Monday, 29 December 2014

More Of A Twitch

I’ve previously written about my new-found interest in watching the birds from the comfort of my rural home (Developing A Twitch). With its river view from its expansive windows and tree-filled garden, it makes for great viewing of the local wildlife.
My interest has now been given even more of the boost, as I received a new pair of binoculars for Christmas, which have all the right features for bird watching – good magnification, a coating to stop glare and retain colours etc. Needless to say, I’ve been even more transfixed with what’s going on outside, driving my family mad with sudden exclamations of, “Wow! There’s a lesser spotted what’s-its-face!” and “Quick, what’s that over there? Could it be a crested what’s-its-name?”

The arrival of said binoculars has indeed allowed me to see many birds here for the first time – birds that until now had merged in with the mud banks or undergrowth, but that I can now view in all their glory. I’ve been watching the herons, cormorants, gulls etc since we moved in, but now I’ve also been able to watch the lapwings and redshanks and a few others that I still have to identify.

I’ve also become more interested in garden and woodland species of birds too. I was getting a bit fed up that the current bird feeders were attracting a disproportionate amount of starlings, which were scaring off some of the smaller birds. So off I went and bought a ‘small bird’ feeder which I duly filled with ‘finch mix’ and am happy to report that it has had the desired effect of attracting some of the smaller species, which are now able to feed in peace. Goldfinches, greenfinches, blue tits and great tits have already visited the feeder and I’m hoping to see others arrive in due course.

Armed with my bird books, I’m managing to identify many of the birds that I see (providing that I can get a good enough view of them), but what I’d really like to do is to learn to identify some of the birdsong and calls that I hear every day. The books do try to describe the sounds in words, but that doesn’t always work for me. All that I can do is try to whittle the calls down to a few possible candidates and listen to the recordings on You Tube in the hope of identifying them.

Despite this enthusiasm for watching (and listening to) our feathered friends, I’m not about to start looking out for reports of rare sightings and go hurtling off to the other end of the country to join the twitching fraternity in some kind of stakeout. No, I’m quite happy with all that I can see from my own window and garden. I’m just extremely fortunate to be living with so much of nature on my doorstep!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Loves And Hates

With Christmas almost upon us, emotions can run high. Stress, excitement, anticipation, sadness and happiness – they can all feature as part of the festive season!

On the whole I look forward to Christmas, although the build-up can often be more fun than the actual day, when there is too much pressure to enjoy the whole event, however you may feel.

A 'pink' hamper put together for my daughter's birthday
I quite enjoy Christmas shopping, but go out of my way to avoid the shops on certain days. I certainly didn’t shop on Black Friday (looked a nightmare from what I saw on TV) and as for Panic Saturday – for us it was more of a ‘put-your-feet-up’ Saturday, where we cracked open the Christmas biscuits and enjoyed a visit from family.

The swing between eager anticipation and utter madness got me thinking that actually Christmas can be rather a love/hate relationship, making me realise there are things that sit on each end of the scale.

I love:
Shopping for Christmas gifts for the family (except for on the days I’ve already mentioned). I love trying to find presents that are individual and a little bit different, often making up my own goody bags or hampers to suit a particular person.

Christmas lights. I can take or leave all the other fussy Christmas decorations, but I do love all the twinkly lights and enjoy seeing whole displays of them.

Christmas music. OK hearing the same tune in the shops for the fortieth time in a row can start to get irritating, but whilst out shopping last week, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the gospel choir singing at a local shopping centre – the atmosphere was just lovely!

Cold turkey on Boxing Day. Christmas dinner is all well and good but what I enjoy even more are the cold cuts on Boxing Day, served with jacket potatoes, a variety of relishes and a lovely cheeseboard. Mmmm, feeling hungry just writing this.

I hate:
The sadness I feel that certain family members are no longer here to celebrate with us this time of year. I still miss my dear dad thirteen years on and the loss of my two sisters, four and almost three years ago, is still quite raw. Sadly this year has also seen the passing of a couple more family members and the news of the death of an old friend.

That everything seems to return to ‘normal’ on Boxing Day now, whereas when I was younger the holiday seemed to stretch for several days, with shops and businesses staying closed and more time therefore available to catch up with family and friends. There seems to be much more pressure for people to enjoy the one and only day now.

