Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Fall Out

I still feel exhausted, shaky, wobbly, and 'wired'. I cannot get the adrenaline built up over the last 10 days out of my body.

I have a headache, pain behind my eyes, neck pain, feel physically sick and sick in the pit of my stomach, and have a deep sense of unease that this could happen again soon... although the next (named) storm and heavy snow that was due in at lunchtime has, so far, only been a couple of hours of the usual windy blow and rain up on this ridge, thankfully.

One would hope that if the electricity goes off again in this storm, they will prioritise power restoration for those of us who had longest off, but in my heart of hearts I know it won't happen.

I do however now have the personal mobile phone number of a very senior person in the grid company, who brought forward our local power restoration by 2 days, such was the fuss I kicked up on Sunday. He'll probably change his number now, of course, but he certainly heard what we told him, and now understands the predicament of isolated rural properties, and he did bother to call us himself when repairs went beyond his 'worst case' restoration time of 6pm last night.

Chief Builder arrived at 5.30am yesterday morning to sort out the new external fire door that was made 2" too high because the fitter measured incorrectly. He failed. He took it back to the manufacturer (50 miles away) for 7am so they could modify it before they began their week's production, only to be told that it had been fitted the wrong way round so water had got into the door in all the storms and then frozen and split the door so it now needs completely replacing. £3,000's worth. This was the door that we waited 18 weeks for, with a lump of plywood stuffed in the door opening in the mean time. The ruined door was brought back at 11am yesterday, refitted, foamed in, and taped shut. Apparently it will be replaced when they can finally build the garage onto the foundations and joining roof 'hip' that have already been constructed. Which is good for us as we are refusing to pay the next staged payment until it is finally sorted, as per our contractural rights.

We were always very clear that the garage/workshop/forge extension had to be finished by the end of the year. Due to the quarry still not having yet cut the stone, and the weather now, it will probably be Easter before it is finished. Which totally scuppers our plans to get the rest of Coven Sud up here and get it on the market in early January so that we have some money again and can pay off debts, and get the rest of the renovations and rebuilding done.

Chief Builder couldn't believe that there were no power grid vans around in this area, no clean-up contractors, no nobody helping us, and no no-one bringing us the supplies we had repeatedly told officialdom that we needed. "The rest of the County is crawling with vans and action!" he proclaimed. We just shook our heads.

We told him some of the problems we'd had, the complete lack of caring or action from anyone official, and that the army had arrived at 3pm on Sunday with just a leaflet which Mr BW had dismissed with a, "And what are we meant to do with that, burn it on the fire to keep warm?"

Chief Builder clearly didn't believe us until an army vehicle turned up with 2 officers, who - rather than bringing petrol for the generators as we'd asked from everyone including the previous day's squaddie - were 'making a list' of what people needed, 'to feed back'.

Chief Builder was probably pleased to witness that he wasn't the only one that I have shouted at recently in complete and utter frustration and disbelief.

We feel as if we have lost 10 days of our lives and all we have done is survive: feed the wood burner (every two hours), feed the generators (every 4 hours), charge vital communication aids (in turn), try to get vital survival things such as nightlights delivered before we ran out of those we had already stockpiled 'just in case', stop the Aga (running on manual) overheating by constantly checking when it was running in the red on the gauge and opening lids and doors, keep the hens alive without their protective electric fencing, spend hours preparing meals as we had no chopping/mixing/stirring/quick heating gadgets to help us, then another hour washing up. Plus constantly boiling large pans of water for everything.

I have a theory about why so many people (even those who have good cooking skills) spend so much money eating out and ordering take-away: is it because they don't have a dishwasher and gadgets to help with cooking?

Washing dishes is my most hated activity, probably because I am fanatical about food hygiene/cleanliness, and have very sensitive skin so react to all cleaning products. Plus I have always prioritised a dshwasher above everything else.

Other than in my five university years, I have never not had a dishwasher. Back in blog history I am sure is the tale of when the person I nearly married at 24 had to move out of my house and took the table, the chairs, the washing machine and the dishwasher, and I replaced the dishwasher first, as I could sit on the floor and use the launderette until I could save up for the others. And then, when I bought a tiny 2-bed terraced new build when I moved to East Anglia from the West Country in 1991 (all I could afford, such was the differential in price, then), I did so on condition that I would only buy the house if the developers removed a kitchen base cupboard and put in plumbing for a dishwasher. They agreed, then unforeseen physical practicalities meant they would need to rip out all the base units and worktops, and then replace the flooring in the kitchen, to achieve this. "That's an extra £2,000 Miss Blue Witch" they said. "I'm walking away!" I bluffed. Needless to say, it was done FOC in order to secure the sale.

Now, how are we going to get 12 loads of washing dry in this weather? Most unusually, we had an 8-day build up of dirty washing because I'd not felt well for much of the week before the power cut. Usually there is at most one load of washing waiting to be done as I like to keep on top of things. I have already managed to get 9 through since the power was restored. Make hay while the sun shines.

In other news, while the power was out, Mr BW was putting the finishing touches to our annual FOTCR™ card (at least 4 people we know claim to have a complete set of the ?20 or so we have now produced, which is probably more than we do).

We are now trying to print it. Mr BW can print it on the 'properties' of Coven Sud's printer, but not on those of Coven Nord's. They are identical printers. I am now printing it, via an emailed PDF, one sheet at a time, from my little netbook, as that seems to have different printer set-up properties.

I apologise to those of you who receive it: there are 2 errant commas, one misplaced, and one missing, and Mr BW has refused point blank to alter them (which would involve change original, change PDF, email to me) , saying that *I* am the only person who will ever notice/care. I know for a fact that that is incorrect. And, our envelope label generation database seems to have skipped back to 2005 in the migration between all the required replacement IT this year. How we are going to find the changed addresses of so many people that we send to, I have absolutely no idea.

Still, at least we still have power.
*crosses Witchy fingers and toes extremely tightly*

Hope you are all surviving these strange times in which we exist?

RIP Power Cut

21:40 Friday 26th November - Monday 6th December 19:22

Too utterly utterly exhausted, adrenaline filled and wobbly to write more.

Plus there are 12 loads of washing to do, floors to vacuum, and piles of glass and broken things to deal with where I've fallen and/or had accidents in those 10 days and 10 nights of powerlessness.


Sunday, December 5, 2021

10th night without power or practical support

Mr BW and I have spent another day still rattling cages in an attempt to get real practical help for people in isolated rural areas.

All the senior elected officials, the CEO of the County Council, everyone else we can possibly think of. All we got was a couple of vacuous replies saying that everyone was working really really hard and we had to be patient until our supplies were restored. Next Wednesday 10pm apparently, nearly 2 weeks on.

A soldier from Yorkshire in an army landrover from just knocked the door - with a leaflet, the same one we already have, the one with all the info about how to get help - all the addresses we have tried in vain and who have, between them, provided just 5 litres of petrol at 6pm on Friday night. Not even the logs promised for mid-morning yesterday.

We (and others with generators) need 20 litres minimum a day. And not to have to drive 27 miles through snow to get it ourselves. And those without generators probably need hospitals or mortuaries by now.

The soldier confirmed he can provide nothing and cannot ask for help, or get supplies for people himself.

Army barracks must have millions of jerrycans and thousands of soldiers sitting around playing on their phones or out on pointless exercises.

Using soldiers to knock doors is ridiculous. We know that, he knew that, but those who can make a difference don't, apparently.

I have no idea why they refuse to ask the army for real practical help for us and others in similar positions. That is what the army do best!

I have asked them why, of course. And how many people have to die before they do.

I am not expecting a response.

I am still waitiing for a call back from the regional power grid company promised at 10:30m this morning when I was called by someone at the Customer Service Manager's personal request. I did have rather a rant at them last night. She went off to seek info from him and promised to call me straight back. She still hasn't.

Greta Thunberg is right. It's all just 'Blah blah blah!' isn't it?


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Update and help sought please

Dark, grey and raining here today. Need candles and head torches to see even by day.

"Oh, it's unprecedented!" say the locals, "Never happened before!" They've said that every single time anything out of the ordinary has happened in the 21 months we have been here.

If only the power grid company had been honest about timescales (see my previous posts and comments), people could have planned accordingly.

Our outage of 18 properties over ten square miles is on the very last date to have power restored currently listed: Wednesday 8th at 10pm. Goodness knows how that works because there are several people on the so-called 'priority services register', and we are the youngest people bar one family who have young children. Ho hum.

The worst thing is that the power grid company have not provided the councy council support services with a list of affected properties, so it is being left to locals who do have contact with such people to let them know addresses so they can check if help is needed. Even when they do have an address, data protection doesn't let them pull phone numbers from other systems that may have them, so it is a case of people who don't know the area trying to find remote farms (and the entrances aren't always as marked on OS maps). They could ask the posties or delivery companies to help, but I think their brains must be too small to think of that. It's easy for welfare workers to knock doors in towns, where the power is mostly restored now, but they don't seem to be thinking logically about how they could reach people in remote affected areas. We have been quizzing the postie and delivery drivers for info about vulnerable people they have encountered and feeding it back into the system.

I am so concerned that, among the 9,000 properties in the NE and Scotland still off, there are people with no power and no phones (so no way of calling for help) lying injured, ill or dead.

People who live in remote areas choose to do so for a reason, and therefore don't necessarily have support networks, or know who to call for help. We're doing all we can to feed things in as we discover them, as we do have a good contact councillor contact into the system.

Now, I wonder if there are any of you with any spare time who could help me with a couple of things, please? I just don't have the time and brain-space right now to research them - it's a full-time job feeding the wood-burner and generator, boiling water to wash, wash up and wash socks and underwear, and trying to keep everything in turn charged up as we can't run the generator 24 hours a day.

1. Can anyone tell me for definite what time HIGNFY was on the Friday before last (26th November)? The time of the programme often moves a bit and our Radio Times went in the recycling bin which has now been collected.

We know that the power went off ten minutes into the programme, but not what time that was.

2. Large chest freezers that will work in unheated outhouses.

There is now a Covid outbreak where we have our freezer contents stored (7 or 8 miles away), so we cannot sensibly go to get them. We have been managing for the past 21 months with an upright fridge-freezer (4 baskets) which was enough for our original plans. Then came Covid, Lockdowns 1, 2, and 3, and an unfinished-by-the-end-of-the-year-as-it-should-have-been garage/workshop building project, so we haven't yet researched and sourced a new big chest freezer. The one down south is so old now (and therefore very power inefficient too), and grubby from being in Mr BW's workshop for 10+ years that it is not worth bringing up.

Errant builders, door supply companies who can't measure, and power failures notwithstanding, we do now almost have the new downstairs craft room finished, which has a door into the garage-to-be, so it will be easy to move a new chest freezer in eventually, and so purchasing now would therefore seem sensible, and give us more flexibility in future (and until the power comes back on if we can get it here quickly).

Requirements are:

  1. Must be large (commercial size, bigger than domestic, can't remember the capacity of the old one, but it has 5 or 6 baskets across the width, can't quite picture it, don't mind if it is bigger than the existing one).

  2. Able to run in an outbuilding so potentially at around or below zero degrees in winter (NB normal domestic ones will not run in this temperature range).

  3. As energy efficent as possible.

  4. Old one was a 'Vestafrost' commercial make - and I guess all the extra baskets we bought at great expense for the old one might still fit a new one if Vestafrost still exist. Unfortunately I can't get the measurements of the old one at present.

Thanks for any and all help, ideas etc etc...

Posted at 11:00 AM | Comments (7)

Friday, December 3, 2021

8th night no power

For those who aren't as bored with this saga as they were with the building saga...

Today we seriously rattled some cages. Well, tried to. Emails, phone calls, text messages to anyone whose details we could find, or had had in the past for other reasons.

I emailed our Nice Blue Fat Rich Johnson-Arse-Licking MP. It was quite an emotive email, in which I detailed all our problems and frustrations. Some half an hour later I got an email back from one of his minions. Not an auto-responder. "Nice Blue Fat Rich Johnson-Arse-Licking MP thanks you for your message. In the midst of this global pandemic we trust you will understand that he is unable to respond immediately to you. He will aim to reply within 14 working days."

Luckily the County Council were more responsive. Not. A senior fire officer turned up at soon after 6pm saying he'd been sent to check on our welfare and help us out - with 5 litres of petrol. Said he'd tried to find us yesterday, but couldn't. That bodes well for if/when we have a fire, doesn't it?! No understanding that 5 litres of petrol will last our generator less than 5 hours, and that getting any more involves us in a 26 mile round trip.

Apparently they are sending us some logs tomorrow. 3, probably, or maybe 4. Perhaps 5, if we are very lucky?

