Friday, 3 April 2015

Man in a Skirt - I'm Not Very Good at Regular Blogs!

Another 14 weeks passes and no time for interim blogs.

Firstly I don't live my life on social media. Real life dominates. I feel society discriminates against men like myself and is these days obsessed with being politically correct with regards womens issues, expectations and demands. Social media and the internet is rife with this yet men who have their own modern issues or even similar to those of women do not, or so many tend to state. Although many issues raised by women are correct and genuine all their arguments apply equally to men who do not want to follow societies expected labels, norms, stereotyping placed against them in many issues of life not just choice of clothing. Yes women, at times still do, but certainly in the past had many many restrictions placed upon them by society in many aspects, but so too did men. Society would not allow men to deviate and if they did were 'cast out' yet women have pushed for the change, primarily achieved this yet society and many women still expect men to remain in tradition, labels and stereotypical expectations. Although social media and the internet give individuals a platform to speak out about their feelings, of which I too have utilised, I still do not let social media dominate my life. My blogs tend to get the least priority, hence the large gaps in between, but since 17th February 2014 I have not been on Twitter to push my belief in true equality, freedom of choice etc, and this includes looking at my web site www.theskirtedman.eu.

That's my moan. So what in life has taken me away for the last 14 weeks. Apart from attending occasional concerts, theater etc, shopping for groceries etc and the occasional meal out etc quite a bit. In fact for the last 5 to 6 weeks we haven't even seen friends but that stopped in the last week of March and our social calendar with friends has been able to restart. As usual I wear skirts 99.9% of the time out and about in public and since my last blog have been to Hospitals with regards my wifes check ups, Northallerton, York, Harrogate, Colne, Darlington, Durham and numerous smaller towns/villages including the Lake District, Ripon & Boroughbridge.

You will know from previous blogs that my work is seasonal, gardening. Mid April to end of October with a few going into November. I don't wear skirts gardening for practical reasons. The in between months are usually very hectic doing projects on the house, all aspects with the exception of plastering I am capable of doing myself, yes a man in a skirt can replace plumbers, electricians, builders, carpenters... It's only the medical profession this man in a skirt cannot replace, oh and plasterers! I can do small areas so I'm sure with time and practice I could do it but for the occasional requirement I leave it. As we are staying in England, not going to France as previously mentioned we have knuckled down to continuing a permanency here in the UK. A lot of ideas, plans have been rekindled and activities within our lives within the UK increased. December 2014 was very full with planning, researching air source heating. Although I can plumb, the rules of installation necessitate an installer so I need to be confident and happy with one. After contacting several I have found one, who is even happy for me to do the plumbing of the central heating side just leaving them to fit the compressor, tank and the other 'gummings'. On top of this, now we are staying, the main bathroom of the house needs replacing. It is 25 years old and hairline cracks are appearing in the bath but it doesn't leak - not yet! The temporary kitchen I put in 15 years ago of which everybody speaks positively off has also been put back on the list for upgrading to a full modern kitchen.

This winter with taking the house off the market we were to plumb the shower room and two en-suites of the annex. The annex has been mentioned in previous blogs. We didn't do this ahead of selling as suites and tiles are personal and we were advised to leave these three rooms as a blank canvass. This project has been delayed as our enquiries have revealed that air source heating in the house can as well heat the annex on the same system. As air source also heats the water thereby no cylinder cupboard or header tank in the loft. It was pointless plumbing the annex until the air source is in. We are planning the air source later this summer as I need our garden income for 2015 to cover this. Kitchen & Bathroom suite was 2014 gardening. It's the only way we can have the house modernised and to our specification and this means I do need to do virtually all work myself as I have done over the many years on the four houses lived in since leaving school!

December and early January was taken up with air source and kitchen. My wife suggested I let kitchen fitters fit the kitchen as modern kitchens are quite complex. I considered this. We went to three suppliers/fitters. Two insisted they did everything and used there own electricians, plumbers etc. They also obtain appliances of our choice. The third was happy for them to fit only, leaving all the ancillary work like plumbing and electrics to me but I noticed they had measurements wrong. Our walls, the house is some 300 years old, are what I call banana walls, vertically and horizontally. The floor width is narrower than at work top height and that at the ceiling. They measured the work top width therefore there was not enough floor width to place them. They wanted £3000.00 just to fit the kitchen and it would be us paying for the time and alteration no doubt. We didn't pursue this any further, and I did the whole kitchen myself. Since October we had been acquiring some kitchen appliances taking advantage of offers and sales. My wife had already chosen the replacement appliances. We obtained the final appliances at the end of January and at this point had saved some 33% of the normal list price by taking advantage of offers like cashback and reduced prices. We also saved 50% of the kitchen units by going direct to a kitchen manufacturer online. We got the same units my wife choose with the kitchen suppliers/fitters but going direct and missing out the 'middleman' was a huge saving. Also granite worktops. These were on the verge of being taken off the wish list. Of the three we contacted no one was less that £5,500.00. Going direct to the granite supplier we had the same work tops for £2,300.00. An individual cannot fit granite as that person does not have the tools to cut and polish it. Talking to the 3 kitchen fitters I was led to believe that only they had contact with the granite people. Not so, and it was the online kitchen manufacturer/supplier that told me this. So we designed our own kitchen, the online supplier produced detailed plans and specs in accordance with our floor length and width measurements and they even produced proposed 'photos' of what the kitchen would look like. This all arrived on the 18th February, 2015 but we did not start until 17th February.

