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!

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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’!

The kindness of people I will probably never meet

One of the things which has gladdened my heart since joining the blogosphere is the generosity of this community. Comments are full of empathy and encouragement, practical tips, information and answers to questions. There are posts which are tutorials, links to other blogs or ‘how to’ videos, suggestions of places to visit or books to read. I see small gifts sent and received by fellow bloggers and others for many reasons and none. I have learned so much and come to realise that if I need to know something or have a dilemma I only have to ask and I can tap into a huge collective experience and wisdom. I never thought that writing about my simple life in this rural backwater would result in my having wonderful friends all over the world.

A while back I made a comment on Jeans blog (http://www.onesmallstitch.wordpress.com) about her hand spun and dyed yarn. The result was a parcel in the post. Inside were 4 hanks of her yarn, each beautifully labelled wih its composition and the dye used.

Aren’t those colours gorgeous? The brown one is dyed with lichen (Purmelia Saxatilis) and smells of woods which Jean says will never fade. And you all know I am a woodland lover! I am taking my time deciding what to use them for – they are very precious so it has to be something special.

Jean’s blog has taught me a lot about Japanese textile art and design and also about weaving, which I had a go at once as a teenager on a simple table loom belonging to my Mother’s eldest sister. As a possible use of her gift I have bought myself a 5 inch pin loom from Etsy (Treneyn Crafts – a husband and wife team who sell stuff to do with wool) and am learning to use it.

My first square is rather wibbly wobbly but I hope to improve!

Tucked in with the yarn was an extra gift – one of the pebbles decorated by her Daughter-in-law. It sits on my desk as a paperweight and as a reminder of the love there is in the world.

So a big thank you to Jean but also to all of you for being the lovely, kind, caring, generous people you are.

Christmas Past and Present

A few days ago I had a real ‘Bah Humbug’ day when I just couldn’t be bothered with all this Christmas Malarkey. What was the point? A lot of work for not a lot.

It was partly because I had a streaming cold. Or was it Covid Omicron? Apparently the latter looks very like a cold to the naked eye and only a pcr test can tell the difference. The NHS website told me I should do a lateral flow test and, if it was positive get a pcr one before self isolating for 7 – 10 days (rules vary between England and Wales with Wales sticking to 10 days). But to get a lateral flow test I would have to go into a pharmacy and risk infecting others or wait for some to be sent in the post. To get a pcr test I needed to drive to Carmarthen where there is a test center. Driving with one hand fully occupied stemming the flow from my nose and catching sneezes didn’t seem a good idea either. And asking a friend to take me, cooped up in a car for over an hour seemed rather silly. Even if the test came back negative did I really want to give someone else a bad cold? So I cut the process short and have been self-isolating. I will continue until Boxing Day.

Sitting by the fire feeling sorry for myself and all negative about Christmas set me remembering Christmas’s past. When I was a child my parents ‘did’ Christmas but with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. Mum thought a real Christmas tree made far too much mess – all those needles to clear up. So we had one of the early artificial ones which was a number of dark green bottle brushes arranged in circles around a plain wooden dowel. On it were some fairy lights (about 10 in a string I think) which looked just like the Meltis fruit jellies which Mum liked and always made an apearance at Christmas too. There were some uninspiring baubles, some blobs of cotton wool as snow and a small fairy doll for the top. I honestly believed that the whole thing was put away each January with all the bits still in place because I could detect no change from one year to the next. It was still making its annual appearance at my last Christmas in th family home in 1970. I have a vague recollection of making paper chains with my Dad and even balloons in the corners of the room but that must have been when I was very small. I suspect they were banned for collecting dust. So the only other decorations were some ‘yule logs’ – small logs decorated with polyfilla snow, a red candle, a small sprig of Holly and maybe a plastic robin. They were deemed tasteful. Christmas dinner was a roast chicken (turkey would last too long) nicely cooked but not really different from any other chicken dinner. Christmas was OK and I got nice presents but Oh! how I envied friends who had a real tree, exuberant decorations, a big family gathering and loads of fun!

