Happy New Year. Well it’s 2013 and the blog has suffered because we’ve been hunkered down for the cold weather in our temporary accommodation. The building work was meant to be finished by the end of November but has been delayed by the anhydrite screed not drying out fast enough. It was meant to take 60 days but has still been measuring around 12% moisture in places. It needs to be around 0.5% for tiling. However, after spending the Christmas break grinding off the top surface of the screed with a grinder it has started to dry quite quickly and we are hoping that the builders can start tiling the floors on their return after the New Year break.
The photos below are now out of date but show some of the progress since the last posting.
By the beginning of August 2012 the concrete has been poured into the footings, the below ground block work done, the slab poured and block work is starting to rise above ground.
Meanwhile inside the original bathroom floor for some inexplicable reason was finished above the height of the bedroom floor. This means that the bathroom floor needs to be broken up to lay a new slab at the correct height. It turns out to be fortuitous as the subfloor is full of water from a leaking pipe.
The builders Jones and Maher of Carmarthen have continued demolishing the interior of the house and by the first week in July they had inserted the new structural steelwork to support the new mezzanine level and where we are extending our bedroom into the existing bathroom (which is really too large).
John tends to see Phil the site foreman most days and we’re pretty sure that he (Phil) now thinks that he has a client with OCD. We’ve spent the best part of a year planning this work to include the extensions, underfloor heating, increased insulation in the floors and vaulted roof, solar hot water, and a new kitchen (as we are relocating some of the old one into the utility room). So getting is a ‘right’ as possible is one of our main aims.
Much of our time is spent just trying to think ahead; for instance it is necessary to decide on the floor finishes as the finished floor heights for the extensions will need to be calculated taking these into account. As the windows and front doors are being ordered from Rationel, a Danish company (with manufacturing plant in Poland) and come pre finished it is necessary to decide on colours at the outset; so that they can be ordered in advance to arrive at the correct time.
Of course having decided to start work in summer the weather has remained extremely wet, which hasn’t helped with digging the foundations for the new extensions.
The new concrete is then ‘tied’ to the existing footings by inserting and resin bonding steel bar into the original concrete foundations.
After moving here to Wales we had the idea of building a porch to help reduce the draught into the house in Winter. This was quickly followed by the idea of building a ‘sun room’ on the other side of the house. Oh how naive we were!!
Realising that this needed to be done well we set out to find someone to could put our ideas on paper. This lead us to local architects Llewelyn Lewis Sennik (Gareth and Anita) who also concluded that if we were going that far we might as well have a Utility Room as well and also do any other upgrading at the same time.
We did consider installing a ground source heat pump but ultimately decided against this on the grounds of cost. As we already have solar PV providing some free electric and indexed linked payments of around £1500 per annum and our own woodland providing us with free wood for the woodburner we decided that a few hundred pounds of oil a year will be all that is needed to keep us warm in the coldest periods (I think that is what economists call a cost benefit analysis!) with all the extra insulation we are installing. I estimate that we should receive around £600 or £700 a year more in payments for the PV panels and solar HW than we will payout in energy costs.
To cut a long story short, after a 6 month battle with the planners (including having to employ Planning Consultants) we ended up with Planning Permission to build two contemporary timber clad extensions. In addition we would ‘gut’ the house to add underfloor heating throughout, upgrade the already good insulation to ‘super standard’ and refit most of the house. In addition we would be improving the heating and fitting Solar Hot Water Panels to compliment our recently fitted solar PV Panels.
So after 18 months of design, trauma and an ever increasing budget we moved out of the house on the 11th June 2012 (into rented accommodation) and the builders moved in to start gutting what most people would see as a perfectly adequate dwelling. Mad or what?
And after a week or so the builders stripped out the house now the long process of putting it back together starts! It now looks like the photo below.
Today has been another glorious day at the beginning of summer; the weather has been spectacular for the last few days. It has probably been the hottest day of the year so far and it was one of those lovely summer evenings that you remember nostalgically in the winter. The daylight slowly fades into the late evening twilight as the sun sets and the wood pigeons ‘coo’ in the trees.
The sun was setting in the valley as we set off for an evening walk from home. You can just make out the slate roof of our house in the trees in the bottom left of the picture below. The land beyond the trees running up to the skyline belongs to us.
The valley is spectacular with wild flowers our route takes us around the valley, crossing the river twice on a circular route.
Harebells are amongst the myriad of wild flowers on the roadside.
The hedgerows are alive with wild flowers, the primroses and bluebells are just starting to fade but soon there will be wild strawberries that we pick and eat on our walks.
The whole valley, with virtually no traffic or road noise is a very special place.
