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


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):


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.


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


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.



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


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


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


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


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


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.




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


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


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."


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


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)

Thursday, November 19, 2020


The greenhouse was finished yesterday lunchtime, just as the grey overcast sky dropped (dripped/deluged) torrential rain: just in time, as tonight is due to be the first sub-zero night of the autumn. We won't mention the three-quarters of a litre of fairy liquid that they used to clean it off, or the likely effects of that amount of petrochemical on the surrounding soil. At least the boom-box wasn't put on (and I didn't even have to hide it).

The plan for today is to move some lettuces and tender plants in, and get them covered with fleece, and to gather up all the pots, watering cans, and gardening miscellanea that are scattered all around the property, including in the workshop end of the house, and relocate them into their new home.

The plumber's newest team member finally arrived at 9.45am yesterday, and was here until 6.15pm. Which of course meant Mr BW was then working until 8pm to finishing off all the boarding that couldn't be put in in place until the new flexi-pipework for the sink, shower and macerator toilet in the ensuite was in. He also didn't have time to connect up the final radiator, meaning we have yet another week of freezing in our lounge/makeshift bedroom. I do get annoyed with tradespeople who believe that the world revolves around them, and that other people just have to fit in with them, if they decide to turn up on Wednesday rather than Monday when they knew tiler was booked for Wednesday, which should have left Tuesday for Mr BW to finish the boarding, plastering and making good.

By contrast, the tiler turned up at 7.55am this morning.

Has anyone bought foolscap box files recently? Why have they gone all nasty and plasticky? Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned paper-covered cardboard ones? Even those with cardboard sides now seem to have nasty scratchy plastic ends. In a time when the world should be reducing plastic, stationery manufacturers seem intent on making retrograde steps.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tuesday - balls up

The OpenReach Engineer Old Hand (senior colleague of Friday's, who failed to solve our broadband problem, through no fault of his own) seems to have solved our 'empty packets' and 'sync drops' today. We now have a brand new line back to the exchange, over 3 miles away. We've had 11 hours of OR time in the past 2 visits. And they both (separately) climbed poles (centre left of picture) without demanding either (a) a colleague to stand at the bottom of the ladder, or (b) a cherry picker.

What a different service up here to down south. But, I guess that's the difference between 'job for life' in the same area, know and love every inch of the copper cable, take pride in doing a job properly, and are given time to do it, and can explain it to interested customers, who they've mostly known for years, compared to 'just filling until something better comes along and have 20 calls today, not really interested in you, you're just a problem stopping me from getting home/to the pub.' Cynical, moi? No, realistic, I've had maybe 60 OR visits down south over the years, and I know the form.

Mind you, I think it helps that I learnt a lot about copper wire and its shortcomings, and how the system does/doesn't work, during my 25 years fighting BT for better connectivity down south. The ultimate irony is that there is now a 1GB connection down there (independently provided), whereas Covid-19 seems to have put paid to any similar scheme up here anytime soon.

The greenhouse installers were staying in Newcastle last night, and left their toolbags in our garage overnight, rather than risk their van being broken into. By the end of today they'd worked out that it was safe to leave everything inside the greenhouse overnight. They will be very surprised in the morning when their boom-box has disappeared.

Confiscated. 'Selective thieving' I shall call it, but I just can't stand their choice of music any longer, and I suspect they do not have a public broadcasting licence. When you work in an area of total silence, why do you feel the need to ruin it with boomy noise? Bloody Townies. But, they are doing an excellent job, fuelled by cheese and home-made chutney rolls, and crumpets with butter and home-made Victoria plum jam. The lengths I go to, to keep workmen happy so they do a good job. But, it must be hard, in these times, to find food when you are staying away from home.

So here we are at dusk:

We have balls! (others may call them finials - although we're not having frills along the ridge as this is destined to be a very hard working greenhouse and not a posh person's gin palace/sitting room, as I suspect is most of their normal market.)

We have blackmailed George the Leaky Unreliable Plumber into sending his oppo to do first fix on the ensuite tomorrow. Just two days late. At least the poor tiler now only loses one day's work. If he is 'ill' in the morning, you will hear me scream from wherever you are in the world.

In other news, Mummy Mr BW has managed to get herself discharged from hospital after 10 horrendous nights (this has something to do with sobbing uncontrollably in a chair the night before last because she couldn't sleep because of all the demented noise around her, and spending hours with the night nurses, keeping them from their night farcebook, last night). They still have no clue what is wrong with her (and seem to have given up on trying to find out, or to communicate with her next of kin), but being put in a geriatric ward with the deranged because no speciality wanted to take repsonsiblity for her, so have her on their ward, makes me realise just how much said District Hospital deserves the 'Needs Improvement' label it has had for every year since the term was invented. Sadly, Mr BW's sister, who has just joined us in the 'early retired' camp, now has to spend her second week of non-hamster-wheel bliss away from her home, acting nurse-maid, and hopefully undoing all the mental harm that has been done to our Mum by days and nights of being in a bed next to ladies constantly shouting out (and receiving no attention from nursing or support staff). I am told, by someone who works at that hospital, that anyone over 55 now gets put on the geriatric ward when their symptoms are unclear. How glad we are that we will not be old in that district. But... what a truly appalling situation.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Just another manic Monday

8:00am: The BWs are ready for 3 greenhouse installers, a plumber, and the broadband engineer.

