this is what retirement is really like?

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A Rare Excursion into Politics

I don’t often comment publicly on politics, and have avoided doing so on Brexit. However, I feel the need to commit a few views on Donald Trump to print at this time, as a sort of prediction – just in case it all comes true, I can say “I said so in Jan 2017!”

Now that he is in post, people have to accept that situation. It is not clear how things will turn out – the only predictable thing about DT is his unpredictability! How many of his pre-election promises will he enact, and how many will he forget? Does he even know that himself? He is pretty clever but seems to revel in doing things that no politician would normally contemplate – either he is VERY clever or real stupid. For instance, why pick a fight with his own intelligence services? Does he really trust Putin?

No matter how these things pan out, I am sure that many politicians in the US will already be thinking “how do we ensure that he does not get re-elected?” Now, I have no clear idea about how the American election system works in this sort of case but I guess that normally the sitting first-term president is a shoe-in as the candidate for his party in the next election; presumably there is a party convention at which he is adopted as the candidate, long before the other side hold their primary elections. I guess this would therefore be in just under three years time, say in autumn (sorry, “fall”) of 2019.

That timescale gives him a fair time in which to either change his spots and become more political like a normal president (no chance!) or else to do his own thing and see where it gets him (far more likely). In this latter case, he seems to think that he controls both houses of Congress; if I was a US senator, I would be quite happy to support my president when he says what he wants, just for a while, but eventually I am sure he will expect continued unquestioning support for several measures which even some Republicans will find a bit beyond the pale. After two or three goes of this, I am sure that any initial support, from the Republicans who just wanted a president from their side again, will just disappear. The Republican majority in the Senate is 52 vs 48, so it only needs three to get fed up with DT and they no longer have a majority.  In the House of Representatives, the Republicans hold 241 of the 435 seats and so would have to have 24 members defect to lose a vote (or, in each case, more if they just abstain).

Hence the question becomes – when will that happen? When will the Republican majorities in either house just no longer be able to stomach DT? I reckon that many of these congressmen will see their careers lasting longer than just 2024, and so will want to see the back of him in 2020.

Following that, how long before the party at large decides that they don’t want him for another four years? The way he is going already, he can only lose support within his party and within the country, yet he would need all the same support to be re-elected. It baffles me how intelligent people can believe all that he told them and vote for him (just like it baffles me that lots of ordinary people believed Boris and Co about Brexit – how can you expect to leave a club and then negotiate a trade deal which will be as good if not better than the one you currently have?). I am sure that most will realise that they have been conned, especially in relation to employment, not to mention the cost of all the things he promised.

So, I predict that DT will get ditched by his party at some time in the next three years, and they will search for new candidates with a set of primaries; DT will want to stand as one of those and, if he can’t, then he will stand for re-election as an independent. We just have to live with him and his unpredictability for the next four years - what damage will he do in that time? Will we still be here?

Friday, 13 January 2017

More New Year Resolutions

I have found making resolutions beneficial in the last few years - at least by writing my intentions at the start of the year, I then cannot deny what I wrote! Also, it helps my failing memory about what I intended to do, and then what I actually achieved (and when).

The most momentous event of the year was that t'other half finally retired and so no longer travels to London each weekday; we are still trying to work out how to exist together for seven days per week, when for the last six years I have been accustomed to being on my own (and doing the shopping and cooking) for five of those days. We have already learned the benefits of not waking at 6.15am, and are still catching up on years of lost sleep!

Last year I did achieve most of my intentions:

a. The hall landing and stairs were painted in the Earthborn claypaint
b. I stripped, repaired and repainted one half of the back gates
c. I managed to renovate two more sash windows (the back bedrooms)
d. I installed a wardrobe in the second bedroom, using the doors and frame given to me by the neighbour who was throwing them out  - I'm very pleased with the result
e. I built a second wood-store and also did a couple of similar jobs in the church

However, I still have the following to do this year:

1.There is still some plastering to do: the window recess in the front bedroom is some of the last original plaster left, and it doesn't sound good. 

2. In painting the hall I found that the plaster in the top of the hall window recess was dropping down and so needs to be re-done as well, with lime plaster.  It would make sense to do both 1 and 2 at the same time but that will make a mess in two places at the same time, and the job will want three or four coats with drying time between.

3. The wardobe in the front bedroom needs plastering (modern stuff - it's panelled with plasterboard).

4. I still want to put fire black on some fireplaces - I've never done that before and feel that it could be messy!

5. There are still two more of the same size sash windows (hall and kitchen) to do, plus the pair of small ones in the bathroom.

6. One very new job is that the high stone wall (between our neighbour's back garden and our front) needs to be rebuilt - it is about 8 feet high on my side, and about 10 feet on my neighbour's, due to the difference in ground levels. It has a lot of ivy damage and also leans alarmingly. I think I will get it done by a professional...

