How to Quickly Convert a Barn. Part Two. Confusing Consultants

So there was the barn, new roof, dry walls, and occasional people living in the temporary camp/flat upstairs. This was so illegal you could either stay awake worrying about insurance, and planning regulations, or do mindfulness.

The chicken in front of the barn

Mindfulness works well if your brain is busy. Half our thoughts are bare faced lies and anything, from meditation to screaming with cold in winter rivers, will help to sift them away. You start to see sense. ‘No the barn probably won’t collapse tomorrow with some poor soul inside it.’ And ‘No the planning authorities are not going to turn up for a dawn raid, probably…’

That sorted the lies. But the truths clung on and insisted on rattling around the brain. The flat was dodgy, one corner looked damp again, and our DIY skills list didn’t include ‘save a barn and quickly turn it into a house’ for some reason.

It was time to take the first leap.

Chicken jumping off a hoop

Ask around and decide what to do.

The Architect Consultant

We should have known when he turned up, with his designer leather jacket and cool motorbike. He swept in, declared the barn had ‘huge potential,’ took a design fee, and handed us over to assistants. After months of more design fees, pre planning, flood risk and survey fees, there were options.

Split it two, sideways, horizontally, slap on extensions, take the side off, raise the roof, oak beams, oak doors, features, huge windows overlooking the garden, massive grand designs, taking all things into consideration except the lack of quarter of a million pounds.

When somebody in special jacket tells you how things are going to go it is hard to say ‘You are so way off the mark I don’t know where to begin,’ There is a reason you don’t hang out with people who have jackets like that but you forgot. And then you feel foolish for asking in the first place.

Suddenly anything else would have been easier than a barn. A boat perhaps?  

Old boat on the Exeter Canal

Plenty of potential with this one, and no need for planning permission.

Old boat on the river Exe

Could have a go at this too. Looks simple enough.

‘Not thinking about it’ became an art form.  Emails saying ‘shall we proceed to the planning application?’ meant it was time to admit that we were hoaxers, who had no idea what things cost, and no budget even if we did.

The only thing to do was ghost them.

The whole thing made me feel so sick that I actually got sick and it is easy to ghost people when you have cancer and chemo and stuff.  They back off really quickly.

But then we did it all again.

Consultant Number Two

There is that story of the man who goes out the door, falls down a hole, and then does exactly the same thing every day because he will not learn by his experience.  That was us.

This time we thought we had the right idea. Somebody who turned up in any old jacket, presented ideas, took everything away, came back with a sensible drawing, helped to get planning permission, suggested a builder, got a quote and suddenly we were at ‘shall we proceed’ again. With one set of plans.

For two houses? Plans that had run away with themselves all over again. Completely out of control, nothing to do with the original barn, and expensive. How did this happen?

Back to avoiding the whole thing.

Scrap Vauxwagon vans

Maybe do up a camper van or two?

Rusty trolleys and bikes from the river Exe

Or renovate old bikes and shopping trolleys?

Both consultants assumed we had money, courage, vision and a sensible grasp of the implications.  Now the imposter syndrome was kicking in big style because we had none of this. Just a barn with somebody living in it who had no chance of finding anywhere else because the housing crisis is nuts around here.

And he had children. So what was going to happen to them? 

Girls in goal

You can’t just throw away the little girls who play in your garden because you want to redevelop their home. So nobody got back to the nice consultant again and another year went by, and two more things happened.

The Person who was Passing by

He came here for music lessons. We hardly knew him, but one day he said ‘I renovate properties for a living.  Can I look at the plans for that barn?’ 

This was our person.  He said four things.

  1. The plans are wrong for you.  What do you think you are doing? Why are you trying to squash houses into a barn?  Do you know that this means knocking out one side, destroying the soul of the place, and killing yourselves in the process?
  2. People have lived there for years.  It is already a residential property so the paperwork will be easy.
  3. You can do this yourselves. My plan will be simple.
  4. I will help you if you teach me to play music

We left him to do the new application. Luckily this took two years because the council were busy with the pandemic. This gave us time to play with the children at weekends, and wonder where they would go if we threw them out.

The Dead Grandmother

It worked out OK. The person in the barn said: ‘My grandmother died and left me a deposit for a flat so I’m leaving.’ Followed by: ‘I found a rat in my kitchen. Can I stay in your house until I get my flat?’ Did the rats hear about the grandmother and decide to make a move?

So we got more of the children, but not for long.

Children in long grass

Their flat was ready all too soon.  He took them away from us to live in a proper, safe, rat free home and the planning application came through.

He kindly left his rat trap behind in case we wanted to rehome the rats as well.

A Quick Lesson in Rehoming Rats.

If you bait a rat trap and leave it in a barn full of rats, you will catch one. If you think you can move the whole pack, one by one, to ‘somewhere else’ you are deluded.

The first rat will be hysterical.  A terrified, defenceless creature who might fly at your throat if you open the door. When you think about his children, friends and relations left behind, the trap is no longer humane.

You will carry on and go to a secluded location. Hang around suspiciously, while it suddenly fills up with hikers and bird watchers.  Wait for a gap and release the poor thing when nobody is looking. You will shake when you try to get the door open, and you will go home and call pest control.

Pest control will explain that it is illegal to move rats, and the one you kindly released will die, because rats can’t set up a new homes without their family.

So never try to move a rat.

Stick to door mice.

Door mouse on the road

This one was busy eating a rotten leaf, and had no traffic sense so I nudged him into the hedge. If you want to move rodents around, don’t do any more than this.

Pest control were good consultants. They also told us to hide the chicken food. This worked, the rats moved on and just a few decades of Stuff, everybody saying ‘Stick it in the barn for now,’ remained.

It was time to clear it out.

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