Tuesday, July 27, 2021

It's Raining Men

After another (unscheduled according to the BBC Weather) hot and humid day, it's now been pouring with rain for over an hour.
The first in nearly 3 weeks (and then wasn't much).
The garden and the new orchard trees desperately need it.

The third (and final, for the time being) gigantic skip of rubble left today. "It had 32 tonnes in it!" Child Builder in Charge (but only of himself as his labourer apparently awarded himself a second day off) told Mr BW. "Yeah, I knew that a month ago, I chatted to the driver and he told me!" I said when he told me.

No idea what CBiC did today, or will do tomorrow, maybe move individual grains of soil around, but roll on Thursday when Chief Builder is released and will be building internal walls before the full floor is poured on Monday. Well, that's what he's telling us currently.

Into Week 6 and only 2 weeks behind schedule.

Not an Architect the Architect and his new oppo, Unfortunate Lack Of Attention To Detail, continue to disappoint. More invisible promised documents.

 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Hot flush

Well, despite previous information, summer isn't over (27 degrees yesterday, 28 degrees today, not a drop of rain in site sight), and a builder did turn up. Yes, just one. The other apparently had to go to the hospital at 11am so took the whole day off. Chief Builder is meant to be back on Wednesday to start the blockwork. Not An Architect The Architect and his new oppo (Unfortunate Lack Of Attention To Detail) assure us that we will finally have the long-awaited final engineering drawings (for the next two phases) tomorrow. Can't wait to see how many errors there will be this time.

I spent the day watching the Olympics from my bed and ordering bits for the new bathroom. Fantastic stuff. Especially finding that one can get toilets that one can flush using one's smartphone. If only I had a smartphone. Or that my fingers would operate one. Almost half the world doesn't have access to a sanitary toilet, yet over here they can be bought to be flushed using a smartphone. I have no words, honestly.

 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Summer is over

12 days of a minimum of 26°C (recorded on the thermometer in the shade) by day and 16.9°C at night, sleeping under just a duvet cover. Had to sling the duvet back on, over the duvet cover, around 5am as it was so cold. The weather forecast predicts below 20 for at least the next 10 days now.

Better weather up here at Coven Nord than at Coven Sud. The Great North/South Lie: the weather is actually better in the north than the south, despite what northerners would have you believe. On our ridge, anyway.

We were going to make a pilgrimage to see a famous steam train chug along the nearest line yesterday late afternoon (it's been on the calendar for months since I first read about it somewhere online), but then thought better of it, as it was hot, we were tired and grubby, we hadn't worked out the best vantage points, and we were concerned about the potential number of people there might be. Plus, trainspotting is never a hobby that really appealed: all that waiting around for 20 seconds. Given that the only images I can find online of the event are not even on our local line, but on the way up, maybe there aren't any trainspotters in these parts after all? Next time.

Instead we washed flower pots and sieved soil dug out of the greenhouse foundations a year ago, ready to fill the new (permanent) raised beds (to be constructed once the builders have finished).

Never a dull moment.

 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

And there it was gone

On Monday we had a slate roof:

No floor, but a slate roof:

And an inside roof, with felt, and timbers, some very very old, and some newer, and a whole load of bodged spliced-in repairs to various wooden lengths in the structure, and even, just to make it even more structurally unsafe, A-frames that had been cut through, in the interests of providing storage space at the expense of the structural integrity of the roof (oh Bodgit and Coverit, how we pity your lack of understanding of all things practical):

On Tuesday they took the ridge off:

And then the slates:

Until there were just some timbers left:

The very oldest timbers were attached together with hand-made nails:

And even bigger hand-made nails:

And another hand-made nail (not a dead art, Mr BW can still make them), and some dry rot and woodworm:

The two Child Builders started taking the timbers down soon after 8.15am this morning. Mr BW had overheard the senior one speaking to Chief Builder (with covid, after his last week's holiday, so in isolation in his bedroom 40 miles away, but lacking serious symptoms) to get some instruction on how to tackle the demolition: they hadn't done anything like this before, let alone on their own. They had a battery-powered saw, a few lump hammers, a sledge hammer, and a couple of crowbars, and lots of muscle.

By lunchtime they had done pitifully little, except make lots of noise with the underly-powered battery saw:

As we sat outside in the sun eating our lunch, I could tell that Mr BW was itching to help them. "Do you think I should offer some help with my chainsaw?" he asked. "As long as you put on every bit of protective gear you have got... set them a good example!" I replied.

With a, "Watch and learn kiddos!" (no, not really) Mr BW ran up the scaffolding and set-to making short work of what would probably have taken them another 2 days. Well, he did, but only after it took 10 minutes to get the chainsaw started, due to the heat. A few nifty v-cuts and a bit of impromptu teaching on how such structures work, so how to identify and attack their weak points:

Going:

Going:

Gone:

Oh bugger. We have no roof. It's going to rain next week. And, I strongly suspect, from something I overheard, no builders either, given their currently depleted team numbers.

No builders = no more staged payments until they return, of course. But they don't know that, yet .

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

It's nearly there

Not the house, which is now minus its slates on the north side, and will, by the end of the week, have no slates, no battens, no felt, no trusses and no joists at all. In other words, it will be just a huge pile of vertically-placed stone, sort-of lime-mortared together. How many bats were found yesterday morning when BatWoman came out to instruct the builders and watch the water table and ridge come off? Absolutely none, and no evidence whatsoever of any, despite what she thinks she saw when she did the dawn and dusk surveys. Licence to print money that particular career. There was a wasp's nest though, live this time, so Mr BW was able to save us a delay and even more expense by donning a bee suit, climbing up the roof, and removing it.

So, I can now give you my ideas for:

A Playlist for our Times:

(With no apologies whatsoever for the fact that it is 70s with one or two 60s and 80s, but not many. For anyone else who enjoys mid/late 70s music, you might like fellow ancient blogger NiC's music. If you haven't found it already, there are 16 fantastic tracks that he has written, played, sung, and produced himself, to choose from, and they will take you right back to the good old days.)


The Commodores - Zoom

Aretha Franklin - Who's Zoomin' Who?

The Police - Don't Stand So Close To Me

Blondie - Hanging on the Telephone

The Steve Miller Band - Take the Money and Run

Flying Lizards - Money

Cliff Richard - Power to All Our Friends

Steely Dan - Rikki Don't Lose that Number

The Crusaders - Street Life

John Denver - (Not) Leaving on a Jet Plane

Sex Pistols - (I don't wanna) Holiday in the Sun

The Marvelettes - Please Mr. Postman

The Tremeloes - Silence is Golden

Paul Simon - 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Andrew Gold - Lonely Boy

Elton John - Sacrifice

Sparks - This Town House Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us

The Who - Substitute

Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen

Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot

Chris Rea - Fool (If You Think It's Over)

Any more?


(I'll add on any commented or emailed to me. Sadly I shan't be producing a physical version because, well, I can't, as I don't do digital music, sorry, far too modern for me.)

The audience suggests (well, 2 of them... not sure what's wrong with the rest of you...):

Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive

Peggy Lee - Fever

Elvis - Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Splodgenessabounds - 2 Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please

Boris's personal theme tune: Ivor Biggun et al: The Wanker Song

Let's Get Serious - Jermaine Jackson

 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Another thought on Darwin Day

Back in the mid 80s, there were some individuals who contracted HIV and thought it was [not sure what word to use here] appropriate/amusing/forgivable to go out and infect as many other people as they could.

- I wonder how many psychopathic people there are in the country?

- I wonder how many badly informed people there are in the country?

- I wonder how many people there are who bought the Eton Boys' hype about 'double jabbed means back to normal' and think that as they have received two vaccinations, they can't get infected, so don't need to be vigilant?

Posted at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)
 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Today...

... is Darwin Day in England.

Much as I dislike Nicola Sturgeon, her leadership throughout the last 16 months has been considerably better and much more informed by common sense and real data than The Eton Boys' and Friends'. I think I will restart the campaign to get the England/Scotland boundary restored to Hadrian's Wall.

Will we be changing anything we do? No, absolutely not.

I'm informed by an in-depth review of the - often contradictory - science, a couple of Friends in High Places (one of whom is researching covid drugs in the US), an understanding of science, social science and statistics, and a deep cynicism that the government view people as anything other than economic units.

As one of the 'Any Questions' panellists said last week, "You cannot outsource public health to the public, which is what he [Johnson] is trying to do."

The postie told me on Friday, as he delivered our latest pack of lateral flow tests, that we were the only people on his whole round who receive them.

Now, others could be picking up their free packs in pharmacies, but given that the nearest pharmacy is 15 miles away, I would doubt that.

I strongly believe that anyone who travels around, goes on holiday, goes to any large events, or to any place where they come into close contact with others (and I include shops in this), should do regular lateral flow tests. Why not? They're free, delivered to your door overnight, quick, and reassuring for everyone, surely? At least 1 in 3 people with covid are asymptomatic, and yet hardly anyone I know is using lateral flow tests. Why? Are you?


"And what of the builders today?" I hear you ask.

What do you think? Go on, guess...

Late yesterday afternoon we were informed that they would all be off today having covid tests and/or self isolating as 3 of them have been pinged by TnT, and another's wife has it (none of those have worked here though). Plus, Chief Builder - who was foolish enough to take his family (inlcuding 2 pre-school children) for a week's holiday in a theme park last week has - separately - tested positive. We're told that previously only one person working for, or with, the company has tested positive.

Hopefully our two (who haven't had contact with the others, we are assured, but god knows what they did over the weekend) will be back tomorrow, but we won't now be seeing Chief Builder for another 2 weeks, so I will continue to be attempting to stay one step ahead of the Child Builders' stupidity (if they do return negative). Just listened to a 14 minute programme on R4 about the positive use of negativity. Fascinating stuff, and I'm pleased to learn that my talent in that department isn't unique.

For those who, like me, think the covid numbers and English approach don't add up, and that we're being controlled by extremely bad management, the CBI, the media, and a worrying disregard for science, there's a More or Less special on R4 at 11.30am: The Freedom Day Gamble.

I suspect someone has lots of people have already done this, but I've not seen it.

A Playlist for our Times:

Zoom - The Commodores

The Police - Don't Stand So Close To Me

The Steve Miller Band - Take the Money and Run

Flying Lizards - Money

I'll add the rest I thought of when I was awake in the night, when I remember them!


What else?

 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Solar power

There is a huge push locally to get rural village halls, and other community buildings, to put up solar panels with battery storage systems, even when the roofs are sub-optimally orientated.

Given the existence of a huge number of both wind farms, and small-scale installations on farms already, and the comparatively northern latitude, I can't help but think this is false economy, and not environmentally sustainable. The materials and energy needed to make the panels, the batteries, and all the installation parts are never going to be recouped by the comparatively small amount of power that will be generated.

There is already a world shortage of semi-conductors, as we discovered when we tried to order electric blinds for the soon-to-be-installed new Velux windows (which are too high up to be manually operated): not available until at least November, and of raw element materials for storage batteries, so why waste those that are available on projects that are madness, in areas where the power is not needed anyway?

In other solar news, the sun is South African hot up here, for the third day in a row. 29.5°C on the in-the-shade thermometer yesterday, and 38.7°C on the wall thermometer in direct sun. Luckily with a cooling breeze! Which is just as well as our visits out there are probably over for good. No taking unnecessary risks.

On Friday, at Coven Sud, there was a 9am to 3pm power cut while UKPowerNetworks replaced 'a vital piece of equipment' nearby. Most likely in readiness for the quarter of a million panel solar farm going in soon (if you can't build houses on prime farm land, build generation facilites instead).

At least Mr BW could use the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) we had put in with the solar system installed nearly three years ago. Its one and only use by us I think, but it allowed him to run off just the panels all day, including the honey warmer, dishwasher, radio, and other less power-hungry things. It's good to know that it does work as it was intended to though, and whoever buys Coven Sud will be well set up for when 'foreign powers' or 'aliens' start hacking into and disrupting the UK's (largely foreign-owned) energy infrastructure.

Here's a part of the day's online display:

The bit where the power was off is the bit with no blue line (exported power) or orange line (power coming from that previously stored in the batteries). Where the green line nearly hits the bottom axis is where Mr BW was using almost all of the electricity the panels were making. Where the orange line goes mad later in the day is when the dishwasher was on (one gets to know the tell-tale power traces) and the blue line just below this shows that MrBW was using more than 2kW of appliances at once (the maximum that the inverter can convert back at any one time from the energy that has been stored in the battery when input exceeded output during sunnier times), so we were drawing some power from the grid too.

I'm much better at planning power usuage than Mr BW, so we rarely draw from the grid in summer months, but I'm not there, and he is non-stop busy in the time he is down this week, tidying the garden, cutting grass and hedges, picking ripe fruit, weeding (takeover bids are currently being made by mares tail and bindweed, despite all the recycled mushroom compost bags we had placed over bare ground where veggies would usually have been grown), jarring honey, and keeping cool (fans take more energy than you'd think), so I don't begrudge him a few units from the grid :)

The roof of the single-storey bit at Coven Nord where we are currently renovating is perfectly aligned for solar panels.

But, it is not perfectly aligned for sensible use of Witchy Pennies for said purpose, and it won't fit enough panels to generate enough energy even at peak-sun in the summer to completely cover our power requirements either. There is still the option of putting up a free-standing sun-tracking multi-panel array in the field, of course, but I don't see that being economically viable or environmentally sustainable either.

Plus, it is nice to be able to put on any appliance whenever it's convenient up here, rather than stopping to think how much power is currently being made by the panels, and/or whether there is enough in the battery, and/or whether there would be a better time to do washing or dish washing so that the least amount of generated power is fed to the grid (for domestic systems with a FiT generation subsidy - which ended in early 2019, a few months after our system went in - a 'deemed amount' of half of all generation is paid out as an assumed excess generation fed into the grid, and, until the last two summers where we haven't been living at Coven Sud, they did very badly out of us (whereas now, they are doing very well out of us)).

I'm a great proponent of anything alternative, but it does have to make economic and resource-use sense.

Despite the installer's promises and projections, the solar pv system that we put up at Coven Sud will never, ever, pay for itself (even if all the components last 20 years) despite it attracting a quartely susbidy. Therefore, putting up any new system now, with no subsidies and no zero standing charge electricity tariffs (so one has to pay nearly £100 a year just to be connected to the grid, even if one is not drawing anything from it), I don't believe that any small-scale roof-mounted system can now ever be financially viable. If something isn't financially viable, it cannot justify its raw material resource costs.

On the same subject, don't mention electric cars to me. Interesting that F1 is looking at hydrogen power for the future. I am convinced that electric cars and battery storage are going to become the betamax of the future once hydrogen power R&D catches up.

I do wish that people would keep their existing petrol and diesel cars until they fall apart, rather than buying into all the 'must get an electric car to save the planet' hype. More natural resources are used making a car than will ever be consumed by the car in its lifetime. It just does not make any kind of sense to scrap older cars in favour of electric, until they are no longer reapairable.

Posted at 12:33 PM | Comments (4)
 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Day 20, end of Week 4: cultural divide

"Sorry to interrupt what you are doing..." said Child Builder In Charge This Week, standing at the kitchen door (I won't say that I was straining the yoghurt that I'd made, I thought, because I fear that would just feed their stereotype. I've already had to explain wasps' nests - and how they should be put on a compost heap and not in a skip - the difference between bees and wasps, and how eggs come from hens, to them this week) "but can we get some water from the hose?"

"You may," I replied, "but please don't turn the tap off afterwards this time - just turn the hose off at the spray end - as the greenhouse watering system is also connected to that tap, and you turned it off earlier in the week which caused the tomatoes to get dry before I noticed and could switch it back on." He looked at me like I was mad.

Four cubic metres of concrete were dispensed into all the internal wall foundation trenches from the gigantic 'mix on site to whatever consistency you want' wagon, but the delivery driver ended up doing most of the tamping down as it seems the two child builders had only ever barrowed before. I'm not quite sure how that came about: whether he volunteered in desperation at their ineptitude, or whether they asked, but he seemed to be enjoying himself anyway.


There was a delivery of blocks, sand and cement that arrived at the same time, which made things interesting, and half an hour later, the builders' merchant's delivery driver was back again to reclaim one of the bulk bags as he'd misdelivered. Apparently it was my fault because I'd kindly given him a coffee, as he arrived at 10am, which is one of the two times I make drinks for builders. That apparently confused him and made him drop all but one of the bulk bags of sand on his wagon, rather than all but two. It didn't help that Child Builder In Charge This Week said to him, "I wondered why we'd got two bags of sand but only 10 bags of cement!" "It's a good idea to wonder that type of thing out loud in future..." I suggested. Someone's got to educate him after all.

Builders' merchant's driver's (I think I've got those apostrophes correct?) driving out wasn't too great the first time and I told him to please mind my stone wall as he reversed. "Don't worry luv, I spent 40 year driving bin lorries before I did this job!" he claimed. "And how many cars did you annihilate in that time?" I enquired. He paused, then admitted it was four. "As I was saying, mind my wall on the way out!" I instructed. Child Builder In Charge This Week quickly ran to stand by the wall, and in avoiding him, the driver came perilously close to hitting the wooden post (and my 'dinger' system - essential for knowing when people come and go - now with an extra dinger upstairs so that I can hear the dings wherever I am, because without an overseer on site this week, that position has unfortunately had to fall to me) on the other side. I sighed.

"Sorry about all the tabs!" said Child Builder In Charge This Week, just before they went home at 11.40am, claiming there was nothing more they could do until the concrete had set. "Pardon?" I exclaimed. "You know, the tabs, you told Child Labourer not to drop his tabs on the ground earlier as you'd had to pick lots up." "Ah, yes, I'd call thoose fag ends or cigarette butts," I said, "tabs has quite a different meaning where I come from. But yes, they are toxic plastic pollution: they are very bad for the environment as they don't break down naturally." There followed a short discussion on why, but I suspect it fell on deaf ears and won't change their habits. I really don't know how to get the message about litter and pollution to those who cause it. I don't think it's intentional, they just really don't get it. Given that public education campaigns are designed by those who do already get it, and have probably got plenty of years of education, and nice comfortable lifestyles, I doubt the campaigns will ever reach those who don't.

The roof comes off next week. Mind the bats.

 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Day 19: Sin Bin

I knew that I should have kept the builder lads in detention for litter picking duties as I threatened the other day.

This is what I collected the day before yesterday when they'd gone home, supposedly having tidied up.

I drew the line at the two pieces of paper outside the portaloo mind. And I've added more since.

This is 'Exhibit A' which I shall be producing to Chief Builder when he gets back from his holiday next week.

I know it wouldn't have happened had he been here, as keeping a tidy site is something he cares about.

Most of it wasn't the two lads here this week, particularly the 22 fag ends, as those were from the know-all bloke bought in to drive the mini-digger to scoop out the foundations. He was the one who spend 10 minutes telling me how bad drinking was for you, and how he had given up totally, and was now completely healthy.

There are so many things that have crept under the radar and will be blamed on coronavirus. Including anyone currently being able to set up a campsite, or extend an existing one, without planning permission. And potentially allowed to continue it in the future, without proper scrutiny, or an option for affected locals to be consulted. There goes more of the remaining countryside...

Farming people for a few weeks every year is a much more attractive option to farmers and land owners than the year-round slog of caring for animals, with no certainty over final market prices, or guarantee of official subsidies going forward. And the likely reduction in demand for product due to the increasing trend to veganism, and new pushes from government for everyone to eat less meat. I'm 50 years ahead of the thinking there, of course.

The concrete for the foundations has just arrived, an hour and 20 minutes early. Must go and take some pictures.

Luckily I spotted after the builders had gone yesterday that the wooden shuttering to protect the route of the new toilet soil pipe from being concreted didn't extend far enough out from the wall. At 7am this morning, Mr BW, on the telephone from Coven Sud, did some quick calculations of the thickness of the new wall build-up and the depth of the ceramic wall tiles, so that I could tell them exactly where it needed to go, and they did some very quick reshuttering first thing.

I shall be deducting my site management/overseeing charges for this week from the next staged payment. First the scaffolding, then failing to get the building inspector out when he was needed, now this.

It is utterly exhausting trying to stay one step ahead of any error that the child builders might be about to make without proper management and direction. We're cross about this because one of the things we made clear before we gave them the work was that a Chief Builder was to be on site all the time. And he hasn't been.

 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Day 18: The Building Inspector Visits - a transcript

9.58am: I was taking coffees out for the builders' 10am break when a shiny black large Audi pulled in to the drive, having driven very fast down the track. Shame I filled in the two (getting larger by the day with all the too-heavy vehicles that have used it in the last 18 days) potholes and swept up the loose stone that was laying on the tarmac surface at 5am this morning when I was out in my nightie, making the most of a glorious summer sunrise.

Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week and I looked at each other. "I'm not expecting anyone, so it must be The Building Inspector," I said. "Nice car!" said Child Labourer, but I noted it was only a 54 plate (for overseas readers - that is, registered in 2004) but that the tyres have been recently blacked. A trendily bearded dude in far far too-tight jeans that left absolutely nothing to the imagination got out.

"Hello, you must be The Building Inspector," I said, and introduced us. "Building Control!" he said.

"Yes," I acknowledged. "Thanks for coming out so quickly after I rang you yesterday... kettle's just boiled, would you like a tea or coffee?" I asked, to be polite, and because I'd just put down a tray of coffees, hoping that he'd say no as I wanted to hear what he would say to the builders.

I was in luck. "I haven't got time to sit around drinking coffee all day... too much work to do... visits to make, things to do!" He strode purposefully towards where they are working. As he walked, I couldn't help wondering how the brass zip on his jeans put up with the strain, or how impractical the tan shoes were for visiting building sites. I noted that the shoes were just like Not-An-Architect's footwear, and decided that must be how late 40s Northern Building Professionals choose to dress.

"This it? You're pouring to the top of the wooden posts, yeah?"

"No, a bit higher than that, to here," said Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week, indicating a good 3 or 4 inches above the top of the posts.

The rubble they'd made this morning while taking out the stone over the old back door so that they could remove the rotten old wood lintel and replace it with a concrete one, then re-stone over it, caught his gaze. He did a double take, also noting the huge wasp's nest (luckily dead, but containing lots of dead mice apparently) just above and to the left of the doorway. Before he could utter a word, Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week said, "Sorry about the mess, that will all be cleared away before we pour, we just had to get on with something..." He turned away, looking again at the foundation trenches.

"Right, and you're using rebar, yeah, and not putting it straight into the bottom of the hole?" "Yes, it's over here by the wall, you want to see it?" "Nah, but make sure it goes on a bed of concrete and doesn't touch anything, not the sides, not the bottom, nothing, and then concrete on top." "You're putting in DPM, right? and then more concrete and insulation and all that stuff? And what about Type 1, where's that going?"

"Would you like to see the floor plans, they're over here..." asked Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week. The Building Inspector waved him away. "Not got time for that..."

"You're doing this off a Notice, right?" Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week looked at me. I nodded and said, "Yes, because we needed to get on with things on the bit we can do under PD while the pla...." "Yeah, but not having full building plans approved makes problems, shouldn't be allowed.... I've just been to one over there [waved hand in distance] where they've built a whole bungalow on a Notice and now want me to sign it off... no pictures, no nothing... look, I want pictures of every stage, rebar, DPM, concrete, insulation... and call me to come back when the block is up... I suppose that's just going to be a 4" wall, yeah? Hmmm. Where's the doors?" I filled him in. "OK, so..." he turned to Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week again, "Pictures of everything, yeah, tell you what, get your phone out and I'll give you my number so you can WhatsApp them to me."

"I'll let [name] know!" said Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week. "Who's [name]?" he snapped. "The Boss!" I said, "But he's on holiday this week. And don't worry, my husband is an engineer, so knows how things should be done, and is watching carefully, and I have pictures of every stage, of every day, so anything they don't take or forget to take, I can always supply. Several hundred this week already." Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week looked surprised, or scared, I'm not sure which. "Do you?" he asked. "Yes, you never know when you'll need them. Or if something goes wrong in the future they are a very useful record." "Nothing's going to go wrong!" said Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week, "Please don't worry, it won't!" I wasn't actually talking about things going wrong with the building work, I was meaning years down the line when we are older and greyer and need a record of where things ran, so we could fix anything that needed maintenance, but I thought it didn't hurt for them to think I thought it might go wrong.

I smiled at The Building Inspector, who nodded knowingly. "Very sensible."

He was taking one final look round when his phone rang, he answered it, and walked back towards his car, talking loudly, without giving us even a word or nod of a goodbye. "Thank you!" I called loudly to his back. He drove off, slightly slower than he came, but only because he was still talking with his phone in his hand.

Total time here: 4 minutes.


"That was the first time I've ever spoken to a Building Inspector!" said Child-Builder-In-Charge-This-Week. "He was a bit scary!" I smiled wryly. "Officious" I said, without thinking that he wouldn't have the faintest idea what that meant. "But, you stood your ground well!" I complimented. "Don't let the tight trousers and polished car scare you. You stayed one step ahead of him, and thought to offer to show him the rebar and the plans, even though he wasn't interested."

I'd love to have told The Building Inspector that it's always a good idea to let someone tell you how they are going to do things, in order to check they have the right idea, rather than to give them the answers with the questions. Don't they teach them anything, in Building Inspector training school?

I'm feeling rather like these kniphofia today:

Past their best, but still struggling on. At least it's a nice date (14 07 21).

Posted at 11:35 AM | Comments (4)
 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Quotes of the day

Day 17, and some real gems emerged:

Child Builder In Charge This Week (in response to my walking him round pointing incredulously to the scaffolding errors identified in the post below): "I'm a scaffolder by trade, I didn't see those things!"

Me: "Yes dear, that's what worries me about you being in charge here this week, you have no peripheral vision and while you are a grafter and a nice lad, you really shouldn't be expected to be overseeing as you simply don't have the skill set." (that was said in my head, in the interests of a some work getting done this week...)

**********
Chief Builder (currently on holiday with his 'bairns' at some northern theme park) to Mr BW by email shortly after the above conversation: "Child Builder has zoom called me with regards to the problem with the scaffold, it should not have been done what he has done! He will be back on Thursday to put it right, if there has been any damage made we will fix it."

Mr BW replied by email to Chief Builder: "I assume we have lost another couple of days as the scaffolding won’t be usable until at least later Thursday (I won’t ask why he won’t come straight here to sort out his error). I do appreciate that you are on holiday and were covering Other Chief Builder's area last week, but it is clear that once we get to next week we are going to need you here full time to get back on track and to oversee things properly."

***********

The builders have been saying they have been waiting on the Building Inspector to come and inspect the foundations before they can pour the first concrete. First it was last Tuesday, then last Friday, then yesterday, and now... well Child Builder had no idea. Believing that there is always a simple solution to any problem, I rang the number on the confirmation letter from the council that we had been sent.

Me: "Good morning, is that Mr Building Inspector? I'm Mrs Blue Witch and I live high up on that windy ridge in the middle of nowhere. I understand that our building work has been allocated to your case load, but I'm confused about when we are expecting you for your first inspection, and the builders seem not to know either?"

Building Inspector: "Hello Mrs Blue Witch, and I'm sorry to tell you no-one has rung to ask me to come out, but if you text me your details, I'll get out to you tomorrow."