Fast forward to the Vicarage years. Christmas was a frenetic dash to an exhausted finishing line. As well as working effectively full time and organising the family Christmas there was the ‘Vicar’s wife’ bit to do. I bought industrial quantities of mincemeat and made mince pies in batches of 6 dozen to take to various events. There was ‘Candles by Carolight’ (a spoonerism stuck!) to help organise – boxes and boxes of candles to put in holders for people to carry without burning their hands and others in foil dishes to go on the floor and vats of mulled wine to brew and remember to get some of those mince pies out of the freezer to take. Something for littlies to do at the crib service, the youth group party, Christmas Eve morning spent decorating the Church which involved me filling the car with greenery from the vicarage garden and therefore having to be the first to arrive. Then midnight service, home at 1am, put the turkey in, get up early for John to go and do Matins, have breakfast and let the kids open their stockings, back for the family service, home to finish our dinner and, finally – fall asleep as soon as our bums hit a comfy chair! Of course there was fun too, we had a great team of people who all did a lot. And there were good memories of that time too of massive Christmas trees, of winding greenery and ribbons through the banisters of the vicarage stairs – an Edwardian Villa has great potential at Christmas! But it did give me considerable ambivalence to the whole Christmas thing.

It was those memories that came to the front of my mind when I was low. I had to remind myself of the other Christmasses. The ones in the early years of our marriage when we had ridiculously big real trees in small rooms dripping with decorations, of small people with bulging stockings, of creating family traditions. And latterly of experimenting with diferent ways of celebrating, of allowing ourselves the luxury of a whole day in front of the fire with a good book.

So I gave myself a good shake and decided it was down to me to choose if I wanted to be cheerful or miserable. I made a wreath for the front door, decorated the big mantle piece, hung baubles and stars over my worktable and put up the Christmas bunting in the kitchen.

The day before my cold started I had gone for a walk on the beach with a friend and she had got the cold too so there was no point in isolating from her! We cheered ourselves up with a solstice fire. She had found a ‘Christmas tree’ in her loft given to her by someone in her village and which she never used so she brought that and we ceremoniously burnt it as symbol of letting go of what was no longer or value to us. For me that included half-hearted or overwhelming Christmasses.

I wish you all a very Merry time whatever you celebrate, whoever you celebrate it with and however you do it. And I look foward to hearing about your adventures, highs and lows in 2022. As they say it here

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda – literally ‘A full Christmas and a good New Year’

A Sad Walk Down Memory Lane

A couple of weeks ago I had a message from the daughter of some old friends to say that her father had died. When my late husband was a vicar in Exeter in the late 80’s her mother, Margaret, was officially his secretary but actually much more like a PA . She also became a youth leader and Churchwarden so we saw a lot of her and relied on her organisational skills a great deal. Peter was quieter, less outgoing, but a brilliant drummer so he was recruited to play during services and keep us all in time when we sang. My other memory of him was of the two of us helping the treasurer count the collection when most other people had gone home but some clearing up was still going on.

St Marks Church Pinhoe Rd Exeter

John’s early days in the Parish had been plagued by the interference of the previous vicar who had retired, but still lived locally and visited some of the congregation regularly, expressing his (negative) opinions of the changes John was making. We decided that when we left we would cut ourselves off completely and give whoever came next a clear run. It was horrible to do, especially when John was diagnosed with cancer 2 years later, but we knew it was the right thing and stuck to it. Bless them, our friends in the church agreed it was for the best and never tried to involve us even though we were only a few miles away whilst our children finished at the FE college.

So almost 30 years after we left the Parish I found myself going back for the first time to attend Peter’s funeral last Monday. I knew that to do the journey there and back with the service in between was too much for one day so I booked into a hotel near the city centre for the Sunday night.

