Friday, 15 March 2013

Moving Scenes

Some photos of when we moved in.  For the record.

Great British Workmen In Action

Two Removal Vans - Both Ace!
A Dining Room Emerges

One More Van To Go!

Mr Bennett's Library

Is This Normal For A Removal Man?  

From Office To Sitting Room

From Board Room To Dining Room

More Dining Room

The Hallway

Smoked Out By The First Fire For 35 Years!

Going Green For A White Christmas

Flicking through the photographs that I have taken, there are many that I haven't published from around Christmas time.  These that follow were the efforts by S and C to adorn the tree in front of the house with Christmas lights.  I'd bought solar powered ones from an online store.  In my head, the tree would be bristling with lights and look beautiful.  But its actually quite big and 40' of lights was probably not enough.  And then there was the problem of how to wind them around the tree and to reach the top.  A small child was required.  One that was good at climbing.

A Tree In Need Of Christmas Lights

In the absence of said small child, the ever ingenious S created a useful light-hanging device out of a long pole and a big nail.  I don't think he's the new James Dyson though.  I can't quite see it catching on.  Sadly.

C Looking Decidedly Dubious About The Merits Of His Father's Thought Processes
Still Not Much Sign Of S Doing Much...

S In His Standard 'Director of Operations' Mode

Of course, 40' only covered half the tree.  The lights went a third of the way up and were heavily weighted towards one side.  They didn't hang in wonderful waves as they did in my head.  Perhaps a man with a ladder might have managed it.  Rather than one with a pole and a nail.

I tried to take a picture of the finished article.  But the solar lights, bright for the first couple of nights, dimmed to a dull grey glow.  Not quite the Christmas scene that I had envisaged.  But then, isn't Christmas always a bit like that?

PS, 1952-2013

Our second funeral of the year and another obituary for this blog.  I hope that this will be the last for some time to come.  

Our neighbour from Staverton.  P and her husband, D, renovated the Horseblock, the house that we lived in there.  Then they moved into the barn at the bottom of our garden.  We got to know them well over the seven years that we lived there.  I last saw her when we left Staverton at the end of October.  My mum and I had coffee with her while the removal men packed up the house.  I hugged her, had a little cry and then we headed for H______.  We spoke on email a few times.  Then, at the beginning of December, D sent an email to say that she was poorly.  But there was a lot of norovirus about so maybe it was that.  It wasn't.  It was much worse.  She was diagnosed with cancer in mid December.  It was everywhere.  They couldn't find the primary source.  She was too ill to have chemotherapy.  By January she was in a hospice; she should have been in Thailand with D, her sister and brother-in-law.  Bravely, she decided to stop taking the medication that was keeping her alive and she died on 7th February, just three days later.  I still can't believe it.

I wrote to her before she died.  D asked me to read my letter to her at the wonderful funeral that he organised.  This is what I said:

Many of you here today have known P for much longer and knew her much better than I did.  Our paths crossed relatively recently, when S and I moved into the Horseblock, the house at the end of P and D’s garden, seven years ago.  She took us under her wing and we have stayed there ever since. 

When someone dies, we tend to say nice things about him or her to other people afterwards, at events like this.  The only good thing that I can find to say about P’s fast, furious and cruel illness is that it gave me an opportunity to tell her directly how much I valued her friendship.  When I heard that she had very bravely decided to stop taking medication, I wanted to let her know what a lovely, kind and generous person she was and how much she had come to mean to us.  I wanted to let her know that I thought she had succeeded in the important things in life. 

I wrote her an email and left it to D to decide whether the words that I wrote to her were appropriate or not.  I am very glad to say that he chose to read my letter to her.  He has asked me to read my words to you today.  I am deeply touched by his request but, again, I’m aware that lots of you here could write much more and write much better words than I have found here. 

Dearest P

I wanted to tell you how much S and I appreciated your kindness and friendliness when we first arrived at the Horseblock.  You made such an effort to invite us to things and to help us to integrate.  In fact, more than that, you made us feel that we were part of the community and I am not sure how long that would have taken had we been left to our own devices, given our lifestyles.

Over the years, we have discovered a person with a sharp mind, wide-ranging interests and uncompromising views (said the pot to the kettle!).  Conversation is always varied, interesting and fun.  Joining the Staverton Book Club and listening to the things that you have to say there has opened my eyes to another side of you, a side that is perceptive, emotionally intelligent and highly analytical.  (Is this beginning to sound like a school report?!)

Another aspect of you that I really admire can be summed up by three things: cooking, gardening and interior design! But these are not trivial things.  When we walk through that gate into your garden and then enter your house, we always feel that we are entering a special space. It is a huge talent, I think, to be able to create the atmosphere of well-being, relaxation and comfort that I always feel in your home and garden.  For me, being able to make people feel like that is a very, very special gift.

So, you came into our lives as a neighbour, became a very dear neighbour who helped us out when needed and you are now a much loved friend who will always have a special place in our hearts.

With much love,

A and S

I hope you recognise the P that I got to know.  And I wish very much that we had been given more time to get to know each other even better.

P's friend, S, read a poem at the funeral.  She read it beautifully and I thought it was deeply moving.  P had chosen it and asked her to read it to D.  I include it here.

Close Your Eyes by Judy Burnette

I can't be with you today
but if you close your eyes and think;
I'll be beside you in the kitchen
wearing your shirt - standing by the sink.

I'll be with you in the bedroom
waiting quietly on your bed;
Just close your eyes and think of me,
relive those memories in your head.

I'll stand by you in the bathroom,
an unlikely place to meet;
I'll smile at you so playfully
as I let you brush my teeth.

I'll be your light in the darkness,
shining steady through and through;
You only have to watch it glow
to know I think of you.

I'll be the music that you listen to,
I'll be there in every song:
I'll laugh with you and sing with you,
and comfort you when your day's gone wrong.

I'll be the wind that ruffles your hair,
I'll be that warm embrace;
I'll be the hand on your shoulder,
I'll be the tender touch on your face.

I'll be the clock gently ticking,
reminding you of the times;
We've shut the rest of the world outside
we're in our own world - yours and mine.

I'll be the moon as it dances
on the water cold and still;
For I have loved you always
and I know I always will.

Though you may not see me physically
as you live your life today;
Just close your eyes and think of me
I will not be far away.


It was an interesting afternoon with the sash window man.  Mainly because he is such a character.  He began by giving me a physics lesson and explaining why it would be a waste of money to have secondary glazing.

(We're not allowed to have double glazing because of the house being Grade II Listed.  An odd decision by English Heritage as the modern types of glass, filled with argon glass, are hardly discernible as being double glazed.  The issue, as I understand it, is the fact that double glazed windows have a silver sheen that is not in keeping with an old house.  In our last house, our window man took two samples panes to the Conservation Officer and she couldn't tell the difference.  Nevertheless, the rule stands.)

Apparently, secondary glazing wouldn't make that much difference to the warmth of the house.  The issue is the draughts, he said.  And he's right.  When I put my hand over the central piece of the window where the fixed section meets the sliding section, it freezes instantly.  He reckons that the air in the room changes in its entirety about three or four times a day due to this.

We then changed subject and began a history lesson as he checked out each of the windows in the house.  Sadly, they don't do casement windows so we have to find another company to sort out the bathroom windows.  Sod's law, of course, as these are pretty dilapidated and we wanted to start with them.  He's quoted per window, which is useful, because it means that we can do each window as we go.  But the cost is between £600-800 per window.  However, let's not think about that now but go on a tour of the windows.  We have lots of them and lots of different types so this may not be quite so dull as you imagine.  Fairly dull, but not quite so.  But please remember that the purpose of this blog is to record and not just to entertain you.  If only.

The first window that I want to show you is in the sitting room and this is the same as the one in Mr Bennett's Library and the dining room.

Georgian, he said, I think.  Lovely full length windows that let in so much light.  Two, perfectly balanced against the fireplace opposite.  I love these rooms at the front.  They make me feel soothed.  Perhaps it is my Libran nature and the need for equilibrium.  But these rooms are so balanced and so in proportion.  It is very interesting to feel the effect that it has on one's psyche.

You would expect the windows in our bedroom, above this room, to be similar.  The ones at the front are like this.

Georgian again, I think.  But correct me if I'm wrong - especially if my dear friend, House Detective D, is reading this!  (Though I say it myself, I do love that photograph.)

However, the ones at the other side of the room, overlooking my beloved gin terrace in the making, have horns.

Spot the Horn Competition
Which are those things on the side of the bit that you slide up.  Oh, and by the way, they all worked, these windows, to my amazement.  And only one broken sash - which I think is the correct name for the bit of string at the side.

Wander across the landing and you come to my study, which has a Venetian window, although Window Man said it is inverted Venetian because it is the side windows that open and not the middle bit.

We're not quite sure why there is that strange flap over the top of the window that cuts off the arch inside, although it looks fine from the outside.  We think it is plasterboard.  We think it might be hiding pipes or cables.  We will investigate at some point.

Then on to H's room, which has Victorian windows, apparently.

Then to the junk room.  And I can't remember what he said.  I was probably too distracted by trying to negotiate the piles and piles of stuff in there.  Yes, I know that's why it's called a junk room but there are junk rooms and junk rooms.  And this isn't the bijou luggage area that I have in mind!

Then the room that was to be M's.  I can't quite remember but I think these might have been Georgian too.  House Detective D is interested in those fillets (strips of wood stuck on to the panel to you and I) so we'll pause on those to reflect for a moment and await her words of wisdom.

Then through the hallway where we have this odd sort of skylight.

Then to the bathroom, which is why I got Window Man here in the first place.  But casements are not his thing.  These ones are so rusty and bent that we might as well leave them open.  I've just read that orchids don't like drafts, which might explain why my trusty plant that has been faithfully flowering for the past two years, has keeled over and is dying.  Must remember to move it - thank you, House Detective D for that sensible piece of house plant advice!

From the bathroom, it's upstairs to D's room.  Victorian again.

And, for those of you who remember Play School, the round window.

This next window is in the L-shaped room and caused Window Man great interest.  He seemed to think it was quite unusual but was particularly interested in the fact that it is collapsing towards the centre.  Must check his quote but suspect that means more cost for us!

On to the two windows in C's room.  Casement again, with lovely latches.

There are more casements in the first of the downstair's loos and in the larder/laundry room.  This is the loo.

Window Man was most interested in the kitchen window, which he thought was the oldest in the house.  Odd.

Then the windows in my mum's room and the pretentiously named breakfast room, which are all relatively modern, we think.

So, a little tour of the many and varied windows that we have.  The total cost of renovating them makes our eyes water so much that we can't see out of them anyway.

And as the wintry sunshine starts to strengthen into warming spring brightness, I can see that they are all filthy and contemplate the cost of window cleaning.  Paneful.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I awoke in the early hours of Monday morning to see this hovering by my bed.

When I'd stopped screaming, my mum (for it was she) explained that she had heard doors banging and the garden gate was open.  She'd got up and, ever aware of the black out situation that in her mind has persisted long beyond the end of the war,  had decided to investigate using only the light of her torch.  Never one to be afeared of ghouls and ghosties, she'd presumed that I'd rushed off to deal with an emergency so had come to see if I was still in bed.  I was.  But that put paid to sleep for the night.  Of course, the gate was closed and the howling gale that was raging outside (adding to the atmosphere when an illuminated figure in a shroud (or was it a nightie?) appears by your bed in the middle of the night) was making the sash windows bang.  It could have been doors banging.  Yet another reason to get the window man back as soon as possible.

