Scrap Happy June – Courtesy of Matt

I have been spoilt for choice this month! Since lockdown began all the shops other than food ones have been shut. So I have been unable to buy new materials and have had to use scrap for almost everything. I have done quite a lot of knitting and sewing but the project that has brought me most joy has been my new utility room! The shell was built over a year ago when I had Dan here renovating the cabin. The concrete base is about 10 years old! One of those slow burn projects. I had thought of fitting it out myself but was rather daunted by the prospect of manouvering sheets of plasterboard especially on the ceiling!

When I saw the work Matt had done on the barn kitchen at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust I decided to ask him to come and fit it out. He is brilliant at using what is to hand rather than designing the space and going out to buy everything. I was on his list (which is long because lots of people rate his work highly!) but because the utility room is not in the house we agreed it was safe job for him to do during lockdown.

First he put insulation and plasterboard on the walls and boarded the floor. Most of that stuff had to be bought although he used some timber taken out of the cabin when a wall was taken down for some of the battening. Luckily he is on very good terms with his local builders merchant who allowed him to go and take what he needed from his yard. Once that part of the job was done he left for a few days whilst I oiled the floor and painted the walls.

Then the fun started.

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The butler’s sink is one my son gave me. All the houses in his street are ‘town houses’ built with a garage on the ground floor and a utility room behind plus an entrance hall to the side with stairs to living space on the first floor and bedrooms on the second. The utility rooms had these deep sinks because in those days washing machines were not automatic or plumbed in and had to be filled from a tap and emptied into a sink. And lots of people still did some of their washing by hand. Over the years almost every garage has been converted into living space and the utility rooms have become kitchens. My lovely son has collected the old sinks as they have been thrown out and brought me three to choose from! Matt built a stand for it, and the bases for the worktops, from scrap wood lurking in my workshop. The tap is one my husband made up for the garden – it has the screw thread to take a hose fitting. It was installed high enough to get a brewing bucket underneath but being able to attach a short length of hose makes it more versatile.

The worktops and the pieces up the walls are off-cuts from my handmade kitchen surfaces whilst the shelves and brackets were taken out of the old utility room. Eveb the doors were ones taken out from other places!

Fitting everything into this smaller space was quite a challenge but it does mean that I can’t continue to collect clutter!

It is not quite finished yet. I am waiting for the electrician to come and put the fronts on the sockets and then will buy an upright freezer to replace the old chest one which I haven’t moved. The washing machine broke down just as lockdown began so my kind neighbour is doing my washing until I can get the repairman out to fix it.

The old utility room was originally the garage and Matt will be back in July to transform it into 2 guest rooms and a space which will one day be a shower room – watch this space!

Here are the links for everyone who joins Scrap Happy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

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

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.

A mistake or just bad timing?

Way back in 1961 I passed the exam and interview to go to Bury Grammar School for Girls, a Direct Grant school (the equivalent of an academy in the modern UK). It was a very traditional establishment with a strict policy on school uniform so my Mother took me to the one shop which supplied it to kit me out. Gym knickers (horrible scratchy woolen things), shirts and socks were the limbering up exercise. On to shirts, tie, and gymslip (yes, gymslip! The original one-size-fits-all unflattering passion killer) and finally to the main event THE BLAZER! It was navy blue, made of heavy woolen cloth, fully lined, with the school crest on the breast pocket and it cost a fortune. It was so expensive that my Mother needed very little encouragement to buy one with ‘room to grow’. It had it in spades! I was still wearing it, admittedly straining at the seams somewhat and rather short in the sleeve, when I left school seven years later. I don’t know what happened to it but I suspect it was passed down to a new girl.

My house feels like that blazer at the moment – waiting for me to grow into it.

