Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Much to Philippa’s delight, the snow finally reached our western location. She’s been complaining about clear sunny days whilst the rest of the country has been under the white spell, there’s no pleasing some people! We’ve decided on a duvet day today, the fires on, the Sloe Gin is ready and Footy Focus is on, I’m in heaven :)
Before the snow came we managed a walk up on the hills behind the house. After following our trusty OS map we ended up in a farmyard with a very large dog who seemed intent on supplementing his lunch. Luckily the owner came out, and rather than brandishing a shotgun, was very friendly and escorted us through his property. It was nice to see the house from above.
In this picture you can see the large barn infront of our big yellow house, the new soft fruit patch, the fenced off veg patch to the right, and the polly tunnel through the tree’s, with my green shed at the back.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
It’s mid-December and yet I’m harvesting apples, pears, plums, strawberries and, most surprising of all, lemons and peaches. No, climate change has not swapped our Welsh winter for a Mediterranean summer. These are the fruits of my addiction to Farm Town. Not content with my plot in the corner of Ceredigion, I bought myself a slice of online real estate courtesy of Facebook. Virtual mud is never waterlogged, frozen or jam packed with rocks. The same could not be said for the very real mud in which our new orchard – 6 apple, 1 pear, 2 plum and 1 damson trees - and soft fruit patch – 31 raspberry, 6 blueberry, 2 blackberry, 2 loganberry, 6 red currant, 2 black currant and 4 gooseberry plants - had to be planted.
All that effort and it looks more like a stick farm! But they’re specially selected sticks, not any old sticks. Plants have to be hardy to survive on our exposed site, so we bought all of the plants from Welsh nurseries. We’re especially excited about the trees as each is an historical Welsh variety – the damson is a graft from a 200 year old tree growing at the Bangor University college farm site (where Dave used to potter around as an agriculture student); the Denbigh plum is a variety that dates back to 1785 and is the only surviving native Welsh plum; the Welsh Cox grew in the garden of Bangor’s first motorised milk lady and the original parent tree is now buried under the A55.
But none of that impresses Charlie, who considers the entire plot to be one big cat latrine.
The planting is not the end of the story. If the raspberries, blackberries and loganberries are to do their thing next year, each needs to be trained up and along a set of tension wires. Tension wires need fence posts. Fence posts need to be buried deeply. Deep burial needs deep soil. We have bed rock at a depth of 9 inches. Tonight we watched with envy as Countryfile demonstrated a lovely bit of tractor kit with which we could smash a post through the bedrock at the flick of a switch. If we had one of those we could have all the posts up and still have time for a spot of painting before the mid-morning coffee and gingernut break. Instead we had wheezy Dave and puny Phil knocking in posts the old fashioned way with a metal spike, the trusty postknockeriner and a hammer. The highlights for me were discovering that pinging tension wires makes a sound like a light-sabre (cue bad re-enacting of scenes from Star Wars) and waving at the Chinook helicopter as it did a fly past (cue bad re-enacting of scenes from The Railway Children, but without the trains).
Mean while on Kittenwatch, Stephen & Nessa took their first steps outdoors this week, ate their first blades of grass, climbed their first tree and stalked their first birds. And yet neither of them can use any one of the 3 cat flaps leading from hallway to utility room, utility room to boiler room, and finally from boiler room to the outside world. Unless a flap is propped open with a pencil or held open by a piece of string tied to the door handle, Stephen is baffled and Nessa is confused, and watching Charlie flip-flap in and out a hundred times a day still leaves them none the wiser. Maybe they’re special needs kittens.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Nearly a year has passed since Dave made our house habitable by installing central heating and fitting the kitchen and bathroom, but since then little to nothing has been done by way of renovation or decoration. Before moving to Banceithin permanently I had a plan to work on the cottages by day and spend my evenings decorating my own home. There was no way I’d be able to put up with the tatty state of the place! The reality is that I quickly acquired Dave’s ability to turn a blind eye and accept the flaws as part of the character of a 100 year old house. There was, however, a room at the back of the house the state of which irked me on a daily basis.I don’t care if Nigella Lawson’s pantry, with its shelves stacked high with pleasing packages and tempting treats, is a TV-land creation purposely designed to make suckers like me green with pantry envy, I wanted one too.
