Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Getting above ground

Our poor little cottage is sulking. We are living in chaos, rubble and dust. All of our possessions have been boxed up and stacked in every available square inch of space. Making tea demands the skills of a contortionist as we lean over boxes and crates and we are permanently breathless from running up the stairs to fill kettles and wash mugs in a bowl in the bath.

The dogs have been remarkable. Three pairs of brown reproachful eyes follow us around as their bed has been moved and food/water bowls are carefully placed away from dust and bits of brick and mortar. They have soon adapted to the comings and goings of tradesmen and apart from a cursory sniff now, they largely ignore proceedings. Tilly, the cat, is far nosier and inspects everything with her tail high in the air and left her foot prints in the concrete outside the kitchen door.

We got up on Monday morning to 6 inches of water on the kitchen floor as our make-shift tarpaulin roof was no match for the heavy wind and rain. The water had seeped under the door into the dining room and we squelched as we stepped from the stairs.

I am writing this, huddled on the sofa. There are inches of dust everywhere, the carpets are ruined and now I am ready to cry. I gaze around, completely unable to see beyond the here and now. I gave up vacuuming and dusting every two days, at the weekend. It was a pointless waste of energy and I was becoming more and more disillusioned as the dust settled before I had turned my back.

The initial excitement and flurry of activity now seems a lifetime ago as the cold, stark reality of the can of worms we have unearthed stares at us full in the face.
“Never again!” and “Are you moving out?”
Oh how we laughed as our friends shared their past experiences – confident that we were made of sterner stuff and that it would be a breeze. Our laugh faltered slightly, only once, when our plumber asked where the caravan was going.

But things are looking brighter. We now have said caravan: a tiny, old touring caravan from a neighbour who has taken pity on us. This is why we are doing it. Apart from being totally and utterly in love with our home, this wonderful community that we live in is pulling ranks to support us in our hour of need. We have offers of cooking on M’s Aga (we go to mum’s, though, but lovely offer anyway), doing our washing at next door’s house (ditto mum), parking our cars on another’s drive, storing all our building materials on the farm yard opposite – the list goes on. We couldn’t think of living anywhere else and so we battle on with the disruption, trying to focus on the end result.

Yesterday afternoon, the rain returned and halted our joist work. We swept rain water out through the kitchen door into our longed-for “new hall”. The blue tarpaulin flapped above our heads and our wonderful chimney man was up a ladder trying to work out where to re-route the Rayburn flue pipe. After several cups of tea (no sugar, Milla and Jane!) the final verdict was we CAN’T move it. It joins the upstairs chimney and enters the wall at the lowest possible place. The flue can be boxed in and will just fit under our iron bed, but the joists will have to be spaced around it to meet fire regulations and insulated to protect the new floor boards. Technical facts and figures whiz back and forth between him and the builders, as I slink off to do some internet research to find out how hot the flue pipe gets.

And so, here I am, nursing my laptop. Another crisis sorted. But as sure as God made little apples, there’ll be another one on the way until the day finally arrives when Mr Building Inspector signs the build off and we open a bottle of champagne. I hope we don’t lose the box of glasses in the meantime……..

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Headmistress, I did debate pretending that I'd missed the deadline for handing it in, but I have managed it in between making tea and taking delivery of another skip!


W is for warmth. I love the permeating warmth from the Rayburn. It gently wraps its arms around you and draws you in, enticing you to lean against its shiny chrome bar. The steam gently swirls from the spout of the kettle and crumpets sizzle on the hot plates. The heart and soul of our home.

O is for outside. Living in the countryside, being able to gaze from the window at undulating fields and listen to the uninterrupted sounds of nature. Whatever the weather, there is something beautiful and ever changing as the landscape moves through the seasons, bringing new delights to marvel at. From the first glimpses of Spring poking through the dark soil; the sound of birdsong; lengthening days with the promise of things to come: next is the full-on greenness and colour of Summer; casting off our heavy winter clothes and feeling the sun kissing our skin; the sound of buzzards calling in the thermals above the garden; the scents of cottage garden flowers; dining al fresco well into the lighter evenings: and then my favourite time of year – Autumn. Autumn sneaks up on you but then who can mind that when it brings presents of reds and golds to adorn our trees, followed by the crunching and swooshing of tramping through fallen leaves; the smell of log smoke curling up from the chimney and early morning mists. Then last, but not least, Winter – spiders’ webs glimmering in the frost or early morning dew, looking like they have been decorated with tiny diamonds; the stark silhouette of branches against the sky; crunching through newly fallen snow; being able to peep through lamp lit cottage windows at scenes of cosy country living and picturing the roaring fire, glass of red wine on the side and piles of throws, blankets and cushions. I am a terrible nosey parker and can’t help but glance in through such windows – they tease me and call to me to look in at the hidden domestic delights that only weave their magic at this time of year.