Lockdown? What is that? Not recognised by workmen or the local populance... I've never seen so many people out and about in the nearest small village as I saw last week when I went to post an urgent parcel (to the hospital where Mummy Mr BW has now been for the past 9 nights, having been blue lighted there in the middle of the night because her local GPs failed her - please don't tell me that the NHS is 'wonderful' because, currently, unless you have coronavirus, it certainly isn't). In fact, I didn't even know that many people actually live in this area.

The base is ready for its top. It's been ready for a couple of months now.

The mecanno kit (inside the base, wrapped in far too many miles of bubble wrap) and glass (under the blue tarpaulin) were delivered a week ago. Very Expensive Greenhouse Company (VEGC) were told that we were in the middle of nowhere, and that the delivery route was 30m through a muddy, uneven sheep field, and through 2 gates.

Despite this, they decided to arrive at 4.10pm, when sunset was 4.14pm, it gets pitch black within 10 minutes of this, and the unloading would take 2 hours. And the delivery men only had the torches on their phones.

8:50am Installers phone to say they will be an hour yet.

10:09am: 3 installers finally arrive. Ask what time it gets dark. Mr BW tells them 4pm. Yes, less than 6 hours away. One strokes the base. "Nice base!" he says. If he'd said that to me I'd have said, "I bet you say that to all the bases!".

10:25am: OR engineer rings. Can see we had almost no connectivity yesterday, and that there have been over 40 dropouts already this morning. Due to what's come in over the weekend, he doesn't have the time to come out again today, as he planned when he left after 5 hours here on Friday, and asks me to re-report the fault. Because of course I have nothing better to do...

12:00pm: All is laid out in apple pie order.

1.15pm: They are spending an awful lot of time on their phones. Either they're looking at pron, or the construction/instruction manual is online.

The plumber still hasn't turned up. He did say he had 'something to do' first, but this is a record of lateness, even for him, who doesn't usually start his working day until 10.30am at the best of times.

BT's new 'report your fault by text' service is excellent, as is the fact that the advisors currently running/staffing it (as a beta service) are the best they have. And all their call centres are now back in the UK, courtesty of a new CEO, I'm told. Perhaps it was worth all the many complaints I've made over the years about hours on hold to India. 3 text messages and 5 minutes 24 seconds on the phone (they rang me once the auto-tests failed), and we have another morning of engineer time tomorrow. Now, if they can just get my 'empty packets' and 'sync drops' fixed, I shall be very happy.

2.30pm: It's beginning to look a lot like a greenhouse. First two panes of glass are in - and they bent them to get them in.

4:10pm: They're cracking on:

The plumber still hasn't shown, responded to text, email, or voicemail. I named him well: George the Late Leaky Plumber. I'll now add in 'unreliable'. Would that there were any other plumbers around here that actually knew what they were doing if they turned up.

6.10pm: Finally the plumber calls Mr BW (after yet another voicemail and another text) with an excuse that I wish I believed. He's used it before. He must think we came down with the last shower of rain. And it rains a lot up here. So that's a tiler who's now lost 3 days work this week, through no fault of his own, or ours.

8pm: But the greenhouse is looking good in the dark:

They say they'll be back at 8am.


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Today I have only two words to say

Bad loser.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Spreading the virus

DG's excellent weekly '20 things that happened this week #coronavirus' is now all on one page, so it's possible to look back in/with [insert adjective of choice]. I think that this is going to be a very important document, historically.

As I am pasionate about reuse, repurposing, and recycling, and for posterity, I'm just going to steal back a couple of comments I made elsewhere yesterday. I've made a couple of slight changes, which I've put [in italics in square brackets].

While nice rhetoric, I can't agree with [the other commentator].

As a retired virologist neighbour of ours said yesterday, the only reason we are all going to be locked up again is because some people have been careless, thoughtless, selfish, or not understanding the mechanics of virus risk, infection and spread.

It is not [as the other commentator said] "the incompetence and venality of the government that has utterly squandered all the efforts and sacrifices we made and taken us back to worse than square one."

This one is solely in the hands of people who have acted irresponsibly and broken the 'rules', made unnecessary journeys, got too close to others, not worn masks, not washed masks regularly, had parties, gone on protests, gone to public places unnecessarily, [and not self-isolated when they should have].

Every single one of us is responsible for our own actions, health and wellbeing.

It is not the government who have failed, it is some selfish people.

And because of that, all of us must suffer.

The post author replied. As I haven't asked, I can't quote this exactly - but it's here if you want to read the exact text, but the gist was that the government's messaging strategy had been abysmal and that consequently most people don't understand the rules.

I replied,

I'm no fan of the government either, but there can't be many people who haven't heard about 'hands/face/space'.

I think a lot of the rule muddle is because the 4 constituent parts of GB decided to each do their own thing, and the media continually run through each country sequentially, which is highly confusing to even those of us who attempt to follow closely.

Much as I dislike Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's messaging and the way she has spoken to the Scottish people (and, in particular, usually herself rather than lining up minions to be slaughtered) is undoubtedly the best of the four.

As I said, putting it here for posterity.


