Where did it go?

Did you notice I had not blogged for a while? Did you fantasise that I was soaking up the sun somewhere exotic? On a retreat where all access to the outside world was banned? Nope! Nothing so exciting or unusual. Just busy. You know what I mean – one minute it was early July and then the next it is October!

So where did Summer go? I actually had to check my diary!

There have been visits. I went to stay with my daughter for a weekend so we could go to IKEA for inspiration. I want to turn the old utility room into spare bedrooms. It was originally the garage so is big enough to attract a lot of ‘might come in useful one day’ clutter. 18 months ago I had a new shed built on an existing concrete slab to make a replacement utility space and am waiting for a local builder to come and fit it out for me. Meanwhile I am going through the old one getting rid of things – there is space on the shelves no as you can see in the picture! – and will eventually turn it into 2 spare bedrooms. I wanted to see what ideas I could pick up and knew that IKEA has a reputation for clever small space solutions. The nearest to here is Cardiff which is a long haul so I decided to visit my daughter and go with her to the one in Reading. To make it more of an adventure we got the bus into Basingstoke, the train to Reading and then another bus right to the door of IKEA. No navigating, no parking, we were able to look out of the windows and enjoy the journey whilst chatting as much as we liked.

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My son brought his 3 young foster children so there was an excuse to go to the beach and picnic in his camper van. And we went to a friend’s smallholding to pick damsons and see the animals. No pictures because as looked after children I am not allowed to publish their pictures.

My daughter came to stay and we visited another smallholding where I had a go at milking a goat. A bad idea that – now I want one!

And of course there were meals with friends – at their homes, in cafes and here. The deck really came into its own this summer.

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The utility room is not the only space to be de-cluttered. I am on a roll here. The house has been purged and now needs decorating (if only to get rid of the marks where I have taken down shelves!)The workshop is next.

There have been visits with the Permaculture networks which will get posts of their own in the next few weeks. And a lot happening at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust which I will also write about separately.

I went on a course at Stiwdio 3 in Cardigan (find out more here) to learn how to make a pair of espadrilles with the lovely Nia Denman and had a fantastic day. C & M Organics held another market – just one this year – where I spent more than I should have but got some really good plants as well as food. The Golden Thread Theater Company, normally based in Cardiff put on a performance at the Small World Theater in Cardigan which was a fascinating evening. They invite members of the audience to share very short stories of moments in their lives which the players then turn into improvised performances. The theme of the evening was ‘belonging’ which resulted in a huge range of stories and emotions. (you can find them on facebook)

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In between all those things I have tended the garden, continued to write up my Permaculture Diploma and foraged for blackberries, elderberries and sloes which I have bottled and made into jam. Now the weather has turned wet and windy, the nights are drawing in and hopefully I can get back to blogging.

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The Rules of Knitting

You may remember that a while ago I wrote a post about things I had been making, including 2 cushions. (If you missed it you can read it here) One was a present for my daughter and made of fabric, the other was knitted using some wool left over from another project. I noticed that I made the fabric one during the day and the knitted one in the evening whilst sitting with my feet up. Which sort of made sense – to cut out fabric on a big table or to sew on the machine I go into my studio over the utility room. To go up there after dark when it is colder took more effort than sitting in front of the fire.

But now spring has come, the evenings are light and the weather is warm and still I only do sewing in the day! Then I realised that I had inherited this pattern from my mother. The more I thought about it the more curious it seemed. It was only when I began to remember my childhood home that it all began to make sense.

My mother kept her hand powered singer sewing machine (so no integral light!) in the tiny ‘boxroom’ which had a fold out camp bed for visitors but was essentially used for storage. To use the machine she carried it down to the living room and used the dining table so it had to be put away in order to serve the evening meal. After that she would sit with my father and watch TV – and knit at the same time.