When I was widowed 9 years ago and had got a builder in to finish the renovations, I was faced with the decorating. What I really wanted to do was to crawl into a deep dark burrow just big enough to turn round in and curl up in a little ball. There I would hibernate until the world found its way back to normal. Of course, I knew that normal would not be back. My beloved was dead not just in hospital for a bit. The decorating and the rest of life had to be faced. But perhaps inevitably I was drawn to dark, warm colours, lots of clutter (a.k.a. security blankets) and a ‘cosy’ ambience.

By last autumn it was all looking rather scruffy and dingy. Me, two dogs and three cats carrying in dirt, brushing against walls, sitting on the furniture, and all the everyday wear and tear had taken its toll. Touching up the paintwork was no longer an option – the original paint had faded in the sunlight. So it was time to do at least some rooms again.

I no longer needed my burrow. Like the blazer when I left school it was too tight. I had built a new life for myself and was more outward looking. Time to lighten up as well as freshen up.

I looked at dozens of paint charts, trawled through endless DIY stores, perused interiors magazines and made some tentative choices. Then Beccy, my neighbour who had recently painted a whole house for a friend, suggested I use paint from the Laura Ashley shop as it was much better quality than the stuff from the DIY or builders merchants. Expensive per tin but needing only 2 coats at most she thought it worked out no dearer and was less work. The range of colours is not huge which actually made the job of choosing easier!

I did the fireplace wall of the sitting room before Christmas and have continued round the three living spaces since. I need more paint to do the bedroom but at the moment can’t go out to get some and the shop isn’t open anyway. Of course, it isn’t just painting is it? Everything has to be taken off shelves, pictures taken down, curtains and other soft furnishings washed. And in the process there is a decluttering exercise, stuff is rearranged. Most of my home is lighter, brighter, cleaner, clearer, more spacious.

Externally I am constrained by lockdown. I am at home much more than usual. There are no visitors coming in to use the space I have created. There is ‘room to grow’ but I feel slightly un-contained by it. It’s all a bit discumbobulating! Have I made a mistake or will it all feel right in a few weeks time?

Protective Custody

Some ‘conversations’ I have had recently have reminded me how lucky I am to be experiencing ‘lockdown’ where I am.

A friend’s sister, who has some mental health problems anyway, is living in one room in a shared flat with no outside space and is really struggling to cope.

Carolee, a retired professional nurserywoman who writes a brilliant and informative blog about her garden (read it here)commented on my post Magnificent May ‘Such a pretty “jail” during this lockdown.’ – an interesting turn of phrase.

I also recalled that until this pandemic I had only heard the term ‘lockdown’ in relation to prisons when there was rioting. This extract from an article in The Guardian newspaper confirms that my memory was fucntioning correctly.

“It was only in the 1970s that “lockdown” began to mean an extended state of confinement for inmates of prisons or psychiatric hospitals, and thereafter any period of enforced isolation for security. Originally, in 19th-century America, a “lock-down” was a strip of wood or peg that secured the poles or a raft together when timber was transported by river. It is therefore a wistful irony that our present condition is named after a mechanism that once ensured the reliability of travel in the great outdoors.

• Steven Poole’s A Word for Every Day of the Year is published by Quercus.”

Those three strands combined to make me reflect on the harshness of our prison systems.

I can wander at will around my house allowing me to change my position and which walls I am looking at. There is plenty of space for me to have books and craft materials to occupy me. I can have devices connected to the internet and stay in touch with family and friends whenever I like. I have my pets for company and comfort.

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a cell in Swansea jail

Nor do I have to put up with company I do not want, For me, sharing my space with someone can be tricky even when I love them dearly! To share with a stranger would be a nightmare.

Any time I fancy a cup of tea I can make one. I can decide what meals I want to eat and when and make them exactly to my taste.

When I look through the windows I see green and trees and flowers. If I want to go outside I can and I can choose to sit, to exercise or to go for a walk. No-one tells me that I must come back in. I can garden which is creative but there is also lots of evidence that having our hands in the soil is beneficial to our health.

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Swansea Prison on a main road in a built up area.

