Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve at Pengotton

Our house now has scaffolding! Building work starts on 4th Jan - we can't wait!

Cornish granite from Lankelly made into a bench with a view (shame about the fence - a job for next year)...

Every man must have his shed...

My gorgeous hubby in the woods on Christmas Eve. Glad to be home.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas card

Here is a little Christmas virtual card video. Click on the link here:-

Have a wonderful Christmas x

Friday, 17 December 2010

Measuring up for a coffin, and leaving Wales...

Having made a small effort at starting 'Christmas', I am allowing myself the reward of writing a blog-post. This whole weekend we have been covered in big fat white powdery christmas snow.

We found a Christmas cake had been delivered overnight to our garden table:-

It can also be quite neighbourly. Our very-welsh neighbour Brynmor keeps clearing our drive - and we clear the pavement so we don't feel guilty that he's done it again. It was interesting to see Ian measuring up for a coffin.......not his I hasten to add, but our landlord is also a funeral director. He does about 2 funerals a week whatever the weather but so many of the local population live up long tracks and lanes they are inaccessible to anything but 4 wheel drive. Hence the measuring of Ians truck. I think he was secretly disappointed he couldn't help out, but the prospect of a coffin sticking out the back of a pick-up didn't seem quite right. A long-wheelbase landrover was found to do the job instead.

Needless to say Ashfield is frozen up - no volunteers, no staff and no work. We cleared the polytunnels of snow this morning to stop the plastic ripping and made sure the heating is still on for the pipes and wet floors. It is truly winter at Ashfield in every sense. It's not a good time of year for a horticultural project anyway, and a lot of the renovation work is still in progress so there are limits on what events can be planned. Ian feels he has contributed all he can at this stage, and with our house project in Somerset getting underway, our time should be spent elsewhere. So it's back to packing and trying to plan the next step day by day. We return to Somerset sometime in Jan or Feb instead of staying till June.

How do we feel about leaving?'s mixed. I could happily live here if it wasn't for having a life elsewhere. Yesterday we were invited for tea by a lovely family from our church, so I feel a little sad at interrupting new friendships before they've hardly begun. Ashfield itself has so much potential - I loved the Apple Day and working in a community group, and the vision for an Art Room will have to be laid down for the time being. On the flip side, we can't wait to get our house going at Pengotton and reconnect a bit with Taunton life. Perhaps we could bring something of Ashfield back with us?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

small furry creatures

Today when getting back to the house i was greeted by a small black furry creature flying madly around the kitchen in circles. A bat! After ducking several times and crawling along the floor to open the door without being hit, I have decided they're quite cute - which is a good thing bearing in mind there are a large number living in our attic. We have been leaving the loft hatch open to stop the pipes freezing during the cold weather so i can only think it decided to take a different route out.

Here it is.... if anyone knows what variety it is do let us know. (If you have a bat-phobia look away now)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hooray - a finished Nuffield Report

I am very pleased to say Ian has finished his Nuffield report. Here it is:-

For the uninitiated it's about travelling round the world, realising the world is going to run out of food, and discovering algae - the new super-food. He is a non-exec director for a company called Exalga, who grow algae, primarily for the fish-food market but it also goes into soaps, health food products and animal feed.

Roadkill Cafe, Wales

Well - I've made it back to Newbridge plus dog, to be greeted by the smell of dinner cooking. Mmmm, it smells just chicken, definitely not pork - but it's white so perhaps goat? or turkey? Well it turns out Ian didn't have time to go shopping but what a stroke of luck he passed a run-down pheasant on the road to Llandovery yesterday. Oh the joy of having a husband who can cook. I knew we should never have gone to Arizona to the Roadkill Cafe - they really do trade in dead meat scraped off the blistering tarmac.

And yes, sometimes he really CAN cook - fabulously. But today was more on a par with the most disgusting dessert ever made - here it is - powdered banana flavoured diet moussy thing with out-of-date dried banana chips that later got sold to Paignton Zoo for the chimps. Yep, definitely not 10 out of 10 for that one, but it didn't put me off taking the risk to my health of marrying him.