Christmas pudding. As a child I used to look forward to stirring the Christmas pudding mixture and making a wish, but was never very interested in eating the pudding itself. As an adult I seem to like it even less – and the rest of my family hate it too! We always go for an alternative dessert, such as a gateau or Pavlova.
TV chefs telling me what I should be doing or serving at Christmas – with the exception of Mary Berry, who recommends very down-to-earth recipes, using very down-to-earth ingredients. Her turkey crown with herb butter and orange slices sounds tasty, although I may stick to my own version with apple and onion slices!

Whatever you’re doing this festive season I hope it’s a very happy time for you. We will be celebrating in our ‘glorified shed’ with a few close family members, enjoying a few treats and our new rural, riverside setting, but no doubt taking a little time to reflect on the memories of those we miss.

Peace and happiness to you all!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas Past

Preparing for my slightly ‘alternative’ Christmas in our new home, otherwise known as ‘the work in progress’ or ‘glorified shed’, has got me thinking about some of the very different Christmases that I’ve had over the years.

Christmas has certainly changed vastly from my childhood, when there weren’t endless high-tech gadgets to add to our lists and we certainly didn’t have anywhere near the amount of money spent on us that is lavished on some of the kids of today!

Presents of my childhood included a farm set, a tea set and a Tiny Tears doll, and relatives usually bought me colouring books, paints or a Knitting Nancy. When I was young I used to write my letter to Santa, then ‘send’ it by burning it on our coal fire. My wish list used to contain simple things such as a Twinkle Annual and accessories for my dolls. One year I did request an ‘In-A-Minute-Cakebake’ that had been advertised on TV. I longed to be able to whip up the cake mix and put it in the ‘magic’ oven, but sadly it never materialised. I was lucky to get a Potter’s Wheel, a Shaker Maker Set and a Perfume Factory over the years, however. We sometimes had a family present too, the best of these being a giant Spirograph set.

Christmas parties featured heavily in my childhood, with the emphasis on the celebration of the season as opposed to the presents. Our school parties used to begin after lunch, with the desks and chairs being pushed back in the classrooms to accommodate party games. When we would normally have been going home, we sat down to tea and then went to the hall for the chosen entertainment of the year – a group performing panto or a magician, for example. At the end of the day, we were sent home with an apple, an orange and a sugar mouse – I can still recall how they set my teeth on edge! Today, school parties often tend to be held during school hours, with kids expected to down party treats almost immediately after their lunch!

Generally Christmas was a long holiday, with shops closed for days and time spent seeing various family members over the festive period. Now Christmas tends to be too rushed – squeezed into one day, blink and you’ll miss it! This is meant to be the Season Of Goodwill, not eat to excess one day and shop ‘til you drop the next!

I loved the Christmases when my children were small – they became magical all over again. They showed wonder at the simplest of things and it was easy to get caught up in their excitement. When my eldest daughter was three, she seemed really content with the contents of her Christmas stocking – colouring pencils, Barbie underwear, chocolate etc – and when asked said she was quite happy with her presents, thank you. She didn’t realise that this was just a taster of things to come and was thoroughly surprised when she went downstairs to find a doll’s house waiting for her. She genuinely would have been happy with just the simple gifts.
In recent years it’s become the norm to entertain my mother and mother-in-law on Christmas Day, although one year we did ask other family members to ‘take a turn’ so that we could have just one Christmas away, following a very stressful year. We had a lovely time in a log cabin, walking in the forest and relaxing in a hot tub and it did us all good. Sadly, the other family members didn’t fulfil their role as promised, so we’ve hosted our ‘stay-at-home’ Christmas ever since.

Despite our current, ramshackle, make-do living conditions, we will be entertaining our mum’s as usual this year, along with our children and grandchild. It won’t be an overblown affair, just a few popular Christmas treats and some quality time spent together. After all, isn’t that the real spirit of Christmas? 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Different Christmas

Like much of life over the past few months, Christmas is likely to be a rather a different, ‘alternative’ affair for us this year.

It’s true to say that over recent years I’ve re-evaluated Christmas anyway, having decided the whole season had been blown out of proportion, and this year brings further limitations.