Now, how difficult was that?!

**********
Child Labourer, cheekily, on bringing used mugs back to me after lunch: "You remind me of a teacher at my old school, she were reet scary!"

Me: "Good, I'm glad I haven't lost my touch, as it was many years since I was last in a classroom. By the way, have you picked up all the litter that you lot have left around and put it in the bin bag Mr BW gave you on Friday?"

Child Labourer: "OK Miss, I'll get right on it!"

Me: "I'd hate to have to keep you in detention... I do have a big padlock for the main gate..."

Miraculously, the black bin bag is now half full. There are towable dot-matrix signs all around the county, presumably aimed at the current deluge of tourists, but it seems it's the local tradespeople who actually need to heed them.


 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Day 16

When Mr BW left to go south for the week at 7.10am this morning, this was the state of affairs in the 10m x 6m single storey part of the house being converted (the old byre - and a good scrabble word). I'm standing in what was the double garage door, looking in at where the new foundations for the dividing walls have been dug. The dark grey piles are the 'stone' (as they call it up here) that will go in the foundations before the cement:


By 3.45am the boiler had come out, the rest of the plaster was off the walls and all the pipework and most of the rest of the roof trusses had been removed. How the weight of those slates is being supported now is anyone's guess.

This was the boiler that Chief Builder was going to temporarily relocate and reconnect outside, until I pointed out that, at this time of year, it only heats the hot water, and we have an electric shower and an immersion heater (albeit 40+ years old and a danger to itself let alone us):

Dating from 1999, and more than at the end of its life, I'd say.

The scaffolder turned up at 10am and left at 5pm, an hour and a quarter after the two young builders who seem to be 'it' for this week. I am trying to train them to use a bin bag for their rubbish, but it is still hanging, empty, on the side of the rubble skip (which can only take hardcore, and the small general skip was removed last week and they are still waiting for its replacement to be delivered, such is the local shortage of them currently). First job for them tomorrow - litter picking, as the sheep have now returned, beautifully white and minus their fleeces, and must not eat crisp packets or sweet wrappers.

There is a lot wrong with what the scaffolder did. These pictures are for Mr BW's benefit, as the internet here is currently running at just 0.2MB and I cannot get pictures out to him. It's taken me over an hour to load up just these few tiny picture files.

There are scaffolding poles resting all along on the back wall, where the new windows need to be cut out of the existing stone:


There are support poles on the 47 year old old BBQ (now one of my potting areas), which cannot be safe, and he broke one of its topping slabs and didn't even tell me, let alone say sorry:

The broken slab is at the front so he simply moved the pole further back, ignoring the fact that the rest of the structure is similarly weak:

He clearly likes dangerous supports as at the front of the building he has balanced a plank on top of the two disintegrating coal bunkers. The one on the left was tied together with a piece of washing line by Bodgit and Coverit, the previous owners. Given that this is to be the main point of access, and that they have to remove the roof completely and then put on a new one, it will be taking a lot of weight. I cannot wait to see what the Building Inspector thinks.

Not that said individual has shown up yet... If Child Builder In Charge This Week can't reassure me first thing that he is definitely coming tomorrow, then I shall be ringing him myself to see what is going on.


And the pièce de résistance: putting scaffolding both sides of the oil tank, but not over the top, saying to me as he left that they could either put their own plank over the top, or walk on the tank when they needed to. This is the brand new tank that just cost us nearly £4K, and certainly should not be walked on!

And the planks on the RHS are 1cm (maximum) away from the sight gauge that shows how much oil is left in the tank. One tiny movement and that's that gone.

And I forgot to take a picture of the scaffold pole positioned so that it is now impossible to close the field gate, or the one on the old back door steps that were due to be demolished next week. And he used 7 of our concrete blocks to put poles on, without checking it was OK to take them.

It rained for most of the day, and it was impossible to find things to do outside in the rain to keep a watch on them all day. And besides, I shouldn't have to! If you work on your own doing such a job, you do need a brain.

I truly despair, but, if Chief Builder will leave children in charge and go off on holiday...

 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Day 16 of the builders tomorrow

Fait vos jeux on the number of builders that will turn up tomorrow.

And on whether those that turn up should actually have driven here.

Given that Chief Builder is on holiday all week, I'm not holding my breath. The other Chief Builder was on holiday last week, so our Chief Builder spent the week chasing his tail between sites and not getting much done, except amusing his employees by his antics and late appearances, and they in turn amused me with their impressions and anecdotes. Which I, of course, immediately wrote down so as not to forget them. I now have enough anecdotal evidence to use as blackmail should any problems arise. Who in their right mind still pays 'employees' in cash these days (and how the hell do they get away with it)?

Chief Builder sent a subbie digger driver to do the foundations. I suspect he was ex-army (low rank), and, judging from my days working in schools on army bases, was a typical squaddie. Know-all and tough, until someone challenges them. He reminded me a lot of a squaddie dad where I did a home visit to discuss his child's difficulties, in around 1990: said male had on a pair of very tight silky shorts with nothing on underneath, and spent the entirety of my visit sitting with his legs splayed. When I got my secretary to book the second visit, I got her to say that I would be accompanied by a male trainee. Needless to say, on that occasion, he was attired in full military uniform, with absolutely no stripes, even though the trainee was invisible. This version responded well to banter and gave away much more info than I expected. Again written down for future potential blackmail opportunities.

We're not allowed to leave the house unattended while building work is going on, or the insurance is invalidated, so, tomorrow, Mr BW is going South on his own again, for a week. There are bees to tend to, fruit to pick, medical appointments to attend, and maintenance and gardening to do.

Which leaves me in charge of the scaffolders, any builders that do actually turn up, cement pouring, the skip man, the builders' portaloo cleaning man (worst job in the world bar none), and anyone else who chooses to put in an appearance, including, hopefully the building inspector, but apparently they are very busy and are accepting photo evidence these days, which, given the near-on thousand pounds we have had to pay them for said inspections, I don't find very acceptable. Mr BW says I should leave it to Chief Builder to talk to them, but I think I should ring them, just to make contact, and to ask when they are planning to visit, because, well, it's possible that Chief Builder might claim 'holiday' as an excuse for the foundations not being inspected.

25 swallows have turned up in the past few days. They're spending a lot of time sitting on the electricity wire, and flying around the house. Given that the single storey bit (the original animal barn that we are bringing up to modern insulation and building standards and converting to a bedroom, bathroom, and craft room) now has no doors, and the floor is more than a metre deeper than it used to be, there is little chance that there won't be nest(s) before the batty ecology woman turns up to inspect the roof coming off the week after next. Anyone know how to keep swallows from nesting in the dark corners of the open roof and rafters in a 300+ year old building?

Over 100 cubic metres of the house we paid for has gone off in huge skips in the past 3 weeks, plus we have a 15 tonne pile of dug-out sandstone rocks and pillars in the field/orchard. The builders claim they have never seen old foundations - full of rocks and pillars from old buildings - like it. If only rocks could talk.

The builders aim is to put absoutely everything (except their fag packets, fag butts, confectionery and crisp bags) in the skips. My aim is to keep anything reusable out of the skips.

Football? What's football?

There are lots of wasps around.

 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Building Days 7, 8, and 9

How is it July already? Where do the days go?

Year Before Last's Apprentice and Modern Slave Labourer turned up again on Tuesday, and carried on digging out the concrete floor. Chief Builder arrived with half tonne steel plates which, with the help of a digger, were placed over the cattle grid at the end of the track to protect it from gigantic lorries collecting and delivering. 'The lads' went home early, because, well, you know, football.

On Wednesday, YBLA turned up in his own. MSL apparently had a hangover. One young person working on his own excavating with a kango hammer, and huge angle-grinder/cutter, in an inside area having live electricity and water because the requisite trades still haven't appeared to isolate them, then humping squeaky barrowloads of concrete and soil to a large skip, in domestic premises in the middle of nowhere, 30 miles from a hospital trauma centre, must surely be against common sense, let alone rules. Chief Builder, summoned before us to discuss this and other matters, failed to materialise, with no good excuse.

On Thursday YBLA turned up on his own again, in a foul mood, saying that MSL had failed to appear at the designated pick-up point again. A 2-day hangover! Chief Builder failed to turn up at 9am as promised and eventually put in an appearance at 10.15am claiming a road closure and his inability to follow a diversion. Listen mate, I was born 21,381 days ago, not yesterday.

Chief Builder assured us that one young lad working on his own with big power tools was definitely fine, but backtracked when I wondered aloud what the HSE would say if an accident were to occur. Ultimate responsibiity for a site lies with the property owner, and I am not prepared to provide cover for him stretching his resource too thinly, and neither will I accept the responsibility for having to be present and able to cope with any accident. I could, and am unflappable in a crisis involving blood and guts, but I'm not going to.

Apparently there will be two again tomorrow (and no-one will be seeing MSL again), three on Monday, and, miraculously, the pricing of the next phase has reduced by £6K because (a) we had queried it, and (b) he had a drawing with one extra window on it than we now require, so his estimator had got it wrong. What did we think about the new price? "It's a good start..." we suggested, and left it with him to think rather harder.

I think we now understand each other a little better, and he's understood that the skip is not the place to put anything that might possbily have another use: for instance, about a tonne of beautiful sandstone (unearthed from under the concrete), any wood, any copper piping, or 3 traffic cones. I sent him home to look up 'Clangers' and 'Wombles' on You Tube. When you're raised on those philosophies, it's hard to break the habits of a lifetime... waste not want not... but why do these values seem totally incomprehensible to almost anyone born after the internet?

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Building Day 6

Today we had Senior Apprentice and some Local Modern Slave* we've not seen before, who seems extremely nervous and not to want to give us his name, saying, "I'm just a worker!" and believing that he shouldn't be entitled to cups of coffee or bottles of cold water because, "I'm just a worker!"

Rather fewer sounds of demolition than I would have liked to hear this morning (actually, exactly the amount I would like to hear, but that won't get the floor up and into the skip by the end of the week, as per the provided schedule), and rather overly long tea and lunch breaks, but they ramped it up this afternoon and more than doubled the amount in the large (30 cubic metre) skip. At times they had 2 kango hammers going and, although they have masks against the dust, neither of them are wearing proper ear protection (I think that what they have are phone/music buds), and no eye protection. Ah, the folly of youth, but I'm not their boss (conspicuous by his absence) or their mother, so what they choose to do is up to them.

4 more coffees dispensed, and lots of cold water. The totals now elude me. What a lightweight... gave up counting before even 10% of the project was done.

Gorgeous day - hot bright sunshine and 29 degrees on the thermometer on the wall (not in the shade) and 27.5 degrees on the thermometer in the shade. It seems to have been raining in the south (CCTV and an online solar panel monitoring system are useful tools). I am more and more convinced that the reputation of the north east for being wet and cold is solely to keep the majority of southerners away (and long may that last).

Hermes delivered my centred OS map in a sturdy tube that they'd somehow managed to crease (looked like several employees had been repeatedly hitting each other over the head with it), and Amazon thought it aceptable to leave a package 400 metres away at the end of the track, behind the bins (first time for everything, and I hope, after what I said to the Amazon 'agent' in some far off land that it will be the last).

I washed lots and lots and lots of pots, and directed Mr BW in planting out lots of plants. We now have a new stone slope up into the greenhouse, and have decided on placements for some of our MrBW-crafted sculptures. More things must have happened, but I can't now remember what. Noise is so exhausting, and I'm just glad that we banned builders' radios from the outset.


* or I may just have been over-extrapolating from a recent Archers' storyline

I'm sure I will have some time to sort out the photos soon...

 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Look! Grasses have stalks!

By 9.45am we had already been into Nearest-but-that-is-not-Very-Near Local Town and returned, with a new pair of glasses for me. That was the first time I'd been off the property for a whole month.

Usually, on a Sunday, at that time, we'd be just about thinking about getting up, having caught up on the week's gardening programmes. I was surprised that the opticians opened at 9am on a Sunday, but if it helped me avoid People, I was up for it.

Four weeks after my eye test, I got to get the new glasses I should have had in October 2019, had they had frames that were narrow enough to fit my high index lenses. In October 2019, my glasses were already 4 years old, stratched, bent, and beyond their best. Since them, I've limped them on, bent them accidentally, knocked them off centre, and not dared to attempt to bend them back myself. Are there online videos telling you how to adjust your own glasses? I suspect it's a bit like reversing a trailer - you go the counter-intuitive way, but, I've never dared try.

It was a revelation, finding that ground had grit, walls had discrete stones, and grass and plants had stalks. I was about 10 the last time I had such a revelation. That was when my eyesight first deteriorated rapidly, such that I needed glasses. My previous optician seemed to believe that my eyes should 'work harder' and that 'over-correcting at your age' wasn't a good thing. At least I can see, in the distance, and near-to, clearly again. I don't want to wear my contact lenses now... and given that I generally wear lenses most days, that's not so good. I guess that is a return trip to sort out my contact lenses, sometime soon. Given that, on recent evidence, and not wishing to tempt fate, it would seem that my eyes are likely to last less time than me, I suppose it makes sense to get the maximum Value out of their peak functioning.

Later we did some more bits in the garden. Planted lots more of the plants that we'd grown from seed, or relocated from Coven Sud. Just because the single storey bit of the house is a building site, the double storey bit is full of the single storey's bits, such that it resembles a bomb site (that is, an atomic bomb site), and the veg garden is ful of weeds and encroaching grass, doesn't mean that the flower garden has to be anything other than Open Gardens standard :)

Five more days of torture start tomorrow morning...

 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Building Day 5

Two apprentices here on their own, on a Friday. That was bound to be start at 8.45am, finish at 2.20pm, three quarters of an hour for morning 'break' (should have been 15 minutes), and a request to borrow an 'i-phone charger' cable at 10am. "No i-crap here mate!" Said Mr BW (actually, he didn't, he asked me and I remembered that, luckily for them, we had a multi-charger corporate gift item in the car).

2 more teas and 2 more coffees dispensed. How do people manage to keep on top of counting things over the longer term? My abacus is full already and we're only at the end of Week 1.

Weather? Grey and cold. Unimpressive.

What did they do? A tiny bit more plaster off the walls and a tiny bit more old concrete floor up. Mr BW said he'd tell Chief Builder. I suggested he didn't. But I did sigh.

What did I do? Sleep. Noise is very tiring. That and preparing for 'building starting' and 'uncertain future'.

What did Mr BW do? Lots of outdoor jobs. No idea what, but things happened.

 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Building Day 4

Weather: grey and cool first thing, sunny and warm (low 20s) this afternoon, rain this evening. The first for many many weeks. Seems to have stopped already, mind... but more for tomorrow, hopefully.

Accomplished by builders: some, but not enough, noise. The old wall between the garage and the 'store room' disappeared. But the floor in the old 'store room' is apparently too hard for their tools, so they've got to 'square it off and then dig it out' tomorrow. We're being assigned the year before last's apprentice and this year's apprentice for that. The Bosses are going to be elsewhere. We will keep the young lads' noses to the grindstone floor. Not as much as we expected in the 30 cubic metre RORO concrete skip by the time they left this afternoon. I'm really amazed by how the 300+ year old stone walls of the house absorb noise when they are inside and we are outside.

Accomplished by us: Mr BW put in the stakes for the new dahlia bed, and I beautified and he planted out the bright colour dahlias we've grown on in the greenhouse for that bed, and the maroons and whites for the long hedge border, and the ricinus for that border. Still have the pinks, magentas and purples for the new top border to plant, hopefully tomorrow.

Refreshment stats: Total Teas dispensed: 14; Total Coffees dispensed: 8. The young lads seem to prefer their caffeine from coke.

Sorry, still haven't managed the pictures. I will catch up and get them inserted. I blame Microsoft's updates for taking up the spare space on my little netbook with failed update files that refuse to delete, so I haven't enough space to download photos and process them for publishing. That requires me being at the desktop, which requires me being vertical, which isn't possible after 6pm currently.

 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Building Day 3

Weather: cold, grey and decidedly autumnal. Sun didn't appear all day.

Accomplished by builders: noise, noise, and more noise. About an hour after they arrived, The Very New Apprentice was sent to fetch Mr BW: "Erm a capping end has come off the pipe where the radiator was, can you turn off the water urgently?" Erm yes, he could, but it wouldn't make any difference, they are separate systems. Luckily lessons learnt from Errant Plumber's erring (*shudders at the nightmare memory*) enabled Mr BW to quickly fix the problem. That's three times in three days that he's saved their bacon now.

Small skip delivered early on (and filled with 8 cubic metres of plaster off the walls), gigantic RORO skip delivered (takes concrete only which is then crushed and sold back for building as 'Type 1'), and portaloo delivered (do you know, they are currently on a 5 week lead time?!) and placed outwith the boundaries, but in full view/smell from the top garden where I am currently working. No, I didn't think so either, so they picked it up and moved it, "Nae bother!" The stone of the inner walls under the plaster is beautiful. If only there were a way to insulate the walls without covering the stone up.

Accomplished by us: Mr BW dug new bean beds, and planted out various other veg seedlings, and contributed to the third day of the consultation on the change of airspace usage in the south-east (looks like all our campaigning to 'spread the noise pain' over the past 10 years is finally paying off, rather too late for us though); I pricked out flower and herb seedlings in the greenhouse until I had such a bad headache from the din that it was thudding in time with their kango hammers, at which point I felt very cold, very unwell, and dragged myself upstairs, had a delicious 'from the garden' salad that Mr BW made for lunch and then crept under the duvet, trying to get warm, and fell asleep for most of the afternoon, despite the noise and vibrations (luckily our current bedroom is at the far end of the longhouse, so at the furthest point from the works).

Refreshment stats: Total Teas dispensed: 13; Total Coffees dispensed: 6.

And government: hands off Channel 4! Yet another 'consultation' aiming to sell it off to some foreign private owner, after 39 years of great PSB. The Media Show on Radio 4 today had one of the best interviews that I have heard for a long long time, on the subject. Balanced, informative, and non-shouty.

Builders plans for tomorrow: even more noise as the thick, old, concrete floors have to come up. If I'm feeling better I may have to go out just to escape the noise and vibration.


I'll insert pictures tomorrow. Too tired tonight to download and resize and upload and I don't want to get behind in the Building Diaries or I'll never catch up.

 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Building Day 2

Weather: calm, sunny and warm (low 20s). Totally different to yesterday; nearly resembled misdsummer.

Accomplished by builders: all ceilings down now, huge pile of insulation, another one of wood, piles of carpet in the orchard (will be laid flat and used to kill off grass before planting more wild flower seeds in the autumn - the buiders think I'm mad) new radiators removed (being reused later, luckily Mr BW had 4 blanking plates for them to use to seal them off as they hadn't got any), and the door between the house and the single storey bit they are working on all removed (also being reused - apprentice being taught how to use an electric screwdriver to do it - HMOG, I could have done better with my non-dominant hand) and the resulting hole sealed from both sides as decreed necessary by the insurers (the apprentice was sent to ask, "Mr BW, do you have a sealant gun we could borrow please?"). Dry rot, woodworm, gaps where the roof joins the main building, bad quality joists and other timber holding the roof up, bad timber joins and holes in the roof. All unspotted by the surveyor... thank goodness we are replacing all of that! Skips haven't arrived, portaloo hasn't arrived. Makes me feel slightly better that the builder, with all his contacts, is having exactly the same problems we have been in getting anything done or delivered up here! Apparently the excuse for the non appearance of the large skip was, "We've had a power cut and can't get into our delivery systems!" Boss Builder was as dubious of that one from the Bumper Book of Excuses as I would have been... especially when he gave them the order number and delivery address, and they said they still couldn't deliver today.

Accomplished by us: Mr BW finished my new flower bed, up near the new shed (story of that to follow), edged the new dahlia bed with the bricks he brought up from down south last weekend (bricks filled the car footwell on the passenger side to make up for my weighty absence), planted another whirly gig spike in the garden grass (Not An Architect the Architect had a fit when he saw we'd planted the first one in the orchard, "The Planners will have a field day when they visit to assess the site, you can't have that there - they'll be wanting you to apply for change of use for that field!" - 500 new trees and hundreds of thousands of wild flower seeds planted, an area for 10 colonies of bees created, but it now counts as garden because we have put a washing line up a couple of yards into it? FFS!), and I fluffed about, planted a few plants, watered a few more, pulled some dead bits off others, cooked a few things, and generally oversaw proceedings.

Refreshment stats: Total Teas dispensed: 10; Total Coffees dispensed: 4. I have decided to get "builders' tea" with the delivered groceries this week rather than give them the Twinings we drink. With the number of sugars they have, they'll never notice, and we'll save tens of pounds over the many weeks they will be here. Any tips for cheap tea that is OK?

 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Midsummer Day?

Thank you for all your kind comments to the post below. I never knew you cared ;)

I'm surprised by how much I've been shaken up by the events of the last month: not least because the thought of potentially coping with a seriously ill - or worse - person and being stuck in the middle of building works for the next year plus (on and off), and the impossibility of finding people with the skills to do the bits that Mr BW intended to do, and coping with 'the builders' and their little ways seemed beyond daunting, particularly if I were to end up with another detached retina, and so be unable to drive for several months.
.
Mr BW never thought it would happen (he will never see the bad in situations, he's a definite 'glass half full person', which is lovely to live with, but sometimes also infuriating) but I had already over-thought and investigated everything: the best hospitals, the best surgeons, and knew all the potential outcomes (I'm not even a 'glass half empty' person, I'm a 'Who broke the bloody glass and how much is it going to cost to fix it, and where the hell are we going to find that person?' type). Luckily he was correct, the radiologist confirmed that he had 'no aliens on board' and luckier still we now live somewhere where there is no extraneous noise, which will make coping with only one ear that works easier. It's still a mystery as to why it happened though, and I'm not keen on unsolved mysteries.

I think our different approaches could be something to do with the careers we've had - engineers always think they can fix things, those of us who have worked with people and systems know that sometimes there is no way to fix things and one needs to look realistically at damage limitation or changing what's going on.

A few more googlies went into the mix while we were madly dashing about trying to get the single storey bit emptied ready for the conversion work to start today, including Mr BW doing his back in by still thinking he's nearer to 30 than to 60, and not lifting with his back brace on (fortunately better now as I insisted he lift absoutely nothing heavier than a tea cup for 2 weeks). And... something I didn't know... these days (starting within the past 5 years), most buildings insurers will not cover you for any building work costing more than £20K and simply cancel your policy from the date you tell them that the building work is to start, and pay you back the premium for days not used, pro rata. It is VERY hard to find a specialist insurance company to cover buildings and contents while major building work is occurring... we had a quote for £1,900 with so many exclusions it wasn't worth having. I eventually found a specialist broker, who found a policy that would cover the part of the house not being worked on, for 'just' four times the previous premium we were paying, but I am yet to receive the policy documents, despite chasing them 3 times.

We currently have a living room full of Mr BW's expensive tools, and sealants and paint that would otherwise be affected by heat, a conservatory full of boxes and packing materials, the downstairs corridor full of radiators and tool chests, and mess everywhere. 18 months ago I would have been dismayed by this state of affairs, and not having a weekly cleaner, but now I think it is faintly amusing and almost don't notice.

Building Day 1: the two Boss Builders turned up at 9.30am, donned hazsuits, took down the very old and very naughty garage ceiling, stuck it on a pallet, took delivery of some boyz toyz, and were gone by 1pm.

Tomorrow, apparently, is to be the noisiest day. The very old concrete floors, on various different levels, are coming up (to make everything on one-level and to enable modern insulation and damp proofing to be laid) and the wall plaster is coming off (again to allow proper insulation to be installed) and the ceilings that aren't naughty are to be removed. More than one skip full I'm guessing.

Refreshment tally: Total Teas dispensed: 2; Total Cofees dispensed: 2.
I shall attempt to keep a running total. We've agreed that we will provide refreshments at 10am (their morning break) and 12.30pm (their lunch break) only - when we are here - not because we are mean, but because I cannot cope with 15 weeks of being a tea lady and never knowing who wants what and when, and constantly feeling pressured by the need to boil kettles.

Weather: grey and cold with very light drizzle for about an hour, up until about 6pm, when the sun came out. We nearly lit the log burner at lunchtime. Not at all midsummery.

 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Update

The last few weeks have been difficult.

So difficult that there has been no time or spare brain space for doing anything other than getting through each day and surviving.

Health problems - unexplained sudden total deafness in one ear: suspected brain tumour, malfunctioning NHS leaving necessary urgent investigation uninvestigated resulting in a 3 day 680 mile round trip to secure the necessary (but had to be paid for) MRI scan, which fortunately, after 16 days of worry, showed nothing conclusive; falling over, four times (you know you are getting old when...) and optician-spotted detaching vitreous gel in both eyes, and another likely detached retina(s); three trips down south - and every time we went, such bad weather that it was almost impossible to accomplish all that was needed to care for the b33s and the garden; and an ailing remaining parent, previously healthier than almost anyone her age (a pre-covid virus now causing life-threatening symptoms, and, yes, yet more malfunctioning uncaring NHS).

Tonight we realised we are already nearly back to the level of food self-sufficiency that we enjoyed down south: dinner of kale, brocolli, courgettes, chard, eggs and various home-made condiments. We have b33s up here (but not all of them) and the greenhouse is earning its keep. We have more relocated, divided, propogated and sown plants than we have garden for, but we now have half an acre more than we did 2 months ago, although this is supposedly restricted to being a wildlife and orchard area. But, unlike down south, there has been absolutely no rain and the water butts are all empty.

Tomorrow at 8am - after many weeks of pushing extremely well paid professionals to do what we are paying them for, and to do it without inbuilt delays, errors, mistakes, typos and omissions - we start a 15 week building project.

And that is just Phase 1. Phases 2a and 2b will follow.

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Another tech question

It appears that I asked the wrong question. Or at least not the most critical question.

Just exploring the suggestions Sarah, Lyle, NiC ant Tim kindly made to my earlier question, I hadn't realised that the problem is actually that Mr BW is trying to upload gigantic (eg 100MB) files as he is unable to use the formerly-free MS MovieMaker (for video) or the (old, CD) version of Photoshop we already have, since getting his new laptop.

To do things that were once free in MovieMaker, now requires the paid version in MovieMaker21. Not needing to use it for anything beyond entertaining his Mum - and some long-suffering friends - with renovation and sheep videos, and not being flush with spare money right now (living between two houses and tradesmen munch through money faster than a shopaholic released after lockdown), we could also do with some advice on free (or reasonable one-off payments rather than monthly subscriptions) video editing and photo-editing software.

Photoshop still works for me, on my newish desktop PC (but that is only available to him when North, of course), and we are running the same version of Windows 10 on both machines, so I have no idea why it no longer works for him. MS Paint doesn't do enough for his needs - which are currently annotating drawings and designs with changes needed because the senders haven't listened to and/or made notes of what we said to them in the first instance, so assume they know better than us what we want, which of course they don't, because we always do our research and make our decisions before engaging paid others.

Posted at 11:49 AM | Comments (5)

Tech question

Please can anyone recommend a good free service that enables image and video files to be uploaded and then sent to someone else as a link?