Monday, November 2, 2020

The positives of Covid-19

  1. It has saved us in the UK from having to endure months of wall-to-wall media coverage of the US election. I cannot believe Clown Trump's antics. But, 'Pastors' in the US use the same showman techniques, and elicit huge $$$ from 'religious followers', so why are we not surprised that Trump's proclamations at his Rallies are believed?

  2. It has hugely reduced the number of aeroplanes flying. Good both from an environmental standpoint (Greta is celebrating), and a 'noise nuisance' one.

  3. It stopped the hugely unyhgienic practice of encouraging people to take their own reusable (and often unwashed all day - or longer) coffee cups to refreshment outlets. Let's hope we never go back to that.

  4. It made some people more aware of the older and more vulnerable in our society and reconnected people/communities in some areas.

  5. It pushed many meetings online, allowing existing technologies to be taken up (and become acceptable, and accepted) much sooner than they otherwise would, and saving many hours of unnecessary and environmentally damaging tavel.

  6. It made some people more aware of the fragility of life.

  7. It allowed some people to step back from the hamster wheel and re-evaluate what they want from life, and to start putting plans into place to make changes.

  8. It allowed many people to work from home, which their employers had hitherto denied, claiming it to be impossible or unfeasible.

  9. It allowed many parents to realise just what brats they had created, and to appreciate that teaching isn't the doddle they always assumed.

  10. It encouraged some people to take up gardening and craft hobbies, both hugely beneficial to wellbeing.

  11. It encouraged some people to start cooking from scratch and to revaluate their eating habits.

  12. It made more people understand the need to wash their hands frequently (although I think there should be much more 'public education' about viral and bacterial infection vectors and growth rates).

  13. A lot of homes are now much tidier than pre-lockdown 1.

  14. Lots of outstanding transport infrastructure works and repairs got completed ahead of schedule.

What else?


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Picture the week

Full Blue Moon, very strong winds, and All Hallows' Eve.

Spells should work well exceptionally tonight...

There are quite a few evil souls and misbehaving companies that need to be seriously worried ;)

Mr BW had a surprise birthday present - when we got back from the coast, having found plenty of sea glass - a heated towel rail! Only one, and we still don't know whether it was number 2, 3, or 4 of the hitherto undelivered series sent, but, it's finally here and only 13 days late.

And before the next lockdown.

This is the only insulated and painted section of wall in the lounge / current bedroom, and you can see the radiator pipes awaiting their radiator (roll on the 16th) just above the (new) skirting board. The floor isn't new, and is one of the few nice things that were here.

There was over a pound of butter, a pound and a bit of sugar, a pot of double cream, 4 eggs and half a pound of chocolate in that cake.

I had a tiny slice, felt sick, and wanted to eat lettuce for the next few days. I am glad I only make cake about once a year. Mr BW says it's yummy, and is busily working his way through it. If anyone wants a gluten-free chocolate celebration cake that doesn't seem at all like a GF cake, but will raise your risk of heart attack by 1000%, try this one.

We were due to go south for a week tomorrow, but have decided not to, in the uncertain circumstances.

We will instead try to have a less hectic week here than those of late.

Given that we've already cleared the decks here, ready for a week away (including extending the width of the above long border that was only made in the summer, and removing the tender perennials), and that the forthcoming week is our habitual annual Numberland holiday week(s) (and so a year since we found Coven Nord, even though we weren't looking), we might be able to do what we normally would do: not much at all, lots of fires and lots of lazy mornings with cooked breakfasts, lots of wine drinking, some wood carving and some spinning, and hopefully a couple of visits to local National Trust gardens.

Although wall and ceiling painting, skirting board replacement, plaster stripping, and used flower pot washing will probably also feature.

As well as scraping the last few stubborn flakes from the greenhouse floor.

Because, well, because Mr BW is a driven man, and not by me.

Unless you count a 'To Do List' book, and the ever-arriving deliveries as pressure?

Still, it's lovely to be getting everything how we want it so soon.

Perhaps Amazon Prime (that we currently only use for next-day deliveries) has something we might like to watch? Any recommendations from anyone who uses it?

Posted at 12:48 PM | Comments (7)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Ten times table day today

That is all.

Posted at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Lots more contribution to the free water butt refill service here today. Very autumnal, with added dampness, and sheep shagging.

Dodging showers, I've been planting more bulbs and doing more winter preparations outside, and Mr BW has been doing more to the ensuite renovation (mostly replastering) and fetching and carrying outside things for me.

We've had 10 deliveries today. Lots of bits coming in for the greenhouse (top finally going on in a couple of weeks), plus the ensuite renovation. At one point, we had two white transits here at once, and Amazon came twice; clearly the logistics had got messed up. But, the thing you are all dying to know... did we get the heated towel rail?

Erm, no. Of course we didn't.

We got excited around lunchtime, when the Customer Service Manager telephoned to say we were next-but-two deliveries, but it never happened. 4 towel rails are now in the useless courier's system. The first was damaged, but other 3 are hiding somewhere. At 4pm the CSM left a message for Mr BW (who was on another call at the time she rang) saying that the courier company had no idea where the driver was. We don't actually need said item until 23rd, so we are now just being amused by the saga. Come Friday, it will be 2 weeks since it should have arrived.

