It is hard to believe we are once again heading back in to France to spring daffodils, having been here in Scotland nearly three months. If last year was hectic, then this one has started at warp supersonic, as we embark on yet another renovation project. Plasterboard, cables, pipes and insulation: these are all the things currently occupying our front room. Unfortunately the missing link to join this lot together is tradesmen. OK, we do have a sparky working long hours on the re-wire and myself and one other guy putting the walls and ceilings back in but, as ever, it is the illusive pipe fitters that cannot seem to hold down an appointment. I have come to the conclusion that I have employed the Fife branch of the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel guild of plumbers’, such is the sporadic appearance of them on the job. I swear that sightings of Bigfoot are more frequent than seeing an overall-wearing man with blowtorch in our attic. So now, as we pack up the car and dogs this week and head south, we leave behind a half completed job, suffering at the mercy of hand-written timesheets submitted on trust.
We have a few reasons for going ‘home’, not least that the ewes are due to start lambing in a few weeks and need their midwife on hand for the event. We also have a few days booked on the ski slopes although, having made a million trips up 3 flights of stairs carrying plasterboard, I am not sure my ever-weakening knees are up to anything more that some high-level après ski this year. But our main reason for leaving an unfinished job is that the house we have bought, just around the corner from our Victorian terrace in East Neuk of Fife is of identical age and size, but has somehow managed to get itself onto the Listed Building Register. As anyone who has ever attempted to get planning on a Grade 2 listed dwelling will tell you, by making the slightest change to its layout or, god help us, its façade, you might as well apply for a permit to go Polar Bear hunting, such is the audaciousness of the request. Knock a wall through from sitting room to kitchen? Well, only is accompanied by 47 architect’s drawings, a surveyor’s report, advice from a plumber, electrician, Feng shui expert and priest, and, of course the obligatory visit from some certifiably bonkers historian in sandals who is so hell bent in preserving the past that he still eats gruel for breakfast. Fancy changing a window looking out to the back yard into a pair of patio-doors? Be prepared to hear patronising laughter echoing around the Ochills for at least 3 months, before a septuagenarian civil servant gets around to rejecting your application in red pen. After some research I eventually discover that the reason our entire street has been ‘Listed’ is that it has behind it a row of shacks, known locally as Net-lofts, which are quite unusual. Well, ours is certainly unusual as it is half fallen down, with a big hole in the roof, but woe-betide me if I attempt to modernise it in any way, using materials other than mud and straw. The outside privy must also remain in situ, as does the coal-shed and apparently even the nails from which once a fisherman hung his nets have some archaeological merit. I am all for preserving the past but even Bruce Forsyth has to go at some point, surely?
Anyway, enough of these sleepless nights of stressful worry; time to put it behind me for a few months, as we embark on a 1500 mile trip by road and sea. But, as we bid fair-the-well to the glens, soon we are faced with yet more bureaucratic absurdity as we head to cross the channel, as we are now no longer allowed to leave our dogs in the comfort of the 4x4 while we get our head down in the small confines of our overnight cabin. Seemingly, on most routes, the pooches now either have to go into a rather unsavoury kennels on board or be shoehorned into the tiny cabin with us, presumably for elf & safety reasons. They also have to wear a muzzle, costing a few hundred quid, in case they decide to lick the P&O staff to death! Just as well as we don’t have a cat as I don’t believe there would be room to swing it in room 337 on B deck.