On and on and on

Today, at 6pm, Wales goes into another lockdown until November 9th. It will be slightly different from the first one in March / April because apart from the half-term holiday week schools will stay open at least for some year groups and there is no limit on the amount of time we can spend in public spaces exercising. However meeting friends inside or out is forbidden and only essential shops will stay open. The idea is to slow the virus transmission before it gets out of hand and to have the same rules across the whole country for clarity. It makes sense even though where I live is one of the safest parts of the UK. Although I live in Carmarthenshire which locked down one of its bigger urban areas, Llanelli, a while back I am right on the edge of the county and within easy walking distance or both Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire which have amongst the lowest levels of infection anywhere.

Today is also the day when I can be virtually certain I did not bring Covid-19 back from my daughter’s. She lives in a medium risk area, works in a school, my granddaughter goes to a different school and my grandson works in a restaurant. I decided that when I got home the sensible thing would be to keep myself to myself for a while. I have done essential shopping and banking but only dropped cakes off at the workday I should have been to.

I should have been helping build walls for the roundhouse

Before I went to my daughter’s you may remember that I had visited my lovely neighbour for a cup of tea (which turned into a glass of wine!) only to discover later that her Dad, who had visited a day or two before me, had tested positive for Covid. I therefore isolated myself to ensure that if I had picked it up from her I didn’t pass it on. So apart from the 5 days of my trip to England I have already been in self imposed lockdown for 4 weeks! The novelty is definitely wearing off!

I had several treats lined up for the next two weeks – a Permaculture group meeting at a smallholding I have wanted to visit for ages, a lunch out and walk on the beach with friends and a haircut. All postponed.

Poppit sands where we were planning a walk

It isn’t that I have nothing to do. There is always work to be done inside or out. On Monday I collected the library books I had requested as they had been waiting for pick up for ages and I knew another lockdown was coming. Handing in one bag through the door and being given another whilst wearing a mask hardly seemed like a big danger to either me or the librarian! So I have books to read and there are plenty of crafting materials on hand.

But I have to admit that none of it makes me eager to get up in the mornings and the grey damp weather isn’t helping. Tomorrow night we revert to GMT from British Summer Time, putting the clocks back an hour which always confuses my body and upsets the dogs. It also signals that winter is just around the corner with its short dark days. I want to hibernate!

If any of you spot some energy, enthusiasm, mojo – call it what you will – going spare please pick it up and send it to me. I could do with some!

Half Scrappy, Quite Happy October

I am again joining in Scrap Happy curated by Kate on the 15th of each month – a celebration of things made from scraps of all kinds. Do visit the other posts – the links are at the end of this post.

You may remember that a short while ago I visited a neighbour who then discovered that she had to self-isolate after spending time with her Dad who had gone on to test positive for Covid-19. I chose to stay away from people too just in case I had picked it up from her. In the event neither of us became ill but as new doors were being fitted downstairs I spent 2 days in the bedroom keeping away from the workmen.

Amongst other things I made a pair of slippers using scraps and a pair of espadrille soles.

I found that the backs were not stiff enough and flopped down so they were always under my feet and uncomfortable. But I had thrown out my old slippers so I had to make a new pair before I could alter these!

I found a book of patterns for knitted and crocheted slippers but they were effectively just sloppy socks of various lengths and I need ones with soles as my hard floors are quite cold to walk on. I decided to make a pair and stitch them to a spare pair of espadrille soles! If they were unwearable I could always undo the stitching and use the soles for something else and wear the slippers as thick socks!

I chose a pattern which was obviously translated (not entirely accurately) from one of the Nordic languages and used a yarn I could not track down to find what weight it was. Google gave me images but suggested it was a brand rather than a specific weight yarn. I eventually worked out that using aran doubled could give me the correct tension.

A while back I knitted myself a jumper using a pattern in an old book of traditional designs. This one is a Whitby Guernsey made with Aran weight yarn. There is no shaping at all. For those of you not from the UK Whitby is a fishing port on the North East Coast and in the old days fishermen on the trawlers wore these heavy jumpers. Often the design worked on them indicated the port and / or family so that if they drowned and were washed up later they could be identified – slightly ghoulish but very pragmatic.

The guernsey used just over 1 ball of yarn so I had almost a full ball left. That had to be enough for the slippers and was the only colour in my stash that looked like being sufficient. I am not sure how long the slippers will last – it isn’t sock wool and may go into holes – but the slippers work! The soles are rather heavy for the tops which stretch making me scuff as I walk but for sitting in the evenings they are very cosy.