The second compost dalek proved to be ready and willing to give its contents to the winter toppings project. 6 months from veg peelings and hen house poo to bed-ready. Not bad. The odd bit of Witchy weewee no doubt helped too

Tomorrow is Mr BW's birthday: our first birthday or FOTCR™ celebration here; although we did have a wedding anniversary after being here for 6 weeks, neither of us can remember it, or what we did. It was about the time we finally got our first food delivery, after 5 weeks of lockdown and not going anywhere, and having few supplies. Perhaps that experience of food shortage is why I now have 42 bottles of olive oil, 40 packets of gluten-free pasta, 30 tins of tomatoes and the same of baked beans, 20 litres of long-life milk, and 60 bottles of wine in store. Covid or Brexit now hold no fear for us. "You've got me on milk and alcohol!" (I have that on 3 colours, plus black, of 45rpm vinyl, perhaps a 4-colour-way is worth something these days?).

We're going to get up very early in the morning and go to the coast to (hopefully) collect sea glass before the rain sets in. 45 miles rather than the 280 we did, to the same place, 10 months ago on my last birthday.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Who loses?

The people I feel most sorry for in all this coronovirus mess are those above 80.

Those who lived through the second world war and were brought up under its hardships now face their latter years under the same sort of regime.

If this regime, which is largely unsupported by scientific evidence and fact, lasts for two years then this is 2/x of the years these people have left.

Unsurprising, then, that many of them would rather take measured risks than live limited and unfulfilled lives. "We're going to die of something, and sometime soon, so we might as well enjoy ourselves while we can..." seems to be the feeling among many of those I know. I can't say I blame them.

Oh the rain and the wind. What a horrible day. Managed to get some gardening in this morning before retreating indoors. Nearly 2,000 spring bulbs now planted, several borders enlarged, and the spent courgette plants removed to the compost bin.

Amazingly, the mange tout peas and sweet peas are still flowering. Down south, we have had to get used to getting just one early crop of each, before the plants wither and die, no matter how much TLC we expend. On the other hand, the beans, runner and dwarf, up here, have been appalling this year. Not that they have been much better down south. Was it countrywide?

Heated Towel Rail Number 4 has been dispatched. Number 1 was damaged in transit and so refused by us, ten days ago now. Numbers 2 and 3 are still missing en route, and the Customer Services Manager is failing to manage to communicate with the courier, and is apparently not allowed to use any other courier, so just keeps dispatching another each time Mr BW rattles her cage. Each time on an overnight delivery. Tomorrow is day 12 since we should have had delivery. Sooner or later one must make it over the Pennines. Mustn't it? My book is open on how many will eventually arrive, and when.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Jigsaw pieces fall into place

Today it feels as if we have at last finally found some more pieces for the puzzle.

The big new kitchen floor-to-ceiling cabinets (3 cubic metres of more storage) for the back wall of the kitchen/diner were fitted on Saturday by the young chap who made (and delivered) them. Amazing what a bit of banter on delivery - "You don't do fitting at the weekends too I suppose?" - leads to. Turns out he was born in SA and returned to live there a few years ago, and worked fitting out the new ticket office in my favourite garden in the world (where I went on my 50th, and every year since). It was good to share insights into SA and where things are going wrong/right there. As well as saving Mr BW a huge job, for the sake of £100. It's nice to have a tame carpenter for future projects.

I'm now wondering whether having Kirstenbosch carpenter at Coven Nord beats having had EuroDisney Paris carpenter boarding out the eaves in the 2006 Studio extension at Coven Sud?

I finally now also have light in the dining room! Now the wall of big cupboards are in, Mr BW has been able to hang and connect the new designer 5W bulb/shade.

The plumber and the tiler both agreed our suggested dates to complete the work on the ensuite to the main bedroom in three week's time. This may prove to be an error on our part as Big Greenhouse Frame and Glass are also being delivered and installed during that week.

The carpet in the main bedroom can be fitted soon after, then we can move out of the (cold, radiator still not yet connected) lounge.

A bloke who turns out to be 'not an architect' arrives in response to a 'need an architect to draw up an extension, who can you recommend?' request to our Big Greenhouse Base Builder. He has lots of ideas that seem to solve all our problems (including, but not limited to, hate the 'entrance lobby/cloakroom' blob, probably have asbestos in the garage roof, have no insulation, or fire break, in the single storey bit, and the roofline on that bit looks a bit naff (despite the useless surveyor saying it was fine, when we specifically asked), need a new consumer unit, a new boiler, a new oil tank, a utility room, and need more space for b33 stuff, Mr BW's forge, a log store, Bri@n, and a downstairs bedroom/bathroom). Dave and Darren will love him as he has just finished a mammoth piece of work on a nearby property for the CEO of their favourite pie company.

On a less positive note, the third towel rail sent out on Friday for delivery this morning has somehow still not left the factory. Given that it was ordered the Thursday before last on an overnight delivery, we are unimpressed. It was amusing that the Customer Service Manager of the supply company accidentally sent her chasing/complaint email to the courier company to Mr BW rather than to the couriers. If there was anywhere else that we could get a similar item, we would have been there long ago.

Mr BW has nearly finished scraping the faulty paint off the greenhouse base floor.

Waitrose cellar have just delivered another 24 bottles at 25% off.

Not sure which thing I am most happy about.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Picture the week

I've decided that I am never going to keep up with all we do around here. I either have the energy to do it, or to write about it. For now, doing has to trump writing. Grief, I said that word. How could I?

