Sunday, 17 July 2016


We've had a very enjoyable weekend in Cambridge, with some of our oldest friends.

Heading towards Clare College, Cambridge (© Ian 2016)

The Gardens of Clare College, Cambridge (© Ian 2016)

Pond garden, Clare College gardens (© Ian 2016)

The Bridge of Sighs, from the Kitchen Bridge, St John's College, Cambridge (© Ian 2016)

We had a lovely picnic on the backs, and spent a lot of time chatting, drinking tea, and playing games. Just as it should be.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Ideal Home

Yesterday I went to the Ideal Homes Show at the Trafford Centre, with my parents. I've never been to either show or centre, so it was interesting from that perspective, and the show was fun.

There were a lot of good exhibits—from one or more of a culinary, practical, or aesthetic standpoint. For instance, reasonable fakes of timber framed windows in uPVC.

Sash window (© Ian 2016)

Candle holders fashioned from the oak stave of a barrel (© Ian 2016)

A rather high-class summer house (© Ian 2016)

Modern take on Victorian tiles (© Ian 2016)

An array of quilted upholstery (© Ian 2016)

A TV unit that could fit in to a more traditionally furnished room (© Ian 2016)

Wood fired pizza oven! (© Ian 2016)

Inside a summer house... (© Ian 2016)

...with a quirky exterior (© Ian 2016)

Today, Liz and I actually went back to the Trafford Centre for shopping purposes. And an ice cream.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Long Weekend and New Start

I've spent most of this weekend in Thirsk, relaxing thoroughly with a lot of badminton and table tennis, some films, and a large quantity of coffee. It's been really good; I came home mid-afternoon today.

I've actually just bought an espresso machine, which will hopefully arrive soon, having discovered how much I enjoy lattes (which have been instrumental, really, in learning to enjoy coffee without sugar).

Today is Liz and my eighth wedding anniversary. Over the last few weeks, we've decided that neither of us want to separate, and we'll be remaining together. It's going to be tough, and involve a lot of work, but I'm hopeful.

On the bank of Loch Awe (© REM 2008)

Sunday, 22 May 2016


It's been a weekend in Kent, with David and Ann. I really enjoyed it: plenty of food and games, and a visit to Emmett's Garden.

Wedding cake tree (Cornus controversa 'Variegata') (© Ian 2016)

Lovely bright rhododendron (© Ian 2016)

Bracts and flowers on a hankerchief tree (Davidia involucrata
) (© Ian 2016)
Also known as a dove tree (the bracts are meant to look like roosting doves) (© Ian 2016)

It makes a very pretty tree, though it's quite slow growing (© Ian 2016)

Perennial borders (© Ian 2016)

A new (well, being renovated) pond (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 15 May 2016


Yesterday, I had lunch with Cath & Jason at a new burger place in Lindley (delicious; a blue-cheese sauce'd burger, with sweet potato fries), which was a lot of fun. The rest of the weekend has been effective, but less outright fun: a lot of cleaning, tidying and sorting inside—and I've managed to do a load of weeding and mow the lawn.

Sunday, 8 May 2016


I've spent the weekend in Thirsk, which has been very relaxing.

Earlier in the week, I made a little door for the soot hatch in the chimney in the master bedroom. It will need securing, when I re-point the chimney breast, but I like it.

Chimney breast in the master bedroom (© Ian 2016)

Monday, 2 May 2016

Hall and Woodwork

My mum came through for another weekend of decorating, and we've got loads done.

We: repainted the entrance hall, and the last niggling bits of paintwork upstairs; repainted most of the windowsills; cut and attached the skirting boards downstairs (and a few bits upstairs); finished opening up the fireplace in the front guest room; put the cornices on the fitted wardrobes; did the last bit of tiling (fiddly bits I'd never finished!) in the guest bathroom; replaced a power socket in the utility room (that's been on the to-do list for three years, and is the completion of a job itself on the list for three years—things get done, eventually...); put back up ten shelves in the master bed and dressing room; and repaired the floor in the dining room. We also vacuumed quite a lot, and I believe all the windows & frames were cleaned.
We drank a lot of coffee.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Garden Design

Yesterday I went to Wilmslow to have lunch with a friend from my old job (and her newly augmented family). They've been in the house for a couple of years, and have just finished a major extension, which means they're turning attention to the garden. We spent quite a while wandering round, thinking about what they might do. I've suggested a beech hedge to...well, disguise a trampoline, and compartmentalize the garden, as well as some ideas for a couple of beds (a sharply draining rockery one that I think would be good for herbs, and a herbaceous one in front of an established hedge).

I got home mid-afternoon, and my mum joined me to help decorating. It was a late night (she was indefatigable and determined), and a productive day today, so we managed to paint the master bedroom, the dressing room, most of both bathrooms, and the sewing room.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Window Reveals

Another busy week and weekend. I've been working on window reveals and boards upstairs, getting them fitted, secured, filled, and so on, ready to paint. It's rather time-consuming, but I am winning. Evenings this week have been spent putting skirting board on upstairs, and plastering the chimney breast in my bedroom. That's looking really good, now.

The re-plastered chimney breast in the master bedroom (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Porch Floor

Most of the weekend has been spent laying a new floor in the storm porch, to bring it up to the same level as the floor in the preservatory (which, in turn, was raised to be similar to the floor inside).

The floor, as it was, is large York stone slabs, on the same level as the drive (and, therefore, the old garage floor's level, which was raised for insulation and damp-proofing reasons).

The original porch floor (© Ian 2016)

I had a set of new stones delivered, which then needed trimming and arranging to suitably cover the floor. As ever, I needed more mortar than I expected (I never get it right!).

Working out where each stone should go (© Ian 2016)

Eventually, I managed to get them all laid, by the end of Saturday.

The laid slabs (both © Ian 2016)

And today I pointed them. I used a mortar dye to get a buff colour. It's a little mustard-y right now, but I think it will cure to more what I intend. I hope.

