Scrappy Storage of Possible Scrap

A month or so ago I wrote a post about making things. (read it here if you missed it) and my good friend Mrs Snail suggested I join a group of crafty bloggers who post monthly about things made from scraps. It is all curated by Kate who blogs as Tall Tales from Chiconia. You can find her blog (here ) with links to all the other happy scrappers. So this is my first post specifically on using up rubbish creatively.

Every few years I get this strange urge to have a good clear-out, a massive de-clutter; and I withdraw from groups I no longer feel such a bond to making more time in my life. Then of course I acquire more stuff, get involved in new things until the next time! After a couple of limbering up exercises with my daughter helping me to purge the loft and the collection of slides my husband had taken (if I don’t recognise the person or place why keep them?) I started on the house.

Three walls of the sitting room were lined floor to ceiling with shelves of books and more overflowed into the spare room. An old parish chest had been full of them for ten years or so. I took down all the ones I thought I would never read again. There weren’t many left! Which made me lose my nerve. What if I was being too ruthless? Many were old and out of print so if I changed my mind they would not be easy to replace. I started to carry them up to the loft – filling up all the space we had cleared. But the piles started to wobble, putting them in boxes just gave me tottering piles of boxes instead!

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Then I had a brainwave. My friend Jeni and I had bought compost for our gardens in a large enough quantity for it to be delivered – on two pallets, which were still in the carport waiting for a use to be found for them. A quick check proved that a pallet was exactly the right size to fit into an alcove in my studio – perfect. Lurking in a shed was a stack of terracotta cylinders. They are made to stack as the inside of a chimney when a house is built. Why we bought them is lost in the mists of time but they have come in handy for a number of projects. Even so there were 8 left. 4 pairs lifted the pallet to just the point where the sloping ceiling meets the wall. Non-fiction went underneath with the stacks holding each other up, fiction and theology went on top (the juxtaposition was entirely subconscious I promise!)

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Problem solved! If they are still there in a couple of years time I will start taking them to the charity shops. Then I can either use the shelf for storing something else (the clutter will be building again by then I know) or dismantle it and use the pieces for something else entirely.

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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.

Home Sweet Home

This last few weeks have been even busier than usual with two big projects being finished and a third is now on the home straight and has also been taking up time. Plus I have had a stream of very welcome visitors.

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The entrance is tucked away and looks out onto a bank up to the drive

The biggest project has been the refurbishment of the cabin in the garden. We had it built in 1995, just after we moved in to give ourselves a refuge from the renovations and also a place to see work clients where we didn’t have to apologise for the mess! Once we stopped working from home we turned it into a Holiday Let and later used it as extra bedrooms when family or friends came to stay. Now that the grandchildren are older and more independent there are fewer times when we all get together here and it gets less use.

Last year I decided that it was no longer earning its keep and I needed to use it differently. It was structurally sound and a nice space to be in but cosmetically tired and the large, single glazed windows made it hard to heat. Because it had been designed to give us two work rooms plus a loo and a kitchenette for making tea or coffee, the rooms were small. They were also quite dark, partly because the trees and shrubs planted around it had grown up and partly because, out of consideration for our neighbour’s privacy we had all the big windows put on the North facing side but as the cottage next door was now derelict there was no good reason to leave them there.

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I decided it was time for a redesign that would not alter the structure too much but so that it could be used as somewhere for volunteers to live whilst helping me with the garden or as a Holiday Let again. I chose to keep one room as a bedroom and the shower room did not need any changes. The rest of the space I had knocked into one living area.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA To improve light the double doors on the NE wall were moved to the SW wall and replaced with a half wall and new window. I wanted all the windows to be double glazed but the doors were too thin to take the extra thickness. Dan, the builder, came up with the idea of using architrave on each face to hold the new panes in place and strengthen the doors to take the increased weight. The Carmarthenshire Permaculture group made the small sitting space outside when they visited. Read more  here Many Hands

He also installed a small wood stove to provide heating and a focal point. The result was a lovely airy, light filled but still cosy space with a view over the meadow to the stream and woods.

