Friday, 27 April 2012

Oh weary weary days

Oh weary weary days
Oh to have our house back, I hope it will come right
The front door never closes, from morning, noon ‘til night
Plastic over carpets and leading up the stair
Dust and plaster, bits of wood and dirt lies everywhere
The walls are freshly plastered, but there’s still a lot to do,
The cupboards are in pieces, and we haven’t got a loo
The measurements are made and all the holes are drilled
It’s just gone four, a closing door and all the work is stilled
Next day we had a problem, the electrician our wiring hated
The lights don’t work, the earth is dud, we’re not cert-if-i-cated
Why did we ever think, our ancient room so wrong?
 We would have just put up with it, if we knew it took this long.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Life with the builders in

Life is going to be chaotic for the next few days whilst our en-suite is being refurbished.  The shower fitted by the house builders eleven years ago has started to come unsealed around the edges leaving a gap that despite repeated applications of sealer has continued to reopen and allow the dreaded black mould to prosper inside.  All this despite frequent applications of anti-mould, guaranteed to clear away unsightly mould and leave your shower sparklingly clean, patent anti-mould WMDs, bleach, and elbow grease, it still creeps back regularly.  So The Better Half (TBH) had decided it must go, and a more cleaner-friendly shower installed in its place.  For a week we stripped off the wallpaper, cleared the cupboards of eleven years of accumulated things we have never used, like aftershave given by a friend with no sense of smell and shampoo that was bought on holiday and did not come up to scratch in the hair washing stakes, tubes of something unidentifiable that has gone hard and so on. We then removed the fittings that would easily unscrew and placing our towels on a free standing towel rail and moved into the spare bedroom. 
Our shower
This current activity was preceded by an extended grand tour of every bathroom and decorating emporium in the county, where different styles and ideas were presented to us to mull over for hours at a time and TBH brought home piles of glossy catalogues which seem to breed overnight when placed on a coffee table in our living room.  This effect also seems to happen when they are left in the room we call the study, where our computers are.   This grand tour revealed to me just how many people there are in the world who would like to sell you tiles, flooring, bathroom fittings and other shiny stuff.   Some of the designs on sale are comical to say the least.  One or two places were displaying an object like a seven foot long gravy boat which was actually a bath.  It seems it is designed to go in a bathroom which would occupy the whole of one floor of our house.  Ultra modern designs like a large tea cup placed on a low table vie with Victoriana vogue, consisting of  elaborately decorated basins and toilets which would have graced my great grandmother’s employer’s house but which seem a bit inappropriate in a modern suburban home.  Really old style stuff has reappeared, old square wash basins of the type my grandma used that took about two hundred litres of water and which I carefully removed, along with many of my generation and placed them in the back garden to plant herbs in. These were replaced with, a then, modern sink and draining board.  Ancient style toilets have reappeared too, the ones with the water cistern mounted high on the wall above you, where you have to pull on a handle on the end of a long chain to flush them, just like the ones I remember from my childhood when no one had heard of close coupled toilets.  
These were so common once, that the commonest term for flushing the loo was ‘pulling the chain’ and any mum would ask ‘did you pull the chain?’ if a child emerged from the loo without the accompanying 90 decibel sound of rushing water that these old loos produce when you did pull the chain.
After a few months of touring these bath and tile, flooring and fitting stores, we came to a consensus on what we would like and after many many plans drawn to scale were poured over, we hit on a design that was both practical and within our budget. 
The window
 Our en-suite is not huge, containing a sink and shower and a loo, but it is an odd shape, being close inside the roof with a dormer window and sloping ceilings which reduce the amount of useful space at the window end of the room.   The builders had boxed in a lot of the space to one side of the window and looking inside, it was found that the floor continued inside so this has been opened up and another couple of feet of space has been added to the room.  That may not sound like much but it has made quite a difference to the look of the room.
Extra space found by removing the boxed in area