Lesson number one – the Internet made that a doddle! I could get information on all the possible choices, decide which I thought would suit me best and book it, moving only my eyes and fingers! Moments later a confirmatory email pinged into my inbox with the option to book a taxi or hire car. I had already established that travelling by train, which I would have preferred, was not an option – only one service on a Sunday and I know from experience that on Sunday evenings there are often engineering works with delays and replacement buses and that the bad weather might also close lines.

The next problem was the dogs. My son had offered to come and look after them but once the date was set realised he was unable to help. My lovely friend Lindy stepped into the breach and came to stay, even offering to stay over on the Monday night so that I had no deadline to get back.

Lesson number 2 – I have amazing family and friends who take great care of me. I am so grateful.

So off I set after lunch on Sunday with mixed feelings. It was an adventure, a challenge because of all unfamiliar things (a long drive, navigating a city which would have changed so I would not know my way but there would be some flashes of ‘Oh that’s where I am’, a hotel stay) apprehension about the impact of going back, and sadness at the loss of a friend.

I planned to use the old bridge over the Severn and stop at the Service area on the English end to have a short pit-stop. The old Bridge was closed because of the strong winds. Then I discovered that I was being diverted onto the M 49, a road of which I had never heard but which cuts the corner off the join between the M4 (South Wales to London) and M5 (North West England to Cornwall).

Lesson number 3 – Thank goodness for Satnav! I was driving straight into the setting sun and therefore couldn’t read the signs over the lanes but it knew where I should go.

I made it to Exeter just as it was getting dark and was directed down a narrow back street to a block of flats. I had put in the postcode I had copied from the internet (and probably made a mistake with one of the digits) not the name of the Hotel. I reprogrammed Satnav and spent half an hour in nose to tail traffic before reaching the right place.

Lesson number 4 – computers are only as good as the information you give them!

As I was checking in I was asked to complete a short registration form which included the question ‘In the event of an emergency evacuation would you need help to leave the hotel?’. I answered yes and explained to the lovely young man on the desk that I was perfectly mobile but might not hear the alarm when asleep without my hearing aids. He promptly transferred me to an accessible room and offered me a vibrating pad, plugged into the fire alarm system, to go under my pillow. He then showed me to the room and plugged the pad in for me assuring me that if the alarm went off someone would come and make sure I was aware of it.

Lesson number 5 – Whatever impression the news gives there are a lot of very nice people out there.

Exeter city center

In the morning, leaving my car at the hotel, I walked into the city. The old, listed buildings were still there and I began to recognise the street layout but the shops had been shuffled! It felt very odd – the same but different. I went into Boots to buy a nail file because I had broken a nail and my toiletry bag was in the car. They had NO staffed tills – and when I asked about one the girl looked at me as if I was mad then offered, reluctantly, to help me use the self-service one. Later, leaving the car park I found the pay station wanted me to scan a QR code and pay with my phone. It offered me the chance to pay with a credit card (no chance of using cash!) but kept losing the plot when I tried. Eventually I asked for help again at the reception desk and it was cheerfully given (see Lesson 5) and no it wasn’t me being past it – it played up for her too!

Lesson number 6 – I am way behind the times – and happy to stay there!

Then it was off to the Church which had changed – new chairs, a carpet, the coffee and creche areas rearranged and upgraded – but from the impression I got, not as much as it should have done in 30 years. I know I am a change junkie but both the city and the church seemed to be in a rut – tinkering but unable or unwilling to be as radical as we need to be to rise to the challenges coming down the track. I also noticed how few people were wearing masks in shops. It was as if the pandemic had gone away. Here in Wales masks are still a legal requirement in indoor public spaces and to me that is only sense.

If all that seems critical and grumpy let me assure you that meeting up with people who remembered me and welcomed me with huge smiles was brilliant. At the wake I sat with some of the old crowd and they obviously remembered me and John with fondness. The service had been taken by John’s successor, now retired, as the present vicar was on Maternity leave and it was lovely to meet him and his wife.

Lesson number 7 – A vicar on Maternity leave – Hallelujah! – the Church of England is staggering into the modern world and St Marks is in the vanguard. Something of what John did stuck!