Once they were made I undid the stitching on the blue ones, removed the backs and turned them into mules which I wear around the house in the daytime – they are easy to slip on and off when I change to and from wellies or boots to go outside.

So two pairs of slippers with scrap tops and new soles!

Just follow the links to find lots of lovely ideas from these other very talented scrapsters

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin

Plan Z and counting

When I had finished writing my last post on Monday I decided to go and visit a friend who lives just up the hill. The friend who did my washing when my machine broke down at the start of lockdown and who got her student daughter to do my shopping for me. She and her husband had taken a much needed short break and gone away – if they stay something goes wrong on the farm and he goes back to work to fix it. Whilst they were gone her Dad stayed in the house to supervise her teenage kids. We had a cup of tea and caught up on news.

On Wednesday her Dad was told he had tested positive for Covid 19 and so my friend and her family should self-isolate. The chances that it was passed to her AND that she passed it to me are very small (we sat 2m apart) but I decided that the responsible thing to do was to stay away from everyone. So instead of being at my daughter’s admiring her new home and catching up with her and her children I am here.

As it happened, when I got the news there were 2 men replacing the wooden outside doors in my house with uPVC ones – not a very sustainable choice but I was sick of draughts and high heating costs! I decamped to the bedroom to keep well out of their way for the 2 days the job took and emerged only when they had retreated to their van to eat their lunch, made a sandwich and took it back upstairs. I was able to walk the dogs and to come downstairs in the evening once they had gone home but it showed me how horrid it must have been to be cooped up in a small flat for the 3 weeks of full lockdown. I did finish some sewing projects though!

A pair of slippers based on espadrille soles – they are not quite right but I can improve. 2 small fish from a pattern by Ann Wood Handmade. Some granny squares for a blanket.

So why is this post called plan Z? Well a friend of my daughter asked a colleague of hers for some information my daughter needed and outlined what had been happening for her over the summer. His response was to ask if she was writing a soap opera script! He didn’t know that my son’s brother in law had almost died of Covid, that Rob (who lived in the cabin in the garden in return for helping me in the garden and woods) left suddenly leaving me with no help over the summer, that Laura moved in to replace him a month ago (she is delightful and a great help), that Matt came to fit out the utility room because it was work he could do without needing to be indoors and he needed to earn, that now I need to self-isolate…..And each of those has resulted in me revising my plans.

Some of you may have noticed that I have said very little about the Diploma in Permaculture Design I embarked on a couple of years ago. That is because I have given up, another change of plan. I intended to design ways to stay alive, well, active and living here into advanced old age and write up the designs as my portfolio. I really enjoyed doing the thinking and planning. The last stage of implementation is to turn the old garage and its loft space into habitable rooms including a shower room, all with wheelchair accessibility in mind just in case I need one and that is well underway. Meanwhile they will be additional bedrooms when family visit. I am really pleased with the results of it all. Lockdown was a good test of the strategies I had put in place to increase my resilience and I survived very well. However the writing up nearly drove me nuts. It took ages and each tutor I spoke too had their own pet ideas about how it should be laid out. I could have spent a lot of time cutting and pasting and editing, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ but decided that the things it would enable me to do were too few to justify the work. One of my tasks over winter when hopefully life will be less fraught, is to decide what, if anything, I do next. Somehow I doubt if I will be bored! Plan Z+1 coming to a blog post near you soon!

A calculated risk

Several areas in Wales are now in local lockdown, the nearest being Llanelli (pronounced chlanechli with a soft ch like in loch) which is about 35 miles away and in the same county. It is the first time a local lockdown has not been across a whole local authority area and it would be no surprise if it was extended even though this very rural area has very few cases. Most of the restrictions are in the more urban areas so about two thirds of the population are affected even though they cover much less of the land area.

The latest moves to halt the spread of the virus coincided with a management meeting at Dyfed Permacultire Farm Trust where we discussed requests to hold some events in our partly built roundhouse. Being unfinished it has a roof to keep the rain off but no walls so counts as an outdoor space! Today I went to the dentist to have a broken filling replaced – a treatment scheduled for the first week of full lockdown at the end of March. All these things coming together made me realise that throughout this pandemic I have been making my own risk assessments of potential activities.