Up north our internet is never more than 2MB and frequently much less. Down south, where we supposedly have 'ultrafast', it's now running at less than 4MB most of the time. It did get up to 7 or 8 MB when it was first connected (it's only FTTC and the cabinet is 2 miles away) but the sheer number of new houses built recently between us and the cabinet has dropped it right back again.

We're not able to send large files to anyone as they won't upload, and they are still too big when zipped. With a laptop plugged directly into the router, a large (20MB) file will (usually) upload overnight. Even files around 5-6MB will send 5 times (every time) when Mr BW tries to send them as attachments to emails (using gmail). I guess that is the instability of the connection?

Dropbox isn't working any more, even setting up a new account from a different email address, and we are totally out of date with any ideas for alternatives. Trying to send and receive files from architects, builders, designers etc etc is proving extremely trying. To put it mildly. But not (quite) as trying as their continued failure to meet their own deadlines. Covid was a great excuse 14 months ago, but it's getting rather too convenient now.

 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

One of the most impactful visual messages I've ever seen


When we holidayed in Numberland I used to get really cross that their plastic recycling hadn't moved on in 15 years. Only plastic bottles and milk cartons could be recycled. Everything else had to be put in the 'landfill' bin.

That remains the case today, but I am no longer upset by it, because, after we became residents of the area, intending to complain to the County Council about their pathetic recycling policy, I did some proper research and discovered (to my surprise) that the contents of 'landfill' bins actually go to Teesside where they are used to make electricity, and the gases emitted from burning it are dealt with better than if the plastics were exported and burnt in the open air in - for example, as has emerged this week - Turkey. However, the Council do seem very bad at informing residents of this, and promoting what they are doing: no-one locally seems to know this, unless they go to a lot of trouble to find out.

Plus, the construction of an even more state-of-the-art plastic disposal plant is currently underway in the same place.

According to a 2017 study in Science Advances, as of 2015, approximately 6300 Megatonnes (so 6,300,000,000 tonnes or 6,300 billion kg) of plastic has been produced globally, but only 9% has ever been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and 79% has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. And eight million tonnes of plastics find their way into the oceans every year.

Down south, I used to think that it was wonderful that we could put any type of plastic into the 'recycling' bin. And then came the revelation that many councils in the East of England were gaining awards for the amount their residents were recycling, while all the time simply exporting the waste to China, who accepted it for 30 years, before banning all imports of used plastics from the rest of the world in 2017, so moving the problem to other southeast Asian countries temporarily. Many of these countries now have their own official bans on importing plastic waste, so I suspect that smaller African countries will increasingly become the next dumping ground.

As I always say, we don't have a plastics problem in this country, we have a plastics disposal problem, and a complete lack of willigness of many packaging manufacturers to consider using alternative materials until they are forced to by legislation, and grocery chains' buyers who are unwilling to specify non-plastic packaging when negotiating contracts.

The only real drawback to online grocery shopping I've found is that it is impossible to avoid getting more plastic packaging than I'd like, or choose myself. I refuse to put any plastic bags, bottles, pots, cartons or trays into the waste bin until they have been re-used by us until they absolutely can't be reused any more. Mr BW often tries to sneak such items into the landfill bin, but I take them out again. Which means that we too are drowning in piles of plastic, because it comes in faster than we can completely re-use it to the end of its life. Sadly, there don't seem to be any easy answers to the world's packaging problems.

Posted at 10:50 AM | Comments (5)
 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reusing bath water

Despite what water companies would have you think, I have long thought that a partially-full, narrow-design bath uses a lot less water than anything but the shortest of showers.

Additionally, hot water is good for soothing muscular aches and pains, which reduces or alleviates reliance on pain killers. But, even with a 'small bath' it always seems a big waste to simply let the used water down the plug hole, when it could, with the right gadget, easily be used to flush the toilet.

Does such a gadget exist? Not that I can find. A gallon bucket works, yes, for the first bit of the used water, but not for use by anyone infirm, clumsy, or children. To use all the water requires a jug to fill the bucket, and the line between wishing to be environmentally friendly and frustration is easily crossed as the level of the used water reduces.

During a very dry summer down south a few years ago, when there was a hosepipe ban, I once tried to empty the (ground floor) bath, through the bathroom window, onto the flower border outside the window, using one of those small water butt submersible pumps. I succeeded only in covering the walls, ceiling and floor of the bathroom with water. The pump was not powerful enough to raise the water from bath to window, so the jubilee clip holding the pipe onto the pump body came off.

Once we've finished renovations and extensions here, I shall have to get Mr BW to invent a gadget to use bathwater for toilet flushing. It will have to have some sort of a tank which can be fast-released, as slow flow won't always work. My 'bucket experiments' have taught me that much. I'll leave you to think about that one, and hope you're not eating while you're reading. If I see my device on Dragons' Den before Mr BW has got round to inventing it, I'll know the inventor is a BW reader. Mind you'd I'd happily give up the idea to an inventor for a couple of free gadgets. I neither want nor need to run such a company, only to save millions of litres of drinking-standard water from being used to flush toilets every year.

Now that we are soon to start converting the existing single-storey part of the longhouse (currently a large walk-through store room and a garage) into a downstairs bedroom with en suite and a 'hard materials' craft room, I've been researching ways to prevent used sink, shower and bath water (greywater) from entering the septic tank system, and so being able to use it in the garden or on the trees in the field.

We do this at Coven Sud from our upstairs shower room, where water runs down a thin external waste water soil pipe into a water butt and then out of the bottom of the water butt to the long border flower garden via a length of corrugated black plastic piping. We've never had a problem with cleaning fluids being mixed into the water, but that shower room isn't used much, so I need a better system for diverting water from the new 'greywater for reuse' system when cleaning (roll on the day we can find a cleaner - the lack of availability of same in these parts is absolutely the only negative thing about Coven Nord).

I've found this device, but it means going outside and turning a valve on a device every time you don't want the greywater runing into the re-use system, which is a novelty that would soon wear off, especially in winter, I'm sure.

We don't want to store the water, as it can always be used immediately, so don't need a filtration system (either UV, chemical, or sand). We know it works: we've been doing it for 15 years down south but we have "Architect who is Not an Architect" and the builder telling us that we shouldn't be doing it. I don't believe this is true (what's the difference between the water diverting off for irrigation of non-edibles before the septic tank, or passing through the septic tank and out of the spreader drains?), and it won't stop us anyway. We've finally got the drawings to show the new bathroom's greywater exiting the wall in a separate pipe to the blackwater pipe, and we'll divert it ourselves when they have gone.

But surely the people who specify and build should get themselves a bit more clued up about being environmentally conscious and friendly, by simple modifications to new systems, where it's possible?

 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Today's the day...

... that the countdown to the next lockdown in England starts.

Relying on the population of England to be sensible is not going to work.

Yesterday's new cases reported (under-reported due to it being Sunday): 1,926
7 day average of new cases reported: 2,274

Why the government are not pushing the free home testing kits harder is beyond me. If each person tested themself before going out to mix, the likelihood of another lockdown would reduce dramatically. As it is, I suspect that those who are self-testing are those who are the most careful anyway. It amuses me that the home-testing kits are made in China.

 

Friday, May 14, 2021

The best excuse yet

I'm in the middle of chasing people who have not done things they should have by dates they set.

I seem to be spoiling the plans of most of them for a POETS day, and hopefully their weekends.

The best excuse so far... "Oh yes, I needed to talk to you about that, but I only had an email address!"

I won't tell you what I said to that.


Time for some more soothing tulips methinks:

 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Ballerinas


Because we could all do with some colour in our lives... or soothing pictures to look at so we don't murder non-appearing delivery drivers and non-obliging operatives who repeatedly fail to meet their own deadlines, and let us know why they can't and when they will be able to.

Posted at 12:55 PM | Comments (4)
 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Reuse is better than recycling

Because we had just moved and gone into Lockdown 1 last March, I failed to notice that Laura Ashley had gone into liquidation, so failed to stock up on bedlinen in the closing down sale.

Because Laura Ashley cotton duvet covers and pillowcase - that I have bought for many years - have become less and less durable, as they lowered the quality of the fabric, but not the prices, we now find ourselves with disintegrated bedlinen. Totally and utterly falling apart as the cotton threads disintegrate.

I've mended the duvet covers several times in the past year with fabric glue crystals and parts of the backs of pillowcases that had not disintegrated, but the threads have now gone around the edges of the patches. Turn over in the night and the ripping sounds wake you up. The old covers and pillowcases will make great cleaning/polising cloths, and then compost, but they are now beyond usable for their original purpose.

I like simple cotton bedlinen, in pale colours, but not totally white, that can be non-iron (if one is careful pegging it out on the washing line), and have been buying Laura Ashley's Imogen, in duck-egg blue for many years, but only when it is 60% off in sales. £90 for a superking duvet cover at full price and £40 for a pair of Oxford pillowcases was just too much.

This is what it looks like (picture stolen from the internet):

I've looked around online for something similar, in cotton, at a sensible price, but just cannot find anything.

A lot of duvet covers aren't made in superking size, and the only design I've found that I like is £160, and that is without pillowcases at £45 a pair. As I always buy 3 sets at a time, with 4 pillowcases per duvet cover, £750 for bedlinen is just too much, especially at the moment. No, actually, it's too much at any time. For £750 it needs to come with a free bed.

Last week I thought I'd found something suitable, from a hotel supply company from whom I've previously bought high quality deep fitted sheets, white towels and flannels. When it turned up it had no buttons or poppers on the bottom, and holes in the top corners, presumably for ease of changing by chambermaids . Plus it came out of the packet looking like it had been screwed up in a ball for 3 months, so goodness knows what it would look like after washing. So that went back.

Now, in looking for a picture to illustrate Imogen here, I have just discovered that Laura Ashley is now back, at Next. Presumably the brand name was bought from the administrators?

I haven't had time to investigate the offering yet, but unless the quality of the cotton in the fabric has improved, I'm not convinced it will be worth the cost. I've never bought from Next - do they have sales and vouchers?

Does anyone have any recommendations for places to buy good quality cotton duvet covers, please?

In the meantime, we found a 10+ year old duvet cover in the 'old bedlinen for use as dustsheets when decorating' bag which is now washed and back on the bed. Unbelievably it hadn't got any paint on it, and it is still like new, probably because it wasn't used much as it was totally the wrong colour when we re-did our bedroom down south. Actually, I think that was in 2008, so it's 13 years old.

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bleak House

A depressingly clear pattern across the likely bills in today's Queen's Speech: planning laws quashed further, repeal of the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act (General Election coming again soon, before the penny drops), voter suppression through new requirement for photo ID (moving the constituency boundaries already happening, National ID cards on the agenda again), reform of judicial review, continuation of policing bill to further restrict protests.

All these bills expand the power of the 80-seat majority Conservative government and undermine anything that might challenge it.

Those turkeys who moan about What Thatcher Did seem to have voted for Christmas.

Opposition? What opposition? Welcome to autocracy. Johnson's sister spilled the beans about her brother wanting to be 'World King' several years ago.

Anne Robinson is taking over Countdown imminently.

 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Another Great North Run

We woke early yesterday so left at 6.30am, as LNER (for non-UK readers, this is the main north-south east coast railway which runs from London to Scotland) had no trains running and we were concerned that would put lots of traffic onto the A1. It didn't and we had an amazingly quick run up. We had a huge amount of weight in the van, which made braking interesting, but luckily we didn't have to do a lot of it. Then 3 hours to unload (and that was just to put things in piles, not sort it), and the van was back with the hire company by 3.30pm.

As for getting it all sorted soon, not a hope!

Until the store room and garage (the single storey currently uninsulated and uninhabitable by humans bit) are converted, everything else is going to remain a mess as there is no point doing any more decorating etc as the rest of the house will all get filthy while the proper insulation (existing walls and floor and roof have to come off/up) and reroofing is happening. Plus, everything currently in the garage and storeroom has to go into the rest of the house (or conservatory, or into a not yet constructed shed) while it is being done. This conversion may (or may not) be starting in mid-June... We are using the same builders who did the greenhouse base, so at least we know they are pleasant, reliable, and do a good job, even if we don't know exactly when they will be starting.

Mr BW has to lay the concrete base for a shed before the middle of next week, and then we have to put it up. It's a sturdy plastic one that has been in bits under a tarpaulin at Coven Sud for 18 months - we bought it to replace the 22 year old rotting wooden beeshed, before we found Coven Nord - then we can put away the garden stuff we brought up yesterday. Ha ha!

Weather here today is beautiful, 13 degrees already. Hope it is as good where you are.

Posted at 10:29 AM | Comments (3)
 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

While the mice are down south the cat will...

...not to able to access her new favourite place in the big greenhouse:

We did have to double check that she hadn't got locked in again though.

Good run down in Luton 5 yesterday, but loads of traffic. Still the professional drivers not the idiots, luckily... and the gantry signs are still saying 'MINIMISE TRAVEL'. But after the 17th, I dread to think how long a 5 and a quarter hour journey will take.

This time we are taking up yet more gardening stuff, and records (although I think one has to call them 'vinyl' these days?) and CDs so we can finally, 400-odd days on, have music of choice again. We've had a couple of dozen of our favourite CDs up there, but most are now annoyingly at the 'jumping' stage, and sadly I don't think it is because the laser needs a clean. So much for CDs being indestructible, which was initially their main selling point...

The living room has a wooden floor, so the sound is fantastic, just as good as down here, but only because we have 1980s stereo system stacks (4 actually: 2 Sony and 2 Technics, being our single-days equipment, plus one of each donated by people decluttering). They don't make 'em like that anymore, and I hate the lack of sound quality in digital music, which is why I only have one track in that format. Call me a dinosaur if you like, but if you want to, I'll be a stegosaurus thanks, because they have Witchy Hat Backs, and they were vegetarians.

Mr BW told me that I mustn't look/shudder when we moved the tall bookcase/music unit (he did, last time we were down, when he packed its contents ready to move up in this van trip) but, I of course did anyway, and couldn't see what he was talking about, so Cleaner BW must have sorted it. bless her. I must reapply myself to spells to get her to relocate to the north.

Mr BW got a lot loaded yesterday afternoon/evening, due to the awful weather forecast for today (heavy rain and strong winds), but it looks like it is easing off later, hence the (rare when we are south as there is still so much to sort and pack) lazy start to the morning. Time to get up...

Posted at 10:06 AM | Comments (5)
 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Climate change


Yesterday there was a weird temperature inversion in the valley around 6.30am:

This morning there was snow on the distant higher hills to the south, and a medium hard frost:

There were hailstones the size of 10ps yesterday lunchtime, and then thunder and lightning (but no rain) when we were trying to plant fruit trees in the new field. It's the 6th of May for goodness sake!!

One tree (3 stakes, 3 ties, and chicken wire - very windy and pesty round here):

6 more fruit trees - to add to the 4 fruit trees and 500 hawthorn, dogrose, willow, hazel, silver birch, wild plum and bullace already planted:

The free water butt refill service has been working well during the past week, and we are now fully topped up again, despite having used some as it was falling (so over 4 cubic metres have been harvested from the various roofs).

It's cold here for the time of year - the coldest early May Bank Holiday since records began (the weather woman on TV said in 1978, but I'd have hoped they had records from before that!) and not more than 10°-12°C by day and a couple of degrees at night. There have also been strong winds, mostly from the north, so, with the added wind-chill, it has been bitterly cold, and I have been wearing thermals when outside, despite it being May. There was also a double rainbow:

On a positive note though, the wind has blown away the clouds late in the day, clearing the skies, and the stars and Milky Way have been amazing the last couple of nights, in the absence of any Moon. The ISS is passing overhead later on, so tonight will undoubtedly be the one night I sleep through...

Being cold, the spring bulbs have lasted longer than normal, with the different sorts overlapping more than they ever have down south. Most pleasing, once Mr BW had relocated the rogue yellow narcissi from the white border along the back hedge to the new field/orchard.



Looking at the narcissi that have come up, only about half of them are the varieties I actually ordered.

Some of the tulips are also incorrect, notably the 'Red Riding Hood' tulips, which have turned out yellow and red medium height and standard-shaped. This seems to be a general problemwith RRH tulips this year, as I've read of other people having this problem with these bulbs, purchased from several suppliers. Methinks a major mix-up in the growing or wholesaling chains. Easily done if the workers employed in such places don't speak and/or write English proficiently (and horticulture and warehousing are notorious for only paying minimum wage and so likely to be attracting such workers).

Have there been any frosts or rain where you are lately?

Brilliant special programme on R4's PM between 5pm and 6pm tonight: answering all those hard to find answers to, 'which is best environmentally?' questions. Although I thought that one of their answers was wrong and two more were rather suspect.

It's felt odd today, not going anywhere to vote. We applied for postal votes in both places as we're never sure where we will be from week to week. It's the first time ever (in 40 years) that I haven't voted in person, and I feel totally removed from the process. It is also the first time that I have done what most people always do and not researched all the candidates before casting my vote. Down south we had leaflets from only two candidates for the County Council seats (one of whom is from a residents' party who booted the Blues out of the District a couple of years ago, and are now doing good work locally, and the other a person I've been on local groups with and would never vote for as his 3 greatest causes are 1. himself, 2. himself, 3. himself) and up north we've only had leaflets from the Blues and Greens standing in the County Council seats. I try to only vote for people who can be bothered to arrange for a leaflet to come through my door, and the Blue candidate (Woopert) came to my door, stuffed a leaflet through the letterbox, and ran away as fast as he could, with his driver reversing so fast that they nearly hit the stone wall, even though I opened the door and indicacted that I wanted to speak to him, so my choices weren't difficult.

 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

We live in strange times

The Met Office report that:

" April 2021 had the lowest average minimum temperatures for April in the UK since 1922, as air frost and clear conditions combined for a frost-laden, chilly month, despite long hours of sunshine.

Early provisional figures from the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre indicate that April had the third lowest average UK minimum temperature for the month since records began in 1884, while Wales, Scotland and England all reported their figures in their top five lowest ever recorded. Average daily maximum temperatures were also below normal, but not by as much as the minimum temperatures.

It had already been reported that April had seen its highest level of air frost in 60 years, with an average of 13 days of air frost topping the previous record figure of 11 days in 1970 (records for air frost go back to 1960). This number of air frosts is more typical for December, January or February, whereas the average number of air frosts in April is five days. For gardeners and growers there were also a record high number of ground frosts with 22 days this month compared to an average of 12 days.

Despite the low minimum temperatures and frosts, much of the UK has been basked in sunshine through April, with all UK countries currently reporting sunshine hours for the month in their top five ever recorded since 1919. This has provisionally seen Scotland and Wales break their existing records for sunshine hours in the month, with the two countries seeing 57% and 45% more sunshine than their long term averages. For Scotland, this would represent the second year running that April’s sunshine hours have broken the existing record, with 2021’s current figure of 211.5 topping 2020’s 204.6 to top the standings.

The UK saw 48% more sunshine hours than April’s average figure, and every country in the UK saw at least 40% more sunshine than the long-term average. "

It's a struggle in the garden...


Other things challenging gardeners:

A shortage of bagged compost, as Ireland has closed its peat bogs permanently, and manufacturers haven't adequately secured new supply chains for alternative ingredients, notably wood chip. Wholesale growers are bemoaning large wood chips in so-called plug potting media, large increases in the price of compost, and less good growth in the new media available.

A shortage of plants, hence the gaps and reduced ranges in many plant nurseries, as wholesale growers started off, and potted on, very little last year due to uncertainties over future supply demands and sales possibilites.

Hugely rising prices of those plants there are, due to the government failing to adequately work out supply chains in from Europe. My nursery owner source told me that Boris Bodging has let to a totally unnecessary, and totally avoidable, £60 minimum per incoming cage trolley increase in wholesale prices. She reckons that there has been/will be a minimum increase of £3 per perennial plant that would normal retail around the £9.99 mark. She also said that many smaller growers are giving up after the events of last year and because they are being priced out of business by large retailers pushing their online offer.

Anyone got any more gardening challenges to add?

 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

"Tweeney seeevern yeeeerz"

On a tiny island in the Bahamas, 27 years old today, a very strange middle-aged woman from the Southern States annoyed us. Or maybe amused us. I can't quite remember now.

We had just got married, and every time we saw her, and her cowering husband, she drawled, "Do you know, weee've been maaarrieeed tweeney seeevern yeeeerzz!"

At the time I thought, "I hope I'm not like her when we get to 27!"

And so it came to pass that today, after a smoked salmon and scrambled egg breakfast, we visited our favourite NT garden first thing, and then went to see our nearest neighbour to collect a promised trailer full of tree branches to add to our new apiary wall, and dig up some wild garlic and other wild flowers that she was about to cover with mounds of soil (don't ask!), to transplant into the new orchard field.

And do you know what we said to her?

No, we didn't even mention that it was our anniversary.

It rained lightly yesterday, some last night, and a bit more today, for the first time in months. Half a water butt full in fact. Yippee! Apparently it's been the coldest April for 60 years, and there has only been 10% of the normal rainfall. And an unusually large number of frosty mornings. To our surprise, there has been very little difference in temperature between South and 300 miles North.

We enjoyed our anniversary dinner of avocado and prawns, followed by lemon baked basa with mushroom and lemon cream sauce, new potatoes with mint from the garden, sautéd courgettes (frozen from the garden last summer), fresh purple sprouting from the garden, and some nice dry Italian fizzy white.

And do you know what?

No, I just can't bring myself to say it.

But, I do now know the definition of 'true love'.

When we got back to Coven Nord on Monday afternoon with a trailer full of more plants to relocate, and 7 more new fruit trees (£17.50 and £20 each from Thrifty Nurseries down there, compared to £55 each up here: and they are all grown in just a few places in the UK), I discovered to my horror that the special white daffodils I'd planted in the autumn in the new long border along the back hedge had turned out to be bog-standard type and yellow. I don't like yellow. Especially not in a white, green, and maroon border. I've had rogue bulbs before, but never anything that frustrating and on that scale.

It annoyed me much more than it should have, but I was very tired. We were very tired, in fact. Mr BW spent last week dashing around digging plants up, taking things off walls, mending and repainting walls, cleaning things, empyting pots ready to transport, and generally packing stuff up. I achieved much less, but, in addition to keeping us fed and watered, and making future plans and arrangements, I did manage to clean and box up my cookery books, clear the shelves in the utility, and finish emptying out the Coven Sud potting area to relocate.

I often need to spend a day in bed to recharge after some busy days, but Mr BW rarely does. When he is still in his dressing gown at 11am, I know things are bad. But, despite being so tired, at some point yesterday, he managed, without me knowing or noticing, to dig up all the naughty turned-out-bright-yellow bulbs from the long border, because he knew they were really distressing me every time I looked out of a window, and relocate them to the area under the new silver birches in the field, where their yellowness will brighten the eventual shade.

Now that's what I call true love.

And do you know what?

No, it's no good, I still can't bring myself to say it.

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

In Con Sequentially

The news over the last ten days:

Distorted view of Covid - Phil's death and funeral - More Media towing The Party's message on Covid, without question or thinking - Football - Conservative sleeze and mud-slinging - Covid - Black Lives Matter reprise (US-based but bandwagon-jumpers in the UK believe it's exactly the same scenario here) - Covid - Covid+BLM in India - Conservative sleeze and excuse-making/lying...

How many of these stories do I actually really care about?

None. None at all. Tragic for those involved, certainly (apart from the football which should have had nothing to do with politics, but did), and while I am sympathetic to individuals' plight, they are not issues that should be, or need to be, force-fed to us non-stop. Most of these situations were totally predictable. Had the bigger picture been considered, and had proper advance planning been in place, things would not have got to the stage they have.

All Lives Matter, not just black ones, and if we don't stop marginalising and segmenting, our society is going backwards and not forwards.

How many of these stories will still be important in a year's time? In 5 year's time? In 10 year's time? Hmmmm.

There are so many more huge country and world issues that should be concerning the heads of our great leaders that are just not getting any attention in the ridiculous and relentless focus on one particular coronavirus (the first of many no doubt).

The so-called 'News' is now lighweight wiffle waffle, largely now presented by The Swipe Generation, personally and professionally 'curated' (their preferred and over-used term) to within an inch of their shallow, inconsequential, visually-based lives. If it doesn't come in carefully-cut soundbites, or able to be summed up in one line and sent out to their loyal followers who hang on and re-broadcast their every word, they're not interested.

Who cares whether Boris Johnson is so shallow that he spent £200,000 (only just less than the average price of a home in the UK) to erase Theresa May's John Lewis touches from the Downing Street flat in favour of some trendy designer's ideas to delight Carrie Symonds? Not me.

I am fast believing what a woman boss of BBC Radio (whose name I never did catch) said at the beginning of the year when Feedback type programmes were reporting that older regular listeners to Radio 4's Woman's Hour were turning off in droves as they found the 36 year old new presenter abrasive and inflammatory... "If they don't like it, tough, they are no longer our target demographic."

Perhaps not, but I'd posit that the exodus of older women from the live broadcast will eventually lead to the demise of the programme. Unless live broadcasts become obsolete in favour of 'podcasts', in which case, radio becomes obsolete. Interestingly, there are no recent Woman's Hour listener figures that I can find.

Even the new Woman's Hour Friday and Saturday presenter has been trotting out her personal 'ethnic minority' line at every opportunity in every interview, every time I have heard her. The woman who presents 'Any Answers?' (and sometimes now also 'Any Questions?') on R4 (Saturday lunchtimes) is also confrontational and belittling to callers, to the extent that I turn the radio off when she is on because her presentation 'style' makes me feel stressed.

I now listen to probably five percent of the radio and TV news programmes, and perhaps ten percent of the Radio 4 programmes that I did in early 2020. I rarely look at the BBC news website now, because it is too dumbed-down, and I prefer to speed read than have to watch many minutes of bad journalism and bad presentation in their video content (are they still even called videos?).

I am tired of having to click on cookie-choice links every single time I open most news websites, and tired of being force-fed flashy and flashing advertising, which affects my visual system.

Call me a Grumpy Old Woman, but my need for research-based knowledge about important current affairs issues is just not being met by current formats. And Radio 4 is definitely losing it.

 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Down south again

Whenever I am here, I am reminded of why we are moving up north:

I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.
- Winnie the Pooh

And I now know the next game to be played by farmers who can't be bothered to farm prime agricultural land any more, but have had their greedy money-grabbing house-building applications in inappropriate areas refused: solar farms, or hugely extending existing ones.

Mr Good Friend BW and I have been shaking our heads about EVs for ages. "But where is all the power required going to come from? The National Grid is already frequently collapsing at peak times!" we have wailed. Now we know. Coming soon to a field near you?

 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"There's a row going on, down near Slough"

Soon after Johnnie Walker announced that last weeks SotS was availabe on Sounds, he played The Jam's Eton Rifles. We sniggered. Always the rebel, JW.

It's been an action-packed week... stock fencing put up, close to 500 saplings planted, 5 cubic metres of wood chippings moved down the field to surround them, a new oil tank installed, the first haircut for 20 weeks, a visit to our favourite NT property (also our closest), where we decided that our garden is doing OK, comparatively (we have more tulips out than they do), and everything is packed up ready for another trip south tomorrow.