 So now J and A and M, highly skilled refurbishers all, have been stripping down the walls, removing all the tiles, any plumbed in and wired in fittings and putting new waterproof plasterboard  over the revealed,  uneven and badly constructed inner walls of our domicile, ready to re fit it with our carefully planned new look, easy to clean en-suite .
Considering the size of the room, under three square meters of floor space, it has had a disproportionate effect on life in the Snafu home, completely disrupting life as we know it and we are currently hiding in the study whilst people charge up and down stairs with sheets of plasterboard and wall insulation, buckets and bits of wood and so on, emerging only to feed them with tea and biscuits at odd intervals and to answer questions about the finer details of where everything is to be placed.
I will post some pictures of the finished product once it has been completed.  Watch this space.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

So that Was Spring huh?

 A few weeks ago we had some marvellous weather and it coincided with having visitors to stay.  First my sister came to stay and we were able to go out and visit nearby Avebury without needing welly boots and a brolly.  We did not go the full round but wandered around the village in the centre of the stones and looked at the unusual shops that sell stuff to the tourists.  They carry the usual tourist stuff like models of everyday objects covered in the Union Flag, but being in a place of ancient stones, one shop specialises in Celtic art, amulets, posters and books on witchcraft and magic, suitable for the inevitable New Age bearded and bead be-strung visitors who see something mystical in structures that were built a number of millennia before building regulations were invented.
The outer stone circle at Avebury
No doubt the builders of the stones would have been most surprised at some of the interpretations of their work, which they no doubt had a perfectly compelling reason to build and which may have had nothing to do with any of the ideas modern people associate with them.
One of the stones with new age visitors
They may have been religious in nature, since worshipers of any age seem to want to build to last, their constructions often outlasting the religion they were built for, but no one will ever know for sure unless practical time travel is developed.
The National Trust has a nice restaurant close by and we stopped and had lunch there.  The menu it seems is also designed to appeal to the more green and mystically oriented clientele, featuring mostly vegetarian dishes.   Sis and I had a vegetable curry each, which contained some surprising ingredients such as mashed potato and lots of cauliflower, whilst TBH stuck to a more traditional meal.  
The day was warm and we wandered along to visit the local manor house which had been recently refurbished whilst being featured on a TV programme following the work, entitled The Manor Reborn.   This was not open, we were a day too early, but we looked at the outside and then wandered off again.
Locked out
One of the buildings in Avebury village inside the stone circle
The next day we went to visit our Mother’s grave and gave it a tidy up.  She is buried in a small Wiltshire village in an area where once several members of our family lived but which now is almost completely devoid of any known relative.
On the way down we stopped at a garden centre to buy some new plants and have lunch.  This particular garden centre is close to the small town of Lackock, scene of many a period drama such as the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and the series based around Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.  Rather a long way from the town of Knutsford which is supposed to be the place Mrs Gaskell used as a basis of her Cranford novels, Lacock is still very 18th century in appearance, which makes it ideal for these kind of dramas.  One of the houses also featured in two of the Harry Potter movies.
We were able to tidy up Mum’s grave and I decided to take a couple of pictures of the grave in order for my two sons to be able to locate it if they ever felt the need to visit it after I have gone and can no longer show them where it is in a, by then, much more crowded graveyard.

Sis had to return by Thursday to rescue her cat, or rather her cat sitter, so we had a day to ourselves until the next two visitors arrived, this time The God Daughter and her Daughter (TGD&D.  My second and respectively, whatever comes next, cousins.
It is a shame, but due to feeble excuses such as having to go back to work and in the case of D, continue to study for A levels, they only were only able to stay with us for the weekend.  They would have liked to visit Avebury, but having been to Avebury only a few days before, I rather selfishly suggested that we visit somewhere else and we ended up spending a day in Bourton on the Water, somewhere they had not been to before.  This is an attractive Cotswold town with the river Windrush flowing through the middle of it.

The Windrush plus day trippers

A local business office

Soon to be more vine than cottage
Looking across the Windrush
  It has become rather more commercialised of late, so it was rather like a visit to a popular holiday resort by the sea.  Kids were paddling and many people were sitting on the grass, and seats provided or strolling around enjoying the warm weather. 
The local ducks were out in force and feeling a little frisky.