I also realised that, like many houses of that era, there were no table lamps, and certainly nothing like the flexible task lamps we have now. In fact, I now remember, there wasn’t even a standard lamp which she could have had by her chair. Each room had a central pendant light so that to do sewing involved moving a table so that the light fell on it (but never as bright a light as I would expect to have now) or positioning it in front of a window. Another reason for sewing in daylight. Knitting, of course, can be done with weaker light – at least if it is fairly simple. Hers always was rather ‘functional’! Endless plain jumpers in sensible colours.

Now my studio is well lit with strip lights down each side of the ceiling and a choice of task lights. I have a fan heater in there so that I can be warm whatever the outside temperature.

So Why? Oh Why? can I not sew in the evening or knit in the afternoon? But I feel ‘all wrong’ if I try!

If you are still bound by old, irrelevant rules I would love to hear about them. I would feel less stupid!

Getting creative

I love making things but haven’t posted about the creative side of me for a while. It was only when I was reviewing some photos that I realised how many things I had made recently.

The first was a blanket for my grandson Sean. Since he started at Swansea University (read about him here )he has been saying that he is sometimes cold in his room. I suspect that he has been sitting still for too long late at night – hopefully studying but probably gaming on his computer! He had been taking his duvet cover off and wrapping himself up in that so I thought I would make him a blanket. He is young, male, only recently domesticated and there is not much space for him to store things in his room in Halls. So I used synthetic double knitting in boy colours! And since I get bored knitting a whole blanket in one piece I did squares and crocheted them together. To make it more fun I devised a number of variations on a theme of stripes of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch.

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Then it was my daughter’s birthday and I spotted a remnant of linen in the Ecoshop in Cardigan. Just enough to make a cushion. I had some felt left over from making Christmas decorations and there were tulips beginning to flower in the garden. Hey presto..

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Looking for the felt I saw most of a ball of Aran weight wool left over from a jumper I made a few years ago. Several of my own cushion covers are coming to the end of their lives so I fiddled around and devised a pattern. There is a similar amount of blue in the same yarn so maybe there will be a pair soon.

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Then Mrs Snail and I went on a course at Studio 3 in Cardigan to learn how to make a coptic bound book. She has already blogged about our day so you can read about it (here) Mine was a birthday present for my son so I had to stay quiet about it until now!

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Finally my new friend Roni came over and showed me how to turn a bowl on the lathe. She is a professional woodturner (find her here) and makes some beautiful things but also proved a very good and patient teacher so it was great to learn from her. We found an old piece of wood which was already cut into a disc shape but it proved to be rather rough and a bit too old so it was not worth sanding and polishing. Even so I was quite pleased with what I produced and have started on another with a better bit of wood.

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Apart from the book they have all involved designing as well as making so my creativity has had quite a good workout recently!

2018 Goes out with a bang, 2019 comes in with a splutter!

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Dom and Beccy moving in

Some of you will remember that from summer 2017 I spent a year getting the cabin in the garden renovated so that it could be lived in all year round. Last October Dom, who had just finished his degree in film, and who knew of me through his Great aunt, a good friend of mine, moved in to live there rent free in return for helping me in the garden and woods two days a week. Unfortunately he quickly realised that it was too remote for him especially with limited broadband and no mobile signal, and left again.

I put the word out to friends and the Permaculture networks that I was looking for someone else and sure enough several people got in touch. They all loved the cabin and surroundings but for each of them there was an insurmountable practical problem. Then the last one to turn it down asked if he could pass my phone number to a friend who wanted to move back to the area. He did and this time it all worked out. So a few days later Rob moved in and to my delight immediately started to make it into a home for himself.

The cabin with Rob’s windchimes, pots of plants and garden furniture outside.

Strangely, although we have lived in the same area we know very few people in common although there are ‘friends of friends’ connections. It soon became apparent that Rob loves tidying or, as he puts it un-muddling muddles! – and as I am very good at muddling this could work out well! One of the first jobs we tackled together was to tidy the workshop so he could put his lathe in there and he was very good at sorting the wood stacks out and getting everything to fit more neatly.