Starcross with the mainline railway from London to cornwall running along the sea wall.

Having driven so far and explored some of Memory Lane I decided to finish the job and walked past the old Vicarage, sold off when we left, and then went to Starcross, a dormitory village on the Exe Estuary, where we moved whilst our children finished their schooling. A walk along the river’s edge was just what I needed before the long drive home. The nearer I got to Wales the more my spirits lifted and when I turned off the dual carriageway 10 miles from home I breathed a sigh of relief. Two waggy tales greeted me as I walked in and a night in my own bed was bliss.

Lesson number 8 – I loved my life in Exeter, have some wonderful memories of our time there and very few regrets, and now I love my life here. It was good to visit but it is no longer where I belong. Now if you will forgive me I have to go – there are tomatoes to pick and bottle.

PS. All images are from Google images – it takes better photos than I do! Plus all that navigating tired my phone out!

Making Progress

Some of you may recall that ages ago I started following 2 courses on embroidery – Pintangle’s Take a stitch Tuesday and Anne Brooke’s 52 tags. My aim was to increase the range of stitches I could use and also to get away from simply filling in someone else’s design. I have been lamentably lax about keeping up with either challenge but last week I decided to ‘have a go’ at doing some embroidery from scratch. And the result was…

I am under no illusions. This is not high art. It isn’t even particularly fine embroidery. But it was an achievement. I did it all myself from the first drawing to the finished piece. And I experimented. I used stranded cotton (mainly because I had a better range of colours in that) and tried mixing strands of different shades or colours.

I also mentioned previously experimenting with the way I knit and finding that it was easier if I controlled the yarn with my left hand. Well, quite by chance, I discovered how to do that flicky thing with the right hand so that I don’t have to let go of the right needle – or at least not so completely hands off. Months ago my neighbour, who did all my laundry for weeks when my machine broke down during lockdown, mentioned that she fancied having a row of Christmas stockings to hang over the fireplace and I offered to make some. Now that I can have yarn in either hand two colour knitting is so much easier! One colour on the left hand and one on the right! I used my usual sock pattern but in DK not 4 ply and motifs from various cross stitch pattern books I had on the shelves.

I can feel my confidence growing!

Who know’s?

I came across a post on Facebook recently – sorry I can’t remember where it originated or who posted it so I can’t acknowledge it properly. The gist was that when we read about, or watch a film about, someone travelling back in time the essential feature is that a small thing they change back then makes a big difference to the present when they return. On the other hand we all tell ourselves that the small things we do now are irrelevant to solving the big issues.

Maybe not every small action does make a big difference but how can we know which ones will and which one’s wont?

Today I went to a meet-up at the home of a couple who are members of one of the Permaculture groups I belong to. I chatted to P who was widowed suddenly a couple of years ago and who told me shortly afterwards that she looked to me as a source of strength because I had been widowed some time before and had made a new life for myself. I never saw myself in that light before. Now I offer other bereaved people support and empathy more consciously. Today she told me she is moving house and how sad she will be to ‘leave S behind’ but also excited at a fresh start.

The I spoke to L, a psychotherapist and yoga teacher about her experience of doing both those roles on Zoom during the pandemic. To C a former Climate scientist, now smallholder, about the strengths and limitations of climate modelling and the book his wife (another, still practicing, climate scientist) is writing on the subject. To a couple who recently moved to Wales and are now planting a garden and converting an outbuilding so they can work from home more. I was able to point them in the direction of resources they may find useful and invited them to come and see my garden in the hope that they can learn from some of my mistakes as well as my successes. To B who I met at Coppicewood College when he was a student and I was a regular volunteer and who is planting trees on his site which produce nuts and fruit. He has been thinking about a business making fruit syrups and I suggested he consider fruit vinegars – I will send him the recipe. And to the hosts who I know listened to me a while back talking about rewriting my will and setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney, took some of the ideas and used them. There were others I would have loved to chat with but time ran out.