Anyway, full marks for creativity, ingenuity, cost cutting, eating local, fairly traded, low carbon food. Shame about the mental image I now have of Ian stopping the car, picking up the dead and allegedly warm animal, slicing off its breasts and lovingly preparing it for my return. I think that means he loves me.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Minus 13 again... let me out!

We woke up this morning to a frosted white minus 13 world again. Every twig and leaf is encrusted with crystals. The snow has an icy crust over the top that you break with a loud crunch every time you take a step, the river is moving only under its frozen surface and the blue sky is the only colour in sight.

We can see Lan Ganol, above, our own version of 'sugarloaf' mountain, from our bedroom window if you lean out and peer round to the right. For all the beauty I am a little tired of being stuck here with my car iced up day after day, wearing two pairs of socks and wellies every time i go out. Cars are parked randomly at road junctions while their occupants walk miles down frozen lanes from their houses to their cars to get to work. Now we understand why there are so many landrovers in this part of the world and i am grateful for ians gas-guzzling truck. Still, the forecast is for warmer weather by the end of the week.... by which time we'll be back down south in the relative warmth of Somerset....not that it's warm anywhere at the moment.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A new week...

Back at Ashfield today. Temperatures are still below zero, but the boiler there is fixed - and the place needs sorting. We called in one night to check on it and to our dismay found water gushing out all over the floor through the whole building. So Ian's job today will be moving desks and taking up carpets. I'm so glad that didn't happen at home.

My jobs today are drawing plans for a neighbours barn conversion, putting up posters for the oil painting course, and cleaning the church (i'm on the rota). Our church is great - it's a little Assemblies of God in Llandrindod called New Life. They are so warm and friendly and have made a very big difference to how we feel about being here. They are also great worshippers and reach out to the community including those struggling with things like drugs and alcohol. It's a very comfortable place to be, and we are grateful to God for leading us here through contacts in Taunton and Llandod.
Enough procrastinating. It's time to stop distracting myself with other activities and sit down with those plans....

Sunday, 5 December 2010

More snow pics....

On top of Lan Ganol, our very own 'sugarloaf' mountain near our house
Even Barney likes the view

Ian defying gravity
at the trig point at 430m above sea level, Craig Chwefri
The sky went this lovely pink colour after the sun went down
The quick way back down!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Oil painting at Ashfield...

So what's happening over at Ashfield? In the cold weather the boiler has broken so everything seems to have closed down. No one can work in the offices or in the polytunnels. Greenland has hit.

I've been making a small contribution in the background over the last week though.
Rob Ijbema will be teaching oil painting in the new year and here's the poster... I've just got to get it printed and laminated and put it up on all the notice boards and in shops and the library. I've got no idea how
many people will book - it's possible we'll get loads but we just have to wait and see. Then we'll have to get the room ready and send out all the info to participants....

The other thing i've been doing is some artwork and a leaflet for Ian's Springbox idea. This is a christmas gift idea where you buy a garden box for a friend - and all the plug plants and seeds are delivered in the spring ready to plant. All you need for a complete vegetable or wild flower garden. So first we have to sell the boxes... then we have to grow the plants... I keep seeing this vision of Alan Sugar shaking his head and asking "so why exactly did you offer to post the boxes for £5 when it's actually going to cost £7.50?" Good point. I SO couldn't go on the Apprentice. I don't think we'll post the boxes at all - delivery only.

Colder than Greenland??

We arrived back in Newbridge last night to minus 13 and dropping. I have never known such cold in our country - and i am proud to say this week we live in the coldest place in britain...except it took HOURS for our coats to come off and the house to feel warm again. Our wonderful landlord had saved us from frozen water pipes while we were away, and our lovely neighbours had cleared the snow off our drive - what a welcome. I am SO glad our boiler was fixed last thursday before this hit. I think i would have had to stay in bed with a hot water bottle if we didn't have heating.

Here are some pics from my walk to Llysdinam with Barney this morning....

The river Wye was partly frozen over...
the snow formed crystals on everything....

this is Llysdinam house - often visited by the victorian curate Francis Kilvert for those who have read Kilverts Diaries

and the beautiful snowy welsh hills.
Please note I didn't take a picture of Ians reputedly-frozen nasal hairs.