I re-decorated and my son helped me install the kitchen I had designed and constructed. Then it was the fun part collecting up and refurbishing spare furniture – a sofa from the conservatory, a table and chairs I had been using outside, spare rugs and throws…

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Dom and Beccy optimistic at first

A relative of one of my friends asked to come and live there and moved in. Unfortunately he soon realised that life in the middle of nowhere was not for him. With no mobile signal and poorer broadband than he was used to he found it hard to keep occupied after dark but had no car to go out. So after less than a week he left again. I am hoping that  I will soon find someone to whom the peace and quiet, plus low connectivity to the modern world, will actually be an advantage and who will be happy to live there rent free in return for working in the garden and woods a couple of days a week. Then it really will be someone’s ‘Home sweet home’.

 

Oh Dear! Now what?

At the end of July I finished a year of recording all my expenditure in line with the categories of the One Planet Development Carbon Footprint Calculator. It was time to enter it all into the spreadsheet and get the calculated result. (you can find the calculator on the Welsh government website under Topics>Planning>Policy and guidance>One planet development practice guide. The pdfs are at the bottom of the page.) I knew I would not meet the target of 1.88 global hectares but hoped for and expected nothing worse than 2 to 2.5 times that. So it was rather a shock to get 6.72 global hectares – 3.6 times my share of the planet’s resources! How did that happen? How can I get this number down and live within my fair share? I must admit that I felt ashamed to be so greedy and also slightly panicky as to how I could improve further.

After a few deep breaths I managed to engage my brain! Although this calculator is much more searching and precise than many I have seen, it has its flaws. For instance it asks me to enter my consumption of food as money spent on the various categories. Paradoxically when I broke my wrist and did almost all my shopping in a supermarket my spending went down. So buying potatoes grown in Egypt on sand plus chemicals, using rapidly depleting underground aquifers, would give a lower score than waiting a few weeks to get organically grown ones from Pembrokeshire! I gather from Jasmine Dale that when the scheme was originally being designed there was an intention to correct this anomaly but somehow that has been lost. I do understand that it could get ridiculous with multiple categories – Potatoes organic Welsh,  Potatoes organic UK, Potatoes organic EU, Potatoes organic other, Potatoes not organic Welsh…. all with different scores per £ spent.

Secondly if John had still been alive my score would be much lower. Although food costs would roughly double and the water bill would go up a bit, the cost of running and heating the house would stay pretty much the same. Similarly the bulk of the costs of running the car would be unchanged and as we always tried to do more than one errand in each journey we would mostly travel together so the petrol cost would only increase a bit. Lowering my carbon footprint does not seem a good enough reason to start looking for a new husband!

Another alarmingly big chunk went on the dogs and cats. Even excluding the ‘contributions’ to the rescue charity for Sally and Connor and the one-off cost of having Connor neutered (he was too young for him to have been done already) they are costing me about £11.50 per week. I buy the cheapest food by the sack from the farmers’ Co-op but on the advice of the vet when I got Orchid from the rescue charity, they get a dentastix each night and Roo gets through quite a lot of squeaky balls! I know that there are people who disapprove of pets and I can understand their logic. However the original reason for having cats was to keep vermin like rats and mice under control. No I probably do not need 3 of them for that (though they keep finding plenty). And the dogs keep me healthy and connected to the neighbours as I explained in my first post on this blog (read it here Walking the dogs) And all 5 of them keep me company, make me laugh and give me cuddles.

It was those ‘unquantifiable’ outcomes, the ‘soft’ benefits which both Jasmine and Jan Martin (a.k.a. Mrs Snail – read her blog here) reminded me needed to be ‘offset’ against my consumption. I am building soil fertility  in the garden, increasing the amount and diversity of habitat, planting trees, building community, volunteering for charities (which is how some of the petrol is used), passing on what I learn through the networks and I belong to…..