Part of our hosts’ garden

When I came home I read a post from Jean who blogs as ‘one small stitch’ (https://onesmallstitch.wordpress.com/2021/08/21/ramblings) in which she wondered if her making and mending made any difference when the challenges of Climate Change are so huge. I imagine we all wonder that at times. Should we be doing more? if so what?

But Jean’s posts, like those of all the bloggers I follow, inspire me in so many ways. To make things and mend things, to think about the World and see it through different eyes, to go on learning and trying new things, to recognise the kindness and generosity of human beings to each other.

I have no idea which, if any, of those encounters I had today will change the world in the slightest. I have no idea if any of you reading this will find it useful or encouraging. I will never be a powerful politician or run a global company (for which may the world be truly thankful – I am not cut out for either role). I will go on doing what I CAN do – making the small changes I am capable of, making and mending, gardening and wooding, reading and writing, reaching out to others through blogging and meeting and offering them the help and support I can. I may be a ‘daft old bat’ but we are all connected, each of you to me and through me to the people I spoke to today, and in our various communities and conversations, urging each other on, our combined small acts might, just might, change the future.

The Magic Roundhouse

Another thing which ha been taking up quite a lot of time for me recently but has again been great fun, has been helping to work on the Roundhouse at Dyfed Permaculture Farm.

Some years ago we were given an old yurt to provide another meeting space – somewhere smaller, more intimate, tidier and quieter than the Barn. For a couple of years it worked well although we knew that the timber was not in great condition and the canvas had been mended. Then one Autumn, just a few days before we were going to take it down for winter, a gale blew and when we looked the yurt had a very distinct lean to it! A couple who love the Farm and visit regularly but live in England offered us some money to build something that would be useful and enhance the facilities. We decided to build a Roundhouse to the same footprint as the yurt in the same spot. As far as possible we would use materials we had on the land (timber from managing the woodland, soil, straw and hay) parts of the old yurt, and reclaimed materials which we could collect.

Over the summer of 2019, with the help of a local man. Richard Sylvan, who has built many roundhouses, we got the circle of posts up and the roof on all using timber felled on site. Some of the work was done by our regular volunteers but we also advertised it as a course with people paying a modest fee to come and learn. The roof is a ‘reciprocating’ one – the radial rafter poles were laid in a spiral on top of an upright which was then knocked away – each rafter holds its neighbour up! it gives us the whole span without pillars. Very clever! The rafters were covered with the canvas from the old yurt roof, then a heavy duty pond liner (we had to buy that!), some gravel and then on the top turf which we scraped off the car park thereby doing two jobs in one. Over that winter 2019/20 even just having a space to shelter under was very useful. But building work stopped until Spring.

Then Covid struck. For a while only the 2 households who live on the farm could do any work there. Then in the summer, as restrictions eased a little our small group of regular volunteers began to have occasional workdays and we spent one of them doing some minor repairs to the yurt floor. We managed to hold a couple of management committee meetings in the shelter of the roof which kept the rain off but not the wind so we were essentially out of doors but not getting wet!

Repairing the floor pieces

This year, once things began to ease again we decided to make a push to get on with it. It wasn’t possible to run courses but having ascertained which of the regulars could make each date we were able to invite a couple of people who had been on the original courses, and lived locally, to come as volunteers for the wall building. The walls are lengths of cordwood from trees felled on the Farm land interspersed with bottle bricks (an empty wine bottle and a jam jar taped together) and all held together with cob which is a mixture of soil, clay and straw. We obtained permission to dig clay from an old pit a few miles away, Richard came back to show us how to do all this. The windows are all ‘found’ ones – donations of replaced windows or ‘wrong size’ panes. There is still a small section of wall to fill in once the fire has been installed and the flue put through the wall and there are a few other odd gaps to be filled in when we have another batch of cob made.

Then we spent a long day putting the floor down. It was originally the gymnasium floor in a girls school and still has the markings for netball! It was salvaged and cut up to become the floor of the yurt and is now laid in the Roundhouse. The hole in the middle is the original space for a stove and will be filled with a mosaic – that will be the finishing touch!

