Toasty!

Way back in February I told you all that I had bitten the bullet and ordered a new wood burning stove for my sitting room. (If you missed it you can find the post here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2022/02/20/building-resilience/) One big enough to heat the whole of the downstairs and allow me to use my Air Source Heat Pump less thus saving on my electricity bills which are becoming ridiculous.

A conversation with my friend Lindy, who heats her bungalow entirely with a wood stove from the same company I chose, made me realise that the new fire would work much better if the downstairs was more open plan. I should explain that my house has a really weird layout. It is very long and thin with the rooms opening off each other. You come in through a new porch to the kitchen, then my workroom, the sitting room and finally a spare bedroom. It is all because it was originally 2 small cottages which went derelict after WWII, were bought in the 70’s, and renovated with an extension either end to give a garage at the kitchen end and a bathroom at the other. When we moved in my workroom and the sitting room, the downstairs of the larger cottage, were open plan. As both the owner and the builder doing the renovations smoked a lot of cannabis the ‘renovations’ were a bit odd, shall we say! We replaced the kitchen, knocked the 3 very cramped bedrooms upstairs into one generous bedroom with en suite, turned the huge downstairs bathroom into a single bedroom also ensuite and put up a stud wall to divide the open plan livting room into two as we needed more wall space and wanted a cosy sitting room. The picture on the left has the new stud wall to the left and the stairs wall to the right in my workroom. The right hand picture is the sitting room with the small wood burner lit.

I didn’t want to go back to the original single living space – I have tried having my desk and / or my sewing machine in the sitting room and I find it hard to relax with ‘jobs’ in my eyeline. So after much head scratching and with Lindy’s thoughts to help me, I decided to take down the top half of the wall. It was clearly going to be a job that needed 2 pairs of hands – one to cut and one to hold – so she very kindly offered to help. There were some very useful electrical sockets on the workroom side above the cupboards so we decided to make the cut a little higher and just hope that the cables could be re-routed. But as I had an electrician coming at some point for another job all was not lost if they has to stay as they were for a while. It took 2 days and made a lot of mess but Ta Da

Apologies for the poor lighting but it was late when we finished and most of the small lamps had been moved to safety! There is still some filling and touching up of paint to do but I knew that the fire installation would make more so chose to do it all at the same time.

Then last week the fire arrived. Alek and Jason from Beacon Stoves were brilliant! I had cleared the room of small stuff and moved the furniture out of the way but they put down dustsheets over everything and cardboard to protect the floor then got the old fire and the flue liner out. They were quite impressed by how little soot or tar there was up the chimney – that told them that I only burn well seasoned wood. Then we had a discussion about how I wanted the new stove installed. I could have the flue coming out of the top which would push the stove to the back of the space meaning I would only need the hearth extended slightly. Or I could have it coming out of the back which would mean the stove sat close to the front of the existing hearth and a bigger extra piece would be needed. I would also need a bigger insert into the wooden mantleshelf to prevent it getting singed. But forward would mean the heat was less likely to get trapped in the enclosed space and would be easier to put pans on (a bigger surface area and easier to reach) so I decided on that option. They cannected it all up and put the first lot of cement round the flue pipe where they had had to cut away to get the old one out.

The next day they returned and Alek had found a piece of slate cut in a curve which he thought I might like for the hearth although he had some other pieces he could cut to another shape if I preferred. He put it down in front of the fire and we all stood back to look – it was perfect! Then I had to consider the piece to go in the shelf. Could he cut one to match the curve on the Hearth? He was a bit surprised – he hadn’t been asked for a shaped piece for that job before – but, yes. So he set up his bench and cutter in the carport and used the hearth piece as a template. The mantleshelf is not solid – it is boards cladding a shelf constructed of cement and old roofing slates. So the fascia board was cut away and the piece of slate inserted. A final tidy up of the making good around the flue and the job was done. But the fire could not be lit until everything had dried. So the following afternoon Alek came back to carry out a check that the flue worked properly with a smoke bomb and lit the fire demonstrating how to operate the air intake and so on. We both knew that I was perfectly capable of lighting fires and knew about using well seasoned wood but we both had to sign that he had done his job so we went through the procedure!

