Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Benson Row - 04

Penrith, Cumbria. 11/21-July-2019

The builder said he wanted to take the carpenter around to have a look at the existing construction and how the new stairs could be build. They needed to expose some of the structure. Next thing we know the whole project is full steam ahead, with our approval!

The structural engineer that we engaged to specify the steel beams for the wall removal pointed out the bowing of the back, gable wall. Oh dear, not good! Blocking up the kitchen door and tying the infill to the back wall would strengthen and stabilise it, and prevent further movement. So we would then need to reopen a door opposite the stairs as in an earlier solution.

Removing the dining room wall. 
That low landing on the left in the picture below had been our original thought for the location for the loo but more headroom was required - which is what started this whole thing off.

Removing the dining room ceiling
Exposing wiring and plumbing in need of a tidy up.

Removing the middle bedroom niche and wall.
Formerly site of the original staircase for the middle house.

The flying freehold.
Next door's bathroom extends into our volume of space. This is a consequence of both properties once both being owned by the same person who then sold off our house. We are assuming that he needed a bathroom in number 5 to make it viable and could only do so by stealing some of our space. Our front bedroom extends over the passageway which next door own so we have a reciprocal flying freehold over their land.

Propping up the flying freehold. 
We will be in putting extra beams to support next door's incursion.

The stairs mostly gone. 
That last nubbin of stairs intrudes into the living room ceiling. To take it out would mean making good and redecorating the living room again. So we can live without doing that (at the moment, says Mary).

An artist's impression of the new stairs.
We were expecting something at little more architectural!

The new landing going in.

The top floor landing with valley removed.
This will mean no more hazardous trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

New bathroom.
Starting on the new stud walls where the loo and shower will be.

Wall to be removed.
Some investigation of the wall between the dining room and kitchen that is being taken down. The stones will be recycled and used to block up the current kitchen door.

The outside repainted.


Mary's flying site visit, 20th-23rd July, was very successful in clarifying division of responsibilities between builder and kitchen designer plus making sure everyone understood what is desired.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Who at Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium, London. Saturday 06-July-2019.

My sister-in-law won two tickets to see The Who, et al. in London. Since she lives in Glasgow she offered the tickets to Mary and I. Mary was also up in Scotland visiting their Mum so I was due to go on my own until a friend stepped in at the last minute to keep me company (thank you Anne).

We got there about the time the first act (The Conor Selby Band) was due to finish. The bag policy was strict on size but not on content however Anne hadn't spotted the no alcohol clause. The plastic bottle of wine was not allowed in so we sat on a bench just outside, like a couple of wino's, having a pre-gig swig of some very nice Malbec. Bottle emptied, we went inside.

I usually look for a review in the broadsheets to quote from but my friend Gordon described the event so well that I am quoting his review in its entirety with my photos interleaved:

"Well last nights Who gig at Wembley was overall a decent night out, but I have to say that it was quite a bizarre evening and it had a kinda weird and unusual feel about it.

The first act were The Conor Selby Band, an unknown entity but not bad at all. Old style blues rock in the mould of Free/ Bad Company etc. A decent start to proceedings.

Next up was Irish singer Imelda May, again unknown to many, and again a very decent set, so far, so good.

The Kaiser Chiefs did a high octane set and were ok, not of my generation, but elicited a few screams from younger females around me, something quite new to me, that doesn’t usually happen at gigs I go to. But it was ok.

Things for me, started to fall apart at Eddie Vedder, I love much of Pearl Jam’s stuff without knowing too much about the band themselves. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I found the set to be dreary and boring and not the powerhouse I hoped for. From where I sat, his set seemed to polarise the audience, as about half of them seemed as bored as me and yet as many people seemed to love it and gave him a great reception. The Marmite Of rock and roll, you either love him or hate him. He was not for me.

[Eddie Vedder joined by Simon Townshend.]

[Note. Big screen, actual people can be seen at bottom of photo.]

The Who’s set had a really strange atmosphere to it. It was in turn, stunning, self indulgent, overpowering and at times a bit bizarre. But the strange thing was the audience seemed totally disinterested and disconnected for much of the set. In my opinion the offbeat setlist seemed to lose the audience quite early on.

