Saturday, 2 May 2020

Sometimes I am Truly Blessed

Well,, I'm really annoyed - only partly with myself. I have cut the back of my right hand and I really don't know how it happened. I have done a lot of physical work in the last 9.5 years and suddenly out of nowhere I have hurt myself. When I did my entire house over two years I only got a single injury, by rushing to find my phone when it rang; I slipped and hit my right knee on the newel post, which brought on a bout of housemaid's knee... Since then I have done lots more work on the local church, all without injury until a couple of days ago.

Let me tell you what happened: the church has had a new wooden floor put in and fixing the old tiles which are right alongside the new floor was not in the contract, so Muggins here gets the task (as always) of making good the little gap. Naturally, in some places the repair had to be more than a single tile as things like that always get loosened by, in one case, a friend who simply "forgot" that he MUST NOT TREAD NEAR THE EDGE!

I was using a 4.5 inch grinder on some Victorian floor tiles to get them to fit. You have to remove any grouting around the edge and make sure that it fits properly. I had done loads of those, and then had to sort out a few small pieces to insert into the floor. Where there is a triangular corner piece (with the two shorter sides at 2 inches), and the adjacent tiles are still well attached, you don't really have any choice unless you want to relay the entire floor: I am using an adhesive to fit tiles like that, but the issue was that the piece of tile was too thick. Solution: grind a small amount (5 mm, perhaps) off the underside of the tile.

Thus, well knowing the dangers of this job, I found a piece of 6" wood and clamped the piece of tile to it, using a G-clamp. I could then put a foot on the piece of wood (because my workmate is in the church and I was at home) and safely grind away the necessary, with two hands on the grinder. Gloves on, goggles on, what could go wrong?

So I was happily doing this when it all did go wrong. I think the grinding wheel touched the G-clamp which caused the grinder itself to be twisted in my hands and somehow hit the BACK of my right hand which had been holding the side handle. My left hand was still holding the main body of the grinder and I threw it away, just as I noticed the blood literally pouring through the glove. I left a bloody trail into the kitchen and staunched the flow with cold water and kitchen towel.

The resulting cut was about 2cm long, on the back of the base of my right thumb, about 5cm below the edge of the bit of skin between thumb and forefinger. Have a look at your own hand and see if you can identify the main tendon on the back which operates your thumb. Well, the end of the cut was at right angles to the tendon and about 5mm from it - yes, less than 0.25 of an inch!  Near the left end of the cut there was another tendon less that 10mm from the cut.

Google tells me that these tendons are called the extensor pollicis longus and the extensor pollicis brevis, and it is a complete mystery to me how they are still in one piece. Somehow I had let a grinding disc attack my hand and go right through all the skin layers at right angles BETWEEN two most important tendons! As the doctor at A&E said as she inserted four stitches, "You are very lucky" - or perhaps Someone is looking after me?

A week later I had the stitches out and two days later you can hardly see the scar.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

A New Back Gate

Over six years ago, I wrote here about the back gates which
were previously doors, one from the house and the other acquired as a swap for some old glass. The latter one was always a problem as the white paint was very tough to sand and in fact was probably impervious, so kept any water in as well as out! I never painted the garden side of it for that reason, so it was black on the public side and white on our side.

Last year I saw that the black and white gate was rotting and I replaced the upper ledge in situ. Then this year I realised that the rot was worse than I thought; the new ledge was about the only decent bit of wood on the gate, with both braces and the two old ledges all looking bad. Moreover, some of the T&G was bad, especially the edge where the two gates almost meet.  I haven't bothered with photos of the rotten wood - I'm sure you are familiar with that! 

Feeling adventurous, I purchased some 6x1 inch treated "as-sawn" timber and, after some serious sanding, set about replacing parts of the gate in sequence. First I made two new
ledges, replacing the middle one first and then securing the two gates together (using spare wood and screws) while I replaced the bottom ledge which carried the lower hinge. Then I had to remove the first two planks from the latch side of the gate as they were narrower than the replacement board. (See top photo) 

When the first plank was fitted I removed the next old one and fitted the second new one, and so on. The only real difficulty with this was that the hinge screws had penetrated through the ledge to the planks, so I had to be careful when doing the planks closest to the hinges as the gate then felt a little wobbly with these screws removed.

The other necessary trick was to work out where the hinge screws would go and, of course, one of them was right into a join between two new planks. 

The penultimate plank required me to rip a narrower plank to
allow the last plank to be full size with two good edges. Then I cut two new braces which were added after the third photo on the right.

Anyway, it's finished now, complete with four coats of primer/undercoat/top coat and I'm very pleased with it!

Havng used treated timber I don't expect to have to do much maintenance to it, other than clean the bird muck off it - I'm wondering whether bird spikes on top would look silly or OK?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Fame at Last

In a typically modest fashion, I post here the review of my book "Rotas, Rules and Rectors" which was published in Church Times on March 22nd this year. If you would like to buy a copy of the book, please do so at

Saints with staves
Lyle Dennen praises a churchwardens’ guide

Rotas, Rules and Rectors: How to thrive being a churchwarden
Matthew Clements Matador £9.99 (978-1-78901-631-4) Church Times Bookshop £9

GIVEN its title, this book is surprisingly delightful. The subtitle makes this clear: How to thrive being a churchwarden. The key word is “thrive”. Matthew Clements, with years of solid experience, gives an abundance of practical advice about how to do the job well. By his style of telling stories, packed with insight, understanding, and humour, he makes it sound even enjoyable.

In all the years that I was a parish priest and then an archdeacon, I would have loved to have this book to thrust into the hands of a new churchwarden or someone considering standing for election. Clements tells it as it is. But, behind all the lists, filling out forms, duties, and building worries, he shows how the churchwarden is a key person in offering warmth, welcome, compassion, and integrity — the best of lay leadership in the Church of England.

As Clements paints the portrait, even with the times of annoyance, frustration, and anger, he still evokes the churchwarden as an answer to Bishop Edward King’s call for more “homely English Saints”. Clements sees a deep spirituality in the churchwarden doing ordinary things consistently well. If I were to commission an icon of a churchwarden, I would send the iconographer Clements’s story of himself in a heavy rain, in a safe place on the church roof, with one hand holding an umbrella over his head and the other with a long stick clearing the gutters**. Of such as these is the Kingdom of God: doing things for others, doing things for Christ.

The book is filled with pithy good advice, for example: “always address the cause of a problem, not the symptom.” He goes through all the fundamental responsibilities, the relationship with the Vicar and the leadership team, security, safeguarding, money, meetings, and buildings. Lots of valuable detail. All these topics are made alive by his own stories, which he uses as examples. But he is clear about the goals — to make the church a place of welcome and a place that is loved.

The last two chapters are a brilliant conclusion: next to last is “Things I Have Disliked or Done Wrong”, and the final chapter is “Things I Have Done Right”. For Clements, the disliked and wrong often centred on others’ not appreciating the enormous amount of work done by a churchwarden; and for things done right it is the realisation that the work is done for God.

The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney.

** Actually it was a hopper.

The book is selling well and a further print has been made! There's still a long way to go before every churchwarden in England has read a copy.                  

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?

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!