Then I read an interesting piece by Paul Jennings who lives only a few miles away. He points out that my plot and my lifestyle are embedded within a wider system which is not, at the moment, designed to be helpful to me achieving my goal. If there was a public transport system that was close enough I would use it. When I am offered a lift or can give one I do. If I could use a taxi (the nearest taxi firm is, I believe, based in Cardigan 19 miles away) I would. But in the system as it is I need a car. And so on. You can read his excellent piece here.

None of that leaves me complacent about my high score. It was an interesting exercise and gave me some useful information. I need to go on thinking about how I could do better but to focus too narrowly on that one criterion could lead me to make some unethical choices.

Is it better to buy a jumper made of synthetic fiber from the charity shop or to knit one from locally produced wool? The former makes use of something that has already been made, supports a charity, encourages volunteering, helps prevent an empty shop on the high street, but I may think ‘easy come, easy go’ and not take much care of it, it sheds microfibres into the environment, will never rot down … The latter supports local farmers, a local haberdashery shop, encourages me to be creative, I will probably look after it because I know how long it took to make, it is environmentally friendly, will rot when I finally put it on the compost heap…

I do not think there is A right answer to any of these conundrums. Hopefully wrestling with them will do both my brain and the planet some good!

 

 

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.

Permaculture Principles 4 – Every element should support more than one function and every function should be supported by more than one elemnent

I will have to try and think of a pithier way of putting that! Though doubtless others have tried and I have no reason to suppose I am better at pithy than they were.

Permaculture is about designing efficient, resilient systems. The efficiency comes from elements which earn their keep or their space in our cupboards. Probably all of us have been given gadgets such as waffle makers, sandwich toasters as gifts and found that we do not eat many waffles or toasted sandwiches! So they sit in the cupboard getting an occasional outing until we decide they can reasonably be got rid of. A wooden spoon or sharp knife on the other hand…  Resilience is characterised by elastic in the system – if there is a failure at any one point there will always be a ‘Plan B’. Think of a road layout. If there is one road from A to B and it gets blocked no traffic can move but if that road is part of a network then everyone can divert around the blockage. The diversion may be less direct or convenient but it is still possible to get from A to B.

I have been rather forcibly reminded of this principle recently. Over a month ago my broadband connection failed (Why it has been down so long is another story) and I have discovered just how dependent I have become on that one element. Partly that dependency has arisen because of where I live and the lack of infrastructure in the remoter, rural parts of the UK; but I had also failed to notice how many things in my life were becoming wi-fi dependent. That one element supports many functions; the problem is that too many functions were supported by only that element!

The most obvious is communication. Because my hearing is poor I find emails easier than even a special phone. So I have been visiting my friends Jeni and Rob most days to collect emails and reply to anything urgent. Lovely to see them but…. I have also been using the free connections in the Library and at the Welsh class when I am in Cardigan but neither of those is secure. I know one of my neighbours uses a mobile phone connection in preference to a landline one but I get no signal at home so a smart phone is not a good use of money.

I also do research for my Permaculture Diploma online, use the web-based resources for the Welsh course including listening again to audio tapes, bank for myself and in my role as treasurer at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, read the news, check the weather forecast, play games and do puzzles, manage my electricity account, listen to radio as podcasts and occasionally watch TV, join Skype meetings, keep up with friends on social media, shop for things I cannot get locally and, of course,  write this blog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor some of these there are alternatives. I can phone people if I need to, Radio reception is poor at home because I am right down in the valley but it is good enough to listen to a news bulletin. One of my bank accounts is available by going into the Cardigan branch. The hardest to access have been the Welsh course, Skype meetings and this blog. The audio on the first 2 is anti-social and headphones plus hearing aids is not a good mix! Blog writing has to be done online and takes time.