A few years back I ‘culled’ my Christmas card list, deciding that although it was lovely to remember certain people at this time of year, it was pointless to continue sending greetings to those that I haven’t clapped eyes on since circa 1976! The present list also underwent cutbacks, with the ruthlessness of a struggling chancellor (make of that comment what you will), with only my nearest and dearest on the receiving end of my gifts.

Then there was the whole issue of how much time I wanted to spend in the kitchen. I love a bit of baking when I’m in the mood for it, but don’t want to spend the Christmas season closeted in the kitchen, wiping my fevered brow! This year I don’t even have a kitchen, just an old workbench with a tabletop oven and an old dresser that has to house all necessary crockery as well as basic food items. I will cook our turkey crown and small gammon joint on Christmas Eve leaving just some potatoes and veg to sort out on the big day, when I will make use of some of the great shop-bought desserts that are around.

We may be ‘glamping’ in our glorified shed, but we will still have some family round for the day, after all, Christmas should primarily be about people and not things. Ok we’ll all have to crowd round our meagre heaters to keep warm, but no doubt we’ll be helped along by the odd dram of Christmas spirits. The surroundings may be strange, but I’m sure the atmosphere will be as jolly as ever.

And of course, this will be our first country Christmas, making it easy to have a scenic stroll to combat any excesses, although I have to admit, I’ve cut back greatly on the food shopping too. Years ago I did sometimes get carried away with Christmas food shopping, but have modified this in recent times and even more so this year due to lack of storage space.

So as I prepare to celebrate Christmas in my new ‘almost home’, I’ll be looking forward to some family time, accompanied by a modest dinner and the odd glass of cherry brandy, absorbing my new surroundings and just enjoying the moment.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Five Months On

It’s been five months since we moved out of our conventional, suburban home and embarked on our adventure converting an old workshop into a rural, riverside bungalow.

Technically, we’ve only been living in the building for three of those months, as we spent the summer living in our static caravan on its site in East Anglia. We had planned to bring said caravan back down with us when we came, but a few calculations revealed that we couldn’t get it down the bendy lane leading to our home. So since September we’ve been sort of ‘glamping’ in our glorified shed, pretty well making things up as we go along, and trying to work and live in the same space simultaneously.

Up to now living in these conditions has been quite easy, but as winter starts to take hold, things may get a little less comfortable. It’s amazing how quickly living amongst a load of old workbenches, using a small corner of the building as a makeshift kitchen and visiting a relative for a shower has become the new ‘normal’. But dealing with chillier conditions is proving more of a challenge as some of my previous posts have revealed.

However, the landscape and the wildlife are proving as interesting and entertaining as ever – I can observe so much of nature from my window – with even the grey days offering delightful distractions.

Cormorants can often be seen on the riverbank opposite our home, but usually only in small groups of three or four. But one morning recently, we opened the blinds to be greeted by a line of at least 25 of them looking across at us (or so it seemed). Yes, despite the chills and grey days, the wildlife is prolific as ever, which is a cheering thought.

And now of course, we’re preparing for our first Christmas in our new location. Yes we will be entertaining the usual contingent of my mother, mother-in-law, daughter and grandson, in addition to my other daughter and son that still live with us, but arrangements are likely to be a bit ‘alternative’, shall we say.

Still more on that in a future post. I’m off to untie the shoelace that’s holding the washing machine outlet hose over the washbasin and hunt under the workbenches for something that I know I’ve stored in a safe place! Oh the joys of makeshift living!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Coming Of Winter

December is only days away and the winter weather is already starting to bite. There have already been a few nights when temperatures have plummeted and an icy chill has crept into our ‘not-quite home’.

Living in a former, draughty workshop, whilst we slowly renovate it to create a new, well-equipped residence has already proved quite an experience. But with winter fast approaching, we are about to face even more of a challenge.

Don't want any of this yet thank you!
Progress is sadly quite slow – life just seems to take over, leaving limited time and resources to attack the project with much speed. However, we have organised our surroundings to incorporate the main features you’d expect to find in any home, just in a rather, shall we say, alternative way.