This time we are taking a toilet, a cistern, an old rusted BBQ (not ours), some more tiles, and some more hacked-off plaster. The local council charge £2.50 to dispose of a bag the size of half a black rubbish sack, so we might as well have some ballast to keep the trailer on the road, that we can dispose of for free at Tip South on our way in. Why would you spend £40 to dispose of things locally when you could either dump them (there is lots of fly tipping in this county) or take them elsewhere?

I am thoroughly dedicated to green-ness, but it really isn't a thought through policy. Even the Green party candidate round here, who hopes to win against The Blues on May 6th, has had his minions deliver us a leaflet every week for the last 8, by car. If it costs a lot of money, people are never going to be green. I'd love to heat our house by a means other than oil, but it's just not economically viable (or, according to Not-An-Architect, even possible). I'd love to buy other than peat-based growing composts, to supplement what we make ourselves, but, even if they are available (there was one out of 14 types available on the local gardening club's bulk order), they are at least 30% more than those that are using ingredients apparently raping the planet. That's £2 more for a tomato growbag, that won't perform as well.

No 'green' energy systems now have subsidies. What incentive is there? The solar panels that we put on Coven Sud are not producing what they were forecast to (surprise surprise) and the payback time (even after the tall poplar trees opposite were recently pollarded, which has reduced the early-morrning shading and so increased our generation significantly) is 34 years, if nothing goes wrong in that time (and no components are ever going to last 34 years - they are only guaranteed for 20).

I just do not understand how the UK is ever going to reach its environmental targets.

And it was so sunny that we got a good suntan this week. Free Vitamin D.

 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

10 June 1921 to 9 April 2021

I swear that the only thing that keeps me going currently, in all the political madness, and the complete lack of understanding of current events by most of the Great British Public, including where the response to Covid-19, and where legislation currently being passed by the back door leads, is wine my fortnightly subscription to Private Eye.

Spot on, as ever:

It's rather crinkled look isn't due to my crying over recent events, but in reponse to me having laid it on top of a pot of watercress cuttings from plants sown and harvested last year, for this year's feasts.

I was delighted to hear Richard Eyre, former member of the BBC Board of Governors, stating on R4's 'Feedback' programme yesterday that in taking off most of the BBC's programmes last weekend, the BBC, "...may have overcooked it a bit on this occasion!" More than 100,000 complaints would seem to bear this out.

While having every sympathy for the Queen, and while not going as far as this article in my disdain for what occurred in recognition of the Old Boy's contribution to our (once) Golden Isle, this list of Phil's Gaffes amused me far more than it is probably politically correct to be amused these days. Of its time people, of its time.

Read about the official arrangements following The Duke of Edinburgh’s death. For posterity and for those who can't be bothered to click, I reproduce the advice verbatim (and do read right to the end):

Contents

1. Introduction
2. Ceremonial Arrangements
3. Flags and Silences
4. Flowers
5. Tributes
6. Books of Condolence
7. Websites and Social Media
8. Sporting Events
9. Business
10. Public Services
11. Further Information

The purpose of this document is to provide the public, industry and businesses with information and key links regarding national mourning. This document should be read in conjunction with current public health advice available at GOV.UK.

1. Introduction

Buckingham Palace has released details of the funeral of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Details of these announcements are available on the Royal Website.

A period of national mourning has commenced and will conclude on 17 April inclusive.

The Government understands that this is a difficult and sad time for many, and that members of the public will wish to pay their respects. In order to protect each other and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission we are asking the public not to visit Royal Residences or gather in public at this time, and to continue to follow all COVID-19 regulations in the place you reside. In particular, we respectfully ask that the public does not attempt to attend any events associated with the funeral of His Royal Highness.

2. Ceremonial Arrangements

His Royal Highness will lie-at-rest in Windsor Castle ahead of the funeral service, but this will not be open to the public.

The Royal Ceremonial Funeral of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh will be held on 17 April at 15.00 in St. George’s Chapel. Further details can be found at the Royal Website.

3. Flags and Silences

Union flags flying from Royal Residences and Government Buildings were half-masted on 9 April and will remain half-masted until 08.00 on 18 April, the day after the funeral.

Businesses or other organisations wishing to pay their respects by half-masting flags or holding silences should follow the guidance that has been issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

A national one minute silence will take place at 15.00 on the day of the funeral.

4. Flowers

In order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions in place, and to prevent the spread of infection, we respectfully ask members of the public not to lay flowers or other memorial items such as candles, messages and mementoes, at Royal Residences or other public spaces.

5. Tributes

We understand that many people would like to express their grief on the death of His Royal Highness. Making a donation to one of His Royal Highness’ many patronages is a fitting way of paying tribute to his remarkable legacy. A list of His Royal Highness’ patronages, and how you can donate can be found on the Royal Website.

6. Books of Condolence

A Book of Condolence is available online at the Royal Website. Unfortunately, in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions in place, and to reduce the risk of transmission, Books of Condolence will not be available in public buildings for people to sign in person.

7. Websites and Social Media

Online communication channels may also choose to reflect the death of The Duke of Edinburgh and participate in the period of national mourning. Organisations, such as those of which His Royal Highness was patron, could modify the homepage of their site to feature a visual indication of mourning, for example the use of black edging or black banners.

8. Sporting Events

The decision as to whether sporting fixtures continue to go ahead is at the discretion of organisers. Organisers may wish to consider using black armbands and observing a silence before matches are played.

9. Business

Businesses may wish to make arrangements for observing the national one minute silence at 15.00 on the day of the funeral. There is no expectation for businesses to close during the mourning period unless they wish to. This is a decision for individual organisations.

10. Public Services

All public services and any services involved in the Government response to COVID-19 will continue as usual throughout the mourning period. Members of the public will be able to access information and services online as necessary.

11. Further Information

For further information, please refer to the Royal Website or GOV.UK.

Contents

Is this page useful?

RIP Sir; you are a nearly-dead breed.

I think that avoiding live TV and radio today might be best.

 

Friday, April 16, 2021

April Showers?

It hasn't really rained for ages and the soil is parched. It's so long ago that I can't actually remember when it last rained. There have been snow and hail flurries, but this sort of precipitation provides an insignificant amount of moisture.

When we moved in, this time last year, there were no water butts at all. We now have many, and more on order, although there is a national shortage at present. I don't know if this is being attributed to Covid, Brexit, the blockage in the Suez, or the world shipping container shortage, but they're all excuses I've heard trotted out for any and all current delays. We also have some more water butts at Coven Sud that still need to make the pilgrimage up the A1 (we'll leave one per downpipe, but bring up the two or three more currently linked together).

All the water butts we have here are now empty. Over 3 cubic metres (3,000 litres) of stored rainwater used since it last rained. While that might not sound a lot, it's what we usually use for everything else in the house in 3 weeks.

The lack of rain and cracking that is starting on the ground is more like Coven Sud in June or July.

New and young plants suffer badly when it is dry as they don't yet have the root systems to support them as they come into leaf and flower. A dry April (such as this) is especially deadly, as plant growth accelerates as days get longer and warmer.

Being on a private water supply, our water is metered, and expensive. I've looked at boreholes, but they are £10-15,000, plus an ongoing annual running cost. Plus, because of the terrain around us and the position of our septic tank, it is unlikely that we could meet the requirements to site it appropriately. I'm investigating underground greywater storage/filtration tanks, but I am unconvinced that this is going to be a solution either: not least because we don't use a lot of water, and we already tip water used in the kitchen outside. Plus, we tried used greywater down south for a couple of years, immediately it was produced, via a pipe system, and I am convinced that the washing chemicals did not help the soil.

So, for now, it's a case of watering well but infrequently, and at the base of plants as far as possible. A good soaking at reasonable intervals is better than a daily sprinkle.

If it can be this dry in April in the North-East, then climate change is surely happening more rapidly than predicted. Why is it that new houses are still not required to be built with greywater recycling systems installed?

 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

In search of inspiration

While the hens were in captivity in the big greenhouse (the most expensive henhouse in the world), for 4 months at the government's behest, I was buying 4 white cabbages a week for them. This gave them something to peck at, and kept them occupied. They enjoyed playing beakball.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take this line out of my weekly online grocery delivery, and, as a result, now have 6 large white cabbages. The hens are refusing to eat them now they are back outside; I guess they see them as prison food.

There is only so much coleslaw one can eat, or wants to eat, and I can't stand sauerkraut and similar fermented cabbages.

Any ideas?

 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Today's the day

13 months after moving in, we have finally managed to find someone to replace the single skinned rusting metal oil tank put in circa 1974.

Every single day I have gone over in my head what I would do to avert a major environmental incident if it started to leak. There is a burn at the bottom of the hill... We have 2 paddling pools and a lot of buckets and trugs.

9am: New supporting pillars next to old pillars. After getting quotes for £2,600 and £1500 + VAT just to build the pillars, Mr BW made them himself. £300 for materials.

Works Manager:

1.30pm: 4 hours and 10 minutes after arriving, and some adventures involving a landrover, a portable crane, an IBC, a pump and a filter, we had a new tank:

"They shouldnabeen deliverin' into that tank, it should ha' been condemned years agoo!" was the proclamation (yes, they came from Scotland). It probably was, but, y'know, Bodgit and Coverit...




I thought there were about 300 litres of oil left in the tank, and was planning on having to pay a premium price, and to engage in some sweet talk, to get a fast delivery this week, after the rusty remnants had been taken out. Turns out there were over 900 litres left.

In other news, while the tank replacement men were busy, Mr BW dug 180 holes (great piece of kit, that petrol auger), I collected some hawthorn hedglets, took delivery of some end-of-season half-price sloes, wild plums and some more dogwood, and we planted nearly 200 of them, and mulched about half of them, using the old chipped-up leylandii hedge.

By tomorrow night we will have planted 480 new trees on our new land. Only 13 days since we acquired it, and we have already fenced it, hedged it, planted more of it (made a garlic bed and a large potato patch), moved the hens onto it, and made a bee enclosure (background of picture below, and right of picture below below - not quite finished yet).

Although... there might be a rumour circulating hereabouts that the new wooden hexagonal (which actually looks more circular) apiary is a site for satanic rituals. If it is, it is totally my fault, because that's what I told the fencers, when they asked what it was, and they are quite local.

There's nothing like reinventing yourself when you move...

 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

I blame the BBC

Mr BW and I are now officially republicans (as in not monarchists, not as in supporters of Trump).

We just about tolerated the removal of The Archers, GQT and GW on Friday because some old bloke died aged 99.

But we will not tolerate the removal of JW on a Sunday afternoon.

Particularly when our weekly two hours of nostalgia are replaced by the inspid Nicki Chapman, who has already ruined many Chelsea Flower Shows, and has now slaughtered our song (just after the 4 o'clock news) in some kind of weird homage to Maj.

How I hope that Maj wasn't listening to the two hours of BBC Radio 2 between 3 and 5 this afternoon: I'll never love this way again; This must be love; Everytime we say goodbye, some song with the lyric, 'afraid you'll say something wrong'; Streets of London; Philadelphia ("I was bruised and battered, I couldn't tell what I felt..."). Oh Please. This surely can't be part of The Plan. Can it?

Last time I made a complaint about the late removal of JW from Sunday afternoon (a couple of months ago) I eventually got a reply from a 'no reply' BBC e-address that said, basically, "You are in the minority, most people loved it, fuck off and die".

Mr BW said earlier, before dinner, "I'm feeling rather pissed!" To whom should I send our necessitated-by-the-BBC's-kowtowing-schedules bill for double the usual amount of Sunday afternoon sherry?

It snowed again this afternoon. It was 9.8°C. Altitude 600 feet, but...

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A Spring Saturday

The fencers came today, as they had an unexpected gap as one of them was supposed to be moving this weekend, but couldn't as there was some sort of a legal hold up, so the land we've leased next to the house is all now safely and firmly enclosed.

They had a big hydraulic rammer on the back of a huge tractor for getting in the round fencing posts (the corner ones were 7" diameter, more telegraph poles than posts, and the intermediates were 4"), and prongs on a platform on the front of the tractor for unrolling the netting and wire and tensioning it all. It was quite something to watch, and the house literally shook with every post strike. Given that we're told it's built on 'flat stones' rather than foundations as they'd be dug today, I expect there are a lot more cracks in the pointing between the rough stones in the walls than there were before.

Extremely glad we didn't try to do it ourselves, although we did - briefly - think about it, especially when the quote came in, but 143 metres of stock-proof fencing (pig net with barbed wire on top which is meant to stop cow incursions - not that there are any cows, but who knows what might happen in the next 25 years), with posts every 2 metres, plus a wooden entrance gate from the garden, is not a job for amateurs. It took them 7 and a half hours each, with all their heavy-duty equipment. They've done a great job, but I could have done without having to pick up all the bits of wire offcuts after them: half a carrier bag full. Given that most fields they fence house livestock, I don't think that is particularly good practice. Given that we might need the services of a couple of fit young men with big tools again at some point in the future (I extracted a phone number before they went, it's cheaper to go direct), I might not complain to their boss.

It is snowing here now, and settling, including on the backs of the ewes. We had grocery shopping come in at 4pm and the young lad who delivered it (who didn't look old enough to be driving, let alone driving a van) said there was 3" of snow on the A68 on the way up from Darlington. The lads doing the fencing were working in t-shirts at lunchtime as it was 16 degrees earlier on, and we had lunch outside.

Everyone is saying that it's been a very hard winter, and that there isn't usually snow in April... but, according to the locals, every season in the year we've been here has been abnormally extreme. Whether or not that's true I don't know, but it had better melt before Tuesday as we have 350 hawthorn hedge saplings to collect and then plant (a local commercial/agricultural tree nursery we didn't know about until Friday still have some available, at half the price of those I've been looking at online, which are mostly sold out until the autumn anyway, so we thought we'd get a year ahead, growth-wise), and the new oil tank is finally being installed.

Never a dull moment here...

 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Have you heard the news today, oh boy...

Some old bloke died... thanks for all you've done, Sir; thanks for the amusement (from time to time); so long, thanks for all the fish; and RIP. Poor Queenie. So many telegrams sent, but not quite one for Phil. Do you think they will get a refund on the birthday cake?

And the BW Party got its second elected representative. 2 seats, 300 miles apart. Filled by the same incumbent. And yes, it's legal, at least for the time being. I have a feeling that there will be rather less to do in Constituency Nord than there is/was in Constituency Sud, but, it will keep him out of my hair, if only for 6 one-hour meetings per year, rather than the 30 or so (of ever-increasing length due to ever-increasing local complexities) and hundreds of hours of preparation and follow-up, down south.

I'm struck by how something I heard earlier applies to both: a speech a few years ago from Prince Philip:

"I've just done what I thought was right. Some people think it's alright, and some people obviously don't. But what can you do?"


But do we really need the BBC to have cancelled quite so many programmes?

 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Disintegration

Easter Sunday was meant to be a rest day. It nearly was, but I'd had a bath, then emptied the compost bin from outside the back door into one of the 6 compost daleks (the best solution for making compost up here, and very good it is too, in less than a year), then prepared the vegetables for our Sunday roast. And fell asleep chopping up the carrots. I've never fallen asleep over vegetables before, but The Limits have definitely been pushed in the last week. I fell asleep again attempting the stairs, half way up (roll on construction of a downstairs bedroom). 2 hours later, Mr BW found me fast asleep in bed, fully clothed. Had he not been crunching mini-eggs, I might still be asleep now.

When it snowed overnight on Easter Monday, the daffs did a good impression of how I was feeling:

The new apiary site in the snow (the space between the posts still needs filling with trunks):

The snow fell, and also today, but more polystyrene balls of snow than snow, but not of hail velocity. And it was nearly 5°C.

And finally, has anyone ever had horticultural fleece disintegrate like this, overnight? We haven't, and usually use fleece repeatedly for many different purposes, until it is too grubby for the washing machine - many years.

The vendor is currently telling me, apologetically, that it was a rogue batch. We've been madly taking in plants from under the raised beds that it used to cover as minus 5 is promised for tonight. Mind you... it's not forecast to be any warmer down south.

 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter

70 saplings planted yesterday. The earth borer (which has a 52cc petrol engine - more than most mopeds) has already earned its keep, making a back-breaking hand-digging job that would have taken several days into something manageable in a few hours, although not by me.

I did sitting on a chair, wrapping twigs in tree guards and inserting bamboo stakes, and fertlising holes pre-planting; Mr BW did 4" hole boring, planting, and backfilling with home-made compost. I've never understood why people plant small hedge plants or saplings first, then struggle to put on the tree guards and insert the stakes. It is so much easier to do the wrapping first (and, if you have branching saplings, to wrap appropriately).

The silver birch were planted in a grove and several stands of three, as we are trying to deflect the wind around the new half acre of field we are leasing. The golden willow and hazel were planted around the edge of the hexagonal new apiary, where they will eventually form a hedge that we can coppice for useful stems, periodically. This hedge will eventually replace the temporary shelter made from logs contained within posts that I pictured on Friday. I didn't realise until I saw the willow and hazel stems together that they are actually bee colours.

Having a large piece of sloping field on a windy ridge - a blank canvas - to convert into a wildlife haven, apiary, hen and fruit tree area is scary. I only have a partial plan in my head, and Mr BW leaves design to me. "Suppose we plant the trees in what turns out to be the wrong place?" I wailed. "I have a chain saw..." he replied. I know the basics, we've been watching the wind and weather effects on the site for a year now (having given up hope of actually getting it, but then our luck changed), we've done all the things on a small scale, but not from bare field, before. But, we love a challenge!

It's too late to obtain most hedging plants for this year, and the agricultural fencers can't come yet anyway (try tying a fencer down to dates...), so planting the native hedging boundary inside the stock fencing will have to wait until the autumn, or even next spring. We currently have several rolls of our very old electric hen netting around the perimeter of the area (I never throw anything away that might one day be useful, and nor does Mr BW, provided I get to the bin before the bin men), which is working to keep the ewes and lambs out. The new electric hen netting (now available in a taller 145cm height) is connected to the old fencing by a 20m piece of cooker-thickness electric cable. Heath Robinson, but it works. Let's hope the new energiser (power source) gets here soon as the old one is making 'dying noises', and it is now 11, according to the date label I put on it when it was new (which is the only way I can keep track of how old things are).

Today is a rest day.

Or an eating chocolate mini eggs and Malteaster bunnies day, if you are Mr BW.

Except that I still need to get mulch around the new saplings, prune back the dead bits from the more tender plants overwintering in the conservatory and greenhouse, supervise the digging of a new bed in the field to heel in the 25 thorny dog rose saplings until they can go up the stock fence or over the new b33 shed (when its boxes are moved from the top patio at Coven Sud up here and put up).

So, on second thoughts... no, it's still a rest day.

Hopefully.

 

Friday, April 2, 2021

It was a Good Friday

"Your forest's arrived BW!" yelled Mr BW.

Oh heck. I was hoping the 25 dog rose (for pollen and prettiness), 25 golden willow (for coppicing for basketry, garden structures, or biofuel, and early pollen for the b33s), 25 hazel (for coppicing for wooden plant poles, and pollen) and 25 betula pendula (weeping silver birch, as a small coppice windbreak for the new apiary, and pollen) wouldn't get here until next week. I was expecting small plants, as the total order was only just over a hundred pounds, but the box was as nearly tall as me (think, recyclable coffin).

Oh well. Time to stop supervising combined hens (who were actually gettting on just fine - only a couple of minor skirmishes all day, and no blood drawn)...

...and put some effort into working out how to make this apiary design that we saw yesterday at our nearest and favouritest NT place (ha, we were first in the entry queue at 9.50am for the first -of-the-day 10am entry, and got down to the walled garden, looked around and out before anyone else was even around), in hexagonal format:

Equilateral triangles and temporary marker paint circles divided into six were giving me a headache, when suddenly I remembered the 8' bamboo canes I managed to source during the first lockdown last year, when we were desperate for bean poles. They were very good value, and, amusingly, they came from a place only about 8 miles from Coven Sud that I didn't know existed.

"I need a centre pin!" I shouted to Mr BW. He turned up with a tree stump. We placed it in the middle of what used to be a building, a few centuries ago, that was now tumbledown and covered in grass. I arranged the canes into a six-spoked wheel (all that past patchwork with 60 degree angles finally paid off, and I discovered that I have a good eye for judging sixths). I pulled the canes away from the centre and outwards, and laid another six between their ends. Job done.

At 1.15pm I got the idea that I wanted to get this project finished. I have these urges occasionally. I remembered that the local farm supplier claimed, "Open 364 days per year!" and we phoned then turned up with the trailer hitched. More giants' pencils than you could shake a lamb's tail (with or without tail docking band) at:

We picked some rustic ones. Three quid a piece, 42 in total. When we got back, Mr BW was all for towing/pushing the trailer down the field (it has 'off-road' tyres after all), but I had visions of having to get the neighbouring farmer and his tractor out to tow us off (as he towed the shopping delivery van out in the snow), so I decided we were going to have to carry them down the field. The Black Familiar failed to respond to spells to help, and I hit myself around the head with one (and saw stars) while trying to wrestle it out of the trailer and under my arm.

Earlier in the week I'd purchased a petrol-driven 'earth auger' to assist with the tree planting (we are old and the ground is hard and stony), and Mr BW had decreed that it was either going to be useless or brilliant. It was just over double the price of a week's hire price, and I decided it was worth a punt. Luckily it turned out to be brilliant, and I foresee lots of holes in my future. Mr BW made holes for the poles, and planted them.

Tomorrow we will add 'infill' saved from the recent hedge exterminating exploits. We had intended this brushwood as future firewood, but everything can have an intermediate use, if one has enough imagination.


Here's a cross-view that shows most of today's achievements:
New oil tank base finished (to the left of the old one which will be removed and replaced by a specialist company in 11 days' time), hen pen now containing the BW Dozen, apiary site started (far distance, right of centre):

I have nearly corpsed myself.

It feels like Saturday, despite the fact that it was fish and chip day, which is always Friday.

Good Friday Questions

I don't have any hot cross buns as Morrisons didn't have any gluten free ones to order, but I do have a loaf of GF fruit bread which is probably the best GF bakery product you can buy, and will just be like a HCB steamrollered. I've never found a GF HCB recipe that is worth the bother of making, and, at present, with a new, now more than half an acre (due to an old, fallen down, and now buried and naturally grassed over stone wall stopping fencing on the originally agreed line) of field to design and turn into a wooded wildlife paradise, I don't have the time. Mr BW has 8, but only because packs of 4 were were 75p each or 2 for £1, and only because he is laying concrete blocks for the new oil tank base so needs the energy. How many do you have?

If we need a hexagon with an internal area of 50 square metres (for our new apiary in the middle of the field), how long must each side be? I can feel an exercise involving a pole, a piece of rope, a can of marker paint, and the sort of 'divide a circle into 6' exercise that can usefully keep a class occupied for at least half an hour coming on. Although maybe not these days as it involves a pair of compasses which would probably involve a risk assessment form that would take longer than half an hour to fill in. Hmmm, I guess the question then is what diameter circle is needed? I can work that out.

Very heavy frost here overnight. But, hurrah, the government have allowed hens out again, so we have the greenhouse back, and combined the 6 new hens (now 19 weeks old) with the 6 remaining old ones overnight (ie bunged them all in the coop together and locked them in). Now, how many are going to jump over the 145cm electric netting when we let them out, and they start arguing as they work out a new pecking order, and how long will it take us to get them back into their enclosure? We've never tried combining equal numbers of old and new hens before, so fingers crossed it will be easier than putting just a few new ones into a larger established flock. The 6 old ones loved being back on the grass and dustbathing again after 4 months of being inside on sawdust. The new ones discovered grass for the first time and soon got the hang of it.

 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Where we are

We've just managed to acquire the nearly-half-an-acre that used to belong with Coven Nord pre-1974. Our offer to buy it outright was declined before we moved in, "The landowner does not sell land under any circumstances," and we refused to have it on a one-year lease as there was no point planting trees and locating b33s if it could be taken from under us at a whim. However, times are hard for those whose income depends on country sports and posh events, so we have now have it on a 25 year lease, which should safely see us out.

We are therefore rather busy fencing, planting trees, and relocating hens, new hens, and an oil tank. The latter being already underway and coincidental, but not unconnected.

In the meantime - does anyone know anything about wetroom flooring? I'm thinking the sort of floors used in gyms and swimming pools, rather than tiles? We are determined to future proof this house. And yes, I know that the new land does rather contradict that, but, Mr BW says he needs something to keep him busy in the years beyond the current renovations...

If anyone is bored and would welcome a little task to fill some time (I've no time to research and work currently)... where is the cheapest place to get a couple of used but clean IBCs in the NE? Can collect, needn't be food grade (just required as large water butts for the new field). Thank you!

 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sheepish

8am Friday to 1.25pm Sunday: 603 mile return trip Coven Nord to Coven Sud, in the 4th Luton Van.

Lots of cars with 'stuff' packed to the gunwales on the way down, but not much traffic on the way back (possibly as we left at 8.10am which was 7.10am 24 hours before: we were too busy to miss that hour). Probably the last weekend ever of low traffic on the A1(M), and the last time that, 'Stay home, save lives' will appear on the overhead gantries.

Most of the rest of 'Extraneous Garden' now moved North; Mr BW again proves his worth as Packer Extrordinaire... all those weeks away on business in the early years of our marriage, with all the required personal and professional packing, now more than paying dividends.

The past was just a dress rehearsal for the future, as they say.

As Mr BW said to Cleaner BW when she popped by on Saturday, "With everything we've moved north, it nearly looks like a normal garden now!" I look at the plants, objets, pots and paraphernalia that are now North and I am very happy. Gardening stuff and soft textile stuff, pretty much all that I need. Head wind and drizzle going, head wind and side gusts returning, drizzle and very windy while offloading, oh the joys of the English Weather. 11°C at best.

I am delighted to find that both Buffy and LaP, bloggers from the early days, are blogging again. The past does not disappoint the way the future always can.


Here is a picture of what happens to tiny lambs when it's windy - they shelter from the wind and go to sleep in some deep furrows caused by the posho shooting boys who nearly sank up to their posho vehicle axles in wet field (very amusing to watch a few weeks back!).


We have 6 new children.

18 weeks old.

They seem to be traumatised, and not able to eat or drink, having come from a large commercial hatchery on Saturday lunchtime, then spent 18 hours in a greenhouse at Coven Sud, 5 hours in a Luton, and then been transplanted into a wire netted run on the grass at Coven Nord. After a few days in quarantine, we will hopefully be able to join them up with our remaining 6 originals from Coven Sud.

3 (of our 4) hybrid browns have died in the year since we arrived: they were all purchased as 'point of lay' a couple of years ago from a place that, in retrospect, was not very honest in ageing their hens. As they were already laying full-size eggs at the time we got them as 'point of lay' I was always suspicious. Actually, I'm now wondering whether the hatchery put sedation in the new hens' water as they were being so totally non-hen-like? They sell at all ages (day old to POL) to all over the UK, so might sedate them to make the handling and travelling easier. As ever with hens from a commercial hatchery, we have some beak surgery to do later. They 'beak trim' (to stop them pecking each other in the nearly-battery conditions they have to live to produce supermarket eggs) none-too-kindly early on, and the lower part of the beak often protrudes beyond the upper, which makes eating difficult for them when they are free range, or, in the worst cases, causes 'scissor beak'. Their beaks recover very quickly, and the excess lower beak is easily trimmed back (just like cutting toe nails), so in a few weeks no-one would know. Remedial trimming doesn't hurt them, but you need to know how to hold hens. And not to be squeamish.

