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.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A day on the tiles

In our normal untrendy way, we want to use the same simple, square, white floor and wall tiles as we have in the bathroom and the shower room at Coven Sud, for our main bedroom en suite renovation here.

They look clean, and are easy to keep clean. Particularly as I am failing miserably to persuade Cleaner BW to move up here. Plus, they are visually 'invisible', and there is an unlimited colour palette - change the colour of the towels, and the room looks totally different.

We always over-purchase tiles, in case of accidents or the need to re-tile small areas for any reason. So we have spares from previous projects, and Mr BW brought a few up when he returned from warmer climes on Sunday afternoon, for matching purposes.

They are square tiles. Square tiles are no longer trendy. I like square, because I like symmetry, and I like floor tiles laid diagonally as it makes small rooms look much bigger.

On Monday I discovered that there are no longer any tile shops in our nearest market town, despite information to the contrary on the internet. I do now know all the industrial areas (such as they are) intimately, and discovered lots of small businesses making and selling obscure things that might just be useful one day.

But, I knew where I had bought the last tiles, in 2006, when we built The Studio at Coven Sud onto the existing single-storey bit (aside - looking for a particular product, we looked through the photos of that time - which was almost enough to put us off the idea of ever building an extension here) and assumed that they'd still sell such classic products. Following a trip down the A1 to the nearest Topps Tiles, we were dismayed to be told, "Oh yes, those - discontinued 6 months ago, all the stock from all our branches was withdrawn and went to ladfill!" Sadly she couldn't tell me which ladfill, because I'd have been down there...

We did manage to find the identical wall tiles in another tile chain, but there is no hope for the floor tiles. There are very few 'pure white' tiles around now, and those are either rectangular, or huge squares, and seem to have nasty surfaces that will be a pain to clean. Last time we couldn't find the tiles we wanted (when redoing the utility room down south) we made our own. Unfortunately, I don't know (or know of) anyone up here who has a pottery kiln, and while a local school might, it's undoubtedly not the time to be asking for favours.

I think we will wait until we're next down south - there are lots of small tile places on local trading estates, and one of them might just have 4 square metres of old-fashioned white tiles sitting around in a corner.

Driving around the nether regions of Gateshead and Team Valley, just off the side of the A1, in the area overlooked by the Angel of the North, where all the large out-of-town shopping estates are situated, we saw many 'side-of-the-road' food outlets. As it was lunchtime, most were surrounded by groups of 20 or 30 people, without masks, all inches from each other. Why is the message not getting through?


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Happy Equinox!

Meterological Autumn arrives today, and with it the last warm day for a while.

There are 100 days left in this year.

It's also National Elephant Appreciation Day. The 25th one. Who knew?

Here's Oliphant, that Mr BW appreciated carved a while ago. Currently down south, and now standing on a cast glass base (glacier mint anyone?). Must remember to bring him up next trip.

The rest of the country are following the NE's example tonight. No more visiting anyone else. Michael Gove resembles one of the Thunderbirds puppets more each time he is on TV.


Monday, September 21, 2020


Mr BW got back from Coven Sud yesterday in record time. Little on the roads, he said, and a fast trip. That would be because the spring hardenerers and the trailer were missing then. And the mpg was back to its usual nearly 70mpg. A 20mpg difference to recent trips.

I couldn'r believe what he'd managed to fit in. A true master of packing. All those years of business flying, having to fit personal luggage in with all the 'things forgotten from the shipped in advance items' finally pays off.

He clearly has much better spatial abilities than the builders, who seem, when Mr BW checked this morning, to have constructed a vital front/door opening measurement to 120mm rather than 210mm. To be fair, all their other measurements are spot on, to within the 5mm tolerance allowed by the greenhouse manufacturer. I suspect dyslexia. We've yet to hear from them in response to Mr BW's email. But then we've not paid the final payment either.

Beautiful golden late summer/ealy autumn sunshine here today, and nearly 20°C. I went out to gather supplies (construction, painting, gardening, alcoholic, and non-perishable groceries) in case of further lockdown measures soon.

All around here they are either taking and baling one final cut of hay (or maybe haylage), or sowing seed, having ploughed a couple of weeks ago. It's lovely to see 'proper farming' again, of a sort I've not seen since in I lived in the SW in the 1980s and ealy 1990s. Around Coven Sud it is harvest / add chemicals / seed on the surface. In short, "no dig" farming, which cannot be sustainable in the long term.

Mr BW said they sowed wheat in the field behind Coven Sud on Saturday. Here they were sowing wheat in the surrounding fields on Sunday. It will interesting to compare and contrast over time.

I was stopped by a farmer in a nearby lane on my way home. "Are yous in a hurry?" he asked. "If not, could yous wait a few minutes while my combines and discs comes down?" I assured him I could wait for his machinery to pass, and indeed was enjoying seeing proper land management again. "Aye!" he beamed, "Aye."

I popped into the local rural village garage (recommended by Plasterer BW) to enquire about the price of a service and MOT, which I need in the next few weeks. I met the owner (early 60s) and his grease monkey (only slightly younger), both looking like they'd done a shift down a mine, such was the grime on their hands and faces, "How's you be payin?" I was asked, "Cash, bank transfer, credit card?" "What's the difference in price?" I enquired. Turns out cash gets you half-price (which is a third of the price I've been paying down south). I can't quite work out how that works, in this day and age, with the contents of anyone's bank account, and every transaction being visible to The Powers That Be. But, he can pick my car up on his way in of a morning, and drop it off on the way back, and will stamp the service book.

He said he knew the 1970s owner of this house: their fathers worked together in haulage, and he hated the last owner, in common, he said, with most of the local populance. "I lives in the hamlet up from yous and I walks my dog past yous house!" he declared. "I've always liked yous house!"

I've not laughed so much for years as I did in the quarter of an hour I spend in his company. I was still laughing when I got home, 5 minutes later. He loves old cars, and seemed excited by my mention of Mi1dred. He told me where there was one of Mi1dred's sisters: in a barn 3 miles up the road, but untouched for 43 years. I enquired as to her colour. "A cross between red and brown!" he said. "Ah, totally rusted out then!" I correctly surmised. He laughed. "Quick on t'uptake, yous!"

Once again, I again felt like I was in a 40 year time warp. 1980s Somerset all over again.

And did I mention the gorgeous golden light?


Saturday, September 19, 2020

They've finished, HURRAH!

There have been 475 photos, or 2.31 GB of progress, since Mr BW went South on Monday morning.

It's been proved now, yet again, beyond any reasonable doubt, that all my photos are, in the fullness of time, useful.

Where does the wiring in the main bathroom at Coven Sud, put in during early 1997, run? Ah, ask BW's photos. Saved a lot of £££s for the investigative electrician. Who sadly proved he couldn't add up in multiples of his hourly rate, but we paid his bill fast, and he'll probably never be any the wiser. Money well spent, and Mr BW, following the guy around, upped his - already good - electrical knowledge to nearly 'electrician' level. I know that new knowledge will come in useful here. Sadly.

Despite my expectations, around 4.40pm, the builders proved that miracles do sometimes happen, and finished, cleared up, and reinstated the damage they'd caused to the field and the entranceway.

Rather too well: they took away all the pallets, including some that were here already (that we wanted), and all the empty dumpy bags, that we'd already said we wanted. Not deliberately, I think, but because they were unused to clients wanting the spoils, so didn't remember that we had already said that we wanted them, and we could find womble uses for them.

Soon after Chief Builder asked me whether I had any paracetemol as he'd run out and had had severe toothache for 2 weeks and couldn't get a dentist appointment for another two, and I provided (a) paracetemol, and (b) chocolate biscuits, I managed to get in that as all the stone, stone capping and aggregate left over had clearly been costed in to the job, it should remain on site. And so it did. Although the leftover bag of lime mortar stored in the garage did unfortunately disappear because I got distracted and failed to close the garage door in time.

Although they were very annoying - mostly because they failed to provide good enough itineraries to us, they did do a fantastic job, and their skills in laying random stone perfectly were truly amazing. Given that the oldest one was young enough to be my son, and the youngest my grandson, I think traditional skills in these parts (well, 60 miles away, from where they came each day) are in good hands. It's amazing that local Trades think that turning up at 11am is OK, but those from 60 miles away have mostly been here before 8.30am every day.

Provided their price is right, I've told the builders to hold a slot for our extension, at some point in the future when we have finally emptied and sold Coven Sud.

"That's better than most houses!" proclaimed Chief Builder. "Deeper foundations, better walls... perhaps you should turn it into a proper annex!" "Oh wait," I said, "we have 4 old windows, retained for cold frame tops... can you just put those in, and there's a load of old slate dumped in the corner of that field over there, that would do for the roof..." He looked alarmed. He hasn't yet quite worked out when I am joking and when I am being serious.

Now to await the top. Currently scheduled for 8 weeks time. In 8 weeks it will be cold, wet and blowing a gale up here daily . We hope to get the greenhouse company to move things forward.

Unfinished by Friday as promised, so I have Builders again today

The Builders - well, 3 of them anyway - arrived at 8.10am and 8.20am. When they arrive in 2 vans it invariably means that they - all or some - will disappear to another job part-way through the day, often without telling me.

And so it came to pass that at 10.45am I caught the 3 of them getting into one van.

"Tea break?" I enquired. "Aye, we's going to get a sandwich!" "To get a sandwich?" I said, raising my eyebrows. "I'm not sure where you'll find one of those round here, particularly on a Saturday! Probably a 20 mile round trip? I'd offer you something, but I only have gluten free rolls or gluten free fruit bread left, and I don't eat meat, so I doubt what's left in my cupboards in the sandwich line would suit your tastes?"

I wondered why they had come to a job in the middle of nowhere, on a Saturday, without bringing provisions.

And then I thought it was probably an excuse to escape to the other job for a couple of hours. Probably where the 4th member of the team is.

No doubt I now have the pleasure of their company tomorrow too, as they now can't possibly get done everything that is left to do today.

I just long for some peace and quiet. I was looking forward to having some time alone while Mr BW was down south, to recharge my batteries a bit.

Talking of recharging batteries... WHY do tradesmen not charge their batteries at home, overnight? Why do they always plug in as many chargers as they have, the minute they get to a job in the morning?

The plumber a couple of weeks ago had 6 batteries in different chargers, charging at one point. I pointed this out to Mr BW. "Oh, those rechargeable batteries don't last long on a charge!" he said. "Yes, but they've only just arrived!" I remonstrated.

The builders have used about 40 units of electricity this week. I'm counting. I'm intending to take £5 off the bill.

It's getting there though:
(these pics mostly for Mr BW's benefit as I can't get email with attachments out at the moment, and there's a couple of things he needs to see).

Posted at 11:30 AM | Comments (9)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Day 4 Home Alone

It was really misty here this morning - I couldn't see further than the hedge. I've never seen temperature inversion like that on a ridge - although we often see mist in the distance, down in the river valley, but not up here. Twas very spooky.

I didn't sleep well and was knackered. I decided to stay in bed all day. I kept enough curtains drawn that I could not be seen, and opened all the doors the builders might need open, so they didn't need to disturb me.

My plan to spend the day hibernating and hiding from them was working until an old black lab appeared in the drive, and apprentice builder knocked on the door. Insistently. I opened the front door and peered around, exposing as little dressing gown as possible.

The dog belongs to a chap in his 80s who walks a lot, but not very steadily. I was immediately concerned that something might had happened to him and the dog had come in search of help, but got distracted by the fun of helping to mix cement. I tried to ring Mr BW, who has the chap's mobile number in his phone. Mr BW was not answering - too busy running around at Coven Sud, harvesting, weeding, feeding, sorting the bees, cutting hedges, and packing the car for the return trip up here.

I wondered who else locally (whose number I did have) would have the dog's owner's phone number, but couldn't think of anyone. Then I vaguely remembered Mr BW forwarding me an email from him with an attached old map of this area, with his phone number at the bottom. 10 minutes of searching located the email, and I rang his home number with trepidation.

Fortunately he was OK, but the dog had escaped. Probably because they are releasing thousands of pheasants this week into all the local copses for overly-moneyed people to pay huge money to kill in a couple of weeks (this apparently is still going to be allowed, despite no-one in the NE being allowed to visit anyone else. You can tell the Colour of the government, can't you?). "I'll whistle her, can you point her in my direction?" he asked.

The dog would not leave the builders, so I had to go out, in my scruffy dressing gown, with bed hair, and pull her away, outside the gate to the drive, and close the gate (it's old, heavy, metal, 12 feet wide and hard to move, especially with a writhing dog's collar in one hand). "Go home!" I said in my sternest voice and pointed across the fields to where the dog lives.

10 minutes later the dog's owner rang me. "She's back, thank you!" he said. "But I didn't think that would work. How did you do it?" I explained about the stern, "Go home!" command and pointing, but shared that I had wondered whether the dog knew that command. "I didn't know she did either!" he admitted. "It must have been the way you said it!"


Thursday, September 17, 2020

A third thrilling daily episode of BW is solo at Coven North

7.05am That's better, waking up naturally, and, oh joy, it's a beautiful sunny morning. I instantly feel better.

Meanwhile, down South an early morning email tells me that Mr BW was woken by planes soon after 6am. The re-routing of flightpaths (on a technicality, without public consultation) was the major reason (but by no means the only reason) for us needing to escape that part of the country.

I did wake up to hear a 'mouse-like noise' in the lounge/bedroom/control room again in the night, but thought better of allowing The Black Familiar to become an indoor cat, something she has been angling for since 2012. I don't know where the rest of the bumper pack of 100 rat/mouse traps are, and decide that there is definitely more chance of me stepping on it or catching my fingers setting it than there is of catching a mouse. If I see 'tell-tale evidence' anywhere I shall change my mind of course.

7.45am: I take a stroll around outside to take some progress photos and video before the builders arrive. I just couldn't face it last night. I catch The Black Familar jumping off the roof onto the (disintegrating) coal bunker. A millisecond later and that would have been a fabulous flying cat shot.

I stand on the garage back steps and look at the progress on the greenhouse base and wonder how on earth they think it will ever be finished by the end of the week. This was a 9 or 10 day project and we're now half way through week 3.

I wander through the garden and come out at the top of the drive.

I am dismayed by the powdered concrete and wheelbarrow tracks all over the tarmaced drive (which is a huge area - big enough to park 30 cars) and, even more dismayed by the mess left just outside the entrance gate after yesterday's (lack of) work by the two who were here. We hadn't really expected that area (which we don't own or have access rights over) to be used at all, but when 15 bulk bags of aggregate, sand, cement and lime mortar appeared there one day we didn't really think about where it could lead. The apprentice was mixing mortar there yesterday. And apparently just tipped the remains of the cement mixer onto the grass at the end of the day. I stuck my finger into the mess and found it was 6" deep.

"The day is starting well!" I thought.

A sensible person would have thinned down the remaining concrete mix and tipped it onto the rough track where it could have soaked in and been useful when the wet weather comes. Ah... therein lies the problem, of course.

8.00am: I come up with a cunning plan to get the mess sorted in double quick time. I decide that, in the circumstances, lies are allowable.

It is at this moment that I remember that I left the bath upstairs running, 20 minutes ago.

I have a long history of doing this. Down South it doesn't matter too much as: (a) the bathroom is downstairs, (b) that part of the house has a concrete floor, and (c) the water is unmetered.

I run inside and upstairs.

I slip on the stairs.

I pick myself up.

Luckily the bath is still only half full. The plumber (last week) told me that he hated the new taps I had purchased (levers rather than the existing rounds, which my failing hands couldn't grip or turn) as they were only 10mm and he had to reduce the 15mm pipe into their 10mm pipe, which would make the water flow very slow. I thanked my lucky stars that I had chosen wisely.

8.25am: I was loitering with intent near the gate when the builders turned up. By the time I got to them, they'd already stopped and were looking at the mess. I gestured to them to put down the van window. I heard a muttered, "Uh oh...trouble..." as Deputy Chief Builder zipped down the window.

"Lovely morning!" I said, "You must have had stunning views coming down!" "Ay, we did!" said Chief Builder. "Unfortunately, we have a bit of a problem... [I paused for effect, and to get the lie straight in my head before uttering it] ... I've had a very terse text at 11pm last night - which woke me up, so I wasn't very happy - from the Farm Manager who is VERY unhappy about the mess you're making. He's been up on his ATV [aside - what the locals call what I'd call a 'quad bike') every night when you've gone home surveying what's gone on. Now, I don't want to fall out with him as he controls the water supply. And the minds of most of the locals. So...."

"Ay, we stopped here because we saws the mess!" said Chief Builder. "The lads'll sort it pronto, sorrys like, we needs to be cleaner, it wouldn't have happened if I'd been here yesterday!" "You're making it worse..." I smiled sweetly, "in my experience, when in a hole it's really best to stop digging! And, it's like walking on the moon crossing this driveway..." "Ay, the lads'll brush that up too. Sorrys luv."