The photo I took of it lit was out of focus! So this one was taken today.

It was a mild day so I didn’t stoke the fire again after he left but the stove was still giving off heat almost 4 hours later. Toasty!

Scrap Happy May 2022

Not a chair cover this time – as you may have realised I have been rather busy lately! But I have not stopped working on the chairs. I have been exploring the possibilities of the peg loom I bought for the third yarn based cover.

Following the instructions that came with it I used Aran weight yarn and diagonal weaving but thought the fabric was not dense enough to make seat cover which would last.

So then I used the yarn doubled which gave a better result but was quite tough on the fingers. I will probably use these.

Now I am experimenting with what my book calls ‘flat weaving’ which is much more fun because I can play around with stripes, checks, different weaves, even possibly ‘tapestry’ type stuff. Again the weave is quite loose so maybe I still need to use heavier yarn (not much left in my scrap box now!) or double it. More experimenting to be done.

Scrap Happy is a collection of posts curated by Kate and Gun (see their links below) to celebrate making things entirely from scrap. Not everyone posts every month but all are inspiring.

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Bekki, Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera,
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Bear, Carol,
Preeti, EdithDebbierose and Viv

A Quick Update

Several of you were kind enough to wish my son well in his attempt to buy a cottage at Auction. The rules of buying in that way are that once your bid is accepted you are legally committed to go ahead and buy the property – contracts have been exchanged and you have a brief time to hand over the money. He immediately applied to increase the mortgage on a house he owns and rents out in order to have funds to cover the bid he planned to make. As he had overpaid the mortgage for a long time he was assured there would be no problem but the paperwork confirming that his request had been approved did not come through in time so he dare not bid. He is being pretty philosophical about it and will keep looking. With the funds p[resumably available soon he can move immediately if another auction comes along or as a deposit on a private sale.

Thank you all for your support and I know he appreciated it too. If he finds somewhere else I will be posting about it.

Adventures

It has been a busy couple of weeks packed with adventures of various kinds.

My son came down to look at a cottage (read about it here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2022/04/21/a-day-out/ ) and stayed on to work on his campervan. He wanted to build some big drawrers on heavy duty runners to slide under the bed and make the storage there more accessible. I helped and his Savannah cat supervised,

Next up was the culmination of a process which began last Autumn. In a newsletter, my bank, Triodos, asked if any customers were willing to share why they had chosen that bank for their savings. It would involve an interview and having some photos taken. They would reward me with vouchers to spend or a donation to charity. Since I was very clear why I had chosen to bank with them it sounded easy and something that would be fun to do. Because of my hearing the ‘interview’ consisted of a series of questions in an email to which I sent in answers. Their PR chap, Joe, then edited them into a piece which was emailed back to me for approval. I mentioned in the answers that I was treasurer at Dyfed Permnaculture Farm and Joe looked up their instagram feed (I had no idea we had one!) and asked if the photos could be taken there. The management committee were happy with that, he chose a photographer and we found a date that suited everybody. So I spent a day being photographed; digging out weeds, tickling sheep, carrying hay and then logs, admiring Phil’s garlic and just generally standing around. Tess, the photographer, also took some shots of the roundhouse and barn as a gift to the Trust for our own publicity. She was such a lovely young woman and I really enjoyed meeting her. A few days ago the photos came through – an awful lot of them and sent via a file sharing site I had never heard of. Another new experience! So for those of you who like to know what other bloggers look like here are 2 of the ones she took. I have no idea which ones Triodos will pick for their use.

Barley saturday ia an annual event in Cardigan, a show involving competitions for horses and vintage vehicles in the morning and they are then all paraded along the High Street in the afternoon, which involves closing the roads in the middle of the town. I have been to it a few times – it is quite a spectacle when the stallions are run to show off their paces! When I discovered that my friend Lindy had never even heard of it I decided to take her to this year’s event. You can read more about it here (https://www.cardigan-bay.com/whats-on/events/barley-saturday/ ). Because I knew that town would be very busy and all the car parks full I chose to start our outing in Cilgerran, a village 2 or 3 miles from Cardigan and walk to town through the Teifi Marshes Wildlife Reserve which includes part of the track of the now defunct Cardi Bach railway making a good, level, tarmaced path. Find out more including pictures here (https://www.welshwildlife.org/nature-reserves/teifi-marshes ). Just as the horses started to pass where we were waiting at the end of the old bridge into town a wedding car came over the bridge on its way to a reception in the Castle and had to wait quite a while until a pause between the horses and tractors allowed them through- the happy couple and their guests got a huge cheer from the assembled crowds!