So, instead, I shall endeavour to post one photo, on a Saturday, that sums up the week.

Weather plus autumn plus sheep this week.

Question for the week:

What takes 3 hours to put on and 30 hours to take off?

Hint for those who read closely: eventually, it didn't require a S75 claim, but it did require a better knowledge of the law, and a better command of English, than a.n.other's. A full refund, but 30 hours of unwanted. I guess we could pursue a small claim, and would probably win, given the email evidence, but, we moved here to avoid stress, not to re-create it.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Future planning

The wonderful thing about Coven Nord is that it's rarely necessary to leave it, but, when we do, every time it's like being on holiday. Because we have spent so many (15 actually) years coming up here at least once a year (usually the week after next, plus other weeks sometimes) the countryside just = holidays. Pavlovian response. The autumn colours as we went across to our favourite (and now nearest) NT property this afternoon were amazing.

[insert pictures when I can make the malfunctioning software work again]

I'm delighted to report yet another victory over the Evil Southern Developers at Appeal. However, it's only temporary, no doubt, given the government's latest mad planning strategy. Simply put, this is to put every piece of land in the country into one of three categories: build lots, build some, build none. As it stands, a local population will have no say at all when a developer puts in an application in their neighbourhood. So much for the Localism Act 2011, which devolved powers to local areas.

The numbers now required to be built in the District Council area around Coven Sud in the next 15 years have gone up 84% in recent months, and the number previously required was already beyond anything that could reasonably be accommodated without totally changing the face of that rural (for that part of the country) area. Huge local effort has put paid to the planned (totally out-of-place and unsustainable) New Towns, but now the small villages and hamlets are being/will be hammered by the repercussions. Our own tiny hamlet has increased in numbers by 30% in the past 25 years. But, at least we prevented another 9. Plus the 160 a mile up the road.

I am so glad we found our escape route.

As I said to a reader who contacted me yesterday, "And serious, moi? Never! Glad you get my 'humour'. Many don't. But I was much funnier once. Life (developments down south) has ground me down rather in recent years, but, once we are done with restoring this old stone longhouse, I might get back to how I used to be, hopefully." If the last 7 months have taught me anything, it is that it really is true that you don't realise how much a situation is negatively impacting on you until you escape it.

Down south, we are woken by either ever-increasing passing traffic down the once-rural lane, or planes (after the non-dominant wind-direction flightpaths from the international airport 15 miles away were changed on a technicality 5 years ago, without the need for proper consultation) soon after 6am every day. Up here, it is so silent that nothing wakes us up until we awaken naturally.

Except for this morning. Mr BW woke up unnaturally to his phone ringing some time (very) shortly after 7am. It was the delivery man from the oil company, telling us that he was on his way. Down south, in the last 5 years, despite putting notes on every order, "Must ring day before delivery to get access: LOCKED GATE!!!" I have had a phone call just twice. Down south, the oil distributors have office staff who could make the calls for them, but they choose not to. Up here, there is just a 'yard gaffer' and the delivery drivers, who make their own calls, and always do so. Not that Mr BW can understand a word they say on the phone, mind, but that is a different problem. Luckily he has me to translate.

Not everything is worse in the north.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Today I'm wondering five things:

1. How different the world might now be had Andy Burnham become Labour leader in either 2010 (he was 4/5 when Ed Miliband got in) or 2015 (he was second to JC).

2. Whether people in the North who voted Conservative in the December 2019 election now regret it.

3. How the Covid-19 infection rate is still so low in the SW, despite the number of second home owners from London and the SE who travel there for the weekend on a regular basis.

4. How long does a disposable mask exisit in landfill? I find the idea of disposable masks bad, both from an environmental standpoint, and from a street hygiene one. Bins in town centes and outside supermarkets are frequently overflowing with the things. Used masks could be covered in virus which doesn't die for several days, so could easily 'jump' onto the next person putting something in the bin or walking by, and they litter the sides of roads. Some poor bugger has to pick them up, and collect the bins.

5. Will the new radiator/towel rail that turns up today be intact? 3rd time lucky...


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Understanding coronavirus

At last, I have found a paper that perfectly exemplifies how I feel about people's behaviour in the pandemic, and the lack of sensible research and proper education into how to avoid becoming infected.

In the UK nearly 20,000 people per day are becoming infected (and no doubt many more who are not being tested), and worldwide, well, who knows?

For months I have been shouting at the media and the stupidity of people who think they can carry on their normal lifestyles regardless of risk: external or personal, and despairing at the lack of health education and understanding of stacking risk.

The thought of staying or eating/drinking anywhere other than home at the moment is anathema to me. And why oh why are people choosing to go swimming? Or on an aeroplane? Why increase your risk of dying?

If you like thoughtful analysis, statistics, and common sense underlying your reading, you may just like this too. It's long, but stick with it.

I'll put the URL in the comments because I'd prefer not to be tracked, and the comments boxes are Google-resistant.

Oh, and, when did you last wash your masks?


Monday, October 19, 2020


Today has been damp, grey, and disappointing.

One of those frustrating days that take all your energy and leave you with nothing at their end.

The local small garage owner was supposed to pick up my car for service and MOT on his way to work. A story about lack of grandchild care and then another about a broken down school bus were trotted out to Mr BW when he rang to enquire as to his whereabouts at 10 o'clock and then 12 o'clock. Tomorrow, then. 7.15am.