Some time ago I listened to a radio podcast which mentioned that ALAMA (the Association of Local Authority Medical Advisors) had produced a way of assessing an individuals risk of being severely affected by Covid 19. The idea seems to be that a local authority can work out which employees are high risk and should be asked to work from home and who is low risk so can reasonably be expected to get the bus to work and sit in the office. Out of interest I looked at the website (https://alama.org.uk/covid-19-medical-risk-assessment/). It seems I am at moderate risk despite being 70, because I am female, white anglo saxon and in good health. So it seems I don’t need to be ultra cautious.

However moderate is not low! Then another podcast mentioned the work of a scientist who believes that the improvement in survival rates is not wholly explained by improved expertise in treating those who fall ill. He noticed a close correlation with the rising temperatures in spring and summer. He works mainly on some obscure chemical in the mucus which our lungs produce all the time to catch bugs and pollutants and which is swept up to the throat and down into the stomach where the acids kill all the nasties. This system works best in damp air. So in winter when we all huddle in centrally heated homes and offices where the air is usually very dry it is less effective. Come the warmer weather we open windows, go outside more and the mucus works better. Unusually the Covid-19 virus is not killed by stomach acid (which had me wondering how effective all these alcohol gels are but that is another issue) and that , he thinks, is why some people have a sort of gastric flu not the classic cough. Luckily that version is much less likely to kill you. Not being able to breathe is the really dangerous effect. He suggested drying washing in the bedroom, opening windows and going outside as often as possible. Since none of those can be monetised he is not expecting any funding for clinical trials to test his ideas any time soon! On the other hand they are all things I do anyway so it seems that if I do get infected I may stand a slightly improved chance of surviving.

The new unfinished roundhouse at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust. We are now finding its unfinished state very useful!

Ideally of course I should try not to get infected in the first place. Which means limiting my contact with other people and especially with other people who have, themselves, contact with a lot of people. Most of the time I am here on my own. The friends and neighbours I meet are just as isolated as I am so unlikely to infect me but we meet outside whenever possible. The meetings I need to go to are held out of doors in the unfinished roundhouse pictured above. The hairdresser I go to is scrupulously careful and the dentist this morning was in full PPE. The library quarantines books between each loan and I have to request my selection online then get an appointment to drop off my returns and collect my new books through an open door. I have, though, decided that I will not shop in the supermarkets. At the cost of losing some choice of products I can get everything I need in local shops which are generally quieter and where so far social distancing has been carefully maintained. I am also using Amazon for household items which might involve me going to several shops before finding what I am looking for.

Probably my greatest regular risk is working with Laura who lives in the cabin in the garden rent free in return for helping me in the garden. When we work together we are outside or in a very large and well ventilated shed and mostly more than 2 metres apart. Since Laura works in a care setting she is in contact with quite a few people but part of her role is to educate the students in her care about the need to observe the pandemic rules. Overall she seems a relatively small risk and the benefit of her help is considerable.

Next weekend I will go to visit my daughter. The first visit since she left her husband and moved into her own home. She lives in a large town in England and works in a school. It will be the biggest risk I have taken in 6 months! Well worth it to see her and her new place. I will just have to balance it by being extra careful when I get back – not just for my sake but so that if I have picked up Covid-19 I keep it to myself and don’t spread it around.

How are you managing the risks at present? I would love to hear how you are making your assessments and anything you have found useful. It seems we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic so all help gratefully received!

Between then and what will be

I have been feeling very unsettled, grumpy-grumbly in a vague unfocussed sort of way, fraught with unfinished to-do lists and a sense of time running out.

Rob moving out of the cabin early in lockdown left me with no help in the garden over the summer. Not that he would have been much help had he stayed. The death of a close friend and serious ill health of two close family members hit his fragile mental health hard and his usual slowness became almost catatonic. Now it is Autumn; Laura has moved in and will, I think, be a huge asset. She is intelligent, keen to learn and cheerful. But for now she has to be given time to learn where things are and how to do the tasks that need attention. That means I have to work alongside her, explaining and teaching and our speed is slow.

It is also the time when I pick wild fruit and preserve it. The time when there is an abundance of fresh produce in the shops to make chutneys and pickles. Having swapped my big chest freezer for a less capacious upright one I can no longer stash it all away until I have more time (that mythical ‘more time’!) – it has to be bottled or jammed or whatever at once.