The windows here are single glazed, metal-framed affairs that have seen better days. Breath on them too hard, and you feel a pane of glass may just fall out. The walls are not particularly insulated – there is much to be done in that department – but at least the odd leak we noticed in the roof has been repaired. We realised early on that the key here is to endeavour to maintain a constant temperature by leaving a few well-placed oil-filled, plug-in radiators ticking away, but even so we definitely feel a nip in the air come night time.

In the evenings, we congregate around the electric, log-effect fire whilst dreaming of the log burner that we hope to install. We have piled extra duvets on the beds and have hot water bottles at the ready. Chilly as we may get, there is a definite order in which we have to perform renovation tasks, to end up with the home that we really want, and we are far from the stage of adding a new heating system.

My latest project has been to buy a scrapbook and fill it with pictures and ideas for colour schemes, fixtures and furnishings etc to give us something more tangible to aim for. Browsing it’s pages gives me a warm glow – which is obviously just what I need right now!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Developing A Twitch

From the moment that I arrived at my new riverside home, I was very aware of the huge amount of birdlife that surrounded me.

With our home offering such an expansive view over the river and surrounding countryside, there is certainly a wealth of wildlife to watch. Various gulls ride up and down the river on the tides and circle noisily overhead; swans glide gracefully past, sometimes pausing to rest on the opposite bank; cormorants sit drying their wings on the mudbanks; a lone heron can often been seen on sentry duty at the water’s edge, and was for a time, joined by a couple of egrets.

When all this is playing out right in front of your nose, it’s hard not to develop at least a passing interest in nature. I did wonder whether the novelty of watching the birds would soon wear off, but I’ve become keener than ever, to the extent (and surprise of my husband) that my Christmas list for this year includes a new pair of binoculars!

For me, I suppose this is actually a return to birdwatching – revisiting a pastime that I was encouraged in as a child. We spent many a family holiday, drifting round the Norfolk Broads with my Dad eagerly pointing out various feathered species. I just couldn’t ignore his enthusiasm. I soon learnt to identify the grebes, moorhens, dabchicks etc, and was given the ‘I-Spy Book Of Birds’, which became a holiday staple.

I’ve now progressed to a couple of slightly weightier bird-identification tomes, but remain quite childlike in my excitement when I see something that’s a little unusual. I’m now eagerly trying to identify birdsong, something that’s currently proving a slightly frustrating experience, but hopefully I’ll learn.

So compulsive twitcher I am not, but I do enjoy spending some happy interludes enjoying the constant comings and goings of the birds around my new home.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Adapting To Change

When we initially made the decision to move to a more rural location, I was a little concerned that I would feel somewhat ‘cut-off’ and struggle with the fact that it would take much more planning to go anywhere.

Not to say that I haven’t always loved the countryside to some extent. It’s always provided a perfect haven for family holidays, when I’ve embraced all that it has to offer.

Many years ago we had a lovely holiday in a quite remote, farmhouse location in rural Wales.  I had no problem adapting to the peace and tranquillity of our holiday setting, and felt sad when it was time to leave. What did come as a total shock was the fact that I just couldn’t seem to slot back in to my normal urban life when I returned home. It took me ages to feel any level of normality again.

In more recent years, we’ve made frequent visits to our static caravan in East Anglia, enjoying the countryside setting, returning to the suburban location to which we had then moved.

Despite all of this, however, I didn’t expect to settle in to country life quite so seamlessly, following our latest change of location. I don’t miss much at all about town life and have ventured out to the urban sprawl far less than I would have imagined, choosing instead to enjoy what the village and surrounding countryside have to offer.

I sometimes even feel relief to return here after a busy shopping trip to town, with all the noise and chaos that seems to entail – not that I ever really noticed it that much before!

What's more, my skin has certainly thanked me for the change. My evening cleansing routine yields far less grime than it did in my former life - although it comes as a bit of a shock as to what is revealed during the same regime carried out following a day I've ventured back into town!

Yes, I have certainly adapted very easily to change!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Being Entertained

There’s no doubt that moving to a property that sits on the riverbank has provided me with a stunning view and the opportunity to watch a large variety of wildlife on a daily basis.

However, the river has also been the provider of a much wider range of interest than I would have imagined. Depending on weather and tides, I often see boats of all shapes and sizes passing by, but on a couple of occasions they have provided a larger source of entertainment.

One Saturday morning, shortly after arriving here, we were sitting quietly in our new home (such as it is pre-renovation), when our peace was shattered by an almighty bang! I jumped off the sofa, and my son exclaimed, “We’re being shot at!”

The source of this startling interruption? A cannon. Not firing at us, but to herald the arrival of a kind of river carnival. A flotilla of assorted boats decked with flags, carrying a host of eager individuals frantically waving. Off course, we went outside and dutifully waved back, after all it was quite a novel sight (for us anyway).

More recently I wondered why I could suddenly here voices coming from the river on a Sunday morning. Not just voices having a conversation, but amplified voices. When I wandered out to the garden, I could see a number of rowing boats making their way along the river, some with a cox barking orders, not from a traditional megaphone, but via a kind of radio mic. 

In all, 28 boats congregated directly in front of us, then proceeded to start a race, back in the direction from which they’d come. The only problem was we didn’t get to see who won!

I can certainly view much more of life from my current home, than I ever could from my suburban dwelling that delivered nothing more than the sight of the odd pedestrian or car passing by and a few bedraggled starlings in the garden. The river itself is constantly changing with the tides and whilst their are some regular wildlife visitors, other creatures just seem to pass through.

And of course there are things going on in the village itself. There are two pubs which offer entertainment and the odd community event, and a recent sign in a nearby field heralded a forthcoming ploughing match!

The pace here is slower and we tend to stop and watch the more simple things in life, which give us as much (or more) pleasure than the bustle of town can often offer. It may not be ‘full-on’ entertainment, but for us it’s a great novelty!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Keeping Warm

As the weather chills down, we’re aware of the odd draughts and scant insulation in the former workshop that we now call home.

We soon realised that addressing the subject of heating should be given some priority, to enable us to comfortably survive the winter ahead of the main renovation work starting next spring.

The building still contains the original radiators and boiler – although these would need an overhaul – but the oil tank that would formerly have been used to store the oil to run them no longer exists. We did consider installing a new one, but are not sure whether this will be our final choice for heating – we may go for a more energy efficient, eco-friendly system – and will have to think about this over the coming months.

We therefore decided to come up with a temporary heating arrangement that currently consists of a selection of small, portable, plug-in, oil-filled radiators, and an electric fire with faux log effect. In fact, using the log effect setting even without the heat is sometimes enough to kid us into feeling warm and toasty. As it chills further, we’ll make use of the small radiators and will invest in a couple more should the need arise.

Of course, we can also employ more traditional methods of keeping warm: layering our clothing (I have a good line in fluffy jumpers and cosy tops): using hot water bottles to warm beds; drinking lots of warming beverages (and the odd tot of something stronger); I’ve even made a draught excluder out of pompoms!

Over the years we’ve become too accustomed, as have many of us, to living in homes that are kept constantly cosy due to central heating. Yet as I child, I grew up (for the first seven years at least) in a house that had nothing more than a gas fire in the living room and a coal fire in the ‘back room’. During a particularly cold winter, my dad invested in a small paraffin heater that we could position wherever it was most needed – I can still remember the smell! Despite all of this, I still recall waking up to find a thin layer of ice on the bedroom windows!

Of course, we eventually moved to a new house with central heating, and became dependent on the warmth of such systems that we’ve relied on ever since.

So as we head towards our first winter in our new, almost home, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a mild one, but trying to condition our bodies to accept lower temperatures just in case!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

It’s Like Living On A Film Set

Moving into a former workshop has proved an interesting experience. The building basically consists of two large rooms (large enough to fit in several smaller ones), an old office and a small toilet/washbasin area.

As I’ve previously explained, the office is in the process of being transformed into a luxury bathroom (she says hopefully) and we have currently spread ourselves over the two large rooms, although we will have to condense down to one when the main part of the work starts.

A somewhat 'alternative' kitchen
In the meantime, we have created a series of ‘rooms’ by the clever placement of furniture and the odd curtain. However, when I relax in our small ‘sitting room’, I can’t help feeling that I’m living on some kind of film or TV sitcom set. There are chairs, a coffee table, a floor lamp, a bookshelf and a TV (hubby even stuck white wallpaper over the brown walls), but all of these are situated in just one corner of a very large room. The surrounding space suggests that somewhere a cameraman, director and various other crewmembers are possibly lurking. As I take my seat, I half expect someone to shout, “Action!”

