Grain Bin Living: As it gets Colder

Its ‘Tatty’ Holidays therefore Katy gets two weeks off from school in Scotland to go and help lift the potatoes. Instead of doing that, given that we haven’t had a chance to plant any this year on Gometra, Yvette brought Katy south to stay as a family in the Grain Bin House, visit friends and in particular her visit her Scottish Grandfather who has lived the last fifty-two years in the south of England.

Given our Primrose surname is as Scottish as you get and according to family tradition, we came across from Sweden in the 11th century to build boats from the Scottish and settled along the northern banks of the Firth of Forth and then didn’t wander far for about 900 years, he was very proud that we have moved back to Scotland and extremely excited that we had come across other people with the surname ‘Primrose’. He claims that this is only the second time in his 83 years that he has heard of someone else with the surname, Katy on the other hand claims that there are at least twenty other people with the surname Primrose in Oban High School, which leads me to suspect that Granddad just hasn’t be trying too hard, particularly as his father came from a family of nine brothers – so out there somewhere are quite a lot of second cousins that I know nothing about, are they all in Oban? On that note, its noteworthy to note that Katy was the first girl in the Primrose family for over one-hundred years until my brother’s daughter was born two years later who also turned out to be a girl, so its a bit like buses I suppose.

It was probably quite a good thing that they did come south as the weather turned pretty horrendous up on the west coast of Scotland with a succession of storms coming through without any rest bite. This left Oban under quite a lot of water, up to the windows of the cars in one car park and caused a lot of disruption on the ferry between Oban and Mull.

Anyway, they managed to fight their way down to Shropshire on a particularly wet and cold night arriving just after midnight and struggling to find the Grain Bin House in the darkness, claiming I had had not left a light to guide them. After familial relationships were restored, the night proved quite hard as it was the first of some quite challenging nights in the Grain Bins. Although I had made a double bed in about a hour and half, collected as many blankets as I could find for the three of us, that first night was still cold as a fridge in the main bedroom and we struggled to get warm as the temperature dropped to 3 degrees and it rained hard. Katy however was better off as she slept on the mezzanine and was up in the warm air generated by the little oil heater in the main bin.

The next night we had the first frost of the season, but we were more prepared for that, and also frost is easier to deal with than cold and damp because the air is still. I do however sleep colder than Yvette, so whilst I’m dressed up in thermals from top to bottom, Yvette is quite happy in just t-shirt and shorts. Some comment here could be said that Yvette is more used to sleeping in cool, damp conditions because she spends more time on the island in Scotland than I do at the moment, but equally she was more able to cope with the conditions on Mount Everest in 2002 than her male partners when the wind chill factor dropped to a distinctly unbalmy minus 52 degrees (minus 61 in Fahrenheit but it doesn’t matter at that temperature really) and therefore the answer may be that she is just hardier than the rest of us.

Yvette at Base Camp on Everest, north side before heading up to North Col on Everest.

Given that Yvette and Katy are here, its Katy’s birthday and we wanted to get down to see her granddad etc, I didn’t get a lot of time to spend on the Grain Bin House itself, but I have achieved a lot since the last time I blogged about them. It is mostly finished, except for a lot of sanding and painting and a certain amount of trim around the windows and doors. The Grain Bins have floors and are weather tight. The walls are insulated with various materials and lined with boards that were bent to the curve of the grain bins so that we have something akin to a tall roundhouse look inside. The circular opening that are part of the grain bin’s agricultural use, have been covered with perspex domes that are one of the few things that we invested in new.

I always wanted to try and complete the project with as many salvaged items as possible, so the french doors are from friends of mine – Jacqueline and James – who were just finishing their own building project on a barn conversion. We always cut the opening in the bins to fit the windows or doors that we acquired rather than the other way round, which was the right idea as these doors were not standard widths, and even more so, were not straight sided as they were obviously made to fit some odd shaped openings on the barn that they came from. It was nice however to find out later, that these doors were made twenty years ago by one of the local carpenters who I know and I have to say that they are a beautifully finished set, even after they had been buried behind a shed in a garden for at 3 years.

The windows also came pretty cheaply from an agricultural sale, but they came without glass and therefore eventually we had to bite the bullet and buy the glass to fit them after a few attempts to find pieces that would fit for free.