In Dave’s optimistic opinion we could convert our musty, cobweb strewn store room into a pantry in a weekend. Before Dave could lose all enthusiasm for the project (and knowing there was no time to waste if the job was to be completed before Chelsea v Arsenal kicked off at 4 p.m. on Sunday), we set about the task of clearing out the room and stripping off decades of manky old paint and chunks of decaying plaster. The unexpected arrival of 10 bare root stock maiden whips (being my orchard-to-be and not a Madam Whiplash starter kit) threw me into a bit of a tizzy and we had to down decorating tools, grab spades and start digging the field. So by the end of day one, I had a new orchard, a house full of paint & plaster dust but no pantry.
For days two, three and four I was busy priming, undercoating, glossing and generally throwing paint around. By the end of day five I was the proud owner of a shiny red pantry. I just love red walls. Something Freudian about wanting to be back in the womb or some such nonsense. Or, in Dave’s view, useful because the blood won’t show up when he slaughters the livestock! There’s no way that’s happening in MY pantry.
On day six I could contain my excitement no longer, the shelf stacking had to begin, and to hell with waiting for the floor polish to dry.
Excitement reached fever pitch when I realised that a new pantry needs new storage baskets, jars and drawers, that the shelves would need labelling and the kitchen and utility room cupboards would now need to be re-organised. I’m in pantry heaven!
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Now for those of you who know Philippa, you may be mistaken by the title of this entry. This isn’t about a rather heavy night up the Cross Inn, but is related to Phil’s side business of preserving our produce and making a variety of pickles and chutneys which she hopes to sell to our guests (if I don’t scoff them first!).
She is also on a mission to bake our own bread, it’s one of the main staples that we still buy, so last weekend, following our trusty ‘River Cottage’ bread book, Phil kneaded, prodded and proved and came up with 2 small loves and 4 rolls. The first effort was pretty tasty but a little heavy, but we’ve deduced that we didn’t let the dough prove long enough, and we whipped it out of the oven a little too soon (as we were desperate to fill our faces).
I decided to get in on the act, but was less adventurous. Pickled onions were my limit on the preserving front, but I started trying to tackle our largest domestic expenditure, namely Baccus’s favourite tipple.
It does seem that having a huge wood burning boiler does provide ample heat for the initial fermentation process, but during the night of day 2, it was obviously slightly too warm (it needs to be between 20 and 25 deg C), as in the morning we were greeted with a red wine splattered Bertha and the air lock full of wine. Hopefully it won’t be spoiled, but there’s no way of knowing until we try it (3 months time!!).
If this does work we will need to up our production as one Demijon only gives us 6 bottles.
Friday, 27 November 2009
I’ve just realised that the ‘Greek’ room has actually turned out to be the same colour as the mighty blues home strip, but I’m sure Philippa will not want me to plaster the walls with Chelsea memorabilia, especially if we want to have a broad appeal to our future guests. Painting this room seems to have been messier than the others. Maybe the paint is thinner than previous colours, but after 10 minutes using the roller, I was pretty much covered, and could have easily auditioned as a member in the Blue Man Group
(From right Phil, me and Paul the builder)
The final bathroom is nearing completion (hurrah I hear you cry). It has seemingly taken forever and Phil is still a little unsure of the colour scheme, but my theory is to plough on now to the finish line so as any desired changes in colour become too much of a hassle to implement.
Monday, 23 November 2009
The other day Dave remarked on how our forecast watching habits have changed. Pre-Banceithin we’d get up in the morning and accept whatever the weather happened to be that day – checking the forecast religiously was something only Dads did when the family was off on a road trip. Nowadays our daily devotion to the Met Office web site is bordering on obsessive-compulsive. The weather effects our project planning (if it’s raining I’ll be painting indoors, if it’s not raining I’ll be painting outside) and our farm management (if it’s raining I’ll be digging in the polytunnel, if it’s not raining I’ll be digging in the veg plot). Over the last few weeks though, checking the Met Office has been a pointless exercise – every day it’s rainy, windy or cloudy, or more often than not all three. Banceithin is wet and wind battered. The brussel sprouts are growing at a 45 degree angle. Every morning I look out of the bedroom window to see how the distribution of the site debris has changed overnight – the roofing sheets are now by the chicken run, the scraps of insulation foam are randomly scattered across the garden, the cement bucket is in the middle of the drive. Any day now I’m expecting Kevin Costner to turn up to film Waterworld 2 at the end of our drive. If the new lake by our post box gets any bigger, the Royal Mail will have to issue waders and water wings to our postmen.
The upside of all this wet and stormy weather is that it tests the integrity of our buildings before the builder moves off to another project. The downside is that we now have a leaky chimney, leaky doors and a leaky porch. And a whole lot of mud!