Our living area, not unlike a TV sitcom set
 As things progress, this large room will become a big open-plan living arrangement, with kitchen, dining area, living area and home office, all lovingly arranged. The view from the room is spectacular – the river, fields and hills – and this we can enjoy even before our plans take shape.

Hardly a luxury 'bedroom'
For now I will just have to resist saying, “Have you had your tea? What did you have?” in Barbara Royle style as I take my seat on the sofa. I must remember I’m living in a home, not a TV or film set.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autumn Leaves

Although autumn is by no means my favourite season of the year (that accolade goes to spring, when I get a fresh injection of optimism for the year), there are certain things about it that I do quite enjoy.

This year, I’m even more aware of the changing of the seasons, living in my new rural location. I’ve always loved the colours of autumn, the deep reds and golds of the leaves can be magnificent, and this year I’m certainly surrounded by enough trees to see plenty of these. I must also admit that I love swishing my way through large piles of dry leaves and hearing the satisfying crunch that they make. This comes second only to walking on an expanse of virgin snow, which offers a blank canvas of opportunity and a reassuring ‘crump’.

From a less colourful point of view, it’s sad to see the surrounding fields transformed from the lush greens and pale golds of the summer, to the dull, universal brown created by the necessary ploughing. But I’m extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such an expanse of countryside with all of its colours, textures, sights and sounds, whatever they may be.

The view from my window
Of course with the autumn comes the chilling down of temperatures and the more blustery winds. I confess to absolutely hating strong winds, so maybe being surrounded by trees with the river immediately on my doorstep doesn’t sound the best place to be at times like this, but hey, we have to take the rough with the smooth!

It’s also fair to say that a draughty old workshop isn’t the first place you’d choose to spend chilly nights, but we have plans in place to keep the cold at bay, and will hopefully cope through not only the autumn, but the winter too.

My first autumn in my new, almost home, will certainly be an experience!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Clearing the Way

Since moving to our new ‘home’, a former workshop that we’re renovating, we’ve made and remade plans time and again.

We have packed, unpacked and repacked boxes several times over, rescuing the things that we most need and storing those that we can live without, for a few more months at least.

We have rearranged our meagre furniture in a variety of ways to eventually settle on a plan that presents us with a variety of ‘rooms’, so that the building is vaguely liveable.

And now the fun, or at least the work, begins.

Reminding myself what a bath looks like
One of the first tasks has been to clear a number of small trees and bushes from behind the building, in order to get to the drainage needed to install a bathroom – our first priority. Although we currently have a small toilet and washbasin arrangement up one end of the building, we make a daily trek to my mother-in-law’s for a shower. The distance may be minimal, but it can still be a pain in bad weather.

We’re now starting to clear out the old office area, which we plan to lovingly reinvent as the new bathroom, which leads me on to one of my favourite parts of this whole project – choosing the fixtures and fittings!

In my head I’m imagining a gorgeous sleek affair, bright and shiny with a touch of luxury. Mind you, if the truth be known, I will just be glad to have a bathroom to call my own, whatever form it takes! Oh, how I revel in that thought!

Until that day, I will focus on my dream bathroom and carry on with the task of preparing the way.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Seal Of Approval

The change to a new rural, riverside location has certainly given me an interest in watching wildlife. It’s hard to ignore it really with so much going on literally outside my window.

I love to wile away the time watching the swans gliding along the river, the cormorants drying their wings on the mud bank and the herons keeping sentry duty in the shallows. Recently I was fortunate enough to see a seal catching fish right in front of me! There was much splashing and slithering to gain my attention, although it took me a moment or two to actually realise what I was seeing.

Indeed the arrival of the seal has been a topic of conversation in the village, with residents eagerly keeping watch for its next appearance.

At twilight I love to stand outside and watch the bats flying around me – yes I am a bit of a batty person – but I actually think they’re amazing little creatures.

And whilst the wildlife is causing a great source of interest, it can be a little disruptive to the daily routine.