9.30am: I had an inspiration. All the mess could be solved if they mixed their concrete near to where they were working, at the far end of the drive, in the farmer's field, but on the land we have rights of access over, at the base of the existing oil tank, on the spot where the new oil tank is to be installed in a few months.

I went out to tell Chief Builder. "Ay, if that's what yous wants luv, that's what wes'll do."

"No, it's not what I want, it's what makes sense for us all, surely, and it gets the Farm Manager off all our backs, and saves a lot of clearing up at the end of the day!"

"Ay, but the sand's still up the drive!"

"Yes, but, given that the lime mortar bags are in the garage, the water source comes from the tap in the garage, you're using the mortar down here, and if something has to be barrowed across the tarmac, isn't it better that it is sand rather than wet mixed cement?"

"Ay, you's got a point luv."

The voice in my head says, "It must be dangerous to have a brain." The voice from my mouth says, "Yes, well, let me just point out exactly where the cement mixer can go, and can you use some of those empty dumpy bags to put under it too, please?" I lead him to a flat grassy spot just off the end of the house. I point assertively. "There, OK, and nowhere else, OK? Right, I'll pop back later to see how you're doing."

10.00am: I'm sitting at my computer, typing away, when my nose detects an odour. I check the bottom of my flip flops. Nothing. I look around, nothing. The odour is very close. I take off my flip flops and sniff. Hmmm. The area where I stood when I was telling them where they could mix concrete has clearly been the place they have been using as a urinal. I sigh, drop them in a bowl outside the back door, add a good splash of bleach and leave them to have a good soak.

No wonder Chief Builder was so reticent to use that spot for concrete mixing.

Sometime around mid-day: I left my phone unattended for an hour. This was unwise.

In this time, Mr BW called twice, to say that the very expensive electrician he'd had to call out as he couldn't track down the electrical fault (first tradesperson needed at Coven Sud for 14 years), needed to know where certain wiring rang, and could I remember what year we re-did the main bathroom as that was where the fault was likely to be, and we had photos of the wiring routes, if only we knew what year, and Dave called and texted several times.

I'd just sorted Mr BW out: categorically it was 1997, just as he'd got to that era in the photo albums anyway, when Dave rang again. "BW, BW," he said, "have you heard that Numberland is on lockdown again, no two households can meet, as of mid-night?" I hadn't. These days I ignore news unless Mr BW force-feeds it to me, so when he is absent, so is my world knowledge.

Dave and Darren (now our nearest blog readers - I hope!) have been threatening to visit for the past 6 months. "It's today or not for ages!" I learnt.

And so it came to pass that no more recountable tales were able to happen, because I was otherwise engaged all afternoon.

Otherwise engaged maybe, but I did put the 'eye on the workmen' that the lovely Ambermoggie (second nearest blog reader now I think, and our first real-life visitor, a couple of months ago) made and sent to me some weeks ago now, on guard, in the corner of the window.

We didn't ask the builders to turn down the radio, because we could then talk about them, and they couldn't hear. The builders stayed three quarters of an hour beyond their usual finishing time, and I was informed that 3 of the 4 of them qualified as 'eye candy'. I'm still trying to work out which one didn't.

I told Dave that he has to write another guest post, along the lines of that from - was it 2004? - which was one of the funniest things that has ever appeared on BW. But, it remains to be seen whether it appears. Does anyone remember that?

And Dave heard and then saw our first robin. I am so happy that we have a robin again. The only major bird type to be missing up to now.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Another day in the life of BW alone at Coven Nord

Just for Tim then (*nods to comments on last post*) I shall continue relating the sagas.

It may also amuse Dave, who, despite being a native himself, is having a similar issue with getting 'staff' in Numberland, and in getting them to use the agreed materials, in the agreed timescale. I think I may have been less than sympathetic last night when I replied to his last text on that subject with, "Welcome to my world, almost every day for the past 6 months now!" Ooops.

Firstly, it seems the sagas are spreading to Coven Sud, where Mr BW is having huge problems locating a fault in one of the lighting circuits: best guess is that the MCD protecting that circuit is now itself faulty having tripped so many times.

Never before, in over 25 years, has a problem there outwitted Mr BW, and, unlike this house, things there were done properly as the person who lived there before us was a Master Carpenter, who had his Master Craftsmen workmates help him renovate the house properly when he inherited it from his merchant seaman uncle in the mid 70s. Down there they used 6" nails where 3" would have done; up here they used panel pins. You get the picture I'm sure.

Before 6am: My day started early again, when it was still dark. I heard a noise that sounded remarkably like a mouse. I couldn't decide whether it was one of the thin plastic dustsheets that still wrapped the world surrounding my bed moving by itself, or moving because a mouse was running under or over it. Other than a few in traps in the loft when we first moved in, I haven't seen any recent evidence of mice other than being carried in The Black Feline's mouth, or dead partials on the garage floor.

Once awake and staring at the sheets of insulating plasterboard put up yesterday, I suddenly realised why it was 8.5 cm from the concrete of the wall at the top: Plasterer's Mate (NBD - actually NBVVVD) had forgotten to cut the insulation from the plasterboard where it went over the top of the thick plywood panels the plumber had asked Mr BW to put on the wall for hanging the large new 4-column radiator. The wall is bowed, and curved, so it was always going to stick out a bit, but 8cm - how the hell is a curtain pole going to be hung? I tried to send Mr BW some photos, but the email wasn't sending out, yet again.

6.45am: I looked at Security Central screens online and noticed the bedroom curtains were open at Coven Sud, so guessed that Mr BW was awake. I rang him. He didn't answer. Repeatedly. I decided that he must have died in the night.

I'd forgotten that he never hears his phone as he leaves it charging in the kitchen overnight.

15 minutes later he rang me back. 30 minutes later, after we'd gone through all the measurements, he texted Chief Plasterer. Chief Plasterer replied, failing to answer the, "Your mate did remember to cut away the insulating board over the plywood panels, didn't he?" question (probably becuase he wasn't here, so didn't know, and didn't want to find out lest we should demand the plasterboard be removed and redone properly as we had specified).

8am: As I showered I noticed that the shower tray in the en suite was filling and not draining. The saniflow is working OK for the the sink and toilet, so I have no idea what it is. There's no obvious drain trap to clear. I sigh and think that the ensuite remodelling/replacement project is now going to have to move forward a few weeks.

8.10am: I notice that the kitchen tap is now dripping half a washing up bowl of water every 4 hours. We have the Franke Triflow we removed from Coven Sud up here (they are now £973 RRP and we had two, one in the kitchen and one in the utility - which cost less than £400 for the two, ten years ago - so replaced the utility one with a cheapie lookalike, and so saved £900) but Mr BW hasn't had time to fit it.

8.15am: I notice that both ends of the towel rail in the downstairs cloakroom are leaking - a mushroom container each in 24 hours. This was put on the new system by the plumber last week. By the time he finished at 9pm (because he didn't arrive until 11am) he didn't check round properly. Yes, it was an unpressurised system, and is now pressurised, so leakage from the joints unused to pressure was likely, as there is no limescale to plug small gaps up here, but honestly, Chief Plumber did that work himself so can't blame the lads this time. We'll wait to get his last bill before telling him, or he'll just add on the time to come out to fix it, when it should be done for free as it wasn't done properly the first time.

8.16am: I notice that the spare loo roll I left on the windowsill in the cloakroom yesterday morning has disappeared. Also, despite 7 different people using that facility yesterday (we insist everyone who comes in the house washes their hands when they arrive), not one of the single-use hand towels (ie flannels, which I hot-wash) has been used, so the bin on the floor is empty. I've even put a note in the bin to direct said used hand towels to said bin, as both Mr BW and I have found them either hanging on the towel rail or thrown in a corner (and here's hoping no-one has flushed one down the loo which is a very old septic tank system). I sigh and do my daily clean down of everything with 99.9% alcohol.

Mr BW later suggests that maybe such single-use hand towels have not yet reached these parts, and that I should put a notice by the pile of flannels/hand towels next to the sink to explain that they are a 'single-use anti-Covid measure to protect us all'. I wonder if I should make the notice in pictures (and if so, what pictures to use).

8.45am: Chief Plasterer and his mate turned up, evaded my questions on the 'cut away or not' subject, told me 3" screws would get into the wood OK for the curtain poles, even though it is 8.5cm from the concrete covering the old stone wall to the front of the plasterboard, and Chief Plasterer buggered off again - I stood in the doorway, ostensibly holding the door, but didn't let him out until he told me where he was working. "I'm still on the sick, y'knows that..."

Eventually he shared that he and some others are doing the foundations for a controversial new building in the nearest small village, 4 miles away. I said nothing, but know all about the controversy and how it had split the community, because, well, I talk to the local people who pass through.

9am: I notice that either the plasterers or the builders have buggered the end of the hose. It's now bulging and leaking. I can't mend it. I sigh and fetch an old paint tub for it to leak into. Our metered water (from a private supply) is very very expensive.

9.05am: Chief Builder and one of the 2 lads turned up. Apparently that's it for today. The atmosphere was frosty. I didn't offer coffee. If they say anything I'm going to say the milk's gone off, and without a car I can't go to get any more. I have 3 lots of 2 pints in the freezer and 10 cartons of longlife (future lockdown / Brexit / being snowed in planning), as well as 5 pints that are well in date in the fridge, but they don't know that.

11.00am: Plasterer's mate turns off the radio. I sigh again, this time with relief. I go to look. He's done a good job. And a good job of plastering every bit of the expensive wooden floor that wasn't 100% covered up, despite what I said yesterday. He clearly hasn't noticed.

I chat to him while he waits to be picked up. Turns out his mum and Chief Plasterer used to be an item 20 years ago, when we was a teenager, and Chief Plasterer was like a dad to him, and really still is. He lives in a 2-bed house with his mum, who had 2 strokes during lockdown, and his sister and her 3 girls (9, 11, 13) moved in at lockdown and haven't gone home since. He told me that the 5 women are driving him nuts, and he'd love to get his own place, but all the houses or flats he could once have afforded to rent on his own are now being bought up as second homes or turned into holiday lets. I feel guilty for having 2 houses currently, even though it is a necessary process to get everything in order here before being able to move everything up. I also have a huge sense of déjà vu, as exactly the same thing was happening when I moved to the south-west at the beginning of the 1980s. A 40 year time-warp.

11.30am: I realise that I am acquiring local knowledge much faster than the two builders are laying blocks and stone.

1pm: I notice that the builders have substandard kit today, plugged into the electricity rather than running on diesel. The big stuff is clearly on The Other Job. Noting that Deputy Chief Builder was busily engaged laying stone, I wandered up to where Apprentice Builder, "He goes to university on Fridays [laughter from the bosses]" was mixing lime mortar outside the front gate. I notice there is a lot slopped around and think that the farmer isn't going to be best pleased. I ignore that matter as it seems trivial in the overall bad picture.

Choosing one of Cleaner BW's favourite phrases (her son and ex- are builders, so I thought it might translate), "You've got a face like a slapped arse. Is everything OK? How's it going?" He grimaced. "I can't tell you. I can't say, or you'll tell Mr BW and he'll tell the boss and I'll get the sack." "Ah, so, all is not well. Let me guess... you'll not be here the reest of the week." His eyes darted, then dropped. "Ay, I can't say. I'll lose me job. Sorrys."

1.10pm: I approach Deputy Chief Builder (DCB), still playing with his stones, and, probably over-cheerfully, say, "Looking good, Deputy Chief Builder. How are things going?" "Ay!" he says, without looking up. I cave on the coffee front, having nothing else to offer in an attempt to elicit a response. By the time I've made it he's sitting in his van, pinching the apprentice's crisps, apparently with no food of his own. Apprentice's mum has clearly done him proud, but not DCB's wife. He takes it without even a thank you. "You're welcome!" I say sarcastically, and catch apprentice's eye, which he rolls heavenwards, in an "I told you so, even though I couldn't!" sort of way.

1.45pm: "The Merchant" finally appears with a 38T truck with half a pallet of blocks on. God knows how he's got a 38T truck down the lane. He shouldn't have. DCB runs past where I am sitting in Conservatory Central and across the top part of the garden, which they've all been asked not to do (rain and soggy grass = a mess if they constantly walk up and down on it, plus, well, privacy). I scowl at him and shake my head. He ignores me, and directs the 38T lorry onto the tarmac of the drive, then disappears. I go out. "Afternoon!" I say to the truck wagon driver. "I hears yous been kicking up merry hells about us not getting up here before now like, to swap the wrong blocks!" he says to me. "Sorry?" I say, "What?" "Yous builder [gesturing into the distance] says yous mad at us!" I raise my eyebrows and shake my head. "I think he's used me as an excuse for his own piss-poor time management. I'm just the poor cow who's making the coffees, paying the bills and being treated like a mushroom." "Ah, kept in the dark and fed shit, eh?" he smiled. "Yeah luv, builders does that to us a lot, pretends it's the client, not them getting annoyed." I store up this info for use at a later date, and return to thinking about how to get the plaster off the expensive wood floor.

4.20pm: Builders haven't gone home by 4pm as they normally do. Deputy Chief Builder and the Apprentice had a HUGE row about half an hour ago. Shouting, arms flailing, fingers pointing, the works. DCB then barrowed blocks for the first time, Apprentice kicked a block he'd just laid and it fell off and I thought DCB was going to hit him. Apprentice stormed off. I walked by, in one door and out of another (we have 6 doors plus the garage door, it's a longhouse, and it needs a hell of a lot of door mats, indoors and outdoors), pretending to shake a towel I'd been using to wash the floor. "Deputy Chief Builder, remember you were young once!" I said calmly. No response, of course.

All fun and games here. No way will they be finished this week as Chief Builder promised, even if they all work Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which I don't see happening.

Ah - the Apprentice just knocked on the door. "Thanks for what yous said!" he smiled, unplugged his electric cable, and said, "Sees yous tomorrow then!" Nowt so queer as folk.

5.05pm: Just had the (4,16,4) delivery man grovelling to me about yet another delivery that went to a house with quite a similar name but a completely different postcode, 4 miles away, yesterday, and was rejected by them so registered as me 'not in'. He said 'the system' would not let him then bring the parcel to me that day, even though he knew where we were. He said he's going to sit down with his boss and sort out the 3 glitches in address/locations in his area tomorrow, before he goes on holiday. "This is the 5th failed (4,16,4) delivery in 6 months!" I wailed. "3 have been left at the other postcode (and sorted out between ourselves and the postie), one has vanished into thin air, and this one is a day late on an express overnight delivery that should have been here by lunchtime yesterday." "I know," he agreed, "it's because your postcode is mapped to 'similar sounding house name with different postcode' by the software." Nearly as good as another delivery company not being able to deliver a parcel as they were 2 minutes early...

5.20pm: On opening the parcel (which contained a couple of extra shelves and door bins to make more space in the fridge/freezer I bought in a big hurry when we moved in, nearing lockdown, which is just not big enough for our needs, particularly since the 20 year old integrated under-counter fridge left in the kitchen failed a couple of weekend ago) I found they'd sent me the wrong front trim for the shelf. Right number on pack, 2" too short, and different to the front strips on the existing shelves.

I emailed the supplier, suggesting someone check the whole batch against a shelf for fit before sending out the replacement because it was unlikely to be just one incorrect item.

I look forward to receiving another incorrect replacement item in a few days, and a day after it should be delivered.

5.40pm: I discover that the new plasterboard has been put on top of the sheets of carboard that were protecting the floor nearest the wall, and could not be pulled out. And also that not all the spilled and trampled in plaster, and most of the masking tape holding down the 'roll and stroll' protecting the expensive wooden floor, will come off said floor. I swear. And look forward to at least another hour of careful scraping tomorrow. I realise that this calls for a degree of patience that I no longer possess, or care to possess, and I think that I might just leave it until Mr BW returns on Sunday. Sorry Mr BW.

6pm: I went in the fridge to see what I fancied for dinner. The plastic box of boozy plums left over after straining out the plum gin fell out and broke.

I was delighted because it was one of the boxes with a ridiculous silicone-edged lid that just does not fit, especially when you have non-cooperating hands most of the time.

I put the plums in a glass bowl, eating several in the process, covered the bowl, put it back in the fridge, gave up on dinner and poured a glass of wine.

Perhaps tomorrow will be better?

It's cold (12°C), overcast and windy here. At Coven Sud it has been 25°C. I'm waiting for the next thing to go wrong. Rest assured you will be the first to hear about it.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Day in the life of BW on her own at Coven Nord

5.59am: I was rudely awoken by a distant but loud and insistent high-pitched bleeping sound. I kicked my leg over to Mr BW's side of the bed, saying, "What's that?" then, when my leg met no resistance, remembered that he was 300 miles away at Coven Sud trying to fix a faulty electric circuit, mind the bees, and pick marrows (once courgettes). "Bugger," I thought, "can't delegate the search and rescue function today."