Neatly stacked wood and Rob setting up his lathe and tools

The following week I met my friend Jan aka Mrs Snail of ‘The Snail of Happiness’ (find her blog here) for lunch at Studio 3 in Cardigan. It only opened at the start of December with a gallery, small shop of handmade craft items, workshop space and cafe but even so we got the last available table. We enjoyed a lovely meal and long catch-up (although they were busy no-one was hurrying us – in fact whilst I went to the counter to order more tea for us both a waitress came to clear our plates and stayed chatting!) The timetable of workshops for the week was on a blackboard and we both saw several we fancied so it was no surprise when Jan’s husband gave her a day on bookmaking in March for her birthday and she suggested I go too.

Later that week I met up with Martin, who built the deck for me, and his partner Gill at Crowes, another cafe in town which was new to me – excellent coffee and the food, all organic and vegetarian, looked good too. Then it was lunch on the Saturday before Christmas at the home of some lovely friends, Dom’s Great aunt and her husband. My son, being Muslim, does not celebrate Christmas but as it is a day when no-one is working he cooks a huge roast dinner for his family, now 7 strong with the foster children, and his brother-in-laws’s family who live down the road plus anyone else they know will be glad of the company. My daughter was in Exmouth at her Father-in-law’s as it was the first Christmas since her Mother-in-law died. I was happy to spend the day alone but my lovely friends Jeni and Rob who I see often and live nearby gave such a warm invitation that I joined them for roast goose from their own flock.

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Jeni and Rob’s lovely old cob cottage on their smallholding

img_20190106_145618693Then Carrie arrived on the 27th to spend some time with me. I had taken the Christmas decorations out of the loft and decided that I needed better shelving in there but could not decide whether to buy racking or find the studs in the walls and put up homemade shelves. She had bought some fairly cheap plastic shelving for her own home and been surprised how sturdy it was. We went online, bought it and cleared everything out of the loft. It was delivered next day so we put it together and put everything back. I could not believe how much more space there was! It helped that I put a very old DVD recorder to go to the recycling center, found 3 old laptops and asked Hassan to remove the hard drives, check them for photos I might want to keep and destroy them, and there were 2 boxes of books put there so I could retrieve them if I found I needed to –  but as that was 2 years ago they are en route to the charity shops!

Thanks to all the help there is space to start a new compost heap, filled beds ready for planting in a greenhouse, a pergola for the vine and the hedge is complete.

Hassan and Sean arrived the next day in time for Marie and Rose’s, now annual, visit to help in the garden on the Sunday. You can read about their efforts last year ( A Day of Visitors). Sean was too full of cold to do anything but huddle on the sofa with a supply of tissues but Marie and Rose emptied two compost bins and filled up the beds in one of the greenhouses,  Carrie and Rob cut up a huge pile of brash into kindling and Carrie also kept us supplied with tea and coffee. Hassan went in the workshop and prepared timbers for a pergola on the toolshed and I took some panes of glass out of the walls between the greenhouses to improve airflow. My daughter-in-law Narju had made a big vegan curry and sent it with her menfolk, Carrie boiled rice to go with it and Rose had brought apple tarts for pudding – a feast. After lunch we all carried some of the wood for the pergola up the hill and Rob helped Hassan to put it together with the rest of us holding things in place as needed. Marie and Rose planted seedling trees where there were gaps in a hedge I had planted on the edge of the veg patch using seedlings I had weeded out and saved in pots. Carrie and I finished the last bits of brash and then we all had tea and cake. I am always surprised how much gets done when a few of us work together and how much fun it is.

On New Year’s Day Hassan took Sean, now feeling better, back to Swansea and drove Carrie home before finally getting back to his own family late evening. Unfortunately they left Sean’s cold behind and I spent a couple of days unable to do much apart from cough and sneeze! I suspect that after such a busy, if enjoyable, couple of weeks my body was telling me to stop. I am still coughing sometimes but feeling fine and rested so on with 2019!

Beam me up, Kevin!