The avian Pepe le Pugh

His subtle approach does not seem to be doing anything for her
On Sunday afternoon after lunch, we waved TGD and D off and life went back to normal for a week.

This time of year fascinates me because whenever driving down an English country lane, it is the time that you can see where people have dumped their garden waste.  Any house or cottage which has no houses on the opposite side of the road will often have daffodils, either growing on the grass verge, or sometimes in any ditch opposite.  This happens because when people dig over their gardens, a small number of daffodil bulbs are dug up and end up in the garden waste.  This is then furtively wheel barrowed across the road and tipped on the grass verge opposite.  An easy way of minimising the rubbish you have to dispose of after gardening.  In a year or so, these bulbs will grow and so you see a small collection of daffodils at the side of the road.  
Roadside Daffodills
 Many years ago, many farms or estates employed workers who lived in a small cottage on the edge of the farm, often tenants of the landowners.  As times changed and farms became more mechanised, these itinerant workers were no longer needed in such large numbers and became redundant, so the old cottages were vacated one by one and stood empty and unwanted.  By the 1960s there were many of these sad looking neglected buildings, usually miles from any other habitation and often without any main services, so even the most hardened DIY enthusiast would not want them and eventually most of these were pulled down by the land owners so that the land they occupied could go back to be a part of the working farmland.  
As a result of this, a long way from any nearby habitation, you will come across small clusters of daffodils and other garden plants on the grass verges in a minor country B road.  These little clumps of lonely flowers act as a kind of rural archaeology, because at this time of year you can see where these lost cottages once stood.
So what happened to spring?  At the time of starting to write this blog, it had gone away again and parts of the country were under snow again.   So the timing of our visitors was perfect because we had pretty near perfect weather for our days out.
For a change this Easter we went to visit the Daughter and Son in Law and the Granddaughter (D, SL and TG) in Cumbria instead of them visiting us.  Where they live is in a part of the country that is close to the Lake District.  On the way it was very dull and cloudy and we thought we were heading into some snowy weather, but realised what looked like snow was in fact a mass of tiny white flowers growing down the centre of the motorway.
White flowers imitating a light snowfall
 Whilst the journey was wet and dull, for a change, the weather became very bright and cheerful, if a little cold on the Thursday and we went off to Ulverston, a small market town on the Furness peninsula.
This town’s claim to fame is that George Fox the founder of the Quaker movement lived here and also Stan Laurel was born in Argyle Street.  Although George Fox is noted, the town boasts a much more high profile museum dedicated to Laurel and Hardy because of the link with Stan Laurel.
I have not visited the museum for many years and when I did I was a bit disappointed in the lack of organisation I found there.  Since it is still open, I can only assume and hope, it has become more visitor friendly.
The attraction of Ulverston on the day of our visit was the street market which opens there on a Thursday.  There were several stalls lining the cobbled streets looking very colourful in the bright sunshine so I took several pictures.  It was not until that evening, that I discovered that the memory card in my camera had sprung free when I fitted a fresh battery.  As a result you will have to imagine the colourful scenes I photographed with a camera which happily auto-focused and went whir-click each time I took a new scene, showing the preview image before THROWING IT AWAY!
It did actually say, if you looked closely in the top left hand corner of the display, in tiny letters there was no memory card, but it was amongst the usual background of other information in the display and in bright sunlight not very obvious.  What annoyed me was that it behaved quite normally each time I took what I fondly believed was a photograph, when to my way of thinking, it should have refused to work altogether with such a major problem.   This sort of poorly thought through software control is the bane of modern man and I have lectured on this as a part of my previous work, pointing out that nearly three quarters of ALL software fails to work properly.  Finding myself a victim of this kind of thing simply confirms what I already knew, but I thought the makers of my camera were above this kind of shoddy work.
So here is the one and only view of Ulverston I managed to store before the battery needed replacing and my camera let me down.
The weather then went bad for Good Friday and our next trip into the Lakes was a bit wetter and the pictures I took with my now chastised but working camera were much more dismal.
Although the other side of the country took the brunt of the snowfall, there were still a few clumps of snow higher up on the hills that had survived the bright sunshine of the day before and rain of the previous few days.  We visited Grasmere and strolled around with the myriads of other tourists admiring this part of the poet Wordsworth’s home ground.  We found a small restaurant that had just opened and had a nice light lunch.  They were slightly unprepared for the sudden rush of customers but although a little slow, served up a very good selection of light meals. I had a toasted ciabatta with about two schools of tuna fish in it, well a fairly large helping anyway.
The hills above Grasmere still have a few patches of snow
The next day we went to visit Kendal, home of the Kendal Mint Cake, not something I am over fond of, but which is useful as emergency rations if you are hiking up in the hills, or as was much publicised there, climbing Everest, since it gives you a sugar boost if you are low on energy and is small enough to lug around with you, when every few ounces of weight to carry counts. 
Kendal is quite a large town for the area and has some antiquity, with sites dating at least as far back as 1090. It later became a wool town which gave it some prosperity in later centuries and it is still a thriving place.  It has a shallow river running through it and is very picturesque, with some cobbled yards still remaining.  These Kendal yards are open work areas where several small businesses once thrived in the buildings surrounding each yard.
For those across the Atlantic who may be confused here, the term ‘yard’ in the UK is unlike the American use of the term. In the USA, private houses can have a back yard or a front yard, but in the UK a yard is usually paved over and more often than not a work area associated with some kind of industry, like a coal yard where coal would be loaded for distribution.    Private houses in the UK with some grounds are said to have a front and back gardens not a yard. 

