Saturday, 10 November 2012

Long distance stock-iteming

The 'stock item' thing came about a few years ago as a result of grown-up children and their husbands/wives/partners using a visit home to sort out the odd problem - anything from a shot of windscreen washer fluid or a brake-light bulb for their car to a surplus fan heater to take home.  The facts that 1) I rarely, no, never dispose of anything I can imagine a use for, 2) I merged households many moons ago when I got married and kept the 'spare' kettle, cutlery, etc, 3) I have sadly cleared the homes of a number of deceased relatives, and 4) I  am not short of storage space in outbuildings here - all these mean that I have a lot of stuff which I am happy to distribute around the family if someone has a need for it.

Just recently I seem, accidentally as it were, to have introduced a mobile stock distribution service. A quick trip to Oxford was organised to avoid daughter and son-in-law incurring silly bills for the replacement of a couple of roof slates and the planing of a misfitting door.  It was a slight disadvantage that this necessitated transporting a full set of ladders, but the sausage casserole was a worthy reward.  While there we noticed that an electrical switch was on its metaphorical last legs so back at home I dipped into the appropriate box and popped one in the post to them.

Then, last week, we hurtled off to south Devon for a first visit to the new home of younger son and daughter-in-law who last month moved from rented accommodation to a very fine converted barn.  Into our car went their winter wheels/tyres previously stored in our barn and a heavy oak table they bought on Ebay months ago in anticipation of their move (we had kindly collected this for them from the seller).  Also, a small tool kit and a pull-cord light for their bathroom.  Ten hours' driving in 2 days but great to see them and their house - and a very fine rib of beef for dinner!  And what a lot of space I have now to introduce some more stock.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A question of scale

Two projects involving stock items to report on - a mid-sleeper bed for my older grandson and a tweak of a crutch (a support crutch, that is) for my father-in-law.

During a recent visit, my son was following a mid-sleeper bed on Ebay.  If, like me at that point, you're not familiar with the term 'mid-sleeper', it's like a top bunk without a bottom one, a bed with long legs, offering play, work or storage space below.  Unfortunately the Ebay bed got away so I offered to make one. The project reminded me of the time about 25 years ago when I was making bunk beds for my son and his younger sister, and he begged me to make the top one (for him) first. Tricky.

I had to buy some timber and went as so often in the past to Imperial Timber in Whalley Range on one of my  Manchester trips.  The wood there isn't plastic-wrapped and tends to come in very long lengths challenging my roof rack capacity, but it's half the price of many other places.  My other favourite source of timber is a yard near home which cuts everything from felled trees and where they rather look down on planed softwood, which is all I needed this time.  Screws, glue and tools came from stock.

It's a luxury to have the space of the new barn to work in, and the bed quickly took shape.

John Lewis efficiently delivered a mattress and the whole lot went over to Manchester on the trailer on a blessedly fine day.  One happy grandson.

Last week Liz's parents came to stay in the cottage. Father-in-law is struggling now with mobility, and on a recent visit to France bought an arm crutch to support his walking.  Unfortunately he discovered that the open design of the armpiece led to him dropping the crutch if he wanted to let go temporarily with his hand in order, say, to open a door.  It seemed worth trying a modification, and one hacksawed soilpipe clip later we had a happy f-i-l.  A hot air gun moulded the plastic to the right shape, and a couple of nuts and bolts with spring washers held it firmly in place.  Cost - zero.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Goodbye to an Old Friend

When me moved to North Wales almost 7 years ago, we bought, along with the house and holiday cottage, a 1964 Fordson Super Dexta tractor and Amtex topper which the previous owners had used to cut the grass in the one-acre field.  We also inherited a finger-mower and lots of spares and maintenance kit for the tractor.

We (that is, I) really enjoyed having the tractor.  It was well used in the early days and has always been a great attraction for the children and children-at-heart of our family.  It has survived the last two cold winters, wrapped up in old quilts in the open-sided post-barn to prevent the block from freezing and cracking.  With just the occasional oil change, greasing and battery-charging, it never failed to start.

But the one-acre field has been developing.  From our second year here, we have been planting trees and hedges to divide the space into a number of different gardening spaces.  We have dug 5 large beds to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables.  This year we have had a large area devoted to annual meadow flowers and grasses.  So the tractor, with its towed 5-feet wide cutter, has become ever less useful, just not nimble enough to cut around and between all these elements.  Grass cutting is now done on a second-hand ride-on mower picked up on Ebay.