It wasn't the carbon monoxide alarm in the garage as I'd assumed. Not the old oil boiler killing The Black Familiar then. 30 minutes later I finally tracked it down to a fire alarm in a wine box where said non-poisoned by odourless gas cat seems to have knocked it, then sat on the top of the box, so depressing the 'test' button. She looked sheepish. I got to see the sun rise. Red sky in the morning. "Hmmm," I thought, "shepherd's warning." I hope this isn't a bad omen for today.

7am: I made tea, yoghurt with home-made lemon curd and grapes (sorry Mr BW, I was saving that box for you to take south, then forgot to put it in your provisons cool bag yesterday morning), and 3 slices of gluten-free toast (I can already tell it's going to be 'that kind of a day' so need all the energy I can get), having cut the mould off the bread. I only opened that loaf on Sunday!

7.15am: I surgically cling-wrapped and dust-sheeted the lounge (currently our bedroom and the nerve centre of the restoration operation) against all eventualities. One tiny bit of the 'wall with fallen-off plaster' is being insulated with plasterboard and skimmed today, so we can get the last radiator onto the new system before the cold weather arrives. It has become clear that we're not going to be able to move upstairs any time soon, because of the need to replace the en suite in its entirety before the carpet is fitted and the door goes back on.

8.20am: Three Builders arrive, 20 minutes after they said, and one lad down. I asked why and they looked shiftily at each other and didn't reply. This is not the lad who had the hangover last week, but came and carried on regardless. I can only think, "Good, that's at least 4 cups less coffee to make today then!".

The 1/2 pallet of blocks dumped on the field edge at the end of the lane by a big lorry at the end of last week when no-one was here turn out to be the wrong size and 'The Merchants' claim to Chief Builder that, (a) they have none the right size, and (b) they couldn't get them up here until at least Wednesday even if they had some. He says some rude words to them on the phone.

"What is it with this place?" asks Chief Builder. I didn't dare say, "You tell me, you're the native!"

9am: Chief Builder says, "It must have rained lots after we poured that top cement on Friday afternoon, it's taken the top surface off!" "Yes, it did," I replied, "that was what the weather forecast was predicting, and why Mr BW was keen for you to cover it up... And, I think Mr BW sent you an email with a photo of the swimming pool over the weekend and you replied saying it was the fall you'd carefully put in..." "Hmmm, well, the fall, as we made it, went to the back drainage channel, and now the rain has taken the surface off and made it go the wrong way."

"You're the Builder!" the voice from my mouth said, smiling sweetly, "I'm sure you'll be able to fix it." But the voice in my head was saying, "For fuck's sake, we told you so, why the hell didn't you cover it up on Friday as we suggested, rather than being delighted to have a POETS Day? And now what are you going to bloody well do - leave us with a fall the wrong way forever, so that every time we wash the greenhouse floor down we have to sweep it into the drain in the opposite corner?"

9.20am: Chief Plasterer arrived - he was due between 8.30am - 8.45am. He left his mate here. That's the one who thinks it is OK to cut plasterboard and mix plaster inside. I'm not having any of that. "Now, before you start, let's get one thing clear... no cutting, sawing or mixing in this room, no exceptions, because I'm in charge today, and I'm not as nice as Mr BW, especially when there is a mess. Plus, this lovely wooden through floor cost £7.5K - I saw the last people's receipt - and I'll get Chief Plasterer to deduct it from your wages if you mess it up - so, no wages for about 10 years then, eh?" Chief Plasterer has gone off to do another job, involving "other lads and a cement mixer" and will be back, "In aboot an hour, mebbees less." On past experience, 3pm this afternoon, then.

He's the one who had a 'hart attack' last month, and is now looking as rough as hell (looks like he hasn't shaved for a week and is very red eyed - looks like a bender to me... he was told to give up the booze...) and not in a good mood.

I didn't dare say, "You're supposed to be taking it easy..."

11am -11.35: The Builders are all sitting outside in their vans. 3 Builders, 2 vans. Not sure why that is necessary, especially as they come from over an hour away. There seem to be a lot of phone calls going on, and a lot of discussion. Not that many blocks have been laid.

I note their radio is louder than last week when Mr BW was here. I wonder whether our 30-odd year old Technics sound system (donated by Mr BW's Mum) could broadcast Radio 4 louder than their Builders' Set-Up is broadcasting whatever commercial radio station they are polluting my normal silence with. I decide it's probably not a good battle to fight, but manage to find the 'off button' on theirs. When it goes back on when they return from sitting around, I note it is quieter. "That made the point nicely," I thought.

11am: Chief Plasterer returns. Mate is outside cutting. "You're not looking so good today?" I venture. "Ay, well, y'nose, I'm bored sitting around at home..." I fetch him a chair. he collapses onto it. "That board is a long way off the wall?" I note. "I know we said to straighten the wall up, but a radiator does have to be hung from it, and Mr BW's wooden radiator hanging panel is now a good inch and a half behind your board!" "Ay that's learn the plumber for making rude remarks about plasterers!" Came the reply. That had me puzzling for a moment, and then I remembered the reference. "That's not dot and dab, that's scoop and throw!" I say.

11.48am: Chief Plasterer comes around the outside of the house and into the conservatory where I am sitting in an attempt to hide from all the workmen, and where I can still get a good enough wifi signal to watch what they are all doing on the CCTV cameras. By 'they', I include Mr BW at Coven Sud.

"I'll be back in the morning, bright and early!" he says. "Erm... but you've not skimmed the boards yet..." I point out. "Ay, but, the dot and dab is scoop and throw, as you said, so it needs time to set before we skim it, else it will pop off when we put pressure on, so, sees you in the morning then!" I wonder whether I will unwrap all the cling wrap around the lounge/bedroom/nerve centre or whether I will simply sleep in Bri@n tonight. I sigh. Despite what was planned and promised, they are clearly off to another job. You just can't get the staff.

12.15pm: On Sunday, the door mechanism on the less than 5 years old UPVC back door to the garage went wrong. The door is now locked shut. The builders need to get in there to access water and their lime mortar. Mr BW was unable to fix it, but, we have a 10 year transferable warranty, that is insurance backed. Yesterday I rang the company. Person who deals with repairs is on holiday until today, but will ring me back 'first thing'. Hadn't heard, so rang him. Apparently the company was bought out of administration 2 years ago, and despite having all the same trading details, has no intention whatsoever of honouring any warranties. And of course because the last owner didn't pay the "£25 within 30 days of house sale" to transfer the insurance to us (and it's in miniscule writing on the back of page 5 of the insurance document that we, and our, hugely thorough, solicitor missed in the 4" pile of such paperwork passed on to us) we have no cover. Yet more unexpected expense. If/when I find someone who can fix it...

1pm: From my hidey hole in the conservatory, Security Central shows me the 3 builders are out the front, apparently packing up. I go out. "Everything OK?" I enquire. They look at each other. "Merchants sent the wrong blocks, can't change them until tomorrow!" said Chief Builder. "But you've masses of stone, can't you do that instead, around the bits where you've laid blocks already?" "Ay, no, we need to leave it until the morning!" I scowled. "Ah... right... so I guess you're off to wherever Builder 4 is, now?" Pregnant pause. They did have the grace to look uncomfortable. "When is this job going to be finished? You said 9 or 10 days, and we're now into week 3." "Ay, but we're only on working day 7 or thereabouts." "Yes, that's my issue!" I said. "So, are we talking Friday... or when...?" "Maybees we'll be working Saturday..." I sighed and didn't try to conceal it this time. "Well, have a good afternoon then. And what time will you be here in the morning?" "Not before 9, maybe later..." "Mr BW isn't going to be happy at all!" I said, shaking my head, and shut the door. I don't normally even think about threatening people with 'my husband', but this world of workmen is not a world I am used to, and I don't have the skills to deal with that much testosterone.

1.15pm: the electricty goes off.

Amongst the skills for "living in the middle of nowhere, in an only partly-renovated house with more faults that we know about, with no car, and no Mr BW" that I now realise I don't have is knowing how the generator works. I do have 15 litres of petrol, but I'll bet the instruction book isn't with the generator. And there's no way I can pull the cord hard enough to start it. I realise the shepherd's warning was correct and wonder what else the day is going to come up with.

1.26pm: the electricty comes back on. The router doesn't. Half an hour later and on the 8th attempt at rebooting it finally comes back up. The landline handset has ceased to function. I know how it feels and wonder if it's too early for a glass of wine.

1.35pm: Unexpected phone call from unknown mobile number. Man's voice, telling me he has been contacted by the man I'd spoken to at 'bought out of administration' double glazing/door company who was worried about my security (I'd laid it on rather thickly while telling him how appalled I was with his company not honouring warranties, and that said company could now kiss goodbye to any future business from us, ever), and could he help with my door lock problem. I quickly Googled the displayed mobile number and it came up as the company he claimed, and they were on 'trusted and vetted' with lots of 5 star reviews (yeah, I know, I know). He reassured me that there would be no call-out charge, even though he was coming from N'castle, that he'd give me an estimate before doing anything, and that he was pretty certain he could fix the problem on the spot. Said his last appointment was 5.30pm, but he'd ring me if that didn't take too long and come out then, or, failing that, in the morning. I hid a long kitchen knife near the front main garage door, where I planned to stand when he arrived, 'just in case'.

2.50pm: Man from window company rang again - he'd done some juggling and would be here in 45 minutes. I checked the position of my knife, and moved a sledge hammer, and an axe, and a strong garden fork, from near the faulty garage back door. Just in case.

3.42pm: Man arrived, in a sign-written van, with an apprentice who wielded a battery-powered screwdriver with rather too much gusto and was told to, "Go gently with the screws man!" I decided I could take on the pair of them even without my concealed weapons. 19 minutes later they'd fixed the problem, changed the part, realigned the door, sprayed the seals with silicone spray ("You should do that regularly, luv, so your doors stay nice and lubricated and can swing freely!") and were on their way. £132, "We'll send the bill in the post luv, and you can pay when you can!" "Where I've come from they don't leave your house until you've paid, mostly demanding cash..." I said. They looked shocked, and departed, with a, "You knows where we are if you needs us again luv, just phone!"

I felt bad about the knife, the axe, the sledge hammer and the fork. Ah, the north/south divide. At least there was one firm who exceeded my expectations today.

But, I now know how unbelievably easy it is to get into a house through a locked muti-point composite door, with just a screwdriver. This scares me.

4.30pm: I've been speaking to Mr BW on and off all day, so that he could share my misery to keep him updated. He sent the following email to Chief Builder soon after they left:

"Hi Chief Builder

Just been speaking to BW.

I am worried to hear that the top of the concrete base was washed off. When I was talking to Deputy Chief Builder on Friday when it was being poured and it was both raining and forecast to rain hard for the rest of the day, I offered some coverings. He explained that you had black plastic and would be putting up a tent like structure to protect the surface. But this never happened and it was left open to the rain.

Why wasn’t this put up as Deputy Chief Builder said it would be and what is the remedial work required now?

I understand that, having missed yesterday, we only had you for half a day’s work today.

I am worried that, after a great start to the job, it is at risk of now slowing to a crawl.

Appreciating you have had issues with the blocks today, please reassure me that from tomorrow you will be back on our job first thing for full working days to get it completed this week.

Mr BW"

Chief Builder replied with some guff, full of typos and mistakes, about delays having been caused by having to dig 60cm rather than 30cm foundations due to the depth of good soil before hitting substrate, and having lost a track off the hired digger. All these events were in Week 1. More guff about there now being rain marks in thea concrete, but they would 'brush these out'.

Mr BW replied:

"Thanks for the update Chief Builder and I am reassured to hear that there won’t be any ongoing problems with the base.

I am sure it will all come together to the excellent standard we have seen so far."

It does have to be said that the next 'staged payment' is not going to be paid anywhere near as quickly as the last. In fact, I can feel a 'bank issue with making Faster Payments' that is going to last for several days, coming on. Also a distinct lack of tea and coffee. S/He who holds the purse strings/beverage cups has the last laugh, eh?

5.00pm: I look out of the window to discover the hired dumper truck being loaded onto a non-sign-written low loader (or 'wagon' as anything larger than a Mini seems to be called up here). Chief Builder didn't tell me that his last remaining hired toy, "here for a week", two weeks ago, was being collected today. Frankly I couldn't be bothered to go and check it was kosher. I look forward to seeing them have to barrow the blocks and concrete tomorrow rather than noisily play with their diesel-powered toy. And if has been nicked, well, not my problem. It's been made amply clear to me today that they perceive me as just 'the woman of the house'. How wrong they are.

5.40pm: I look in the Aga oven to get out my baked potatoes for dinner. They weren't there. What? I know I put it them in over an hour ago; they should have been done by now. The thought of that gorgeous crispy skin and fluffy middle is all that has kept me going today. Bemused, I check the bottom (simmering) oven. There they are, alongside the anti-slug drying-off eggshells.

I'm sure I didn't put them there. Why would I? Anyone for an exorcism? Or a glass of bubbly rosé? Will I even still be awake when the baked potatoes are finally done?

7.40pm: Yes I was, sadly, as that meant the day was lengthened. I think that I am now officially an ex-Archers fan. Having listened on and off since 1979, and full time for the past 20 (at least) years, I am now joining Mr BW in the 'where did that go so wrong?' camp.

to be continued... No-one is reading, or cares anyway, so that's quite enough of that, goodnight. Tomorrow is another day, no doubt a 'rinse and repeat'.


Friday, September 11, 2020

26 or 44

Yesterday, here at Coven Nord, we finally became legal.

The necessary documents to allow us to live here legally, with the 'on the ground', but off our land, locations for our non-mains services, were finally officially agreed and registered with the Land Registry. 44 weeks since our offer for this house was accepted.

44 weeks.

Cash buyers. 44 weeks.

Today is 26 weeks, or 6 months, or half a year, since we completed and moved in. 10 days before Lockdown.

Had we not had the inspiration to suggest completing without agreed paperwork, but with a £30K withhold 'just in case' the neighbouring Estate Landowner and the Trust attached to it refused to play ball, and ratify what has been the 'on the ground position' for 46 years, we would still be sitting in Coven Sud being very frustrated.

Had the legalities not completed, the £30K would have allowed us to move said services onto our own land, but it would have been difficult.

The Coven Sud to Coven Nord move was originally a 3 year plan.

With the Coronavirus lockdown, in 6 months we have done so much... and it has become very apparent that we could never have done it in 3 years in the way we had planned, because of all the unexpected work that been uncovered as necessay as time went on.

All I will say is never trust a full structural survey.

As of 9pm last night, we have (almost) full central heating. The plumbers finally (nearly) finished our new system. We finally have warmth downstairs, and in the entrance lobby (no more mouldy shoes or damp mail when we return from a week at Coven Sud, hurrah!), and I went to the nearest town (which is isn't actually very near at all) and bought 4 big rolls of glass fibre insulation, to top off the process, earlier.

As of 2pm today we have a greenhouse base, on which the builders will construct the supporting stone wall next week. It's better than most house foundations.

People and plants warm for the winter.

What could be better?

Mr BW has to be down south next week for pre-existing commitments, and to solve an electrical problem that emerged earlier this week. Someone needs to be here to oversee the builders finishing the greenhouse base.

As there are only 2 of us, that person seems to be me.

It will be my first time here alone, and our first week apart for... I dont know how long - maybe 65 months since he retired? It will be very odd, particularly as I will have no car, and our nearest neighbour, a quarter of a mile away, is currently walking the SW Coast path for 6 weeks, so not available to help out.

I am hoping to find time to sort out my soft textiles room, and maybe do some spinning. And maybe even post some progress photos here!

For the past 26 weeks, it has been non-stop, and when I haven't been actually doing things, I have been asleep, sub-consciously Project Managing, and waking up in the night to order 'necessary things' online. Nearly 200 deliveries from Amazon Prime in 6 months, and many more from other places.

But, we are geting there.

It's frustrating to me that most of what Mr BW does (the physical, practical, stuff) is very visible, but most of what I do (the planning, ordering, feeding, watering, supplying, envisaging) is invisible.

But, as I said above, we are geting there.

And it's going to be wonderful when it's done.

As I said to my Patchy Ladies when we met up (outdoors, distanced) when we were last down south a few weeks ago, these days I'm modelling myself on Vera.

"Ay, maybe, but I hope your accent doesn't slip as often as hers!" replied the Patchy Lady who spent her first 20 years in South Shields.