O again and back to outside. Oak trees. I know others have mentioned these trees for all the same reasons as me. These majestic trees epitomize everything English countryside. Living on the Herefordshire/Gloucestershire borders, many of the local houses here are timber framed and we live fairly near to the “Black and White Trail” which joins many Herefordian villages together, such as Weobley, Pembridge, Eardisley, Dilwyn to name but a few. We are using green oak to construct two porches as part of our extension works and I have been stock-piling clippings and down loading pictures of oak porches for our carpenter to get his chisel into!

Z. Oh, blimey. I guess it has to be zeal. I am often accused of being like an over-zealous puppy. I talk too much, wave my arms around and have a terrible habit of interrupting. Or Zester as I couldn’t live without mine and it gets plenty of use in our kitchen. We love to cook and whether it is on the Rayburn, electric cooker or barbeque, this little device has seen its way through a plethora of limes, lemons and oranges.

L is for lavender. I adore this plant and it is my signature scent in my Home Scents cleaning products. If you haven’t heard of this company, visit their website as it is full of wonderful products that do not contain ANY chemicals at all. Their bathroom cleaner is amazing and I can still smell it hours after cleaning.

E is for earth. I love my garden and one of the simplest pleasures is to feel the earth running through my fingers. It never ceases to amaze me that putting a seed or bulb into the earth and then, with the right conditions, it can yield a crop of wonderful flowers, cereals or fruits and vegetables. The earth can nurture and produce our food or, in complete reverse, you can bury something and it will rot away. How amazing is that?

And finally - 1967. No prizes for guessing it’s the year of my birth!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Yes, I'm still here!

Well, it’s finally happening. Our long awaited extension is under way and our feet haven’t touched the ground.

The floods in July caused chaos in our surrounding area and postponed our build as those suffering from the effects of the flood water were, quite rightly, prioritized for help. However, soon, it was our turn and our builders have not let us down. They have worked like Trojans and we are now above ground level and waiting for the brick layers to come to get us up to first lift: a builder term, I have recently learnt and am bandying around like a seasoned professional! To the rest of us, that’s up to bottom of first floor level for the joists and scaffolding to be fitted.

Our supplies of tea and sugar are vastly depleted; there are crumbs in the bottom of the biscuit barrel; our home looks like a bomb site and I am in my element (for the moment!). Today (Friday) we are having the kitchen lights taken out of the ceiling so that it can be pulled down next week. We are already in semi-gloom as the window has been taken out and a shroud of blue tarpaulin is flapping in the breeze. My beloved Rayburn is lying cold and silent, decommissioned until further notice. The Rayburn really is the heart of our home but the buzz and excitement is, surprisingly, filling the gap that appeared when it was turned off.

Next week, all of our hot water will be gone and the electrics in the kitchen will be disconnected as the roof is taken off in preparation for the new floor above. We will be using the camping stove for tea and coffee and to boil water for washing mugs, spoons and cereal bowls in a bowl in the bath. Oh joy!

My mum and dad only live 10 minutes away and have been feeding us for the last 2 weeks. We go for showers, food and clothes to be washed, and they have been absolutely golden to us. Without their calm and organized back-up, things would be so different and they are helping to keep this an enjoyable experience, rather than the nightmare it could so easily be.

We have had family traumas in J’s family during the last couple of weeks and this has threatened to bring us down. I won’t go into it too much right now – it is raw and hurtful for J, but one of his brothers is seriously ill and the effects are still rippling through the family. We have a long journey ahead but J is throwing himself into our build, although I see the pain in his eyes when he thinks I’m not looking.

I’m keeping this short but posting pictures of our wonderful chaos so that you can get a glimpse of the reason for my brief dipping in and out of the site at the moment. I think of you all lots and miss the rapport but my time on the computer is strictly limited now to keeping the spread sheet of costs up-to-date and pouring over delivery notes and cross referencing invoices. Please keep my desk free at skool and I’ll keep my coat on the peg as it doesn’t go with my overalls at the moment. I hope you are all keeping well and I would love to attend the get-together with the Welsh/Shropshire lot – thanks to Angel for keeping me in the loop. Much love.x