The original intention was to put doors on the three remaining sections but in the light of the pandemic we have decided that for now we will hang big curtains across there. That will encourage us and any other users to keep it very well ventilated. We had a meeting in there on Monday night and it was a magical space.

To read more about Dyfed Permaculture Farm and see more pictures go to http://www.dyfedpermaculturefarmtrust.org.uk or to their Facebook page

Ker-ching! A Penny drops!

There were some lovely comments on my last post about the blanket I was making to use up those little balls of wool that every knitter accumulates. The ‘granny squares’ are not all the same size necessitating strips and stripes and extra rounds to make them fit together and the colours are multiple and varied – yet the effect is cheerful and lively and most of you loved it as do I. Why?

Looking around my home and at the assorted handmade blankets in my cupboard I realised that the pieces I like best are the scrappy ones – the patchworks (usually fairly random) and the multicoloured. Partly this is because they will fit in with any colour scheme, adding both pattern and a hit of colour to the space. So in that sense they are very practical – change the decor? No problem!

Musing during a dog walk (as you do!) two memories from childhood came into my head.

The first concerned my childhood heroine; the woman I wanted to be like when I grew up. My Mum’s eldest, and much older, sister Aunty Nan. Nan and her husband Francis were childless (not by choice – as she said ‘In our day if it didn’t happen it didn’t happen and there was nothing you could do about it’) which meant that she had not given up work to raise her family. By the time I was old enough to remember them they were both lecturers at Alsager Teacher Training College near Newcastle-under-Lyme and lived in half a very long Nissen hut on the campus left over from World War 2. Francis headed up Rural Studies and Nan taught Craft. I found Francis slightly intimidating and when we visited he and my Dad would talk bees which they both kept. Nan would always find something crafty for me to do so that she and Mum could cook and talk. Later they bought 3 adjoining building plots where a new estate was being developed and had a bungalow built. Nan was furious that the architect would only talk to Francis even though she was the more artistic and better at design! She was even sidelined during the discussion of the kitchen! It was a beautiful home, very up to date in its furnishings and, of course, with Francis being an expert gardener, set in a fabulous garden. But what I really loved was their very early VW Dormobile.

Francis’s passion for bees meant he was not content with keeping a few hives of honey bees. He was really a thwarted academic and one of his good friends was Alan Gemmell (If you are old enough and live in the UK you may remember Professor Alan Gemmell of Keele University from Gardener’s Question Time. Prof’s passion was potatoes). So every summer he and Nan would spend the long vacation travelling Europe so he could collect wild bees and identify them. He had a cabinet of shallow drawers in his study with serried ranks of bees filed according to their latin name.

To make these expeditions easier, especially when he had exhausted Western Europe and started exploring behind the Iron Curtain, they got the Dormobile. To me it was a playhouse on wheels! And in it were blankets made by Nan on those journeys. She would take a pair of double pointed knitting needles – the short ones used for socks – and odd balls of wool so that she had some knitting to do in the evenings or while she was sitting in a field somewhere half watching Francis stalk his prey. Squares were easy to carry around or store in the van. Some were plain but lots were stripey or half and half. Sometimes the wool was thinner than she would have liked so she would use 2 colours together making a tweedy effect. Those blankets were part of the magic of the van for me. So very different from the contents of her house or of any of the other houses I knew.

The second memory was of a couple whose names I cannot remember but they were members of the Manchester and District Beekeepers Association, of which my Dad was Treasurer. The Association met once a month for most of the year. In the winter they rented a room somewhere for an evening and had ‘talks’ about bees and related subjects. But in the summer there were ‘Apiary visits’. One member would host the rest for an afternoon wherever they kept their bees. One of the more experienced members, often my father, would go through the hives explaining what they were doing, what they were looking for and why. If the bees needed extra space or a super full of honey needed to be taken away then that would be done. So winter was for theory and summer for practical. And on Apiary visits families were invited along too. There were a couple of single women who kept bees, a couple who did it jointly but most of the keepers were men. So the families consisted of wives and a few children who would sit around on deckchairs as far away from the hives as possible and chat. Everyone would take a picnic tea and once the hives were safely put back together again the beekeepers would join us and the host (or more usually the host’s wife!) would make cups of tea. It was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon and most of the gardens were delightful.