The Mezzanine Floor in the Grain Bin

The mezzanine floor is boarded out and balustrade and the steps have been made that follow the circular edge of the bin. I’m pretty sure that I dislocated my shoulder moving the heavy old beam that came out of the barn that blew down and now acts as the main support for the mezzanine. I moved it by myself to position it for the block and tackle that I’d set up to raise it into position and for a week afterwards my left shoulder was agony, so much so that I couldn’t get much sleep and had to cradle my arm against my chest most of the time. Even now, two month later, I still have issues raising it up above my head and it locks out in certain positions.

The beam that caused my injury

The balustrade for the mezzanine is a real thing of beauty and came off the farm as it was a cattle feeding piece of equipment that has a name I’ve forgotten. It was pressure washed to remove decades of crud and then I painstakingly sanded down and treated the old pine wood to bring out its grain. A thing of beauty itself, I thing the mezzanine and stairs are the most striking feature about the Grain Bin House, but I have as yet to install the banister that has been made from a lovely piece of seasoned oak branch that was brought in from the fields that I took the draw-knife to it, (my favourite tool), and then treated it with danish oil, the first diluted with white spirit to increase the initial absorption. I have as yet struggled to find the right position for the banister as it didn’t look right on the wall of the bin but I think I now know where it will go, but attaching it will be another stretch of imagination as it might have to somehow float in mid air.

What I have liked a lot about this project is being allowed to let my imagination run wild. Sometimes it takes longer to achieve certain things because of that, but the great benefit is that the Grain Bin has becomes a thing of beauty – almost an art form – rather than purely functional.

I have been guilty of sometimes doing the pieces of work I like and putting off those that I do not. One of the most glaring was the attachment of the last perspex dome to the circular skylight openings. They are a bit of a hassle as it required getting at them from both the outside and the inside and so I’d left the last one – the most inconvenient one – until storm Calum turned up – ironically one of my middle names – and we woke up in the morning to find ourselves open to the elements and the perspex dome lying on the grass ten feet away, even then procrastination won over and I simply placed it back over the opening, only for it to fly off the next day. Only then did I do the right thing and haul up the ladder and securely attach it to the roof. I got the feeling that someone upstairs was telling me something!

On another note, the temporary toilet blew over backwards, but luckily I’d just dealt with the bucket inside and its contents from the last couple of days, otherwise that would have been a really delightful job! It is now secure by ropes so look slightly Tibetan in nature – if is had more prayer flags on it.

We also got a permanent water supply via a tap! Which for me was a bit of a novelty and therefore no longer do I have to head off up to the farm with my water carriers to fill up from the outside tap. Again it was just one of those things that we had not quite got around to doing as it wasn’t a priority for life in the Grain Bin but sometimes I couldn’t be bothered to go and get a refill and by the night-time I sometimes had become fairly parched.

Water out of a tap has also made washing easier, which I am sure everyone is grateful for, but again showers or baths are out of the question, its just basin washes or standing in a bucket of water water for a while, which is lovely. I think, counting on my hands, I must have had about five showers in the last three months, but you do not miss them at all, and even count them as needlessly wasteful. Clothes washing is done the same way, but I must admit that working around a farm with farm dogs who will insist on saying hello every time they meet you, no matter how many times they have met you already that day, means that no matter how many times you wash your clothes, by 9am the next day, you will look exactly the same as before. Yvette even took to wearing her waterproof trousers to get to the car, otherwise by the time she had walked across to the car, she was sure that one of the dogs would have come and say hello again.

The item that has made a huge different is a proper wood stove that was given to me and was renovated and stalled just a day ago. Up to that point it was an oil heater which was just about enough as long as it didn’t get too close to freezing. However on Thursday night it drop all the way to zero and even with the heater on full it was cold in the Grain Bin. However last night with the first firing of the wood stove and good supply of oak that burnt very long and hot, it was absolutely blissful in the bins. With the stove in place I have to say that Grain Bin Living as really come of age. Certainly there are more jobs to do, but none of them are going to be as massive as what as gone before. With the wood stove, cold running water out of a tap and a weather proof bin – which does rattle when the wind blows but that is part of the charm – this Grain Bin Life is complete, who would live in a real house with corners.

As a postscript, it makes me laugh that when it rains it always sounds as if something is beginning to tap dancing on the roof in a rather unsure way, and then as the rain increases the sounds begins to build to a crescendo and you begin to wonder if biblical floods have final come. However when you venture to put your head outside, you sometimes find that its merely spitting. The joys of weather on an old tin roof!

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