About half an hour into the show there seemed to be a sudden exodus of much of the audience, whether this was Kaiser Chiefs fans who had seen enough or general disapproval I’m not sure, in fact, at one point I thought there was a fire, so many people were leaving and it did nothing for the already emotionless atmosphere. It also made an already rather poor attendance look very sparse.

For the rest of the inconsistent set, there was a constant steady move to the exits so by 20 minutes from the end of the show, the place was looking rather bare, with what looked like many more empty seats than full ones. This was a kinda shame really because The Who finished with The Rock, Love Reign O’er Me and Baba O’Reilly, which after so much very average fare, was amazing. So a brilliant end to a less than brilliant evening.

I have never been in the midst of so many disinterested people, who paid a lot of money, carrying out so many very loud conversations, I have to wonder why they were there at all, it certainly wasn’t for the music. And by the end of the night, most of them weren’t there any more.

The Who are rock legends, but last night wasn’t legendary, far from it, for many reasons, some I can’t even put my finger on, because I’d never been to a gig with such unusual audience behaviour and reaction. Odd really. Here’s a video of Baba O’Reilly, one of the few shining diamonds on last nights beach of stones."

[Note. Photo, not Video.]

[End Quote]

We reckon the clash with Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie, who sold out Hyde Park, may have something to do with the poor ticket numbers.

The Who were scheduled to play for two and a half hours so when they started with the overture from Tommy and then a couple of other Tommy tracks I wondered if they were going to play the whole album. But no, they veered off to other songs [Set list].

Stevie Chick of the Guardian gives it 4 stars: "The Who review: teenage zeal undimmed by passing of years. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey deploy full orchestra to electrifying effect." Full review....

I will leave the last words to Pete Townshend's exit line, "Our glamour is gone, our youth is gone but the music still sounds fucking brilliant."

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Benson Row - 03

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 29-June-2019.

The user requirements are simple:
  1. Fit a downstairs loo. 
  2. Level off the landing. 
Benson row is a three bedroomed house and has one bathroom upstairs. To have a downstairs toilet would avoid contention, enable Mary’s mum to visit, and make the property more lettable on Airbnb.

Currently to get from our bedroom to the bathroom means going along the landing which goes down five steps and up six steps. Not good in the middle of the night or not entirely sober. This curious arrangement is the result of the history of the building.

Originally Benson Row was three dwellings. Three one-up, one-down properties in a back-to-back-to-back arrangement at right angles to the rest of the terrace. Each with its own door and staircase. They shared a communal loo in the yard and shared a wash house with the rest of the terrace. At some point the rear two properties were knocked into one by opening up a doorway between the downstairs rooms and again between the upstairs rooms.

Then in 1975 the previous owner’s father converted the front property and the back two into one large house. They took out all three staircases and put in the current arrangement of one Y-shaped staircase (or T-shaped if you’re looking plan view) that goes up to halfway landing and then splits left and right to access the front and back halves of the property. The middle room upstairs was the bathroom. He later split the front bedroom 1 into a smaller bedroom and bathroom and turned the previous bathroom into bedroom.

There is not enough headroom under the halfway landing to fit in a downstairs toilet. The original idea was that we could kill two birds with one stone by rearranging the staircase to raise the headroom underneath enough to get a toilet in and level off the landing.

Working with a building surveyor we went through dozens of permutations of spiral, U-shaped and Z-shaped staircases. Ideally using the existing, or previous stairwells. We were trying to avoid breaking through the stone wall that divides the properties. We could not come up with a design that would conform to current regulations regarding treads, risers, angles and headroom.

When we relented on the idea of not breaking through the wall we finally thought we could create an arrangement that would work. Then we realised that would impede the headroom down into the cellar and that idea crashed at the last minute.

Other solutions meant stealing space from the dining room.

Following our first dinner party on the Saturday we realised that it would make the dining room too narrow to be practicable. So any arrangement that stole from the dining room was out. Back to the drawing board.

In discussions with our kitchen designer and building surveyor we hit on a compromise solution that would actually work. The kitchen is large enough that we could steal space from the back wall and fit a toilet where the back door is. To do that we would have to block up the kitchen door, replace it by window and reopen one of the doors that was blocked up in 1975. It would actually work. The compromise is that we give up on levelling the landing. And here is the plan.