The differently coloured county councillor who Mr BW knows personally has been fighting his Fat Rich Blue Colleagues to get things done. They seem to have finally declared 'an incident' now, on a Friday afternoon, a whole week on. No-one seems to know what that means, or whether it will push anything further forward, or when. He kindly offered us his landlady's washing machine and to fetch us some petrol. He lives 20 miles away. We thanked him but declined. We haven't stopped trying to make a point though.

Zero degrees out. It actually got up to 12 degrees in some parts of our house today.

Our whole life in the past week has been about basic survival. I know that there are undoubtedly lots more people in a much worse position than us that they don't even know about. Probably because The Authorities, who are supposed to be door knocking, can't even find their houses.

The Emergency Plan for this area will be much better, the next time round, if it kills us to force them to make it so.


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Update... 7th night of no power

I finally had a call from someone from the grid company just before 2pm (this was the call I was promised between 10 and 11am yesterday).

"I can guarantee your power will be back on by 10pm!"

I then spent the next 20 minutes explaining to the empathetic woman (who wasn't from the CS team, rather the Smart Meter Team, and had been begging to help since Saturday, but had only just been drafted in to contact people) exactly why that was impossible: the job wasn't allocated, it could only be worked by local linesmen, and in the light, and there was only an hour and a half of that left.

I also explained how I had fallen over in the dark several times, including falling with a candle in a jar and ruining a carpet with wax and burning myself.

She has just sent me a text message agreeing that I was right.

I think she probably has PTSD after her contact with me.

If not, she should have. In her favour, she is the only person I have spoken to who has actually bothered to follow up though...

We currently have a County Councillor, the Rural Communities Team, and Social Services chasing this.

We still have no power.

We do now have 2 generators (the one ordered for next day delivery on Monday finally turned up: delivery man said, "Oh, you look cold!" "Well, I wouldn't be, had that generator been delivered by your company in the timescale paid for!" I replied, but, of course, we still have no heating or hot water or any lights other than candles. After some research, Mr BW has discovered there is a way of getting a 'generator port' built into the house electrics (so that the electric flows round sockets, not just to things plugged into the generator directly), and we will now do that when Phase 3 is eventually built (when we have sold Coven Sud so have some money again).

Today I have found 105 normal 'tealights' in a cupboard and another 20 citronella ones (which normally smell disgusting).

I cannot tell you how happy that has made me.

Aberdeenshire have called out the army. Have our county? There are more RAF and army bases around here than almost anywhere else in the country. Millions of pounds worth of national defence hardware fly over here practising every week.

Have they been asked to help?

Have they hell.

I am now beyond angry.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021


We lost power totally on Sunday night. Not unsurprising, really. We had managed to get everything chargeable fully charged while we still had just low voltage, including some power banks, but they don't last long.

6th night now without usable power. That is very difficult. Really very difficult.

No promised updates from the supply company, and not for want of trying on our part. We have been given several definite times of supply restoration, that have come and gone. One lady admitted to me that, "Some of my colleagues will say anything to get people off the line!" We hear from elsewhere that it may be Friday (a week on) before they even start to look at the fault, and the linesmen being drafted in from elsewhere cannot work faults in the outlying areas (such as here) as the routings and ancient infrastructure are beyond anything but local knowledge. Our fault is affecting 18 properties, spread over about 10 square miles. It is very clear that those in call centres have no idea that such areas actually exist, let alone what it is like to be in one.

The generator we brought north started first pull, but then an important part sheered off, and that part is now obsolete and so irreplaceable.

Mr BW has spent 2 days doing nothing but trying to fix that, and chasing and collecting old generators from others, and then finding similar problems. All those hours of tinkering with Mi1dred's old engine came in very useful, but sadly to no avail.

Obviously no generators are to be found for hire or sale locally. We ordered one from South Wales for guaranteed delivery today, but, as ever, DHL let us down. Following another lead from another person locally we found one in a shop 35 miles away, and Mr BW dashed off to fetch it, and it is now churning out 1800W allowing us to take the old super-king duvet, leftover carpet underlay, 20m of clothes-quality fleece, unused thermal curtains and towels off the fridge freezer, which eventually restarted.

We did decant our 4 freezer drawers into the ice cream freezer of a closed-for-the-winter caravan park 7 or 8 miles away first thing, before we found the generator for sale, and they were (amazingly) still frozen solid. Luckily, as not having our home-produced fruit, chillis and cooked-ahead meals for the winter would have been so hard, and a huge financial cost.

If you can find and listen to Radio 4 (we have a wind-up radio) at around 5.30pm tonight, you will hear what rural communities around here are facing. One farmer wondered why the infrastructure had not been replaced and why the army has not been called in. They have generators, expertise, and all the things farms and remote rural properties need. "Would people still have no electricity supply after 6 nights if it were Basingstoke?" he mused. Rhetorical question, of course.

So many properties also have no water and no sewage as both borehole pumps and newer septic tanks rely on electric power to function. And as for farmers with no water and animals housed for the winter: I cannot imagine how hard it must be. The fire brigade have been helping some out, apparently.

So... after 6 nights we have done nothing except survive and attempt to keep warm. No clean clothes left, almost no candles... But, we do now have 1800w of power and 40 litres of petrol (that will last less than a day), so we will have to turn the generator off later and put the layers back on the fridge to keep it cold overnight. It's amazing how useful our camping things out of Bri@n have been.

But... we have had to spend over a thousand pounds on generators so far (only invertors can safely recharge electricals these days).

With fuel for a day for one generator (1.5 litres per hour at over £1.50 a litre - and that involves travelling a 34 mile round trip to collect) being well over £50 per day, this has cost us a lot of money that we just don't have right now (thank goodness there are still some 0% on purchases credit cards around).

"Oh, go and stay in a hotel, and order in hot meals, we'll cover the costs!" say the supply company. Yeah right, like Covid's not rife, Deliveroo don't deliver round here... and don't forget we have a half-built house and livestock that we can't leave... And would one actually ever see the reimbursement?

It has proved one thing though... the Official Emergency Plans round here are rubbish.

We could decant to Coven Sud, but we can't leave the hens and cat and can't bring them all down as we have no netting/food/bedding etc for them there now, and we can't really leave the house. There is absolutely no way that we can ask anyone around us to look after things, as they have enough to do just surviving without power themselves.

Even a generator can't power the central heating, hot water and lighting, as it can only work on things that don't pull more than 1800W and can plug into it. Oil boiler and Aga controls and immersion heaters are hard-wired. Although, if this goes on much longer, they might just cease to be so...

Good job we have plenty of survival skills and lots of resilience.


Monday, November 29, 2021

Still no usable power...

... more than 56 hours on.

And still no information about when supply might eventuallly be restored. Not for want of trying, on my part, either.

It is very cold, inside and outside.

We have a dusting of settled snow overnight: like icing sugar on top of a sponge. Purists might say that you should only sprinkle caster sugar on a sponge, but I am not a purist, and neither am I a fan of cake.

Despite everything, we have managed to get the hen pen back up and fully netted, so we are fully compliant with regulations. Has anyone heard recent information on mainstream media about avian influenza control measures?


Sunday, November 28, 2021

35 hours and counting...

Mr BW has measured the power coming into the house and it is 123W rather than 230-240W.

We think that things like laptops are phone chargers are working as they are made to be portable and work around the world, including in the US which runs on 110W.

I can understand why the washing machine and dishwasher won't work (they pull a lot of energy to heat and pump), and why a 20 year old strip light under a kitchen cupboard won't illuminate (replacing the kitchen has become the last project, because (a) we still can't decide what we want, (b) we haven't found a company that sells decent quality items, and (c) the mess from building work will ruin anything new, so best to wait until the end) as it has a high-demand 'starter', but why all the brand new low-energy downlighters (3W each), the new 7W outdoor security lights, and the new boiler controls won't work I have no idea. Must be fancy electronics that need a boost to start. But... the new low-energy downlighters we put into the kitchen ceiling are fine, along with the low-energy ceiling lights Mr BW has installed everywhere else. Hmmm... the electrician-installed downlighters in the three recently-converted rooms are on a new RCD protected circuit (with a dedicated new consumer unit), whereas the rest are on the old 1974 electrics which still have fuse-wire fuses. Maybe that has something to do with it?

We've just been told that at least one of the nearest farms to us has no power at all. Outside buckets of water are frozen solid, and a rubber boot tray that was outside being washed is now a skating rink for a cat. Inside temperatures are in single digits, despite the woodburner having been burning all night. Historic stone houses are wonderful, but very hard to keep warm, even with the huge amount of insulating work we have done (many tens of thousands of pounds, no grants are available). From experience of no heating for the past day and a half, I doubt it is possible to ever maintain a differential of more than 10 degrees between inside and outside winter temperatures in such properties. Therefore, heat pumps can never work here: as I have always suspected, a conclusion even endorsed by our Green Party Councillor. If gas boilers are being banned, and oil is frowned on, I wonder what the many people who live in such houses are meant to be doing in future? Particularly those who don't have money for improvements, or who live in rental properties with reluctant landlords. I heard the other day that all rental properties have to achieve EPC 'C' or above by 2025. Unless they are going to change the algorithm for calculating EPC numbers, that would seem to be an impossible figure.

It's now 11.30am. 11.15am was the grid company's estimated time of restoration of full power. It doesn't seem to have happened...

And snowflakes the size of cotton wool balls are now falling.

Posted at 11:30 AM | Comments (8)

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Red weather alert

100mph winds overnight quite near here. Still very windy and gusting up to 50mph.

Our nearest neighbour from half a mile away popped round: she's never known it like this before. On her walk round she saw lots of trees down, although we can't see any from here. She said that the farmers have already cleared the trees that had fallen on the roads. And the postie has managed to get through.

Today it has sleeted, snowed but not settled, and is now sunny but zero degrees outside, and falling to -4°C overnight.

We'd battened down the hatches as much as we could yesterday so not much has blown around.

A few plants in pots have fallen over, and the orange plastic safety barrier to stop people falling into the foundations for the new garage/workshop/forge has blown over, despite being weighted down with 8 x 25kg bags of sand and a dozen large concrete blocks. The netted hen enclosure has also come down. If the wind doesn't drop before tomorrow night we won't be able to put it back up again, with even more guy ropes, so will be illegal hen keepers. Probably the least of our worries.

There's a lot of water come through (round, under) the new craft room to (eventual new) garage fire door as it is 2" too long (don't ask, nothing has gone right for months) so doesn't fit, and so hasn't been sealed in. It is apparently being taken out, taken back to its factory, cut off, brought back and reinstalled on Wednesday. Apparently. For the time being we have installed even more black plastic, duck tape and towels.

55,000 people in the north-east are without power: we currently do have power but at a greatly reduced voltage. Some lights work, some don't (weird as they are all new very low energy ones), the fridges are working, the router works but not the printer, the TVs and radios all work, but not the fan, the microwave turntable turns slowly but doesn't heat, the (1200W) vacuum cleaner works, but the electronics on the new oil central heating boiler don't, so we have no heat or hot water. It's currently 8°C indoors. We have a petrol generator, but the boiler is hard-wired in, so can't be connected to it. Hmmm, there must be something we can do about that, for the future?

Luckily we installed a wood burner and an oil Aga that has a 'manual' setting (and we switched to it around midnight before the temperature dropped too far, when we realised what was happening) so can carry on working without electricity for the control panel. We also have several duvets and more wine than most corner shops, so we'll be fine.

Once analogue landline phones are turned off and everyone has to drive electric, and warm with heat pumps, the world clearly isn't going to work, is it? Even if enough power can be generated to meet future demand, the ageing network infrastructure is far too fragile to be reliable, particularly in more rural areas, where overhead power lines predominate.

How are things where you are? Hope everyone is safe.


Thursday, November 4, 2021

Bird flu, again, just for a change

In September, there were no instances of Avian Influenza in this country.

There are now 3 outbreaks (2 in Wales and 1 in Scotland), of H5N1 which is apparently highly contagious and will transmit to humans.

As at 3pm yesterday, 'enhanced biosecurity' is demanded. This basically means foot dip at entrances, not allowing anyone to enter the area unless they have to for welfare purposes, and only feeding under cover.

It's probably 5 days off 'requirement to house indoors', judging by last year, I think.

The email said:

"Dear Stakeholder

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone has come into force across Great Britain as of 5pm on 3 November 2021. This means it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their birds from avian influenza.

For more information see
GOV.​UK: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#AIPZ,
GOV.SCOT: https://www.gov.scot/publications/avian-influenza-outbreaks/ and
GOV.WALES: https://gov.wales/avian-influenza-bird-flu-latest-update

APHA, Level H1 County Hall, Spetchley Road, Worcester, WR5 2NP"

With Mr BW still down south for an indeterminate time, and completely occupied with constantly 'fighting the utterly inept and uncaring GPs (now a 3-practice conglomerate which could not be making it harder) to get access to the already malfunctioning system' to get appropriate end-of-life at-home care for his Mum, I shall have to try to enlist some help from our nearest nighbour half a mile away, and/or the farmer's grandsons, to put up and connect the 2m square metal framed mesh panels that we used down south last time a few years ago (that we luckily already brought up here) as the hens cannot go in the greenhouse (as they did last year) as it is too full of plants and equipment that have nowhere else to go. Plus, I don't think that being in an enclosed greenhouse is a good place for hens to spend what is likely to be an extended period (probably until early summer, again judging by last year).