When I'm scared in the night (and, being of a nervous disposition, I often am), I turn to the wise words of Spike Milligan, who said:

Things that go bump in the night
Should not really give one a fright
It's the hole in the ear
That lets in the fear
That and the absence of light.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Darling Buds of...March

By the time we'd finished the tug of war with the ivy, the cloudy skies were starting to clear and a lovely spring sky appeared complete with some sunshine.  We wandered around the garden searching for signs of life.  Most of the beds are covered in ivy.  Long bramble branches hang over the walls and stretch out on to the moss lawn.  But here and there are signs of cultivation.  We have two or three little clumps of snowdrops, one on a sort of rockery near the gate and one near Cuffer's grave.  They open out in the sunshine but this clump was in shade at this point.

There are a few of these too.  Are they primroses or are they cowslips?  They seem too short to be cowslips but the flower doesn't look quite right as a primrose.  Must head off to Google to work it out.

I also came across this single yellow flower.  Forsythia, I think.  Will there be more than one?  Will it be able to burst out through the ivy and brambles to bring some sunshine into this cold, over-cast weather?

And I've been watching this one with keen anticipation for the past few weeks.  I know it as Soldier's Buttons, which does get a result on Google, but the RHS website calls it Kerria Japonica Pleniflora, aka Bachelor's buttons, Japanese Rose or Jew's Mallow.  It's almost there and will be worth a photograph when it finally bursts out.  The actual plant is about six foot back from this branch so it's going to be an interesting pruning job.  Perhaps not one for Agent Orange (aka S).

There is lots of this growing round by the gate and at the back door - the west facing back door, that is, not the south or north ones!

I'm so hoping for bluebells but not sure yet.

As we wandered back round to the gin terrace, the sun broke through, casting a beautiful light on the stone of the Church and the side of the house.  Suddenly the whole place glowed.  The cold grey stone took on a honey blush and the terracotta of the bricks burnt orange.

Could it be spring at last?

A Dainty Plant

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o'er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim:
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

This poem is, apparently, by Charles Dickens, who obviously knew nothing of trying to pull up ivy from a flower bed or 'ruins old'!  We spent the weekend pulling up the stuff from the flower bed by the gin terrace - yes, again.  You pull and you pull and you pull and you end up with a rope of ivy about ten foot long.  There is nothing dainty about it.  Look - here's a root!

 At least, I think it's an ivy root.  It might be part of the sycamore tree...

If you remember, this flower bed looked like this:

Which I suppose had its own particular charm.  

One of my pet names for S is Agent Orange because of his defoliation skills in the garden.  There is nothing he likes better than to chop something down.  I paid for him to go on a pruning course at David Austin Roses a couple of birthdays ago in the hope of curbing his tendencies.  It didn't.  However, his skill is now coming in useful.  If we want to plant anything then we have to remove this ivy.  So now this 'flower' bed looks like this:

It takes ages to dig as there are multiple ivy roots, some small and some huge.  I'm about a third of the way, if that.  And the weather forecast is bad again so that will be that for another week or so.

We're also clearing the ivy off the walls.  With the wall having fallen down further up the garden, we're keen to see how bad the rest of it is.  So the wall now looks like this:

Time to start looking for a repointing course, I think.  The good thing about doing this was that we at last met our neighbours who seem very nice.  We're their first proper neighbours for 35 years apparently!

We've created an ivy mountain and will need to get a skip to clear it.  

We have also removed an enormous pile of stones from the flower bed and from beside the log shed.  These we will keep.  The wall might need them!

S did further ivy removal after these pictures were taken.  The shed is now bare and I must find some 'before' shots so that you can truly appreciate quite how bare it is!

So, we're well on our way to ensuring that ivy is a rare old plant in this garden: only appearing where invited and discouraged where not invited.