I know that I am not alone in finding that even so it is hard to remain cheerful all the time. I dread to think how I would cope if incarcerated in prison. I suspect I would either become mentally ill or run amok! No wonder that so many prisoners are ill, either physically or mentally; that attacks on, and injuries to, prison staff are so frequent. Taking away all those choices also creates institutionalised individuals who will find it hard to cope when released which could be a factor in recidivism. Of course criminality must be punished and society has to be protected but I am beginning to realise that the way we currently go about achieving those ends may not be humane let alone the best. I have no idea what would be a better solution – I just have a clearer understanding of the problem. I will be interested to hear your views.

Lessons from Lockdown

When our children were babies my husband worked for a while as an Audit Assistant with the local Council. It was a small Council and Audit got various jobs that didn’t really belong to any department or took up slack when other departments were unusually busy. One day he was asked to review the insurance for all the Council vehicles before it was renewed. ‘Just think of the worst accident you can imagine and make sure we would be OK’ was the instruction from his boss. His scenario involved a bin lorry, failed brakes, a steep hill between busy shops and with the Council Offices at the bottom.

More importantly it made him think about our lives. What could go wrong? What would the consequences be? Did we have the ‘insurance’ to cope? From then on he was known for his ‘belt, braces and a bit of baler twine just in case’ approach. That seemingly trivial task at work became a foundation stone for our lives. We didn’t become fearful or paranoid, just determined to think about our resilience and try always to have plan ‘B’.

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Soft fruit gives a lot of yield for little effort

We agreed that we would try to accumulate useful practical skills going as far back down the process as possible and to do so using only the most basic equipment. I knew how to sew but learned how to mend, do patchwork using recycled fabric, sew by hand as well as machine, relearned how to knit and crochet, then to spin and to dye using natural ingredients (I am not very good at either but know enough that I could become competent). John added DIY and building to his ‘O’level woodwork then did a weekend course in blacksmithing. We learned to garden and to cook with what was available rather than starting with a recipe and buying the ingredients. Foraging increased the range of foodstuffs we could use. Preserving kept summer foods for winter use. We kept poultry and pigs for meat and eggs.

The spinning wheel I have been lent and the workshop

I hope I am not giving the impression that I live (or have lived) some buccolic idyll of self sufficiency. Complete self sufficiency is a myth. It is also part of the ‘I’m all right Jack’ bunker mentality of the survivalists. I happily accept gifts from neighbours, shop from local farms and buy staples like flour and sugar from the supermarket. I enjoy eating bananas and lemons that will not grow in the UK. I heat my home predominantly with electricity and since heat is needed mainly when the sun is not shining I need the National grid to take surplus power when I have it and sell me some when I need it. I use more than I generate so I am dependent on other suppliers particularly over winter. I prefer to use hand tools but am realistic about the efficiency of powered ones. And so on.


Allowing kales to self seed looks messy but gives me an early crop for no work. Small ones for salad and big ones to cook.

The last few weeks has been the first big test of that resilience for a long time. I have coped pretty well. Not pefectly so there are things I need to think about but on the whole well enough. I am of course lucky to be retired – my income is not dependent on me being able to work. I don’t have young children to care for and school or entertain. Having a mortgage free home in the country with a large garden has been a great blessing and is partly down to luck and partly to hard work and choices. Food in the garden, hedgerows to forage in, preserves and a well stocked freezer mean I have had plenty to eat and gardening, crafting, dogs and a home to look after have given me plenty to do.


Workdays and permaculture groups have made me lots of friends

Getting to know my neighbours, building a wider community by joining in things and volunteering means I have had plenty of offers of help with things like shopping and lots of electronic contact with others. My washing machine stopped working with a smell of hot rubber and some expensive noises just after lockdown started. I could have ordered a new one online for home delivery but I suspect it can be repaired and I know a very competent man who will come and look at it – but not at the moment. My neighbour has been doing my washing each week since and has been pleased to help me since she was becoming embarassed about asking me to drive her children to clubs when she had two of them needing to go in opposite directions at the same time. Of course I have missed being able to go out and meet friends for coffee, walks on the beach, visitors coming here, workdays… but I haven’t been lonely or felt vulnerable.