Rescued before a life of commercial synchronised egg laying drudgery to a life of rural farmsteading on a wind-blown ridge. And a fifth of the price.

I hope your weekend has been less arduous?

 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

We are lumberjacks and we're OK...

What do you do when your lumberjacking activities have led to a huge pile 7 feet tall and immensely long and wide?


You call in the cavalry from the local hire shop. Apparently if you have a car with a tow bar, you can simply drive it away:

I'm not even sure they have this sort of kit to hire down south, let alone to hire to non-trained individuals. I guess that's one of the joys of living in a forestry area: it made short work of the huge pile of leylandii and privet and the odd errant workman or two:

Three and a half hours later, hardly a twig to be seen in the drive (that metre wide broom I bought just after we moved in has been excellent):


And we have another 7 cubic metres of free wood chippings. We've already used 3.5 cubic metres of the 8 we made with a similar machine last August Bank Holiday weekend after Phase 1 of the cutting down the 40 year old overgrown hedge project. I reckon each builders bag full would cost around £100, so the machine hire was covered 7 times over.

Mr BW had just taken the machine back, and we were just sitting down to a nice cup of tea and a rest, when the courier bought 144 tiny plug plants, that I had thought were coming at the end of April. These, of course, need to be planted immediately.

Given that we've already used up almost all of the 9cm pots we have up here, and won't be collecting any more from our donated supply down south until the weekend (yes, another mad van dash is on the cards), it was lucky that we'd been saving milk cartons rather than giving them to the bin men. I'd already got a good supply of pots filled with compost (I can now do this with one hand while chatting to someone on the phone from the greenhouse), and Mr BW proved that he could get the tiny plugs into pots faster than I could write out 2 labels for each of the 12 lots of 12 plantlets.

After 95 days without a workman in the house, we are finally moving forward again this week with the necessary major projects to make this house work for us and how we live.

Not-an-Architect-The-Architect has finally come up with the goodies (or, rather, redrawn the drawings we did on top of his first disasterous attempt 3 weeks ago). To be fair, he has also managed to design a rather stylish new entrance which allows us to move the stairs from their current taking-up-two-thirds-of-a-passageway position.

Our excellent greenhouse base builder came out to see us this afternoon and has got a slot for the end of May for Phase 1 of the 3 phase extension project. So, provided NaATA gets his structural engineer sidekick to construct us a suitable roof design pronto, we can start work on the bit that can be done as Permitted Development in 10 weeks time (a 12-15 week project), while the rest goes through the necessary planning application.

We have had our offer on a very long-term lease on a piece of land adjoining us acccepted, subject to legal documentation, and we have a local fencer coming out tomorrow to agree a price to fence it, so we can start to plant an orchard, some hedges, some other trees, and move the hens and b33s onto it.

It looks like we might have found someone to make us a new kitchen, within 6 weeks: just waiting on his drawn-up designs and price. This is the company who made the big cupboards for the dining room, but we are cutting out the mad, disorganised and infuriating middle-woman owner of the posh kitchen company that we went through before we knew about the direct-from-manufacturer route (amazing what you can extract from the delivery lads).

I've finally discovered the perfect recipe for rye bread: https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/recipes/rye-soda-bread. Quick, light, very easy to handle. Unfortunately, I've also discovered that rye now affects me almost as badly as wheat.

And lastly, good news for those of us with hens... their lockdown due to avian influenza ends at 23:59 on 31st March. Just in time for us to reclaim their half of the greenhouse for the new growing season.

 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Hedging our bets

This was the hedge with archway that divided the back garden on 14th February, taken from the kitchen window. It was privet and leylandii and about 6 feet wide. It also blocked a lot of light, and the view.

Mr BW reduced it by half a couple of weeks ago. We hadn't quite got the courage to raze it to the ground in one go, but we should have.

On Monday, out came the chainsaw, and down it all came.



We then made a new seating area, out of recycled stone (the ground is full of it), previously chipped branches, and lots of relocated plants, both from here and from down south. Cost = nothing, and we can easily change it if we decide it's not right. Plus, as the old privet stems are under it, there wasn't much else we could currently do there, without a huge amount of work.

It was 17°C on Tuesday and Wednesday and 19°C on Thursday. Warmer than down south by several degrees. It's hard to believe that a month ago there was snow on the ground, and had been for seven weeks.

The first lambs were delivered to the field from the lambing barn on Thursday. Spring officially sprung yesterday.


It's getting there... I've tried to get the border shapes to echo the shapes in the landscape, and the ground to the right of the picture will eventually be raised vegetable beds.

Nearly caught up now... tomorrow I will show you how, after today, we are now real lumberjacks, and what got down my bra in the process.

 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Rabbiting on

Sunday 21st: This was last Sunday's blog... all I needed to do was add the pictures, and I spent all this week not having time to do so...


"Let me give you a tip," said the woman who runs the local gardening club when we went to see her about bunny fences, and who locally could be trusted to install them effectively and reliably, yesterday. "As you're making a new garden, remember to take some before and after photos." Mr BW and I exchanged glances. I stifled a laugh. "She's ahead of you there!" proclaimed Mr BW. "About 22,000 photos ahead actually," I admitted. I later added them up. It's only 17,000. So, only 46 a day compared to the 60 a day I'd guessed... never knowingly under-pictured, me. Which is more than you can say for this blog recently. Sorry.

In the past couple of days, we have had every sort of weather except frost. Rain, cloud, sun, sleet, hail, snow, wind... But, we were heartened that the gardening club lady's garden, despite being on the edge of the nearest small village, was actually much windier and much colder than ours, on a ridge. The greenhouse is doing a sterling job at deflecting the prevailing wind, as we hoped it would.

The house and garden has swallowed its fourth Luton van load of stuff.

Here it is, expertly packed beyond what it should have been by Mr BW, just before leaving Coven Sud:


Here is about a quarter of it in the 'Supply Room' which will hopefully soon be converted into our bedroom, if Not-an-Architect-the-Architect comes up with the goodies on Tuesday. Second time lucky - there won't be a third time; it will be The Big Bag. Apart from anything else, I can't stand those lilac walls any longer. Probably because they remind me of the unwanted colour transformation that happened to my bedroom at my parental home when I was about 11 and off at Guide camp.

This time: books, desks, bookcases, chests of drawers, sewing equipment, fabrics, cushions, gardening equipment and plants, all came North. Mr BW seems to have given up trying to tell me what I can and can't move up. It's very difficult to declutter anything with no charity shops open and several hours of queues for the tip. Luckily. I don't want to declutter a lifetime's treasures anyway, as I'm certainly not putting things that could have a use in the bin.

During the week, Mr BW repainted all the bookcases, cut down a hedge, took down an arch, planted lots of seeds, took lots of cuttings, generally tidied up, put my sewing cabinet back together, and helped lug boxes of books and photo albums around so I could sort them out. In moving a blanket box upstairs, we managed to take a chunk out of one of the nice new expensive column radiators, and, having spent half an hour searching for appropriately-coloured enamel touch up paint, I gave up and rang the manufacturer (quite local to here) for advice. Those I'd found online varied in price from £3 to £15.96, most with £7.95 postage on top. "Oh, we can send you some out for free!" said the helpful lady on the phone. Gosh, I didn't expect that.

Our nearest neighbour has very kindly donated us a once-used petrol chipper, of the kind I have always coveted but not been allowed.

I think we've killed 3 or 4 electric ones in the past 26 years. The most recent one has stood up better than the rest, but getting plant material (particularly juicy stuff) through it is very slow, and it frequently jams. Having waited 26 years for a petrol one, it was a great disappointment. It honestly isn't that much better than the electric one, and, as our neighbour found, it is difficult for ageing females to pull-start. Plus it is very noisy, even with ear defenders on. The only way to make it work was to remove all the guards (no idea why they were necessary as the tubes are too long for even my very long arms to be pulled into the machine). But, it does chip things very finely, which will help them break down more quickly. Given that it cost 8 times what the electric one cost, I can't say I'd recommend it, and it is supposed to be one of the best ones.

Thank you to everyone who gave information about vacuum cleaners. It allowed me to think about what I did and didn't want. I've discovered that Costco have stopped selling Dysons, but instead are selling Samsung cordless and bagless machines, that look very similar, and have good reviews. The Samsung washing machine I had delivered the day after we moved in has been exceptional in performance. Much the best washing machine we have ever owned, so I think I might try a Samsung vacuum cleaner at half the price of a Dyson. I find the idea of £600 for a vacuum cleaner a tad excessive, but if the Samsung doesn't work out, I shall send it back (they're good like that, Costco, no questions asked refunds). Plus, Mr BW found a spare cyclone for the DC14 Dyson Allergy we have up here, lurking in the back of a cupboard at Coven Sud (I have a vague recollection of having a warranty fault and the engineer sending a new cyclone after his visit, just in case whatever he did didn't fix the problem, but it had, so we then had a spare). It looked new, so he's fitted it, and it seems to be better, although still not perfect, so it might do for a bit longer.

If your kitchen looked like this... what would you do?

 

Friday, March 12, 2021

A question of suction

We currently have 3 Dysons. All uprights.

Two of them are the old solid upright variety that are heavy but go where you push them, and clean a good wide stripe with every push. The third is newer: one of the lower-power-caused-by-EU-energy-saving-regulations, upright, ball, ones that is utterly useless and impossible to use. If you are me. Cleaner BW manages, even actually quite likes it, but she's not here.

Two of the three are down south: an upstairs one and a downstairs one. One of these is nearly dead and will never make the trip north (it was relegated to the garage, but had to come back into indoor use when we took the second-best item up north a year ago today).

The one we have up here is nearly dead too, and no longer sucks properly. Mr BW's workshop vacuum (a very cheap one, bought in our early days here, used for dirty and powdery jobs so that the Dyson cyclone doesn't get blocked) is probably better. But I'm not running that over the carpets, and anyway it only has a nozzle.

I used to love Dysons. Once upon a time they promised to service them all for a fixed price, and supply any and all parts required, forever. Of course, this is no longer the case.

So, really, we currently have one serviceable vacuum cleaner that I cannot use, and that is 300 miles away for a few months more.

And so it is with deep regret that we need to buy a new vacuum cleaner, or maybe cleaners, as different ones might be better for different jobs.

After 25 years of only ever buying Dysons, I am unconvinced that these are still the best solution. There are so many types around now, by brands I have never heard of, that I am totally befuddled. Usually I'd go to the library to read the Which? latest guide, but libraries are closed and Which? doesn't seem to be available via libraries online from home.

Downstairs is all wooden flooring and ceramic/stone-effect tiles. Upstairs is carpeted, with tiled bathroom and en-suite floors. There is a lot of space to clean, as although only 5m wide, this house is 30m long. Being on top of a windy ridge, 300+ years old, and made of stone, there is always a lot of grit and dust around. I have been wondering about a commercial 'floor polishing' type machine for downstairs, but whatever we eventually buy, it needs to be heavy duty.

Any thoughts or recommendations, please?

 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Photographic question

The 60-odd volumes of photo albums are now safely installed on the lower shelves of the gigantic bookcase. The shelves haven't collapsed, yet. The job would have been made much easier had the boxes been labelled with the volume numbers, but, I didn't pack them. Not having had to pack or load or offload them means I can forgive a little unlabelled inconvenience :)

We need to get a few photos printed onto canvas. Most are high quality high resolution digital images. A couple are on colour 35mm film (which still seems to be structually sound).

My questions are:

1. Who can you recommend for photo canvasses (it will need to be online/deliverable)?

2. Is it possible to get photo canvasses made from colour 35mm film? If not, is there a way of getting colour 35mm film made into digital images?


Off to massacre more nasty leylandii hedges now... quickly, before the birds start nestinging and the ecologists start visiting. After that, shelving the rest of the books we brought up (very soothing, I should have been a librarian), and getting a desk, a sewing cabinet, a large bookcase, a chest of drawers and a blanket box up the stairs, and then sorting the contents of Soft Textile Room and all my - many - craft books and files of notes into them. And to think Not-An-Architect wanted to remove one of the two remaining downstairs structural/load bearing internal walls.

 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Carnage

Today, unexpectedly, the roads were as empty as during the first lockdown!

Although mucho carnage. Not sure how carcasses are usually cleared from the roads, but clearly whoever does it wasn't working today - 5 badgers, probably a dozen pheasants, lots of other birds, and a muntjac, in deceased evidence.

We left Coven Sud in our hire van at 8.15am, and detoured slightly for cheap(er) fuel at Costco Nord (no contact, card at pump), but were still back at Coven Nord in time for GQT.

We narrowly missed a long wait when the traffic news cut in just after 11am to say the A1 was shut in both directions between Blyth services and the next junction up. We had just passed the next junction up. On another occasion, we might have stopped for a quarter of an hour at the back of the car park at Blyth to eat our rolls and drink our soup (we try to only use roadside laybys to change drivers as they feel too dangerous for longer stops), but, for once, we decided to save time and eat sequentially, when we weren't driving. The reason given was 'for police investigations', which was very mysterious. Had we stopped, we would have undoubtedly then been caught up in whatever was going on, and delayed.

Van already two-thirds unloaded, Gigantic Bookcase already a tenth filled, plus Sunday sherry, Johnnie Walker and roast dinner consumed.

As soon as we get to Angel of the North, I think, "Ah, we are home, the madness ends here."

Mind you, I've been thinking that since 2005 when we first came up here on holiday.

It's strange to think that we now live up here

This week the tiny 2-bedroom bungalow next to Coven Sud is being demolished. Its previous occupant (4 days older than the Queen), who lived there since it was built in 1935, was put into a care home by his 'family' (niece and nephews with pound signs for eyes) two and a half years ago. Since then we have been fighting developers and planners, but have beaten them all (thanks to an oak tree planted by the previous occupant and his dad when he was 6) and ensured that only a sensibly-sized new dwelling is built, at the furthest distance possible from Coven Sud.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I won't be there to see the carnage.

There was nothing wrong with the bungalow (indeed it had a 'D' EPC rating, which is as good as it gets for unimproved older dwellings), and there were several local people who wanted to buy it as it was, and live there, but, as ever, the holy developer's pound won the auction, so it has to go.

Still no lambs around Coven Nord.

 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Watch this space

To our surprise, the van hire company have 'hidden vans' (ie ones that don't live in a field on the farm with the older ones) for long-distance use, so the one we have is less than 2 years old. I much prefer driving a van than a car and trailer. The depot is so convenient to us - two bits of geography we knew are - much to our surprise - right next to each other!

There was much less HGV traffic on the roads this Friday than last Friday, but car traffic was hugely more.

If this is 'essential journeys only' I dread to think what the traffic will be like on the A1 once the Great British Public is unleashed again, particularly with everyone wanting to get away on holiday and 'Abroad' being out of bounds. I can see the NE getting more tourists than ever this year: thank you Robson Green and Vera. Still, plenty of opportunities for future projects to exploit their presence methinks, and hopefully building housing estates in open countryside in the middle of nowhere won't become a feature.

When we filled up with fuel in Small Local Town, to save time tomorrow morning, the traffic was no different to a normal Friday early afternoon.

It's weird how we both forget how to operate the machines - dishwashers, washing machines - down here between visits. While it's nice to have a shower that doesn't depend on all other taps and appliances being off when it is being used, I do hate the limescale!

Now to see how much of the previously prepared piles of furniture, gardening equipment and plants, craft supplies, photo albums and books that Mr BW can squeeze into the van...

 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Do you want fries with that?

I often think about our chests as sporting one of those McDonald's style badges with outline stars, which are filled with 3D gold stars when a particular skill is mastered.

Today we added another gold star to ours.

The "pay someone £4K to design an extension for you and do the job yourself" star.

We sent the following email to Not-An-Architect at 10.45pm last night:

"We have been going through the sketches and we are so disappointed. There is no excitement; if we are honest it’s just boring.

There are so many aspects we don’t feel take account of the written brief, our extended discussion, and the many pictures we provided, or the need for disabled access.

From veluxes in vaulted cathedral-style ceilings, top triangular windows to let light in, wrap around corner windows, or the suggestion to extend out towards the greenhouse to give us wide bedroom views, whereas in what you have drawn we just have a bed looking at a wall (with no other possibilities for situating it) and 2 regular windows.

The porch in the current outline is just the current blob we wanted removed, made taller – so is constrained to only offer us stairs twisted around with storage under, when we suggested a new entrance with light airy open wood stairs that would need the ability for a stair lift in future.

Even simple things like the need for a wet room with level access walk-in shower (not a low profile shower tray) and a bath are missing.

When you visited we discussed our vintage car which needs a garage, there is nowhere for it to go - and worse, no workshop for me!

Sorry but it is just wrong in so many ways. Not sure what to suggest as a way forward."

Mr BW wouldn't let me put anything about it being a good idea to write notes in meetings so that one didn't forget everything one had been told. Or that the suggested new front door/porch arrangement resembled those found on identikit 1980s housing estates (although I got that one in later!).

But, our point was made, we did get an apology, and he hasn't got the sack yet (but only because there now aren't any other options within 50 miles, and we are assured that he is the best option there is).

We wrote up, then drew up, exactly what we wanted (we thought we'd already done the former, so that he could do the latter), and he has promised to do better, within a week. Luckily Mr BW is an engineer, with excellent spatil and practical skills, and I have a good understanding of building design and layout, having assisted with designing purpose-built rooms and units in schools on several occasions. Fortunately we are both practical and creative and natural problem solvers. Plus we need to get this extension done so we can get on with living and not just existing between 2 houses, 300 miles apart, which becomes less attractive and more frustrating by the day!

That exercise took most of the day. Luckily Mr BW already has his badge gold star for getting stuff done before it needs to be done, so the car was already packed with everything we need to put into the Luton van that we are collecting en-route south tomorrow at the crack of dawn.

We've made soup, rolls, and packed up drinks and fruit for the journey. This van is heading towards 8 years old, rather than the 6 month old ones you get from national hire companies. But, there are none of the latter available within 30 miles (most are constantly booked out to delivery companies, and many smaller depots of national companies - including our most local one - are shut altogether due to covid issues), and nowhere safe to leave a car on the open larger hire sites, which puts another 4 hours of travelling and 120 miles onto a down/up trip.

Given that we are travelling down on a Friday, and back up with a full load on Sunday (the day before schools re-open) we didn't need that extra pressure. "AA card included!" we were told. Hmmm.

I laughed when I saw what Mr BW had written on the bottom of the long list of items to remember to bring up. "Kitchen sink."

But then I remembered that we've got the said good condition stainless steel item waiting patiently (since 2011 when we replaced the kitchen worktops and sink with Corian) down south, on top of the log pile in the potting area behind the workshop, to become an outdoor sink for washing off veg before bringing it into the kitchen.

Waste not want not, and that sink is of much better quality than anything you can buy these days.

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Things I have learned in the last 24 hours

Never trust people who do not take notes during a 2 hour meeting. Not-An-Architect has not only delivered the initial idea drawings 2 days later than the latest he promised, but has also failed spectacularly to meet the written brief we provided (which included about 20 pictures of the sort of design we require), or to take account of most of the things we told him we wanted or didn't want. I truly despair. We spent many hours putting all the information together. I hope this is recoverable, because there don't seem to be any other choices for alternative design personnel.

Rishi Sunack continues to be the only member of the Cabinet for whom I have any time at all. Quite a sensible Budget, in the current circumstances, I thought.

The sister of one of my craft ladies (aged 74) has died of covid. She hadn't been out of her house since last March - except to get vaccinated - so the only place she can possibly have caught it was the mass vaccination centre. Apparently she told her sister (my friend) when she was done that she thought it was odd the nurse didn't change her gloves or sanitise her hands after the person before, or beween her and the next person. I doubt that is normal? Really upsetting.

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Treasures, in pictures

Sunrise atop the fog in the valley and medium hard frost yesterday morning:

It's a very big book case and it was very difficult for Mr BW and Bookcase Maker Man to keep 2m apart, especially when unloading it and trying to level it on a wildly sloping floor.

They mostly managed though, as it is 2.2m tall and 3.3m long in total (in 3 sections, but the joins are covered with vertical strips, and the horizontal plinth and cornice are each one long strip), and we had all the windows and doors open and masks on.

The 'curtains' are still the blackout/thermal linings hung backwards as I can't make the proper curtains until we know what Not-An-Architect has planned for the extension locations (hopefully tomorrow). Note the improvised log baskets:

Due to the amount of soft textile paraphernalia currently in piles in the sewing room, awaiting sorting into the existing 'furniture for that purpose' (when it arrives from Coven Sud after next weekend), this is currently the best picture of the new 1920s (probably of German provenance) pine cabinet that *ahem* arrived with the bookcase on Saturday:

We've since moved it from that wall as it didn't look right. I forgot to bring my roll of drawer lining paper up, so drawer liners were improvised from a pad of A3 120g cartridge paper sourced overnight from Amazon. Who made a mistake - the first I've ever known - and sent me 2 pads rather than the one I ordered. Will I be telling them? Hmmm.

I have unearthed an old treasure (donated by one of my Patchy Ladies) that I'd forgotten I had, which can sit in the top glazed part with my many other old textile objets:

The snowdrops, new iris reticulata, and some crocuses in pots are out in the garden, and there will be daffodils by the end of next week (2 weeks behind Coven Sud, judging by what we saw down there last week):

That pot of yellow bamboo was only moved there on Saturday to enable the bookcase to come in more easily via the conservatory, but it catches the sun so beautifully that it will probably be staying.

Continuing our environmental vandalism, the right hand of the two remaining 40 year old unmanaged leylandii had a 'trim' yesterday (left, before, right, after, pictures taken from sewing room window):

We have to do it bit by bit so it's less stark, and we get used to it. It's all got to go eventually, and you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, but I still hate chopping down trees causing trees to be chopped down by Mr BW. Needless to say, we will be planting more trees, but worthy types, of environmental value, not leylandii.

It's looking a bit like Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill in the drive. Those piles are much taller than me and are solid branches:

Another Timberwolf hire is in our not-too-distant future, I think. I've given up on creating a beautiful log pile as it will all need moving elsewhere in the next few months, as I suspect this bit will get built on. The right shed (an old falling-down dog kennel) is absolutely full of wood now: both the bit you can see, and the enclosed bit at the back. Probably 16 cubic metres worth of logs now, maybe more.

And finally, The Black Murderer:

"Bunnies not birds." I've had to stop feeding the birds for a while, which saddens me greatly, but the Phucking Pheasants and her evil recent habits need to stop.

 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday

The Moon was so bright in the night... and there was beautiful spring sunshine here again today.

The first day the washing dried completely on the line for months.

There really is nothing to beat the smell of dried-on-the-line-washing. Is there?

 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Weekend update

We successfully arrived back at Coven Nord late yesterday afternoon (after a medium-hard frost at Coven Sud that got the bedroom interior thermometer within 0.2°C of the bedroom interior thermometer at Coven Nord (9.4°C): the difference being the former was with window open, the latter with window closed), despite the best efforts of an HGV driver to prevent us by deliberately blocking our exit out of a fuel station on the A1 in Lincolnshire with his lorry and then intimidating me with his 20 stone bulk, foul mouth, and 8 foot cab height above me, when I politely asked him to move out of the exit road, where no-one should stop, so that Mr BW could swing round rather than risk jackknifing the trailer by having to take 10 swings to get round what should have been an easy single-swing exit from where I had parked so we could change drivers.

Note to HGV drivers who think it acceptable to behave like that anywhere in my vicinity: I will take photos, we do have a dashcam, and I will ring your boss and explain why you should not be driving HGVs if you are so prone to tantrums, inconsiderate and rude.

Note to HGV Transport Managers: I don't give a flying fuck whether your company has every industry award under the sun, complete with silver and blue roundels on the side of your vehicles, whether the driver in question has worked for you for years, has a clean driving licence, and must have been having a bad day because it's Friday and he had too much to do, if he parks dangerously and makes me feel extemely intimidated and frightened by his manner and coarse and unnecessary vocabulary, I am perfectly entitled to be complaining. Road rage in HGV drivers is unforgivable. Further note: all you need to do to diffuse a complaining person is to say, "That sounds awful, I am very sorry, what would you like me to do to put things right?" Making them angry by continually meeting everything they say with counter arguments about why they can't possibly be correct is just stupid. Still, it wasted 15 minutes of his 'busy Friday'.

I've just counted up my sheet of journeys, and find that, unexpectedly, we've done 22 single journey trips in the past year-minus-two-weeks. The first 6 single jouneys were within the first 10 days, mind. That's a single jouney (first trip up) with Bri@n the mini-caravan, 2 return trips in a Luton van, one return trip with Mummy Mr BW in August, and the rest towing a livestock trailer full of plants, garden items, and anything that will safely fit in sturdy plastic boxes, under a tarpaulin.

The roads get busier on every trip, despite 37 occurrences of 'stay home, save lives' on the overhead gantry signals. I was amazed at how many cars had children in them this time.

Gorgeous sunny day here today: the gigantic pine bookcase (3-sections, 7 shelves in each, totally 3.3m x 2.2m) with a white-painted back was due. 14 weeks and 5 days after being ordered on a 6-8 week delivery.

Did it arrive?

It arrived, one minute after the notified time, but then took 3 hours and 20 minutes to be assembled and levelled. Our insistence on putting a thick sheet of plastic damp-proof-membrane down the backs and under the bottoms (you've heard about our damp old stone house, haven't you?) might have contributed to some of this, but the unevenness of the wooden floor didn't help either. Verdict: well worth the waiting for. Now all we need is to fetch the books, photo albums, and memory books, waiting down south to fill it. That's next weekend taken care of then, but they are all packed up ready to load.

Also delivered was a rather nice 1920s pine cabinet (of possibly German provenance) with nice knobs and lots of drawers (20 smaller, 4 larger, plus a display top with sliding glass doors), for the sewing room (the existing bedroom 2). This was an accidental purchase when I looked again at the bookcase maker's website and found he also sold older items. The beautiful old 1930s shop haberdashery unit we bought just before the FOTCR™ 3 or 4 years ago, that I've been using for sewing supplies, sadly won't go up the stairs here, and is too heavy for our fragile first-floor joists to support, so will be going in the new ground-floor craft room, once it is built.

There are still no baby lambs around here, although I did see 2 in fields on the way up. It was two and a half hours from leaving Coven Sud before we even saw a sheep from the road.

Bunnies ravaged the garden in our absence. Mr BW is investigating air rifles. I am glad I made him load up all the old wire hanging baskets and wire shopping baskets I'd collected over the years down south: perfect protection from bunnies. Bastards.

The Black Familiar killed 3 birds and 0 bunnies in our absence. She doesn't usually kill birds, but does usually kill bunnies, so seems to have been protesting at the absence of her slaves. She did at least eat the meat and leave just the feathers and legs, albeit on the garage floor. I now have a 'BNB' mantra I repeat to her every time I see here, "BUNNIES NOT BIRDS!"

I can't believe how exciting our life is these days.

I've decided to become religious, even if just for tomorrow.

'And on the seventh day they rested'... even if it is 'on the eleventh day they rested'...

