Saturday, 24 December 2011

Any Old Iron and Happy Christmas!

Best wishes for the festive season, and for the new year of 2012 that lies ahead.

It serves us well to reflect on the changes that the last year has brought; and in absolute terms mine are pretty drastic: transitioning from contracting in the City of London at the end of March to becoming a gentleman of leisure in the Scottish Highlands.

Of course "gentleman of leisure" is sadly a complete misnomer, and the reality of restoring a ruined castle is a chaotic patchwork of trying to do the organisation; sourcing things on the cheap; and pitching-in with the labouring! In fact, the most rewarding thing and the one on which I wish I could spend more time is just working on the building. Unfortunately, reality intrudes and other day-to-day things need attending to. However, my builder is brilliant and keeps things moving all the time even when I am out of the area.

The archetypical distraction was this August, when I drove to my house down south for a fortnight’s holiday to attend some social functions. During the stay, my pick-up truck broke down beyond economic repair and buying a new one (with no transport) turned out to be a nightmare. I had four truck sales agreed, but when I went to collect each one, they proved to be un-road-worthy, not as advertised or sold already! I finally purchased a new pick-up at the end of November, and got back to the castle for the winter season, after almost 4 months away!

I made the most of being stuck down south, and was able to make huge progress on my house there. After being rented out, it needed a lot of attention. In October, a new lodger arrived who proved a tremendous help in sorting things out yet further!In fact, the South of England had the most amazing Indian summer:  the best summer I have ever experienced. At the end of November, I was still able to garden in my tee-shirt in warm sunshine. The very next day, I drove back up to Scotland to find snow at the castle! My emigration had coincided with the turn of the weather. This and the change in latitude was a huge shock to my system. I had become a "southern softy" and I didn't think I would be able to live at 0C (the temperature inside the castle). I was pretty demoralised. However, gradually I realised that my body had once acclimatised to this and was doing so again.

My neighbours told me that before my arrival the weather had been mild, but that the whole summer and autumn has been disappointingly wet, so perhaps I had been in the right place after all. In any case, this winter has been relatively mild so far, compared to the previous two Baltic ones. Last night the snow melted away, and it is an incredibly 8C inside the castle today - my builder and I are buoyant!  I am really hoping the winter stays mild to allow work to continue and, being positive, the shortest day is the 22nd Dec, so days will be getting longer before no time.

Before leaving London, I climbed up the Big Ben tower at the Houses of Parliament. This was a rare privilege indeed - you have to write to your MP to request tickets. This was a couple of days before I finished work at the bank, and as I stood there under the bells with the whole of London spread out below,  it was somehow a fitting end to the period of my life that I had spent in London: something I thought I would never do. Let's hope we all take some of the "never say never" spirit into 2012! :-)

ANY OLD IRON: On the drive back to Scotland, I picked up some antique Victorian beds