So where could I do better? I didn’t have enough pet food to see me through even the original 3 week lockdown. I buy dog and cat food in sacks from the farmers co-op but in future I need to have an unopened sack of each as well as the one I am using. That means I also need to make sure there is space for them in the new utility room. I can adjust my diet to suit what is growing but it is harder to do that for the animals! I also went to the vets and got some more of the pain relief medicine Orchid needs. I was a bit over cautious there as the bottle will finally run out tomorrow but even so I need to keep a better supply in future.


C&M have closed the trust shop but between 10am and 2pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are open to take orders called through the window. They put everything requested together in a box which is put outside the door for the customer to pick up.

I have been going to C&M for fresh fruit and veg, butter and cheese. I decided a few years ago that potatoes, onions and carrots were not worth growing. Potatoes because I always miss some when I dig them up and get ‘volunteers’ the next year which outcompete the things I am trying to grow, onions because they came out the same size as the sets that went in and carrots because the local carrot root flies get them all. This year I have been able to get some manure to improve my veg patch and am planting lots of leeks instead of onions. I had intended growing some potatoes in pots which I could empty completely when I harvested them but missed the seed potatoes. Butter and cheese I can start keeping in the freezer. So I just need to tweak my growing and storing. On the other hand by shopping there I have been supporting a local business – a balance to be struck.


preserves have been a boon

The other thing I have needed to buy is milk. I have been thinking about that gap for a while and had a go at milking a goat at a friend’s place a while back. Going back into livestock isn’t something to do on a whim or for an unusual event but I do need to have another think.

Of course if this goes on for much longer I will run out of other things, there will be other breakages and breakdowns. My hair needs cutting and since I had it cut short I no longer have slides and clips to keep it out of my eyes. A dental appointment has been postponed. A former neighbour died and I was unable to go to the funeral – it should have been a ‘standing room only’ affair but must have been very small instead – not a fitting send-off for a very popular and respected man.

Sometime fairly soon lockdown will be eased if not lifted and I will be very glad. I will enjoy a trip into Cardigan to have a coffee, meet friends, go to the library, buy some more knitting yarn and restock at the supermarket. I will get my hair cut, my tooth filled and my washing machine repaired. But I owe a huge debt of gratitude to that imaginary bin lorry!

Blessings # 19 – S is for Sunshine

And I have been blessed with some almost every day for the last 3 weeks whilst we have been locked down.

When we were looking for a place to buy we had a wide search area but a clear list of things we wanted – a large plot so we could have a big garden and no neighbours too close, ideally a plot which was empty so we could build a house to suit ourselves, somewhere quiet with clean air. We also wanted to be well above sea-level. We both loved living on the Exe Estuary in Devon but had noticed that the boards which were put across the slipways under the railway tracks were being used more often and built higher, until we began to wonder how long it would be before our village was flooded. But top of the list for John was that the plot should be South facing.

That proved to be a problem. All the building plots were rather mean in size and on the North facing side of the valley or road. The South facing side had been built up first to the end of the area designated for development and now only plots on the north facing side would get planning permission. Had ‘One Planet Developement’ been available we might have looked at that but that came in much later. (To find out what One Planet Developement is all about read my previous post here) When we started looking at plots with buildings on we found that almost all the houses were orientated to face East. After all farm workers needed light in the morning to get up and get to work and possibly some in the evening but during the day they would be busy outdoors! This place was probably built as it was because digging out any more of the hill would have been far to much work for a pair of mere tied cottages!