If you have been following this blog for a while you may remember that over the summer I was without an internet connection for several weeks. It transpired that a fault with the line was repaired but the engineer forgot to reset something in the exchange, then the exchange connection failed but BT Openreach insisted it must be my router (for those of you not from the UK we have a weird system here as a result of the sell off of utilities by the government in the 80’s. The phone network was sold to BT who hived off the lines and exchanges to a subsidiary they named Openreach. They allow a number of telecoms providers to use the system but faults have to be repaired by Openreach engineer. As you can imagine this results in all sorts of problems with Openreach taking the default position that all faults are due to the provider or the householder.) The phone co-op sent me a new router, blissfully unaware that, by chance, it was a faulty one! By the time it was all sorted out I was on first name terms with everyone in their Tech support team !

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was lucky enough to have good friends Jeni and Rob who generously allowed me to drive over every day and use their connection to collect emails and do anything like on-line banking which required a secure private connection. I was also able to get online at the Cardigan and Carmarthen libraries, and in breaks during the Welsh class since Cardigan castle has a public wi-fi network.

However I have trained everyone to use email rather than the phone as my hearing makes phone calls hard work so being without a connection at home was a pain. My amazing son donned his shining armour, mounted his charger and came to the rescue! He is a software developer so knew about the alternatives to a landline connection.

Plan A was to use a mobile signal. I knew that to make a mobile call I had to climb up to the top of the garden and although visitors sometimes get a signal on their phones on whichever network they use it is only occasional.  But maybe if I had a small mast on top of the house or one of the buildings in the garden…? He had also discovered that the Welsh Government had a scheme whereby households with a poor landline connection which was not scheduled to be upgraded, and no mobile signal could get a grant to enable them to put in a mast or satellite dish. We filled in the forms and commissioned a survey. But despite the maps showing I should get a decent data signal all the chap could find was a weak voice one right at the top of my land and no data signal anywhere. Everyone else in the valley can get a connection but I am right at the bottom and in the shadow of the hills.

That left a satellite system and he assured us that as I had previously been able to get TV through a satellite I would be OK. I would have to pay £45 to top up the grant but that was about the same as changing provider and opting for a new, factory set, router which seemed reasonable. The monthly charge is comparable with the landline. We sent a new quote to the government and waited for them to decide if I qualified. It took them a few weeks of thinking but they concluded that I did and a couple of weeks after receiving the approval letter a lovely man called Kevin came and put up a dish, lined it up with the satellite, installed a modem and got me connected. He even connected an extra piece my son, Hassan, had bought to give me wi-fi as well as an ethernet connection, made sure that my laptop and iPad had connected properly and checked that the speed was as needed for the grant before he left.

Screenshot (1)So now I get 12 Mb/sec instead of 2 or 3 on a good day as as I used to. Using it for Skype is a bit odd since there is a slight lag whilst the speech goes out into space and back again – I will have to start using 2-way radio protocol and saying ‘over’ when I have finished speaking! But overall it is faster, more reliable and involves no more wrangling with Openreach ever! Well until the landline for the phone goes wrong!

Thank you Hassan, Richard at Bentley Walker and Kevin for beaming me up.

Friends and family

Despite being without an Internet connection for 8 weeks of it I have had a fantastic summer.

It all started with the celebration of the new fields at Dyfed Permaculture Trust (find out more here The consequence of reading books)

 

 

The usual workdays and network get-togethers have been enhanced by the lovely sunny weather. There has been chance to catch up with friends. Some have come here and we have made the most of the new deck. Other times I have visited them or we have gone out for lunch together as Jan (Mrs Snail who blogs as ‘The Snail of Happiness’) did last week in Tresaith.

 

Then there were the regular workdays and gatherings.

My eldest Grandchild, Shorna’s graduation (read about it here Going Batty in London) was followed by her younger brother Sean getting the A level grades he needed for a place at Swansea University (read about my joining them for the open day here All Change) and now my daughter’s eldest, Sam, has done well enough in his GCSEs to go on to College where he hopes to do a music course. His younger sister Georgia had no exams this year thank goodness!