So when our trusty builder, Gareth, indicated an interest in buying the tractor to restore, we reluctantly agreed to say goodbye.  Although I am averse to de-stocking on this scale, it obviously made sense.  And now I have lots of space in the barn to think about!

So last weekend we said goodbye, and hope to see the Super Dexta again in its pomp at future agricultural shows.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Basket case

It's good to go back to school from time to time, to leave one's comfort zone, to meet an expert and try something new.  I signed up a while ago for one of many fascinating courses at the Woodland Skills Centre near our neighbouring village of Bodfari.  We are very fortunate to have this fantastic resource so close.

My two day course offered an introduction to willow basket making and the tutor was the hugely experienced and talented Mandy Coates - see her website here.

We have been growing a small amount of willow at the damper end of our field and I was curious to know whether this might ever provide a source for basket making.  In the event I was amazed how much material goes into quite a small basket, so we've since planted another hundred or so whips to give us a chance of harvesting our own material from next year onwards.

The weaving process was fascinating - and hard on the fingers and thumbs at first.  There's a relaxing, almost hypnotic, aspect to the regular ins and outs of the work, with an occasional abrupt awakening when you realise you've gone wrong.  However, all six of us ended up with surprisingly attractive and useful first-time baskets, thanks to Mandy's gentle and authoritative guidance.  Here's mine - now to fill it!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Water, water, every where

Today it has rained for hours and hours; thankfully now, early evening, it has stopped while there is still some light left in which to appreciate the washed world.

We think about water a lot here, and not just for gardening purposes.  Some years before we purchased this property, it was connected to a mains water supply.  But not directly, as the water pressure from Welsh Water was not sufficient to bring a decent supply all the way up the hill to us.  So, a quarter of a mile from our house in a neighbour's sloping field, 40 vertical metres below us, our pump-house nestles in the roots of an enormous oak tree.  Linked to the storage tank in our loft by some complicated electronics, a powerful pump moves water up from a holding tank as and when required.  At least, that's the theory.  It has been known to go wrong, but we have an excellent 'pump man' who comes to sort it out.  We do, however, feel that we pay three times for our water - once for the metered supply, twice for the electricity to pump it up to us, and thrice for the maintenance of the infrastructure.

So partly to save money, and partly because plants prefer non-chlorinated rainwater, we collect the water that falls from the sky.  When we arrived, we inherited a number of domestic-sized rainwater butts, and we have added to them - a total of ten at the last count, including one on a corner of the new barn:

We also inherited, at the back of the house, a non-domestic tank which holds 2500 litres, taking half the rain which falls on the house.  A long pipe leads from it under our drive to the kitchen garden, and (the tank being significantly higher) provides reasonable pressure for watering in the greenhouse.  This gave me the idea, when we started gardening in the field 5 years ago, of storing the rain water which falls on the 'stable' (the workshop/store).  I bought 2 IBCs, each of 1,000 litres, intending to build a platform to raise them to create some head.  Last month, I decided against the platform and bought instead a submersible pump.  The tanks are now in place, linked to share the modified guttering arrangement, and have taken in a total of 1500 litres in the last 30 hours or so.  Let's call the intervening 5 years the planning period.

We are hoping that this supply will go a long way to protecting us from drought when the scorching summer finally arrives.  Two more IBCs are on order to take the bulk of the water from the different roof elevations of the barn.  Four thousand litres should see us through.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

It's finished (or very, very nearly)

So, here is the new two-part barn:

Very nearly finished, because the galvanised doors have to be painted juniper green at some point to match the cladding of the rest of the structure.  The lower pair are sliders and the higher pair side-hinged, and amazingly everything seems to work well despite the sloping site.  We now know that 80 tons of stone went into levelling the floors - it will be great to have our first level working sites, and under cover, too.