The Matriarchy is alive and well in the north east, and I'm milking it. Any lad in his 20s or 30s can be effortlessly enslaved by my BWitchy Charms [Commands]. Fetching, Carrying, and otherwise Ministering. I'm loving it.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday Update - and a Friday Question

The fire burnt for a night and a day, and it looks a lot less like, but not completely less like, Steptoe's Yard round here now. It's amazing how happy £25 spent on an incinerator has made me.

I enjoyed feeding it for 2 hours in the dark and rain the other night. Luckily I had on a cotton dressing gown and wellingtons. Probably not the best of ideas after 2 sherries and half a bottle of wine, but I enjoyed myself while Mr BW snored. And I had to get it done before the wind changed direction. An unlit military helicopter circulated overhead for ages while I was out there in the dark. I'm glad I added to the fun of their covert training operation.

Despite the cold, rainy and windy weather all week, Mr BW has just about finished chopping down the overgrown leylandii hedge now. The industrial diesel chipper from the hire shop arrives tomorrow to make short work of the small bits of wood and green leafy bits, and 10 empty builders bags have just arrived to store it all in. More fun. It's amazing how much more light (and space) the garden now has, although I am glad the wind is in the east at the moment, because once it turns to the normal south-westerly, it is going to be very blowy on our ridge until the greenhouse arrives to fill most of the space in a few weeks.

This nest was found in the cut down leylandii branches. Any ideas about the breed of its maker?

We have the normal plasterer's two mates (very broad Northumbri@n - not Geordie, I have been corrected - and almost incomprehensible) here today putting up insulated plasterboard on the interior walls where the new downstairs radiators are to be fitted the week after next. He appeared with them first thing, to issue instructions and set them up for the day, despite having only been discharged from hospital the day before yesterday after his 'hart attack' and insertion of a stent, with doctor's orders for bed rest. Mr BW suggested he was taken home. Later it transpired that he'd loaded a 20kg bag of cement onto the trailer just before he got here.

"Ay man, tis 'is own fault, he drinks too much!" said Oppo 1. The Hermes man (an 80 year old local who works with his children - or maybe grandchildren) just delivered a parcel. "Ay, tis 'is own fault mind, if yous drinks 10 pints a night, yous gets what's cummin!'"

Small communities, eh?!

And for those interested - the 4 new windows are now perfect in every way, after another 6 hours work in total from the two company owners yesterday. They were clearly trying very hard to make amends, and even re-pointed some bits of the stone around other windows, and put end-caps on other of the old windowsills that were missing them.

It is amazing how good modern A+ double glazed windows are (thermal bar and argon filled, about an inch between the panes of glass), both in terms of heat retention and sound insulation. I couldn't even hear Mr BW chainsawing outside from the kitchen, with the new windows in there shut. What frustrates me is learning that replacement windows for housing association properties are still being specified as only 'C' rated (which, I was told, was 'A' rating until 5 years ago). With the huge government push on energy efficiency, and new government grant schemes for thermal improvement measures starting any day now, why oh why are social housing landlords being allowed to save £20 per window by fitting inferior products in homes that are lived in by those least able to afford large heating bills?


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

What a difference 24 hours makes

20 years ago I seriously thought about moving to France. France is the only country, other than England, where I would ever consider living.

Although I speak quite fluent French, having spent 6 months there in the late 70s as an au pair to a teaching family with 4 children of 2, 4, 8 and 10, I eventually concluded that I would never be happy enough somewhere where I did not have total command of the language.

Having the ability to manipulate thought with words was, this morning, once again proved to us to be the essential skill to get things done in this world.

At 9.07am Mr BW received an unexpected reply from the double glazing company.

Clearly their minds had been focused by our email (see the post just below) and it had gone from, "At least 2 weeks, maybe up to 6," for the replacement window frame and glass window panel, when they left at 3.30pm, to, "We have spoken to our suppliers who are remanufacturing the faulty units, and we can come to complete the outstanding work on Thursday morning, if that suits you?"

Plasterer BW is recovering well from his "hart attack" and, having been assured that we will have lots of work for him when he is up to working again, has arranged, from his hospital bed, for someone he has worked with here before to come over on Friday to start the necessary replastering for the plumber to fit the radiators to the first fix pipework the week after next, and so save us from a very cold autumn.

Undeterred by the torrential rain, our builders are adamant that they will be here first thing on Tuesday to start the groundwork for our big greenhouse. Some workmen below 50, and some eye candy, at last!

Mr BW has chopped down another third of the overgrown and mostly dead 40 year old leylandii hedge, and I have taken delivery of a 125 litre incinerator and tried to have a big bonfire of all the assorted wood that we have removed from various parts of the house. Tried, because it is all rather too wet after recent downpours. Smoke signals rather than flames. To get a skip up here costs £400, the local tip charges £2.50 per black bag of building refuse, "Or maybe a bit less if you pay cash love!" (yeah, right in your pocket pal), so sod the environment. I can see why people fly tip.

Must make time tomorrow to look through the kitchen brochures before the cheap bespoke lady visits late afternoon. I have 50 or so images of what I want, but no time to put them into any kind of order.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

I hope this is the only place online that I will be needing to publish this...

Boss Window Fitter

We are writing to say how very disappointed we are with your replacement of our 4 windows.

Firstly, about changing the fitting date at an hour's notice at 8am yesterday morning, which caused us a lot of inconvenience in rescheduling other tasks and people, and certainly has left us a lot of mess to clean up after you today because of the inclement weather (which we did tell you, when you rang yesterday, was expected). Yes, we understand that you are a small business (which is the only reason we gave you the work as you were actually the most expensive of the 4 quotes we had), but, respectfully, small businesses who rely on workers being available do need to have contingency plans to cover unplanned absences.

Secondly, BW noticed when she was outside that one of the old windows had been left in the frame and was in your van, and told you. You then told the man who was doing the cementing etc to take it off and leave it with the others outside the front of the house. When I rang you ten minutes after you left, and told you that you had gone off with it, despite BW already having pointed it out to you, I really would have expected you to bring it back, particularly given the hassles we had already had. PLEASE DO NOT LOSE THIS WINDOW. WE NEED THIS WINDOW (AND NOT ANY OTHER WINDOW YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE AROUND) BACK as we are making a garden cold frame to take these 4 matching windows.

Thirdly, you told us when you visited to quote that you had been in the business since you left school As such, we would have hoped you would have noticed the problem with the window frame in the centre bedroom being a good 6mm out of square. Both BW and I noticed it with a cursory glance. Also, why does nobody check the window glass for faults when they come in to you? This would have avoided the fault in the opening window glass now in the ensuite, and needing to be replaced. And how did you not notice the lack of the specified hinges on the windows (we thought they were specified on all windows (as per my earlier email to you); you said they were only to be on the upstairs, and hadn't noticed they weren't as you were fitting them?). To us, the customer, you are the supplier, it is your product, rather than you simply being a window fitter, happy to blame others for poor/incorrectly supplied product. It all reflects on you.

Fourthly, given that we made you aware of today's expected weather yesterday when you had to change the fitting date, we were both quite amazed that you didn't have any materials to protect the new cement around the downstairs windows. Luckily we had suitable materials, but are both now soaked to the skin having had to reposition the original two, and add two others, and attach them more firmly as the wind is now in the opposite direction, and the rain even more torrential than it was earlier.

You left with such haste, literally running out of the door, that we were left to try to protect your work from the rain.

There are already several cracks in the cement in various places.

The window in the dining room is leaking in the lower right corner. The wet patch is currently up to 21cm. See attached picture. I have no idea how our plasterer can now plaster this area later this week.

Fifthly, there were tiny bits of hard plastic left all over the tarmac outside, and 5 of the red glass protecting squares. As you can see on the attached picture there were also a handful of self tapping screws mixed in with the plastic. It is difficult not to conclude they were from your van, as I don’t have any, and it has been 2 weeks since the last tradesmen were here and there is no way I would not have seen them lying around. We have had many contractors here over the past 24 weeks since we moved in, some of them doing much messier jobs, and no-one has ever left such (indeed any) mess. I may have missed some screws in the rain. I hope no-one suffers a costly puncture.

Sixthly, when we have had new windows fitted before, the contractors have always left the windows sparkling clean. Neither inside nor outside is clean on any of them, and there are dirty hand marks on many of the plastic surrounds. Additionally, the windowsills in the dining room and the central bedroom were covered in bits, and the central bedroom one filthy - if you'd just spent another 10 or 15 minutes cleaning up, rather than leaving in a hurry, it would have been much better. As it is, we now have a couple of hours work to do cleaning windows and window frames, as well as floors. This is not acceptable.

Seventhly, when we have had windows fitted before, the contractors have always made good any damage on the inside. The damage to the plaster on the RHS of the central bedroom window really needed filling. I did make clear that this was the only room that was decoratively 'finished', so I would have hoped that you would have left it in the state you found it. I can repair it, but I shouldn't have to. This was the reason that BW asked you to remove the trims from that window, as the damage certainly couldn't have been rectified had they been left on. See attached picture.

Eighthly, the 3 strips you left in the garage for me to complete the finishing work around the windows are filthy, and very scratched. They are not acceptable.

Ninthly, we found a triangle of the roofing material from our dormer windows on the garage floor. Where did this come from and why was it removed? We are worried that it may now cause a leak. Picture attached.

And finally, given the messes we found as we walked around when you'd left, and that the window frame in the central bedroom is going to have to come out again, it is clear that we cannot have the new, very pale coloured, carpet laid in the central bedroom next week as planned.

As we told you, because of previous changes we have made to carpet fitting dates for other reasons, there is a £300 refitting charge that we will now have to pay. We will expect this to be deducted from your bill. This will also significantly delay our other scheduled plans, and is very frustrating.

To summarise, the outstanding work, to be completed at your earliest convenience, is:

1. Replace broken glass in ensuite opening window.

2. Replace non-square window frame in central bedroom.

3. Fit the hinges specified in our original order confirmation email.

4. Make dining room window watertight in lower right corner.

5. Repair any rain-damage to any of the external cement rendering, as becomes obvious once it has stopped raining.

6. Return our window removed from site.

7. Replace strips of trim left for me to complete the internal window work.

8. Roofing material to dormer window?

9. Tiny pieces of hard plastic left all over the tarmac near your van?

I hope that you will agree that all this is unacceptable, and not your usual standard.

We await your advice on timescales for the above.



Monday, August 24, 2020

We're busy

7.55am: Mr BW's phone rings. It's the four new windows (to replace four 40 year old failing windows) window fitters' boss. "Comrade A has had D&V all night and has just phoned in sick. So we can't come today before 9am as agreed. But we'll be there tomorrow."

That will be the wettest day of the summer in the NE then. 99% certainty of rain from 9 -6.

7.55pm: Mr BW's phone receives a text message. "can't come on thursday sori i'm in the hospital with a hart attack but i'll be there in 3 weeks if you can wait. sori [Plasterer BW]"

That'll be the plumber fitting the downstairs radiators so we aren't cold this winter and the posh kitchen designer offering bespoke made-to-measure kitchens to fit yourself at IKEA prices who won't be coming then.

*deep sigh*

Someone hates us.

"I'm sure I didn't have half of that bottle of wine?!" said Mr BW a little while ago.
It's not my fault. Really.

Meanwhile, we are saving ourselves between £3K and £6K (depending whose quote you believe) by removing an overgrown 40 year old line of unmanaged leylandii so that the greenhouse base constructors (less than half the price of the most expensive, and using real stone rather than cladding) can start work next week.

Our (extensive) drive is currently half-covered in cut off conifer branches, the rotting former dog kennel and run is full of logs that will be ready to burn in 2023, and an industrial strength chipper is coming for the weekend.

Never a dull day.

Oh, and, Mummy Mr BW had a great time, although we are glad that we are no longer entertaining and feeding two year old twins. Who knew that ladies in their 80s outside their own environments were so demanding and time-consuming?


Thursday, August 6, 2020

We're all going on a summer holiday

We've decided to take Mummy Mr BW, who has been very good at staying in to keep safe, and only seeing a very small number of her long-term friends of a similar age, according to Regulations, on a week's holiday.

Staying in when you live on your own and are usually very active and very sociable is hard. Plus, all the holidays and outings with friends that she had booked have been cancelled, so she needs a break.

We've managed to find a nice house, in glorious countryside, in the middle of nowhere, that is peaceful and perfect for a holiday for us all.

It is a bit of a building site, and the current lack of anything more that essential furniture for two means that I will have to sleep in Bri@n, and Mr BW will have to share a 6' bed (which is actually two x 3' beds) currently situated in the lounge, with his Mum, which he thinks is weird, but, if I have to put up with his snoring, why shouldn't she? He also doesn't have any pyjamas, so that will be interesting. I keep telling him that he should have some, in case of emergency hospital admission, but he still doesn't have any. Perhaps Amazon Prime have some.

Anyway, as I'm sure you've worked out by now, we going to be taking Mummy Mr BW back up north with us on Sunday. It will be the perfect length break for her, as we can only stay at Coven Nord for a week this time, due to needing to be down here again the week after for my dental appointment and various other necessary Southern things. Apart from carpet fitting of one room on Tuesday, we have a workmen-free week (rejoice). And besides, she currently owns over a third of it anyway, in actuality, if not on paper, so deserves to see the property she has enabled.

The A1 northbound on a Sunday is truly awful, as we have found in recent journeys. Tailgating and other aggressive and dangerous driving now seems to be the norm. The problem is that much of it is only two lanes.

We have to pick Mummy Mr BW up from her house early on Sunday morning, and it is just as easy, from there, for us to use the M1 on this trip, and vary the journey. Being three-lane, it will either be a better journey, or more of a traffic jam, with fewer options for getting off and finding an alternative route if the road gets shut. However, you pays your money and you takes your chance I think, especially in these strange times.

We have avoided services in recent journeys up and down, for CV-19 reasons, and those on the A1 are often a long way off the road, or involve lots of walking to reach the toilet facitilies.

In non-pandemic times, on long journeys usually, we often find a National Trust or English Heritage place just off the route where we stop to have a picnic and use the facilities. Being members, it is free, and we don't feel the need to spend hours looking round to get Value for our admission fee.

But, we cannot expect a lady in her 80s to either (a) cross her legs for a 6 hour journey, or (b) use the bushes in obscure and hidden places en route that we have carefully mapped out over the course of all our journeys, like we do, if we have to. NT and ET places are currently only open by pre-booking, and we can't guarantee to reach them within the hour that you have to arrive to be admitted, so that won't work either.

So, my question is, can anyone who has used the M1 recently recommend any good services, (either north- or south- bound as we will probably come back the same way), without too much walking, where the toilets are well-maintained, please?

Or, indeed, any of the services to avoid completely?


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train

It got to 33°C up here on Friday, the hottest day of the year, but there was a lovely breeze across the ridge the house sits on, so it wasn't too bad.

Also on Friday, we heard that the application for 200 new houses half a mile up the road from Coven Sud had been refused on Appeal... but, the Inspector said, only because of the presence of a Grade 2 listed building and the importance of it remaining in its original field landscape, not for sensible reasons like traffic and inappropriate location. The Appeal was held virtually a few weeks ago, and Mr BW now has the accolade of being the first member of the public to have spoken at the first ever online Appeal.

We have had a very very very busy week, but we feel like we are finally conquering the house, and should be able to get it waterproof and warm in the next 6-8 weeks, before it gets cold up here. Thankfully.

The plumbers - minus the one who bodged things causing the water damage that happened while we were at Coven Sud last time - were here all week. They were excellent and have modernised and made sense of a complete mess of years of add-on plumbing, rehung all the new radiators properly upstairs and cut off the leaking underfloor pipes for the downstairs radiator system, which allowed us to move two radiators to more sensible places.

Only we could have been testing a new central heating system on the hottest day of the year, and the third hottest day ever.

The plumbers also did first fix on the replacement radiators downstairs (modern thin plastic pipe run off upstairs system copper piping), and cut off the old and leaking underground radiator pipe system. We don't have much plaster left on the walls now - it was all as bad as that upstairs. Still, at least we can now put in appropriate modern insulation as we re-plaster.

Boss Plumber is now our new best friend, and has put us on to lots of good tradesmen we hadn't managed to find ourselves.

We were going to go down south today (we have h0ney to extract and crops to harvest, as well as more things to bring back up) , but instead we are going to be leaving early tomorrow as I was too tired to drive at all today, and Mr BW is also tired so didn't feel he wanted to do all the driving.

We have to be back up here after next weekend for carpet fitting (only one bedroom instead of the planned 3 though, due to other things that now need doing first - so many things, for example new windows, as some are of 1980 vintage, keep appearing that need sorting properly, so putting out our plans - luckily the carpet man is very understanding!).

It is very complicated trying to juggle dates for everything that needs doing, north and south.