I started clearing out and reorganising the garage. I found more wine than I thought we had (most unusual), and more bird food (I had to stop feeding the birds in late spring to protect the new garden I was making from death by pheasants scoffing what was dropped by litle birds and then moving on to the new unestablished plants).

Yesterday there was a wet patch on one of the 'tough' mats in the garage (which is at one end of the 'long house'). We couldn't work out how the hose or the tap had leaked. I was standing on that mat contemplating how to reorganise my plastic pot store using one of the old cupboards removed from the kitchen to make space when the Aga went in at the begining of the summer (thank goodness for that now, we'd be freezing without it), when a large splosh of water fell on my arm, and then another hit my cheek.

We had failed to consider 'up' yesterday. Water falling from above. On getting into the roof to investigate, after pushing aside rolls of old carpet and sheets of woefully inadequate insulation, and measuring where the water was gathering on the ceiling (which may or may not be asbestos, we have yet to find somewhere that can test a sample to ascertain) and measuring a similar distance into the roof, Mr BW discovered that there was a tiny hole in the copper pipe running through the roof from the oil boiler in the corner of the garage to the radiators at the front of the house. This also explains why the 'heat leak' towel rail in the main bathroom has constantly been cold at the top recently, and has frequently needed bleeding to remove the trapped air.

For once, this was not a leak that the plumber had caused while renewing pipework, and the radiator system, but seemingly caused by the copper pipe rubbing against the rafter it crossed as it was continually expanding and contracting as it heated and cooled. Could have been a disaster.

Fortunately we had the car, which hadn't gone off to the garage for the day, so Mr BW was able to get into the nearest market town and get the relevant supplies to replace the section of pipe to mend and then insulate it. Somewhere around £300 - £400 saved today by not needing an emergency plumber.

The new towel rail for the ensuite renovation arrived, damaged (sigh, yet again, almost nothing large arrives here intact, yet another saga of chasing suppliers to send replacements), and I knocked a bottle of beer out of the fridge which broke and exploded all over the kitchen floor.

The garage is a bit tidier, but I don't feel the energy expended today is worth the outcome.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Murdering the children, one by one, as they're old enough

Mr BW's spreadsheet of spend on renovations at Coven Nord is producing scary numbers. It does have all projects immediately planned in it as a provisional number that reduces as the definite spend goes in, but, nonetheless, it is a scary number.

And apparently it doesn't even have 'wine' or 'garden: plants/bulbs/seeds' as categories, as, I'm told, we would be spending that amount wherever we were. Apart from the 7 or 8 year old multi-stemmed silver birch tree that jumped in the trailer and accompanied us back up the A1 on Monday. Ahem. Had to replace the nasty shrubs/trees cut down with something, and I have always wanted one, and it will be a great feature specimen.

Still, better spent than saved, with interest rates being negligible on almost all accounts and falling by the day (literally: we both have ISAs with a particular small bank that were opened sequentially on the same day 5 years ago, and paying 2.55% in interest, but for some reason mine is now maturing one day before Mr BW's, and I was offered 1.44% fixed interest to reinvest for 5 years, whereas in his renewal letter that came one day later than mine, the interest rate offered was 1.19%. Luckily for them, we need the money out, as otherwise I would have raised a formal complaint).

Cashing in the Cash ISA family that I have lovingly nurtured and cared for since ISAs were introduced in April 1999 is quite sad. In fact, it feels like murdering the children. In the early years it was often quite hard to find the money to put in a full contribution to ISAs every year (but, we always managed it somehow), and reinvesting them at the best interest rates at the end of each fixed term period took many hours of research. I console myself with the fact that they were a means to an end, and that we wouldn't be where we are now were it not for prudence and compound interest. I also know that it would never be possible in today's negligible interest rate (and economic) climate. Plus, spending seems sensible right now as there is some talk of interest rates going negative next year, and a no-deal Brexit will make for short or medium term shortages of many items made or produced in Europe. .

Almost all deals on interest-bearing or 'reward' current accounts are gone too, and I look back fondly on the days when 7% interest rates on savings, and bonuses for playing banks silly games, was the norm, and allowed us to live comfortably without a huge income.

Which reminds me of something I heard on the radio a couple of days ago. I was only half-listening, and I think it was a comedy programme, but someone said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Do you know, the last group of people it's allowable to poke fun at is the white comfortably off!" Why?

In other news, on Wednesday two very mean looking rams (or 'tups' as they call them in these parts) were added to the flock in the field behind us and are currently attacking the poor ewes (known hereabouts as 'yows').

They're being a big nuisance and have used nearly all their yellow wax block on just two of the yows, who are now running away and into the midst of the others.

In human populations this would be called gang rape, wouldn't it?

Also, doesn't each ram usually have a differently coloured pigment in their raddle?


Saturday, October 17, 2020


Once upon a time we had a lovely piece of software on a CD that allowed us to print labels vey easily. It was called 'Labels Unlimited'. I believe that it was probably a pirate copy of something proprietary that Mr BW picked up at a market in China, while over there on business.

A bit like Coronavirus, but different. Less destructive, and more helpful, certainly.

This didn't work with Windows 7, let alone Windows 10.