At the same time restrictions have been easing and we all want to meet up again – I am greedy for the company and sociability. And at the same time I am alert to the risks – another juggling act. We have started to have workdays and meetings at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, a very delayed AGM – where my treasurer’s report felt like something from another lifetime – and resuming work on the roundhouse we are building. They have thrown up another dilemma for me. We are able to meet outdoors but with everyone 2 meters apart I am a long way from anyone on the opposite side of the circle. I should have had new hearing aids in the spring but of course the hospital stopped doing hearing tests. So I struggle to keep up with the discussion, often mis-hear and find the effort exhausting. Now we must all wear masks indoors, a ruling I think is sensible since masks remind us to be careful in other ways too, but it makes voices muffled and I can’t lipread or see expressions so well. I have decided that for now I will not go to indoor events involving more than 2 or 3 people and decide about outdoor ones on a case by case basis. None of this is anybody’s fault but it is frustrating and wearing.

Whilst all these practical things are demanding my attention I have been challenged by some books I have been reading. Three are memoirs written by women who chose to scratch a living in remote rural areas. Three very different personalities and stories but thought provoking. The fourth is an academic work, ‘Sitopia’, about the centrality of food to life, politics and culture and how the world might be different if we recognised that more overtly. I had already been reflecting on the plans and projects I have been working on to prepare me and this place for my older age. So now my head is full of ideas and words which roll around and, like a snowball running downhill, accumulate more and more, getting bigger and bigger. But I can’t seem to get them organised into coherent strings or know what to do with them. I will just have to wait for them to reach the bottom and the ball to break apart. Maybe then I will be able to make sense of it! Meanwhile I am wary of sharing much of it because in this mood I am likely to put it badly. Which means using energy to both contain it all and manage my impatience with not being able to organise it into something that makes sense! Another problem when meeting friends and a block to writing blog posts.

For all these reasons blogging has taken a back seat. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading other people’s posts and my apologies for the shortness of my comments.

One day soon it will all click into place again, my sense of joy will be restored and normal blogging will be resumed.

Scrap Happy September

I have been quiet for a while – more about which in another post – but I have not been idle. An Afternoon in the workshop with some poles purloined from the pile of wood felled but not cut up and a throne emerged. Shame I have no crown or courtiers let alone peasants to do all the work but maybe it’s a start!

Scrap Happy is a group effort curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. We post about things we have made entirely from scrap. Not everyone posts every time but all the blogs are well worth a visit – follow the links below for inspiration on how to do a lot with a little.

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin

A road to?

In the days when farms were small and only had a few cows, moving them across one or two fields to get to the area they were to graze did very little damage to the land. Now that herds are 100+ strong they can make a terrible mess of a gateway so it is quite common for farmers to put down a few loads of stone around the gates. They may also fence off the edge of the fields and lay down stone tracks so that it is easier to direct the cows to the right field after milking. Open the gate from the track to the field you want grazed then drive the cows from the yard onto the track and the job is done. They will amble along and one man can manage them on his own.

So it was no great surprise to see a gateway on one of our regular walks with newly laid stone in it. Even when I saw the digger still working I assumed it was one of these narrow cow tracks being laid. But when, a few days later, I saw that the digger had disappeared over the hill leaving a beautifully laid wide road behind it my curiosity got the better of me! I knew that as long as I didn’t go through a gate I would not meet any livestock and the dogs were on leads as always when we are off my property, so I began to walk the new road.

I presume the rectangular hole is a silage pit (for those not in the know silage is the modern alternative to hay. Grass is cut but not left to dry. Instead it is trailered to a barn or pit, dumped, compressed by driving a tractor over it repeatedly, covered with a huge plastic sheet, old tyres are put on top to weight it down and the grass ferments – think sauerkraut. By winter it is ready to be fed to the cows who love it) so presumably whoever owns the fields is going to use them for winter feed and needs to be able to move tractors around easily.

I have often sat at temporary traffic lights watching a new piece of road being constructed. Somewhere on the site is a cluster of portacabins to provide office space, storage and restrooms with a potaloo ot two standing alongside. There is usually a contingent of engineers, identifiable by their suit trousers visible between their hi-vis jackets (often rather clean for people on site) and their wellies. They have high tech equipment like digital theodolites and laser levels or clipboards and rolls of maps. The line and gradient of the road is marked with posts and crossbars. Buzzing around are diggers and dumpers moving earth from here to there until the contours of the ground exactly match the markers.