Two street entertainers in Kendal who posed for an action shot
I have visited Kendal in the past briefly whilst on holiday, but also on business because it once held the local training rooms for the region when I worked for a national retail company.  There I have taught the intricacies of the inner workings of video recorders and satellite receivers to technicians in a room in Kendal at least twenty years before, maybe longer.
The sun came out briefly whilst we were there and I persuaded my camera to take a few pictures and store them on the memory card.
This fence has been there long enough for this mature tree to have grown through it
On Easter Sunday we did very little apart from the now traditional egg hunt for TG.   It usually falls to me to think up the clues and after a bit of brain bashing late on Saturday evening, I came up with both suitable places to hide the small eggs and the clues, leading to the big egg prize, in a form that an eight year old could solve.   This event is met with great excitement and enthusiasm by TG and she raced around her house eagerly searching for clues and managed to solve most of them without too much prompting from her mum and dad. 
I generally try to make the clues rhyme and I feel like I am writing the story line for a Rupert annual, which always has a short verse under each picture as well as a larger written paragraph to tell the story.  Again for those unfortunates who grew up in the USA and did not have such things in their obviously deprived childhood, the Rupert stories are a children’s picture strip published daily in one of the national newspapers and then compiled into an annual just prior to Christmas.   They have been popular here for over 80 years and still appear every year without fail.

On the main road down the Furness Peninsula, it follows  a tidal estuary that comes inland from Morecombe Bay and whenever I have travelled past it, in all the years I have been visiting this area, I have never seen the tide fully in and covering the mud flats and sandbanks.  This has become a standing joke amongst my family, who have occasionally threatened to leave me at the shore side whilst they carry on home just so that I can see the tide come in and see it for myself.  For the first time in recorded history as we came past this Easter weekend, the water was at high tide.  SL was driving and he immediately swung off the road and drove into a parking area so that I could get out and photograph this mythical event.
It is a popular place for fishing as fish come in with the tide to feed.  
There is a tide
 Over the last two years, whilst most of the UK has been lacking sufficient rain and now has started rationing water, the North West has been inundated. 
Drought? What drought?
On Monday we set off for home through the monsoons that swept the country, averaging about twenty five miles per hour over a two hundred and fifty mile journey.  This poor progress was due to the huge amount of traffic, roadworks and poor visibility. 
Finally home I have been able to sit down to the PC and recount a few of my recent activities.