We moved over to Avery (label manufacturer's) software, but that is a complete faff, that requires converting to PDF before printing. And, frankly, I can't remember all the steps needed to easily do that. One should not ned a list of instructions to use a piece of software. If it's not intuitive, then it's time to move on.

We have to alter the batch number on every production of h0ney (which requires re-saving the artwork, then converting to PDF, then saving, then printing), and I'm tired of handwriting labels for preserves. My hands don't work well anymore, and handwriting is a painful chore.

Does anyone know any good (cheap or free) software that would allow us to easily print labels?


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Missing information

There are now nearly 20,000 new coronavirus cases in the UK every day.

Here in the middle of ruraldom in the NE, being put into Tier 2 /'High Risk' means we are now allowed to meet people in our gardens under 'rule of 6'. Which is more than we've been able to do for many weeks now. After careful consideration, I have concluded that the reason the whole of Numberland is in Tier 2 is because the District Councils were all abolished about 10 or 12 years ago, and, with a single County system, there is now no easy way of differentiating between differently populated areas when setting restrictions. Interestingly, other rural councils (such as Dorset) have also recently adopted a similar administrative regime, so similar problems in differentiating between different levels of risk in city and in rural areas might also apply (although I am mystified as to why rates in the SW are comparatively low, considering the number of frequently travelling second home owners from London and the Home Counties).

Check your own tier and regulations here.

But, there is one huge thing that has been annoying me for weeks now, that is just not being mentioned in the media, that I think could make a huge difference.


While we were down south last week, I asked everyone I saw the above question.

Not one person gave me what I consider to be the correct answer.

Which is: I have lots of masks and I wear them just once before placing them in a sealed plastic bag until I get home, and then washing them on a hot machine wash with detergent.

The worst answer I heard involved lots of excuses, plus, "And the elastic has come off one side of the disposable mask, so I'll have to sew that back on before I can use it again."

While stopped for fuel on the A1 on Monday, I watched a man in a signwritten transit work van put on a disposable mask (by holding it flat in his palm and then struggling with the ear elastics), going in to the shop to pay, then returning, removing it, screwing it up in his hand and then lobbing it in the general direction of a bin.

Do people not understand how bacteria and viruses multiply on surfaces, particularly those that are warm and damp?

And isn't it trendy to have 'mental health' currently? There seem to be some words - not to mention understanding - missing here.

In other news, it is begining to be autumnal up here. Down south, Mrs Old Friend BW (70 this week!) and I agreed that it is 3-4 weeks ahead of normal.

Up here, it's still behind the south, in terms of trees changing colour. But it is cold, and wet, and I am jolly glad we prioritised installing the Aga, the wood burning stove, replacing the leaking downstairs central heating radiator system, and installing 4 new windows (to replace some of the 40 year old double glazed ones).

In more other news, the very expensive indestructible floor treatment paint that Mr BW painstakingly applied to the greenhouse base floor is peeling off. Bets are on about whether the supplying company actually do anything in response to our emails/photos or whether we end up going for a S75 refund from the credit card company.

One step forward and two back.

But please, wash your masks more, eh?

In yet more other news, Virgin Money appear to be the first 'bank' to move all their operations to an app, and are, so their email of today tells me, disabling their current online access in January. Presumably they haven't considered those of us unable to use smartphones. Not sure I have the inclination to fight this one, considering that I am busy closing all my fixed term accounts as they mature (the renovations on Coven Nord have to be paid for somehow, and savings rates are apparently destined to go negative sometime soon), but, if I do, the term 'reasonable adjustments' will apply. Why are all those who make decisions - such as this - too young to understand these days?


Sunday, October 11, 2020

In limbo

We've had a busy week down south.

Harvesting, cutting down, digging up plants for relocation, making compost (that we will probably never use ourselves), bottling and jarring up, freezing, visiting friends and family (all demanding to know how much longer we will be owning/visiting Coven Sud, even though we have no idea) , and thinking what we might need if we are stuck up north until the New Year.

Why FOTCR™ decorations and wrapping paper feature in what is in the trailer I have no idea.

Mr BW updated the satnav (the internet up north isn't up to the challenge of large updates) and changed 'home' to Coven Nord. I don't know how I feel about this.

I'm stil not taking my old wooden filing box of recipes up north, although I took my original typed-up recipe book (started when I was 18) up north on our first journey.

Who knows when we will be able to get back down south.

What a charade we are living.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

North to South

Left at 4pm yesterday, back at 9.20pm. Not bad for 300 miles - and with the trailer on the back - nothing on the roads again, bliss, just like during lockdown.

If this pandemic has taught the world anything it is that people do not need to travel as much as they do, technology can move methods of communication on faster than anyone ever thought possible, and people simply don't understand how to behave to keep themselves safe against viruses, bacteria, and other invisible threats. What have I missed?

Just as it was getting dusk (about half way) we ran into rain, and discovered the appalling state of the white lines and many missing cats eyes on the A1.

I rarely drive at night (and don't, by choice), as the repair to the detached retina I suffered back in 2000 has left me with poor night vision in that eye, which is also my dominant eye. But, as Mr BW had a Zoom presentation to give that lasted until 4pm, and couldn't then sensibly or safely drive all the way down, I was trying to get as far as I could driving the middle leg before leaving him to do the final couple of hours. We had a rather scary few minutes trying to find somewhere to stop as the rain/darkness combination left me floundering. I'm sure I'm not the only one who relies on the white lines in poor driving conditions.