All those people who 'got a few hens' during the lockdowns last year are unlikely to be signed up to the email alerts service, and will therefore do nothing, so adding to the problem.

Last year, I didn't ever see or hear the 'requirement to house hens' mentioned on TV or radio. If you hear any such mention this time round, can you let me know in the comments, please?

Bird flu, like novel coronaviruses, is undoubtedly here to stay.

Last winter we noticed that a couple of other local(ish) small-scale hen-keepers used netted greenhouse frames to contain their birds and keep out wild birds (who are the main disease vector - as they can't do hands/face/space, seemingly like many humans...).

Mr BW will bring up some gazebo frames when he comes (we have several old ones from all the 'summer social events' we used to stage for various organisations we belonged to), which we can buy strong UV-resistant small-mesh net to cover (pulled tight so wild birds don't get entangled), but in the longer term we might have to look for a netted polytunnel or similar structure, I think. With appropriate guying, that should stand up to the wind. Unless anyone has any other ideas?


Sunday, October 31, 2021

All Hallows' Eve

Coleus livingstonei - aka 'Blue Witch's Hat'.

From South Africa.
Looks to me like a cross between and lupin and a salvia.
How have I never heard about this until yesterday?
And where can I get one in the UK?

One of the joys of living in the middle of absolutely nowhere is that I can be assured that there will definitely not be any child beggars extorting treats with menaces.


Friday, October 29, 2021

Happy Birthday Mr BW!



All my love and thinking of you Mr BW.

Sorry that sad circumstances mean we could only be together until 6.30am. Drive safely. The Black Familiar, The Hens and The B33s will look after me until you can come back, don't worry about me, don't hurry, and take as long as it needs. xxxxx

(pictures and prehistoric font size and colour use recycled from my post of 29.10.2003, and already re-used once on 29.10.19)

Posted at 10:29 AM | Comments (11)

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Windows and fleece questions

We had Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons without builders.
And now a whole weekend.
We'd almost forgotten what it was like to have the place to ourselves.

On Friday, finally, the glass for the windows was delivered and fitted. Hurray!

I can't remember how many weeks it is since the window frames were fitted and silvered insulation material put into them, temporarily. At least five, certainly. At least we now have the temporary panels to use as winter protection in the greenhouse. Yet more perfecty good material saved from the skip.

Glass is just one of the things currently on "world shortage". I have no idea what workmen would do if there were not Covid, Brexit, lack of delivery drivers, and world shipping problems, to use as justification for each and every delay.

But, we were rather perplexed that the installer refused to remove the sticky labels or clean the hand prints and grunge from the glass panels after fitting them. This is the sixth time in my life that I have had replacement windows fitted, and this is the first time that they have not been left sparkling. "Don't want to put window cleaners out of business!" he joked. I didn't find this funny, and said so. We have complained to Chief Builder, who is, strictly speaking, "The Client", but, I wonder, what is the experience of other people who have had windows replaced recently? When we had 4 done soon after we moved in last year, we did have to be insistent to get them cleaned properly, but there was no resistance, once we stated our position. To me, it's like buying a new car and finding it hasn't be valeted before collection. What do you think?

We've been busily lifting dahlias, that were blackened by the first frost a week ago. They will go in the new bottom shed, as, being plastic, I think it will have a more constant temperature than the greenhouse. Next year the tubers can live in the new garage, but, for this year, they will have to take their chances dried off for a week or so, then surrounded by vermiculite and covered with fleece. Down south we always had dahlias in pots and just left them in their pots, in the wooden potting shed, every winter. Up here it is a whole new learning experience. All tips and hints welcomed.

Talking of horticultural fleece, I mentioned back in the spring that we had had a lot of disintegraitng fleece, that broke into tiny flakes almost overnight. Grrrr. Microplastics. At that time, no-one else who reads here said that they had experienced this, but Mrs Good Friend BW mentioned, when she was up here last month, that she had also had such problems. Has anyone else now had disintegrating fleece?


Friday, October 22, 2021

The Friday Question

Not quite an 'old style' Friday question; those were more for entertainment value, whereas this is borne out of necessity... but, it's Friday, and it's a question, so...

Does anyone have any thoughts (information, experience, recommendations, dos or don'ts) on garage doors, please?

The opening is going to be around 4m x 2.1m and the door needs to be electric and automatic, as future-proofing and lack of effort are important considerations.

I have already attempted to do a lot of research, but am now having doubts, in light of a comment someone made the other day, so would welcome your input.

Posted at 10:33 AM | Comments (6)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

A rare afternoon off


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Building up

It's drizzly and grey here today, but the CCTV at Coven Sud reassures me that it is just as bad down there.

The first frost of the year happened last Thursday/Friday overnight, although I am told that the first frost down south was two days earlier. I hate this time of year. No time to be melancholic though, although I might be if things weren't so non-stop here.

We're both well, if absolutely exhausted.

Phase 1 conversion is still going on... 3 weeks over schedule on a 15 week build, and they have been working in dribs and drabs 7 days a week for ages now, which gives us no time without people here to flop and recover from the need to be up and decent by 8am every day just in case anyone turns up, the constant tea/coffee making (close on 800 cups served to over 60 different trades and delivery drivers who have passed through), the rapid and incessant decision making required about everything, and the ongoing 'quality control' annoyances.

Mr BW has been fantastic at always being ready at 8am, keeping everyone happy, keeping on top of it all, and keeping his eye on the time for making cuppas. I notice the faults in things they are doing and tell him, and he tells them.

If it were left up to me, my sentences to them would start with, "For fuck's sake, what the hell did you do it like that for?!" whereas he has a rather more measured approach which ensures they stay on site and happily change whatever is offending me to however it should have been done.

Luckily Mr BW, as an engineer, has more skills than many of them, excellent spatial and 3D abilities, is talented at wood, stone and metal work, and has a fair knowledge of electrics and plumbing, so knows how things can/should be done. It also helps that he is male as building is a sexist world, especially in the north. If I go into a space where they are working, I often get a "Captain on the deck!" reaction, whereas if Mr BW arrives, they carry on working.

Once I get over all the hassles and stresses of late deliveries, wrong deliveries, bad workmanship, faulty items, and we finally get the window and door glass in, I will be able to appreciate just how wonderful it all is. For now I am just tired and sleep deprived.

We have had to made real nuisances of ourselves in the last couple of weeks to push the final things in Phase 1 along. Mr BW got to the stage of taking down the makeshift wooden dividing/security panel between the 2-storey house and the attached single-storey 'building site' bit under conversion, in order to make the point that 'snail's pace' was not acceptable, and to be able to get on with the bits of the conversion that he is doing. Given that Chief Builder told me ages ago that the final 'break through' is always his favourite part of any build, I was pleased that Mr BW removed that pleasure from him.

I had the biggest hissy fit I've had since 1997 last Wednesday as the plasterers (here patching up the mess the slow and incompetent electricians had made in the previously perfectly smooth vaulted ceiling by fitting the downlighters in the wrong places, because they didn't listen to what we told them) - who were told to only mix outside, claimed they couldn't, because it was windy (it wasn't) then left the downstairs doors open so there was plaster dust in every single room, including on all the books and photo albums in the new bookcase right down the other end of the longhouse. I seem to recall shouting something about, "If any of you ever make that much of a mess in my house again, then you will be leaving without gonads. Because that is a biological word you probably don't understand, I mean without your willies and balls. Now DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" Everyone have been so nice to us since then.

We finally got heating and hot water back last weekend after 17 weeks with no boiler. We shouldn't be using the boiler until it is commissioned, by an 'oil boiler expert' but he's apparently too busy to get here for ages yet, and the plumber who fitted it was excellent (but just doesn't have the right certificate now as it costs so much to renew them each year) so we decided that oil is not gas and is not inherently dangerous, so we'd just not turn it off when it had been run up for testing (all the issues, including a sticking brand new valve - that had to be replaced - were sorted then anyway). 400 year old stone houses get very cold and damp as soon as it gets autumnal, despite all the insulating we've done, so we weren't prepared to be cold and soggy because a rubber stamper couldn't get out here in a timely manner to sign it off.

It's mostly just odd bits that are waiting on supplies being available now. For instance glass for the windows (the frames are in but the 'panes' are currently made of insulated silver board) and the main outside door. To save cost, Mr BW is doing all the decorating and fitting the bathroom (currently in the living room in many large boxes) to the plumber's first-fix pipework. Our tiler (excellent local chap, clean, reliable, perfectionist, and reasonably priced, who tiled the upstairs ensuite for us this time last year) is currently putting up 35 square metres of 'bumpy white' tiles in the bathroom (a 3 day job). We are still waiting on the toilet cistern (but have the pan) and the towel rail coming into stock. Ordered in early July.

A week ago, the builders started the groundwork/foundations for Phase 2a, Mr BW's gigantic workshop and garage.

Aside of one young lad labourer who hides where he thinks he can't be seen (not very bright and doesn't realise those camera-shaped things up in the eaves are CCTV cameras and that just because I am not outside all the time doesn't mean I am not monitoring what is going on) and does one barrow load of whatever and then 5 minutes on his phone, it's all going well. Last Friday Chief Builder and his latest apprentice were even here digging and pouring concrete until 6.30pm - they're usually gone by 2.30pm latest on a Friday.

Every day seems to need a dozen decisions, from where the piles of dug-out soil will go (this 'spoil', saved from Chief Builder's desire to 'skip it', will fill the raised vegetable beds when we eventually have the time to get round to raising them rather than just digging planting holes in the grass), to major things like depth of foundations and design of drive slope to give us room for Bri@n to fit in (the architect got it wrong, just for a change, and Bri@n wouldn't have fitted into the height of the garage with his design, but luckily Chief Builder noticed early-on in the digging and was able to make an adaptation).

All being well, because of a delay in getting the sandstone blocks needed to build the garage external wall (the small local quarry cannot cut fast enough to keep up with current demand), the builders will have to pause a bit in a couple of weeks. So, we are hoping to finally get some time down at Coven Sud. This will be the first time I have been down since May, although Mr BW has been down on his own every few weeks, while I attempted to manage and water the workmen up here. There is so much still to do there before we can put the house on the market, and, now that we nearly have considerably more Northern space to move stuff into, we need to get more sorted and packed up ready for another Luton van trip up before the weather gets bad.

Right, that's it, that's where we are up to, no time to polish it, so you'll have to cope with my Woolfish stream-of-consciousness. I will add some pictures eventually.

Hope your last month has been less hectic than ours?

Posted at 11:33 AM | Comments (5)

Monday, October 4, 2021

For Tim

With much love and strength to Z.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Changing seasons

Last warm day today, they say.

We'll be outside making the most of it.

Our first workman-free day for ages, and our last for... several weeks to come!

Have had the maddest week yet... over 100 cups of tea and coffee made. Absolutely non-stop, men working all hours, and 'stuff' and people appearing constantly.

Roof finished, Veluxes in, windows in (but no glass until 19th October due to 'shortages'), scaffolding down, insulating and boarding done and plastering more than half done, should be finished by Tuesday evening, then electricians Thursday, joiner to hang doors next Saturday, plumbers next weekend, wet room specialist floor laying the Monday after, then Mr BW going down south on Tuesday 5th probably until the Sunday. Tiler at the end of that week, and I have to stay here to open and shut windows and doors so the plaster dries off ready for Mr BW to paint it all (60 litres of white emulsion all ready to roll), then fit very cheap temporary vinyl for floor (the quote for the floor we want, to match the rest of the downstairs came it at over £8K so will have to wait, possibly forever as that is silly money for flooring - if we had £8K spare, which we don't, we'd have done the kitchen by now, rather than having to leave it to the very end), do the skirting boards and, once our tiler has been, Mr BW has to fit the bathroom to the plumber's first-fix pipes.

One of the builder's lads (working for us on a Saturday for some pocket money his ex-wife couldn't touch), under Mr BW's supervision, laid a 15' x 9' concrete slab yesterday - 3 tonnes of aggregate, 18 bags of cement, all wheelbarrowed from the mixer 300 yards down the hill - for the new beeshed at the bottom of the orchard area which needs to be up before Mr BW goes down south (so that the stuff from the old shed in the drive can be moved into it as it has to go w/c 11th as they are starting to dig the foundations for the new garage and workshop then). I do wonder how these young lads get by - hard physical work all week, left here at 4.45pm, then had 'a date' on Friday night meaning he "woke up in Durham and realised it were over an hour away", then ran rather than walked to condense what would have been a full day's work into 8.30am to 1.45pm so that he could get home in time to see his 'bairn' for the rest of the weekend. I guess we did things like that once...