This road has been constructed by one man in a digger and, it seems, one small dumper truck and a roller. No tech, no measuring. Just years of experience and a good ‘eye’. I found myself in awe of his skill!

A Bit of a Challenge #7

Mild and moist, bit of sun. Good for growing. Jungle warfare. Jungle won!

7 Photos, 7 Haiku so the challenge is complete!

I have really enjoyed it – much more than I expected.

I discovered that my memory of how to take black and white photos was better than I thought it would be. Maybe the time I spent helping John develop images in his darkroom was time well spent for this project. This last picture was the hardest because lots of lush green does not lend itself to contrast! This and the shades of grey were the only two where I took several and discarded most once I had edited them to monochrome. It certainly made me look at the landscape differently and more carefully.

I was quite anxious about the Haiku. I occasionally had to write a poem in school and hated it. I don’t even like reading poetry much. I am of a scientific bent and like straight talking! Then I remembered a summer when I was in my mid teens and discovered limericks. I wrote a whole series about members of my extended family. They were playful, teasing, cheeky and picked on aspects of people’s character or appearance that stood out for me. I never shared them for fear of being told off as rude! I also enjoy playing with words and crafting a phrase. I decided to erase the word ‘poetry’ from the challenge and change it to ‘Write a 17 syllable sentence that sounds good’.

I had to use what I think of as ‘telegram speak’. (Not that I ever sent a telegram and the only time I received any was on my Wedding day! Do you remember that tradition? I suppose now the equivalent language is text speak or tweet speak but as I have no mobile signal here I don’t use texts and I don’t tweet either.) I had to eliminate any words which were not strictly necessary. That in itself was an interesting exercise. What would happen if I applied it to other parts of my life?

I used my dog walks to compose phrases, play with them, tweak them, try out combinations. Keeping track of the number of syllables proved too hard – not enough fingers and the ones I had were wrapped round leads! When I got home I could write down the likeliest groupings and add up their values then choose the best. I still have lots that had to be discarded on my notepad. I wonder what I will do with them?

The timing of the challenge also intrigued me. During lockdown I have had to use what I have rather than go shopping. I have had more time available than usual and I have done quite a lot but all within the limits of what I had in stock – whether cooking a meal or redecorating. It has made me realise how easy it is to get lazy – to just go out and buy one or order one online instead of being creative. I have saved a fortune in petrol money alone not going shopping! And have spent very little on ‘stuff’ even though I have been buying better quality food locally. How will it be now things are easing?

So lots of learning, lots to think about. Thank you for all your comments and for keeping me company.

Scrap Happy July

Another spoilt for choice month! But last week when I had to go into Cardigan to get a slow puncture on one of the car tyres repaired I walked into the town and bought some more knitting yarn in the market. It felt like an adventure and I stocked up to keep me going for a while. The luxury of choice!

Meanwhile I have finished another jumper for the collection at Studio 3 for child refugees. Goodness knows when I will be able to deliver it! In Wales cafes, pubs, and such like can only do takeaways or serve at outside tables (if they can maintain 2m social distancing) and Studio 3 has no outside space.

I didn’t have enough Aran weight wool in any one colour so had to use different ones for different sections. Another challenge to work within limits! I am actually quite pleased with the result. It isn’t a classic guernsey but I rather like the effect.

The second project was to revamp an old chest of drawers which Roo chewed when she was a puppy. It stood in the kitchen next to her pen and she must have got bored and the munchies one night! Again my choices were restricted. I had 5 small part used cans of gloss paint – a white, the three stronger colours I used and a pale blue which was even more ancient and gunky. The top and sides are covered with pieces of old Ordnance Survey maps of places I used to live. It was only when I came to cut them up that I realised how much of my life has been lived on the joins between sections! I thought the paper would be better quality than it was and I got a lot of bubbles. I managed to slit some with a very sharp knife and press them down but it is still not as smooth as I would like. I do like the effect though. The next chapter of ‘Wheesht’ is about giving myself permission to mess up – maybe I’m half way there already! The handles are lengths of jute rope from a reel I bought for the garden. The chest stands now in a corner by a door so I wanted something that wouldn’t hurt if I scraped past it.

Scrap Happy is a group effort curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. We post about things we have made entirely from scrap. Not everyone posts every time but all the blogs are well worth a visit – follow the links below for inspiration on how to do a lot with a little.

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin