Toasty!

Way back in February I told you all that I had bitten the bullet and ordered a new wood burning stove for my sitting room. (If you missed it you can find the post here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2022/02/20/building-resilience/) One big enough to heat the whole of the downstairs and allow me to use my Air Source Heat Pump less thus saving on my electricity bills which are becoming ridiculous.

A conversation with my friend Lindy, who heats her bungalow entirely with a wood stove from the same company I chose, made me realise that the new fire would work much better if the downstairs was more open plan. I should explain that my house has a really weird layout. It is very long and thin with the rooms opening off each other. You come in through a new porch to the kitchen, then my workroom, the sitting room and finally a spare bedroom. It is all because it was originally 2 small cottages which went derelict after WWII, were bought in the 70’s, and renovated with an extension either end to give a garage at the kitchen end and a bathroom at the other. When we moved in my workroom and the sitting room, the downstairs of the larger cottage, were open plan. As both the owner and the builder doing the renovations smoked a lot of cannabis the ‘renovations’ were a bit odd, shall we say! We replaced the kitchen, knocked the 3 very cramped bedrooms upstairs into one generous bedroom with en suite, turned the huge downstairs bathroom into a single bedroom also ensuite and put up a stud wall to divide the open plan livting room into two as we needed more wall space and wanted a cosy sitting room. The picture on the left has the new stud wall to the left and the stairs wall to the right in my workroom. The right hand picture is the sitting room with the small wood burner lit.

I didn’t want to go back to the original single living space – I have tried having my desk and / or my sewing machine in the sitting room and I find it hard to relax with ‘jobs’ in my eyeline. So after much head scratching and with Lindy’s thoughts to help me, I decided to take down the top half of the wall. It was clearly going to be a job that needed 2 pairs of hands – one to cut and one to hold – so she very kindly offered to help. There were some very useful electrical sockets on the workroom side above the cupboards so we decided to make the cut a little higher and just hope that the cables could be re-routed. But as I had an electrician coming at some point for another job all was not lost if they has to stay as they were for a while. It took 2 days and made a lot of mess but Ta Da

Apologies for the poor lighting but it was late when we finished and most of the small lamps had been moved to safety! There is still some filling and touching up of paint to do but I knew that the fire installation would make more so chose to do it all at the same time.

Then last week the fire arrived. Alek and Jason from Beacon Stoves were brilliant! I had cleared the room of small stuff and moved the furniture out of the way but they put down dustsheets over everything and cardboard to protect the floor then got the old fire and the flue liner out. They were quite impressed by how little soot or tar there was up the chimney – that told them that I only burn well seasoned wood. Then we had a discussion about how I wanted the new stove installed. I could have the flue coming out of the top which would push the stove to the back of the space meaning I would only need the hearth extended slightly. Or I could have it coming out of the back which would mean the stove sat close to the front of the existing hearth and a bigger extra piece would be needed. I would also need a bigger insert into the wooden mantleshelf to prevent it getting singed. But forward would mean the heat was less likely to get trapped in the enclosed space and would be easier to put pans on (a bigger surface area and easier to reach) so I decided on that option. They cannected it all up and put the first lot of cement round the flue pipe where they had had to cut away to get the old one out.

The next day they returned and Alek had found a piece of slate cut in a curve which he thought I might like for the hearth although he had some other pieces he could cut to another shape if I preferred. He put it down in front of the fire and we all stood back to look – it was perfect! Then I had to consider the piece to go in the shelf. Could he cut one to match the curve on the Hearth? He was a bit surprised – he hadn’t been asked for a shaped piece for that job before – but, yes. So he set up his bench and cutter in the carport and used the hearth piece as a template. The mantleshelf is not solid – it is boards cladding a shelf constructed of cement and old roofing slates. So the fascia board was cut away and the piece of slate inserted. A final tidy up of the making good around the flue and the job was done. But the fire could not be lit until everything had dried. So the following afternoon Alek came back to carry out a check that the flue worked properly with a smoke bomb and lit the fire demonstrating how to operate the air intake and so on. We both knew that I was perfectly capable of lighting fires and knew about using well seasoned wood but we both had to sign that he had done his job so we went through the procedure!

The photo I took of it lit was out of focus! So this one was taken today.

It was a mild day so I didn’t stoke the fire again after he left but the stove was still giving off heat almost 4 hours later. Toasty!

Building Resilience

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that a few years ago I started planning to prepare for my old age. Yes, I am in my 70’s but I don’t feel old yet (well not most days!). I am planning for my 90’s and later and anticipating maybe less robust good health. But I have no wish to move to somewhere ‘sensible’, a bungalow in a village with a bus service. I like it here, I have brilliant neighbours but to stay here for the duration means planning for problems.

Amongst those problems were the things over which I have no control like pandemics and climate change. And lately two things have shown up a hole in that resilience.

The first is that here in the UK elctricity prices have soared. They are predicted to rise again in April when the Government allows companies to charge more. That will mean the price has doubled in a very short time. The problem is that although there has been a huge increase in renewable generation the National Grid still needs to have gas powered stations on stand-by for the times when demand surges – the early evening when everyone gets in from work, breakfast time when showers, kettles and toasters all go on, even the ad break in a popular Soap Opera when lots of people make a cuppa. And Gas is sold on the global market with a current shortage of supply. Several electricity supply companies have gone bust recently because the price rises to them caught them out. Their customers had to be transferred to other providers which has given headaches to both the customers (they lost a good price deal and went onto a higher tarrif) and the companies that had to accept them. The upshot is that as I have an Air Surce Heat Pump to heat my home my bills have increased dramatically even though it is a pretty efficient system. I can pay them but it means cutting back elsewhere and losing some of the fun things. Petrol prices have risen less dramatically but filling my car takes more money than it did a few months ago. And transport costs going up means food and other things go up too. What is a girl to do?

My Heat Pump works well – but at a cost!

In the long term everything will even out, gas prices will stabilise, but I cannot imagine that energy in any form will be much cheaper. Except wood which grows happily without any cost to me and which I can, and do, cut without recourse to fossil fuels.

I have a small woodstove as back up to the Heat Pump but it is not very powerful and certainly cannot heat the whole house. Time for a rethink.

The second sign of trouble has been that we have had two major storms this week and a third is forecast for tonight. The Met Office gives storms names only if they pose a threat and we have had Dudley and Eunice so far this week and Franklin has just been named and is expected tonight. Warnings are issued to help us prepare – yellow means a low risk but that damage cannot be ruled out, orange that damage is likely and red that it is pretty much inevitable. Eunice warranted a RED warning which is very rare. On Thursday I had an email from my home insurer reminding me how to make a claim, giving me my policy number to make it easier to identify myself, and telling me they had arranged for extra staff in their call center; and another from Western Power Distribution who manage the power lines telling me they had cancelled all routine work, had all their engineers on stand-by with helicopters to move them if flight was possible and they too had extra call center staff to deal with queries. They were clearly putting their contingency plans for a major incident into operation! In the event my house was perfectly safe and my garden suffered very little damage – one dying Ash tree fell but hit nothing important and one door blew off one greenhouse. This morning there were two fairly short power cuts and as I have been writing this I have had a message that there are problems with the water supply in my area. Other people fared much worse.

Apologies for the poor quality photo – it was blowing a hooley and the rain was horizontal!

Whether you believe in climate change (I do) or not it is clear that extreme weather events are becoming more common. Which means power cuts will become more common. Understandably when there is widespread disruption to the electricity network the first jobs tackled are those which get most people reconnected. In this remote rural place we are at the end of the queue. I have a couple of advantages – Because I am old and disabled I am perceived as vulnerable (I can hear you laughing – I do too!) but they can deal with that by passing my details to Social Services or the Red Cross to check on me and provide help if I need it. My big scret weapon is cows. My neighbour at the dairy farm up the hill milks over 200 cows twice a day and no way can that be done by hand. So if the power goes off it is an emergency and, to be fair, Western Power always get them reconnected quickly even if it means bringing in a generator or other temporary equipment. And that usually means I get power too. But at present in a power cut I have no heating and no means of cooking.

So I have decided to invest in a bigger wood burner in my sitting room. Which means having the old liner in the chimney removed and a new one put in. Apparantly the old one will be coming to the end of its life and it is better to have all the disruption in one go. It has taken me weeks to decide on the best stove and firm and it will be May before it can be installed. I was dismayed that most of the firms I contacted just told me to choose a fire and then they would fit it for a fixed fee. Their advice on how big the new stove should be seemed to be plucked out of thin air. It was Mr Snail who pointed out that for most people these stoves are nice accessories for the sitting room, lit on Christmas Day and maybe other high days and holidays, nice to have in a power cut but very much an adjunct to the central heating. How it looks is then the crucial factor in the choice. Only one firm understood that I wanted to use one as my main heat source. And I wanted to be able to boil a kettle or simmer a stew on it on a regular basis. My Heat Pump will still be there and will be maintained. In very cold weather the fire may not provide enough heat to keep the chill off the bedroom or kitchen and I may want to supplement it with the radiators. Or if I am too ill to cut wood or keep the fire going I need another heat source. But for the most part I will heat my home on free wood and do some cooking with it too. That should reduce my elctricity bills to a more manageable level and restore my capacity to have money for fun.

A permaculture principle is ‘Every function should be supported by more than one element and every element should serve more than one function’. That is a definition of resilience. I am getting there.

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.

Things are looking up

A fairly disastrous start to my garden had me feeling rather dejected but at last the sunny days/ frosty nights weather has given way to the usual ‘chilly with varying amounts of rain’ variety. Not nearly as nice for working in but better for growing.

I brought the trays of tender seeds indoors and put them on the living room windowsill. The window faces due South and there is a radiator underneath. At last some have germinated.

these are cucurbits of various kinds and peppers – sweet and hot.

I planted a net of first early potatoes – some outdoors and some in large pots in the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house. The outside ones have kept trying to send up shoots and been nipped by frost despite a heavy mulch of paper so none have shoots more than 2 inches tall. In the greenhouse they are almost ready to flower!

Last year I ordered some plants and when they arrived a free gift of a few dahlia tubers had been included. I was hesitant because in the past slugs have munched every dahlia that put a shoot above the soil. But they were free so I put them out in pots and they came up well. In the Autumn I brought the pots into the lean-to greenhouse, stood them on bubble wrap and tied more round the pots then added a layer of shredded paper to the top. They have come back well.

Everything will be late but there should be some things to eat from the garden!

Indoors I have been decorating my bedroom. In this slightly weird old cottage that meant doing the stairs as well – we knocked 3 small bedrooms and the landing into one generous room so the door is at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t realise that DIY stores were fully open (in my world they are useful but not essential) so I ordered paint online for collection. I knew that the colour I saw on my screen was not accurate – would I like it when I saw it on the walls? Should I order tester pots first? Since Carmarthen is 20 miles away I decided to risk it. It is paint. If I didn’t like it I could buy another can in a different colour and go over it again. I did however invest in some good quality paint that promised to cover any previous colour in one coat. So

From this

To

One friend’s reaction was ‘Oooh! You’ll have to be properly grown up now!’

I thought the pale colour would be a lilac grey and it is bluer than I expected but actually I am happy with it.

On the rut jumping front I have continued trying to expand the range of foods I eat. Yesterday I picked a large handful of ‘greens’ which included old favourites chard and wild garlic, shoots of asparagus kale which I grew for the first time last year and have been picking leaves from all winter, but also dandelion leaves and vine leaves. I had thought that dandelions had to be blanched under a flowerpot but Carolee (https://herbalblessingsblog.wordpress.com ) assured me they didn’t. I chopped all the leaves and sauteed the whole lot in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and they were delicious. Today I have made Soda Bread (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking), Blinis (from Michael Mosley’s The Clever Guts Diet) and Oatcakes (from The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread by Daniel Stevens).

On the crafting front – wait for Scrap Happy!

At long last we are able to start meeting up with friends, have workdays and non-essential shops are open. Yesterday I met friends in Cardigan to have coffee. As it was fine there were more people out and about than usual. We cannot yet go inside but the Council has reduced the High Street to one lane allowing cafes to put chairs and tables out on the pavements and spill onto the side of the road. It wasn’t ideal with delivery lorries trundling past but a big step towards normality!

The other thing that has lifted my spirits is that my son plans to move nearer to me. He no longer needs to be able to commute to London every day but instead will be working from home most of the time. His job in IT is stressful and his health is suffering. Moving out of an urban environment should help him relax. His wife, who has very little experience of living in the country, prefers to stay put so for now he will buy somewhere small, but big enough for her and their adult children to visit, and split his time between here and there. That way she can try living down here (very different from staying with your M-I-L!) and see if she likes it after all. I have been helping him house hunt and he has made an offer on a place he saw the other side of Carmarthen from me. Of course there are many things that can go wrong between offer and moving in but knowing that he will buy that or another place soon and I will be able to see more of him is lovely.

A long time coming

My late husband, John, loved photography. He had a good camera in the days when the newest phones were cordless but on a landline and cameras needed to be loaded with film. When we moved here he set up a darkroom in the loft to develop black and white images but sent colour ones off for processing. I was happy to help, happy to go out with him and stand around while he set everything up, happy to let him spend on equipment but I never really understood the fascination of ‘f stops’ and ‘exposures’.

Then 10 years ago he died and left hundreds – literally hundreds!, probably thousands – of his photos – all in the form of slides. What can you do with slides? Would I really put up the folding screen which was torn and would have to be replaced, then set up the projector and fiddle about stacking books under its feet to get the picture on the screen and twiddle the focus….? I piled the whole lot into a blanket chest and got on with more urgent things.

Then about 3 years ago I asked my daughter to help me sort through them. We turfed all the boxes out on the bedroom floor and agreed it was time to be ruthless. If we liked the picture or it was of someone we knew it would stay. Everything else would go. If there were two of the same scene or very similar we would keep only the best one. Even with two of us and no messing about it took all afternoon. We got it down to 30 or so. We put those back in the chest. Neither of us could face doing any more with them!

Time passed. Obviously slides were useless to me. If I was going to keep the photos they had to be turned into some more accessible form.

Then I culled our vast collection of books putting the ones I was pretty sure I didn’t want to keep into the loft just in case I changed my mind ( if you missed it you can read about it here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/scrappy-storage-of-possible-scrap) and took down the shelves. That left a blank wall with marks where the brackets had been but not to worry – I wanted to redecorate anyway!

The resulting blank white wall looked rather bare! What it needed were some pictures. All I had to do was get the slides turned into something I could hang up. I discovered that the Camera Center in Carmarthen could do the job. After tracking them down to a redundant chapel behind the market I took my slides in and asked them to digitise them and store them on a disc so I could see them on the laptop and decide what I wanted to do with them next. That was a few days before lockdown last March and it was only when my hairdressers reopened that I ventured into town and collected them.

More time passed while I looked at them, thought about which ones I wanted printed and what size each should be. I was concerned that the wall would become a shrine to John so I added a few of my own photos to the disc. I went back into the Camera Center with the disc and a list. And we locked down again! Eventually I was able to collect the prints. Now all I needed were frames.

The wall, like almost all the ones in this house is wonky not flat and the ceiling slopes and swoops and bows. A regular array of identical frames would look drunk! So I needed a variety of styles in 2 sizes. Bargain Box in Newcastle Emlyn has a good selection of inexpensive ones. The lady on the till was a bit surprised when I bought 20!

Then it was Christmas and I had decorations up. And then, as I have told you I lost my nerve. Deciding how to arrange them felt too much of a challenge. Getting the drill out and making holes in the wall felt scary. What if I didn’t like the result? What if I made holes in the wrong places? What if it was all a big mistake and I had wasted my money?