Dave and Darren are kindly coming over tomorrow to help Mr BW put up the new shed. That's the second shed they have helped with. I never did get round to writing about the first. Or putting up the photos of the garden they took and kindly sent me over (the PC crashed when I had them all open and ready to reduce in size to post, and photos don't re-open when it is switched back on). I only have time and energy to do things or to write about and picture them properly, rather than just throw together some brief words. One day...


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Thought for the day

The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.

Charles Bukowski


Monday, September 20, 2021

Weekend roundup

The two plumbers worked tirelessly from 7.50am to 5.30pm on Saturday, and from 8am to 5pm on Sunday, and somehow managed to get everything finished, to a high standard, without making mistakes. The lead plumber looked utterly exhausted when he left. Chief Builder came over twice to bring them required supplies (it is an hour and a half round trip from where he lives). I've no idea where he sourced what was required on Sunday as his usual suppliers only open to mid-day on Saturday.

It all looks much more complcated than I expected. Pipes everywhere. Goodness knows how they will manage to fit in the required insulation around them.

Two joiners, two window fitters, and seven builders will be here soon, in readiness for plasterers tomorrow. I hope they have also remembered to ask the Building Inspector to visit, as he said on his last visit that he wanted to see the wall and floor insulation before it was sealed. Covid soup in there today... just what was never meant to happen.

The Aga is malfunctioning, and won't stay at cooking temperature. Dinner was an hour and a half late last night, but yummy none the less.

And today there is a 9am to 4pm power cut so that the infrastructure company can replace the poles and fuses hit by lightning a couple of weeks ago.

Well, that will make it interesting.

We and The Good Friends BW seem to be failing to drink the supplies. Mr GFBW arrived with another 7 bottles of wine and we are definitely getting old as we haven't even managed to cover the bottom of the glass recycling bin with empties. And we all went to bed at 8.20pm last night.


Friday, September 17, 2021

Another week, another dimension

We started the week 19 days behind schedule.

We've ended the week maybe 7 days behind schedule, after 64 working days.

I am totally exhausted. Trying to stay ahead of their blunders, their inadvertent errors, and their refreshment needs has really drained my reserves.

We'll finish up maybe 5 days behind, on a 70 working day build.

A couple of weeks ago, Chief Builder declared, in writing, "Just because we are not on site doesn't mean we are behind!" Despite our concerns/hollow laughter at the time, he could have been correct...

Today we started the day with Not-An-Archtect-The-Architect calling in to deliver final versions of the plans for all phases, and having a nosey round. Mr BW decreed that he didn't like the fact that we knew better than him what we wanted, and have altered some parts of his designs, and not followed his advice on other things. I realised that I really don't like him, because he is smug and arrogant and has a need to always be correct. I'm glad that I pointed out a couple of his errors to him.

There have been a huge number of workmen on site this week. We had 3 roofers and 3 builders here today. Not a second was wasted (first day ever...). I doubt that any of them had more than 10 minutes for lunch and no tea breaks.

From the outset (14 weeks ago), we made it clear that the builders and/or any of their trades could work any weekend, but not the weekend of 18th - 19th September, as The Good Friends BW are coming up from Suffolk to celebrate Mr GFBW's 60th and, belatedly, thanks to covid, Mrs GFBW's 70th. So, what is happening? Yeah, 2 plumbers, all weekend, from 8am each day, with lots of noisy drilling to do. That due to the originally engaged plumbers declaring on Monday that the first-fix job they were supposed to complete on Tuesday/Wednesday was beyond them (why yes, we are very fussy about our concealed plumbing, but, do you know what, we've put up with sub-standard for all the rest of our lives, and this time, in our last home, it will be perfect). So.... a chap from Kent (6 years ago) came to our/Chief Builder's rescue and agreed to work the weekend to enable us to keep on track. Then, windows (but not glass, or doors - blame covid, brexit, lorry drivers' shortage and data protection *House! Bingo!*) and 7 builders on Monday, and plasterers on Tuesday for at least a week. Screeders on.... floorers on... final fix joiners on... final fix electricians on... not sure, lost track.... and we definitely won't have enough cups.

And, for the first time in 18 months, the whole house is clinically clean. It has taken both of us most of the week, mind. We really need a Cleaner BW up here... I've had a cleaner since 1991, and it's really hard having to do our own (as there are absolutely no available options here), especially when the builders make so much mess that comes into the house with every step... and old houses are naturally grubby at the best of times.

We have 19 bottles of excellent wine lined up for the Good Friends BW's 3-night stay.

We all need and deserve it.

And we are delighted with how it is all looking tonight.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11th - A Guest Post by Mr BW

One hundred years ago today on 11th September 1921, Stanley Edge, a young engineer, was summoned to Lickey Grange to see Sir Herbert Austin, Chairman of Austin cars.

He was taken though the library into the billiard room. On the table were sketches and ideas drawn up by Sir Herbert.

The drawings were for a new model, a new small car, which had been rejected by the board at Austin, and so Sir Herbert took them home to work on.

The car went on to be the 'Austin Seven' and set in stone the story that the Austin 7 is so sized to fit perfectly 1 to 1 scale on a billiard table.

The car changed the history of motoring in the UK and around the world.

It was the first car made under licence by a new German company called BMW.

It was bought as a chassis and then coach built by the Swallow Sidecar company into a small luxury car. The company changed its name in the 30s (who wanted the initials SS then?) to Jaguar.

It was made under licence in France and the US and copied by a new company in Japan to start their car manufacturing. They were called Nissan.

It was built into a racing car and raced by Alec Issigonis (who went on to design the Morris Minor and the Mini).

It was the basis of the first racing car built by Colin Chapman, who then started Lotus sports cars.

It was the basis of the first racing car made by a certain Mr McLaren.

Happy Birthday Mi1dred's Kind!

Posted at 11:09 AM | Comments (6)

A question of distance

By Monday we need to have worked out exactly where all the plumbing has to go, and marked it up, ready for first fix plumbing (the plumber is visiting on Monday and meant to be doing the work on Wednesday).

This is difficult as the floors aren't yet at their final height, and are currently at levels of up to 120mm below where they will be finally (depending on which of the 3 rooms).

While there is a plan for this, drawn by Not-an-Architect-the-Architect, we, of course, have altered it to meet our needs rather than his, or those he imagines we have. We gave up paying him to do revisions when he took on an associate who did not share his attention to detail, so we were finding alterations we'd made in the past missing from new iterations of plans.

Anyway, my question is, does anyone have baths with taps that are concealed in the wall above the bath (so that just the spout and controls exit from the wall)? Or know how high above the bath such installations are normally placed? Google doesn't seem to know.

The room has a vaulted open ceiling, so there is all the room in the world. Ideally, I would place all the items, and do the placement by eye, but with an inch of muck currently on the floor in the new part (stone dust, sawdust, and cement dust, now rained on, so not easily cleaned), and the items currently being stacked in their huge boxes the living room at the other end of the long house, with no easy route to the new part, and me feeling too weak to help lift them, there's not much chance of that. While we do still have the brown paper item templates I wrote about before, these are not 3D!


Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday's exciting episode of Life at Coven Nord

"We finally know why stress turns your hair white!" proclaimed the article pushed at me when I turned my PC on this morning.

I really don't need them to have tortured rats to tell me that: I know already. It's called Builders. But, yet another example of how my PC is spying on me, without my consent.

Chief Builder may have finally got the message about us needing to be kept informed and needing to know who will be on site and when, as he rang Mr BW at the end of yesterday afternoon, with 20 minutes worth of updates. Including that our (more than) £3,000 of roof windows have been 'stuck on the A1' for 2 days, with a courier no-one has ever heard of, that apparently has no contact details. You'd think that a manufacturer would use a reputable delivery service, wouldn't you? Until those windows arrive the roof cannot be finished, and so the floor cannot be insulated and chipboarded as it's not watertight. The roofers won't come back to finish until they have these items as they have a whole day's work still to do, and only an hour they can do without the windows (which were ordered nearly 12 weeks ago). And so everything gets knocked back, yet again.

The electricians failed to turn up as planned this morning, and, after Mr BW's text message to Chief Builder, finally arrived just before 11am, clearly having been pulled off another job, but being evasive about what had happened. First fix in 2 rooms plus a bathroom was supposed to have taken 2 electricians 1.5 days each, so 3 days in total. To date we are at nearly 6 days total, and they are nowhere near finished. Some of this is to do with the fact that they failed to note our written onto the plan, and extra - very clear - oral instructions that the floor height would be 118mm above its current level as it was still to be insulated and boarded, and so have had to redo the heights of all the switches and sockets they did on Monday and Tuesday.

We had a power cut last night at 6pm. We were eating our dinner and watching TV in bed at the time. The electric bed head was therefore in the 'up' position. Short of getting out the large and heavy petrol generator, which is in the shed, in the middle of a thunderstorm, there was no way of putting the bed flat to sleep. There is currently not enough room on any floor to accommodate just the mattresses. I therefore went out to sleep in the micro-caravan and Mr BW slept across the flat ends of the two bed halves. The power finally came back on at 1.30am. Seven and a half hours with no power. Many people (luckily not us) also had no water as they are on boreholes, which require electric pump and sterilising systems. 73 houses are currently running off a big generator until they manage to solve the issue, at which point the power will go off again. 73 houses would be one street in many areas. Round here it is probably 12 square miles. I can confirm that the grid maintenance company in the north is very much better at keeping people informed, and apologising sincerely, than that in the south.

Our two new plastic sheds (to go in the field, for all the b33 equipment, which is mostly all still at Coven Sud as we have nowhere to put it here yet) were delivered just before 8am. Well, one shed was, and one of the two boxes had split open and looked like many of the parts had fallen out. The driver rang his head office and was told that there was no other shed in their delivery system, despite me having received delivery emails and text 'time of arrival' notifications.

Needing two identical sheds (and I only ordered two small ones in desperation as there is a country-wide shortage of larger sheds until at least October 22nd), I therefore rejected the damaged shipment and then spent the next 2 hours on the phone trying to get a refund. "We can refund the one you refused immediately, but we can't refund the other one that hasn't been delivered until we receive it back at the warehouse. Ring again if you haven't heard from us by 17th." I was told. "Which bit of, 'there is no other shed in the delivery system, so it will never be received back in your warehouse, so I will therefore never get a refund', do you not understand?" I asked. I've given up trying to be patient or polite with such idiocy. Fortunately I got the refund without needing to go to the credit card company for a S75 refund.

We use a different builders' merchant to Chief Builder, and Mr BW's 3 bulk bags of concrete mix aggregate and 18 bags of cement (for constructing the solid base for the shed(s)) arrived without problem around 8.30am, and were craned over the drystone wall into the field by the usual helpful driver. "That company costs more than those I use!" proclaimed Chief Builder when last we suggested he used them rather than the companies he does. We don't find it more expensive, and Mr BW has a trade account, so gets a discount. Our goods got here today... his didn't. What can I say?


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Could do better...

That's the builders, the joiners, the electricians, and the roofers, and me writing about it all.

I am sick to death of them wanting to work weekends as they have failed to turn up when they should in the week, for very spurious reasons. Not long ago, while Mr BW was down south, I had 13 days of non-stop workmen, which is utterly exhausting. I need two days of peace and quiet at weekends to recover, and I am not getting it, so I am getting tireder and tireder and slower and slower.

Then, those workmen who actually are here are unsupervised by Chief Builder, who is off goodness knows where - and he doesn't seem to know where he's been either - so do everything wrong. Several times they've inadvertently worked off old versions of plans (from their phones as they've got the up-to-date paper ones they were provided with wet so rendering them illegible: if they'd bothered to tell us, we could have provided them with fresh copies). A joiner who can't measure and can't use a spirit level? A roofer who specifically promises they'll be here every day until the job's done, then appears once every 3 days if we are lucky? Excuses have included: "We need to grade the slates!" - which apparently took 3 men 2.5 days (yeah, right), and, yesterday, "The van's broke down!" (it's a 69 plate so less than 2 years old, so not very likely), so holding up everyone else who now can't start insulating and plasterboarding inside as the structure isn't watertight.

Since Monday morning, we have had three, eight foot tall, piles of 120mm thick huge sheets of insulation, and a pile of insulated plasterboard, stacked in the drive. They were delivered well before any workers turned up, so once again, we had to supervise and marshall an unexpected early-morning delivery. After a few scorchingly hot days (the hottest September days up here for 115 years I heard on the news), it has been pouring with rain since the early hours. Had we not covered the piles with our huge tarpaulins, most of it would now be unusuable, or sopping wet, which, if used wet, would be liable to create black mould under the floor or in the open-plan roof, in time.