As Mr BW says, it feels like we are rescuing Coven Nord, step by step, from its lack of care over the last 20 years. Putting in the Aga was a stroke of genius, as it has already dried out so much of the damp that had built up in recent years. Plus, it has made my life much easier. No longer do I need to think about cooking - it just happens. Today I made the first ever Coven Nord jam, with plums from Coven Sud.

There are fewer sheep now: almost all the lambs have gone to be dinners (if you buy M&S lamb, chances are I saw it when it was alive, and Mr BW talked to it). I am glad that I have been vegetarian for more than 50 years. But, living next to a field of depressed deprived mothers, rather than a field of happy sheep, is hard.


Friday, July 31, 2020

How do they know?

We don't have Alexa. We will never have Alexa, or any other snoop device. I have as many browser controls set to 'private' as I can find, but still, straight after making yesterday's post, when I checked the delivery status of my awaited Amazon orders, this was displayed.

How do they know we have plumbers here this week? How?

I've no idea what the video is about, but surely we should have got past this kind of sexism in images a long time ago? It wouldn't be acceptable to have an image of a golliwog, so why is this image acceptable?

Oh, I was right about one of the previous comedy pair, who caused the water leak that damaged the newly replastered ceiling, and then pretended to be sick on Monday and Tuesday so he didn't have to face us. By Wednesday Chief Plumber had realised he was pulling a fast one and sent him elsewhere, but says he's getting The Big Bag later today. Is there a list of cowboy plumbers that I can add him to, because he'll still be out there working?


Thursday, July 30, 2020

If there's a system that can be played...

We have finally discovered (from a visiting salesman yesterday) why it is taking so long for companies to supply quotations after visiting to see whatever it is we are needing to replace, and why lead times are so long.

We were told that lots of people are using the money they are getting back from holiday or event refunds, the money they have received from the taxpayer for self-employed support or business bounceback loans, or the money they have saved while furloughed to carry out home improvements. So these companies are very very busy.

Good for them, but not for us, who have to do projects in order, so cannot proceed with the next stage until the previous is finished. For example, carpets cannot go down upstairs until plumbing is finished and the urgent replacement windows are installed, and until we have carpets, we cannot move the bedroom out of the lounge, and until we have done that we cannot remove the loose plaster (yes, even more 1970s vintage loose plaster) that has become apparent during the plumbing pipe wall chasing this week, and until we have done that we cannot book the plasterer again.

Also, the stove installer told me that businesses are applying for BBLs, even if they don't need them, because it is very cheap credit, interest free for the first year, and can be repaid without penalty at any time. Accountants are advising all eligible clients to use BBLs to boost cashflow. And the scams/fraud on BBLs is staggering. The latest thing for those miscreants moving on from engaging in PPI scams, I guess.

Are you missing out?


Monday, July 27, 2020


There is a lot less plaster on 5 walls downstairs tonight.

Remember what happened in the main bedroom when Mr BW stripped off the wallpaper?

Well, it happened again on three of the five chases.

Never mind, the plasterer is a nice guy, and the best value and most reliable of the tradespeople we've had here.

Plus, we can then insulate the walls on the inside, so improving the energy efficiency of the house. Aren't there supposed to be lots of new grants for retro-insulating houses starting sometime soon?

As the radiators are being replaced and will now run off the existing upstairs central heating pipework, we're taking the opportunity to move 2 of the 5 downstairs radiators into more sensible positions (actually, there are also 2 we're not doing yet, as we may, once we've sold Coven Sud, extend out and knock down the protrusion where those two, and the wonky loo, currently are).

Thanks for all your survey votes and thoughts on how to deal with the water damage situation. Lots of good points made. Mr BW has it all on an email chain, and Chief Plumber is falling over himself to make things right and ensure everything is now done cleanly and properly going forward, and that we are happy. He even turned up with a dozen brand new dust sheets today, and we've wrapped absolutely everything in those thin plastic dust sheets that you can get now. I've given up on trying to avoid plastic - my tiny contribution is dwarfed by the millions of masks, plastic online shopping bags and disposable aprons and gloves being used every single day. At least around here they do burn it for energy generation.

Anyway, your votes (apart from the 'other') were exactly equally split between hold some money back, and don't pay anything until it's all resolved.

As Mr BW prefers to do the work himself (it will then be done properly), I think it should be less than £200 if Plan A works (the simple one: see if it can dry out and be stain-blocked - there is some stuff the National Trust use that has been recommended to us - and repainted without it being visible, with new insulation between the floor and ceiling boards as necessary), but potentially £500 if it doesn't and the ceiling needs cutting out, reboarding, taping and reskimming.

We do need the plumber to come back to put the new radiators on, once everything is replastered and painted, as he is the best one around (yes, you can tell how bad the others are), so I think that we can't upset him too much by not paying him anything.

I'm thinking we will suggest a £500 withhold until it is clear that Plan A has worked. Which may not be for several months. But, I think we will wait until he's finished first fix on this lot, before telling him. We've repeatedly told him this work must be finished by the weekend, but given that today was only 5 hours long, and that tomorrow they're leaving by 2.30pm, and that they are a man down, I'm not holding my breath. In which case we won't be paying anything...

Rainy Monday

I finally scored a Sainsbury's delivery slot again. There are 'free from' things that I can ony get in Waitrose or Sainsbury's, and Waitrose won't deliver here any more (despite being the only company that would deliver here pre- CV-19), so they will be getting less of our money henceforth. I like the Sainsbury's online portal as you can set up dietary preferences, and a warning comes up if you order items containing whatever you are avoiding.

I wasn't ordering flowers (I've got plenty in the garden) but this was 'pushed' at me during the checkout process.

Contains wheat? Really?

In other news, the Sinning Plumbers eventually turned up at 10.50am, without the one who failed to tighten and blank off pipes properly last time, who had apparently called in sick, so the other two first had to go and get the young chap's tools from the sick one's van.

We reckon it's going to be a 5 day bug. And Chief Plumber had clearly 'had words' with him.

Chief Plumber (who wasn't here last time) and the young one, turned up full of apologies and with a bunch of flowers for me to say sorry for the 'hygiene problems' and water leak problems last time. I took them with good grace, but we have workmen-proofed the facilities The 'NO!" is written in permanent marker on a sheet of loo roll in the upstairs facilities that they should not be using.

I'm currently sitting in the conservatory away from their noisy wall chasing for the new pipework for the new downstairs radiators. This is having to drop off the pipework for the upstairs radiators, as our exisiting under-floor-downstairs pipework, dating from the early 1970s, is low-quality unwrapped copper which is corroded and probably leaking, judging by the many patches of unexplained damp, and is being drained, disconnected, and blanked off. Mr BW is 'holding the vacuum cleaner' while they chase down, so that it's not too dusty, and so that he can have input to the process to ensure they don't do anything stupid this time. He has made clear his professional engineering credentials, just so they know that he does know what he is talking about.

It is chucking it down with rain and, according to the weather forecast, will be all day. The only consolation is, I can see from the CCTV cameras and solar generation portal, that it is exactly the same weather at Coven Sud.

Posted at 11:51 AM | Comments (3)

Sunday, July 26, 2020


Does anyone have any idea of the current hourly rate of a painter and decorator?

We don't need one, just to know the going rate.

Thanks for all the thoughts on the water damage situation.
This question is related to that, of course.
I'll summarise responses tomorrow, so there's still chance to share your wisdom in the survey/comments box below.

Meanwhile, today, we are hoping the wood burning stove will finally be finished. That's 3 days taken out of our lives by the fitters rather than the one day that it should have been. And of course there is a tale to tell. Not quite as good as the plumber one, because that would take a lot of beating.

But, it involves the fitters squirting blobs of silicone mastic under the tiles for the hearth and then immediately laying a 100kg stove onto the tiles, and then being surprised when the tiles went in all directions and we hit the roof. It wasn't as if we hadn't supplied tile adhesive as previously agreed...


Friday, July 24, 2020

Mr BW and I are having a difference of opinion over how to handle the water leak damage situation.

Your input/thoughts might help him come round to my way of thinking.

Ooops, did I really say that out loud? ;).

I couldn't make the 'done' button appear on the page, so please use the scroll box to the RHS of the question box to scroll down to click 'done'.

Create your own user feedback survey

Thank you, and I'll post the results over the weekend.

Posted at 11:24 AM | Comments (5)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The pattern continues

Bloke here today doing the bits of the wood burner installation that Mr BW can no longer legally do. Mr BW is perfectly capable of fitting a woodburner to all the current legal standards (as he has previously proved at Coven Sud), and is much better qualified than those who do, but is no longer allowed to so do.

Said Blokey arrived, 5 minutes early (made a change) and immediately said, "Oh - I've forgotten my vacuum cleaner!". Mr BW said, "Never mind, you can use my construction one." Oh yes, my Dyson is only for non-boy-projects. He seemed rather put out, but carried on, slowly.

He was here for 2 hours then said he's got 'a crisis at home' and had to go (despite having not had any phone calls - I know, I was on my computer beyond the glass door, out of sight, but watching). He left all his tools. Said he'd ring in an hour and telling us he'd be back when he could. It's 7 hours later.

Mr BW sent an email, "Hope all is OK - please tell us who will be here tomorrow, and at what time."

His tools are going on ebay shortly ;)


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

When enough is enough

Reposted from February 2010, at Tim's request (see comments below)... and it seems particularly apposite, for our current times:

I've probably posted this before, I don't recall now. I'm sure that many of you will have read it elsewhere anyway, but, as I've just dug it out to send to an acquaintance, I'll post it again.

It's one of my favourite motivational tales, and. the reason why, despite the opportunity being there, and despite having all the skills (or access to them from Mr BW) I don't run a successful large company, employing many other people, and making lots of money.

I just wish that more people would understand what it means, without having to learn the hard way.

The Greek Fisherman

A boat docked in a tiny Greek village. An American tourist complimented the Greek fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long," answered the Greek.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Greek explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I go into the village to see my friends, dance a little, play the bouzouki, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you."

"You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Athens, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise."

“How long would that take?" asked the Greek.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

“And after that?"

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"

“Millions? Really? And after that?"

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings singing, dancing and playing the bouzouki with your friends."

- Author unknown


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

No more Nice Mrs BW

I've decided to be blunt and direct with companies and people who have let us down.

I got a very rude reply to my polite email enquiry to a well-known company about 'where are my blinds?' No apology and basically saying that they had lots of orders and were not wanting to drop their high quality standards so it would be another couple of weeks yet. I sent the following reply:

"Yes, OK, but it would have been good if you'd bothered to let me know!

Incidentally, I ordered blinds from one of your competitors at exactly the same time. They came 15 days ago - and were cheaper!

Promotions only work if you don't annoy your customers by under-delivering.



I love that use of 'best'. It can only ever mean FOAD, can't it?

Chief Plumber is falling over himself to make sure everything is put right to our complete satisfaction next week.

Apparently the water leaks were caused by his men 'having a brain fart' and not remembering how to do plumbing after so many weeks off during lockdown. Given that the younger one apparently spent last week doing a Gas Safe certificate, I am seriously concerned. I'm glad that we don't have gas that he will be playing with. Chief Plumber has told us that Tom and Jerry are 'seriously embarrassed' by the standards of their work and personal hygiene, and that if we will allow them back on the premises (apparently the only way that all the work can be done in a week) he will be watching them like a hawk. Which has absolutely nothing on how closely we will be watching all of them, all of the time. And there will be no chocolate biscuits next week, and we have already made laminated signs for the doors of the facilties.

If Tom and Jerry turn up on Monday morning and fail to apologise for the appalling standard of their previous work, I fully intend to say in a very patronising voice, just as you would to a five year old, "Don't you have something to say to us?" Mr BW reckons I won't. I reckon he is wrong. Actually, thinking, maybe he said that I shouldn't not that I won't...

But, there is some good news story amidst the tales of indifference and incompetence.

By chance we seem to have found ourselves a couple of young lads (who might be brothers), one a joiner and one a plumber, starting a small business selling tiles and bathrooms from a small unit on an out-of-the-way industrial estate. We only wanted 3 whole 60cm square tiles and 3 half-size ones, as a hearth for the log burner. For such a small order, they went to a lot of trouble, spent a lot of time talking to us, and lent us a sample tile without wanting either name and address details, or a deposit - I hope their blind trust doesn't get abused too soon in their entrepreneurial lives.

Then, when we went to pick the tiles up this morning, they gave us some matching grout, left over from another job, and a part-bag of quick setting adhesive they had in the shop, in case it was hard to find in the current times. They refused any payment. As a result we have asked them to come round to see if they can help revamp the en suite. We were going to leave this for a while, but, in current circumstances, it seemed a good idea.

The builder we had lined up to build the greenhouse base has vanished into thin air. He has failed to respond to emails, phonecalls or text messages for nearly a week now. He was really keen, even coming out to see us on a Sunday, and he's had lots of good ideas since. He even produced a written quotation - even though it was handwritten with wobbly drawings and bad spelling on a bit of plain A4 paper. We're hoping he hasn't got coronavirus, but, we can't be doing with silence. As we need a builder urgently, he's now lost his chance. A throwaway comment made by the man fitting the wood burner on Thursday has now given us another lead. It really shouldn't be this difficult.


Monday, July 20, 2020

Blue Monday

The good thing is that, living in the middle of nowhere, if you have (another) bad day, you can stand outside and scream ilke a toddler, for 2 minutes, and no-one notices.

The sheep stand looking at you, chewing like teenagers, totally nonplussed. No-one else either hears, or gives a damn.

The new mirrored wardrobe doors arrived, a month after ordering, damaged. The company failed to give me a new delivery date for the replacements in a timely manner. Until we have wardrobe doors we can't have upstairs carpets. FFS.

2 blinds, ordered over a month ago, fail to materialise, and Customer Services fail to respond to polite prodding. FFS.

The skirting board arrived, after a 3 week delay, damaged, and short of 2 packs. Customer Services repeatedly failed to answer the phone. FFS.

Yet another plant delivery turns up needing CPR and I really can't be bothered. Customer Services still haven't replied to my first complaint email about the first problem delivery, 16 days ago. FFS.

The Morrisons' order arrived early, short of lots of things, yet again with short dates on the fresh items, and with ridicuous substitutions, which we rejected. 25 minute delay to speak to Customer Services - I didn't bother. FFS.

One of the delivery drivers, of the 6 deliveries today, assured me that, "It will get better soon!"

I didn't believe it.

It has occurred to me that the only company that has always delivered on time, resolved problems in a timely manner, and refunded problems immediately, is Amazon. It's good to know that my complaints to them back in their 1990s early days paid off. But will they please pay their UK tax?

None of the 6 delivery drivers had/was using PPE; I had to tell 2 of them not to get too close to me, and it all felt very sloppy. I really felt at risk. For me, as someone who has been so careful, for so long, at not inconsiderable financial cost, I felt disappointed, to put it mildly.

So, I'm still screaming like a toddler.

Helll, I'm here, trying to prop up the British economy by spending spending spending, but no-one is delivering!


Sunday, July 19, 2020

That was the week that was

We had a lovely 6 days down at Coven Sud catching up with friends, sorting out the buzzers (one naughty colony, lots of h0ney to be extracted on our next trip south as there are, unexpectedly, hundreds of acres of borage directly behind us), and taming the garden (I love it as overgrown and untamed as it was, but Mr BW doesn't, and nor, presumably, will the spurred-on-by-the-restrictions-of-lockdown Townies/Cityies who are likely to buy it in the not-too-distant future), and packing up more stuff to transport north.

They say misfortunes come in threes.

Misfortune 1: The power supply for my netbook stopped working. 4 days without a computer when one is micro-managing money, deliveries, and tradesmen is not good. As a non-smartphone user, why oh why do I not know all my passwords, which would allow me to use Mr BW's laptop in such circumstances? Why did the supplier of the replacement power supply claim 'delivery by first class' which turned out to be 'Royal Mail tracked 48', which is definitely not first class!?

Misfortune 2: A large lump of filling fell out of my upper left molar on Monday as we were coming down the M11. I blame grapes. Razor sharp sides remained which lacerated my tongue in minutes. Blood is not my favourite taste, but has been my accompaniment this week. First available dentist appointment - but only for 'assessment': Friday late morning. First available appointment for remediation - 4.5 weeks time. Given that this is a private dentist, to whom Mr BW and I have given tens of thousands of pounds over the past 27 years, I am unimpressed. And, guess what? Our dentist is going on holiday next week! How many weeks have they just had off? Toothypeg now has a temporary filling, stuck on over the exposed bit, onto which he first squirted some antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. Total cost - £47 more than our new wood burning stove that is due to be fitted on Thursday. Jeez. "The temporary filling probably won't last a month, but don't worry, ring up and you can pop in and one of the other dentists will pop another one on." Great, when you are 300 miles away. A friend I was talking to on the phone told me about the temporary filling material you can get online or in Boots. Apparently it's the same as dentists use, so I've ordered some from Amazon for £4.99, just in case. And there is 'Orajel' recommended by the pharmacist in Boots, sent out by the counter assistant to see if I deserved to be able to buy co-codamol for tooth pain. Anyone got any thoughts about NHS dentists, in the north-east? And is it normal these days for a private dentistry tooth reconstruction to cost £1,306, or is it just mine, trying to make up their annual shortfall in income due to covid factors? The thing that annoys me most is that I told him, when I last saw him last November, that that tooth felt 'odd' and perhaps needed sorting out more than the one giving me no trouble, that he insisted need a ceramic onlay. And how did I never know about purchasable temporary filling materials and Orajel, given the number of weeks I have spent in SA over the past 9 years?