But the other big family event was that I met my new foster grandchildren for the first time. My son and his wife have been fostering for a few years now but until this year had teenagers for relatively short placements or, on one occasion, teenagers and a younger sibling for a while. This time they were asked to take another sibling group but these are aged 5 up to 8 and will, all being well, be with them until they are adults. They are delightful children but have lived in cities all their lives with parents who were too lacking in resources (internal and external) to do much more than provide basic care for them. (They also have 2 other siblings who are both disabled and have gone to separate placements where they have the undivided attention of very experienced and trained carers.) Hassan brought them to visit me for a few days to give them some of the experiences they had missed out on. And because my daughter Carrie was planning to come at about the same time he picked her up on the way – it was good to have her help and expertise with little ones. My skills with small children are rather rusty! Between us we gave them a whole string of firsts.

Roo and Orchid were the first dogs they had actually stroked, let alone played with, but Roo soon had them throwing her ball for her! We all visited Jeni so they could meet sheep, pigs, hens, ducks, geese and more dogs! They picked blackberries and ate some straight from the hedge, picked tomatoes with Jeni and with me, and ate French beans they had helped collect. We went to the beach and made sandcastles, went in the sea, looked into rock pools, ate ice cream cones and had Fish and Chips for tea in a cafe. We played in the castle at Newcastle Emlyn. Carrie helped them make a cake, then made them some playdough and picked leaves to press into it to make patterns. Hassan helped them make paper aeroplanes and they flew them off the deck. And two of the nights they slept in tents in the garden. Such simple pleasures but ones that many urban children in struggling families miss out on. It was such a privilege to be able to give them those experiences – ones that I suspect they will remember for the rest of their lives.

I hope you had a good summer too. Please blog about it or share a highlight or two as a comment – I would love to hear about it.

Going Batty in London

Yesterday was a wonderful, exciting, proud day out in London that took me right out of my usual world and into that of wealth and privilege. My amazing eldest grandchild, Shorna, graduated with First Class Honours in International events Management and Mandarin from Regent’s University.

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My Son, Hassan, and daughter-in-Law, Narju, very generously invited me and the other Grandma to join them and Shorna’s brother, Sean for the day of the ceremony. Sadly the requested visa for the other grandma to come from Bangladesh did not come through so it was just the 5 of us. Because they have recently taken in 3 new foster children and I have 2 dogs it seemed wiser for me to stay with my daughter who would be happy to feed and walk them after work so I did not have to rush back. A relative of Narju looked after the children after school so they, too could relax and enjoy the day to the full.

So it was off to Waterloo on the train then by underground to King’s Cross where we all met up. A short walk to the Regent’s canal brought us to our lunch venue. Then back on the tube system to Regent’s University which is an independent (private) University in Regent’s Park itself. Shorna went off to collect her academic gown, hood and mortar board whilst we enjoyed the courtyard garden and took our own informal photos until we all got so hot we had to retreat indoors to have the official photographs taken.

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The ceremony itself was held in St Marylebone Parish Church just outside the park.

 

 

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Amazingly I managed to catch the moment she shook the Chancellor’s hand without getting too many heads in the way. We were sitting up on the top tier of the balcony so actually had quite a good view!

Then there were very welcome drinks and canapes on the College lawn and we managed to get a table under the shade of the trees.

 

We rounded off the day with a meal at Yalla Yalla, a Lebanese restaurant which is a family favourite and parted company at Oxford Circus tube station to get our trains home. I love my life as a Welsh peasant but it is nice to experience how the other half live occasionally!

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Regular readers will have noticed that I have not posted for a while. I lost my broadband connection over a month ago and so far 3 engineers from Openreach have failed to get it working again! Another is coming next Monday to have another go. But as I am now at my daughters for a few days I can log in and write some posts about the nice things which have been happening. Please keep following and reading!