Last Saturday we summoned Chief Builder here. We expected him at 8; he finally deigned to turn up at 11. We politely read him The Riot Act, as he is now 19 working days behind schedule after 11 weeks of a 15 week project, and the amount of dust, dirt, mess and debris everywhere (which is continually being blown, or unavoidably getting walked, into the main house) is disgraceful. Plus, certain of his trades have been taking the piss: I came back from going to the library van last Thursday to find the joiners and the roofers having a competition to see who could play their radio loudest (2 different radio stations within one area, when we banned radios from the outset) and the roofers' van parked in the field, with their 'working mess' spread all over one of my wildflower patches, having driven over and broken several paving slabs, kindly donated by nearest neighbour, waiting to be used. All vehicles, including our own, are banned from the field as it is a wildlife area. If you thought you heard thunder last Thursday, you didn't, it was me berating them all.

The Riot Act Reading worked, albeit for just the first 2 days of this week. On Monday we made 17 cups of tea or coffee, which, considering we only make 2 per person per day (for their breaks at 10am and 12.30pm) gives some indication of the numbers who were here.

I gave up counting refreshments made at the end of week 3, but it's definitely over 400 cups now. I'm still on the first pack of 240 Tetley tea bags, but now onto the third 200g jar of coffee and the fifth kilo bag of sugar. Oh, and the second batch of 12 cheap white cups.

It's now gone 9.30am. Who's turned up this morning?

Correct, absolutely no-one. It isn't often that I am at a loss to know what to do in any situation. Short of screaming, I have no ideas, and that would only work to give me a sore throat, rather than ameliorating the problem.

See why I haven't felt like writing about it?

Oh, and, has anyone heard of an 18 year old having had covid three times (another excuse that's been trotted out)? I think it's the lies that are being told about why things aren't happening, and the lack of information about when expected workmen won't be turning up that is most annoying.


Monday, September 6, 2021


There are some words that I always type incorrectly.

Because I learnt to touch type on a manual typewriter sometime in the late 1970s, and have done it for so long, there is now no way to re-educate my incorrect muscle memory. When I am very tired, even more mistakes arise as my processing of the ordering of what my left fingers and my right fingers should be doing goes awry.

Regular eagle-eyed readers might have noticed these errors.

Examples include: from/form (which a spellchecker never picks up), and/adn, the/teh, just/jsut, involve/invovle, whcih/which, brian/brain, anything with ...tly at the end (l/t transposed), and 'account' where I transpose the second 'c' and the 'o'.

The latter can prove awkward if I do it when sending snotty messages to banks. Ooops.

Anyone else noticed that standards of service from banks has diminished greatly of late?


Monday, August 30, 2021

Watching The Bales Watching Me

This is the right hand side view from my Inner Coven, through the window across the landing, taken with the camera's long nose. In time, when Building Stage 3 is complete (after we have sold Coven Sud, when we have some money again), this window (and indeed the whole wall, and the stairs) will be going, and an entrance hall extension will be going on in its place.

The Inner Coven will become The Museum Room, home to all my objets and artefacts, and lots of books, but for now it has to be an office and tip store for 'miscellanea'. But at least it has views in both direcctions.

See what I mean about those bales? Threatening or what? The far distant ones are across the minor road at the end of the track, on another farm.

This is the evil machine that gives birth to bales:

When the combine cuts the wheat, it spits out the straw into long trails, and the tractor-pulled bale-maker then goes up and down, sucking up the straw and spitting out big round bales. They don't have those separate balers around Coven Sud; it all happens inside the (much bigger) combine harvesters.

After 13 days on the trot of Builders and Joiners, we now have a roof structure, and tomorrow and the rest of the week the slates will be going on. Reclaimed from old churches apparently.

Saturday was blazing hot, and Sunday and today are cool and grey, but peaceful.

This thermometer is on a direct south facing wall: in reality, it was mid-20s.

The b33s are buzzingly happy, even though The Bales are watching them:

The willow and hazel screen is growing very well, and our plan, in time, will be to coppice a third of it every two years, to produce willow for weaving and hazel poles for supports and stakes.

The Big Greenhouse has grown Big Tomatoes:

Which make for very yummy salads. I was going to say that everything on that plate was home-grown, but then I noticed a black olive or two in shot:


Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Bales have rolled back into my life.

I am surrounded by them.

If I look out of any window I can see them.

Large, round and straw-y.

Very meanacing, and most of them are angled directly at the house, so at any time they choose, they can come and get me.

I think Mr BW is planning Flooding Therapy as I overheard him on the phone to the farmer requesting that 2 roll downhill into our field... he says they're for growing pumpkins and squashes next year, but I am not so sure...


Friday, August 27, 2021

Through the Keyhole: The Friday Question

My favourite word in English is 'escutcheon'.

Yesterday I got to use it, when we ordered two for a new lock for the Museum Room/Office Door. I have not used the word since 2006, when we turned the attic of Coven Sud into The Studio, balcony and shower room, and re-used the escutcheon and lock from the original walkcrawl-in door. I will admit to having had to look up the spelling to write it here, it not being a word one often sees.

Once we have sold Coven Sud (and so have some money again) we will be undertaking Phase 3 of the building work here and making a new entrance hallway, and changing the orientation of the stairs which are currently steep, dark, and do not meet Building Regs, being 5'9" at their lowest point, which means that we, being 5' 10" and 6' 3" respectively, always have to duck or grouse, so this room will become part of the 'development zone', so, better to add security now, while we have time. Ha! And yes, the length of this sentence mirrors the rapid and relentless pace of events here.

My favourite word in French is 'pamplemousse'.

My favourite word in German is 'Kugelschreiber'.
I always thought that, "Ich bin ein Kugelschreiber!" was a missed opportunity for a 70s punk song.

It's all about mouth feel and onomatopoeia (my second favourite English word).

What are your favourite words?


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Another Thrilling Episode of Life Ooop North

My attempts to be passive aggressive and leave an empty delabelled baked bean tin out for cigarette butts/tabs, rather than continue to have them left scattered over the floor, path, and driveway, has proved fruitless, but that's probably because Chief Builder and Dude don't smoke and Child Builder Sometimes In Charge (but not this week) only smokes cigarettes when there are older workmen around as bad role models; otherwise he vapes.

From Boss Joiner's face when he overheard me telling Chief Builder that it was possible that someone was smoking other than tobacco while they were doing the roof incorrectly at the weekend, I strongly suspect that Dave was correct about Littering Joiner's smokes! Littering Joiner has also been told to return certain items that have disappeared from the site. "He's a bit of a wide boy, isn't he?" I said to Chief Builder. I got the impression that 'wide boy' is another expression that is not countrywide. Divided by a common language. Or maybe Chief builder is too young to understand the concept and/or Littering Joiner too old to be considered one.

After my last week marshalling workmen and attempting to keep plants watered and vegetables harvested up north, and Mr BW's picking apples and plums, and sorting b33s, h0ney, garden and unwell mother down south, and driving 300 mies on his own each way towing a trailer behind a small car, we are both utterly knackered. I haven't even got dressed today, and Mr BW only has so he can water the workmen and answer the door to deliveries. My legs don't seem to be obeying my commands.

The conversion now looks like a house. 5 of them worked on it yesterday from 8.30am to 6.15pm, and they are only just packing up to go today. Usually they are long gone by 4, but they do arrive by 8.15am most mornings and they do have an hour's journey each way.

The wooden roof structure is now correct and complete, the battens and DPM for the interior walls up, and most of the external stonework rebuild and repointed beautifully. We cannot fault their craftsmenship. I was fascinated that as soon as Mr BW came home yesterday the joiners were all "Yes Sir and No Sir" to him, whereas they were rather condescending to me. From Boss Joiner's face when he overheard me telling Chief Builder that it was possible that someone was smoking other than tobacco while doing the roof incorrectly at the weekend, I strongly suspect that Dave (arriving just after the joiners had left on Sunday) was correct about the smell in the air!

A massive clear-up operation was mounted by Dude and CBSiC first thing yesterday morning, as the joiners had made a great deal of mess at the weekend. I went in to have a look around as I took drinks out at 10am and was about to make a comment about them not having to clear up specially because Mr BW was coming home, when The Building Inspector arrived. I didn't know he was expected, but it explained the manic clearing up. 4 minutes looking round, 1 minute taking photos of the "cool" internal construction, "not usually seen in these parts", and 10 minutes moaning about how much work he had to do (15 site visits over a huge rural area in one day) and how the County Council didn't pay properly (he's new in post and they are very short-staffed). Chief Builder and I noted understandingly and made all the right noises. I noted that his jeans were less tight this time (he must have found it very uncomfortable sitting in the car for so many hours of travelling round in the others) and he had on much more appropriate footwear than last time.

And yes, the oil spill has now been dug out and replaced. Fortunately, as they dug out the polluted stone and soil, we could see that the oil hadn't gone anywhere near the water supply pipe, which is also buried much deeper in the ground than the level the spill reached: we were told because hydraulic oil is much more viscous than normal engine oil. Whether or not that is true, or just convenient, I have not yet looked up. Many thanks to all who contributed advice in the comments and by email. A little knowledge (from this advice) and some very strongly worded emails from me to the skip company, and harsh telephone words from me and separately from Chief Builder, achieved the desired effect, albeit not without stress. "I didn't know it was so bad, and now I'm in trouble with the MD!" wailed the Transport Manager down the phone. "Well, I did tell you when it happened on Tuesday!" I replied in my most sarcastic and unsympathetic tone.

The clean up crew almost followed Mr BW, the trailer and the b33s in down the drive, soon after lunchtime. A 25T end-opening RORO skip containing a large quantity of appropriate aggregate, a digger and a whacker plate, together with 2 blokes who had all the charm that the other two didn't. They had obviously been chosen for their ability to pour oil on troubled water, and to remove oil pollution from the side of the track quickly and effectively. "Wow, b33s!" said one, and wasn't phased by a few escapees buzzing around, and the other asked whether Brian was ours. All I wanted to do was get the bees off the trailer and down the field to their new home, release them, and get them fed to keep them busy, and I wasn't in the mood to make polite conversation. I was sorely tempted to say, "No, that tiny caravan is where all 5 of the workmen on site are living, what the hell do you think?!" but fortunately Mr BW is politer than me.

The b33s love their new home and are flying happily, mapping out and exploring their new surroundings, feasting on different nectars, and none the worse for their 300 mile trip.

I am very happy to be reunited with them after seeing them only a few times in the last 17 and a half months, and not having enjoyed them for the past several years since the Evil Lying Developers with their Ignorant Inconsiderate Noisy Nasty Townie Ways moved into the house opposite the end of our long garden where the b33s lived.

With the bees safely tucked up in their purpose-made hexagonal apiary, and the willow and hazel permanent windproof screening growing up very well beyond the temporary wooden pole and brushwood sheltering structure, it now really does feel that we are 'home'.


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Moving hive

Mr BW and our remaining children from down south are on the A1, coming home.

We've never moved full colonies of b33s before, and especailly not on the hottest day for weeks (24°C and very humid up here, not sure what it's like between here and down south).

Mr BW has them on the trailer, with travelling screens on the top, and a very light tarpaulin over them, and is spraying them with water through the screens every time he stops. Cooked b33s would not be good. We have new lids for them, and new brood boxes, which the Child Builders have just kindly moved from the conservatory, where Mr BW assembled them before he went south a week ago, to down by the apiary, ready for use.

How Mr BW managed to close up the hives on his own last night, move them down to the drive from the orchard, having extracted the last ever big harvest (below) amazes me.

Posted at 11:11 AM | Comments (6)

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Skipping along

It was gorgeous out at 5.30am. Misty and dewy, with the moon setting and the sun rising behind the ephemeral veil. But really autumnal.

I am still waiting for the specialist clean-up company. As the female transport manager has failed to contact either Chief Builder or me as promised, she has just received a strongly worded BW Special Missive. The only reason I didn't contact the EA yesterday was because the clean-up costs/responsibility then become our problem rather than hers, and the damage is now done. We've told the Estate's Farm Manager, but he's frantically busy with harvesting, so hasn't come by to see the mess yet, but, sooner or later, access to the field will be needed for harvesting the over-ripe but under-dry wheat. The glysophate they sprayed on it last week to ripen/dry it was trumped by the torrential rain on Saturday (and yes, really, spraying off cereal crops with toxic weedkiller is a thing - and people wonder why so many people have cereal allergies these days).

Chief Builder has not yet turned up today and the idiot littering joiners (who did the roof wrong at the weekend, which may or may not have been because they had been smoking weed while working, according to Dave and Darren who came over on Sunday afternoon and 'smelt the air') are here and the 2 child builders have been mixing mortar for pointing using the wrong sand (ie so it won't be the right colour when it dries).