Then I went to visit my daughter who lives in Basingstoke and since it was a Bank Holiday weekend and there is very little parking available near her I decided to go by train. I bought my ticket online and discovered it was an e-ticket to use on my phone! I was chicken and printed it out onto paper just in case! However it all worked fine and was much easier on my brain than driving. On the Monday she, her new partner and I went to London for the day, again by train. We had coffee in Covent Garden, explored China Town and had a delicious lunch there, then walked to Tower Bridge, over the river and back along the other bank to Waterloo for the train home. Both of them had pedometers on their phones – one said we walked 9.5 miles, the other that it was 10 miles! With stops for coffe, lunch and a glass of wine on the way back we all managed it with no ill effects. On the Wednesday evening my son was supposed to join us and take us out for a meal but the M3 was completely closed by an accident. He realised that if he came he would arrive just as we were all going to bed! So I took us out instead and my daughter suggested a restaurant recommended by some friends of hers – The Olive House (picture below right) and it was excellent – Turkish food, family run and packed out on a weekday night. A lovely end to my stay.

Because my daughter was working from home during the day I got a lot of knitting done and finished a pair of socks from Kate Davies’s book ‘Bluestockings’. I learned how to cast on at the toe, turn the heel in a new way and do stretchy cast off! It was also the first time I had done pattern stitches on a sock.

I have enjoyed it all immensly but I think I could do with a few days (weeks?) of being quiet now! However today the installation of my new woodstove is beginning, Ted has been to see his bees and Openreach are trying to fix the fault on Laura’s internet!

A Day Out

A friend sent me a photo of a property advertised in an Estate Agent’s window which she thought might appeal to my son. His home is a terraced house in Luton with noisy neighbours, on a busy street and with very few green spaces or views. His job is stressful and he loves spending time at my place where it is quiet and he is surrounded by trees, the sound of the stream and birdsong. For some time he has been looking for somewhere small near me; somewhere with no neighbours or road noise. It has proved elusive! The place Rachel had spotted was down a long track in the middle of nowhere – a renovation project which had halted when the owner died and certainly looked promising.

The agent’s details gave confusing information about where exactly it was but I thought I had located it on the map. I passed the information to my friend Lindy who, in her teens, used to be the retrieve driver for a group of hang-gliding mates and LOVES locating hard-to-find places. She came up with the same location but also found images on google maps and that it had failed to sell at a previous auction. So of course we had to go and have a look and a day out exploring the neighbourhood.

And we found it. Over the Easter weekend my son came and had an official viewing. It will be sold at auction in a few weeks time so now he just has to work out how much he can afford to bid.

Meanwhile having seen the place, Lindy and I drove on to find a Church we had seen marked on the map (or rather the churchyard as the church was locked).

It too was in the middle of nowhere and seemed to serve a huge parish judging by the gravestones. We had a picnic then a walk down a footpath to a bridge over the river.

And finally home by a rather circuitous route and another walk along the river at Cenarth on a newly constructed walkway which gives pushchair and wheelchair access.

Scrap Happy April 2022

My Scrap offering this month is the second cover for a chair seat for Mrs Snail (see the link to Jan below) for her new shop. This one was knitted using a base colour of oatmeal with flashes of green, lilac and brown, stripes of a novelty purple yarn – think tinsel in red green and blue with lots of soft purple strands mixed in – and several small balls of other plummy colours.

Newly knitted
Attached to it’s backing (part of an ols curtain) and stapled to one of the chairs in the shop. On its left is the first one I did in crochet.

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun (links below) on the 15th of each month – a glorious collection of posts about making things from all kinds of scrap. Do have a look – inspiration may strike!