Misfortune 3: We left Coven Sud at midday. The traffic on the A1 was bad. I have rarely seen so much bad driving. Several serious accidents, and a scary incident that we will be reporting to the police if I can find the place to send dashcam footage to. On arriving back at Coven Nord, I noticed paint flakes by the kitchen sink, and, on looking up, a soaked, brand new ceilling, edge. We already knew we had no hot water, and had already got Chief Plumber lined up to advise Mr BW by telephone on how to sort it out on our return. Chief Plumber was here within an hour (Mr BW's opening words to him were, "I hope your insurance cover is good!"), and he was left in no doubt about out feelings. Apparently Tom and Jerry (only one of which is their real name), the pair he left here unsupervised 10 days ago, are both fully qualified plumbers. As ever, talking to him allowed him to hang himself: one hasn't been working for him for long, the other, a 24 year old, has a love of partying, and, "Has to be chased around his friends to find out where he needs picking up on a Monday morning after a weekend's drinking... but he's a really good worker, although he often falls asleep on the job." 2 hours and 20 minutes later, the leaks sealed, other bits blanked off, where they should already have been so done, and the airlock removed from our hot water system, he agreed to pay for all damages to the new ceiling and neighbouring room walls, to put in a new remedial venting system for free, and to always be on site for the remainder of the plumbing works. It was clear that Chief Plumber hadn't really appreciated just how bad Tom & Jerry's antics had been, despite out photos, until he saw for himself tonight. "I gather it's really hard to get good staff round here? But, it is your good name they are trashing...!" I ventured. I have a feeling that at least one of Tom and Jerry will get The Big Bag in the morning.

It will be interesting to see how things go on...

It was good to see the ISS passing over again tonight. All is well when the ISS circles over you.

Posted at 11:51 PM | Comments (6)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Down memory lane without trying

Z was talking about evening classes over here.

It's amazing where memory jogs come from - I'd completely forgotten about this, as I described:

"I too did a car maintenance evening class the year I moved to Somerset from Cambridge. 1985 I think. Largely because it was the only class that would fit into my week, and every teacher they employed got a free evening class course every year from the County Council. I was the only female and remember being severely patronised, until I came up with several correct answers to very technical questions.

I had been helping my Dad with cars since I was tiny, and had learnt a lot.

The next year I did calligraphy, and the year after glass engraving."

This eryngium is just the right colour for me. Not sure which it is, but it's pretty, if in the wrong place. I'll move it somewhere more convenient when we are here for a few weeks and I can keep an eye on it. Not sure when they are supposed to be moved, but convention has never yet stopped me doing anything I wanted.

In Plumber News, Mr BW received a very grovellingly apologetic email in response to his carefully constructed but politely pointed email of complaint. I think we will get better service in future, and we have a promise that Boss Man will always be on site to direct and oversee work. Were it not for the fact that Farmer Friend assures us that there is no-one better, they would have been off the job by now. I am going to print out and laminate a sign that says, "Plumbers: Please Point Percy Prettily, and ONLY use the downstairs cloakroom."

Boss Plumber said in his email that he'd never had complaints about his workers' hygiene practices before. Next time I see him, I am going to have to have to have a word in his ear to explain to him that while that may be true, it is only likely to be true because most people wouldn't feel comfortable telling him that his workers didn't lift toilet seats, shut doors before using the facilities, or wash their hands afterwards. Good job Mr BW cleaned up their mess before my camera got busy.

Yesterday Bri@n was one, and tomorrow Mi1dred is 87. Clever how we have engineered the birthdays of our Metal Children to coincide, isn't it?

We're going south in the morning to help her celebrate. This might involve taking her out for the first time since January 1st.

We seem to finally be getting on top of watering plants and packing up ready to go. Probably only because we are going via a kitchen manufacturing place en route to get some ideas, so have to be away earlier in the morning than we have managed previously.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Saturday update

Having had workmen here for 3 long days this week, my nerves are nearly shredded.

But, we do now have a working new Aga (Tuesday and Wednesday - hurrah, finally, cookability and warmth and ironed tea towels!), 4 new radiators upstairs (yesterday - but not working yet as the boss unexpectedly disappeared off after an hour so they didn't have the manpower to get finished as planned), a wood burning stove (delivered yesterday) that is being fitted the week after next, and a lot of postponed things (eg new upstairs carpet fitting, boxing in of Aga flue in upstairs Museum Room) due to knock-on from other delays. But, we are still probably a year ahead of where we hoped to be by now I suppose.

I'm not good at coping with workmen turning up at 10 or half ten and then spending lots of time on their phones rather than getting on with the job. And these are the best workmen the area has to offer...

It's been rather grey and raining on and off here all week, but, with all the workmen here I haven't noticed amidst the trying not to scream very very loudly. Talk abour heavy footed and dirty handed!!!

Still, Farmer Friend BW who we've known for 15 years, assures us the plumbers are the best around and that he wouldn't use anyone else (and he's tried them all in the 18 years he's been up here!).

I don't know what you think about these images of the radiators 'installed'?:

We think they are examples of very, very bad workmanship, and have sent an email to the disappearing boss man saying they are totally unacceptable, and that we didn't appreciate the filthy handmarks left on every newly-painted white wall upstairs (even where they weren't working) and the, ahem, 'mess' left in every single bathroom that necessitated donning of rubber gloves and application of copious quanties of bleach and isopropyl alcohol. At any time this would be totally unacceptable, but in these Covid Times...

I could have done better with my left hand, and I'm right handed and have not done any serious DIY for nearly 28 years now, since meeting Mr BW. We only employ people for tasks that Mr BW doesn't feel competent to tackle, but, having seen this bodge, I honestly wonder what years of plumbers' college taught this pair.

Luckily, we've not yet given them a penny, and I suspect it might stay that way. Luckily I have taken over 800 photos of works in progress this week.

Plus, it looks like the copper pipes for the heating system under the concrete in the ground floor from the 1970s have corroded and are leaking (hence some of the damp that we couldn't work out where it was coming from), due to bodges in the past plumbing and things that our surveyor said should be done at Vendors' expense not having been done/investigated properly, despite paperwork to the contrary. Very frustrating. So that's £6K more expense than expected, and more things that have to be done much much sooner than we either wanted, expected, or have money for. Bloody hell! And where do we now find a competent plumber?

Black Feline Familiar has bunny and mouse as her preferred food options. I almost stepped on a headless baby bunny on the floor in front of the washing machine in the garage yesterday morning... a perfect start to the day.

I do hope that your week has been rather less frustrating?


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Black on Blue Crime

The new dark blue Aga looks black. I hate black. Looks like they either mixed the enamel incorrectly or 'dark blue' in 2020 has changed from the 'dark blue' they made in 2000. The enamel is also more matt and less shiny.

I hope to be able to bring it back to blue with some careful use of other coloured bits, when we eventually do the kitchen. But for now, it looks black, and that's in a very light, south facing kitchen. And I hate black. I can't say I like any of the other colours any better though. Baby blue does not appeal. So there's not a lot that can be done.

The double-walled flue pipe (6" in diameter), which has to go up through what will be the Museum Room, and the loft, and out through the roof, looks like it might not be able to go where it is supposed to. That makes a problem for what I'm planning for display cabinets. Given that the soil pipe currently runs through the inside wall of the kitchen, it's a hotch potch. "Why did they do it like that?" asked one of the fitters. We've been wondering that about lots of things.

Soon a whole lot of noise and lots of dust and mess will happen as they drill out walls, floorboards, slate roof etc etc.

I am not a Happy Witch today.

Addendum, 12:45pm: I've just been downloading some photos. Now onto the eleventh thousand since the end of January.

It is definitely blue from some angles, just not the ones I look from (which might explain why Mr BW, who is 6" taller than me is claiming it is blue).

These photo are all as 'out of the camera', and the only thing I've done is change the size:

If it's a light thing, I suspect it can be sorted. It might also be to do with the existing black worktops, which will be disappearing in time.

It seems as if the flue can be made to go where I want to after all. They've taken up the floor and are currently taking out 3' of wall that was once the external wall but is now under the upstairs floorboards.

And they've changed the badge on the front as I don't like the old script ones (as in the photo). That's improved the look already, even if it is still black from my vantage point.

Posted at 10:53 AM | Comments (12)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

It's a sign!

I opened my netbook to do my daily check on the bank accounts while Mr BW made tea.

It happened to be on the solar panel monitoring page. That is one of my favourite pages on the internet. In the last quarter, our electricity bill for supply from the grid for Coven Sud was £4.85 (it's a tariff with no standing charges). 5.4p per day. With 6.5kWh of battery, the house is self-sufficient in electricity when we're not there, and, provided that we're careful when we put on power-guzzlers (dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, glass kiln, power tools) when we are there, this time of year we can be energy self-sufficient all the time. Despite being on the penultimate quarter of the feed-in tarrifs (which were a tenth of the original FIT rates handed out), over a year our generation income is almost the same as our electricity bill. Result.

However, that digression wasn't the point of this, but explains why I noticed the date and the time:

Haircut and Aga Fitting Day 1 (of 2) today. Finally!

Our original plan was to get an Aga in to get the damp in Coven Nord dried out, and provide a constant background warmth to prevent it ever coming back, once we'd got some interior wall insulation installed. The feasibility survey was done on the morning of March 23rd, just before we set off down south for a 4-day trip in a hired Luton that turned into a mad 24 hours to get loaded and get back up here as lockdown was announced that evening.

As it turned out, stripping off the vinyl wallpaper (and with it the plaster in many cases) in all rooms, particularly where there were obvious damp/black mould patches, and the hot weather in the spring solved the problem, but the current unseasonably cold, grey and windy weather has made us reaslise just what a good idea the constant background warmth was.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Creased not smoothed

It is now 120 days since anything was last ironed in either Coven Nord or Coven Sud.

I think that I can no longer tolerate unironed tea towels and unironed pillowcases.

I have an iron up here at Coven Nord.

Actually, I think we might have two, as I brought up my textile iron in the first Luton Load, and we bought a new iron somewhere just before lockdown as it was cheap and we thought we could do with a new one as the Sud one is on its last legs so may never make the long journey north.

I don't have an ironing board here.

There are two at Coven Sud, but neither has yet been allocated a weight allowance for the trip north (the car can only tow 300kg in the trailer - and if we get it wrong and inadvertently overload, the engine management light comes on somewhere between Doncaster and Newcastle, and stays on until the next trip out without the trailer - and when the choice is plants or the ironing board, the plants win every time).

I do have a small double sided cutting/seam pressing board that I use for patchwork.

I also now have 8 pints of dehumidifier water from the plaster drying exercise (saved in two reused 4 pint milk containers, which I have labelled with a black Sharpie) which is almost as good as distilled water, so great for steam irons.

I can no longer tolerate unironed tea towels and unironed pillowcases.

However, I don't do ironing (other than seam pressing on patchwork pieces, and it was January when I last had a chance to do any of that).

And Mr BW doesn't have a phobia of unironed tea towels and pillowcases, and he is very busy painting the kitchen ceiling three times.

It's been a busy week. Two days of plastering, lots of planting relocated specimens from Coven Sud to fill up the large new corner border, lots of painting (almost 50 - or it might be 60, we can't remember - litres of brilliant white emulsion have now been rolled on by Mr BW since 24th March, and we're almost out of paint now, but have no intention of risking death by going to seek more, now that the mad and irresponsible have been let out again), a day off on Thursday, when we went to Cragside via The dreaded R-place (approached from a different direction to any direction we've ever come in before), drove around the 6 mile Carriage Drive and admired the digitalis and remnants of the rhododendrons and azaleas, as there wasn't much else to do there, other than walk, for which we had insufficient energy or inclination, as the formal garden and house are still closed.

The wind is gusting constantly at over 60 miles per hour currently, although the sun is now out and the rain has finally stopped. A line of bed linen and towels dried in 15 minutes (quadruple pegged, no kidding). I've been up since 5am as the wind was howling and the rain was beating. The only thing I might have any energy left for is sitting on a garden chair and washing plant pots but that's not sensible with wind like that. Luckily I have already prepared the Sunday dinner, so the electric oven can cook its Last Supper later. Tomorrow Mr BW will disconnect it and by Wednesday night it will (hopefully) be replaced by the blue Aga twin of Coven Sud. Just 20 years younger. And I shall breathe a huge sigh of relief as electric cooking has been a huge chore and a great challenge, rather than a pleasure.

Replacing the rest of the kitchen can wait, as long as I have my Aga (which would have been the first thing to go in, had it not been for The Nasty Virus).

Time for Sunday sherry, Gardeners' Question Time and Johnnie Walker, then dinner, methinks.

Gosh, that went on a bit, didn't it?!

Tell me your tales and observations of lockdown release near you...

Posted at 12:35 PM | Comments (12)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

It is the 4th of July

Yesterday it poured with rain all day and was 14°C.

The air is super-saturated with moisture.

We have an oil filled radiator on at maximum in the kitchen.
And a dehumidifier.

We have the open fire blazing away in the lounge.
It has been for 24 hours now.

The house is still cold.

On Monday and Tuesday the kitchen ceiling and upstairs landing were partly re-made and completely re-plastered and they need to be dry enough to paint by tomorrow, or all the carefully arranged and carefully sequenced other projects will not work.

Normally, in this house, as we've found before, a wall or ceiling re-skim would be completely dry and ready to paint within 36-48 hours.

It's great weather for planting (and I've done plenty of that lately), but not good for plaster drying.

We can't put the central heating on to help as we currently have 3 upstairs radiators off the system (so the walls could be cleaned and painted behind before the new radiators arrive next Friday). Because of past Bodgit and Coverit antics/reticence to do jobs properly, and cowboy plumbers, the blanking valves don't do a perfect job, so they are oozing water, despite PTFE tape, sealant, more sealant, old bath towels and black plastic bags. Fine for a non-working system, but put some pressure behind circulating water and they could turn into fountains.

The TV weatherman said it was like autumn weather.

It is the 4th of July.

Posted at 10:50 AM | Comments (3)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

That was a Wednesday to Sunday trip to Coven Sud.

The bees were fine. There is a now field of borage just behind us, that we had been led to believe was to be sunflowers, but, we've got used to disappointments of late.

Controlling bees from 300 miles when there is that much forage so near is going to be interesting, to say the least. Let's hope the black feline familiar comes up with the right ingredients for the necessary spells.

I have never been so hot as we were on the journey south. 3 days of mad hot, humid weather, then back to 17°C when we left south home at 10am, 20°C somewhere around Grantham on the A1, and 12°C when we got to the Doncaster turnoff. A bit warmer, but drizzly and overcast when we got to north home.

Yesterday I spoke to Hairdresser BW, who has cut my hair since 1991, firstly in a salon, then at her home (when she was on maternity leave), and then as a mobile hairdresser. "I'm so, so, sorry, BW, but I have decided, for the sake of my health, that I won't be getting back to hairdressing..." she said. She has been very unwell for at least the past 5 years. I suspect the culprits are a lifetime's exposure to hair treatment chemicals (there has to be a reason hairdressers in Greece are state-funded to retire at 50), the 'Cambridge Diet' (to which she was addicted for many years), a cheating first husband, a paedophile second husband, and a daughter brutally raped by the son of the CEO of one of Britain's top 200 companies (and an unbelievable police mess-up over the case, which may or may not be related to the scariness of the top QCs engaged by the accused's parents) are responsible. I am so glad that she finally took my advice to see what she might be entitled to... and whether she could retire... after 34 years in hairdressing... but she was in tears as she told me the horrid messages she had received via text and on social media from more recent clients. How could her clients put their 'hair needs' above her health needs? I made the right sort of noises, promised to keep in touch, and thought that that had been an easy way out.

On the way up the A1 I asked Mr BW if he thought he might be able to attempt a hair cut for me. He has great cutting abilities on wood and stone, and topiary, after all. I admit that I did feel rather nervous when he expressed enthusiasm.