Let's just say there have been no builders' coffees today, and nor will there be any until Thursday when Mr BW gets back!!!

Quote of the morning:

Me to Child Builder Sometimes in Charge: You can use water from the water butts you know, for mixing concrete, no need to keep coming to the kitchen door tap!" (hidden message: so no excuse to nose in my untidy kitchen)

CBSiC: Nah, they're empty!

Me: When did you last try them?

CBSiC: 'Twere Friday...

Me: Yes, and it rained lots over the weekend, eh?

CBSiC: Eh?

Me: You know, water butts, connected to the downpipes from the guttters, when it rains on the roof they fill up?

CBSiC: Oh, right, oh, yes, right, didn't think of that, yes, OK...

Does anyone know who's got the brain cell in the NE? They sure as hell aren't round here...

Posted at 12:40 PM | Comments (2)

Monday, August 23, 2021

Guess what happened today?

The skip lorry "bust a hydraulic hose" as it went to lift away the full skip and leave a new one at lunchtime.

I heard a huge bang (which I now know was the skip falling back to earth) but thought the builders had dropped a huge stone block from the roof, and tried not to think too much about it. I didn't hear any screams, so I decided not to go out to offer first aid.

It took 2 hours to get a specialist repairer out to fix it, and 3 hours for him to do the work. It was not an easy job and there was lots of swearing. The builders went home at 3pm, but the repair man and the skip lorry didn't leave until 5.45pm. The skip driver, who said he'd started work at 4am still had an hour and a half journey back to his yard, and then an hour journey home.

There was a huge puddle of oil on the edge of the track outside our gate (which is not our land). Probably 30 litres. They used one of the traffic cones from on top of our water meter manhole (to protect it from being run over by big lorries) as a funnel and builder's buckets to drain the rest of the system.

The driver didn't have the 'spill kit' he should have (excuse, "Someone took it from me cab while I were off!"), the repair man didn't have the 'special granules' he should have.

The Transport Manager couldn't get a specialist oil clear-up company out today, "Because of your rural location!" She told me that the hydraulic system only held 15 litres, but either she was wrong or something else had 'bust' too as there was a 30 litre container full of oil they'd drained, plus an equivalent size puddle on the ground.

She said they had no protocol for dealing with this kind of thing, the drivers didn't have any specialist training, and she had no idea how big a spill had to be before it had to be reported to the Environment Agency. After my call to her, I think she might be doing some research and thinking about this issue very soon.

The big puddle of oil is 4 feet from our water pipe (which also feeds the animal drinking troughs across several fields) and 4 feet from a ripe field of wheat. It now has several barrowloads of builders' sand in it, but most of it had already soaked into the ground (because the skip driver and the repair man didn't have a clue about what they should be doing for damage limitation), which is at the top of a slope, which has a burn at its bottom.

There are oily lorry tyre marks that go 100m up the tarmac track.

If I was reading this stuff on someone else's blog, I'd probably think they were making it up...


Sunday, August 22, 2021

(Don't) Tell Me On A Sunday

Two joiners today.

They built the roof incorrectly.

I noticed while picking courgettes for lunch. "If only you'd picked your courgettes after we'd gone home!" said Littering Joiner (who was on good/bad form today - 6 sweet wrappers, and 4 'tabs').

It turned out that because the plan Chief Builder gave them yesterday had got wet, they were using the version from Boss Joiner's phone. This version was V1 from May. There have been probably 5 or 6 versions since then.

Shortly after I noticed they knocked off for the day.

I've since found the now dried out version that Chief Builder gave them, lying around. It too is an early version, depsite Mr BW having re-sent Chief Builder the last (July) version at the beginning of last week, just to make sure everyone was building off the correct plan.

I have no idea what else might have been altered, by Not-An-Architect and his mate the So-Called-Structural-Engineer, and what may therefore now be incorrect, if they have all been building off this earlier drawing. This earlier drawing had steels in the roof rather than glulam. The latest drawing also has equally spaced joists, and the roof that has been built definitely doesn't.

I am slightly concerned tonight.

There will be no more weekend working by Trades, unless Chief Builder is here and directly supervising.


Saturday, August 21, 2021

We have a roof structure!

Three burly and very middle-aged joiners (for which read 'knew what they were doing and didn't spend half the day having extended tea breaks or on their phones') arrived at 8.45am and didn't stop at all until 3.45pm, despite torrential rain for a lot of the time. I gave them more coffees than they'd have got on weekdays, in the hope that they might reappear tomorrow.

In return they gave me one mug back minus some of its handle, without apology. Now, should I refuse to give them coffees the next time I see them, until they confess, or should I serve the next coffees using the injured mug? Perhaps it doesn't matter? I started with 12 builders' mugs: inexplicably I now have 8.

Chief Builder turned up sometime after 10am and stayed for 2 hours. He had to bring different roof timber as the wrong dimensioned stuff had been delivered yesterday. He also brought more slab insulation, soffits, more damp proof membrane (green rather than black this time) and a load of large packaging from his kid's birthday that he put in the skip. We will be having words about that on Monday as it is mostly cardboard and could have been recycled from his kerbside. I really hope that they sort the things put into skips after they are collected.

He also had to share the news that they'd been working from an old roof structure technical drawing, and consequently, his lateness meant they had to move several roof timbers by 3".

Ah, it's getting there. The 'hip' triangular structure is to link into the new workshop/garage, coming off at right angles, which is the next part of the 3-stage building project.

And the vegetable/fruit tree gardening symposium (see below) - great stuff, makes me think that we're on the right lines, despite doing most of it by gut rather than having specifically researched the science.

Watch what nature does, and mimic it. Supermarket food is sterile and lacks life force, having been grown with inorganic fertiliser, which kills the soil organisms and makes the minerals and other nutrients inaccessible to plants, hence why so many people are so inexplicably ill these days. Build soil structure with wood chip and compost to protect against drought. Micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi are central. Earthworms are priceless. Hens are a vital part of any functioning composting system.

Sometimes I feel I tread a lonely path with my fervent beliefs in not wasting resources, reusing or repurposing every scrap (and recycling as a very last resort), and not fighting nature, but presentations like these make me feel less alone.

Still available for free until midnight US time (see sign-up links in the post below).

(Addendum - I had a bit of a moan at the organisers as the bandwidth was being eaten up as America woke up, so the videos were constantly buffering - it's all now available until midnight Monday UTC - so lots more time to watch).

It's today!

Just a reminder of the free (for today only) sustainable/organic/permaculture/no-dig gardening course/talks that I mentioned a few weeks ago.

You can still sign up here, and then start watching any of the short presentations straight away.

I'm off to watch Charles Dowding... and hoping I can hear it over the joiners' noise.

Three burly blokes, each with a power saw, power drill, large hammer, phone... and all their table saws covered with plastic bags against the slow but relentless rain. "That's a good idea," I said, nodding at one example, as I took their coffees out. "It's a condom for a saw!" proclaimed Littering Joiner. I sighed and smiled, "If that is so, it's the worst fitting condom I've ever seen!" I shouldn't encourage them, but they seem to like a bit of banter, and I don't like to disappoint.

Posted at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Walking in the Air

"I'm expecting a full Olympic gym routine on that beam in the morning!" I said to Dude as he left last night.

"Blue Witch, I would, I really would, honestly I would, but Chief Builder just wouldn't let me, I know he won't!" came the reply. The Lads went home. Chief Builder stayed to screw in some more bits of wood on top of the outer walls, in readiness for the joiners to work the roof structure tomorrow. He also tied down the beam at each end using slings and lots of concrete blocks. "I know how windy it gets up here!" he said. "Hmmm, yes, but you haven't looked at the weather forecast, which is for a still night!" I thought.

As he left to go home I asked him whether Dude was allowed to do a suspended beam routine in the morning. "Yeah, why not?" he laughed.

Chief Builder and ChildBuilderNotInChargeThisWeek arrived before 8am this morning. The joiners arrived soon after, including the one who left so much litter when he was here as a digger driver while Chief Builder was off with covid a few weeks back. He wasn't meant to be here, someone else was due, and he was in a grump, so I imagine had been told not to smoke while working, not to drop his 'tabs' if he smoked at lunch time, and not to drop sweet wrappers.

"Where's Dude today then?" I enquired. "We thought it was safer he didn't come today!" replied Chief Builder. "He might have done himself an injury showing off on that beam!"

Several hours later: "Blue Witch, one of your cockerels is making a very strange noise!" called ChildBuilderNICTW, from the roof, as I emerged from the greenhouse with a large bowl of tomatoes. "Ah... that's not a cockerel, that's a hen, they're all hens, all girls." "But it sounds like a cockerel with a sore throat!" he countered. "Yeah, she's a Black Minorca, a rare breed, and she seems to be a bit confused in the past couple of weeks, trying to crow rather than cluck." "Is that bad?" he asked. I paused, trying to decide what to say. "How should I know?" didn't seem a good enough explanation, as they seem to think I am an expert on All Things Country. Compared to them, I guess I am, but of a crowing hen, in nearly 25 years of hen keeping, I have no prior experience (although I have now looked it up, and it is a recognised condition).

I decided to plump for as sensible and light an explanation as I could think of. "No, I think she's just a bit confused poor thing... maybe having an identity crisis, deciding whether she's trans or not!" He looked confused. "What's 'trans'?" "You know, like people, trans... transgender..." "Oh...." he went back to what he was doing.

I heard muttering among the men on the roof, and then the Littering Joiner laughed one of those dirty laughs. Clearly some boys' joke related to uncertain sexuality. I shouldn't have encouraged them.

I looked up at them from where I was picking runner beans 10 yards away. I'd just found some that had been hiding and had a runner bean about 16" long in my hand. "That's a long one you've got there Blue Witch!" said Littering Joiner, and they all laughed dirty laughs.

"Oh, don't worry about me," I said, theatrically, "I may have a long one but I'm definitely not trans!" I snapped the bean in half, very deliberately. "Aye, you deserved that!" said Chief Builder. I smirked and headed back in to the gender neutrality of the house.

Posted at 11:30 AM | Comments (5)

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Beaming: updated as it happens

Background info: I didn't know, when it was decided to use a structural engineered wooden beam as the main roof support, rather than steel, due to the current delays in manufacturing made-to-measure steels, that it would better fit my environmental credentials. In fact, I didn't know that 'glulam' actually existed, because I've never seen it used. As the manufacturer's website says,

"Glulam is made by gluing together, under pressure and heat, laminates of timber that have been accurately planed. The resulting product is strong, stable, and corrosion proof with significant advantages over structural steel and concrete.

The beams are made with wood from Scandinavian sustainable forests. Scandinavian forests are some of the best managed in the world, where reforestation and environmental considerations are given high priority. The trees used are usually spruce, though can sometimes be redwood or Siberian larch.

The manufacture, distribution, and treatment of glulam all consume less energy than any other building materials. Glulam is a long-lasting material that’s easy to work with."

The supporting structure: the concrete and steel reinforced 'pad' on the top left has been made to support the beam on the west gable end.

And yes, there is more work to be done on repointing the inner stone face, but I think they are waiting to shore up what may crack more once the beam is lifted into place. Or, presumably, to rebuild it if it gets knocked over as the beam is craned in.

The large top void is the receiving 'hole' for the beam at the east end, which adjoins the house. They thought they would have to hack into the stone, but as they did they discovered a filled-in-with-stone-rubble ancient chimney, which could be easily tapped into, and reinforced with a cement and steel pad at the base of the hole. Given the black soot staining on the wall above, this probably shouldn't have surprised any of us, but it did, as there was no physical evidence of an old chimney as it was totally contained within the very thick stone walls.

10:35am: The new heads have arrived, on Chief Builder's trailer.

That is not the same 'heads' as on ships, but the stone (head-stone) ones for over two of the windows: one new (in the craft room) and one that we have decided (as building progressed) to have made larger (the bedroom window on the front elevation). The head from the small window that is being made larger is being lifted (by the crane due later on) onto the back of the house, to go above the newly cut hole for the bathroom window. Recycling at its best. Years ago, a head-stone was all that was needed to support an opening below, but either stone is getting weaker or Building Regs are getting stupider, and a head is now only cosmetic, to cover a concrete or steel lintel.

These heads have been resting in a nearby 'yard' for over 20 years, unwanted and unloved, and covered in nettles and brambles. I asked about their provenance. "They came from an old pub down south somewhere, down your way, that was torn down." It seems that Northerners' understanding of 'The South' is similar to Southerners' understanding of 'The North'. That amused me.

I noted that there are another 6 bags of cement in the back of the van, so clearly Chief Builder's been blagging again on his way here this morning. He told me that the latest excuse 'the merchants' are using for having no aggregate and no cement is that HS2 has a contract that states they will be supplied ahead of everyone else if there is ever a shortage of materials. He clearly believed it. I am more cynical.