What a lot of stock items I'm going to be able to fit in!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Amazing progress

Exactly a week ago this was our view in the field towards Moel Arthur:

And this is what our great team of four erectors from Cerrigydrudion have achieved in just five working days:

It's all the more surprising as the first day was 'just' demolition and the second ended with nothing to show above ground, as the site had been measured and holes dug for the concrete bases which now support the steel posts.  Offsite pre-fabrication helps, of course, but much of the cladding and timber has to be cut on site, and the idiosyncracies of the sloping site have to be managed.  A huge amount of topsoil has been excavated to provide the (now stone) turning semicircle in front of the new building, and, perhaps most spectacularly of all, concrete panels - the largest 6m by 1m by 100mm - were inched into place yesterday to act as retaining walls for the levelling of the two floors with further supplies of stone.  It's impressive to see a group working so well together, with all of them able to control the large machines with a delicate touch, able to weld, able to block-lay, work timber, etc.

We are in awe.  They could well finish this week.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Goodbye, post barn

We shall soon have a new and bigger store for our horticultural and automotive pursuits.  The old telegraph-pole-and-corrugated-metal open barn is now empty (after quite a few days of work) and sits ready for the demolition gang:

Yesterday's efforts included moving the trailer, lawn tractor, Super Dexta tractor (1964 vintage), topper and finger mower (the last not having moved in our time here) up to the top of the field from where they will observe both a magnificent view of the Clywdian Range and the work of Lloyds as they construct a new two-part steel storage shed over the coming weeks.  Fortunately the intensive programme of battery charging paid off and, with only a minor hitch with the tractor hydraulics, we were there:

So, the electrics are disconnected, the trees are pruned and we are ready on schedule.  Bring on the builders!

Monday, 27 February 2012

A new aerial mast

When the former owners of these properties designed our holiday cottage, Gwenoldy, and had it created from the former stable and forge, they wisely chose not to affix a television aerial to the building.  And, as there was no loft space in which to hid the antenna, they ran the lead underground for thirty yards and put the aerial on the corner of the postbarn, home of the 1964 Fordson Super Dexta tractor.

In a couple of weeks the postbarn will be demolished and replaced by an enclosed 'implements store', approved by the planners to support our horticultural activities.  This will be a largely steel construction, but it has been designed in two sections to deal with the sloping site and mimic the construction of the original bakehouse and pigsties on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped 'courtyard'.  It's going to be constructed and erected for us by a firm which specialises in agrictultural buildings.

In the meantime, however, there is the minor issue of maintaining the TV signal to the cottage. From our track we can see the Moel y Parc transmission tower, all 850 feet of it.

This carries, amongst other things, TV and radio signals for North East Wales, and clearly had to act as inspiration for my temporary structure (our aerial will go back in due course on the new outbuilding).

So on Saturday the workshop was raided for bolts, the recycled woodpile for posts, and, with the use of both the post rammer (beast) and the maul (slightly less of a beast) our stony soil was penetrated to provide a firm foundation for our mast - all 25 feet of it.

Yes, I know, it looks like the kind of flagpole scouts (used to?) erect at camp.  Not quite in keeping with our luxury, 5-star cottage.  I agree, but it is only temporary, and do you have any better ideas?

Thursday, 16 February 2012


One of the great things about living where we do now, with plenty of outside space, is being able to indulge my love of bonfires.  We are pretty good about recycling what we can: timber of any size gets cut up to feed the woodburning stove, glass, plastic, newspapers and tins go to the recycling centre, and we produce very little actual waste for the wheely bin.  We also compost just about anything from the garden that will rot down to go back on the soil.  This is how our (main) compost bins look now, with the corrugated metal panels which were in stock for the postbarn extension before the plan for the completely new implement store emerged.

And food waste?  Well we tend not to have it - isn't food for eating?  But we save miscellaneous paper to burn in the field as a starter for the clippings and perennial weeds which can't be composted.

So every now and then I have the fun of managing an unruly heap from this:

to this:

In my experience, not everyone realises what a skilled, responsible and time-consuming task this is, feeling rather that the three hours or so spent in this way could have been devoted to rather more pressing and creative tasks - digging, weeding, etc.  However, a true fire-raiser must stand up for his art.

Just in case anyone feels that not enough real work has been going on in the field recently, here is proof of stone-moving on a grand scale.  I have been bagging and stacking our rough field stone for years pending the rebuilding of broken drystone walls around the outbuildings, and it has had to be moved to clear the site for the new store.

