Llama, Moo and an Awful Lot of Windows

Last weekend there was a workday for the Carmarthenshire Permaculture groiup at Llama and Moo’s plot in the South of the County. And, No, neither of them had really weird parents who gave them those names – they are nicknames which have stuck. Llama’s came from something on the radio which he and a group of mates were listening to and Moo’s is a shortening of her surname. They are a really lovely couple and if you also read my blog ‘Going Batty in the Woods’ you will have met them here (https://goingbattyinthewoods.wordpress.com/2022/04/07/a-last-hurrah) making gates and a shavehorse for their plot.

A few years ago they bought a gently sloping field graced with 2 dilapidated static caravans and a lot of grass on the outskirts of a large village and began the process of applying for One Plant Development Planning permission, a planning consent unique to Wales which allows for a house to be built in an area not designated for housing if the owners can demonstrate that they will build and live sustainably including obtaining a lot of their needs from their plot. You can read more about it here (https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/the-power-of-a-good-planning-policy). Permission was finally granted just over a year ago. Whilst they were waiting for it they did a lot of work designing what would go where, planting trees and a garden, and accumulating scrap materials with which to build a home and outbuildings. They also clad the better of the 2 caravans with wood to make it less of an eyesore and they use it as their ‘site office’ – somewhere to shelter from showers, have a cuppa or their picnic lunch, and to store materials which cannot tolerate rain. For now they are living in a house in the village until they can build their dream home.

The advantage of being near the village is that there are a number of industrial units in it and these have proved a fruitful source of waste materials. One double glazing firm must have had a contract to replace all the windows in a big building or housing estate because Llama and Moo relieved them of over a thousand UPVC framed, single glazed windows and some double glazed ones which would otherwise have gone to landfill! The best ones will go in their new home. There were several huge ones with blinds between the panes which will make a wall of windows on the South elevation. Some have been carefully split apart to glaze a huge greenhouse on the back of the wood clad static – the greenhouse frame is made of scrap wood too. And some have been joined to make raised beds – now that’s a new one on me! They have also discovered a lot of materials in skips outside houses which are being refurbished. I was quite envious – around here I rarely see a skip and if I do all that is in it is rubble!

I missed the tour because I had to walk Roo before setting off so that when we arrived she was less energetic. But I was in time for the first task which was to form a human chain and move timber from the poorer static which Llama uses as a workshop to another shed and then sort stones, which will form the base of the greeenhouse walls, from lumps of concrete block which will be saved for another job. Then it was time to stop for lunch. We always have a ‘Bring and Share’ lunch and we take our own plates, cutlery and mugs so that our hosts don’t have to provide them or wash up. It always proves to be a feast with masses to eat and time to sit and chat so a lovely social occasion.

In the afternoon we laid cardboard around newly planted Kale which is being grown primarily for seed although any poor specimens will be eaten! A group of smallholders have organised themselves to grow different types of seeds and sell them through a co-operative organisation. You can find them here (http://www.seedhub.wales) The cardboard was then covered with a layer of chipped wood – the way they use any scrap wood not worth saving and deadwood from their field. This mulch will reduce the amount of weeding required and eventually rot down and enrich the soil.

We all left at about 4pm, tired, but having had a lovely day with friends and with plenty to show for our efforts.

Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Simples Dimples (When you know how!)

Just before Christmas my dishwashed stopped working. A small blinking light informed me that one of its tubes was blocked. It did not tell me which one or with what! I decided that the first thing was to take out the filter at the bottom of the machine and give it a good scrub. Be very grateful that I did not take a photo of the filter – not a pretty sight! I put it back nice and shiny and clean but the light blinked on.

It seemed pretty unlikely that the inlet was blocked. Mains water should be more than clean enough and there has been no discolouration in what comes out of the taps. Nor had I moved the machine which might have kinked a hose. So it was somewhere else in the drain.

I went outside, pulled the flexible hose from the machine out of the waste pipe and checked both as far as I could see or feel. I wondered if a slug or frog had crawled up the pipes so was very relieved to find nothing.

Back indoors I took the filter out again and peered into the depths. I could see where the waste water must go and there was a spring clip holding the first part of the pipework together so I carefully prised it off. There was clearly a small section joined at both ends to more pipework with seals but I could not shift it and was scared of breaking something. I put the clip and the filter back. Time to call an engineer. It was a few days befoore Christmas and I was self-isolating in case my cold was Covid (and did I want to share my cold with anyone else anyway?) I decided to wash up by hand until after the holidays.

So as soon as everyone started work again I emailed the engineer who has repaired my washing machine several times. He was happy to come but what make was the machine? Miele. Only Miele engineers can repair those. I rang Miele. A delightful lady with a very strong ? Italian? accent and I had a tortuous conversation the upshot of which was that the call-out charge was £140 and that did not include parts. I declined her offer to send someone out and started pricing up a replacement.