1.30pm: Chief Builder is on his phone asking where the crane is. No-one seems to know.

1.55pm: Crane arrives. It doesn't look as big as I thought it would, and is ostensibly just the front part of a flat-bed lorry, rather like builders' merchants' delivery lorries. The driver reverses back down the track and comes back in again in reverse because the normal turning space in the farmer's field entrance was taken up by the skip and Chief Builder's transit and long trailer.

I hope he is better at operating the crane than he is at reversing long distances.

He is.

4 big struts emerge from the lorry sides and the operator pulls some solid pads for them to sit on out from behind the wheels.

2.47pm: Crane leaves, having successfully moved 3 stone heads and a 12m beam. Chief Builder's phone pings. He reads the message and splutters, "You won't believe how much that transaction just cost!" One clearly pays for Large Cranes by the minute, so it was a good job I didn't offer the driver a cup of tea when he had finished. "Aye, but 'twere a canny lift, mind!" said Child Builder Not In Charge today.

Meanwhile, down South, poor Mr BW had missed all the excitement and couldn't even look at the fun remotely, on the CCTV monitoring system, as he was completely sticky, being in the middle of 5 hours of extracting h0ney (after 25 years he has it down to a fine art and we have some industrial-grade equipment now - it would have taken most people a couple of days). In total 18 food-grade large white storage buckets full. Somewhere around 560lbs. When all sold (and providing we don't consume too much ourselves) that will have probably just about paid for the 57 minutes of crane hire, then...

End of day back:

End of day front:

Anyone else have a day that exciting?

Walking the plank

"I'm fooking sick of this fooking plank!" declared the lorry driver, when he turned up hours late, having erroneously been to a town of the same name as the nearest hamlet to here, but nearly 50 miles away, and then ending up on the wrong side of the river and unable to cross the narrow bridge, necessitating another 20 mile detour.

"Where's the fooking crane then?" he demanded. "Tomorrow!" said Chief Builder, "Now, let's get this beam unloaded." The lorry driver looked at the 3 scrawny builders. "Not a fooking chance!" he snarled, "You's'll never lift it!"

But they did. With ingenuity akin to those who constructed stonehenge, it was set in downward motion and then pulled off as the lorry was driven forwards, onto other parts of the wooden roof struture waiting to be put up...

...and then rolled into 'waiting for the crane tomorrow' position using brute force and a leftover part of the new link into the existing drainage system:

I watched from an upstairs window. "That was fooking brilliant!" I later proclaimed to them.

Whether or not the 14" x 6", 9-layer glulam wooden main structural beam for the new roof of a house on a windy ridge should have crashed to the floor in such a harsh manner remains to be seen. Had I not been here, I wouldn't have known. What the eyes don't see the heart doesn't grieve about, as the old saying goes.

Chief Builder cut a ruler's length off the end with a handsaw as the blade on their battery woodsaw was blunt. I didn't tell him the reason why it was blunt, or that it having been blunted was the reason that Mr BW had stepped in and helped the Child Builders by chopping down the old roof timbers with his chain saw while Chief Builder was off with covid a few weeks back.

"I hope you measured carefully?!" I pondered aloud. "My grandmother always said, 'measure twice, cut once.'" "Ay, I did, but I'm worried about this wind... could be interesting if it doesn't drop before crane gets here tomorrow!"

It could indeed. Watch this space.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Moving on

Mr BW left to go south before 7.30am this morning as we are worried about the bees, with it being so autumnal already. He has the last h0ney of the year to extract (an onerous task on his own) and, all being well, will come back up with at least some of the hives. There will never be so much h0ney produced again, as there just isn't the forage around here, so it's the end of a 25 year era really. Still, we have plenty of stocks, and won't ever have the passing door trade again, so it's probably just as well, particularly as we get older. It's certainly a lot of work.

The builders have never worked so hard in the previous 7 weeks they've been here: before 8am to 4.30pm so far, and 3 of them: Chief Builder, Child Builder Sometimes in Charge, and last year's apprentice, who I'm now calling Dude as he's changed from a friendly, relaxed, 16 year old a year ago (when he was here doing the large greenhouse base) to a self-conscious product-ed overly-styled youth now. When I went out to see them first thing, he was up the scaffolding with old-style sunglasses on, a hat, and a slim-fit jacket, despite it being grey and overcast. "Morning [Dude]!" I said, "You look like something out of the Blues Brothers!" He laughed, but as I walked away, I heard him ask the others, "What's the Blues Brothers?" They are all just too young.

A week ago the single storey bit under conversion still looked like Beirut, but the roof structure starts this week, and a Very Big Crane is booked for tomorrow to lift in the gigantic long central glulam supporting beam ('Made in Sweden'). Structural steels are on an 8 week lead-time, which would have caused an 8 week delay, so a different way of construction was found. The crane was meant to be here today, but there had to be a slight hold-up because they couldn't get enough large cement blocks to finish the internal structures/walls last week. Or bags of cement. Or bulk bags of sand. The creativity of Chief Builder in getting supplies out of merchants who claim they have none spare is amusing.

Also, we can have UPVC window frames now, but not the glass until the end of November (another shortage). So, we will have to have boarded up windows for 2 months. Which of course means that the house cannot be left on its own until the glass is in, so I cannot go south (as there is no way I can drive that far on my own these days), and I have so much to do there. So frustrating!

We now have the entirety of the items needed for the new bathroom, stacked in their huge boxes in the lounge, along with Mr BW's workshop, some of my art/painting stuff, and a lot of other things that would never normally reside in there.

Do you know how many separate elements are needed to second fix a bathroom? I think it was nearly 40. At least I practised when we re-did the upstairs ensuite at the end of 2020. That number of items has taken some sorting, and unpacking and then repacking all the parts as they arrive - to check for damage, then chasing suppliers for missing instructions and missing invoices (needed for warranties etc) - is time-consuming, and should not be necessary.

I have always run a 'post book' (I saw the excellent system run by the admin team in the first office base in Dorchester that I worked out of in the late 80s and copied it: thank you Anne and Jo) which has columns for me to write down what I have sent, requested, or ordered, the date, when it's due, and how it is coming if I know. I tick and date as things/replies arrive. I go through it every few weeks and highlight anything not received and chase it. Saves a lot of brain space trying to keep on top of things with mental lists. It was a physical hard-back book, but lately it's been sheets of lined A4 paper. I'm now on sheet 30 (32 lines on a page), so that's 900 items ordered or information requested in the past 17 months, and about 60 things sent out or returned via post/courier. No wonder I'm exhausted.


Friday, August 13, 2021

The Black Familiar's face just about sums up the past week


Monday, August 9, 2021

A sound question

Does anyone use their library service's 'BorrowBox' eAudiobooks?

I have used the service occasionally before from one of the Library South counties for which I have a card, but they had so few titles then, and the couple of hundred they had were always out so always running on reservation lists, that I rather gave up on it.

I now have a Northern County Library card (only 17 months from applying for it!) and their eAudiobooks run into the thousands.

Given all the recent changes to the presenters on Radio 4, and the constant biased brainwashing being undertaken by the news programmes, and the apparent dumbing down of documentaries, I find little to interest me there these days, so am hoping to amuse myself while crafting or gardening with audiobooks instead.

But, when I download a title to my little netbook, and unzip it, it just offers me the chapters as discrete files, and I have to click on each chapter to make it play as I want to listen to it. For a book with short chapters, it is very annoying to have to stop to do this every 8 or 10 minutes. I cannot believe that there isn't a way to make it play continuously, until one chooses to pause it. Yes there are apps for phones and tablets, but I don't use those, and I think that there should be a way to make it play non-stop on a computer.

I have looked at all the various library service's Borrowbox help pages online and nowhere does it answer this question. I've rung three separate libraries and none of the librarians on duty in any of them have used the service so don't know how it works.

Anyone know what I am doing wrong?


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Dear Builders,

If you start putting whole wheelbarrow loads of soil into the skip first thing in the morning, having already emptied in the 2 set barrowloads of concrete from yesterday, please do not expect me to say, 'Good morning, how are you today?' before I tell you off for so doing, and insist that further loads are put on the carpet over near the new soft fruit bed that Mr BW has made in the orchard, using the huge stone (maybe Roman) pillars that you dug out of the floor a couple of weeks ago. You disappoint me: I thought I had trained you better than that! It may be 'nasty thick clay' to you, but to me it has great potential, mixed with some sand, grit, mushroom compost and a few scoops of chicken manure pellets. If I don't reuse what you are digging out for the new drainage channels, in the new raised no-dig beds, then I will be buying it in, and trust me, it won't be any better than that, even if it is sold at £100 a cubic metre as 'Grade A topsoil'.

Also, Dear Builders, please do not take my mugs home with you. The best thing we ever did was take the advice of our neighbour, who has dealt with many workmen in her 67 years, to only make teas and coffees at set, pre-agreed times. But, I do expect you to put all the used vessels into the washing-up bowl of bleachy water before leaving. This is not the first time that mugs dispensed does not equal mugs returned. 2 missing white mugs may not be the end of the world, but it stops me from keeping us all safe during the day by not having to re-use mugs before they have been through a hot programme on the dishwasher. If they've been broken, that's fine, I understand that accidents happen, but please just tell me. Otherwise, just bring them back in the morning, eh?

Plus, Dear Builders, if you borrow a roll of duct tape from Mr BW because you 'haven't got any on the van today', do give it back when you have finished with it, rather than leave it hidden in a pile of dirt at the end of the day. Your supplies might turn up magically and be paid for by others, but ours aren't. I cannot tell you how much I hate rolls of tape with dirty edges.

And lastly, Dear Builders, you know that pile of cement blocks in the orchard, just beyond and to the left of the 9 foot wooden gate? Well there were 36 before you came, because we have another 9 colonies of bees that are journeying up here from Coven Sud in a month's time. They each require 4 blocks to sit on. Currently the pile is down to 19 blocks. I know the idiot scaffolder used 11, but another 6 have disappeared this week. That was our pile, not your pile. So, to put things right, I would like 17 blocks off your pile, and the 19 blocks left on our pile, taken down to the apiary area, when you have a moment. Thanks. Oh, you don't like bees? Tough. See, until now, you had no idea there were even any already down there, did you?

Dear Delivery Company,

If you tell me my lovely new bath is coming on Thursday, and that the driver will ring an hour before delivery, please don't turn up unexpectedly on Wednesday lunchtime. Mind you, it must have been interesting for you on the way back down the 'single track with passing places' 2.4 mile stretch back to what passes for a main road in these parts, what with the Sainsbury's delivery van also heading back out, and the concrete mixing lorry heading in.

But the new bath is lovely. I tried it for size in the conservatory, which is the only place it can live until it is possible to install it in its final resting place. Thanks to dave for the excellent idea of a short but deep bath. It will need almost no water to be full to the brim, once I am in it. Plus, it is a huge incentive not to gain any more weight, because if I do, I will no longer fit in it. Which reminds me, I haven't yet told you the story of the day of the shed erection, have I?

Thank you all kindly.

Love and kisses,
Blue Witch


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Work, at last

Today, 31 work days in, was the first day that the amount of building work that I think should have happened every single day has been completed.

It must have been the new black wellies with BW Blue soles that Chief Builder had acquired somewhere, to wear while standing in wet cement, that made the difference. That or the fact that there were 3 of them, plus help from the concrete mixing wagon man. "We've done today what would normally have taken 3 or 4 days, but I thought we should catch up a bit!" Chief Builder told Mr BW. Understatement of the week, that.

We now have 2 rooms of beautifully smooth cemented floor, poured into black pond liner (well, I suppose it was actually DPM, but it looked like pond liner to me), the ensuite floor is being poured tomorrow, a connection made into the existing septic tank line, a big hole in the foundations at the base of the wall for the toilet waste to exit, and seemingly enough blocks to build a new house (rather than just to build up the new interior partition walls, and to fill the old double garage door space), which arrived before 8am this morning while the builders were still en route, or queueing at the take-away coffee and butty stop, not sure which. The joiner doing the roof structure also turned up, stayed an hour, drunk a cup of tea, then left again.

There are cat paw prints in the concrete that they laid yesterday.

And they have left two wheelbarrows full of a ballast and cement mixture. That will be fun in the morning.

Why are the Olympic high jumpers and pole vaulters wearing floppy tops which frequently clip their bars when the gymnasts, runners and cyclists have lycra so tight it is frightening?


Monday, August 2, 2021

Oh lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz...

The 'utility vehicle' had been left at home (along with their 3 other cars), and the car they'd arrived in couldn't park behind the skip because the tyres were only a quarter of an inch thick, and the body too low, and the ground there is too bumpy. So it had to be parked next to the skip.