We'd been home for 2 hours when nearest neighbour rang. "The mobile hairdresser I mentioned before can come to us on 7th July BW, are you still interested?"

Ah, there is a god after all.

We have KC minus 13 hours and AF minus 8 days.

I cant wait!


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Seemingly Normal for Numberland? But Elsewhere?

The Greenhouse Project requires removal of an out-of-control 46 year old unmanaged and mostly dead in the middle leylandii hedge, digging deep foundations (40cm), laying a concrete base, and the building of a substantial wall for it to sit on.

Quotes are now coming in.

Just like the plasterer, who provided a 'quote' in a two line message from his phone, and an 'invoice', when I requested it, in a similar format, with the addition of the words, 'completed plastering' (don't worry, he didn't require paying in cash, and anyone who does is going to be met with a grimmace and a, "Ohhh, I wish you hadn't said that: I used to work for HMRC..." then a pause while I let the info sink in) they seem to think it is acceptable to provide a brief email with a number. No detail, no company details, no nothing except a pound sign and a number.

The local Carpet Baron was even better - just a phone call with a number, and no demand for any money until the work is finished and we are happy. "It's how we work round here, we've all been here for years, everyone knows everyone else, so no-one's worried!" Except me, it seems.

It's 14 years since we required any tradesmen for building work. Then, we had itemised quotes on headed notepaper, and some extra info. But then, they didn't have websites with all their details etc.

Is this now normal practice for elsewhere, or is it a northern special?


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Back at Coven Sud

I wish Coven Nord had magical cleaning powers like Coven Sud. Clean floors and dust-free surfaces are such a treat. Indeed anything without plaster dust and a lingering smell of old dogs is a treat...

Cleaner BW is doing an excellent job at caretaking and watering everywhere to top up the auto-watering system as necessary. I just wish I could persuade her to move 300 miles north with us. After more than 20 years of working for us, I shall miss her when we finally go. Before lockdown, we did have a new Cleaner BW lined up for us by our Farmer Friend who we have stayed with every year for the past 15 years, but she is not yet working again. And, given that she wanted to bring all her own products and appliances, I was never really convinced. Like reusable coffee cups, taking stuff between cleaning jobs leaves me cold. But then I've sat through far too many Food Safety Training courses in my time, so know far too much about bacterial spread.

It was 24°C on our ridge when we left t'north at 10.30am, and then 31 to 33°C all the way down the A1. It felt like our travelling days between stops in South Africa. But with less good aircon. And more traffic than on previous trips south, although no delays at all.

It is really too hot here - even with a fan on. With doubtless more of this coming through climate change, I'm glad we're moving (have moved?) north. Have moved, almost. We've noticed that we have stopped referring to 'Coven Sud' as 'home', and now call the two properties by their names.

We're back up on Sunday, as the plasterer is meant to be doing the ktichen ceiling on Monday. But, we'd best give him Tuesday too, judging by recent experience.

Because the trailer bounces around without a load, so is more difficult to tow, we again brought some bags of old plaster down with us as ballast. Cleaner BW has been putting two bags a fortnight into the black bin, as we have, into our bins up north, but we decided to detour via the tip on our way back. It's now moved to the far end of an industrial estate. There were yellow temporary signs along the long road in saying '3 hour wait from here', '2 hour wait from here', '1 hour wait from here'. It was one in and one out, and we were the second of the vehicles waiting. Usually you'd get the third degree from the operatives if you went in with a trailer, but we offloaded the bags and an old bin full of plaster with no problem and no questions. But, I was wondering, who would wait 3 hours to access a tip?

Has fly tipping increased? If there is a long queue at the tip on our next trip down south, it will be very tempting to dump the trailer load of old plaster onto the verge outside Coven Sud, then ring the Council to report fly tipping, and then they have to collect within a specified timescale. If we have to pay council tax on two houses, we might as well get our money's worth ;)

Is it hot where you are?


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Of mirrors, daleks, wee, compost and washing

We have only two mirrors at Coven Nord.

One is in the downstairs cloakroom, and one is in the upstairs ensuite shower room. Those were so bolted down that Bodgit and Coverit (previous owners) failed to manage to remove them.

I do not venture willingly into either place.

The ensuite is filled with paint rollers, paint trays, and other boy stuff and probably hasn't been cleaned since we got here as I don't do cleaning, and Mr BW doesn't notice the dust and decorating detritus. So best avoided as I don't want cholera.

The downstairs cloakroom is off the entrance hall and coat/meter cupboard, in a bolt-on blob to the front of the house (visible on the 1711 map), and is on the piss. Who, other than Bodgit and Coverite (previous owners) would have allowed a toilet to be installed that was not perpendicular to the floor?

The floor was on a slope in the 18th century, but screeding and levelling compounds hadn't been invented then. Even if B&C liked a sloping floor, whoever installed the new cloakroom would, surely, have added some packing under the base to level the toilet up? That's why, when we ring any tradespeople, the first thing we say is, "We've just moved in. Have you ever worked at Coven Nord before?" If they answer in the affirmative, we say, "Right, thanks then, bye!" and put the phone down.

I cannot cope with a side-leaning toilet, and most of the time I am like a first generation dalek and can't manage to get up the stairs to the bathroom umpteen times a day as I just don't have the energy.

(Please excuse the gratuitous inclusion of my favourite strip cartoon of all time.)

So, I have invented my own solution. An outside composting toilet. Only without a cubicle. So, I have to check that Farmer Bernard isn't around before I use it. Although, as I said to Mr BW when he expressed concern about my modesty, Bernard is a farmer, and spends the entirety of March and April with his arms up ewes' nether regions 24/7 (I still hate that expression), so I really have no qualms.

Recycling at its best. Although I do wonder how much wee one compost dalek can take? We've nearly filled our 3rd compost dalek with vegetable matter, grass, hen papers, and shredded paper and cardboard since we got here (15 weeks on Friday), and most of the removed-shrub shreddings are in separate bags. Anyone know how long compost daleks take to rot down? Never having had to use them before, it's a bit of a mystery, but I have been careful to fill it with very thin layers of different materials, rather than 'bung it all on and leave it a year then use it' as we usually do with our multiple metre-cubed compost heaps down south.

Oh yes - getting back to the point of the opening mirror line - it's lucky there are only two and both are inaccessible to me, as it saves me having to look at my Dougally state. I wasn't brave enough to cut it myself, and it is beyond control now. As I've never had to control/style long hair (it's 4" long rather than 1"), I have no idea what to do with it. I'm hoping that Hairdresser BW may be able to visit soon. Either that or I shall be ripping up some of the decorating sheets and looking for online tutorials on how to tie a turban. It's too hot to wear a wooly hat, and I don't want to get a repuation as the Queen by appearing in a headscarf.

Are there any chemists reading? There is lots of iron in our spring water (and I'm told that there might be a leak somewhere in the 3 miles of pipe between the spring and us as it is often quite brown, so oxidised), and there are orange patches about the size of a 10p piece appearing on various white clothes and bedlinens. Now, I know that iron can be used as a mordant, or even to dye cotton, as I've done it from time to time. So, are the orange patches being caused by the fact that I use washing soda rather than Vanish and white vinegar rather than fabric conditioner? I don't know/can't remember enough chemistry to work out whether my hypothesis is sound.

I've never had any problem with this before now, and I don't want to have to revert to the fragrance-laden products that fill the supermarket shelves these days as the smell of them makes me feel queasy. The orange patches don't seem to be totally removable through repeated washing, although they do fade a bit, and hanging out in the sun seems to fade them further.

Talking of washing... if anyone needs a new washing machine, I can thoroughly recommend the Samsung Eco-Bubble ones. We usually buy Siemens or Bosch, but I am extremely impressed with the Samsung one we had delivered as we moved in, and I would certainly buy one again.


Monday, June 22, 2020

The good and the bad

Having been awake at 3am last Friday, Mr BW remembered that the National Trust booking system opened for the next week's ticket allocation on Fridays. We struck lucky and got a pair of tickets for opening time at our favourite NT place in the whole country. Which also happens to be our nearest, now.

We've been itching to go there as they have a superb walled garden. We want to see what is in flower and growing now, only ever having been there once at this time of year, as we have usually visited in November.

After that we are going to my most feared place in the UK.

The fear may be grounded this time as we have very little diesel left in the car, and both 5 litre spare cans have already been put in. We may or may not make it to a fuel station afterwards, and there isn't one in R-town, or indeed anywhere close.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

That was the week that was

It's him, me and the black feline familiar (yeah, sure, black lives matter).

Picture taken yesterday, late afternoon, after I'd spent all day planting a new border to match the hedge (green privet and maroon berberis) and landscape shapes beyond (my £100, 12m long border, because most of the plants were relocated from other places here, from Coven Sud, or from Mummy Mr BW's garden, with a few key specimens from the one-third-normal-price nursery local to Coven Sud, which I shall miss enormously), Chelsea-stylee, and Mr BW had spent all day filling, painting, and replacing sockets, switches and lights in the current Bedroom 1, which will be the guest room in due course.

Having been at Coven Sud last week, and extracted enough h0ney to pay for the new wood burner in the lounge (if we can ever find anyone to fit it, because, trust me, Mr BW will not be getting on the roof to feed that flue down the chimney, as he did 20 years ago at Coven Sud) we returned to Coven Nord so that Plasterer Man could finish off Bedroom 1. On his 4th visit. He wasn't happy that I insisted some gaps be filled with his 'pink foam' at floor level: "What's the point in 34mm of insulating plasterboard and a plaster skim, that has taken you 4 visits to finish, if there are some gaps at floor level that go right back to Robbie's 1974 concrete, eh? Room for cold spots and black mould I think..."

It amuses me greatly that he didn't recognise a towel that belongs to him that he was using to rub the walls down and left behind on a previous visit, because I washed it. I left it out, he failed to recognise it and reclaim it. It does have to be said that it went from brown, seriously brown, to orange/brown/white, oh so 70s. So, I added it to my pile of 'old towels for grubby purposes'.

He returns with a friend in 8 days time to skim the kitchen ceiling before the Aga is fitted in 2 weeks time. Luckily Aldi have lifted the restriction on the number of bottles of wine that one can order, so there are another 24 on the way. I shall need them.

A groundworker/builder visited to quote at lunchtime. Built like a rugby player, he clearly knew his stuff, and had a lot of good ideas to add to ours. He didn't speak 'Geordie so the Southerners haven't a hope of understanding me', in which most of the locals seem to delight. He also passed The Questions (thanks for all the ideas). Provided his quote is reasonable (and we know what it should be, as we were rude enough to ask the people whose similar greenhouse we visited on our way up the A1 last trip), he's got the job, as far as I am concerned. And, we will have 50 tonnes / 28 cubic metres of topsoil dug out for our next projects. Fab.

So, the border - from this:

to this (just add mushroom compost, half a tonne of sand, quarter a tonne of gravel, and some 'acquired' stone from the surrounding fields):

to this:

Dark reds, multi-shades of green, texture, form, pops of white and silver (all very hardy: phormium, heucheras, geraniums, ajuga, campaulas, persicaria, lupins, gladioli, with dahlias to add in later, and echinaceas to add in once the mail-order plug plants have grown a bit).

Yeah, I'm really pleased with our last week's work.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Questions for builders

After a bad start when a builder, who'd initially seemed keen, failed to turn up on Wednesday to quote for doing the greenhouse groundwork, base, and structural walls, and then didn't respond to phone messages or emails, we finally had to resort to one of the 'find a tradesman' type websites.

Not the way I'd prefer to work, but, we live in strange times, and there aren't too many tradesmen around here. And those there are, while good, work at snail's pace and can't be tied down to a schedule. Or turning up when they say, or actually staying a whole day. We've exhausted the 'local knowledge' for reliable workmen of those few people we know around here.

Having done some due diligence on those builders who expressed an interest (looking up their websites, looking up their financial records at Companies House, Googling 'problems + company name', Googling the company directors' names and financial records - to see if they have dissolved previous companies and whether there are any stories online about them) we've narrowed it down to 4 contenders. We've emailed each some exact specifications and requirements, and they will be visiting to inspect the site to discuss the job, and then quote, over the next couple of days.

We're hoping that if we manage to select the right person, we will then have our builder for the extension project (in due course, once we have sold Coven Sud and have some money again).

We don't usually need to employ tradesmen, as we can turn our hands to most things between us, but this job is just too big for us, and we have plenty of other smaller renovation projects to be doing here right now.

So, knowing that 'hive mind' is better than my addled brain cells (it's been a very up and down week, but more of that another time), and that I know several of you reading have experience of builders can you suggest the questions that we should be asking the builders who visit to quote? And anything we need to be aware of / watch out for?

All ideas welcomed, however obvious they may seem. Thanks!

Another reason for hating Amazon: security leaks

I've just forwarded a phishing email to Action Fraud (using

It had taken all the Amazon logos and exact footer security messages and informed me that:

"We have placed a hold on your Amazon account and all pending orders.
We took this action because the billing information you provided did not match the information on file with the card issuer.
To resolve this issue, please verify now with the billing name, address, and telephone number registered to your payment card. if you have recently moved, you may need to update this information with the card issuer.
If we are unable to complete the verification process within 3 days, all pending orders will be cancelled. You will not be able to access your account until this process has been completed.

We ask that you not open new accounts as any new order you place may be delayed.

We appreciate your patience with our security measures."

The last line didn't seem to be in 'Amazon style' and it gave itself away by coming from .com not The 'CLICK HERE' (when hovered over) went some gobbledegook address.

BUT it went to an email address that I only use for Amazon orders.

I am sure that it would have fooled many people.

How did the scammer know that email address, and that I had recently moved and that the billing/delivery address doesn't yet match on some of my registered cards? No point asking Amazon methinks, as I know the reply I will get.

Just one of the reasons I hate Amazon (despite it being very useful in our current situation).


Monday, June 15, 2020

Many Happy Returns

In my BW email box this morning I found something other than several hundred copies of 'Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender' (some Italian git has been sending spam using my spoofed email address, and I don't think there is any way of stopping this?) and the usual dose of processed luncheon meat.

It was a message from Commentator Tim: "According to your blog post on 4 January, today you are 3,000 weeks old! You asked for a reminder, so here it is."

It's good that someone bothered to remember, because, amidst all the 'excitement' of late I had, of course, forgotten, and also failed to put it on the calendar. Thank you Tim!

I shall have to buy myself a present.

I have the perfect thing in mind.

A rather large greenhouse.

Just have to work out how to remove a 46 year old line of unmaintained leylandii, currently 15' wide and 35' foot tall (with only 2cm of green fronds over a lot of brown dead wood, which won't regenerate if cut back) which acts as a windbreak across the ridge.

In other news, some cows are coming to join the sheep soon.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Of sheep, plaster and kitchens

We've now been here for 13 weeks and 2 days.

Had it not been for a countrywide lack of plaster (which wasn't just an excuse for repeated invisibility, I checked with the local builders' merchants, and with the son of a friend who is a builder) we would be a lot further forward than we are.

That notwithstanding, we're probably ten times further forward than most people doing a similar renovation would be, because we're doing anything we can do ourselves, because we can. Or rather, Mr BW can, and I can have ideas and project manage and obtain supplies.

I find if you talk to people they usually drop themselves in it eventually, and the plasterer accidentally admitted to me on his third visit to insulate and skim the walls of one averagely sized, if rather strangely shaped, bedroom, that he has too much work on and tries to keep all the people happy by appearing for a couple of hours, doing a bit then disappearing, claiming that he has run out of/can't get whatever material he thinks will be most convincing at the time.

I've tried sarcasm, but these Geordies just think it's banter, so that doesn't work. I've found that I can understand Geordie-bordering-on-Scots better than I thought, although Mr BW can't. If I can't understand, I just say, "What's that in English, then?" and laugh, whereas Mr BW just nods and then asks me to go and find out what was actually said to him.

Mind you, he can speak sheep, which I can't. And I can't tell whether a sheep noise is him, or a real one. Of the two skills, in this area, I'm not sure if it's more useful to speak sheep or local.

I keep getting nasty flashbacks to The Studio Project in 2006 (the wettest April on record when we had the roof off, and the hottest July, when the tilers and plasterers were turning up at 4am to attempt to do some work before it got too hot). If you've been reading for a long time, you might remember.

The Aga factory has finally re-opened, and our identikit Aga to that in Coven Sud, ordered on the morning that lockdown started, will be here in three weeks. Thankfully. We have an installation date! The house will then have constant background heat, and, together with the upstairs wall insulation, will have a permanent warmth. And I'll be able to enjoy cooking again.

The permanent background warmth is important in an old stone house. When we arrived back here on Thursday late afternoon, after a week away, the letters on the doormat were damp, and so was the toilet paper in the downstairs cloakroom. Just like when we arrived. Except that Bodgit and Coverit (the previous owners) hadn't left any toilet paper to go damp.