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Bekki, Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera,
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Bear, Carol,
Preeti, EdithDebbierose and Viv

A touch of normality

My friend Marie runs a beautiful guesthouse near the coast between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. A very old farmhouse had a new Front added in Georgian times and must have been quite something with its day with its walled garden, stables and huge pleasure garden. But by the time Marie bought it its was in serious need of an upgrade inside and the garden was badly overgrown. A group of her friends volunteered to come for a weekend to help clear the brambles and ‘Slash and Burn’ was born. Twice a year until Covid intervened anyone who felt like a weekend of hard work but in a beautiful place with great (vegetarian) food was invited to help. I have been going for several years but as I live locally and have the dogs and cats to consider I just go for one of the days. It is huge fun working with a team some of whom I know from previous years and some I have never met before. The house is now warm and comfortable and the gardens beautiful but still with plenty of wildness. Take a look at the website https://overtherainbowwales.co.uk/

The house had been in the same family for generations but one by one parts of the estate had been sold until the last surviving member had only the gatehouse lodge which he used as a holiday home and the walled garden which was next to Marie’s vegetable patch. A few years ago he decided to sell the walled garden and Marie took the chance to buy it. In amongst the old apple trees were self seeded Ash and Sycamore which were, by this time, mature. The box hedging which edged the original beds was 20 feet high. The archway in was crumbling and the walls covered in ivy.

So for the last few years each ‘slash and burn’ has included work on the walled garden and this, the first since Covid struck, was no exception. Of course, Marie, her partner Rose, their indefatigable neighbour Andrew and their friend Hannah who volunteered throughout one winter, have done the bulk of the work. The self seeded trees, have been grubbed up, the box cut back severely, the ground cleared, the arch repaired and it is now a fruit garden. An old polytunnel frame has become a fruit cage, the box is recovering, and the bottom picture is not a graveyard but supports for raspberry canes!

In the meantime Marie and Rose took over a local business Fox Hill preserves making and selling jams, marmalades and chutneys so a flourishing fruit garden is exactly what they need. You can find them here https://www.welshfoodanddrink.wales/listing/foxhill-preserves/

Being there has been like being inside the children’s book ‘The Secret Garden’!

Scrap Happy March 2022

It’s 15th of the month, time to link up with

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Bekki, Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera,
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Bear, Carol,
Preeti, EdithDebbierose

and show what we have made from scraps. 

When I visited Mrs Snail (Use the link for Jan to find her blog) in her new shop she showed me a set of 6 dining chairs which had been left by the previous occupants. They are perfectly good chairs and she will need some in the shop especially when she starts to run courses, but the seat covers are very boring and rather stained.

So I offered to make new covers for them. And as the shop will be all about mending and using scrap I have set myself the challenge of doing all the covers entirely from scrap but each using a different technique. You may be rather tired of these chairs by the time I have finished!

I have finished the top for the first one using granny squares made entirely from bits of yarn from my stash. The piece needs to be attached to a backing of furnishing fabric big enough to go over the edges and be stapled to the underside. I have some old curtains given me by a neighbour which should do the trick.

The next one is begun but you will have to wait until April to see that!

Lights Out

I buy my Electricity from Octopus Energy, a firm which is committed to selling only renewable power. I mentioned in a previous post that here in the UK prices for most things are rising sharply, especially for electricity and petrol. I gather Gas is going up too but I don’t use that. So I am trying to be careful and cut my spending where I can. Therefore when I had an email from Octopus setting out a challenge to reduce my bill I was interested. They pointed out that a big reason for the increase in their prices was the global rise in gas prices. Obviously as a renewables company they don’t use gas but the National Grid have to have old gas fired power stations on stand-by for times when everyone switches appliances on at the same time – times such as early evening when workers get home, the heating goes on, the lights and TV are switched on and they make a cuppa and start to prepare a meal. Renewables can’t be controlled in the same way as the old power stations and so far battery / storage technology is not able to save the power generated on a sunny or windy day and release it when it is most needed. If those peaks of demand could be evened out it would be much more feasible to look to a totally renewable future.