We cross over the river in the bottom of the valley via the small footbridge.
It is cool in the woodland by the river.
The evening sunlight starts to fade across the floor of the valley.
Look at the ivy on the old clinging wall
Look at the flowers and the green grass so tall
It’s not a matter of when push comes to shove
It’s just an hour on the wings of a dove
~ Van Morrison
Almost the last sun of the evening falls on the recently cut fields. The small road beyond leads down to our house. Three Red Kites honoured us with their presence and soared overhead nearby.
We cross back over the river by the small metal road bridge that leads to our house.
Liz lingers on the bridge that leads back home to look for Dippers and Wagtails.
The very last rays of summer light fade as we walk home.
John had a hankering for ‘real marmalade’ so as Seville oranges are in season we decided to have an attempt at making it. The first task, not having made it before, was to track down a straightforward simple recipe and the second to adapt it for the slow cooker to cut out on the ‘faffing about’.
So as the weather forecast wasn’t great today – we made marmalade and damn fine it is to as you can see in the photo below!
Here is our marmalade recipe. Makes 6-8 jars 1 kg Seville oranges 1.7 litres near-boiling water Juice of 2 lemons 2 kg sugar
Wash and scrub the oranges if you are obsessive; then cut them in half, squeeze the juice and keep it somewhere for later. Remove the membrane, pith and pips etc. with a spoon (you can slightly warm the cut oranges in a microwave if you want to make this easier) and tie all this up in a piece of muslin. Slice the orange peel into strips (removing as much pith as possible), chunks, or whatever you prefer. The slices you cut at this point will determine the size of the shreds/chunks in the finished marmalade don’t feel you have to put it all in. We tend to put about two thirds of the rind in.
Put the peel and the muslin bag full of pips and orange flesh in to the cooking pot of the slow cooker. Pour over the water and lemon juice. Cover and switch to high, leave for 6 hours. Alternatively we reckon that you could put it on low and leave it overnight – but we haven’t tried this yet. The peel must be really soft before adding the sugar.
Remove the muslin bag and leave it until cool. Squeeze the liquid from it into a large pan. Add the rind and cooking liquid from the slow cooker and then add the sugar. Finally pour over the orange juice you squeezed from the oranges earlier. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Put a plate in the freezer at this point to test the setting point later.
Bring to the boil and keep boiling rapidly for 15 minutes until the marmalade reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer. If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, you can put a few drops of the liquid onto your frozen plate out of the freezer, and leave it for about a minute. Push it along a bit with a finger. If it leaves a ‘wrinkly track’ then it has reached the setting point – if not, keep boiling.
The setting point was a learning curve for us (and we don’t have a thermometer) but get it boiling gently. You don’t want a big ‘frothy’ boil – more of a point just beyond a simmer. For the first 15 minutes or so it will look a bit watery, as it gradually thickens it will become more viscous and you should have what other recipes describe as a ‘rolling boil’ (this is sort of how you imagine an Icelandic mud hole bubbling away). Keep stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn. Ours actually took about 30 minutes in total before the it left a ‘tacky track’ on the plate test.
Once the setting point has been reached, turn off the heat and skim off any scummy nastiness from the top. Leave it all to cool for about 15 minutes.
Put your clean jars into the oven, at about 120°C so that they are sterilised and warm when the hot marmalade goes in later; alternatively get them hot (and dry) out of the dishwasher when it has finished.
Stir the marmalade to distribute the peel evenly, then ladle into the heated jars. Seal with waxed paper, clean and leave to cool with a cloth over the top. When they have completely cooled, top with jam pot covers and lids and label.
Store somewhere cool and dry and use within a year.
Actually it tastes pretty good. Next year we’ll experiment with some variations; perhaps adding some grapefruit juice to make it a tad sharper or even some whisky for a more adult flavour. Anyway, it certainly beats that crap in the supermarkets.
Well we trotted along to the Royal Welsh Show at Llanelwedd, Builth Wells yesterday. As a recent incomer to Wales and only having a smallholding I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment in detail. However, we had a great day. The peripheral car parks (park and ride) and traffic management worked great as far as we were concerned and we sailed into the show with no traffic problems (on the second busiest Tuesday ever) and that was a lot better than a previous experience at the Bath and West.
The show left me feeling very positive about about the rural community (despite me being a critic sometimes of some farming practices). In a world of ‘sleaze balls’, corruption and political chicanery (this on the afternoon parliament was investigating more wrong doing in the Murdoch empire) farmers were showing some stupendous livestock, youngsters were involved in all aspects from shearing competitions to horse riding to helping out the family look after the stock.