The next day my very practical friend Lindy was coming over to help me with another job (there will be another post on that when it is finished) and asked ‘Do you have the instruction book for it?’ A rummage through the box file was like an archaeological dig through strata of devices I no longer own, some of them I cannot remember ever owning. But in there was treasure – the dishwasher manual. And sure enough, in the Troubleshooting’ section was ‘How to get into the drain’. Having unclipped the spring thingy I could lift up the small section to reveal a one-way valve. It implied that one finger could easily remove the section. As I had stood up to get better light to read the booklet Lindy was the one lifting it – and wriggling it – and jiggling it – and eventually easing it out. And there was the problem revealed. A small, short, shiny metal tube. Part of the dishwasher shaken loose from somewhere else?

No. When I looked at it carefully and scoured my memory I realised that it was the nut off the end of the plunger of a cafetiere which had been lost months ago! I had loosened it so that the dishwasher would flush out all the small grains of coffee from between the mesh layers. I had looked for it in the filter and where the waste pipe discharges to no avail. It must have lurked in the pipework and then eventually shifted into the valve.

So now I have a working dishwasher and a spare cafetiere. Result! And all it cost me was a slice of cake to go with Lindy’s coffee.

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!

Cinderella’s Carriage?

Way back in Spring many of my tender seeds did not germinate because, unbeknownst to me, my heated bench had stopped working and they were too cold. Several lovely people came to the rescue with spare seedlings including a friend of Laura’s who gave us 2 pumpkin plants. I had never grown pumpkins but knew they grew very big and liked lots of muck. There is one raised bed which is heavily infested with nettles and we had just put a thick layer of cardboard on it then a good layer of cow manure. I had intended to cover it with either more cardboard or weed suppressant fabric and leave it for a year. But needs must so in went the 2 baby plants. One died but the other thrived and not only filled the bed but migrated into the comfrey patch next to it! Eventually we spotted fruits forming but they all seemed to drop off. Then hidden under a layer of leaves on the path we saw a bigger one and then another at the end of another vine.

Last week we decided to harvest the earliest one as it was orange all over and I had visions of it being eaten by rodents if we left it any longer.

You can just see the second one at the back – orange on top but still green at the base.

We managed to get it into the barrow and brought it down to house level to weigh it. The only way to do that was for me to stand on the bathroom scales (Laura refused to do this because she didn’t want to know how much weight she has put on!) and then repeat with the pumpkin in my arms. I couldn’t hold it for long but as best we can tell it weighs in at 23 kilos. (52 lbs or 3 1/2 stone)

There are still a few nettles in the bed but for the most part the pumpkin has out-competed them. I wonder if it works on bind weed? We will save some of the seeds and experiment.

A picklefest

A couple of weeks ago a tsunami of delicious fruit and veg came my way. Pottering round the supermarket I found that small hard pears were on special offer – perfect for making pickled pears or chutney. And a bit further along another offer on oranges. On my way home I called on my lovely friends John and Victoria who have a large old Bramley apple tree in their garden – could I use some? Usually Victoria cooks and freezes loads to use when they have visitors. Covid meant no entertaining so there was still a lot of apple in the freezer and, after a fall in the garden, she didn’t feel up to doing more just to stop them going to waste. I brought a huge box of them home. We had a few days of glorious autumn sunshine and each time I walked Roo (my Kelpie x Collie) I took a basket and picked blackberries from the hedgerows. Another friend, Lindy, had been given 2 red and 2 green cabbage plants by her Dad in the spring and they had grown to football size. Like me she lives alone so 4 huge cabbages were rather a lot! I suggested she make pickled red cabbage but it turned out that she had got it into her head that jams, pickles and the like were technically difficult and, if everything wasn’t sterilised to operating theater cleanliness, potentially dangerous.

So Lindy came over with her 2 red cabbages and we pickled them together. It is a 2 day process. Day 1 was to shred the cabbages and layer them with salt before leaving them overnight. We also spiced some vinegar and left it to cool. We had done that by lunchtime so in the afternoon we used some of the apples and the pears I had bought and made some chutney. After she had left to go to choir practice I boiled up the blackberries with some more apples for bramble jelly and left them to drain through muslin overnight.

The next day I was still boiling up the jelly when Lindy arrived so she got a quick impromptu lesson in ‘how to know when jam is at setting point’ and a reminder of ‘how to sterilise jars in the oven’. Then we packed the cabbage into jars and poured the vinegar on top. There was still time to make some pickled orange wedges using the fruit I had bought. A crash course in preserving! But she has some green tomatoes that she needs to use and feels confident enough to turn them into chutney (with some more of Victoria’s apples) without my help.

I turned some more of the blackberries into blackberry vinegar; I like it as a drink diluted with fizzy lemonade, use it in salad dressings and it is my secret ingredient in lots of savoury dishes.

I have been stewing and bottling more of the apples and now have nineteen 1lb jam jars on the shelf. And there are still a large bowlful left. I have plenty of jars but have run out of lids. I bought more but being a numpty I ordered the wrong size! They fit the smaller jars I have so will get used when I make more jam or things like onion marmalade but those jars are too small for bottling fruit. Maybe I will pick some sloes. Or rowan berries – I have never made rowanberry jelly. One thing is for sure – they will not go to waste.

For those of you who remember that I have 2 dogs and are wondering why I only mention one, Orchid, my lurcher, is getting on a bit (at least 11 years old) and has arthritis which is particularly bad at the moment so long walks are out of the question for her.