The afternoon before I took all the decorations down, knowing the place would look bare and unloved without them, I gave myself another good telling off and fetched the drill from the workshop. I measured the wall, marked the space on the bedroom carpet and laid out the frames. Then started putting pictures in the smaller ones. When I got to the bigger ones I discovered that my occasional numerical dyslexia had struck again – they were a size too big for the photos!

I very nearly panicked and put everything back in the blanket chest! However a visit to Amazon found me a box of mounts which would solve the problem and they were delivered next day. Everything was laid out on the floor again, the pictures framed and photos of the layout taken so I could follow it to drill my holes.

By the end of the afternoon they were up. The art world will not be in raptures. They are competent photos of nice scenes which I recognise.

Why didn’t I do it ages ago?

Little Things

Last time I posted I was feeling rather glum as I had been limiting myself to essential trips and then Wales went into National Lockdown just as I would have been able to go out again! At least ours was only two and a half weeks whereas England has just started a four week one. I can go out on Tuesday! And I will – I have an appointment to have my hair cut and plan to do some other errands whilst in town.

After writing that last post I decided I needed to get things in perspective. I am not ill, frightened or hungry. I have plenty of friends and can email or message them. So I took myself off to one of my favourite spots for a good talking to! It is in the woods I rent from my neighbour. There is a small clearing next to the stream and on the hill above it a huge Oak tree which most have been part of a hedge once upon a time as there is a noticeable bank running down the hill to the stream – an old field boundary. The stream chatters away as it rushes to the sea and the tree stands majestic and solid. Both have seen it all before; pestilence, famines, wars (I am told that the Home Guard trained by shooting across the stream into the hillside opposite during World War 2) as well as good things like the farms thriving, children playing, lovers meeting. I tell them my worries and grumbles and I can almost hear them telling me to stop whingeing!

But (isn’t there always a but!) the path from my garden into the woods had become overgrown with brambles so I had to take a pair of secateurs with me and cut them back. As I did so I uncovered a tiny nest – I assume a wren’s. Two tiny birds did all that work to build a home and raise their chicks. They don’t care who wins the American election, who gets Covid 19, whether I am happy or sad. They just get on with their lives and do what their instincts tell them.

The cup is just 2.5 inches (6.5cm) across and beautifully woven

I realised that I needed to stop fretting about things I can’t change and focus on the little things that bring me joy. So as well as that nest…

I finished a jumper for the collection at Studio 3. This is plainer than I usually do and to the pattern they provide. That makes 5 I have done for them to different designs. I have enough yarn in my stash for at least one more which I will try to get done before the end of the year. A group of refugees have recently been moved to a disused army base not far from here causing quite a lot of controversy – some protesters unhappy with the decision especially as it all happened suddenly with very little consultation, and some people organising to try to help and support them. What must it be like to be dumped in the middle of nowhere with hardly any resources in the middle of lockdown? I know my jumpers will go to a different group but if knitting helps people worse off than me I will knit!

A couple of days ago I found this little fellow in the car port. I have seen newts in the garden before but it is nice to know they are still around. Once I had taken the photograph I moved him to a safer spot. I know there is a lot more wildlife here than I know about – they keep well hidden. What a priviledge to share my space with so many other creatures.

I was weeding the bank next to the deck and found these dahlias. They were facing away from the house and as I hadn’t staked them were hanging down below behind their pot. They have taken a battering in the wind and rain but add a splash of colour to the kitchen table. I have never succeeded with dahlias before but will definitely grow them next year to brighten up the Autumn (and next year I will stake them!)

I also came across what, at first sight, looked to be a HUGE toad but turned out to be my son’s drone. Over a year ago he was here and playing with it (He’s moved on from the radio controlled car he had as a child!) and it got caught in the big Ash tree next to the deck. We tried all sorts of things to get it down but to no avail. It must have eventually blown down and landed under some self-seeded raspberry canes where it hid. Finding it reminded me of spending time with him, his 3 small foster children and my daughter, who took the opportunity of lift to come with them. That brought a big grin to my face!

What is making you smile at the moment?

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.

IMG_20200601_193529330

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.

prison cell
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.

swansea prison
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’.

IMG_20200503_134445519
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!