For two weeks prior to February, we were both embroiled in bureaucratic 'discussion' with 4 institutions. The four of them literally took our time up. One was with a land line phone provider which by then had knocked us off three times, the first three for three weeks each with no land line or internet. Mobiles in our area work outside but only inside if you sit inside the bedroom window. This all started at the end of November 2014. There is a local non-profit making organisation that provides a basic internet service, run by volunteers. It's fine but not for 'hungry' internet use. After numerous calls to the call company and being 'fobbed off' we contacted our local MP as the third week on the third occasion came. He had us connected within 24 hours and provided with a confidential direct phone line to a contact in the Chairmans Office of the company. Needless to say we went off the following week so I contacted the contact and our MP and within 3 days back on. Touching wood as I type, it has remained fine ever since. The other problem was with a financial institution over our password being locked and what a farce that was. Twice reset yet in the process of sending out temporary ones they accidentally suspended it so even the temporary one was useless. On third contact they admitted their error but we still had to go through the process. Can you not 'un-suspended' was our question, no was the reply. Needless to say we have since closed the account. The third was over a replacement water pump. Ours was old and noisy and the kitchen refurbishment has altered the utility also making provision for the air source. Parts like o-rings were missing. The sales rep agreed they should be there but apparently the company does not supply o-rings for the parts that fit their pump. I managed to get some locally but as they were not standard it was not easy. Also it was the interpretation of hand tight. Hand tight to me is no movement by hand pressure. No, in this case it is slack. If I turn the fitting slightly left or right it will leak. Leave as it is now it is fine. That's new to me in plumbing! How do plumbers cope I asked the sales rep when he came out to see us and the pump. According to the company he said, we are the only ones to complain! I cannot remember what the fourth problem was but from the first of February to the 17th, all four dominated our lives so the kitchen arrived and we had only started 24 hours earlier on the 17th!

The kitchen was not easy and I am pleased I fitted it myself.
Starting on the 17th, and as at 25th March just down to tiling. We took advantage of insulating the back wall which is an outside wall and north facing. I had to take off the plaster/cement back to the stones, place batons on, then multi foil insulation, more batons followed with plaster board insulated with 25mm insulation. This has reduced the room by 12 cm but now the heat loss on this wall is reduced to 0.2. We do intend over the next 12 months insulating all the outside walls of the house in a similar way.
The kitchen sink including plumbing and waste has been moved from the back wall to the front wall. This now puts our kitchen on to our septic tank installed for the annex in early 2014. When I complete the Utility and Bathroom we can stop sharing the tank with next door. The utility was disturbed as we had to make a large cupboard for the air source, provision to put the old sink in there as we had no sink and also make temporary connection for water. The water comes into the house at this point and goes up into the loft header tank and cylinder cupboard. As these will not be here in due course the water for the kitchen could not be tapped into from the existing hot and cold. I brought from the bathroom above the utility temporary hot and cold so that the new kitchen pipes can go from the air source location.
This needed holes making through walls that are 88cm thick. It took me three days to make 14 holes. I needed 32mm conduit to take 22mm pipe which is finished at 25mm. To accommodate holes for new electrical wires to the consumer board I had to drill 7 25mm holes as there was not enough space in the understairs cupboard to get the drill and 450mm drill bit which was 40mm in diameter so I acquired a 1 meter long drill bit 26mm in diamenter and drilled 7 holes straight through. These  holes were OK. taking about 45 minutes each, but as I had to create 7 40mm holes for the plumbing pipe and keeping the appearance of the rooms OK I held out on these even though the drill bit regularly got stuck.
We have stone rubble in the middle of the walls. On two occasions I had to bash a hole to get the drill bit out, on another I had to take out a large stone in the wall to get the drill bit out leaving a hole about 300mm square.
The last two 40mm holes I did by hand as this wall was 99cm thick.