The completed and pointed floor (© Ian 2016)

After that was done, I've pricked out brassicas (purple sprouting, sprouts, kale...) into module trays; planted out the dahlias (I've not potted them up and grown them on, though, so we'll see how they do), and sown some of the seeds needed in the colour wheel.

Sunday, 3 April 2016


For most of the weekend, Rebekah and her family have been staying with me, mainly so she could go to a friend's 30th. However, yesterday we managed to go to a very nice pub in Blackmoorfoot, which had some good guest ales, and an extremely reasonable three-course fixed menu. We walked round the reservoir afterwards, which the dog and ten-month-old enjoyed (the rest of us squelched, rather). In the evening, Dan and I went to another pub, closer to home, to while away the evening with more guest ales...and gin. It was very pleasant.

Today's been rather more productive. They set off after breakfast, to time travelling with a morning nap; I went out to plant my potatoes (all Lady Christl, this year), and did a couple of hours of weeding. The herb garden and colour wheel are looking much tidier, now. I've sown broad beans in the former; there are flowers to direct-sow soon in the latter, which I'll try to do this week, as the weather is gradually improving.

My onions still haven't arrived, so I can't plant them out yet—hopefully soon.

I came back in, and put the skirting board on the wall behind the desk on the landing, and have filled it. A quick coat of gloss tomorrow evening, and the desk can go back in place,

I realised too late that I should probably have mown the lawn, as I think evenings this week will be damp. Never mind. More positively, though: the frogspawn in the pond is doing really well. There's loads—I'd guess seven clumps.

Frogspawn as laid 14th March (© Ian 2016)

The first little wrigglers have emerged, now, and the rest will probably do so over the next ten days. The survival fraction is atrocious, but hopefully it'll mean I'll have half a dozen new frogs in the pond.

Frogspawn two weeks later (© Ian 2016)

This evening, I've made some seed bread which looks rather good. It's about 40% white flour, 40% wholemeal, and 20% rye, with sunflower, poppy and sesame seeds, and golden linseeds.

Multi-seed bread (© Ian 2016)

Monday, 28 March 2016


I've had a really relaxing couple of days over at my parents' & sister's, with an Easter egg hunt (yes, I'm 33), an hour of badminton, and the finales to two TV series we've all been watching. It's been restorative, not least after the busy couple of days painting.

When I left my last job, in January, one of my colleagues' many generous presents was a pack of Dutch irises. I didn't want to plant them at home—I'm going to be forced to leave so many plants behind, and they'd be one more to move, and a difficult one; so it would have been almost like wasting them. Instead, I've planted them in my mum's garden. I hope they'll look good this year, and I might 'collect' them later—but if not, at least I can still see them there.

I got home a couple of hours ago, and have put the top-coat of Timeless paint onto the guest en suite walls (which was where we'd left off on Saturday). It needs a bit of brush work, but that would have meant opening a new tin of paint, which I don't want to do at this moment.

I have a slightly daunting, and rather long list of things I need to get done before I can put this house on the market. It's 102 things, in fact, quite aside from the day to day (cleaning, firing up the biomass heating, mowing the lawn...), and doesn't cover any of the other things I'm going to have to do before too long—like instructing estate agents, finding a conveyancer, getting a new mortgage, and packing everything (there's a lot of 'everything'). I don't think I'm going to be bored this year.

However, this weekend I have managed, with help, to get four more things done. Seven out of 102, now.

Saturday, 26 March 2016


My mum came across yesterday morning, and we've spent two days painting walls upstairs. It's been a bit of a mammoth effort, with a couple of long, continuous days, but we've managed to paint both guest bedrooms, the guest bathroom (all but, anyway), the landing, and make a start on the master en suite. It was all bare plaster, most of which I've applied in the last couple of months, so it needed a watered down white emulsion, a full-strength white emulsion, and a top-coat of the off-white we painted downstairs in, 'Timeless'. We had a brief break on Friday to go and look at a house that's on the market (very unlikely to become the new Yorkshire Cottage), and a rather tasty curry takeaway last night. Today didn't start too promisingly, with a five-hour stint getting the first coat on the walls of the front guest room and the landing. Some of the plaster in the guestroom, mainly on the un-changed wall and around the fireplace, was a real pain to cover properly, and the landing is rather large, in perimeter terms. In the end, we got there, though, and it looks really good. Everything's still in disarray, partly so I can put skirting boards on without having to move anything, and in the morning I'll drive mum home, and stay until some time on Monday.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Skirting Boards and Seeds

Lots of small jobs, it seems, today. I've sown a load of vegetable and flower seeds, including about half the sweet peas. I need to get the other half done, soon, too, and there are more vegetables for the coming weeks. If the weather keeps looking promising, I shall direct sow the colour wheel seeds soon.

I've set the seed potatoes chitting, which I realised I failed to do earlier. Never mind: they're sitting out in the preservatory, and I'll plant them in a week or two. The onions, which I'll probably plant at about the same time, are on order.

The stone paving slabs for re-laying the floor in the storm porch were delivered this morning. It'll be a week or two until I get to laying them, I think. We'll see: I might take a day off and do them sooner, so that I can get the new doors ordered.

I have skirting boards (delivered last Wednesday) ready to put up all through the house. I started by trying to cut them by hand (with the aid of a mitre box), but they're a bit tall (169mm), and it's been an annoying process, with decidedly inaccurate cuts. Fortunately, one of my neighbours has a proper 240V mitre saw, with a (frankly oversized) circular saw and bevel mount. I've got on and cut almost all the boards for upstairs, and will try to get them fixed over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, 20 March 2016


On Friday, I travelled down to near Ely, to spend the weekend with Ann, Alan, and their two boys. They moved home a couple of months ago, from near Newmarket, to an 1888-built rectory. It is a fabulous building, with high-altitude ceilings and dado rails, picture rails, and mouldings, all of which I love, so I forgave them for putting me in the servants' quarters in the attic.