My husband recently arrived back from the school run a little later than usual, having experienced a hold up in one of the lanes. What was it? A minor vehicle collision? Debris on the road? A spot of road resurfacing perhaps? No, none of those. The delay was caused by squirrels playing on the road. Yes, I did say squirrels caused a traffic jam – the joys of rural life!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Little Things

Living in an old workshop whilst we contemplate its renovation is certainly a novel experience. We live a kind of ‘glamping’ existence, being quite inventive with few resources and largely making things up as we go along.

It’s amazing how quickly it became normal to prepare food on an old workbench in the same room as I have my bed, or wash up in a series of bowls on a camping table next to a load of old tools. But we humans can be adaptable creatures.

Of course, there are certain things that I miss and find harder to do without, so when I’m suddenly reunited with such items, however commonplace they may sound, I get really quite excited.

I can currently only dream of a kitchen, but maybe one a little more rustic!
Our cooking arrangements until recently had consisted of a microwave, a couple of camping stoves and an Antony Worrall Thompson health grill. Despite becoming quite inventive with menus, there were still meals that we all missed, and I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms from not being able to bake. So you can imagine my delight when we became the proud owners of a mini oven!

With numerous settings, and even a small two-ring hob on the top, we can now cook almost anything (though I think a full-blown Christmas dinner may still take some thought). Casseroles, pies and even oven chips suddenly feel like a luxury cuisine, having not tasted them for so long.

The day we took delivery of said oven, all of us crowded round expectantly, struggling to discard the packaging and have a go of our new toy. It now proudly sits on the worktop (sorry old workbench with wipe-clean covering) and is certainly earning its keep.

If we can get this excited about the appearance of a mini oven, what state are we going to be in when we become the owners of a whole new fitted kitchen? They’ll probably hear us cheering from miles away!

You can now read a review of said oven here 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Strange Sounds And Swirling Mists

A change in location has certainly meant quite a change in the sights and sounds that surround me.

I no longer live my day to the background hum of traffic punctuated by sporadic squeals of emergency sirens. The view from my window is no longer of a similar house opposite, with the residents’ actions mirroring my own – that old suburban routine.

My new lifestyle largely runs to the soundtrack of nature, with the occasional hum of boats drifting by. OK, some of their engines can be a tad noisy, but as we live on a tidal stretch of river, the times when these pass are restricted. I’m much more likely to hear birdsong (though screeching gulls can be less restful) and animal calls than the hustle and bustle of human life. Sometimes it’s almost silent.

This said, I did find the nights a bit unsettling at first. Not only did the building creak and groan in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined, keeping me alert to every noise, but I was hard-pressed to identify the sounds piercing the darkness outside.

Even I, as a lifelong townie, could recognise the bark of a fox, but other strange chattering and squealing sounds had me flummoxed. The strangest I’ve heard, I could only describe as a duck being throttled – actually in view of my former comments, let’s just not go there.

The first day that I spent alone in our makeshift home, there was the most awful commotion on the roof. I was rather startled and at a total loss as to what on earth could be happening. Answer – a sparrowhawk had landed and caught a pigeon.  I’ll spare you the details, but I thought to myself, “Welcome to country life!”

To add to the atmosphere, we have experienced frequent episodes of river mist since we arrived, some so dense that the river itself seems to disappear completely. The whole effect can be quite surreal.

So all things considered, I don’t think I chose the best time to read ‘River of Destiny’ by Barbara Erskine, a story of a couple who move to a converted property by the river. When the mists roll in so does a ghostly ship and strange things start happening all around them. Oh well, at least my new circumstances meant it left less to the imagination!

Monday, 22 September 2014

A Departure From Housework (I should be so lucky)

One of the advantages of living on a semi-construction site is the reduction in housework – as I know it at least.

Our current flooring is not this good!
There’s no kitchen to keep pristine, just an old workbench covered in wipe-clean material, and no conventional cooker to clean. There’s no bathroom to scrub, just a small washbasin (we shower at my mother-in-law’s). There are no carpets to vacuum, just an old tiled floor that needs a bit of a sweep and a mop. And as for the windows – if I were to clean them I think the dirt would stay in place and the glass would fall out!