The cooker circuit was on the wrong side of the room. This kitchen needs three circuits, hob, oven and compact oven. Three dedicated isolating switches are in a convenient place in the kitchen.
This was all modified. Sockets needed altering and two moving completely. A new fridge freezer circuit needed to go in.  As I have improved the house over the years I put the utility and fridge freezer on separate circuits to the house. As the fridge and freezer were no longer going to be in the utility this needed altering. The fridge is built into the kitchen units, the freezer now in the front porch. Integrated dishwasher has also been plumbed and catered for. We didn't have one before.
The number of units, wall and floor, have doubled in number yet the kitchen with it's cream colour and light green walls makes it feel much bigger. Mounting the base units was not easy and took many days. In the end I built a frame using 10cm by 2.5cm rough timber adding more layers of 2.5cm where required. In one area a 1000 base unit goes from 0cm to 10cm in a 1000mm length. The kitchen sink and joining units needed packing out 10 cm at the top to allow for the banana wall vertically. All seemed to be going well until I got to the fourth wall. Here the units to get them square were stepping back 3cm as each unit butted up to the next. Pulling them forward made them come to far into the room so the decision was to alter the whole frame on the other three walls by twisting the whole kitchen 3cm. This eradicated the stepping and still kept it all square.
Remember, I had to be accurate as I had professional granite fitter booked and in the process of the kitchen problems delayed them twice! When they came to take the templates, this usually takes no more than 2 hours. It took them 3 hours and the template taker moaned about the walls! The cupboard units were as bad. One block was easy in that the top was packed out 5 cm and the bottom corners, well one was zero, the other 1cm! Two single cupboards either side of the cooker hood are mounted on a wall that replicates the leaning Tower of Pisa. The biggest headache were the corner wall units. Corner wall units must be square. The corner wall units is where the base units go from zero compensation to 10cm in 100cm distance. The cupboards were the same at the bottom but at the top of the cupboards I had to compensate by 14.5cm.
For the cupboards it was easier to pack and mount a sheet of ply to attach the cupboards to. The ply was cut slightly short of the cupboard lengths and I cut the matching kitchen ends slightly bigger to hide the plywood. For the corner wall units it took me 5.5 hours just to put up the bottom edge of packing to ensure a square and vertical length/corner. This did make the top edge a bit easier to calculate, but it is not easy making a square corner when you have nothing square to start with. In among this I have had a qualified electrician in. I asked him to put in a larger and more modern consumer board and at the same time fit a voltage optimiser. It was an ideal time with the kitchen upset and the fact that I needed three cooker circuits. He was quite happy to do this knowing that I was doing the electrical work within the kitchen.
A voltage optimiser is good. It smooths out all the spikes and surges in the electric supply It also steps the voltage down to 220-225 volts from the 240 to 254 volts supplied. All electrical appliances work at 220 volts and this not only saves energy consumption but also excess heat within appliances. We have not noticed any difference in timings on appliances. Standard energy bulbs especially the old incandescent bulbs do have an effect but as we are LED lights throughout, a topic discussed in my last blog, no detrimental effect at all. The optimiser cost £325 but will save 10% to 15% on energy consumption. Just another element of my eco energy efficiency without being a "hard hat eco warrior".

The kitchen is in, operational and in use, it just needs tiling. I'll get the Utility finished first, then tile both. Once tiled I can fit the cooker hood over the hob. I should be back in the Utility in the next day or so. I have utilised this last week to catch up on items ignored and as our friends say, come back into the living. You do not realise the impact having no kitchen has in modern day living.

My garden season looms. Usually starts around mid April, I'm hoping late April. As we still have cold temperatures, frosts and winter showers this last week, hopefully it will be late April. I need to get the Utility done, and at least place the new bathroom suite in before I start. The bathroom cannot be completed until the air source is in, but I need to get my plumbing and waste in before the air source goes in, primarily for the plumbing connection aspect but also this then gets our whole house on our own septic tank. I do not see the point in paying maintenance costs for a shared one and ours for the annex.

After the bathroom suite is fitted, I can start to relax a little. Not completely. I have outside work to do before the air source and once we are into May, my wife and I will be having time out, going to places, walking the hills etc.

Booked time with friends are now back on the agenda so I need to accommodate this as well.

Perhaps you can see why it has been 14 weeks since my last blog and why since 17th February I have not even been on Twitter. We haven't completely hidden ourselves away, we have had some meals out, we have seen people we know locally, day to day activities I haven't mentioned and I have upgraded my tablet from the one I have had for the last 5 years and it was starting to give some teasing problems. My mobile phone of 4 years was upgraded and now I do not have sellotape over the cracked screen which I have had for the last two years. Both are a big improvement. As usual, where ever it is possible and practical I go out and about in clothing as depicted in the photos on my web site, Kitchen fitters I went in a skirt, sourcing materials and I have done clean work in the kitchen in a skirt, like carpentry, electrical. Most of my DIY I am in trousers especially going to Builders/Plumbing etc merchants. These still hold the macho male appearance, even female employees have this hard tough stance and yes, just as women say male dominated areas are hard for them, they are too for us males who do not akin ourselves to traditional male appearance/behaviour. Flexibility, practicality but at the end of the freedom of choice and liberty, just what women claim for the reason for their trousers and the wearing of male style clothing, items not so long ago were not allowed to wear and was frowned upon by society.

Watched a few films in evenings but the TV has had some good dramas on like Wolf Hall, Banished, Poldark, DCI Banks to name but a few. Three films stick out for me, Gone Girl - Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike, Before I Sleep - Nicole Kidman & Colin Firth and the Equaliser with Denzel Washington.

We have the Imitation Game in stock to watch and waiting for Theory of Everything. We do not do cinemas.

I will keep promoting that this freedom applies to men just as much as women.

Until next time, hope all goes well for you all.

BEFORE                                                                     AFTER