 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Down up down, cold warm cold

This week has been unseasonably mild, after the previous unseasonably cold.

It's hard to remember that it is still February. Judging by my brought-south thermometer, it's definitely 4 degrees warmer by night at Coven Sud (and with the bedroom window slightly open all the time). There have been a couple of 17°C days this week, which has been great for washing pots, statues, paving slabs, and rocks that are being relocated soon.

We are off back up to Coven Nord bright and early tomorrow, then back at the end of next week to pack all the boxes, plants, and other items into a hired Luton van. As well as 50 boxes in the lounge and dining areas, there is currently a desk and a sewing cabinet blocking the hallway. Must remember not to walk into them in the night.

Coven Sud is definitely upset that we are leaving. The googlie in the works this visit was a leaking toilet. Luckily clean water, and luckily Amazon could supply the required doughnut next-day. Many things are available same-day here now... tweezers and sponge washing-up pads, but not toilet cistern doughnuts. Interesting what they consider 'essential' items, warranting same-day delivery, and what can wait isn't it? Another £200 saved in plumber charges because Mr BW could do it.

In other news, Not-An-Architect tells us that he is running two days behind schedule for the presentation of the initial idea sketches for the extensions, which were due by Monday at the latest. Well, actually, he only shared this gem as Mr BW politely nudged him. Strangely, when I worked for myself and had a lot of work on, I used to work evenings and weekends to ensure I made deadlines I'd promised...

I have no idea how people who have hobbies, gardens, and have lived in one place for several decades ever manage to move in one day.

 

Monday, February 22, 2021

4 days gone, 3 to go

Good call on when to make a southbound pilgrimage methinks.

Clutching our DEFRA papers to allow us to travel to tend to our b33s, and various documents to prove that we are moving house, just in case, there was more traffic on the roads at the end of last week than we've seen for a long time. But, not a single police car. 3 ambulances and 2 Highways Agency vehicles, but not one sniff of any kind of policing of the roads in 300 miles.

Similarly, yesterday (Sunday) I couldn't belive how many motorbikes were out - and some in big groups too. Probably 300 passed here yesterday (on an average summer Sunday I'd say perhaps 50 pass). And groups of cyclists and walkers too, in numbers far larger than could possibly be one household. You wouldn't know there was a lockdown. Revolution, civil disobedience, and inabiliy to enforce, will lead to more of this before June, I'm sure.

We've been getting through clearing the garden, simplifying 'very high maintenance and very productive' into something that looks manageable to a prospective purchaser. Mr BW has done a sterling job turning veggie garden back into lawn, and digging up shrubs to relocate. The recycling wheelie bin is full of the last 20 years worth of my professional journals, and we've been packing photo albums and sorting out books to take up, as the gigantic bookcase is finally being delivered and installed on Saturday, after 15 weeks of waiting. I can't believe we've been here 4 whole days already. And oh the mess and piles of things everwhere!

Sadly, we've lost four b33 colonies this winter. Two were killed by wasps at the end of last year: we knew that as it was going on while we were here last in early December and once wasps start robbing a colony, they don't stop... but wasps have usually dead and gone by the beginning of October. Even had we been here, I doubt we could have stopped the demise. We have no idea what happened to the other 2. They still had plenty of food, and all colonies were stronger than they have ever been in the autumn. I am always sad when we lose even one colony (but, as the old saying goes in farming communtiies, "Where there's livestock there's dead stock,") but this is our worst loss ever, and not the way I'd like to have started our 25th year of b33keeping. But, the 4 standard colonies left seem strong for February. And what we don't yet know is what losses others locally have experienced.

We are taking the long hive back up with us (we should be able to make a new standard colony from the bees in it, while still keeping it as a largely untouched entity), although it is currently legless, as Mr BW had to saw them off to get it through the various archways and gates between the orchard and the trailer. We are leaving 3 'bait hives' (empty but with old frames that smell of b33s) which might magically fill up with passing swarms later in the year. I hope so, as 4 won't produce enough h0ney once they are Northerners, and there will be little hope of increasing numbers through swarm collection, as we have down in the south. Mr BW will be glad to give up that 'social service', although he could write a book about his experiences.

I'm finding it all a bit overwhelming, particularly as we discovered last week that a lack of bat personnel means the required surveys can't be done to allow us to get planning permission and then building regs permission in time to start building this year, which pushes living in a split-location mess on another two years.

There is only so long that it's fun to have no fixed abode, and I was banking on an end-date of the end of the year for at least enough building to have happened to enable us to get everything up north and get Coven Sud on the market. While property prices in the south are continuing to rise faster than what running 2 houses is costing us, that may not last forever, and there is a limited amount we can do, or move up, until we have built on the space, and downstairs bedroom that we need. We have considered buying a shipping container to house what can't yet fit into Coven Nord (either due to space restrictions, or weight restrictions on what we can put upstairs in a very old house with weak joists), but there is nowhere it can be offloaded/located due to low overhead power cables. Frustrating. And it just feels wrong to even have two houses.

And no haircuts until at least 12th April. Looks like I'll have to let Vidal Blue Witch have another hack. I wonder which duck I will resemble next time?

With a new target of offering a first dose of the vaccine to every adult by the end of July, one can only wonder how homeless people (estimated to be over 300,000 - or 1 in 200 people (cf the 1 in 660 who have died of/with covid)) and illegal/unauthorised immigrants (thought to be somewhere around 1 million people) are ever going to get captured. I haven't seen any mention anywhere of these vulnerable and potential super-spreader groups.

I do hope that those people who enjoyed lots of shopping and lots of celebrations on and around 25th December still think it was worth it.

 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Picture my new haircut

I last saw New Hairdresser BW (cuts as well as the last incumbent who'd been chopping my Witchy locks every 5 or 6 weeks since 1991, but has a much more normal family; more The Archers than East Enders, so much less exciting gossip) on 2nd December, which I think was the first possible hairdressing date after Lockdown 2 ended.

At the time she cut my hair shorter than it has ever been cut. I said 'short' but she did 'short plus'. it took 4 weeks to even grow to the length it usually is after it's cut. I didn't mind particularly as I strongly suspected what would happen with Lockdown 3, and I wasn't disappointed. But, in the past week it has begun to annoy me.

Yesterday, 10 weeks and 2 days since my last haircut, and having seen Mr BW effortlessly and speedily trim an overgrown lavender bush that I'd given up on back into shape a couple of weeks ago, and having had the top done by him with castle scissors during the first lockdown, I decided to finally let him loose on my hair.

It was fine when he'd finished, but still a bit too long at the top back, so I asked him to take a little bit more off it this morning. I was alarmed to feel the amount he was cutting off, and reminded him I just wanted a tiny bit more off. "I'm the stylist now!" he said gleefully, as he continued to wield the scissors snappily and chop twice as much off today as he already had yesterday.

I now look like this:

The Great Crested Grebe Cut.

That is £150 a year that I shan't be saving in future, despite what he might think.

In other news, 8 weeks and 2 days since I last left the property, we ventured out. We were drowning in glass bottles (ahem), and urgently needed some hen food.

 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Observations

Miraculously, the snow has almost gone, and the temperature has gone from -6°C plus windchill to +12°C (18°C difference) in 24 hours. There are just a few smatterings left, largely along the drystone walls, hedge and fence lines, where the snow powder had blown mini-tornado-like into deep drifts.

I don't think I have ever seen such a rapid transformation in weather, anywhere.

I think that home and car insurers might finally be getting the message that loyal customers are worth keeping. I always renew between 3 and 4 weeks before our policies run out (which is meant to show that you are a 'careful customer', so elicits the best prices) but this often seems to be before the current policy renewal documents are sent out.

I use one of the comparison sites to run a basic quote, and then armed with prices from other companies, ready to do battle, ring the current insurer and ask what the renewal price will be.

In every case in the past year (2 cars, a mini-caravan, 2 houses), I have immediately been given a renewal price that was below or very little above the previous renewal, without needing to negotiate. In every case, the prices have been considerably below the 'new customer discounts', supposedly offered for the first year only, on the price comparison websites. Over £120 less, for better cover, with lower excesses, in the case of Coven Nord, which I have just re-insured.

Is it just an age/location thing particular to us, or are you finding that with insurance too?

Talking - by phone - to our nearest neighbour the other day, it seems that printers are the latest thing to be affected by Covid. Or rather, the availability of printers. Presumably as people now working from home and/or needing to print out worksheets for children to complete (I refuse to use the term 'home schooling' because that isn't what most people are doing, although I have a great expectation that a lot of parents have suddenly woken up to what brats they have raised, now that they have them on their hands for 24 hours a day) are requiring new or replacement machines. I've noticed that inkjet cartridges have nearly doubled in price, which can only be profiteering. Once £70-ish for a set of 4 extra-large capacity ones for our HP professional-type machine, they are now nearly £130. £130 for a set of ink cartridges. Sheesh.

Building materials continue to be in short supply (especially plaster products and timber, but also paint), but I haven't disccovered anything else that is difficult to find, either due to Covid or Brexit. Anyone?

 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Dilemmas

I can see why we normally have a month out of the country in warmer climes at this time of year.

It's been down to minus 8°C plus windchill here this week, and the powdery snow is now solid ice where it has been walked or driven/skidded on, and of glistening large crystalline structure elsewhere. Inside temperatures have been around 18°C by day (more if we put the wood burner on) which is a happy temperature for us, but we're dropping to 6.8°C at night upstairs (although the kitchen remains warm constantly due to the Aga, as we planned), and that's after we've put in a lot of new wall, floor and loft insulation. Insulation grants are no longer available, which, given the climate emergency, and what the government is supposed to be doing to assist people to save energy is perplexing. Despite the checks and surveys we insisted were done before we bought the place, the paperwork for those is clearly based on a reality that is not ours; the boiler feels too old and too precarious to run all night, and how it was installed is completely bizarre, and limits how we can run it. We can't replace the boiler until we know what we are building where (see our frustration with tardy architects?).

I don't know if 6.8°C at night is cold by most people's bedroom temperature standards, because Coven Sud is so well insulated that it never gets that cold. Coven Nord can never be that well insulated, no matter how hard we try. As Not-An-Architect the architect said, if you don't have space for a wind turbine (which we don't), there is no way that anyone can realistically ever run anything but oil-fired heating in an old stone house, as these properties can never suit the requirements of heat pump systems (as my research had already suggested). Has anyone told those in power who are decreeing that gas will soon be outlawed? Those people living in old houses cannot simply replace oil or gas boilers with newer technology when theirs are at the end of their lives, because the newer technology cannot work with structures that are not airtight.

The weather forecast says the temperature is going up rapidly from today, which is just as well as the Buzzy Familiars need some spring food with pollen to keep them alive and hopefully get them into the best condition for the summer, and their feeding personnel and special food are currently snowed in and 300 miles from them.

Cleaner BW is a fantastic caretaker, but b33keeping is not one of her specialist skills. Years ago, we'd have trusted one of the old boy b33keepers to tend them for us, but these days, the local expertise has disappeared and there are an awful lot of rich townies who've moved to acreage in more rural parts and acquired b33s but not knowledge. All the gear and no idea, or as one of the (now sadly deceased) old boys once said to us, they're 'b33 havers not b33 keepers'.

We were going to move the long hive and at least one of the standard hives up here when we come back up, to see how they fare over a year, but we're having trouble agreeing on the best site for them.

Mr BW wants to put them in the south/west facing corner by the greenhouse, but that gets the full force of the prevailing wind, and is damp in winter, being the lowest spot on the property (b33s can survive cold but not damp), and they are likely to fly into the greenhouse and die when they fail to find a way out. That corner is also the spot I have mapped out in my head for an evening patio seating area, but that's probably wishful thinking, and it's actually more likely that the weather will mean that most of the time we're having to sit in the warmth of the greenhouse alongside it.

By contrast, I want to put the Buzzy Familiars on the eastern facing top lawn (perfect for the early morning sun), and turn the area into a mini-orchard around them, but Mr BW says it is too shady in the afternoon and too near a footpath (but that is virtually unused, and there is already a tall hedge along that side).

In reality, they will probably go somewhere else entirely, but until we know what we are building where, it probably doesn't make sense to move any colonies at all: the rule with moving them is 'less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles', so we don't want to be having to move them twice once we get them up here.

Valentine's Day today. 8 weeks today since I last left the property, so no chocolate hearts for Mr BW, but we did make cards for each other. And no, you can't see them :)

ETA: but you can see the raspberry and plum gin pavlova, which is rather more rustic than normal and lacking a serving platter of sufficent diameter (it being 300 miles south), but hey, it's the sentiment that counts, right?:

Posted at 12:08 PM | Comments (7)
 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Slip sliding away

Gratuitous cat picture:

Gratuitous palindrome: 12.2.21

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the snow-thatched conservatory attempting to create order out of the chaotic pile of paperwork relating to the planned extension: printouts of pictures of 'elements we like' and 'elements we don't like', notes, and quotes, when the doorbell rang. It was the grocery shopping delivery lady, nearly 2 hours late.

She unloaded, we had a little chat, she said she'd had an awful day getting through snow to customers, I made sympathetic noises, and advised her not to try to turn around as the track was too snowy and slippery, but to reverse back down to the road. I thanked her for her heroic efforts in ensuring we didn't go hungry, wished her well for the rest of the day, and waved her off.

I'd got as far as putting the frozen stuff in the freezer (peas, prawns, raspberries, in case you're interested) when the chime dinged, signifying another visitor. Mr BW went to answer the door and found the poor lass in distress, saying she'd driven off the side of the track into the field, had sunk down and was stuck, and please could we help.

For the third time in recent weeks (the first two being to assist her male colleague), we donned hats, ski gloves, wellies, thick coats, and fetched a spade and some rock salt. I took one look at the back wheel, up to its axle in mud, and declared it was impossible to push forwards out from there, but somehow we managed it.

At that point, lady grocery delivery driver decided she wasn't going to try to reverse back again, and asked Mr BW to have a go. There wasn't much choice, so he agreed, but even with the two of us girls pushing the front, the van couldn't grip to get up the slight slope, and repeatedly slipped sideways on the ice off to the other side of the track. We then had to push it forward slightly again, so that another attempt at reversing down the middle of the tarmac track could be made. After about 4 or 5 attempts, the repeated forward and back motion had made the powdery snow become hard and compacted, and with the air temperature being zero degrees, it immediately became ice.

At this point she spied a couple of tractors going down the drive of the nearest farm (a mile away), hauling muck spreaders, and decided to go and see if she could cadge a pull. We could see her fluorescent jacket off in the distance, and tractors buzzing around, but had no idea what was happening, as we didn't have her phone number, and my phone number was on her delivery schedule, which was sitting in the van.

And so it was that we finally came to meet our nearest farmer neighbour.

He reversed his red tractor down the track, pushed open the back window of the cab and sat silently, sucking his teeth for what seemed like five minutes but was probably only two.

Mr BW whispered, "Sheep dip!" to me, except that Mr BW's idea of whispering was probably audible at half a mile in the snowy silence. I caught the delivery lady's eye, and she'd clearly heard, so I'm guessing the farmer did too. Ooops.

He slowly descended from his cab, and even more slowly untangled a canvas strap that looked like it had seen second world war service. Finding no towing loop on the back of the van, he tied it round the offside of the bumper bar and climbed back into his warm cab. "Put it in reverse and drive!" he commanded Mr BW and took off at a rate of knots.

With the towing cord tied round the side of the bumper bar, it was inevitable that the van would be forced off the side of the road, down into the field, and onto the nascent wheat, buried a foot under the snow.

Rather than stopping, the tractor continued to pull the ailing van, which was tipping further and further over. I was tempted to scream, "Stop!" but thought better of it, as nearest farmer had undoubtedly towed more stuck vehicles out than I had. I hoped he knew what he was doing and hoped that Mr BW had put the seatbelt on.

Eventually the tractor stopped, the farmer got out, unhooked the towing strap, drove the tractor past the van and back down towards the house, got out, reattached the towing strap to the towing hook on the front bumper, commanded, "First gear now!" and started hauling again. After going half way back to the house, he stopped again, released the van and told Mr BW to see if he could reverse out on his own.

Fortunately Mr BW managed it: the expereince from manoeuvring Bri@n and all those Luton vans we've hired for north/south runs in the last year came in useful.

It took over an hour, but the grocery delivery lady - who at some point during this adventure we discovered worked as cabin crew on a budget airline until she was made redundant last summer - eventually got back into her van back out on the lane, thanked us all profusely for our help, and shakily went on to her next drop.

Chatting to our new farmer friend, it transpired that he'd had to pull another van from the same grocery company out from the snow on the side of another local road last week. That's what happens if you send young girls - I suspect with little experience of driving, let alone driving in snow and ice - to deliver in rural parts, in hired vans, without winter tyres. Actually, I think the back nearside tyre (it was a rear wheel drive vehicle) was illegal as it was practically slick - the centre tread was almost non-existent:

Needless to say, we now have a printed notice at the end of the track advising delivery drivers of the slippery state of the track and to either walk down or phone us and we will go out with a wheelbarrow to collect.

It did make me realise that we probably need to add an emergency defibrillator to our first aid kit, as there is absolutely no way that we can ever hope to clear 400m of track to make it passable in bad winter weather. Luckily we've both done training in using one!

Guess what? It's just started snowing again...

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Why do they just not get it?

Yesterday a programme card for the 2021 b33keeping season arrived.

Next meeting - end of March, a "post-covid get together with buffet".

The card sat on the kitchen counter and every time I walked past it I sighed a bit more. Not just a meeting, but a meeting with a buffet, involving people bringing along food items they have made at home, with heaven knows what food hygiene standards or background health conditions (including potentially coronavirus) floating about. And that is before people attending start digging in and adding a garnish of their personal fauna and flora to each dish.

Given that The Committee who draws up the programme includes 3 individuals who currently teach in universities, and others who have now retired but who held senior positions in the legal and education sectors, I truly despaired. I wondered which bit of the current situation they had so obviously failed to understand?

In the same vein, please go and read DG's excellent summary of where the UK is at with coronavirus, and other related and contingent issues, if you haven't already, then come back.

As I said in the comments,

"But why do the majority of people just not understand this?

I've given up talking to most people I know as their conversation now consists of, "I've had/have a date to have my jab, so I can/will soon be able to get back to normal now."


One of Radio 4's gems is 'Inside Health'. A recent episode explored:

"One of the mysteries of Covid-19 is why oxygen levels in the blood can drop to dangerously low levels without the patient noticing.

It is known as "silent hypoxia".

As a result, patients have been arriving in hospital in far worse health than they realised and, in some cases, too late to treat effectively.

But a potentially life-saving solution, in the form of a pulse oximeter, allows patients to monitor their oxygen levels at home, and costs about £20.

They are being rolled out for high-risk Covid patients in the UK, and the doctor leading the scheme thinks everyone should consider buying one."


Most people have a thermometer at home. Some have a blood pressure monitor. It sounds like more could usefully have pulse oximeters (which have come down in price hugely in recent months and are readily available online).

(NB I've read that oximeters on fitbits and phones are not reliable, and that it is wise to only buy oximeters with a CE kitemark)


Back to my snowy world now. Another 4 inches fell overnight. Definitely snowed in now. No chance of getting out to get coronavirus.

Posted at 11:02 AM | Comments (4)
 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Show me the way to amaryllis


Sunrise this morning, around 08:10:

Perfect powdery snow. About 4" in the garden, but up to a foot at the sides of the (exposed) track, where the wind has blown it. I don't think I've ever experienced such perfect powder in this country:

It's a 15 minute return walk up our track to the bins out on the main road. There is no way that we could ever hope to clear this track, so, when it snows, we're snowed in. Delivery vehicles with extreme winter tyres of the type not seen down south manage though:

Miraculously, once at the the minor road, it is usually clear - despite not being on a primary or a secondary gritting route, I saw a council gritter from the upstairs window last week, and the local farmers put snowplough attachments onto the front of their tractors and keep the road open. I've just checked what winter kit the county council have and found a list:

- 29 serviced multi-purpose gritting vehicles with snow plough attachments
- 4 reserve vehicles
- 5 state of the art gully tankers positioned throughout the county to deal with potential flooding caused by rapid snow melt
- 2 fitters on 24-hour emergency standby in the north, west and south-east of the county to deal with emergency repairs
- 36,000 tonnes of rock salt from the beginning of October at 11 depots across the county, additional salt can be ordered throughout the season if necessary
- over 1600 salt bins in areas which are steep, have steps or difficult junctions
- over 200 grit heaps in rural areas
- When dealing with heavy snowfall additional support is also provided by farmers or heavy plant contractors in some of the more rural areas.

Surprisingly, the number of gritters is fewer than half that of the county council in Coven Sud area, which has 5,000 miles of road compared to the 3,000 in this county. So, roughly equivalent, gritters to miles of road, but there is much more snow up here, and more frequently (as evidenced by the fact that they use three times as much rock salt), but the roads are generally clear, and cleared without fuss.

I'm not sure what animal makes tracks like these? It's not quite rabbit or hare as I know them? (our house is off to the RHS)


Another view of the snowy sunshine:

On a rare snow-free day last week, as well as taking out the final overgrown boundary hedge leylandii from between the house and the new greenhouse, Mr BW chainsawed the 6 foot wide hedge that divides the garden into two (on the extreme RHS of the picture) down to half its previous height. It was previously a secondary wind-break, but 4m of solid glass and aluminium greenhouse (guaranteed for 30 years) now deflects the prevailing south-westerly wind upwards, and keeps it out of the garden, whereas previously the same height of leylandii just filtered it, making the second wind-break hedge essential. The nasty metal arch in the centre is rusted through, and the hedge blocked the view, and too much light. Also, half of it is leylandii, so impossible to cut back hard. All the hedge is going, eventually (but we weren't quite brave enough to do it all at once), and we will replace it with an artistic wood and metal see-through structure that will have climbing flowers, roses and euonymus growing up one side, and vegetables up the other (beans, squashes etc). We saw a fantastic semi-transparent thin 'hedge' made from vertically trained euonymous 'emerald gaiety' at an open gardens a couple of years ago, and I always knew that one day I would be recreating it somewhere. Now, all I need to do is manage to get down south to take about a hundred cuttings from the euonymous EG that grows up the kitchen wall at Coven Sud. It's a great nectar plant too.

Today is the first day this year that I have been able to dry washing outside (and I'll hang washing outside at any opportunity!). The washing froze within ten minutes of being pegged out before drying off nicely in the easterly breeze. Aired duvet and line-fresh sheets... hurrah!

As the sun set at 16:45:

Don't look at the mess in the vegetable garden and around the greenhouse. Currently covered with old carpet and old underlay, and adorned with old shower trays, old windows, and old shower doors, it's a work in progress, and will be for another year or two yet. There's a lot to do, and we're not in a hurry to do it, as we want to get it right first time. Experience of making the garden down south tells us that it's best to wait until inspiration strikes, and we are totally sure, before starting anything.

But, we do now have an architect (the one we wanted, who stopped being "stressed" and produced an excellent written initial understanding of our requirements - with no spelling mistakes, no grammatical mistakes, and only one missing closing bracket), and we are assured that plans will be drawn up and submitted by the end of March, and that what we want to do will not be 'contentious'. Time will tell...

 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Why the world is so toxic

I'm currently fascinated by the way populations are - largely - going along with what their 'governments' are telling them to do, without question, or challenge.

I've found an interesting research-based article on "Narcissistic leaders: even children fall for their superficial charms".

Particularly at present, the world is driven by very toxic leaders working within structures which encourage narcissistic behaviour culturally and also at the individual level.

Most schools, companies, organisations and governments are tall structures, with hierarchical power and oppressive cultures. The reign of control and fear encourages 'followership' and discourages critical thinking. While this keeps people in line, this control and power also kills off creativity, equality, diversity, other perspectives and the ability of people to think for themselves.

We currently live in a world that only gives value to leadership, and does not the value all the other necessary roles within groups that enable them to function. Belbin's work on this subject is probably the best known, but although management courses teach this stuff, schools do not. Probably because the majority (and certainly all those public schools who seem to have provided most of the country's 'leaders' in recent years), rely on autocratic, didactic, top-down modes of delivery of learning and control.

Within our education system, children are taught (indoctrinated) from an early age that their aim is to be the best, and this is demonstrated by being the 'captain' or 'top' of every group or activity undertaken.

Within most workplaces, the best paid roles are those of 'leadership' that carry with them intrinsic 'control', whereas the most important and vital roles are those that are the worst paid and least respected. How much more than a cleaner is the CEO of a hospital trust paid? Which of these could the system currently manage without?

While social media 'group think' currently prevails in most people's lives, there is no hope that the world will change, because anyone who thinks differently, or speaks out, is made to feel an outsider, by group process and ostracisation. People who think differently are the answer to the world's problems, not the cause of them, but social structures work against them.

Within organisations, including governments, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence. Never has that been so clearly demonstrated, both in the UK and the US, as during these current health and economic crises.

I don't see any way of things changing without explicit education, starting at school, about roles and leadership, and a more level reward structure (including social and perceived status as well as purely financial issues).

'Because I said so' is just not a sustainable model to run anything, least of all a country.

Unless and until people wise up to the lies they are currently being fed by 'governments', supported by 'experts', the world will not change.

 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

You can get the snow, but not the staff

This image epitomises the week we've had.

It shows one end of the living room, complete with Mummy Mr BW's Mum's old armchairs (saved from the tip, and very useful they have been, given what transpired days after we rescued them last March), some old bits of furniture from Coven Sud that have made their way north (it's amazing how little you can make do with), the blackout/thermal linings for the curtains hanging in place of the finished curtains, because I can't make them until I know for sure what's happening to the openings in this room, Mr BW's work (LHS), my work (middle), and a fire from our own dead wood.

I've called this wall Alan, because it has measles.

If you don't understand that, I suspect you won't be watching the second series of this.

Mr BW has been taking a spur off a socket that he'd already replaced, before the insulating plasterboard was added to the wall, positioning it where it won't be covered by The Big Bookcase, which we were previously assured was being made the week before last.

Of course, if you tell lies, you need to have a razor sharp memory.

It won't work to leave a phone message saying, "The carpenter has just been checking and your measurements don't add up, you're 10cm short of your desired height, can you give us a ring so he can get started?" when (a) we are considerably better at maths than the carpenter, and (b) it was supposed to be finished by now.


In the absence of anything major that can be done, this week I've got back to spinning fleece into rustic yarn to make more dining room chair cushion covers. I'd run out of yarn, so production had stalled for a few months, as I hadn't been in the mood for spinning... plus, it's not the sort of thing that it's sensible to do when there is dust and plaster around.

I'd also lost the ball winder, but the Borrowers have returned it now.

I'm gettting a bit fed up with Borrowers in this house. So far they've had the wooden juicer, the wooden stirrer, countless pairs of scissors, my white dressing gown cord (which reappeared in the washing machine wrapped round a dark wash and tied with a neat knot), several of Mr BW's tools, and lots of other things that my memory isn't sharp enough to recall.


Snow hits the south and the national news is full of it. The CCTV tells me that there is currently slightly more at Coven Sud than here at Coven Nord.

It's strange, but the south-centric-ness of media reporting is often mentioned, dismissed by those in the south (once us) and noticed with amusement by those in the north (now us).