Of course, there’s still washing to be done, which in itself is a strange affair. I can use the washing machine, but have to fasten the outlet hose to the washbasin to drain using an old shoelace!

I’m not forgetting, however, at this stage of the proceedings where we are merely planning and getting organised, things are relatively clean, if rather in need of repair. We will soon start on the first stage of renovation – putting in a bathroom in what used to be an office. After that, slowly but surely we will renovate each part of this former workshop, until we end up with a finished bungalow.

It will be chaotic, there will be mess with lots of clearing up involved, but conventional housework has certainly gone out of the window (along with the glass if I dare touch it!)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

And Tuesday Evening Is Bell-ringing

After a lifetime spent living in towns and suburbs, a move to a small village nestled in the countryside has certainly brought a few changes.

I’m used to living in a location that has a Tesco store and a branch of Costa within walking distance, a bus every 10 minutes and just about anything within easy reach. I’ve now traded all of that for a location that has a small village shop, two pubs and a church with a clock that chimes every quarter of an hour. Buses run hourly at best, but sometimes two-hourly or not at all and most things now involve travel of the four-wheeled as opposed to two-legged variety.

All that said, it’s amazing how quickly you do start to adapt. I don’t feel the need to dash off to so many places, revelling in my new view and surroundings, and have soon started marking the time of day by the chiming of the clock. It got a bit awkward last week therefore, when I realised the clock was running somewhat behind, chiming the hour some 15 minutes or so late. Fortunately, it’s now running – well – like clockwork again!

Our first Tuesday evening here, I was stopped in my tracks by the sound of bell-ringing wafting from the church. It seemed quite a novelty and I soon got used to listening out every Tuesday evening for the dulcet tones. So I was quite put out when another Tuesday evening arrived to the sound of silence. What happened to the bells? The fact that the chime of bells was never part of my life before just didn’t matter; I was quite perturbed that they had failed to ring! Thankfully normal service has now been resumed.

Bit by bit we’ll no doubt start to integrate into village life. Now all we have to do is convince family and friends that we haven’t disappeared to another planet, just a country village where they can still actually come and visit!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

It All Started When …

A collection of circumstances set off the catalyst for our move earlier this year, seeing us depart from our life as townies and set up home in a more rural village setting.

Said circumstances are far too long and boring to relate, but the details of our new life, and what we hope to achieve, make fitting tales for a new blog. So here I am with my first post on the subject.

I’ve lived in a town setting all my life and whilst I’ve enjoyed country holidays and staying in my beloved static caravan in a rural part of East Anglia, had never really contemplated what a full-time country life would entail.

This summer we not only made the move to a village surrounded by countryside, but decided to renovate a former ice cream chime workshop (further back in time a coal wharf), with the aim of turning it into a three-bedroom bungalow. How straightforward it sounds said like that! But as we have already discovered, things are not as easy in reality, with plans changing on a daily basis, even though our eventual aim remains the same.

Our first, and most obvious, thought was to move afore-mentioned caravan on-site, so that we could live in it quite happily whilst we tackled the business of ‘doing up’ the property. Unfortunately, our calculations about logistics were a bit awry (or perhaps we just exercised plain, blind optimism), and we discovered that the caravan would just not fit down the narrow, slightly bendy lane to its plot. So we’ve had to abandon all thoughts of that one and plump for a sort of semi-camping existence in what I can only currently describe as a glorified shed!

OK, so it does have plumbing and electricity, but we have to go to my mother-in-law’s for a shower, and our cooking facilities consist of a microwave, two camping stoves and a health grill (sounds like an interesting title for an alternative cookery programme). Our ‘bedrooms’ are just small areas constructed using tarpaulin. Are you getting the picture?

Somehow we aim to work round all this chaos and eventually be the owners of a very nice little home. So watch this space …

Of course, alongside all of this we have to adapt to country and village life, which is proving quite an enlightening experience. We have the good fortune to be situated right on the riverbank, so have traded cars whizzing past our window, for the more tranquil passing of boats and swans. The only problem I’ve found is that I’m constantly distracted by the wonder of my new view – the river, the fields, the trees and the hills in the background. I presume the novelty of all this will diminish in time, or maybe not!

And as for the village? More about that in my next post.

You can also still read my original blog