Saturday was a reasonably warm, and dry day, so we went out to Anglesey Abbey—which, actually, we went to last time we visited, in February 2015. I appear to have completely failed to note our trip, but it was 21-22 February, and we bought a few 'George' irises which are looking good about now.

Anyway, this time, I bought three hellebores H. lividus, which have really interesting foliage markings, and smaller flowers; and three named snowdrop varieties which were well discounted.

We also admired their leafmould.

Leafmould heap at Anglesey Abbey (© Ian 2016)

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Cow & Calf

I spent today visiting Elizabeth, Robert, and their two in Ilkley. I've not been to Ilkley before, so it was nice to see something of the scenery, and lovely to see them all. Their eldest is currently preoccupied with Star Wars. Fortunately, it is a subject I know well, so we had a good time.

Three views near the Cow & Calf, Ilkley (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Mothering Sunday

I've been at my parents' for the weekend, which has been lovely; film, cheese, table-tennis. Back after lunch today, and Philip and Rachel have been with me mid-afternoon until tomorrow mid-morning, on their way back home from Manchester.

I need to start getting on with sowing seeds—mainly vegetables, but also sweet peas.

Monday, 29 February 2016


Just a quick note: I've spent most of today sawing, splitting, and stacking a load of firewood (mostly chestnut, which is a pleasure to work with). It's not straightforward, as a one-person job, sadly. The sawing is fine, but splitting is quicker with two (one to split, the other to place on the block); and stacking is the same number of man-hours, but not divided. I took the doors off the fruit cages, which meant I could barrow straight down to the shelter (with two of us, we usually went across the middle garden and down the steps, but the steps take two of you). Still, got the load done, which is the main thing.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Fireplace and Plaster

Having had to rearrange a visit to Kent to see David and Ann, I had an unexpected weekend at home. Over the two days, I've alternated between working on the chimney breast in the master bedroom, and the stone wall in the sewing room (the old house bathroom).

The chimney breast in the master room, when we hacked the plaster off it, we discovered had been repaired with several sections of cement block (also known as breezeblocks). This was a bit disappointing, as I didn't want to re-repair in stone (partly because messing around with a necessary and functional chimney seemed unwise), but we had hoped to have an exposed stone feature in the room.

Fortunately, the repairs were not particularly extensive—unlike in the front guest room, where apart from the immediate fire surround (sides and lintel), the rest of the chimney had been rebuilt in red brick. This allowed a partial exposure of the stone. First was to remove as much of the remaining plaster from the stones, and chisel out some of the pointing. The pointing was mostly in good nick, but in order to keep it looking consistent, and as some would need replacing, I needed to cut back all of it somewhat. I used a steel brush on the drill, which worked really well at cleaning the stone. To keep dust down, I hung a polythene/cotton dust sheet to make a compartment, which did the job fairly well.

Once the brushing was complete, I sponged the stones down to get rid of the residue. There's a few places I need to do a little more work, but it's pretty good. I then used browning plaster to cover the cement block repairs, and enough of the other stones to make a transition from the plastered adjacent wall to the exposed stone. I've mostly done the finishing plaster, too, but ran out of a batch with a square foot to go—that'll have to wait until next time I've got a bucket made up.

I'm pleased with how it looks. I still need to clean the lintel/sides, and do a bit more cleaning, particularly on the left hand side where it goes towards the bathroom door.

The cleaned-up and replastered master bedroom fireplace (© Ian 2016)

The other job was plastering the stone wall in the sewing room, which required several coats of browning plaster, followed by finishing plaster. I don't expect it would win prizes, but it's fine.

I still need to do the chimney breast in the sewing room, in the same way: pull out some nails, steel brush it down, and then sponge it. They'll both then need re-pointing, with lime mortar, which is a job for later: but the sewing room one won't need any plastering, as it's wholly stone.

Sunday, 21 February 2016


Over the past few weeks, I've been getting on with some bits and pieces: mostly plastering the first floor. I'm nearly there: a little more in the front guest room that needs to wait; a little on the landing. The master dressing room is a weekend's work, because it needs to be emptied, the wallpaper stripped, and then plastered. The sewing room needs a lot of plastering, some onto stone, which I'm leaving for now. The chimney breast in the master bed needs plastering and painting. Then there's the whole floor to paint, and the window reveals to tidy and finish.

I've a lot to do, so I'm just chipping away at it all.

This weekend, though, was a 518 mile round trip to Surrey. We ordered a load of coppiced chestnut, which will form a fence along the edge of the herb garden (a wind break, and a better definition of where it ends, visually). This was cut over the winter, and was ready for collection, so I hired a Jumbo Transit van, and drove down yesterday. I got to Lodsworth (Prickly Nut Wood) at about 2, loaded up, and got back to Liz's sister in Farnham around 3. This afternoon, I've driven back up, unloaded (loading, with three of us, was much easier than unloading single-handed!), cleaned the van, and collapsed onto the sofa. The van was surprisingly easy to drive (rear visibility aside), and I was pleased to keep the fuel consumption as good as 29mpg. Ten hours of driving later, I've about a ton of chestnut poles on the kitchen patio.

Jumbo the Transit van waiting to set off (© Ian 2016)

The House in Prickly Nut Wood (© Ian 2016)

The van full of chestnut (© Ian 2016)

Starting work on the jigsaw puzzle they represent will have to wait, though. I've several weekends away coming up, and really I need to saw, split, and stack some/most/all of the firewood on the driveway to get space to do the work.

Sunday, 7 February 2016


Sadly, the wheels have rather come off the train here. After many years together, Liz and I have decided to separate. The hiatus in posting since January is because there's not been a lot I wish to write about. As there's no way for either of us to keep the house on our own, we shall have to sell up in the near future, so there will be some sort of break to my writing here, although I hope to return to it in another, new garden.

It's been a pleasure to document the work we've done on the house and garden here, and it's formed a continual record of the seven years (this August). The changes have been considerable, and I, we, have learnt a great deal. Aside from the personal loss of the relationship, it's obviously devastating to think that I'll lose the house and garden that we've poured so much time and effort in to.

I shall be continuing to finish the house remodel and redecoration that's been ongoing, to bring the house to saleable state. Similarly, the garden will need maintaining, and in fact there will be at least some final development done, because we ordered material last autumn for a fence along the herb garden that I shall construct, rather than waste it.

I'll probably continue to write about this work, although the focus now is, sadly, on short-term things. There's no point planning, any more, for fruit trees and more ponds up the hillside, or a tree house, or, one day, extending the garden into the field below, as these dreams will remain just that.

I hope that I shall find somewhere with a garden that needs a gardener's hand, and continue recording my work in building a home there.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

New Year Visitors

David and Ann have been with us since 27th, and we've had a very relaxed time, which I think we all needed. We managed to watch all three Hobbit films, and the original three Star Wars (Liz and I squeezed in the prequels before they got to us), had a couple of walks, have had a lot of good food and wine (and a disgraceful amount of chocolate on New Year's Eve, delivered by chocolate fountain, a Christmas present). It's been magnificent. Sadly, we must go back to work, soon.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas 2015

It's been a busy few days, with quite a lot of entertaining. We had Liz's parents with us for a few days over last weekend, and her sister (and nephew) managed to come up for a bit. Some of our other mutual friends called round, and we enjoyed a day with a house-full. On 23rd, we had a day out in York, shopping and then a performance of Peter Pan on ice in the evening, which was good fun. Christmas day we spent at my parents' in Thirsk, which was a lovely relaxing day with lots of food. Today, Cath and her family were with us for the afternoon, with...yes, more food.

Tomorrow, David and Ann arrive: they're staying with us until the new year, and it should be a really relaxing few days.

Sunday, 6 December 2015


We've had Liz's parents with us for the weekend, and spent a day in Scarborough with grandparents, all to celebrate her birthday. It's been good to see them all, and we went out to the stained glass centre which we all like. Next weekend, we have my parents with us on Saturday, and then we're hosting the neighbours for Christmas drinks and nibbles—so we'll probably spend the whole weekend cooking, eating, and drinking...which I can scarcely complain about.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Wall Hanging

It's been a long weekend, as we had Friday off. We spent the day helping Cath & Jason move house—they've not gone far, so it was five of us with a Transit van, while baby & dog were with Cath's mum. It wasn't too traumatic, in all: they completed around noon, and their buyer wasn't actually moving in on the day, so it wasn't too stressful. Fortunately, we managed to corkscrew their sofas up a rather unpromising twisted staircase...which was by no means certain for a while.

Today and yesterday have been relaxedly getting on with the wall-hanging/curtain for the dining room for me, which is almost finished, while Liz has got on with bits and pieces around the house. Yesterday, that included painting the downstairs windowboards and reveals, which are now looking really good. The gloss could do, really, with another coat, but that'll wait until spring, when I hope to do the window frames too. The weather's been atrocious, so the only things we did outside were to rearrange a delivery of firewood on the drive, ready for chopping, and harvest some Jerusalem artichokes (delicious), parsnips (one good, one rather forked), and scorzonera (to be eaten).

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Plaster, Primer, Paint

Liz has spent today and yesterday painting the walls downstairs: a coat of white, and then a top coat of 'Timeless' emulsion to finish.  She's even managed to do the bits of the sitting room that we haven't re-plastered (around the door into the dining room, and the wall behind the sofa/bottom of the stairs. I've been doing bits and pieces, getting the biomass boiler fired up for the first time this autumn (the stove is no longer able to keep up with the cold outside), priming window reveals and boards, and repairing (finally!) the sewing machine.

We did manage to have yesterday evening off, though, and spent a pleasant evening at Eric's, a nearby restaurant, with Cath and Jason. Delicious food, and lovely to spend the time with them both.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Window Reveals

I've been at home today, and have managed to get all the window reveals and curtain boards filled and caulked, ready to paint. It's taken ages! They're looking a lot better, though, so once the walls and they are painted, downstairs will look almost finished. I also spent a little while trying to repair the sewing machine, which I've not yet succeeded with.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Ditches and Drains

Yesterday, I spent a very pleasant day with David in Leeds, whereas Liz has painted the sitting room and dining room walls with watered-down basecoat. They're a bit patchy, of course, but they look loads better. Next weekend we will hopefully get one or two of the proper coats on top.

Today then I've done some bits and pieces, which hasn't really felt very productive: but Liz has first-coat painted the rest of the kitchen, including undercoating the big window's reveals. Meanwhile, I've filled the screw holes on the reveals in the sitting room (almost), and started undercoating them.

The really heavy rain of the last few days has meant there have been two little rivers flowing down the orchard. We've had about 4" of rain, which is a large fraction of the annual 48"—that's about a month's rain in two days. The ditch is just about keeping up, but the silly drain that I keep meaning to change is, well, being silly, and flooding some of the water onto the lane. That's a pain, as it scours the potholes. However, it's all worse still for the New Barn, as everything in the ditch and track finds its way to the crossroads, and some goes down to them. The ditch for this has, really, been inadequate for this much water, and they're in serious of danger of a flooded ground floor. Madness, for 1100' up in the Pennines, to flood, but there you go.

In brighter news, my part-made pond (where I dug out clay for planting the pond) has filled. I suspect it will empty again, as I don't think the walls are sufficiently clay-heavy to hold it. Never mind: as I make more ponds above it, to create a chain of reservoirs, and eventually line them, they'll clearly fill—and they will help slow the flow of water.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Christmas Cake 2015

The Christmas Cake bake was upon us, having soaked the fruit for a couple of days. It took a couple of mugs of tea, which is more than the recipe, so we'll see how that's worked. It took 4:20 to bake, which is a bit quicker than last year—I don't think this is a precision thing, though. Anyway, it's made, and it looks very tasty. We'll probably marzipan it in a couple of weeks, and ice it the first weekend in December—so I need to remember to give it a drink a couple of times before then.

The curtain isn't finished, partly because we had a machine failure: the feed plate has stopped feeding, because a gear broke. I need to order a replacement, and figure out how to fit it... However, the bit that's done looks really good, so that's very pleasing.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Christmas Cake Fruit

We're getting on well with the wall hanging, but it won't be finished this week! We're going to bake our Christmas cake on Sunday, so we've also had soaking the dried fruit for that. It's the same recipe as we made last year, which was very tasty: notes to follow on Sunday.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Wall Hanging

We're just back from a weekend visiting David and Ann, which has been really relaxing. We called in on Liz's sister on the way home, too. Back home, now, and this week we're planning to make progress on the wall hanging/curtain that will cover the insulation on the gable wall of the dining room. I hope to make good progress, but I'm not convinced we'll finish it.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Autumn Longevity

We've had a weekend of not doing a lot, which has been pleasant, while Jenny and Philip visited. The garden, which we had a chance to wander round without task, is holding up really well to autumn: I think more so this year than many, as a lot of things are later, and unstressed by a cool damp summer and mild autumn. It's nice, though.

Thursday, 22 October 2015


A day off for me, and along list of bits done. I've repaired the latch on the door into the utility room (wasn't staying shut); got to the bottom of the inaccessible CCTV (I hope); fixed a problem on the LAN (invisible switch due to mismatched subnet address, which seems to have been causing access points to drop out); constructed a threshold step into the preservatory, now that we're more certain about plans to enclose the porch (more on that later); and plasterboarded above the windows on the front wall of the preservatory (including some roof-space insulation). These last two tasks should make the room considerably less draughty, which is important as the autumn proceeds.

On my way home from taking Liz to work, I also collected five big bags of leaves, which will get stowed away somewhere for a year or two, to become lovely, marvellous leafmould.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Pictures, Plastering, Planning

I've had a three-day weekend (Liz was working on Friday), although in some ways it's not been the most productive, for being longer. Friday was a rather unsatisfactory day, as I struggled to make progress with one of the main planned jobs—getting the CCTV up and running properly. The external camera system's not been working quite as intended. The footage is recorded (a little too zealously, so I could do with tweaking the motion sensitivity), and I can monitor it from anywhere in the world via the wonders of the internet. However, I can't see previously recorded footage, only live: which isn't much good for when I want to know why the house alarm's gone off. Anyway, I've got not further with that, and am still only able to see recorded footage locally.

However, I did get further with other things. I've made a trip to the tip/scrap metal place with a load of rubbish, which has improved the situation on the drive and in the preservatory. Our new bike rack has arrived, so I've assembled it and attached it to the car. I've also finally got round to installing the network switch, which means that all the ethernet sockets are now live. That, in turn, has meant I've been able to install the two IP cameras, meaning I can check in on the cats while away from the house...well, that's one benefit.

Saturday was a long, but much more satisfactory day. I've sorted out the satellite cable where it comes into the sitting room, wiring it into the same patch socket as the three data sockets behind the TV unit, which is much neater. I've also gun foamed all the gaps and holes in the plasterboard in the sitting room and dining room, which has meant Liz has been able to finish plastering them both.

While she did so, I tidied up the kitchen plasterboard: tweaking how it's sat behind the radiator, filling holes and gaps with more foam, and preparing the tricky area between the doors where the light-switches go. We've then plastered the room, between us: Liz getting it onto the wall, and I've gone along behind her, smoothing it to match the other plaster in the room. It looks comparable, actually, which is a relief.

Marmite was deeply unimpressed, but I added some pawprints: she, like Domino and Chess, is now immortalized on the wall.

Today's been easier-going. We went to Samuel's christening, which took us out until mid-afternoon. When we got home, I racked the wine into demijohns, and have barrelled the batch of beer I started in July. It's meant to only take ten days, or so, to ferment...but it always takes more like ten weeks. Never mind. It's now in a barrel, in the cellar, and should be ready to drink in a week or two.

The last task has been planning our long-intended curtain for the gable end of the dining room. The wall's a nice stone wall, against which one of our mirrors looks good, and we didn't want to lose this when we insulated. Instead, the insulation is, technically, removable, so in theory every spring we can take it down and have a stone wall once more. Whether we bother remains to be seen. However, for the months where the insulation is up, we want to hang a curtain, and we've come up with an ivy-leaf design we plan to make. Just need to order some fabric, and we can give it a try in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Late Cuttings

The newly repaired intelligent water heater arrived back this morning from its circuit board transplant. We got it reinstalled as early as we could, and it was up and running again by lunchtime. Not clear, yet, what went wrong with it, but hopefully the manufacturer will get to the bottom of that after testing.

The accumulator tank's lost heat, obviously, in a week of not being heated, but will hopefully be back up to operating temperatures within a few days.

We've spent a lot of the rest of the weekend in the garden, keeping it looking as good as possible for the rest of the season. I've mown and edged the lawn: it's growing really slowly, now, but still looks neater after it's mown. There was less than one hopper full of clippings, whereas it can be nearly five when it's growing at full speed—that's for a weekly cut. Liz has managed to weed practically the entire garden this weekend, another testament to how much slower things grow (and germinate) at this point in the year. I've taken a large number of cuttings: lots of achillea (the Cassis mix, the white, Inca Gold, and Lemon from the colour wheel and herb garden), more Verbena bonariensis
, another clutch of agryanthemum stems (which root in water, before potting them up), sage, box, and fuchsias—the unnamed ones in the front garden and in the long border, as well as Army Nurse, Hawkshead, and Delta's Sarah. I'm trying to get some layers of the Virginia Creeper (in full, fiery splendour at the moment, over the front of the house) to take, as well, though they're a slow affair. I've also divided a number of perennials, ready to pass on to a friend of Liz's who has a new border to fill: the variegated Gardener's Garters grass, the Golden Alexander lysimachia, three heucheras, and (these are seedlings potted up) sweet rocket, aquilegia, catananche, gaura, and wild strawberries. They await collection next week, with some cuttings, and spring-divided perennials, to follow next year.
Liz has spent some of this afternoon plastering the front wall of the sitting room, which looks much better. We're trying to get all of the downstairs plastering finished in the next few weeks, so we can also paint before the Christmas decorations go up. That's partly so it looks better for the six weeks the house will be decorated...and partly because we then won't be able to do any plastering or painting downstairs until mid January.

In between things, I also collected as many elderberries as I could—which isn't many. It doesn't look like a great year for them: most of the corymbs didn't have a high proportion of set berries, and they weren't as plump as they often are. Still: I bulked them (1.8kg) up to 3kg of fruit with some frozen blackberries, and have set off a 2 gallon batch of wine: fruit, boiling water, nutrient. Pectolase before I go to bed, and then yeast tomorrow. On Thursday (or maybe Friday), I'll strain onto sugar in two demijohns.

Sunday, 4 October 2015


I spent a fair bit of this morning trying to get to the bottom of why our intelligent solar-PV diverting water heater doesn't appear to be working. It seems to be a hardware fault, after a lot of diagnosing, and it'll have to go back to the manufacturer this Monday for repair. A real pain, but the company's been excellent in trying to resolve it, and the unit's under three years of parts & labour warranty, so it'll all be fine soon enough, I hope. And then we'll be back to having lots of hot water.

We're reinsulated the accumulator tank, which hasn't been properly returned to order since we installed the heating elements. That's meant reshaping the outer casing, and replacing the foam insulation I had to carve away in order to access the blanking plugs with expanding polyurethane foam. While I was messing around with the equipment, I've also cleaned (and fixed, in fact) the chimney exhaust fan, and swept the biomass chimney, as well as the sitting room chimney. The former needed it—the latter less so, but it's good to do every few months.

Having got the cables to the right position, and leading all the way back to the control unit on Wednesday, we've now mounted the external CCTV cameras, and positioned them to give us a good view of the outside of the house. I think they might need slight tweaking, but they seem about right.

Liz has undertaken a massive tidy-up while I've been so occupied, weeding all the fruit beds and cutting back the raspberries, cleaning the house, and weeding some of the ornamental beds. The garden's looking really good, even though it's October: so much so that actually there was no envy when we managed to get to Harlow Carr this afternoon. Our much smaller garden is, I think, stacking up well.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015


Almost all of today I've spent in the preservatory and workshop: I'm almost there, but it's going to take a bit more effort tomorrow evening to finish. We've very nearly got a properly organized workshop, for the first time ever, with all the tools and parts in sensible places, and each with a home.

By about 3, I was properly bored of tidying and sorting, though, so I switched tasks. I've now brought all the CCTV camera cables in to the middle loft (one was above the dining room, and two above the kitchen). I've put up a shelf at the back of the dressing room, on which the router, CCTV controller, ethernet switch and—one day—NAS can sit. I've also put two new double power sockets next to the shelf, to power all that kit. I still need to mount the CCTV cameras, hook everything up, and install the switch—at the moment, I only have the four sockets on the router to connect things to, but once the switch is there, and I've patch-cabled all the sockets on the patchpanel to it, all the LAN sockets in the house should work.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn Cut

We've had a long weekend, of four days at home (three for Liz, who had to work today), which has meant being able to get quite a lot done.

This year, we've been maintaining the hillside differently to the previous year. Instead of cutting it all back every time, I've only mown a pair of paths up from the main entrance: one up to the apple walk, and one to where the plum arch will one day go. These two points are where you can then go through to the middle section of the hillside, where the clearings are. The rest of the orchard I've left uncut, and the grass has grown up and gone to seed, and there's achillea, scabious, and...well, brambles, gorse, ragwort, and thistles.

However, it's probably looked better for this, and the colours have gone from a bright green, to deeper green, and on to browns and golds as the grass flowers. We think it's probably been better for wildlife, too: and it's taken less work, as trimming the paths only takes about thirty minutes.

As autumn comes, though, we need to cut the grass down. If we let it be, it'll eventually form ugly tussocks, again, and brambles will grow up and cover everything, and we'll be back to where we were in 2012. We'd like to, eventually, plant the orchard with lots of prairie-like flowers and grasses, which will make excellent foraging for bees and other insects, as well being attractive. However, we're a long way from that, simply because of the scale of the area. For now, we need to cut everything back in the autumn, which will keep it neat over the winter, and stop the grass getting too thuggish.

That's what we've done, with me mowing with Sigrid, while Liz raked up. We've built a few bays out of old pallets, and heaped the material into these. It should, over the next twelve months, break down enough to use as mulch.

Needless to say, it's been hard work, and taken a day and a half, but the hillside looks much tidier, and should hopefully go through the winter in better state. While we had the brushcutter out, I've also done the verges, and also cut down the grass in the copse, and along that side of the garden. I didn't manage to do so last year, and the daffodils didn't look as good, buried in long grass, this spring.

Long overdue, we've also sorted out the composting area, below the wood shelter. There was a lot of rubbish in there, which we've shredded, or moved to the log piles in the back, or in the copse, and we've made space to put out the four Dalek composters. We've emptied the oldest compost into these: it's not quite ready to use, but hopefully will have finished breaking down by the spring, when we'll use it on the fruit cage beds. That meant we could get all the accumulated material into the middle and right hand bays, leaving the left one empty. That should be enough space to see us through the winter, as, once we stop weeding, there's not as much being produced. The Daleks and, hopefully, the right hand bay at least, can be used in the spring, and we can go into next year with more composting space. We never quite got on top of it all this year, which has left us with heaps in front of the compost bays, which isn't lovely.

The other outside job that we've been able to tick off is getting the cables for external CCTV cameras routed into the roofspace. They're unconnected at either end, and are waiting in the loft (to bring together into the central loft space, and the down into the dressing room, where the controller will live), and at the camera points (ready for me to mount the cameras).

That done, we had a few hours yesterday to start tidying the workshop, which has been in a bit of a state for over a year, since we started the insulation work. We've emptied a lot of it into the preservatory, and I'll continue tidying on Wednesday.

Today, as I was on my own, I've drained the radiators of the cleanser mix, and refilled them all with 'fresh' water (it's not, really; it's from the accumulator tank), and added sealant. That'll run through the house pipes and radiators for a few weeks, making sure there aren't any pinholes or weeping joints.

Draining twenty-something radiators, and refilling them, took almost the whole day, but I also managed to take a number of cuttings: a pot of each of the Lemon, Inca Gold, Walther Funcke, cassis, and white achilleas; Verbena bonariensis and 'Bampton'; and the actaea we got at Tatton.

After we painted the apple walk a couple of weeks ago, we didn't get round to tying the apples back onto the framework, so I've gone up and done that. Finally, I've got hold of some extra long coach bolts, which I'm using to better secure some of the wood shelter's frame.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Painting, Plumbing, and Green Manure

Liz has spent a lot of the weekend painting: priming, basecoat and topcoat in the master bathroom (two walls), and the guest bathroom (just behind the towel radiator), so that I could finish plumbing them in. Plumbing them in was the last part of getting ready to run a system cleanser round the central heating system for a while, before I then run a leak sealant (just in case), and top up the system ready for the winter. The cleanser is because of the two new radiators, and the new piping in the preservatory, and because it's been a while since it was last done.

While Liz was doing this, I finished connecting the preservatory radiator to the central heating circuit. I'd got the pipework from the radiator along the wall of the room, and up into the loft, but then had to take it around the loft space, through the wall into the porch loft (heavy going, even with the big SDS drill!), through that loft, and then t-junction the two pipes into the flow and return. I was rather trepidatious of that stage, as they're big, 28mm pipes, and I really didn't want to go wrong, as that would mess up the central heating for the house, not just the preservatory. Anyway, although it took ages to get there, I've jointed them in, and they seem to be watertight.

We've managed a few other bits, in and between: the lawn is mown, and we've pulled up the beetroot and onions. I've sown green manure in those two spaces, to overwinter (it's caliente mustard): the sowing I made where the potatoes went is starting to come up nicely.

Tomorrow evening we'll plant out the overwintering onions, which are going to go around the bean/pea supports in the herb garden.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Roof and Sausages

We received our half pig, and have spent the day getting it sorted out. We set a number of joints soaking into a beer brine (same as last year, a Wiltshire cure) and made a batch of brawn (as per last year).

Sausages were 3.4kg of pork, 540g of oats, plenty of black pepper, 750g of chopped apples, 4tbsp of fresh herbs, and 40g of salt.

This year's black puddings were poured into beef middles. Same recipe as last year, with an extra 200g of oats, funnelled into the skins, and the poached for ten minutes or so.

While all this was going on, my builder has re-attached the roof ridge tiles (which were just sitting there, balanced, with the mortar decayed). He's taken some photos from the roof, too, which are rather a fun perspective on the garden.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Dreaming Spires

We've spent a lovely weekend with Katherine in Oxford. It's the first time we've visited her there, and a very long time since either of us have been to Oxford. Magdalen College is beautiful, and a sprawling medley of architecture that still really hangs together. The gardens were pretty, and full of colour and continual interest, which was good to see. I need to extract photos from the camera, I know. Anyway: very pleasant, including a wonderful meal in the fellows' dining rooms, which was delicious, plentiful, and well accompanied from the cellar...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


On the way home from work, we picked up a gallon of pig's blood, as our half-pig went to slaughter today. For once, I was also able to pick up the pluck, which I don't normally get, so I've been able to freeze this (separately, as liver split into three; heart; and cubed lungs (or 'lights')). The blood's frozen as 500ml portions, which defrost easily to make black pudding when we get the rest of the carcase.

Once we were home, I went up onto the roof of the utility room extension, to repair some flashing where the soil stack goes through the roof. The bitumen seal has worn out, and there was a significant gap, which has been soaking the roof timbers. I think I've made good, so the stones should be weatherproof for the winter.

While up there, I also needed to clear the downpipe for the main house gutter at the kitchen end. I cleared out the other end a month ago, and it turns out this one was blocked, too. Good job to have done before autumn: the bends right at the top were completely clogged with soil.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Having finished window frame painting, I had a bit of other work to get done before the season deteriorates. Last Thursday, I had new seamless aluminium gutters put on the back of the workshop, the back of the porch extension, and the back of the utility room. Combined with the main run of guttering on the back that was done last September (03/09/2014), this means the back of the house is now all matching, non-weathering aluminium gutter, which is rather good. The soffits (of the porch and utility room), and the fascia boards (all three), though, are still wooden, and needed repainting. There are a few bits I shall need to repair more carefully next spring, but for now they are, at least, protected.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Ladder Work

A evening up a ladder, today, spent clearing ivy and Virginia creeper from the front of the house, before it creeps across the window frames, or reaches the guttering. I also finished painting the windows: this year has been the preservatory, the porch, the kitchen/utility room, the guest ensuite, and the master ensuite. I shall be trying to do my quota earlier on in 2016, rather than at this end of the summer...well, early autumn.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Repainting the Apple Walk Frame

After a pleasant week off where we didn't do a lot (other than show Molly round the garden and drink quite a lot of tea), we've had a couple of busy days getting a few things sorted.

We started by repainting the apple walk, which hasn't been painted for some time, and has been starting to look rather grubby. It needed a couple of coats of paint, which we've now applied, and which will hopefully see it through the winter.

We spent half a day getting a bit further with the steps out of the dining room, which are now half built (the half in front of the third that opens 'first'!), and we've worked out which stones will form the rest, though it'll be spring before we build them.

Necessarily, the lawn needed mowing, and Liz has been weeding, but that barely needs mentioning.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Colour Wheel Patio

It's the start of a week off, and we've spent Saturday repainting and reconstructing the arbour, which we brought with us when we moved. It's been lying, dismantled, in front of the beech bench, since we took it down ready to dig over the colour wheel and lay drainage. We started painting it (the bits we wouldn't be able to do once assembled) on Friday night, finishing by torchlight; on Saturday we put it up and finished painting it.

First, though, we had to lay a patio. We shifted the rather uneven surface stones and bricks around, to get a level surface, and have then poured about 1250kg of sharp sand onto it, tamped it down, and placed the roof stones we found, and moved out of the way in March (25th). There aren't enough to lay a complete surface, but there are enough, and the sharply drained gaps we've planted with herbs. We'll need a few more, but they're looking good, and should grow to fill the spaces next year.

Once the patio was laid, and pointed, we rebuilt the arbour, and returned the two clematis in their (fake) lead planters to alongside it: which means the colour wheel is finally completed.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Apple Walk Training

This weekend we've had Liz's Scarborough grandparents visiting, on their way down to Ludlow to visit her parents. It's been lovely to show them round the house and garden, as it's been a couple of years since they saw it, and it's changed a lot.

This afternoon, after they'd set off for Shropshire, we did a bit of work on the apple walk. I needed to add the next tier of wire (above the rebar 'hand rail'), and tie in a number of new shoots. A couple of the apples have now got past the new tier (the fourth), which is excellent, although they'll get cut back down to it in February, to prompt side shoots to break.

We also painted the sheds, which needed a top-up, but then rain stopped play, so we had to call it a day.

Preservatory Wall

I've been on my own at home today, and have mostly built the new partition wall that covers the wall with the workshop in the preservatory. The old wall is chipboard, held together with some timber slotted profiles, and isn't very robust, or sound-proof, or pretty. In theory, we could have attached plasterboard directly to it, and plastered, but the plaster would probably have cracked almost immediately. Instead, I've built a proper stud wall, which has allowed us to rehang the old front door from the kitchen (back from 2010) to go between workshop and preservatory, add electrical sockets, LAN sockets, and a second lightswitch, and hide pipes to go to a new radiator on the gable end wall. That's all taken all day, and rather a hard day, but it's almost finished. There's lots of plumbing, to connect the two pipes into the system (they're not connected the central heating) in the lofts; and the wiring is similarly isolated. Once the whole room has sockets, then I'll actually wire them into the distribution board, but for now they're dead: it makes working on them easier, as nothing needs to be disconnected.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


We painted the windows on the front of the preservatory and porch last week, and this evening I've done the ones on the front of the kitchen and utility room. That's probably all of the ground floor windows I'll do this year, unless any look like they need a touch-up. I also need to do the two in our bathroom, and the guest en suite bathroom; and check over the rest of the first floor ones.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


It's felt like a pleasingly long weekend, as we had Friday off, and we've had visitors with us from mid-morning Friday until mid-afternoon today. Philip and Rachel arrived first, followed by David and Ann around 2200. Katherine arrived early morning on Saturday, hot on the heels of Liz and Robert (and children; the younger's just 10 weeks old, and very cute). They only stayed the day, but we managed to get outside for several hours (with barbecue), and without any children falling into the pond (or barbecue). I'd call that a success.

Everyone else left over the course of today, after what's been a very pleasant houseparty. We even came up with a new name for the garage (as it isn't, strictly, a garage any more, and was accommodating David and Ann). Henceforth, it'll be the Preservatory, because of all the bottled fruit, bubbling demijohns, and jars of jam.

We then set to chopping a load of firewood, as one was delivered during the week, which is now safely stacked away.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


We spent yesterday morning in Haworth, where Philip and Rachel are staying this week. They're in a rather nice cottage on the main street, in easy reach of all the sweet shops (and less easy reach of, say, supermarkets). We went on a circular walk south to Oxenhope, then back,  taking in the river, railway, Three Chimneys house, and coming in to Haworth through the churchyard.

In the afternoon, we painted the garage floor. On Wednesday, we sanded it down, and I sealed the gaps between the boards, and it's now getting two coats of decking paint. This has the advantage of not needing priming, and being waterproof enough to mop, later, if we need to.

Today's been a day of sorting and tidying. The garage now has curtains, as well as a cleaner floor, and we've spent a good while in the garden. We've dug up all of the Lady Christl potatoes, which have done well, and replanted the space with various brassicas.

Sunday, 2 August 2015


We've been away for the weekend, visiting grandparents in Scarborough. The weather wasn't great, so there wasn't a trip to the seaside, sadly, but we did manage to do a bit in the garden for them this morning -- clearing a patch of over-crowded day lilies (we pinched a few clumps for ourselves, which have gone into the holding bed at the bottom of the pond) and Japanese anemones (an anonymous blue-ish one; now in the long border). In its place went a rather nice fuchsia, 'Checkerboard', which was a present from a nursing home of which William used be chair of the trustees' board. We came home after lunch today, and have spent a few hours picking the soft fruit. It's been a poor year for gooseberries, with only one tub, but the currants have done very nicely. We'll freeze the blackcurrants, and bottle the red/white, as well as the gooseberries. There's a couple of weeks left, hopefully, in the raspberries, which we've been freezing, and the blueberries will probably start to ripen soon.

We think we've lost rather a lot of gold and green gooseberries to birds, which are able to get in through the chicken wire roof of the fruitcage (but not the 1" mesh walls). I think we'll get more mesh, and put this on top of the chicken wire: that way, the metal net can take the weight, but the knitted netting can keep the birds out. The nylon mesh, under the weight of snow, has ripped to a greater or lesser extent every winter, which is why we rebuilt the cage -- but if it doesn't keep the birds out, there's not much point.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

RHS Tatton Park 2015

Today was the 2015 RHS Tatton Park flower show, which is the fourth we've been to. Once again, we got there nice and early (setting off at 0820; next time we're going to try to leave at 0800), and were through the gates shortly after 10. The weather wasn't as kind to us, this time, as previous years, and it was wet most of the day. As a result, I have fewer photos; but we have more plants, I think, than any previous year.

We did well, actually, on the sell-off, and managed to get a few things I'm particularly pleased with. Tomorrow, we'll plant them all out!