Sadly your ‘average city dweller’ who unwraps their pork chops out of the supermarket packaging does not have the slightest idea of the work and dedication that goes into their food. Whilst happy to whitter on endlessly about their favourite restaurant or celebrity chef it really struck home that they don’t have a clue about the really important bit at the sharp end. If farming could only do better in getting its message over and really show people how important it is to everyone.
In a whimsical moment I sometimes think it should be compulsory for ‘Joe Public’ to have to spend a month working on a farm and engage (many for the first time) with nature and where their food comes from. You don’t see too many obese sheep shearers and if you’ve ever had a go you will know that is one of the hardest, backbreaking jobs going. Perhaps a community sentence of a month’s sheep shearing would be far more beneficial for some of our criminals than the other deterrents not to mention that it would be a lot cheaper than many NHS interventions for obesity.
I was also pretty impressed by the teams of young riders on very fast ponies displaying their riding and athletic skills in a series of obstacle and relay type races (known as mounted games). I doubt if these youngsters figure too high on the ‘delinquent radar’. No doubt some will view these comments as right wing (strange as I’m usually accused of being fairly radical) but I’m just saying how I see it; that a good dose of reality amongst these hard working country folk is worth far more than the endless trivia of the celebrity obsessed, tawdry media controlled, shallow society that we have become.
Got back late last night from a wedding in Bristol. This was our second foray into the big metropolis in three days having driven to Bath a day or so earlier to see Martin and Dennis in concert at the Assembly Rooms. So this was a chance to have a ‘real’ Sunday morning. By that I mean we could get up late and do absolutely nothing. ‘Absolutely nothing’ is of course a comparative term because even in doing absolutely nothing one still has to make breakfast or wash up etc. most of which usually falls to Liz (sorry).
This morning is dull and rainy; but I don’t care I never fail to wonder at how lucky we are to live here as I look out of our bedroom window.
The recent trips to ‘civilisation’ just reinforce how depressing I find our culture (I’m not sure that we really have a culture here in the UK) ; shops selling the same crap and people putting up with the same old crap. On the trip to Bath I’d bought a copy of John Peel’s Autobiography/biography Margrave Of The Marshes, in a charity shop, which I’ve just finished reading this morning over my second cup of coffee. It’s great in places, weak in others but did have me laughing in fits and is a refreshing antidote to the usual famous person who is ‘up their own backside’. Not that I’ve met many famous people or indeed read any of their autobiographies. There would seem to be little point in Super Injunctions as far as I’m concerned because I don’t even know who these people are, what they do or what they look like. Then again I could probably tell you who the original members of the Irish group Planxty were.
I wish that people would wake up. I’m sure that I’m over generalising but people seem to be content to be led like lambs to the slaughter through life. How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it! How scary it was to reread Brave New world a few months back. At least in the late 60’s and 70’s youngsters would rant against injustice and the Vietnam war. Now they are more likely to need counselling because they’ve lost their mobile phone or because Primark doesn’t have their ‘must have’ item of consumer fashion in stock.
Most times I just feel like a fish out of water when I visit the big city. Don’t get me wrong I love some cities but I can’t see the point of shopping malls that all look the same where dazed consumers add more debt to their credit cards for the short term buzz they get to escape from their day to day lives working in jobs they hate, to pay off the same credit card bill plus interest.
I can’t see the point of celebrity magazines or Big Brother or any other ‘reality TV’ (What the f**k is all that about, I just don’t get it – some misfits in a house! Why would anyone waste their time even turning it on?). I can’t understand why footballers earn more in a couple of days for kicking a pig’s bladder full of air around a grass field than a nurse gets in a year. I don’t understand why anyone (almost everyone) moans about their lot in the west and look glum when the people I meet in the ‘third world’ have virtually nothing, no running water, no health care, no job and smile all day long. Why on earth is someone now a ‘celebrity’ just because they have appeared on TV? Someone should slap these morons around the head (and the people who watch said TV) and tell them straight ‘Look love just because you’ve got big hooters and appear on TV doesn’t make you a star – it just means you’re a vacuous twat with big hooters’.
Ah well, just the rant of a grumpy old git you are no doubt thinking? You’re probably correct.
One of my (John’s) unusual traits (some would use the word puerile) is my complete hatred of corporate business and multinationals. I have on many occasions been known to take direct action in the supermarket by ‘accidentally’ knocking over some display of consumer goods that I find annoyingly blocking my genial saunter up their crappy aisles (I digress). Indeed my eldest son was particularly aghast when at a dreadful and expensive motorway service station (the type where they extort vast sums of money because there is nowhere else to go to have a leak and take a break) I pocketed an unopened bottle of tomato ketchup to use later at home because the menu helpfully exclaimed ‘free sauce’. Without any mention of a limit to this offer I felt it only fair to take them up on their largesse and get back some of the cash that they had previously extorted.