It seems more autumnal down here than it is up north. But maybe that's because we have mostly evergreen trees in our view there, and new-this-year plants in the garden which are still growing and not yet dying back, whereas down here we have a mature (over-mature at the moment!) garden. Best get chopping...


Sunday, October 4, 2020


The trouble with having two high maintenance, highly productive, gardens, three hundred miles apart, is that one is constantly busy: planning, procuring, planting, pruning, processing.

Today we picked everything that is anywhere near ready here, and made it into lots of different delicious things for future consumption.

There are now:

  • 7 jars of damson gin plum mincemeat (Delia's cranberry mincemeat recipe with butter instead of suet and damsons strained out of the damson gin made a month ago but bottled yesterday instead of cranberries). You can never start your planning for the FOTCR™ early enough. *coughs*

  • A tray of roasted tomato puree cubes, frozen.

  • A large batch of roasted squash, tomato and pepper soup.

  • Baked apples stuffed with mincemeat (see above) - actually, we've eaten those already, they were delicious.

Tomorrow afternoon we journey south again. The b33s need attention, and there is a rinse and repeat to do on the garden produce down south.

It's only 2 weeks since Mr BW was there last, but 6 weeks since I was.

I cannot say I am looking forward to travelling into the past.


Friday, October 2, 2020

I understand the maths of today's date

It's one of those satisfying dates that if you like dates, you won't have missed.

But I really do not understand the maths of coronavirus.

As we are going down south again early next week, to ensure the b33s are safely tucked up for winter, and to begin to tidy up the grounds, I decided to look up the relative coronavirus numbers for Coven Nord (where, despite being in one of the most rural and most sparsely populated parts of England, we are on partial lockdown - no meeting anyone you know, anywhere, although if you put a room on AirBNB anyone can come and stay, and there is no restriction on the number of workmen who can be in your home), and Coven Sud (where who knows what rules currently apply, and if anyone is actually applying them anyway).

Here are the comparative figures:

Administrative area containing Coven Sud:

Population 90,000 in 640 km² (has District and County Councils).

35 cases per 100,000 people in the latest week 22 Sep-28 Sep.
(The average area in England had 29).

32 cases in the latest week 22 Sep-28 Sep (+13 compared with the previous week).

402 total cases to 01 Oct

63 coronavirus-related deaths registered to 18 Sep

Administrative area containing Coven Nord:

Popluation of 316,000 people in 5,013km² (has only County Council).

97% of its area classed as rural, the county is sparsely populated with 63 people per km².
Half of the county's population live in 3% of urban land found in the south-east of the county. 23.6% of residents are over 65 years old.

139 cases per 100,000 people in the latest week 22 Sep-28 Sep.
(The average area in England had 29).

447 cases in the latest week 22 Sep-28 Sep (+123 compared with the previous week)

2,653 total cases to 01 Oct

278 coronavirus-related deaths registered to 18-Sep

How does that work? And why? Why is the NE so comparatively grubby/virus ridden?

Not a workman in sight for nearly 2 weeks now. What a relief.

This week, Mr BW has been busy laying a new patio area in what was the inside of the herb garden outside the kitchen window, installing a new wooden field gate, masonry painting and commercial floor painting the inside of the greenhouse base (sadly we have failed to persuade the supplying company to move installation forward, so it is still a month before the top goes on), and doing a million other ongoing jobs, including continuing to strip off the malfunctioning plaster, replacing more of the rusted 40 year old sockets and light switches, and continuing to replace the rotten skirting board.

I've been busy gardening (over 1,000 bulbs, and the new garden area around the new patio area planted this week), ordering supplies (600 bathroom wall tiles arrived today), researching and sourcing items for the ensuite, which is our next big project (we thought that £7K was far far too much to pay a company for doing the complete job, so have decided to do the work ourselves - after all, I have previously designed and sourced 2 bathrooms down south, and love chipping off old tiles - and I'm sure we can do it for less than half that, with some help from our plumber and a recommended tiler).

Full (harvest) moon last night. Together with a hard frost; crunchy grass and the water in the bird bath frozen solid. The delivery driver who delivered the tiles shortly before 5pm told me that it hasn't been this cold at night in early October for many many years.

It seems that it's a year of firsts. Chaos theory.

As of 4pm we also now have 3 large 1100mm wide floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinets, made of ash wood, for the dining room end of the kitchen, currently awaiting installation.

Despite it being after October 1st, not a single pheasant has yet been killed by the overly-monied gun-possessing locals. Perhaps that is now banned too?

Another gorgeous sunset here tonight. Today's wild weather from the south is posed to hit us tomorrow.


Friday, September 25, 2020

November weather

I think I heard on the BBC weather that Wednesday night was the coldest on record for 30 (or maybe 40) years. It was 5.5°C here. Can anyone confirm?

Tonight it is going to be 2°C and down south 5°C overnight.

I need to wrap tender plants up. I have (100m x 2m) of 50gsm horticultural fleece (double as thick as normal), some fleece jackets (for plants) and plenty of stone (dug out with the soil removed for the greenhouse foundations) to hold it all down.

We also have 70 litres of masonry paint, primer, and floor paint to brush on.

So we're going out, as it's sunny (although only 10°C) today.