Had we been able to build to our own design we would have made even better use of the sunny aspect. But we did what we could. Eleven years ago we finally had funds to have solar panels put on the roof. The big array is solar PV which generate electricity. At the time the government were offering good incentives to ramp up solar generation so I get just over 50p for each kilowatt they generate, which in Summer gives me a nice bonus and even in winter gives a little. After a few years they had paid for themselves and they will go on bringing in a tax free amount for the next 14 years. After that it will just be what I get for selling the power to the grid which is very little! But what I use is free and the system is set up so that I use my own power in preference to power from the grid if I am generating. Of course my main need for electricity is in winter but at least I can do my spring cleaning at the moment with a clear conscience. All the extra washing of curtains and covers is using free power!

It is hard to see in the photo because the elder tree was in the way but there are 2 solar thermal panels on the lower roof. They give me hot water when the sun shines so I don’t have to use the heating system so much.

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The derelict shed is attached to the equally derelict cottage next door! Finding a spot where I could take a photo of the roof without too many trees in the way proved tricky now they are coming into leaf!

The lean-to greenhouse is not there because I needed more space to grow under glass. It is to absorb heat when the sun is shining and by opening the windows I can let it inside. Today there is a chilly wind but in there it is hot and the house is toasty without any heating being used.

The last improvement, a couple of years ago, was to have the deck built so that I can sit and enjoy the sun in summer.

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Sun to sit and bask in, sun to heat my home and grow my food, sun to heat the water and sun to run appliances and give me a little bit of extra income – what a blessing!

Blessings # 17 – Q is for Quiet

My increasing deafness is entirely caused by my brain not processing sound properly – my ears are fine. Apparantly this problem is genetic and sadly my grand-daughter has it too and whereas mine only became a problem in middle age and only affects my hearing she has always struggled to process speech and language n written form as well.

I do sometimes wonder if the problem is made worse by the fact that I actually enjoy silence so there is little motivation for me to push my brain to ‘hear’.

That love of peace and quiet is why I try to use only hand tools. I hate the racket of power tools. This morning I was doing some gardening whilst it was still cool. The birds singing was the only sound I could hear. There is never much traffic on the road here but even less now we are all in lockdown. Add in a Bank Holiday and I have only heard 2 vehicles pass all morning.

The sounds I do want to hear are the birds singing, bees buzzing, the breeze rustling the trees, the stream burbling on its way, my cats purring, the grandfather clock ticking, the timer telling me my meal is cooked or bread baked….

From that perspective this place is perfect.

Blessings # 15 – O is for Outbuildings

According to one of my friends happiness is a small house (so fairly quick to tidy and clean) plus outbuildings for playing in. Well I sometimes wish my house was a bit smaller or at least had a different layout but I am rich in outbuildings.

There is a shed on the veg patch to store all my gardening stuff. It has enough room in it to be able to sit but I want to make some double doors so that I can look out whilst taking a break.

My woodshed is big enough to not only store the wood that has been cut to size, but the longer lengths, dumpy bags of kindling and sawdust, AND still have room for the sawhorses so that wet days can be used to cut and chop for the fires.

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Opposite are two sheds we originally built to house poultry but which are now used to store garden furniture and things like fence posts.

Next there is the workshop with all the woodworking stuff. It is gloriously large with space to lay things out on the floor or the big bench.

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Adjoining the house and accessed from the car port is what used to be the garage – until the double doors literally fell off in my hands when I tried to open the wicket door in them and we had the opening blocked up. It is now a sort of utility room and general domestic junk store. Once the new utility room is fitted out I can finish going through it all. The builder should have been coming any day now but of course….

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Above it is a loft space which I use as my craft studio. Yesterday I emptied a chest of drawers up there to swap it with another one. I really should have taken the photo before doing that! I am using the lockdown to get on with spring cleaning , which always results in rearranging and until it is all finished chaos reigns!

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Add in the greenhouses and I am spoilt for choice for places to play whatever the weather.