Having discovered that UV light makes a real mess of plastic bags in 5 years or so, this time it is going on a bed of corrugated sheets, thus:

This corner of the field will need a new name - Stone Store and Snail Sanctuary are the current possibilities.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Devon Downsizing Dash

Made a quick foray from N Wales to Devon this week for an overnight stay with parents-in-law, who moved on Monday from a 5-bedroomed house to a 2-bedroomed bungalow on the edge of Dartmoor.  This is downsizing on a grand scale, and various family members have been helping with packing and re-homing items of furniture over recent weeks.  I volunteered to arrive on the evening of the actual move to do some of the multitude of jobs which always arise in the immediate aftermath.

I'd been tipped off about the need for shelves in the utility room and bedroom, an extra rail in a wardrobe, a sticky handle assembly on the garage door, and the need for some safety rails around the property.  I always find the business of loading the necessary tools and bits and pieces into the car to be a tense (and time-consuming) affair - difficult to remember/imagine every item you're going to need in a day's work.

At last the car was packed and, rattling a bit, I headed off on my 6-hours drive, fortunately able to take a break near Crewe to visit an old school friend who, coincidentally, is also preparing for a move to smaller accommodation and kindly offering lots of his old books to school. Given the state of the car, I had to make alternative arrangements for the actual removal of the books, but we enjoyed looking through them.

The following morning the jobs started before full light and went on through to dusk.  Numerous holes were drilled, plugged and screwed, fittings were lubricated, many items fixed to walls.  The up-and-over garage door was a bit of a problem. It turned out that the handle assembly was broken, but in any event offered hardly enough grip to allow the locking mechanism to be turned.  In the end, I fixed a mole wrench onto the spindle to provide additional leverage.  Not an aesthetically pleasing solution but, for the time being, one which works.  And luckily I have more than one mole wrench 'in stock', so it was no great hardship to leave one behind when everything else went back in the car.

As darkness fell I said my farewells and headed north.  By good fortune, I was able to break my journey north near Kidderminster to pick up a significant load of recycled cast iron guttering bought the previous week on Ebay.  It will all need stripping and re-painting before it can be fitted to our cottage and outbuildings to continue my program of replacing the plastic rain water goods wrongheadedly installed here over the years.  So ...  some stock items were left in Devon (I almost ran out of the rawlplugs I'd seen fit to take) but new ones came home with me as I arrived just before midnight.  Glad to see my bed!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

How many miles do you drive?

I realise that these days it's politically very incorrect to celebrate any kind of driving milestone, but I took guilty pleasure this afternoon from seeing the odometer on our Subaru reach 100K. Just a number, I know, but an elegant one.

We have had the Subaru since shortly after we came to live in N Wales, as you can hardly expect your neighbours to be sympathetic to your being snowed-in up your hill unless you have some form of 4WD vehicle.  We chose the Forester in spite of its modest fuel efficiency, hoping that it would be a comfortable workhorse.  And so it has proved, and after a first year of gearbox and alternator problems which cost a great deal to put right, it has been extemely reliable and has cost little more than routine servicing, expertly carried out at Prosport in Stockport.  It had 25,500 miles on the clock when we bought it, so we've averaged 12.5K a year.  It's now ten years old.  Over roughly the same period (and please bear in mind that from late 2005 until mid-2010 I was commuting daily to Manchester and - before he came to live with us a year ago - regularly visiting my father in Rochdale) we put 135K miles onto a diesel-engined Golf which we traded in last summer for a newer model.

So it's easy to see where a big chunk of our disposable income has gone during this time.  Since I took early semi-retirement I've been doing a lot less mileage, and I don't think that use of my motorcycle really counts at all, though its engine is of a size to use more fuel per mile than our Golf.  It does 3-4K per annum.

For many years L and I had a succession of comfortable Saabs - again not very fuel-efficient but well-used and well-maintained and therefore not an environmental disaster?  All these things are relative, I guess.  I started my motoring career 45 years ago with a 150cc Lambretta scooter, and then a 948cc 1965-built Mini Clubman. I still enjoy driving and have always believed in working vehicles hard, carrying passengers and goods, using roof-racks, pulling trailers.  I treasure the independence that being a driver and rider has given me.  My future vehicles probably won't see 100K - and the environment will breathe a sigh of relief.

Is driving for you a pleasure or a necessary evil?