Later on, the postie was therefore unable to perform his usual entry/exit manoeuvre and the vehicles nearly, but not quite, swapped paint, not that it would have mattered, as they were exactly the same colour. The portaloo cleaning truck (named 'The Poo Sucker' by Mr BW), made its usual Monday lunchtime visit, luckily just as we were finishing lunch sat in the sun in the garden, and also narrowly missed it. They left half an hour before the big cement wagon arrived, an hour and a half after it should have done.

I have a friend who felt the purchase of such a vehicle necessary at 30, but not at nearly 60, and the one parked next to the skip came complete with a wanker plate to rival any of those seen around Cape Town (who remembers those? I would link, but the archive remains as invisible to me as it is to you). Child Builder who, for once, wasn't in charge today as Chief Builder and his brother-in-law were also present, looked enviously at it, but he's about 21 and so into fast cars.

"The house is exactly what we thought you'd have bought, except maybe a bit more remote - where are the nearest shops?" "About 15 miles away, but we don't need to go to them, they come to us!" "You don't go shopping?" "Erm, no, everything we need can be selected online and delivered."

"Have you got any holidays planned?" "Erm, no, why would we need to go to somewhere with more noise, worse views, and that would involve risks and cost money? Plus, we have another 2 building phases yet, and, for insurance reasons, the house can't be left on its own while the building is happening. If we feel like a change of scene, we'll tow Brian into the field and have a few days camping!"

I pointed out the carpet and old garage door panels in the orchard and laughed that the builders had finally understood the idea of recycling and our desire to keep stuff out of skips. "Did we tell you that our 31 year old daughter has just bought a £900,000 house at the end of the Central Line?"

My money is on their garden acquiring a big greenhouse before the end of the year. Can't imagine where they got that idea. Unlike ours, which is full of food and necessities, and unavoidable plastic containers being repurposed, theirs will definitely be like most other people's: a gin palace, with added lights, and other unnecessary items acquired while aimlessly shopping.


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Cleaning up

Out of the blue Mr BW received an email from his oldest friend first thing this morning. He and his wife, who live 12 miles from Coven Sud, are in the area on holiday and could they pop in for a catch up?

Erm yes, you can be our fourth non-local visitors in the 16 months we've been here, but not today as, (a) we are celebrating Mr Old Friend BW's 60th and our 25th anniversary of first meeting them (thank you Johnnie for another Jackpot), (b) the house is a disgrace as we have had a week of slobbing out watching the Olympics, and, really, we can't cope without a Cleaner BW, and (c) we require more than 10 minutes notice of a visitation, particularly as they usually make a big thing of having every second of their busy lives booked up for at least 3 months after a meet-up is suggested.

And so they will arrive late morning tomorrow, at about the same time as the next concrete pour for the new floor. Or rather, Part 1 of same. Part 2 is due on Tuesday morning as it is a big pour and can't be done in one. I can't wait to see their faces when we tell them that they have to park their multi-tens-of-thousand-pounds pose-mobile outside on the track behind the skip, unless they want it to be run over by 40 tonnes of cement dispensing wagon.

I've just looked up where they said they are staying - never heard of it, and it's not where they said - it's a £300 a night Grade II* listed country estate, only 5 miles down the road. They even asked us what they should do today - why can't people get themselves organised and plan ahead?

At least the house is now cleaner, 4 loads of washing have been done and a lot of long-outstanding little filing, tidying up, and sorting out jobs completed. We now have salvaged garage panel doors and old carpet and underlay positioned in patches all over the orchard, to kill the grass, ready for autumn sowing of more wildflower patches and the making of permanent vegetable beds. Ha, bet Mr BW's oldest friend doesn't have a carpeted orchard!

A bunny has somehow got into the netted raised garlic bed in the orchard, by digging in, and eaten half of our garlic crop. Its days are numbered. In other animal news, I found a frog in a damp corner, and The Black Familiar has somehow found a way to climb up 20 feet to sit on top of the dormer window over our bedroom in the middle of the night. I know she loves us, and needs to be close to us always, but she is an outdoor cat, and that is quite ridiculous. Plus, judging by her antics on the road outside Coven Sud, and her skiing down the roof slates in the snow last winter, she must be nearly out of lives.


Thursday, July 29, 2021

Moving on

This evening we have been mainly making a bathroom out of Amazon brown paper.

Chief Builder appeared around 8.30am, looking very fragile, and gave up and went home at quarter to three. In between he managed to bring order to the Beirut chaos (see picture now inserted into the post below), and laid out and built up the blockwork foundations, ready for the concrete floor to be poured on Monday.

Yes the bathroom items will all fit, but in doing the exercise, we have realised that the not-architects have drawn up a bathroom door that is half as wide as the width of the space, which takes up far too much room and is totally impractical. 4" comes off the RHS in the morning, which will give another 10cm to the shower. Thank goodness we are practical and have Amazon brown paper, sellotape, scissors and a tape measure.

I love these pictures of the end wall that joins onto the 2-storey part of the house.

You can see where the roof was, and, inside that, where there was once a much narrrower barn building. You can also see the dark staining on the stone up to the ridge from what must have once been a fire. If only walls could talk.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Building and gardening for the future

Child Builder in Charge had absolutely nothing left to do today that he could do on his own, so, once it had stopped raining and he could leave his car, he hid up the scaffolding playing on his phone.

He failed in the one job we had asked him to do: notify us immediately when anyone who might be a planning officer came onto the property (we knew she was due sometime this week, just not when), but luckily Mr BW spotted her on the CCTV from Site Control Central (ie our bedroom, where we were 'resting' on the bed, finalising our selection of fittings for the bathroom, and watching the Olympics), and was able to go out and say the right things.

But, we were kind to ChBiC, and after he'd taken the 35 square metres of wall tiles that were delivered this morning (only ordered 7pm Monday, that was exceptional service from a national tile chain) into the house and the 5 bags of hen food into the shed for us, we told him to go home, even though it was an hour and a half early, on the understanding that we wouldn't tell Chief Builder if he didn't. He was so pleased that you'd have thought we'd given him a thousand pounds.

He is a nice lad, always cheerful (even though we have banned radios), and has worked hard during the time Chief Builder has had covid (not severely), often on his own, as his allocated child labourers have been less than reliable, often not appearing at the early-morning pick-up point, and he has now been properly indoctrinated into our 'strange ways': nothing can go into the skip unless you check with us first, and if we see litter on the floor, we will not be pleased at all.

Where there was once a garage and store room, we currently have a single storey vertical pile of stones, which looks like some bombed-out relic in Beirut or some such war zone.

I'm probably not allowed to say that these days, but, do you know what? I honestly don't care; I am totally sick and tired of politcial correctness. It does absolutely nothing for any cause, and I honestly wonder what stand-up comedians have left as material to be funny about these days. Humour is part of any culture's attempts to make sense of change and come to terms with difference and different futures. Official regulations and restrictions serve only to drive comment/action underground, which can be incredibly dangerous, and totally counter-productive.

While we have always tried to garden as organically as we can, using permaculture principles, there are limits to what we could do on the 'microholding' we had down south. Up here, with a bit more leased land (now all signed, sealed and delivered), which was once a proper smallholding attached to the house (until maybe the second world war, I'm still researching - if anyone has any resource ideas, I'm all ears), and has been under rough sheep-grazed grass pastureland since then, we have scope to do most things we want.

Charles Dowding's No-Dig Gardening is very interesting, and although I have concerns about the glue used in corrugated cardboard, compared to the chemicals used in growing most supermarket bought food, and the additives and processes used to keep it fresh, I'm probably worrying unnecessarily.

Anyone liking that sort of approach might be interested in a free ticket event on 21st August: The Back to Eden Gardening Summit, promising "15 Conversations with the leaders of the regenerative organic food growing movement." Of course, they are hoping that you will buy their lifetime access pass, for $40 earlybird, but I reckon I can watch all I need in the one day it's free.

Tomorrow Chief Builder should return, and internal walls should be built. I have a large bowl full of bleach ready for anything he might touch, or drink from, just in case virus still lurks. And if he thinks he's coming into the house for any discussions, as he has done previously, he can think again.


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

It's Raining Men

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

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

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

Into Week 6 and only 2 weeks behind schedule.

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


Monday, July 26, 2021

Hot flush

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

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


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Summer is over

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

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

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

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

Never a dull moment.


Thursday, July 22, 2021

And there it was gone

On Monday we had a slate roof:

No floor, but a slate roof:

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

On Tuesday they took the ridge off:

And then the slates:

Until there were just some timbers left:

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

And even bigger hand-made nails:

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

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

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

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

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




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

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


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

It's nearly there

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

So, I can now give you my ideas for:

A Playlist for our Times:

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

The Commodores - Zoom

Aretha Franklin - Who's Zoomin' Who?

The Police - Don't Stand So Close To Me

Blondie - Hanging on the Telephone

The Steve Miller Band - Take the Money and Run

Flying Lizards - Money

Cliff Richard - Power to All Our Friends

Steely Dan - Rikki Don't Lose that Number

The Crusaders - Street Life

John Denver - (Not) Leaving on a Jet Plane

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

The Marvelettes - Please Mr. Postman

The Tremeloes - Silence is Golden

Paul Simon - 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Andrew Gold - Lonely Boy

Elton John - Sacrifice

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

The Who - Substitute

Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen

Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot

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

Any more?

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

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

Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive

Peggy Lee - Fever

Elvis - Are You Lonesome Tonight?

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

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

Let's Get Serious - Jermaine Jackson


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Another thought on Darwin Day

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

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

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

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

Posted at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)

Monday, July 19, 2021


... is Darwin Day in England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Playlist for our Times:

Zoom - The Commodores

The Police - Don't Stand So Close To Me

The Steve Miller Band - Take the Money and Run

Flying Lizards - Money

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

What else?


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Solar power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted at 12:33 PM | Comments (4)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Day 20, end of Week 4: cultural divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

The roof comes off next week. Mind the bats.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Day 19: Sin Bin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Day 18: The Building Inspector Visits - a transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total time here: 4 minutes.

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

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

I'm feeling rather like these kniphofia today:

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

Posted at 11:35 AM | Comments (4)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Quotes of the day

Day 17, and some real gems emerged:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Now, how difficult was that?!

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, July 12, 2021

Day 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Day 16 of the builders tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football? What's football?

There are lots of wasps around.


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Building Days 7, 8, and 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, June 28, 2021

Building Day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 27, 2021

Look! Grasses have stalks!

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

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

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

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

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

Five more days of torture start tomorrow morning...


Friday, June 25, 2021

Building Day 5

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

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

Weather? Grey and cold. Unimpressive.

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

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

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


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Building Day 4

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Building Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Building Day 2

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

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

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

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


Monday, June 21, 2021

Midsummer Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 20, 2021


The last few weeks have been difficult.

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Another tech question

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

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

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

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

Posted at 11:49 AM | Comments (5)

Tech question

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

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

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

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


Saturday, May 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted at 10:50 AM | Comments (5)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reusing bath water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, May 17, 2021

Today's the day...

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 14, 2021

The best excuse yet

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

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

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

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

Time for some more soothing tulips methinks:


Thursday, May 13, 2021


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

Posted at 12:55 PM | Comments (4)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Reuse is better than recycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bleak House

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

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

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

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

Anne Robinson is taking over Countdown imminently.


Monday, May 10, 2021

Another Great North Run

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

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

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

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

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

Posted at 10:29 AM | Comments (3)

Saturday, May 8, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted at 10:06 AM | Comments (5)

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, May 1, 2021

We live in strange times

The Met Office report that:

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

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

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

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

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

It's a struggle in the garden...

Other things challenging gardeners:

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

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

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

Anyone got any more gardening challenges to add?


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

"Tweeney seeevern yeeeerz"

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

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

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

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

And do you know what we said to her?

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

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

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

And do you know what?

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

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

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

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

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

Now that's what I call true love.

And do you know what?

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


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

In Con Sequentially

The news over the last ten days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Down south again

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 17, 2021

10 June 1921 to 9 April 2021

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

Spot on, as ever:

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

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

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

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


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

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

1. Introduction

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

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

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

2. Ceremonial Arrangements

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

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

3. Flags and Silences

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

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

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

4. Flowers

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

5. Tributes

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

6. Books of Condolence

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

7. Websites and Social Media

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

8. Sporting Events

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

9. Business

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

10. Public Services

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

11. Further Information

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


Is this page useful?

RIP Sir; you are a nearly-dead breed.

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


Friday, April 16, 2021

April Showers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

In search of inspiration

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

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

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

Any ideas?


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Today's the day

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

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

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

Works Manager:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 11, 2021

I blame the BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 10, 2021

A Spring Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

Never a dull moment here...


Friday, April 9, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, April 6, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter

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

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

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

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

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

Today is a rest day.

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

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

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



Friday, April 2, 2021

It was a Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have nearly corpsed myself.

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

Good Friday Questions

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

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

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