However, being a hypocrite, I do occasionally find myself ensnared in their evil clutches. So it came to pass today, when Liz and I decided to set about building a log shelter to keep our ever increasing stack of wood from fallen branches dry for the winter. Being somewhat surprised by a pleasant sunny day (after several days of soggy rain) we set about the task only to realise that in our unpreparedness we were lacking some essentials.
Firing up the Landrover I took off to B&Q to get the missing bits and pieces. Grabbing one of those large trolleys I set off to the rear of the store only to find the aisle fairly well blocked by other trolleys of stock that the poor inmates were obviously trying to find space for in the helter skelter of having to meet the corporate sales targets handed down from ‘on high’. As I wheeled past bits of overhanging stock flew off and the staff looked on aghast particularly when I exclaimed ‘for feck’s sake’ (or words to that effect). One female inmate did start to remonstrate with me and I did, in a somewhat firm but not rude (I hasten to add), manner, inform her that they were clearly failing in their obligations under the The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 – the poor woman was somewhat taken aback to find out that the Troglodyte personage in front of her had been, in another life, an Environmental Health Officer (who had seen the light and decided any life was better than watching the clock tick by in local government – I’m digressing again) who clearly knew his stuff (even barristers do not know that The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 has an etc. at the end).
Anyway I was happily (that’s a lie I’m never happy spending my dosh in such places) collecting the things I needed when the manager appeared and asked if he could help. Luckily I refrained from one of my more obtuse replies (like could he lend me 20 quid?) as he continued to inform me that one of his female employees had been reduced to tears by my actions and that if there was any further trouble he’d have to ask me to leave the store. This left me with at least a couple of dilemmas (is that a dichotomy?); firstly should I have felt amazed that someone who deals with Joe Public all day has to go off for a cry (and probably a week’s sick leave) when they meet someone who doesn’t conform to the usual show of devotion in the temple of commerce or secondly should I just tell him that being banned from B&Q would not actually affect my life too much and I think I could exist without going there again (not to mention the revenge I could cause in other stores by ‘accidentally’ knocking over the annoying displays of consumer goods – sorry if you’re having deja vu). Anyway after I’d given him a full run down of his responsibilities, particularly the bit about safe access and egress (great word to bamboozle) under the aforementioned HASAWA (notice the sophisticated use of jargon to help confuse) he sheepishly backed down and offered me a 10 percent discount for my trouble.
After such an exciting start to the day the log shelter construction was a bit of an anti climax but it does look rather functional even if I say so myself.
The weather improved in the New Year still cold but nothing like we had in December. We went out to the Salutation Inn on New Year’s Eve our nearest pub in Pontargothi about 3 miles away. Usually ‘us oldies’ do not bother to stay up for the New Year!! It was a pleasant evening. The Salutation is another pleasant pub doing good food.
Not being particularly interested in consumerism we resisted going to the New Year sales! Instead we just had a day here in the Cothi Valley. The following day we had a trip down to Laugharne to visit Dylan Thomas’ home the Boathouse situated on a cliff overlooking the estuary of the River Taf. He lived here for the last four years of his life and wrote many pieces of work including Under Milk Wood.
Laugharne is an interesting ancient town having a castle first established in the twelfth century, a mixture of small cottages and Georgian houses.
On the way down we saw 2 red kites, one actually over the Taf estuary. They are magnificent birds of prey whose numbers are increasing.
We intended to drive along the coastal road to Tenby but unfortunately followed the SatNav directions along another more inland road. Tenby is a very popular holiday resort, its attractions being the fantastic beaches and views of Caldey Island. The town was even quite busy on a Bank Holiday in winter. A visit to the seaside is never complete without fish and chips which we ate at one of the many fish and chip restaurants.
The following day we went walking in the Brechfa forest which is in the next valley to us. The Brechfa Forest is a mixture of ancient and managed woodland containing several mountain biking and walking trails. We had a good walk even if the weather was a bit cold and damp.
Jonathan, our son, then had to start his return journey to Santiago de Compostela the next day first catching the coach to London and then spending the night in Stansted airport before catching his Ryanair flight the following morning. It makes it a long trip for him but he enjoyed his stay over Christmas and New Year. Next time he will try a more convenient flight and Ryanair are pulling out of Santiago anyway.
So far in January the weather has been all right and we have been able to get around more easily and are starting to enjoy living here. We attempted to climb the Black Mountain situated in the Western part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and is a remote rugged area. Unfortunately the mist set in so we did not make it to the top so had to leave that for another day.