My Dad when he was young with his bees

The couple I am thinking of hosted a visit every year but not in their garden – I never knew where they lived in winter. Every summer they would decamp to a field where he kept his bees and where they had 2 old railway wagons. One was where he stored all his bee equipment and extracted his honey – a dim space which I always tried to get into at some point to enjoy its scent of wood, wax and honey. The other was where they lived with two single beds arranged in an L shape at the end furthest from the door, each covered with a multicoloured, home made blanket, a small table and 2 hard chairs and a rudimentary kitchen with a camping stove. Outside was a compost toilet and another table with a washing up bowl on it and a tap on a post behind it. The field was on a hill and there was an amazing view over the valley. I knew of no-one else who lived like that – it was like being in a story!

One huge granny square!

I suppose that from those 2 experiences I came to associate blankets like the one I am working on with a simple life, being unconventional, having adventures but also with being cosy and self-sufficient. No wonder I like them so much – by making them I am constructing my very own magic carpet of the imagination, opening up possibilities of adventures and new ways of living!

Little thing # 2

I have been making an effort to continue noticing the little things which make me smile and to share them with you all.

Some of you may remember that whilst I have been unable to go out so much I have been knitting chilldren’s jumpers for the collection at Studio 3 in Cardigan. Their original goal had been to send 2020 to an organisation working with refugees who had reached Greece and were now unable to move on to other parts of Europe. Last Friday I delivered the latest one and by chance Eileen, who’s brainchild it was, was in the shop. She told me that they passed the 2020 target some time ago and sent them off. After that they decided any more would be sent to charities in Wales working with families in poverty and particularly those using the many food banks. They have now collected over a thousand for Wales and more are still being donated. The charities will add them to the parcels of gifts put together for families who otherwise would have none. I only played a small part – 5 jumpers in all – but I felt proud to have helped and proud of my community for rising to the challenge and some. A real win-win. AND I met my friend Rachel to have lunch in the cafe there – delicious food and a chance to catch up with a lovely friend. A very smiley day!

My latest gift jumper

In the garden I can see crocuses and miniature daffodils beginning to emerge in pots near the house.

On the wall of the cabin a winter flowering jasmine is in full bloom. Last year it was still fairly new and only had a few flowers but it has obviously settled in.

Piling manure onto one of the raised beds I spotted a potato. I haven’t grown any for a couple of years but the ones I missed when I harvested the last lot keep coming up. I scrabbled around and by the time I had been through all the bed I had a basket full of International Kidney spuds (Jersey Royals but they can only be called that if grown on the island of Jersey!) They are a waxy salad potato so not good for mash or roast but lovely in potato salad or stews because they keep their shape.

My cooking has had a boost recently. My last lot of books from the library included 2 by Jack Monroe, a woman who found herself living in extreme poverty and blogged about how she was managing to feed herself and her small son on very little money and the generosity of the food bank. The upshot was a book deal which lifted her our of poverty but she still campaigns tirelessly for the organisations she once relied upon. I am comfortably off and an experienced cook but her simple, cheap recipes have jolted me out of a rut.

I have been making crafty things and will blog about them later but for now they are secret in case the recipients see them here first! However I can tell you that I get a lot of help from my feline friends who never fail to make me smile – how’s this for a cuddle of cats? At least they were next to me rather than on my lap which makes sewing or knitting difficult! The bony elbow top left is Orchid who also occupies the sofa.

Lastly I read a post by Cathy which I particularly enjoyed and set me thinking about how I could include more cheery-uppy things in my life. You can read it at https://nanacathydotcom.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/touchstones/