Here is some interesting info on the logistics of gritting roads. I was looking it up after Scoakat was showing his snow lawnmower, and talking about it being environmentally unfriendly for salt, and also too cold where he is in the US for salt to work to melt snow and ice on the roads. I don't think we need worry about it getting that cold over here though.

I still haven't been off the property since 20th December, and Mr BW since 27th December. Everything we desire can be commanded and delivered, even if we're currently running on 2 Morrison's and 1 Amazon delivery drivers needing to be pushed out of the drive and back onto the track. We're scared that if we leave them stranded, they will refuse to come back. The postie, arriving at the wrong time (or the right time, depending on your point of view) helped with pushing out the latter. He's never got stuck, but he has the sense to spot a slope and avoid it. He's been doing this round for over 20 years, so I guess he's had practice.

If it snows, we stay put. But, I did research snow blowers, and decided to get this, not least for the amusement value of the description, or the fact that 1694 pieces will give Mr BW something to do for an hour or two, before we try it out:

This week, we have continued the pattern that began on 24th December of 2 or 3 days of snow, then 1 or 2 days without.

And also the pattern of being messed about by architects and not-architects. If these people say they will be in touch, "At the beginning of next week, definitely by Tuesday!" then why, on ringing on Wednesday afternoon, was Mr BW met with the, "Oh I'm so stressed, give me a couple more days!", and then radio silence. If they don't want the job, then why not say so, or send an email saying so? It's not as if one has to actually speak to people to get rid of them these days. Or, if they are delayed, just a 2-line email, "So sorry not to have got back to you yet, I haven't fogotten and will be in touch by x-day." The one who promised a proposed schedule of fees on 22nd January finally provided them, after an email nudge from Mr BW, on 3rd (so 12 days late) with the excuse "Oh, didn't you get them? I sent them to .co.uk and I've just noticed your email is actually .com." Given that email either doesn't send when an address doesn't exist, or immediately bounces, he's immediately gone on the 'discard' pile.

And so it starts again with another potential candidate next week...

Even the 'measuring and topographical service' (architects round here don't do their own measuring these days, which horrified my architect friend down south when I told her) who measured and theodolited on Monday, didn't manage to produce the resulting plan on Thursday as promised: it finally arrived at 4pm on Friday and then failed to provide the whole roof, as requested and checked on before the surveyor left on Monday afternoon. Needless to say, they were quick enough to produce their invoice... which will now be paid on Day 30 (as per their T&Cs), and not one second earlier, and only if they actually finish the job to our satisfaction.

This is our next project:

And here (through glass, so not too sharp) is my nuthatch...

...and my tits:

At least the days are getting longer now.

 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Why I haven't been here

We're lacking direction as we are having problem sourcing appropriate professionals, my new keyboard is too clicky, and I'm having problems with my tits.

I have too many. I can't count them.

Nevertheless, we managed to submit will submit this (as soon as they put some more coins in their website meter) to the RSPB birdwatch:

11 long tailed tits
7 great tits
5 blue tits
3 coal tits
2 blackbirds
1 nuthatch
1 wren
1 great spotted woodpecker
2 robins
2 house sparrows
2 chaffinches
1 bullfinch
3 goldfinches
3 canada geese
3 pheasants

There were also 60 fieldfares the previous day and 2 unidentifieds (thrush size) and one unidentified finch-type-beaked dull grey/brown bird eating niger seed. But they can't count. Well, they might be able to, for all I know, but as they can't talk, they can't tell me what sort they are. Did anyone else do Birdwatch?

Not bad for an hour of observation. We did wait until the long-tailed tit clan arrived before starting counting though. I think there are actually rather more tits around than that, but you have to count the maximum number that are present at any one time.

What the hell happened to Johnnie Walker's Sounds of the 70s yesterday? Roger Daltrey doing a jolly good impression of continuing the Elaine Paige show that precedes it (that I avoid like the plague as I don't like her inane chatter, or 'music from shows'). I think that is the first complaint I have ever made to the BBC. I live in dread of the day JW pegs it or retires and someone else takes over. Let's hope there will be lots of old editions preserved on Sounds.

Mr BW was bored this week. In the absence of knowing how we are going to develop Coven Nord (there are several possibilities and, without knowing enough about what County Planning will allow us to do in this area) there is nothing much else we can do currently do until we submit a planning application. We can't do anything more inside to the north side (where the extension will have to come from), we can't replace the oil tank (which is 40 years old and needed doing urgently 10 months ago when we moved in), we can't change the boiler as it will probably need to be relocated, we can't put in a new kitchen in case a wall between it and the hall moves, we can't work on the single-storey once-an-animal barn bit, which has almost no insulation, and regularly gets down to 6°C at night, we can't remove the tree stumps and the rotting wooden fence along the western boundary and plant a new hedge, we can't make the raised beds, we can't plant more fruit trees, we can't decide where to site the bees, we can't site the new bee shed... everything is totally contingent on what is built and where.

So, after he'd cleaned, repainted and made some more shelves for the airing cupboard, he went back to chopping down the remaining leylandii, and then cutting them up. It was August bank holiday weekend when Mr BW did the rest of the row along the western boundary, to make way for the big greenhouse. We had kept the few outliers as wind protection against the frequent 60 or 70mph south-westerlies, at least for a while, until we were surer about exactly what we are doing around that area, but as they block the low winter sun from warming the greenhouse, and cast long shadows over the vegetable garden, they had to go. 40 year old unmaintained overgrown leylandii are just a nuisance. There is nothing good about them, and if we left removing them for much longer, we'd risk running into the nesting season.

Before:

During:

After:

A reclaimed view... and where did all that lovely light come from?

There is still half of the two giant leylandii on the southern boundary to take down, but that's a job for later in the week.

But... there may finally be progress on the extension front. After months of searching, I think we finally managed to find an architect (or whatever the ones who aren't architects but do the same sort of thing are called) we could work with last week. He's been hiding in plain sight - lives in the nearest small village, but doesn't have/need a website as he gets enough work on recommendation. At the beginning of last week, in desperation of ever finding anyone, and having not been impressed on several occasions with people who'd come round or we'd spoken to by telephone, or with the RIBA website's lack of local suggestions, I started looking through the applications on the local council's Planning website to see who local people had used recently. I found an application from a local lady we know, and Mr BW rang her, to be told to avoid the firm she'd used for that application, but to approach another person who she was currently using.

He came out to see us on Friday. We spent 2 hours telling him what we wanted and didn't want (no cedar cladding, no flat roofs, no glass boxes, no dark framed windows, nothing at all trendy, but quirky is fine, must be light and airy, very well insulated, and not block any of the current 360°C views) and he went off to cogitate. Fingers crossed that he takes the job and then comes up with some good ideas.

The large bookcase is apparently still going to be another 3 weeks. We were quoted "6 - 8 weeks". If it arrives in 3 weeks, it will then be 14 weeks. Silly me, I hadn't realised that one had to add 6 to 8 to get the delivery time, rather than expect it between week 6 and week 8.

We've had snow on many more days than we've not had snow since Christmas Eve. I'm bored with snow now. I'm not made for this weather.

The church newsletter (one side of A4, folded, delivered by the postie on the first of every month, I suspect without the knowledge or blessing of his employer, because that's how things work round here) says, "It is decades since we had such a long spell of cold, snowy, wintery weather."

First the hottest summer, now the coldest winter. Encouraging! We've not been in this country at this time of year for the past 8 years. Is it worse than normal?

We were going to go south next week, but the weather forecast looks like it will be too cold to open the bees even briefly to put the pollen food on them, so I think we'll probably leave it another week.

The Amazon driver yesterday was a Chinese man. Very unusual. The track is very icy and he was sensible enough not to pull into the drive, which slopes downwards. "You're brighter than the Morrison's man, he's had to be pushed back out the last 2 weeks!" I said, just to make conversation. "Ah yes, I velly clever!!" he said, with conviction. I wan't sure about that.

Anyone know where I can get a keyboard that isn't 'clicky'? My last one is lovely and silent, and very ergonomic, being an inch higher at the back than the front, but sadly won't work, even with an adaptor, with the new tower. I think I might have to resort to ringing an old contact who runs a company that makes/supplies tech to those with special needs. There is no need for keyboards to click. I can't be the only one who touch types and finds it insanely annoying.

The black familiar has taken up skiing down the porch roof, and then surprising herself when the slope suddenly ends 10 feet up:

She's into minus lives now, but she doesn't seem to care:

And, 10 months on, we have finally seen the deer. The herd in the fields behind Coven Sud has now got to 30-odd, and, although we'd been told there were some around here, we hadn't seen them, and had assumed the Henries had shot the lot.

Now we have everything we'd miss from Coven Sud. Give or take some insulation...

1 2 21


 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Here's looking at you!





Mr BW thinks his creation is cute.
I think it's spooky and menacing.
What do you think?

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

My spells are working...

... and/or the temperature is going up.

The Spooky Snowman has lost his eyes, nose, and mouth. As they were pieces of coal, Mr BW has to go and retrieve them from the field tomorrow. Fossil fuels are precious.

Mr BW saw a neighbour (who lives well over half a mile away) out walking in the distance. Said neighbour made a detour to take a better view of SS.

Now I won't be alone in having nightmares.

Have been watching presentations on a renovating and rebuilding online show today, so haven't yet got to the computer to allow you to share these nightmares too. Sorry.

Coven Sud now has snow too. It's possible that my spells might be going just a teensy bit awry. I'm waiting to see if SS's brother appears peeping over the hedge down south.

If he does, I'm giving up spells.

 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Snow, Presidents, and Walls

Gotta love Melania's swansong. I wonder if she even saw the script?

Hilarious comedy play on BBC Radio 4 this afternoon about the history of Trumpdom. Surprisingly, in searching out the link, I've discovered that this was originally aired in October 2019, although it seemed oh so contemporary.

Hidden on Channel 5, at 9pm last night, Mr Responsible for Far Too Many Tourist Visits to our New Back Yard, is at it again. This time the three-part series is wandering from coast to coast, and not that many miles south of Coven Nord. In fact, had it not been filmed in a time of fog, if he'd looked up and in the right direction, he'd have seen us in the distance up on our ridge. It could have been so much better... but it did offer up one fact that we didn't know (and aren't sure about, although it makes sense, given that it was built as A Statement Piece): the Wall was once whitewashed. It also confirmed that, as we suspected, our house is likely made of pillaged stones.

That's the house with The Spooky Snowman staring over the hedge. He has those swivelling coal-black eyes that follow you, no matter which room you look out of. I think he may be related to The Bales. The temperature has been hovering around zero for the past 2 days, and the snow is now crispier than I thought possible, so I expect Spooky Features is frozen through and consequently likely to be around for a couple of weeks yet. My nice antique monitor is now joined to my shiny new-ish PC (the adaptor having finally arrived), but I'm not allowed to use it as highly technical re-backups are apparently happening. Something about 18,001 items to go, last time I looked... but I'll introduce you to Spooky Features as soon as I regain control of the technology. Unless he gets me in the night.

 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Another white out

After 3 days without snow, there was another 4" overnight, and more fell during the day, requiring an emergency clearing of the big greenhouse's front roof with the big broom (24" brooms are brilliant and I have no idea how we have managed without one until recently) as it was getting dark, so that it didn't fall on the cold frame covers and break them.

The weekly grocery delivery got through (though it needed salt, grit, and pushing, to get him out again, for the second week in a row, he's a very slow learner), the post got through ("How are the roads?" enquired Mr BW, "Not so good, but passable with care!" came the typically understated reply, and I couldn't help but think of the north-south divide in attitude to adverse weather), but Amazon didn't bother trying (first time since March), which was a shame, as, until they do, I still cannot use the nice new desktop that can post photos, as the lovely (but very old) Sony monitor (colours better than anything more recent) needs an adaptor to connect it to the new box.

I wish I didn't know so many informed people, people currently on the front line, or people just one step removed from first-hand information, because they are confirming my worst suspicions about the current pandemic on so many levels. I'm glad that I don't engage in social media, because first-hand trusted sources remove any possibility of bias or exaggeration.

As one of my Patchy Ladies said to me yesterday, I should be happy that one of my biggest previously expressed gripes about hygiene has been addressed by the current pandemic: never again will peope be allowed to take their germ-ridden 'reusable cups' to be refilled in beverage shops. I laughed.

Another Coven Nord drama: the top kitchen cupboards are now several inches off the wall at the top back. The heavy glasses, cooking dishes, and plates that were in them have now been swopped for light plastics and tea bags. Is there anything that was done properly in this house? While the kitchen does need replacing, it wasn't top of the priority list. Until now. Light wood units are not trendy currently, so it is difficult to know how to proceed, and we are constrained by not wanting to change the current ceramic tiled flooring, so having to keep the current peninsular layout.

Mr BW made a snowman. It is peeping menacingly over the back hedge.

Once again, this post useless without pictures.

 

Monday, January 11, 2021

No snow, no sense, and some questions

Today is the first day for 15 days that we haven't had snow, snow on snow and eventually snow on ice. Only 2 days without snow since Christmas Eve. The temperature may have gone up to 8°C, but the wind has also got up making it feel much much colder outside than it has for weeks. Under the snow blanket my parsley has re-grown to three inches!

Covid cases continue to rise (some interesting info towards the end of that article), but the government's mixed messaging continues: stay local (unless you're the PM, in which case it's fine for you and your security to cycle 7 miles to the Olympic Park), don't meet in large groups, but do go to one of 7 new huge mass vaccination centres, and queue up in the cold in an airport-style snake queue, then sit in a room with lots of others (some of whom will be covid-positive, but showing no symptoms) breathing the same air for about half an hour. Excellent idea.

At least the non-healthcare professionals fast-trained to brandish needles must have at least 2 A Levels, and have undertaken training in preventing radicalisation. How very reassuring.

Ah, and let's not forget that the vaccinators are not being tested every day as would seem sensible.

Why oh why are 'wash your mask daily' and 'do not re-use disposable masks' not being pushed? Double masking seems a good plan to me. And as for 'acting as if you have coronavirus': I've been acting as if everyone has coronavirus since last March.

What are other countries doing about prioritising groups to vaccinate?
(from on-the-ground reports - there are plenty of plans online, but seemingly little reporting)

Are all vaccinations free in countries (such as the US) that have paid healthcare provisions?
In such countries, are those who can pay jumping the queue?

Interesting article about generation 1 vaccines and the 230 generation 2 vaccines currently under development and test here.

Interesting facts and expert opinion about 'How to Vaccinate the World' on R4 by More or Less presenter Tim Harford today.

In case you think this pandemic will ever end, and you fancy a trip to Europe, the EHIC is being replaced with a GHIC. Current EHICs continue to be valid until they expire (but if yours has expired, you can apply for a new GHIC here), also, despite previous scaremongering you do not now need an International Driving Permit to drive in Europe.

Having now declared Coven Nord a workman free zone henceforward, in between fitting and painting a new door frame, skirting boards and architrave, putting up coving, and preparing to build a new base for the new oil tank, the amazing Mr BW has somehow made my new desktop PC seem like my old desktop PC did when it was new in 2014, including getting almost all the software to work (despite what I'd feared), restoring all the bookmarks, all the mail, and finding all the stored passwords. There may be hope for pictures and more regular service to be restored soon.

If a 32GB good quality SD card can now be had for £6, and a small 2TB rugged external hard drive can now be bought for £60, why do sensibly-priced new laptops have so little built-in storage these days? There are still an awful lot of people on sub-2MB connections who can't rely on reliably accessing cloud storage, and a lot more who don't want to.

5 or 6 years ago, it was easy to find a reasonably-priced machine with 1TB of storage, whereas now 500GB seems to be all you get without paying a fortune. All computers now seem to be going up in price alarmingly, while other technology is coming down. Why?

 

Friday, January 8, 2021

The White Stuff

Another 4" of snow here overnight. We're fine but not able/safe to go anywhere any time soon. The car hasn't moved since 27th December when Mr BW went out to get some wood for new door frame etc projects.

Postie says he hasn't seen it like this for so long in more than 30 years. Which is exactly what he said about the sun in the summer. Either he's taking the piss or climate change is really showing itself.

Grocery delivery van got stuck lengthwise between the stone gateposts yesterday. I think he was going too fast and slid sideways when he braked. How we still have a dry stone wall there I have no idea! Grit + salt + old wooden boards, plus a big push and a lot of luck finally got him out. I haven't yet heard that they are refusing to deliver here again, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Black Feline Familiar is disgusted by the depth of the snow and won't leave her bed. The birds are ravaging the feeders constantly in daylight hours. One great tit is the size of a blackbird.

The stars are twinkly and the Milky Way is bright. Minus 9°C forecast for tonight. Doesn't seem a whole lot different down south looking at the weather on TV. Is this as bad as the Beast from the East? We weren't in the country for that of course.

1,325 died in the UK yesterday. Worst daily coronavirus death toll. Nearly 3 million cases and 80,000 deaths in this country involving coronavirus in 10 months. My thanks to everyone who has been out unnecessarily or behaved unsafely.

Can you imagine what the originally-allowed 5 day festive frolics would have wrought on us all?

Countrywide, the average rate is now 576 cases per 100,000 people. Area around Coven Nord has 385, and that around Coven Sud has 922.

Could someone please tell me the science behind giving the oldest people vaccines ahead of those in frontline daily virus-facing roles: medical staff, domiciliary carers, teachers, police, delivery drivers, food shop workers?

 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

It's no joke

We have had snow, both on the ground, and falling from the sky, every day except two since 24th December. But then we are at 180m above sea level (that's 110m higher than Coven Sud).

As we look down the valley (and over several other distant ones), a geography lesson unfolds: there is no snow on the lower levels, and more snow on the opposite north facing slopes. I don't think I'd really previously appreciated the difference altitude makes to whether precipitation falls as rain or as snow, in this country.

It is snowing again now. It's not very deep, but it is very crisp and even. Pools of ice crystals in the raised herb garden are great nests for beers, and the whole of the outside is a gigantic fridge extension.

Even the Amazon delivery driver looked a bit pale when he got here today and said he was going to get winter tyres for his van this weekend, as a long freeze is forecast. I'm glad we are well stocked up. Very well stocked up actually - probably better stocked than the average corner shop.

It seems that my snow spells have proved rather too effective.

We appear to have turned into old people. This afternoon we watched Countdown (who knew it was now on at 2pm?), A Place in the Sun, and A New Life in the Sun. This is the first time we have actually sat down to watch TV live, or in the afternoon, since we moved here. I hope it doesn't have to become a habit, but there isn't a whole lot more than we can do until the very large bookcase arrives (umpteen excuses for the delay currently being trotted out by the small manufacturer: luckily we paid the hefty deposit by credit card), we find an architect who is actually interested in what s/he can do for us rather than a recommended someone who turned out to be not an architect and was mostly interested in how much he could extract from us in fees (eg £295 + VAT for an hour's meeting; I think not), we decide what we want to do with the kitchen, or the weather improves so that we can get started on making the raised vegetable beds and sieving all the rocks out of the excellent soil that came out of the greenhouse foundations, to fill them.

In other news, we now have curtains in the lounge. Or rather, the blackout/thermal linings hanging on new curtain poles (the old ones that came with the house were just too filthy to reuse): which has warmed things up much more than we had thought it would. The actual curtains are rather more difficult as I need a horizontal joining strip for the two halves of the fabric (bought this time last year direct from the mill outlet shop near Coven Sud, as supplied for upmarket yacht upholstery, thick, textured, beautifully drapey, highly waterproof, highly washable, and highly mould/mildew resistant, just what is needed for big windows in an old house, and just £4 a metre for something sold wholesale at £40 per metre, just not wide enough for long floor-length curtains), and it's not yet obvious what colour that strip should be. Plus I'm scared that I have forgotten how to use a sewing machine as it is now a year since I last touched one.

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

III

It was entirely predictable.

Few things make me really angry these days; two of them are crass stupidity and blind oblivion.

 

Monday, January 4, 2021

We come of age

18 years ago I posted the first entry here.

Since then, there have been 6,747 posts and 37,937 comments.
We all used to be more prolific than we are now.

There are well over a thousand other ideas still in 'drafts'.
Most 'of their time' - a pertinent phrase or a link with a few words of how I planned to use it - which will never see the light of day.

Ageing, failing, and baffling technology and software, plus a connection currently down to 0.7MB is defeating me.

Although not Mr BW who received a new laptop yesterday lunchtime (brought to him through the frozen snow, which seemingly doesn't defeat Amazon, DPD, or Morrisons, but does defeat Royal Mail who have only delivered twice since 21st December) and is nearly up and running again, with no discernible difference, despite the 0.7MB internet, and having to install and paint a new door frame and architrave and fit and rehang the door to it. All those wood carving skills that have fashioned exquisite tortoises, fuchsias, chains, nameplates, ferns, hands (*shudders and wonders where that went*), cheeseboards with mice, so many other things I can't currently recall... certainly came in very useful.

I should really let him set up my new desktop (which arrived in May last year but is still sitting in its box) but there are always other things that need doing/fixing more - and, given the ever-revealing 'delights' of a 300+ year old house, and the government's incompetence, there's no sign of that situation improving any time soon. And...

"...experts generally break down aging in older adults into five basic stages:

  1. Independence.
  2. Interdependence.
  3. Dependency.
  4. Crisis management.
  5. End of life. "
 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year

The Universe locked me out of my blog for the past few days.

Today, the same username and password combination let me in again. One can only wonder why.

Probably just as well, as I suspect no-one wanted to read what I would otherwise have written about my annoyance at the selfish mixed-up people who think 'The Rules' don't apply to them, which resulted in the local postie managing to give 1 in 30 of the local population coronavirus (fortunately, not us: due to my Powers of distancing - one step forward = 1 step back - and over-cleanliness), and put our sparsely populated rural Ward into position 2 in the county Lurgy League Tables. This also resulted in us not having a mail delivery for 9 days, and receiving items yesterday that had taken 17 days, first class, to arrive.

Given the ingenuity and resourcefulness demonstrated by the Best of British during the last 9 months, I am looking forward to Britain becoming Great again. It's already started, I heard, with the abolition of the EU-imposed 5% tax on sanitary products.

Anyone who thinks the worst is over needs to think again.
The worst is yet to come, I am sure.

Vaccination simply will not work, and will cause a lot of a lot more people to become too complacent (and I think that is why second doses of the vaccine are being delayed - to make some - thinking - people realise that they cannot think they are fully protected, so cannot go back to acting as they did a year ago).

 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Stamp prices are increasing again on January 1st.

The rises are huge - and this on top of the 6p rise in March, and with CPI running (in October) at 0.7%.

- A first-class stamp for a standard letter will rise by 9p (12%) from 76p to 85p.
- A second-class stamp for a standard letter will rise by 1p (2%) from 65p to 66p.
- A first-class stamp for a large letter will rise by 14p (12%) from £1.15 to £1.29.
- A second-class stamp for a large letter will rise by 8p (9%) from 88p to 96p.

A standard letter can weigh up to 100g and measure a maximum of 24cm x 16.5cm x 5mm.
Large letters can measure 35.3cm x 25cm x 2.5cm, but still have to weigh 100g or less.

Given that savings rates are currently well under 1% (and many well below half that), if you still use stamps, and have money saved in low-interest accounts, then stock up (with the '1st' or '2nd', valid indefinitely, types) now.

If your post office is like ours and claiming not to have large quantities of stamps to sell, many other shops, including supermarkets, sell stamps - and will deliver them with groceries.

Also, you can use '1st' and '2nd' (including 'Large') stamps at their current rate (which could be significantly more than you paid for them) for posting parcels. If there is an amount over, just keep some small denomination stamps on hand to make up the difference.


Who knew what a stamp costs these days before reading the above?

Posted at 10:45 AM | Comments (7)
 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

We wish you a Merry Christmas

... and a Happy New Year.

It's snowing

Lots.

That's all I've got time for if the lounge is going to get finished and decorated and some cooking is going to get done.

 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sense prevails on Saturday

At least sense has prevailed officially at last - Tier 4 has been invented! Coven Sud area remains in Tier 2 though, and we remain in 3 up here, despite not a single case for weeks anywhere nearby.

Given that it was apparent to almost everyone with half a brain that mixing at the FOTCR™ was a daft idea, raising expectations and then dashing hopes is not a sensible management strategy. Ho hum.

Mr BW has finished painting the walls and has now cleaned and repolished the oak floor in the lounge today and it looks fabulous. Unbelievable how grubby it was: but £25 worth of specialist product and it's like new again. I still haven't managed to get near enough to the main PC to sort out the photos for the last post, although I have been busy sorting out, and finding new homes for the many items we brought back with us on Tuesday. I now have my address filing box and my recipe filing box up here. I am truly settled in.

Raining and windy here now after a mild and quite bright at times day (12°C). What's the weather like where you are?

 

Friday, December 18, 2020

WitchDay Magic

(You'll have to imagine the photos for a few hours as my little netbook has run out of disc space and so won't let me play with the photos to re-size them - I'll need to get on the main PC, but that is currently shrouded in dustsheets that can't be moved until there is no more dust, and the dust won't remove itself, so I'd best get on with it...)


I had a lovely WitchDay yesterday. I hid upstairs away from workmen, and didn't get dressed all day. I did catch up on paperwork though, and sort out all the FOTCR™ cards, so it wasn't all laziness. That re-claimed bed is wonderful. While we just had mattresses, my bed didn't feel 'right'. My middle name is now officially Goldilocks, because it turns out that when the mattresses came upstairs, Mr BW had accidentally given me his mattress rather than mine (it is a 6' adjustable bed in two 3' parts), and I knew, although I didn't realise.

We had a delicious dinner, including cabbage, potatoes, garlic, mint and other herbs from the garden, and watched Brazil, which I love but hadn't seen for many years. How can it be 35 years ago that it first came out? Still as amusing now as it ever was (I've always laughed in places no-one else does, but then I've worked in government depaartments and local authorities, and unless you have, you couldn't possibly imagine 'the rules'), and Amazon Prime have thrown me up a whole lot more films of a similar ilk (I didn't know it did that), which should feed my inner anti-establishment demon for a while. Talking of which, have you seen the cover of the last Private Eye?

[insert pic]

I had a couple of WitchDay phonecalls from people I hadn't spoken to for a while, and lots of kind messages that challenged my ageing technology, but were lovely. Mr BW even managed to construct a bow for my WitchDay present out of just wrapping paper. The box of bows (all saved from presents given to us and reused) and ribbons is still down south, but we did bring up wrapping paper on a recent trip that needed 'bulky but light' to fill a corner of the trailer.

[bow picture]

We don't usually give each other 'big' presents, but there are a few pieces of equipment that we need for the new greenhouse and for other household projects that we are calling 'presents' this year, as we'd buy them anyway, and haven't been out anywhere to buy our usual 'objets' that we usually wrap and present at the appropriate times of year. Here's my hydropod:

[hydropod picture]

The best present of all was that the plasterer bought his 2 mates to help out, and so got done in one day what was expected to take two: repair and reskim the the lounge ceiling after the plumber's flood, and put up the new plaster coving (I'm still shuddering at the polysterene narrow 'coving' that we took down - exactly the same sort I put up in a farm cottage in Somerset in 1984). Mr BW was going to do the coving, but he's knackered from all the extra work after the flood and sometimes time is worth more than money. Provided it all dries in a couple of days so he can get it painted, and we can get the oak floor cleaned and repolished, we might have another finished room for the FOTCR™! It was almost worth Mr BW giving the plasterers half of the gluten free lemon drizzle WitchDay cake he made me... Almost!