Blessings # 13 – M is for Momentos

Lots of the things in my home have stories attached. They remind me of the person who gave them to me or an occasion. They are bits of my past brought into my present. And whilst I am alone so much more than usual they have taken on extra significance. They root me in my family history, my past experiences, remind me that I am loved, that I have suyrvived difficult times in the past and that I have the resources to get through this.

Photos of course

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The pot my father put his cufflinks and small change into every night when he went to bed sits next to a gift from my daughter. At the other end of the shelf is the wooden moneybox I put my pocket money in as a child.

My huisband’s Grandmother’s dinner service and her kitchen scales. I still use the scales though I have now bought a set of metric weights to go with her imperial ones.

The grandfather clock left to me by my mother’s oldest sister.

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Souvenirs of travels.

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Some pieces my husband turned.

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Special greetings cards which we received have been framed.

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I have had an interesting life and made many precious memories – and intend to go on making more!.

Blessings # 9 – I is for Independence

If there is one thing that this present lockdown has shown us it is that none of us is truly independent. Life alone on a desert island would be awful! I rely on others to provide me with food I cannot produce for myself, on the people who keep the internet running, on the water and electricity companies, and actually I need to be able to chat to others in person or remotely. All that without even thinking about if my house were to go up in flames or I had an accident.

What I would also hate is becoming too dependent. The worst would be losing the right to make choices such as when to get up or go to bed, what to wear, when to have a shower and what to eat. If I choose to write a blog post at 2am because something is going round and round in my head I can (and I have). If I choose to have chocolate cake and whiskey for breakfast who knows let alone cares? (I haven’t yet but I could!) Of course if I was very rich I could, like Mrs Thatcher, go to live in a luxury hotel and employ private nurses to care for me. I guess then I would be able to get my own way. But for most of us the choice is to be cared for by family if they are able and willing to take us in – but that is not always easy to cope with – or to go into a care home which is unlikely to be able to offer much flexibility.

So for now I rejoice in the fact that I can live here on my own. This may not always be the case.

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My bike may not get as much use as it should but so far it has not become a clothes horse!

I cannot protect myself from everything that might ail me but I can do some things. I can cook healthy meals even when cooking for one feels a bit of a chore. I can grow some of my food so that it is really fresh and when I buy ingredients choose local organic ones where possible. I can exercise – walking the dogs for gentle exercise and fresh air, yoga for balance and flexibility, the static bike for cardio and some weights for strength. Apart from dog walking – they don’t allow me to slacken! – I don’t do any of these as often as perhaps I should but I do what I can.

I care for my mental health by keeping in touch with family and friends (see F here) and by setting myself challenges (see C here)

I will shortly be having what is now my utility room / glory hole turned into 2 bedrooms for visitors but I have asked the builder to make the doorways extra wide so that a wheelchair can go through easily and have designated where a lift could go. By turning my studio in the roof space into a living area and having patio doors installed where the old garage doors were I could create a ‘granny annexe’ which would allow me to stay independent as long as possible.

Maybe it’s as well this lockdown means the builder can’t come yet – there is a lot of decluttering to do! The wall to the left of the window is where the old garage doors were.

Blessings # 8 – Home

When we bought this place we were able, by a series of pieces of good luck, to be mortgage free. Neither of us had realised how good that would feel until it happened but I am grateful for it even now. Originally two cottages and a cowshed it had gone derelict and then been bought for a song in the 70’s by one of the many hippies who moved to this area in search of the ‘good life’. With the help of a grant from the council he renovated it but the effect of the pot he smoked and supplied to the builder was evident in the result! Little by little we sorted it out and arranged everything to suit ourselves. I am still tweaking it to work for me now I live here alone. I am not expecting anyone from a glossy magazine to knock on my door wanting to do an article on it anytime soon but it has a roof which keeps the rain out, is warm enough and is comfortable. Visitors seem to find it welcoming and interesting which pleases me. When so many people are homeless or worry about keeping a roof over their heads I know I am truly blessed.