After leaving in a heatwave, we returned to cold rain, and grey skies, and have even had to resort to the open fire. It's been 5°C overnight on a couple of nights. In the middle of June! Before anyone says that's a north-eastern problem, it was only 8°C overnight down south, and, in our week away, it was actually 1.8°C hotter (as a maximum temperature) up here than down there.

Open fires are messy and dirty. Hopefully the wood burner fitters will be working again soon. Mr BW could do that job, and did put one in at Coven Sud, but regulations no longer allow self-fit (although you can still buy all the necessary bits yourself). And the chimney is considerably further off the ground here, and he is 20 years older (despite his continuing denial of that problem).

Yesterday morning, still being tired from running around down south, extracting honey (very very gloopy, only just rescued in time before it became impossible to centrifuge out), sorting out the food crops, digging up more plants to bring north, packing the trailer, we decided to just see how easily the pelmet came off the top of the kitchen cupboards.

6 hours later, almost everything that needed to move or be dismantled or removed before the ceiling is skimmed before the Aga goes in, had been done. We just can't stop ourselves.

We haven't even started properly investigating how we are going to source/make a new kitchen... and we've got to make sure that absolutely everything we order can be paid for with a credit card. Not because of cash-flow problems on our part, but because of the danger of companies going bust in the current economic climate. Payment by credit card gives Section 75 Protection, or Chargeback Protection, and a way of getting your money back, if there are any problems.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

You cannot rewrite history 2

Another comment reprint from elsewhere, but, I make no apology, as saving today's zeitgeist for posterity is important.

On the taking down of statues and renaming of pubic buildings and roads:

As a middle aged white woman, who has spent my professional life working with the educationally disadvantaged (of many backgrounds and ethnicities), and advising and training those who work with them on a daily basis, I believe I have a good understanding of the many issues here.

And I am totally offended by what is being done to my country's history, without proper consideration, or proper consultation.

Had these events happened at a different time, I doubt the knee-jerk instant reactions that have transpired would have happened.

Those in power are doing all they can to remove flash points - with many people unemployed, about to be unemployed, or furloughed, it is essential that flash points are avoided, or widespread civil unrest could follow.

I can see why it's being done, but I am offended.

As is my right.

Too many people currently have too much time on their hands, and have too much anger about current CV-19 restrictions and curtailed freedoms, that has nowhere to focus. When suddenly a 'cause' with which they identify appears, they flock about it. And Dominic Cummings is absolutely delighted.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

You cannot rewrite history

I haven't the time or brainpower right now to write down my thoughts about current issues. So, I'm going to recycle comments I've made elsewhere. For example, concerning the current outcry and protests about slave trading and slavery, as protests against a death in the US:

Each era has its dirty secrets.

Anyone who has an iPhone or buys clothing in Primark is buying into the current era's mass exploitation of people.

There are undoubtedly thousands of other examples too, but most people choose not to think about the fact that if something is cheap, someone somewhere has been exploited.

That nice bottle of wine from South Africa? The grapes were picked in the very early morning by black farmworkers (usually men) earning R18 an hour (less than a pound), in a country where food is now more expensive than in the UK.

The hypocrisy being shown by many media commentators/bandwagon jump-er-on-ers in the current situation astounds me.

Does humankind never learn from the past?

I'd say not, given that the current CV-19 situation is being propped/mopped up by those on minimum wage (cleaners, delivery people, care staff, supermarket workers) - earning £8.72 an hour if they are over 25, and £6.25 if they are 18-20.

Worth some thought, perhaps.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Direction of travel

"You haven't been here for long enough to qualify for a pass to go down south!" said the postie when I let him know that we'd be away for a week, sorting out the bees and bringing back some more stuff. I haven't quite got used to his sense of humour. Some days I find him quite cold and am not sure how he reads us, and other days he gives me positive messages like that (well, I took it as a positive message?).

He also said that the 28°C temperatures and brilliant sun (I got burnt for the first time in 20 years, despite factor 30 and a base tan from a month in SA in February - luckily Amazon consider aftersun an 'essential', so I got it in less than 12 hours) experienced in the last week were "unknown in living memory", which has been confirmed by other delivery drivers who I've quizzed. The thermometer - in the shade - actually got above 30°C, but the nights were only around 9°C.

The Hermes delivery man, who is at least 80, and works with his daughter, who drives and helps with really heavy parcels, and lives in the nearest small village, told Mr BW yesterday that he nearly bought this house when it was for sale the last time - 20 years ago. Instead he bought a plot of land and built on it, but he still regrets that choice. I'm all for keeping delivery drivers in work, particularly at the moment, but making them jealous every time they roll up is not good.

So, that's one garden extended/made in the last week. It involved 8,000 cubic litres of compost, sand and grit, and about a tonne of 'borrowed' stone from the fields around for the edging. I am nearly dead, despite having spent more time sitting and supervising, rather than doing the hard work. After extracting honey at the weekend I will be totally dead

Then we come back up, with another trailer load of mostly plants, to create another bit of garden, with another 4,000 litres of compost being delivered. It wasn't meant to be like this, this was a 3 year project!!!

I either have time/energy to do stuff, or write stuff, so sorry, the doing has been winning out.

With perfect timing for the new garden and all the relocated and brought up from Coven Sud plants, it's been raining all night, and much more is forecast for the next few days. My spells are working (but Mr BW has rigged up an auto-watering system for the seed trays and small plants, and for the tomatoes in the 3 mini-greenhouses, just in case)!


Sunday, May 24, 2020

The bees at Coven Sud gave us a sign

The sign was....

"We do not need you BW and MrBW. You did not need to journey 300 miles south, to inspect us, clutching your 'permission to travel to care for livestock' documents.."

"We have managed quite well without you for 130 million years, and we will be here long after you and your kind have sent themselves into extinction (PS your kind's current direction ain't too great... remind us, who said that a total of 40,000 would die in the UK, because they seem to be short-counting?)."

I know there are a couple of readers who know about bees. This hex was on an outside frame, in the middle of a frame of stores (ie honey). We've never seen a brood pattern in an exact hexagon, let alone on an outside frame. Bees base their cell formation on a hexagon, but not their brood patterns, which are usually oval or round. Brood rarely reaches the outside frames (and MrBW had put 3 supers on each colony on March 24th, weeks before they were needed, just in case, which, as it turned out, was a stroke of genius, as most of them were full).

Despite our predictions, only one colony had swarmed, and most (if not all) of those bees had gone into the bait hive MrBW had sensibly left out (that is, an empty hive, ready for any naughty swarmy bees to occupy). There didn't seem to be any bees missing from anywhere else.

So, we now have 9 strong colonies. We usually like 6. Any more than that is too much work.

We will have to go south again to extract h0ney in a couple of weeks, or it will all set, as it contains a proportion of oil seed rape, which crystallises very quickly. If you don't catch it in time, the only way to remove the honey is to crush the comb, which you don't want to do as it takes seven times the amount of nectar to make wax as it takes to make honey.

Let's hope that our next return trip is less tiring than this last. We got back on Tuesday evening and it's only today that I have been able to do anything again. Given the number of plants that we dug up from the garden of Coven Sud, and just popped into large tubs of water for the journey north, which only got put into soil today, that may not be good. We'll see.

"There's lots of strangers round here!" declared Farmer Bernard, when we say him today. "Strangers have been seen in the lanes. People we don't know. It's not good!" We seem to have passed the first residence test, then. But, I hear it takes 3 generation before you're considered a local, so we haven't a chance.

And did the plasterer arrive on Wednesday as planned? What do you think?


Friday, May 15, 2020

How long does it take for a garden nurtured for almost 25 years to turn wild?

52 days apparently.

We got up soon after 6am, and left Coven Nord at 8.30am. There was a lot to sort out before we left, and it was the first time we'd set everything up to work without us for a few days, so it took longer than we'd intended, but we got back to Coven Sud at 1.40pm. We stopped to change drivers 4 times and to eat some rolls for 15 minutes. So, less than 5 hours. A truly amazingly fast 300 mile journey. This is a journey that has taken 8 hours in the past, but probably 6.5 hours on average, over the past 15 years that we've been doing it.

Almost nothing on the road (and those people who were driving were being very sensible and sedate), only one police car seen - on a side-of-the-road perch, the weather was sunny and warm, the A1 into A14 section has been totally finished during lockdown (finally, but 7 months ahead of schedule, apparently) and it was a pleasure to drive down. Why the government hasn't make more of all the infrastructure upgrading projects for roads and rail that have been miraculously completed while there has been little traffic and few passengers using them amazes me. The first I heard of it was during last night's bulletin by Grant Shapps, but, as I've said before, I've almost given up on them, so maybe there have been previous announcements that I've missed?

The trailer wasn't noticeable, except on fuel consumption, where it took the average from 64mpg+ down to just over 50mpg. Still better than the majority of cars. But, I'm glad we'd got used to towing micro-caravan Bri@n in the last year. Bri@n has been so useful - he's lent us most of his kit over the past couple of months, he provides some extra freezer space, and he could be a dormitory if/when we ever get any builders in, or when anyone comes to stay before the extension building work is done.

On arriving, we were planning on checking around the garden here, and then having a rest.

But, as anyone who loves their garden will tell you, when things need doing, you just get on with them, and time passes. Other than the apricot, peach and nectarine trees on the balcony (where the watering system seems to have woefully underperformed), not too much seems to have perished. Cleaner BW has tried hard, but she's no gardener, and has never looked after the garden at this time of year (as we've never dared be away at this time of year before by choice).

At least two hives of b33s have swarmed (no surprise, as we haven't been able to look at them since the beginning of March): the bait hive we left out was full (so, one swarm reeled in and caught) and there was a large swarm on a post in the raspberry bed and a tiny swarm on a branch on one of the apple trees. Tomorrow we will discover the worst, or the best, and do a full inspection. All hives had lots of b33s flying, but it was over 20°C, so it is hard to judge, as bees fly lots at that sort of temperature. While we've been away, the highest temperature was 29.8°C and the lowest 1°C.

We finally stopped around 8.30pm. 12 hours done in the garden between us, but you almost can't see what we've done. I might live to regret that amount of energy expenditure in one day, although I was trying to be sensible and do sitting down gardening.

3 days left to work out what plants to take up next, to sort out the greenhouses and polytunnel, to plant out everything edible brought down today, as well as everything left growing here, to set up and check more auto-watering systems, and get the overgrown hedges, grass and beds back into some sort of shape.

Wish us luck.

It's like a time-warp here: the distant dual carriageway road noise and the frequent overflying aeroplane noise have gone, the dogs have stopped barking (as they are no longer left on their own all day), the air is noticeably fresher, and there is almost no passing traffic. Just like the old days, when we loved living here. It's nice to experience it again, here, even if only ephemerally.

Posted at 10:35 PM | Comments (5)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

An everyday story of country folk

How can it be a whole week since I last wrote anything here? How?

Missing in action, just like the other country folk. Is anyone actually listening to the repeats? I can think of little more insensitive in the current situation than re-broadcasting Joe Grundy's funeral, as they did last Friday.

Here's one of the local hares at the top of the track a couple of days ago.

He likes salt - being used to kill the grass in the tarmac. I don't expect hares have high blood pressure, so it's probably OK. Not a great picture, as it was taken hastily, through a window.

Mr BW had to rescue a pair of house martins from the kitchen. They flew in as I went out.

We've been busy. Doing lots. Have got as much done as we'd probably have got done by the FOTCR™ (is that the earliest ever mention in the year of that?). Because - well, what else have we had to do?

Day 50 of not going out at all, but having it all brought to us.

We haven't yet found anything that can't be delivered, other than shopping for the first few weeks, but it's OK now. Morrisons pop by every 10 days, and bring our groceries from Scotland. From a store 50 miles away, which is an hour and a half each way by road, even though there is a large store that does online less than half this distance from us. The delivery men tell me that they are all furloughed from a 'manufacturing plant' there, and are 'making up their money' by driving round the countryside in rented freezer vans. I have no idea why the cheapest slots are at 9 - 10pm, when they have then to get back to Scotland, clean out the van, and be ready to start at 7am again. But, that's how it is. They're happy, and I'm happy, so all is well.

I'm not sure that people should be able to take the taxpayers' 80% furlough money and work another paid job though.

Not the normal standard of grocery delivery, everything is all muddled up in the bags, and it's often one item per plastic bag, which they're not currently charging for (so we have built up our stocks again, most useful, but I wouldn't choose to have them, or pay for them), and the temporary delivery men have little idea of safe distancing, but it's food. And drink. And it doesn't involve any effort, or any risk. Mind you, our grocery bill is probably double what it normally is when I shop in my usual haunts of Aldi, Waitrose, and Costco.

The Amazon delivery man yesterday tentatively enquired if he could ask me something. I looked a bit surprised. "I hope you don't mind, but the lads in the depot want to know if you've won the lottery or something... all these parcels we're delivering to you...?" I explained that we'd moved in 10 days before lockdown and had just 2 van loads of stuff to our name, and a whole house to renovate and a garden to redesign.

I resisted the temptation to tell him that the single pack of 100 treasury tags that had been delivered on a recent Saturday, and the one rubber wedge doorstop that had been delivered at 8.48pm last Sunday night were not what *I* would call 'essential' items, but, if Prime say they are, and will send someone to bring them 30 miles from the nearest depot, on a weekend, then I'm not going to argue.

I have no idea how they define 'essential', but the delivery of other items is getting slower and slower. Often stuff not dispatched by Amazon is coming much more quickly. If you use Amazon Prime, is it the same where you are?

Anyway, now that we can get down south again - actually, we could have before, as we have a special 'movement to tend to livestock' permit as b33keepers, but we didn't want the potential hassle of being stopped and questioned - we're off at the end of the week. Just for a few days as we have decided to turn our 2 - 3 year Move North Project into a much quicker one, and so spend more time up here. And we have hopefully got the plasterer coming mid-week next week to put some walls back on upstairs, and add some internal wall insulation.

Everything that Mr BW does has been cancelled or can be done remotely, and my groups and other ventures probably won't start again any time soon. It's been so lovely to be away from the ever-increasing road noise (a by-pass built a mile away has got much busier, so noisier, over the 20 years since it was built), aeroplane noise (runways were re-routed over us on a technicality, so without the need for formal consultation, 4 years ago), pollution, noisy/sweary newish neighbours, constantly barking dogs, and the constant threat of developers (of gypsy origin, so you can imagine the rest) on our doorstep, that there is little point in prolonging The Southern Chapter. It was once a rural idyll, but it has fast become full of selfish moneyed escapees from London who haven't a clue about country life or country values.

Our major delivery for today was a proper farmers' trailer. Seven feet by four feet. With livestock sides. Which will pay for itself in the first 4 times we don't hire a van, and can be towed by the Blue Broom, which has a tow bar as it is used to towing Bri@n. And we'll have it to use forever afterwards.

We looked at cheaper ones, but, to be proper country folk we need the proper - branded - kit.

No, you don't believe that of me, do you? :)

So, rather, there was a suitable trailer available immediately within Bernard The Farmer's recommended agricultural suppliers' group (although they had to fetch it from their Scottish branch), whereas anything cheaper has yet to be built, and would be at least 8 weeks. And it was fetched and towed to our door for us by the depot manager (pictured).

"I blame the Chinese for all this nonsense!" he said. So, that's him, Donald Trump, and me, then. Amazing how the rest of the world aren't asking enough questions. Chris Patten (last British Governor of Hong Kong) had some very sensible things to say on that subject when interviewed on Radio 4 this morning.

I've given up following the subject in any detail. I'd rather be putting my limited energies into working on this house than into a politician and media-managed charade. Brexit Mach 2. I only catch little snippets of news, and no longer religiously listen to broadcasts. The rest of the world is laughing at us. Matt Hancock seems to have been left to be the public face. But, where's Priti Vacant? And where's Govey Govey Govey? And where's Boris 'Won't Use a Condom' Johnson? Perhaps he has some kind of post-viral syndrome? That's a huge ticking time bomb that no-one has thought about yet.

I check all my facts here now, and that, together with their regular emails, summarises all the nonsense that is being spouted/spread on social media, and what is and isn't factually correct.

The tomato plants that came up here as tiny inch high seedlings 7 weeks ago have enjoyed being in the conservatory so much that they are now 18" tall (some even have flowers), and half of them need to go back south, together with some of the peppers, chillis, squash and courgettes. We have auto-watering systems at Coven Sud, so everything can grow away in the greenhouses and polytunnels while we are working up here, and be harvested when we go down to bring up some more stuff.

Odd picture, but it wasn't taken for display, just for posterity! The back of my spinning chair (carved by Mr BW several years ago), some paperwork, the new hen drinker in the background outside - why do things always break at the least opportune moment?

What news from your corner of the world?