We have our daughter's wedding to look forward to in August, and have also booked a cruise from Aqaba to Spain just before Easter. Somehow I don't think the year is going to hang around!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Repairs to Large Stone Wall

I have a new neighbour - not the other half of my semi-detached house but the other side.  Their house has a door onto the pavement, whereas my house is set back 15 metres, with the result that there is a wall  between my front garden and their back garden. They have done a phenomenal amount of work on their place in a very short space of time (mostly based on the right principles). One of the things they have done was to remove the huge amount of ivy on this 16" thick limestone wall which, sadly, has revealed that the wall is not in as good a condition as I thought.

The wall is of a mixed construction being partly coursed random rubble and partly roughly
squared - see photo (the bin is just there to give an idea of scale). Where it was clear of ivy (left of picture) there are mostly blocks with good pointing, which is why I thought the whole thing was in good condition; however, much of the rest is coursed random rubble. The whole is capped by 3" limestone slabs, 16" wide and about 30" long; these seem to have been set with a small slope for drainage. Now that the ivy is largely cleared (the darker area where the ladder is), it is apparent that the coursed random rubble is in pretty poor condition with loose or missing mortar, ivy penetrating the wall and loose stones in the first couple of feet down from the top.

The wall starts off pretty vertical (where it leaves the neighbours' house, out of the left side of the above picture) but moving away from the house it has a bow which means that the natural taper has become vertical on their side and a quite marked slope on mine. The top looks awful (left photo) but it's not possible to say what the original slope of the coping was; it has certainly increased a lot in places, but I don't have an clinometer so I can't measure it.
The trouble is that the wall is pretty big. My side is about 8 ft high, and their garden is probably about 3 ft lower than mine (as my garden slopes up and theirs is level throughout), so they have an 11ft wall towering over their patio. A major rebuild is definitely needed; legally I think it's their wall, but it's my ivy. Both houses are listed and in a conservation area. A like-for-like repair does not need LBC but, as it's so high, I'll find someone more experienced to do it for me, rather than do it myself as next year's project. I wouldn't want the responsibility if it fell over later.

I've had a builder look at it and his view is that the bow means that the top has moved over a foot out of true, which is a lot, and so it looks as though the neighbours and I will have a discussion about this with a view to rebuilding the top few feet sometime next spring!

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Year is half over

It seems hardly possible that we are now in the second half of the year. How time flies! How the world has changed so much in a short time! How much have I done to the house? What more will I achieve in the remainder of the year?

We've now been here for five years, and that hardly seems credible either. I first saw this house at the start of August 2010, and it immediately spoke to me. Moreover, I knew that it would speak to my other half as well - she has the vision (so often lacking in those TV property programmes!) to look past the defects and the undergrowth, and to see what a place could be. We never had any real doubt that this was the place for us, and I can still recall the evening of the day we moved in - we shared a wonderful sense of peace and satisfaction that this was OUR HOME, in every sense of the phrase (despite the boxes, mess and work still outstanding).

Back to my questions above. Firstly, I have been mentioning about the internal doors since 2012 (when I did the door from the kitchen to the new extension); in 2013 I started on the three doors in the hall (filter on "decorating" or "doors" to find these posts) These are the original doors with four recessed rectangles, the upper pair being slightly larger; the doors were covered with some revolting brown stuff which gummed up sandpaper in two strokes and was eventually removed with a three handed operation involving a hot air gun, a scraper and a Stanley knife; the knife had to be used after every stroke to remove the molten globule from the scraper, otherwise the next stroke would leave as much as it removed. I managed this by holding both the heat gun and the Stanley knife in my left hand, at the expense of a slight strain to the thumb!

Compounding the difficulty of the brown gunk, both sides of the lounge door and one side of the kitchen door have a moulding around each of the four rectangles, which made removal of the gunk even more onerous. There was also the architrave around both sides of the kitchen door - I confess that in 2015 I gave in and replaced the architrave around the lounge door (which had been split on one side in earlier works although I forget exactly how).

Anyway, I stuck at the removal task and had done the two main doors by last autumn. Remaining was the door to the cupboard under the stairs, which I did in February this year. The nice touch on this one was to add a bit of architrave above it, which has improved the look considerably. They are finished in eggshell eau-de-nil which looks really good with the gentle yellow of the claypaint walls.

Secondly, I determined that there were some jobs for which I just had to bite the bullet, namely the sash windows. I did one (the largest and most complicated!) last year, and soon I'll post a detailed report on the ones I have done this year. Once again, my choice of window was thwarted - t'other half wanted me to start with the other bedrooms, and I wanted to do the bathroom small pair at the front. Anyway, the pretty large sash in both bedrooms is now complete and they really do look better. I estimated last year that the first one took me 60 hours; both these are not quite as large and have one glazing bar less, and took me about 40 hours each.

I have also built a second wood store outside, and have tackled a few of those little jobs that one puts off, like the bit of stone on the front corner which was missing (as someone had indented a bit of wood from the gate frame into the wall! WHY?). There remains for this year the two small sash windows in the bathroom, some lime plastering around two recessed windows and a new wardrobe in the second bedroom; that will leave just two sashes for next year. Perhaps then I will have to find new ways of enjoying my retirement!