So an experiment is underway. If I signed up for the challenge I would be given a series of 2 hour slots when I was asked to reduce my consumption from my average by a certain percentage. If I succeeded the power I did use would be free. This is all possible because I have a smart meter which apparently sends a reading to them every half hour. They could calculate my average use during the time slot and then set a target. Plus they could know if I had met it. It sounded like a good plan. I checked that Laura was up for it too – although she lives independently in the cabin her electricity comes through my meter so if she turned everything on while I was trying to cut usage it wouldn’t work – and she was.

The first slot was a week last Thursday. Unfortunately I forgot to turn the heating off before going out! I came home an hour in and immediately shut it down. I knew that Laura had left only her fridge/freezer connected so I expected the smart meter display to go green. It stayed orange! No appliances were on so where was it going? How was I still using almost 1Kwh? That was 19p per hour spent! I turned off all the lights and checked everywhere. My laptop and phone were on charge but they were full so presumably taking nothing or very very little. The router and its relays? No idea but I will find out. And then I realised – I have 2 bulkhead lights in the carport which are fitted with daylight sensing bulbs but no switch. That was deliberate so that no-one had to remember to switch them on and I had assumed they took very little power – but they were unnecessary. Another light in a tiny hallway between the kitchen, stairs and my workroom was also on all the time. I switched off the main switch on the consumer unit for the house thinking that the freezer and fridge would be fine for the remaining 45 minutes and sat doing stuff on my laptop (on battery) by candlelight! I have now had an email to say I missed the target of 40% reduction by 1%! Which means that next time I should succeed. And I had learned something.

The next morning I took the bulbs out of the unswitched lights and strung up fairy lights instead. They are on switched sockets so I only use them when I need them, they take almost no power, and whilst they are not as bright as the old bulbs they are good enough to see my way across the space. I am not sure how much these changes will save me but now I am on a mission to check EVERYTHING with a power supply! Obviously the big user is my heating but if you read my previous post (if you missed it you can find it here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2022/02/20/building-resilience/) you will know I am onto that.

This Friday I was given another slot. I switched the heating off a quarter of an hour before it began and went round every socket switching off everything I could. I got down to 1 – 2 pence per hour! In the process I discovered that I had never disconnected the router on the satellite internet system because it is under my bed! One small saving for the planet – one bigger saving for this woman! I tried switching on a few things to see how much difference they made. The mobile router and its relays take about 2p per hour – not much but left on 24 /7 it is £175 a year. I feel I have to have the internet on in the day but it is no big deal to switch them off at night when I go to bed and fire it up again in the morning. Those experiments mean I used about 10 pence worth of power in the 2 hours – good news for Octopus who will give it to me free. Obviously I could play a game and use, say 58% of my average thus getting them to pay for as much as I can but someone must have pointed that out because now they are offering a choice – get what I do use free or get paid for what I DON’T use. On the basis of Friday that would pay me well.

Of course all this does is displace my electricity demand to a different time. In the morning I had done a load of laundry, baked bread and a cake, made a batch of soup and vacuumed the bedroom carpet – all well before the challenge started. The heating had been on and the house was warm so losing it for 2 hours was no big deal. At 6:35 I switched it on again and the smart meter went red as it recharged the tanks and pumped water round the radiators. But this is an experiment to see what is possible. Maybe there will be differential pricing in the future with one tariff when demand is low and another when it is high. Lindy’s house still has an ‘Economy 7’ meter with cheaper fuel after 7pm. So she only cooks anything which needs a long simmer or bake, or runs her washing machine and dishwasher in the evenings. She assures me that having got used to it she manages fine. The stew she cooked one night is quickly reheated in the microwave the following day when she wants to eat it. She is also using her woodstove more for long slow cooking – which I will be able to do too when mine arrives.

Octopus do have a special tariff which tracks the wholesale price of electricity every half hour. At times it is free or, even better, you get paid to use it! The downside is that at others it is much dearer than the normal price. I can choose to use appliances when it is cheap but the heating would be more tricky to control so finely so until that is sorted I will stay as I am.

In a funny kind of way I am enjoying investigating all this and although ‘1p per hour’ sounds very little it all mounts up so I will keep chipping away at the bills. It is an interesting challenge – How low can I get it?