Meanwhile, back in the house, Stevie and Nessa are on, up and in everything. When they’re not tearing around house, they’re having “time out” in the kitchen (also known as the naughty kitten cupboard). Thankfully there’s only 1 week to go until their introduction to the great outdoors. Although I fear that Charlie may have plans for introducing the kittens to some of the deeper puddles without first teaching them how to swim.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
I’ve currently got my HETAS approved installer hat on at the moment. We’ve purchased the wood burning stoves for the two cottages and I’m attempting to install them. It all seems pretty straight forward and I’ve researched it thoroughly having spoken to the Building Reg’s department at the local council and an engineer at HETAS (like Corgi is for gas, HETAS is the body for solid fuel installations).
The hardest bit is connecting the flue to the chimney in the roof, and I have to completely mock it up first before dismantling it all and re-assembling it with fire sealant in all the joints. but doing it myself should save us a couple of grand.
The quicker I get it done the quicker we can paint in the warm, as the radiators and boiler connections have yet to be commissioned.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
There are big changes taking place down at Banceithin this week with the start of the landscaping. It’s the first step towards transforming the front of the house from building site to beautiful garden and wildlife haven. A teeny tiny first step.
Before Paul fired up the digger and began spreading out the rubble pile the front of the barn looked more like overflow landfill site for the local neighbourhood than a potential garden. There were unidentifiable rusting objects, months old bottles of milk, crushed paint pots, abandoned tools and a can of Gillete shaving foam (goodness knows which builder was so concerned about his appearance that he felt the need to shave on site!). Naturally I assumed all the debris would be collected up before landscaping began. Silly me. I’m still not thinking like a builder. Just because I always had a tidy desk doesn’t mean I can have a tidy building site. Every time I hoover (yes, you read that right, I hoover on site) or collect up scattered tools, “someone” comes along behind me and messes the place up again. I suspect I’m at risk of becoming obsessive-compulsive when it comes to tidying up. Anyway, if you think like a builder, why waste time collecting debris that you’ll only have to dump somewhere else, just spread out the rubble and hey presto, the debris magically disappears. Job’s a good’un.
Meanwhile, as it was a crisp sunny autumn morning, I was back on outside painting duty again. My life would be so much simpler if people liked to holiday in door-less window-less boxes.
At least my trusty decorating pal Charlie is always nearby, ready to rub up against my wet paint work and place a dirty paw on my clean white windowsills.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Philippa seems to be following a theme of her favourite ice cream when it comes to the colour schemes for the cottage, but surprisingly it probably works, hence why I don’t get involved in the colour choices! I was very dubious about her pink, chocolate and cream selection when Phil returned from an eco paint trip recently. We are using clay based paints which have the consistency of thick custard, and I was almost tempted to taste them, especially the chocolate one.
The final bathroom is coming together and the first tiles have gone up, the patterned tiles look great which is a relief since they cost £14 each!
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
No animals were harmed in the making of the chicken run, but a Greek did suffer minor injuries.
Fortunately (for us), the Banceithin work force is not represented by any trade union. If they were, I’m sure the union would be balloting members to strike in protest at the working conditions on Project Chicken Run. Now I’m no fan of health and safety gone mad in the nanny state, but I’m pretty sure there are guidelines that prohibit the use of a sledgehammer by a worker whilst straddling the top of a step ladder.
It could be a “how not to erect a fence” scene from a DEFRA health & safety training video for farmers. With each swing of the sledgehammer, words like “personal injury”, “compensation” and “how will I explain this to his family” whirred around my head. To add insult to injury (literally), Dave wouldn’t let Yiannis wear gloves until his first blister appeared – a test of true manliness, or something along those lines. It’s polite to present your guest with a momento of his visit and I know money is a bit tight these days, but a gift of wounds to the hands is a bit mean.
Thankfully, Dave came to his senses and whizzed off to borrow the appropriate equipment from a man who knows what he’s doing, Idwal (neighbour, sheep dog trainer, slaughterman and real live non-pretend farmer). Dave returned with fencing pearls of wisdom and a fence post banger in-er (I’m sure there’s a proper technical term for it but that pretty much describes what it does). [P.S. A prize of a weekend’s hard labour at Banceithin goes to the winner of the caption competition for the below photo.]
Much banging (and smoking) later, the chicken run was beginning to take shape, albeit a little wonky in places. I stepped in to lend a hand – my task was to unfurl the roll of chicken wire whilst making chicken like clucking noises by way of a musical accompaniment to the hammering in of staples.
Fence up, it was time to bring in the chicken house and nest boxes, painted by me in a fetching shade of glow in the dark orange guaranteed to attract the foxes.
Alas, a sloping field means a sloping house. Freedom from a slopey home may not be one of the RSPCA’s Freedom Food principles, but instinct tells me that it’s unfair to keep a chicken laying by using the force of gravity to prevent her leaving the nest box. Propping your chicken house up on a combination of brieze blocks, broken paving slabs & slate tiles shows a certain innovative flair but aesthetically pleasing it ain’t.
Aside from the minor detail of having constructed the run around an owl box (hungry owls and little chicks do not mix well), Project Chicken Run was successfully completed. In honour of our Greek labourer the run will bear a slate plaque above the door that reads “Kotetsi” (look it up on Babelfish!). Oh, and our first cockerel will be named Yiannis.
Monday, 2 November 2009
I’ll leave Philippa to do the quality writing, I just thought I would update the blog with our recent progress.
The Cottage is getting there now, we can see the end in sight! All the flooring is down, and we’ve varnished the mezzanine bedroom floor and completed the balustrade which looks great (in my opinion anyway!)
I’ve completed the downstairs cloakroom and added a nifty box to hide all the pipe work which I made (with Squaddie Dad’s help) from the same material as the floor.
The Barn is also coming together but there is still some major work needed. The solar panels still need to be fitted, but we’ve completed the ensuite bathroom, and are making steady progress on the main bathroom.
The garage has also had a makeover, it’s been split in two with the main area becoming a games room, and the smaller room will have a side door and be used as a boot and store room for the guests.
We’ve also started to buy some furniture for the properties. We’ve found this fabulous little company who refurbish old 1930’s furniture which when all the horrible dark brown varnish is removed, look fantastic. We’ve managed to get an old HMV radiogram from them, which still works, so we are going to put it in the cottage with a load of our old vinyl records as I bet most people over 35 would love to play a few scratchy records like “the old days”.
Friday, 30 October 2009
How better to spend a lazy afternoon on the sofa than browsing through the Ceredigion Monthly Advertiser. It’s reassuring to know that there are people in the local area who can provide man on man deep tissue massage, mole control (of the small furry variety) or salsa classes for beginners. Two ads caught my eye this month - the first was for Welsh cross Berkshire weaners. We’ve been trying to decide between the Welsh white pig (good for bacon) and the Berkshire black pig (good for pork) as the starter pig for the Banceithin herd. If someone out there has crossed the two breeds perhaps that’s the compromise we’ve been looking for - a black & white pig happy to live up to its snout in muck on a damp Welsh hillside with nothing but sheep for company, but equally at home snuffling amongst cake and jam stalls at the school fete on the village green. Anyway, I digress. The other ad of interest was for a poultry auction down the road at Llanina Hotel. Pigs are on hold until new year, but the sooner I can stop buying eggs from the farm up the road and start snaffling them fresh from under a warm feathered bottom in my own garden, the better. The chicken house has been sitting in the shed like an abandoned mini-ski chalet since its construction in September 2008. 11 months later, in a fit of enthusiasm, we went out and spent a small fortune on fencing. But each time I suggest to Dave that perhaps building of the chicken run could begin, he groans and finds something more interesting to do, like lagging pipes or measuring holes. I think perhaps flashbacks to lonely days in winter concreting in veg plot fence posts are putting him off. If the chicken run is to become a reality, some hired muscle would be required. As luck would have it, cheap foreign labour was already on its way (if an illegal immigrant is good enough for the Attorney General, a legal one should be just fine for us!). We knew Yiannis could balance 6 plates on one hand while using the other hand to down Jaegermeister bombs, but would his talents extend to power tools? The first test set for Yiannis by Dave was to build a path - cue some serious mattock swinging, manly grunting (both Greek and English) and heaving of rocks, in between fag breaks.
If the BBC ever decided to combine Gardeners World and The World’s Strongest Man into a single show, it would not look too dissimilar to what I witnessed from the safe (and comfortable) distance of the kitchen window. That said, it would be unusual to see any contestant on The World’s Strongest Man take a break from his exertions to smell a flower. I swear this is exactly what Ali caught Yiannis & Dave doing, although they maintain it was a herb not a flower that was the object of inspection, but note the lack of denial that sniffing did take place.
Judging by the back slapping and general mutual appreciation that took place I think it’s safe to say that Yiannis passed the first test with flying colours. But now for the ultimate test … Project Chicken Run!