We could fit in the washing machine as well making a mini-utility room.

The new kitchen design is not fundamentally different from the one we had already agreed.

Apart from moving the washing machine behind the false wall and putting the dishwasher in it's place, everything else is pretty much like-for-like with the first design.

We had a couple of builders round to quote for the door blocking up and reopening. The second one had a more radical suggestion: knock down the wall between the dining room in the kitchen by putting in a huge steel beam that would allow the dining room to expand backwards and compensate for the space stolen by the stairs in the previously abandoned plan.

Mary had always liked the idea of an open plan kitchen-diner. I have reluctantly agreed to this. It does however allow us to achieve both of the original objectives: a downstairs loo, a level landing and, with a fair wind, possibly even a downstairs shower which would be a bonus.

The builder is going in to start ripping out the stud walls to see exactly how the new staircase can be installed. We will be getting a structural engineer to do calculations on the size of beam required to hold up the upstairs when we take out that wall.

Watch this space...

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Knepp Safari

West Sussex, UK. Wednesday/Friday 26/28-June-2019

We were already intending to be in the UK for the end of June and beginning of July which happened to include the weekend of Glastonbury festival. We pre-registered and then Mary forgot to go online when the tickets went on sale. By the time we realised they had sold out. Not to be put out we went glamping anyway.

We had read about Knepp through an article in the papers and were intrigued enough to pre-order Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm which turned out to be a fascinating read. Then our friends Grant and Helen went glamping there and highly recommended it. So Glastonbury Plan B was a couple of days walking in the West Sussex countryside.

Charlie Burrell inherited the Knepp Estate and was unable to make it commercially viable using intensive agricultural techniques. In the end he sold off the cattle and the equipment and let nature take its course. Assisted by gradually releasing various larger mammals: Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs and various species of deer. The end result is a huge explosion of the entire food chain from fungi, insects, butterflies, birds and small mammals. Many previously not seen species appeared or returned. Read more on their Rewilding site.

They make their money from, amongst other things, selling prime organic beef, hosting events and eco-tourism (glamping, camping and wildlife safaris). Unfortunately the butterfly safari was the only one scheduled during our stay and was booked out so we made our own entertainment by going on various walks using the map that Knepp provided. Our tip for anyone thinking of going would be: plan well ahead around the availability of safaris.

Entrance to the campsite made out of old antlers.

Main building incorporating farm shop, showers, and do-it-yourself porterage using wheel barrows to carry your luggage to the huts.

This was my first experience of glamping. The shepherd's hut that we booked turned out to be more like a cross between a shed and a tin hut. Bijoux and compact it certainly was. The bed extended the width of one end of the hut, at the other end space for a small stove and a couple of chairs.

The "bedroom".

The "living room".

Catering was in a communal glamping kitchen where our fellow glampers would meet whilst making their morning tea and coffee and having breakfast.

The recycling bins had rocks on them to keep out the overly bold squirrels.

There was a shower block if the weather was bad but we took advantage of the good weather to use the outdoor bath and showers. Open to the sky but the water was plenty hot enough.

The first day immediately we dumped our stuff we went for a walk and saw Longhorn cattle, one of the ponds, an eel trap, and a small herd of deer. Our route took us past the ruins of the old Knepp castle, the current castle, a well preserved windmill and down some lovely country lanes. There is the River Adur and a couple of large ponds to add to the variety of habitats.

An excellent supper and great service in the nearby Crown pub at Dial Post.

Longhorn Cattle.


The ruins.

Close up of the ruins.

Hammer Pond.

Eel trap.

The next day we did a morning walk to a local pub for lunch. I got to see the third category of the large mammals, the pig!

We also saw bonkers amounts of butterflies: loads of Meadow Browns, some Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Commas and Marbled Whites.

After lunch at the George and Dragon at Shipley it was a leisurely loop back for a bit of a siesta.

Mill pond.


Supper was estate-produced venison sausages and lovely, fresh veg from the Sussex Produce Company barbecued on a grill made out of an old Tractor wheel.

A great couple of days adventure. As they say in the reviews, "We will be back".