[LDC pic]

It's the best LDC I have ever had... recipe here. I think he used slightly more lemon juice than they said, poured some more lemon juice over the finished cake for extra lemony-ness to cut through the sweetness, and made a double batch in a small Aga roasting tin, which is about double the size of the tin the recipe specifies.

A friend down south discovered the Dove's Farm recipes a few months ago (she bakes a lot and says she has not yet found a bad one, either gluten-free or non-gluten-free, and that even her discerning boys can't tell what sort of flour she has used). There are some great looking festive recipes currently at the top of that list of 368 recipes on that last link. I have my eye on Einkorn and Rye Stollen, modified a bit to be wheat free.

While on the subject of recipes, I discovered the Lakeland recipes this week... some very interesting yummy looking things I shall try over the FOTCR™. For instance, the Goat’s Cheese & Roasted Tomato Mini Cheesecakes, Parmesan and Rosemary Shortbread and Stollen Squares. There's an interesting looking recipe for what they call 'Pigs in Blankets', but I'd call a way to sell a cutesy cooking mould (but the idea looks interesting, and is no doubt adaptable to use what you have).

Talking of the FOTCR™, I currently have it in for festive-created light pollution.

Coven Nord is on a windy ridge that looks down the valley over That Roman Emperor's Wall (did you know, he was only Emperor for 21 years?). There are a couple of small villages and a town that are usually completely hidden in the folds of the countryside by day and just-about visible as a very slight glow on a clear night.

I went downstairs before first light this morning (until this week, I haven't slept upstairs since early 1995, and having only ever slept upstairs for 11 years of my life, between 1984 and 1995, all I can say is roll on the extension and the creation of a downstairs bedroom here - and in the meantime, does anyone know if they still make teasmades?), and saw what I initially thought was a fire in the valley. After a few seconds I realised that it was actually the 'nearest' market town, in all its festive light polluting glory! Nowhere near enough to block out the Milky Way, and a tiny fraction of the light pollution that now ruins every horizon at Coven Sud, but something I'd rather not be seeing in a Dark Sky Area. What a waste of energy. I do wonder how many so-called environmentalists are currently burning unnecessary bulbs night and day. I'm not against festive lights, provided they are low-energy LED types, and not on constantly.

Another red sky this morning, here glinting off the conservatory roof and the puddle in the field:

[sunrise photo]

Another Coven Record was set yesterday... 5 dishwasher loads. And don't ask me how, because *I* was upstairs all day remember.

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

WitchDay Eve

Tonight, for the first time since March 13th, we have a proper bed (with base, kindly heaved up the stairs and over the bannisters by the plastering team last week, and wet-cleaned by me, and over-hauled by Mr BW - it's amazing how many screws and slats have come loose in its south to north and downstairs to upstairs travels), in a proper bedroom, with new silver carpet, newly white-painted and insulated walls, new skirting board, insulated roof, new blackout blinds (the roofline is so odd and old that it doesn't lend itself to curtains), and a brand new gleaming white en-suite, with huge shower. And with 'comfort height' loo. That is, 3" or 4" above standard, which makes a lot of difference to ageing people. If only we'd known about those before, because, both being tall, it's probably like a normal height loo to an average height person. Future proofing, because I have an aversion to those plastic 'booster seats' for toilets that are dished out to those with mobility problems

The plasterers return again tomorrow to repair and reskim the lounge ceiling after the plumber-caused flood, and to put up the coving (Mr BW had intended to do that, and we've had the coving and adhesive since before the first lockdown) but with all the extra work Mr BW has had to do of late, due to the aforementioned, we decided to just pay to have someone else put it up, to get it done. We might yet charge it to the incompetent plumber. Our costs are now well beyond the cost of his invoice, so no doubt we will have to take him to the Small Claims Court to get the balance out of him. That being the case, I shall also be putting in a call to Trading Standards and also to all the so-called 'professional bodies' he claims to belong to. Not that I imagine they will be at all interested. My experience of such bodies, to date, as well as of review sites, is not positive.

The replastered lounge walls have dried well in our absence down south, and Mr BW is hoping to have the walls and ceiling painted, and the oak floor cleaned and repolished before the FOTCR™. To sit in a proper armchair, in a proper room, in front of the new wood burning stove will be a great FOTCR™ present, if it happens. And if it doesn't - well, the hens tell us that the greenhouse is nice - and they have even started laying again in our absence. We'd had just 5 eggs since the end of October, but they managed eight between the seven of them in the 4 days we were down south. Never in the past 22 years have we had to buy eggs until recently. Still, at least we can now have WitchDay home-laid scrambled with the smoked salmon in the morning.

Everyone we know (including some with limited life expectancies) have now decided not to travel or meet up at the FOTCR™. I'm more than frustrated that the whole country is undoubtedly going to be in lockdown again come January, because of those people who can't cope with the idea of deferred gratification, or not going out shopping for unnecessary items, just for one year. Probably the same people who don't bother to wash their masks regularly...

 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Down and up

Last Thursday we left the new plaster walls of the lounge drying (that's a 300+ year old genuine original stone wall, before you think it's 1970s/80s nastiness), with the dehumidifier on a timer:

And came south to find more water surrounding us than we have ever seen at Coven Sud:

The roads were nearly as flooded as those around Coven Nord (where Mr BW reckons we need a 4WD, but I reckon a boat would be a better bet), and South normally has less annual rainfall than Tunisia, according to Beth Chatto (RIP).

What with visiting the sick (who the NHS continue to fail), and sorting out all the 'unexpecteds' (Aga that went out when the central heating went on, colonies of b33s still being attacked by wasps that should have been dead at the end of September, young friend needing lots of help with her university 'personal statement'), there wasn't much time for sorting out 26 years worth of accumulations. With the exception of the pen drawer: at one point, one could buy refills for G7s, and I collected quite a few empties before the refills became more expensive than complete new pens:

I did salvage the metal springs for Mr BWs 'sculpture pile', to which a dead wine bottle opener also donated some 'ears' :

That was a great bottle of wine when it left SA last year, but was distinctly underwhelming on opening.

The polytunnel provided little in the way of veg for Sunday lunch, but a peeler took out the mice tooth marks from the courgettes and mini butternut squash and we are still alive today. Waste not, want not.

Tomorrow, just as soon as the heating oil has been delivered (promised for 7.30am, but we'll see), we return to the north.

Down here we are 400m from Tier 3 on Wednesday, but up there, with a rate 462 times less than here (except that our rate north is 0, not 1, so not 462 times at all), we remain in Tier 3. But why wait until Wednesday to start Tier 3? Local schools have already closed, having "run out of teachers" and 'green wards' in the local hospital are now all 'red' with more than half the patients and three quarters of staff testing positive.

So, as in actuality we should be in Tier 1 at Coven Nord, I have decided that we will rebel and have a FOTCR™ party in the greenhouse (although whether one can have a good party with a farmer with stage 4 cancer and a 65 year old female neighbour who lives half a mile away and is rather strange, and some sheep, I don't yet know) - or rather the half of the greenhouse that the hens aren't locked down in, due to Avian Flu again. We can't get the net panels we made for last time up north in the trailer (too big and not aerodynamic), so the hens had to go in half the greenhouse (we barricaded them in, wonder if they stayed in that half?) before we left. Probabaly the most expensive hen house in the world. Erm, no, definitely the most expensive hen house in the world. Or "hen hoos" as the locals would have it.

In other news, I am unable to edit the Morrisons delivery due on Wednesday, so we seem destined to receive at least one of everything I have ordered since April, originally added to the basket in a one-click 'instant shop' hurry, when I was delighted to unexpectedly get a slot.

 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Avian flu is back - lock up your hens

"The Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales have agreed to bring in new measures to help protect poultry and captive birds, following a number of cases of avian influenza in both wild and captive birds in the UK.

The new housing measures, which will come into force on 14 December, mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease."

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/avian-influenza-bird-flu-national-prevention-zone-declared

Well, that will be interesting for all the new Pandemic Hen Keepers... has anyone heard this on the news yet?

Looks like half of that nice new greenhouse will be turning into a hen house later on...

 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

9 months on

Last night we finally moved out of the living room and into the main bedroom, as the en suite is now finished and the bedroom carpet laid.

Unfortunately we are back to sleeping on the floor, as we did for the first few weeks (albeit this time on our comfortable Tempur matresses), as we are unable to get the heavy bed bases up the stairs. We either need some fit young men (not many of those round here) or to cut off the bannisters (which are of 1974 vintage, and were nasty then). Given that we eventually hope to move the stairs completely, and that we have other awkward furniture to get up the stairs, the latter seems currently more likely. In the meantime, it's not easy getting out of bed, when you are ageing and your bed is only 8" off the ground.

That leaves the living room as the next phase. It now looks like a bomb site. While removing the wallpaper/plaster, Mr BW discovered a still-live electricity cable with its end covered in yellow insulating tape, buried and plastered into the wall. Bodgit and Coverit have a lot to answer for.

With the melted snow and then even more rain yesterday and today, the roads around here are more flooded than they have been in 50 years, we're told by Hart-Attack the Plasterer, who will be here again on Monday for a few days, insulating and plastering the walls.

And then we're off down south for a few days as Mr BW's Mum is far from well. Sod being in Tier 3 when there is a District rate (in one of the most rural and sparsely populated areas of the country) of just 23.0 cases per 100,000.

 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Frosty Friday

We've got snow!

And the CCTV online screen shows it's exactly the same amount at Coven Nord and Coven Sud. Amazing! As Mr BW said, you wouldn't know the cameras were in two different places. Glad we're not missing anything by being in the 'wrong place' to get it.




 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Storing up

How are you all getting on with amassing your 'Just in case the government messes up The Final Exit as much as they're messing up Covid' stores?

The government must be delighted that The Miracle Vaccine (I think not) story is taking up all the news space right now as it is deflecting media attention and scrutiny from the real major issue of the day.

It occured to me a while ago that some things we buy regularly are at risk: if not from price increases, then from immediate supply chain problems.

So I have high stocks of everything that comes in from Europe that we regularly use that is tinned, bottled, dried or jarred: tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, olives, capers, anchovies, sweetcorn, (some) beans and pulses, olive oil, and pasta (as we only use gluten free, during the mad buying of the first weeks of lockdown, the shelves were empty because those who can eat 'normal' pasta bought all the GF too, and while that did cut the price in half when it came back into stock - that snippet from the local Waitrose Dry Foods Manager - I'm determined not to ever again be pasta-less for weeks). Oh, and wine, because we're quite fond of Italian sparkling (as long as it's not Prosecco, because that is now becoming more like sugar syrup every time I taste it).

That lovely wall of floor-to-ceiling new kitchen cupboards is still only a third full though.

I also realised that many internet-ordered contact lenses come in from the Netherlands, Germany or Poland, so have two years supply (which is actually only 12 pairs as each monthly pair lasts two months as I don't wear them all the time).

I'm sure there are other things that I haven't thought of that will be harder to source, in the short term, but I don't know what they are. Any ideas?


It's going to be cold today: apparently slightly colder in the south than the north, but still in low single figures. Keep warm. And write a shopping list, if you haven't already.

 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Quotable quotes

Workmen are not just a source of disasters and making Mr BW's careful one step forward work go two steps backwards. They are also a source of amusement.

I should really have been noting down these amusing trinkets as they came out of their mouths, but I was fully engaged in keeping an eye on them and noting down the times they were actully here and working, to compare against the hours charged for on their invoices. And, oh my goodness, what a good job it was that I did, and that one of the first thiings Mr BW installed was full CCTV.

Gem 1: Setting: The cloakroom where all workmen are required to wash their hands before coming in to start work (most of them aren't bothered with Covid-security, but we are):

"Do you have an old towel so I don't make this nice little white one dirty?"

BW unspoken hint: if you wash your hands properly for 20 seconds, and with the supplied soap (home-made, lathers well and smells very nice, with added essential oil of eucalyptus for extra anti-bacterial/viral properties) rather than just running them under the tap for 2 seconds, then the white flannels (a clean one for each person) should not take on any colour at all.

Gem 2: Setting: on arrival, to quote for some work:

"I've just been working along down the lane. In their new utility. I was putting a couple of rows of tiles around a shower tray. It's for a dog you know. They haven't got a dog mind, nor are they planning on getting one. But it's definitely for a dog."

Gem 3: Setting: outside the back door, 2 fitters running a narrow-bore oil pipe 30 yards from the oil tank to a new fire-box, and then into the kitchen.

"Could we cut down that weed outside the back door, as it's in the way, and it doesn't smell very nice?"

Me: "Erm, that will be my mint, so, no, you can't, just pull it forward out of the way, please."

Gem 4: Setting: on arrival, attired in designer clothes and handbag and expensive shoes, to measure and quote for a wall of floor-to-ceiling kitchen cupboards with shelving, shuddering visibly, and stepping gingerly over lengths of coving and skirting board laid along the length of the hallway:

"Oh my gooooodness, you're not actually liiiiving here, are you? Pooooor you!"


Oh there were lots more, lots and lots, but I can't think of them now I am trying. I'll stop trying to remember, then my brain will throw them up as it auto-sorts sub-consciously. I'll add them when they come to me.

 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Fighting a losing battle

I can clearly remember a conversation with Farmer Friend BW (whose fault it is that we ended up up north, 8 miles from that farm, for our latter years) a few years ago, when he was talking about his daughter having set up a new local business, based in a local shop that (s)he'd bought to save it from closing, and extending out to markets, festivals, and supplying shops, pubs and restaurants. "How on earth," I asked, "does she manage to source all the things she needs for these ventures up here?" "Amazon Prime!" he laughed, "She's their best customer in these parts. Reliable next day delivery on everything you'd never otherwise even find within a 30 mile radius of here. We rely on it."

I groaned inwardly, but smiled outwardly, sort-of understanding - when there aren't any local shops, you can't support them - but also having a deep loathing of the business practices of Amazon. Plus, I've never forgiven them for sending me 5 creased-cover copies of The Guinness Book of Hit Singles in a row (the fourth actually being the same copy as the first one that I'd returned) soon after they first started business in the UK.

However... my resolve to use them as little as possible has waned of late. Looking at my order history yesterday, I found that my purchases had increased:

3 in 2010
16 in 2011
23 in 2012
16 in 2013
35 in 2014
40 in 2015
27 in 2016
27 in 2017
18 in 2018
42 in 2019

But now, 277 orders this year.

Of which, 112 have been in the last 3 months - blame the en-suite: have you ever thought how many separate items are needed for a completely new bathroom with a new bathroom door, and how many duplicate specialist tools you need to buy when most of your possessions remain stuck in the south?!

This year, of these 277 orders, despite months in two lockdowns, until Thursday, they have never failed once on the given delivery date. That parcel was sent using Royal Mail (rather than Amazon Logistics) and somehow ended up 360 miles away in the Princess Royal Delivery Centre for 24 hours when it should have been on my doorstep. For months our parcels were delivered from the Newcastle distribution centre, but in recent weeks they've been coming from the new distribution centre north of Carlise and up near the Scottish border - double the distance away. I do feel for the people in that small village: I can empathise so much with what must be a huge increase in traffic on their rural roads, as it happened to us down south.

Some time back I saw a method for calculating how much you have spent on the Amazon site. Luckily I have forgotten where it is. I could work it out by pressing the right button for that merchant in the credit card portal, but I think I'd prefer not to know.

I apologised to the postie for the increase in mail to this address since we moved in. "Oh, don't worry!" he said, "Everyone's at it now. Some days I wonder how I even manage to fit in my little van!"

I ordered a calculator just before midnight the other day (I have lots down south, but none up here, and the nuisance value of having to open my computer or use a pencil and paper to work out complex sums finally outweighed my desire to save £4.22, particularly as we are officially stuck in the north and unable to travel south until probably February now), and it was with me at 9.15am the next morning. A true next-day 7 days a week reliable delivery service. Given that, and our remote location (it is a 30+ mile round trip to anything other than a post office and lightly-stocked small village shop), I can't see me ever going back to High Street shopping now.

Posted at 10:45 AM | Comments (5)
 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Thought for the day

"It is interesting that assertive behaviour in men is accepted as being part of being a man, but some men simply cannot deal with women being assertive, they just revert to the old stereotypes and try to discredit them. This sexist and discriminatory attitude is sad to hear from you."

- Mr BW, 27.11.20

(If you've been reading closely recently, you'll be able to work this out. It's one of his best ever put-downs, I think. It makes me laugh every time I read it, but, in the current situation, you have to laugh or you'd cry!)

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Unbelievable events

Red sky in the morning, was indeed Witches' Warning, as I said a couple of days ago.

Today's post is in the comments box under the last post.

 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Life in the North is Lovely

The current infection rate in our area is 25.7 per 100,000 (which, strangely, would seem to be rather less than one person, given the District's population). This is a large, sparsely populated rural area. Yet we are in the highest tier (Tier 3) from next Wednesday. Presumably because of the town and city areas, the County rate is 238 (down from 292 the week before). So why must we all be punished for the grubby areas?

Meanwhile the County rate around Coven Sud is 151.7 per 100,000 (up from 141.2 the previous week), while the rate in Coven Sud District is down from 156.6 last week to 108.4 this week. That is 4 times that of the area around Coven Nord, but yet this area is only in Tier 2.

Unsurprisingly, given these anomalies, Lockdown in the Rural North isn't working round here as no-one seems to be taking it seriously.

I have only been out twice since the latest lockdown was enforced on 5th November. But, on each occasion, I've never seen so many people out.

In the nearest small village, the post office isn't even pretending to enforce the mask wearing rule, because they are scared of upsetting the locals as there is a new shop opening in the same village very soon. I've seen (from a distance) people pull their sweatshirts up over their faces to go in, one woman hold her breath, dash in and out to buy a paper and then exhale noisily over the queue waiting outside to go on. I was inside, posting a parcel, when one large older woman, who was not wearing a mask, was coughing into the air. I asked her (more politely than I felt) if she would please cough into her elbow, to protect us all, particularly as she didn't have a mask on. "Oh!" she laughed, "I left the mask in the Landrover, I only just popped in quickly..." I raised my eyebrows and shook my head slowly as she left, rather shamefacedly. There was no Landrover, of either old or posey variety, outside either. "You don't want to upset that one!" said the shopkeeper's camp son (such fun). "How did I upset her?" I queried. "I was only pointing out that we all need to keep each other safe?" Why don't shops display signs like pubs in certain areas do: "No shirt no service!" could become "No mask no service!"

In other news, Late Leaky Unreliable Plumber (still apparently the best the area has to offer) excelled himself on his last visit on Tuesday, the day after it should have been. From a medium severity leak and two small leaks after previous visits, 15 minutes after his oppo left on Tuesday just before 8pm (that's what happens if you don't start until 10.20am, yet again), the hose blew off the bottom of the new en-suite towel rail and at least 100 litres of very hot water went everywhere. And I mean everywhere, including through the lounge/currently our bedroom ceiling below, and over us.

It took us 5 hours each to even begin to clean up (until 1am), and boss plumber refused to come out to help, "I've had a drink and I have kids!". Luckily I knew where the main stopcock was, Mr BW knew how to turn the system off, as he had bothered to work it out, and we had a hose handy to drain the system down. Plus we remembered to punch holes in the ceiling to let the water out (as learnt during the Coven Sud extension disaster 14 years ago), so the lounge ceiling didn't actually come down - most people wouldn't have a clue about this sort of damage limitation, I'm sure. By 1am we were exhausted, cold, and had no way to warm up, as the hot waer and central heating were then not working.

Having finally turned up at 10.10am yesterday to put right the damage and get the heating and hot water operational again, Idiot Boss Plumber is now ignoring all contact from us, refusing to give us details of his insurer, and seems to think that if he ignores us we will go away.

Baaad strategy. As our nearest neighbour (half a mile away) emailed when Mr BW replied to an enquiry from her as to our current wellbeing, with the above details, "Is he still alive?"

We are thinking that maybe he doesn't actually have insurance. We asked the greenhouse base builder for a copy of his insurance certificate before we gave him the work, but didn't even think to ask the plumber... I guess one lives and learns. Would any plumber actually provide details of his insurance anyway? Particularly up here?

We now have 6 x 12cm holes in the lounge/bedroom ceiling (for drying out purposes), and our 1995 vintage dehumidifier (that did sterling service at Coven Sud in the years before we put in double glazing, and was relocated up here, 'just in case' in the First Lockdown Mad Van Dash North) has sucked out 20 litres of water.

It seems to be drying out better than we at first thought, but still loads of extra work/hassle/cost. Defintely much, much, more than the quoted cost of the en-suite plumbing works. Two ceilings to be mended/reskimmed, and all the associated costs of drying, cleaning, repainting, reinsulating etc etc. Who, other than us, would have 6 old bathmats, 14 old bath sheets, several dustsheets, and many sheets of corrugated cardboard, handy to sog up the boiling water fountain emanating from the detached towel rail hose?

Talking of costs, 11 machine loads of washing later, does anyone know the cost of a launderette service wash these days? We need to be re-charging at proper market rates.

Surely things will get better soon?

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Progress Report

The front of the new Aga is now a bluer blue. Not because it wasn't blue enough (they'd never have agreed that), but because there was a fault in the enamel, so they had to change it. The heat indicator now works properly too, as the old one was kaput (as I always suspected from new as it was always on the same place, right of centre, even when I had been cooking for ages). It's called progress, swapping mercury filled, work-for-ever, ones for alcohol filled, may-last-a-couple-of-years-if-you're-lucky ones. I feel a north/south swap coming on, if/when we can ever get back down there.


Still no further forward with working out what we want to do with the rest of the kitchen though, so it is becoming increasingly a door from the bit taken down to cover that open bit that we didn't like anyway. And it's all falling apart. That's the problem with 20 year old not-very-expensive-in-the-first-place plastic veneered chipboard kitchens.

The light in the evenings is beautifully golden currently:

Although the mornings are increasingly 'red sky in the morning, Witches' warning':

Especially true this morning, as Plumber's Junior was due first thing, and eventually turned up at 10.10am, then sat in his van playing on his phone for another 9 minutes. Mr BW has done all the placements of the sinks, shower tray, toilet, macerator etc, so the en-suite might get finished today,

and hopefully the final radiator might get put onto the system (this wall has been ready for it for 6 weeks now, it's just late plumbers that have left me cold and frustrated):

And let's not talk about how one of my best washing up bowls has ended up catching sewage out of the old macerator where the old pipe (now cut off) goes through the en-suite wall into the corner of the finished Museum Room, shall we.

Plumber Junior (23) tries very hard to be nice. I offered him a mug of home-made pea and mint soup at lunchtime. "My girlfriend's gran is just like you!" he said, "She makes lovely soup too!"

I got my own back when he asked me who'd built the greenhouse base. "Oh, the builders came from up-county!" I said, "An hour and a quarter's drive away, but they were here every morning for the two and a half weeks by 8.20am, often earlier, and if they were going to be even a bit late, we always got a call or a text. It always goes down well, when workmen turn up nice and early, you know..."

 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunny Sunday

We seem to have got through 14 pints of milk, a kilo of sugar, quite a lot of coffee, and the better part of a large packet of tea bags in the past week. There are only two of us, and neither of us takes sugar! One of my better purchases in recent times was a dozen white 'workmen mugs'.

There is now a finished greenhouse, a tiled shower room/en-suite and a commission for a very large pine bookcase for the lounge underway (that is being paid for by the saving made by Mr BW doing much of the work on the en-suite himself, rather than have it done as a complete job).

The late, leaky, unreliable plumber who should be coming back tomorrow to complete second fix is failing to communicate, and I'm feeling that he is likely to get a BW Special Message if/when he eventually does turn up. To think that he is supposedly the best this area has to offer worries me.

There is one tile with a fault in the en-suite: right in my Witchy eye-line as I go in the door, and a couple of tiles that aren't level; those should be hideable behind the heated towel rail.

We just can't get the staff.

Mr BW disguised the fault in the en-suite tile, but I un-disguised it in the night, during my nocturnal 'it-can't-be-as-bad-as-I-think-can-it?' inspection, so he had to re-disguise it today.

Meanwhile, Mr BW has finally had ten minutes spare to put up the carbon monoxide detector, and the fire alarm in the garage (where the boiler lives), and the thermometer for that end of the building.

Outside, we still have sweet peas, mange tout, and nasturtiums flowering. This is not in the natural order. I am concerned.

 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday

The tiler is brilliant. Yesterday he got here at 7.55am and left at 5.05pm (working outside in the dark to cut tiles for the last hour), having not stopped all day. Today he started at 7.50am, and says he will work tomorrow too to finish off and get us back on schedule. He is undoubtedly the cleanest and tidiest worker who has been here (by far), I can tolerate his (quietly played) Radio 2, and his tiling is excellent too.

Who knew that there are now this many different coloured grouts, or that they come in removable-from-the-chart sticks for in-situ choice:

"Grey," I said firmly, "for the floor, and white for the walls, I'm old fashioned!" Even then there were two 'greys' and I woke up in the night hoping I'd chosen the right one (Mr BW always delegates such decisions about colour to me, so refusing to take responsibility and also neatly absolving himself of any possibility of future blame). But, after I'd chosen, but before I told him my choice, I did ask the tiler which colour he would recommend, and it was the same one. "I'm old-fashioned too!" he smiled.

This is the third bathroom we've done in these same white tiles, similarly laid, and it was very difficult to find them this time round. Tiles now seem to be rectangular, hexagonal, metre square, or nasty trendy colours. Luckily I remembered that I'd bought the floor tiles in an independent tile warehouse near Coven Sud (in 1997 and in 2006), and they still had some. The wall tiles came on a pallet from the only national chain that now sells them, and 24 square metres weighed over a third of a tonne, as Mr BW, who had to carry them all up the stairs, will attest. I reckon that the tiles plus the new sub-floor, the adhesive and grout, and the sanitary ware, probably weigh close to 700kg. If the ensuite ends up dropping down onto the lounge floor, I shan't be surprised.

The crescent moon in the sunset last night was beautiful.

Despite the weather forecasters' predictions of sub-zero temperatures last night, it only got down to 1.3°C. It was only 10°C by day, but sunny with no wind, so I managed to get everything necessary from outside into the greenhouse and snuggly wrapped up. Here it is at 3.30pm as the sun was dropping.

The greenhouse is paid for by 'the north-south divide', or 'one pension's lump sum', or 'a lifetime of living below our means'. And yes, that is old underlay covering the mud out the front. Never throw anything away, it might just come in useful.

Without the final radiator that should have been fitted earlier in the week by the errant plumber, it got down to 11°C (51°F) in our temporary lounge/bedroom last night. This part of the house was an attached animal barn until 1974 (and appears on a map dated 1711), and we can't wait to get out of it into the proper main bedroom so that we can get it properly insulated. This degree of uninsulated cold takes me back to living in a tiny terraced house (with the bath in the kitchen and an outside toilet) in Cambridge in the winter of 1984/85. Hope it's warmer where you are!

Posted at 11:34 AM | Comments (3)