Well – lesson learned! Even if my broadband is restored tomorrow when the 5th Openreach engineer has a go, I need to have a better back-up plan so I have asked my very tech-savvy son to come over when he can and review the whole system with me. He already has some ideas using gadgets and gizmos I have never heard of. I anticipate a cash boost for Amazon (no local shop is likely to have all we need). Watch this space!

 

Permaculture Principles 3- Obtain a Yield

I have mentioned my Mum before in these posts. She trained as a Domestic Science teacher during the second World War – the end of an era when the object of Domestic Science in schools was to train girls (only girls) to be good housewives and mothers and / or good servants. It had not been uncommon for Secondary Modern schools in particular (grammar school girls would be employing the servants!) to have a small flat where girls could learn to clean, wash and iron clothes, bath a baby and light the sitting room fire; as well as a separate Cookery room where they learned to cook. I have this amazing (if grainy) photo of the cookery room she worked in as a teacher in a school near Bolton, Lancashire in 1941.

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Thus when she left teaching to get married she prided herself on her housewifely skills and kept the house immaculate. Things she did daily are lucky to get done here weekly, her monthly jobs are my attempt at spring cleaning and so on. In many ways it was an example of Parkinson’s first law that work expands to fill the time available. Her justification for all this activity was that she wanted the place to look nice if someone came round. However she was so locked into her regime of chores that her only outings were to the shops. She belonged to no groups or clubs until I was well into my teens when she started going to an evening class in cake decorating. As a result there were very few visitors to the house – one next door neighbour came for a cup of tea quite often and relatives or old friends came occasionally but always by arrangement as they lived to far away to just call. And all that cleaning and polishing meant the house never felt homely or welcoming and everyone was afraid of making a mess or spilling something.  And to be honest any impending visit caused so much work and worry and baking that Mum too was happier not to see people.

So what has all that got to do with obtaining a yield? Well the idea of this principle is not to waste time and energy doing something just for the sake of it.

Of course what is wasting time for me might not be for you and vice versa and we will each value different yields differently. When I go to a meeting of one of the Permaculture groups it is not because I want to ‘earn’ a visit to my place and the work that will get done but because I enjoy the socialising and learning and get ideas for my own place. Most of the ‘yield’ is intangible but nonetheless real to me but someone else might think I am stupid to give my labour for free getting  wet and muddy into the bargain.

Another thing both my Mum and my dad were keen on was being sensible and that very lower middle class idea of ‘deferred gratification’. So I dutifully went to University and for want of any better idea became, to their relief,  a teacher. A nice steady job with a salary and prospects and with a pension at the end. John and I got married, bought a house with a mortgage, acquired wills and insurance policies. Actually I quite enjoyed teaching most of the time (though I was a bit creative and whacky for some of my colleagues even then! None of the other Maths teachers illustrated their lessons on fractions with chocolate cakes or used mind reading to introduce algebra!)). blog260418-2But having fun, experimenting, taking risks, chasing dreams were very low on the agenda and I regret that now. The yield was always ‘later’, when the children are older, when they leave home, when the mortgage is paid off, when you retire… H.E. Bates puts it rather well in ‘The Darling Buds of May’ “The word pension made Pop laugh…. ‘You mean sit on your backside for forty years and then collect four pounds a week that’s worth only two and and ‘ll only buy half as much anyway?'” I am not suggesting here that pensions are a bad idea – I have 2 very small private ones that top-up my state one and I am relieved that I own my home; I am grateful for the security those things give me. But I wish there had been more balance, more ‘yield’ of fun and adventure whilst I was young enough to take risks and bounce back if they failed as well as ensuring a ‘yield’ of security now.

Meanwhile writing this blog records events, gives me pleasure in writing the posts, has taught me new skills such as taking and loading photos and the comments are allowing me to meet a new group of people. A good investment – I am obtaining a yield.