I was sorely tempted to go with Ian up to Bangor today where he was hosting a business visit to the algae plant. But even from here it's still a 3 hour drive each way and even the prospect of seeing snowdonia in the snow couldn't outweigh the tiredness i feel at the moment from all the driving between somerset and wales. This weekend we made some good decisions on the house - and even bought some flooring for the lounge. Dad should be on commission. I love it - it's engineered oak boarding - with a very dark stain and distressed effect. Can't wait to see it down but sadly it'll probably be at least 6 months away as the walls have to be built first and the roof redone.

Some progress has been made however - Roger has been working faithfully on Ians shed. This is how it looks now..... unfortunately i've got to put in more plans for the minor changes from the planning permission. Shouldn't be a problem though. What do you think of our red cedar boarding? purchased here in wales.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Polytunnel called Tom

Just so we can't be accused of all play and no work I've put a few photos of Ashfield to show what's been happening here this week. We've had 9 people on site today so there's been a bit of a buzz with everyone putting their hand to the plough. It feels great - I love working with other people outdoors. And the best bit is - you start a job and someone else finishes it! I'm all in favour of community gardening.

We also met with Rob Ijbema, a 'proper' artist who paints in oils - and I am very excited that he has agreed to come and teach a course for us in the new year. My job - advertising. Easy Craft Workshops Take 2. Can't wait. Have a look at his work here:-

Ian at his desk (and Barney at his)

This is 'Tom', one of the 4 polytunnels on site. We cleared the old aubergines, beans, chillis etc out of Tom, re-composted, repaired the paths and planted onions and winter salad leaves. All very satisfying and 'dig for victory'. It's amazing to plant things when the temperature is already dropping to freezing here.

Pippa, Roz, Jan and myself cleared brambles from a ditch and made a huge bonfire...

Ray and Terry have been stripping out the inside of the house. It will be divided into two flats and let out to raise some revenue for the project. There is a certain deja-vue walking round the house at the moment. Even the bright yellow walls..... (must have been trendy in the 80's). It's strange that both ends of our life have semi-derelict houses and lots of mud to contend with, but hopefully both will improve in the next year.

Ian, Tom and Brian are repairing the potting shed roof...

And lastly, the beautiful sky on my cycle ride home today...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Normality regained (albeit temporarily)

We have just returned from our latest foray into the social life of Llandrindod - a visit to the Horticultural Society talk on 'Alpine Art'. You might wonder why, and it was a spur of the moment reckless decision and a need to 'get out' that led us to this middle-class, middle-aged (well quite old really) group to hear what we thought was an artist talking about his paintings of the Alps.... the clue was of course in the word 'Horticultural' if we'd bothered to notice.

Two and a half hours later, the imagined paintings were a thing of the past. Well-versed in the art of growing alpine plants in dry patches in the garden or lumps of tufa rock, and bemused by fritillaria gibosa or galanthus plicatus, we stumbled into the bar of the Metropole Hotel for a coffee to bring us back to life and normality. Normality is what we found - young people in ordinary clothes drinking ordinary drinks like anywhere in Taunton (well some places in Taunton anyway). Not a woolly jumper, beard, pair of socks'n'crocs, knit-your-own, make-do-and-mend, organic permaculture biodynamic sustainable felt hat in sight. Aaaah - the sound of Ian breathing again.

Our life in Wales is such an eclectic mix of people, groups and things that we don't normally do. Every morning when I wake up I have to think 'which house am I sleeping in', or 'which part of my life am I in today?'. It's a great experience but a little surreal. I'm pleased to say I am now a fully-fledged Ashfield Volunteer. Today was clearing a polytunnel ready for planting with onions and other winter veg. For some reason the tunnel is called 'Tom'. I'm not sure why. Just more of the alternative reality we now live in.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Busy October

Looking back over this month, I realise we have had 12 different people to stay in our 'holiday cottage' here in Wales. I have also been down to Somerset twice and to Cheltenham for one weekend - it'
s amazing how much you can squeeze into one month! Visits from family and friends are definitely a highlight - it might sound a bit sad but we look forward to it all week and then feel bereft when they have gone! So thankyou to all who have made the trek up here.

The Tremain Twins and their other halfs were the first to come and check we're still alive.

This is Faith - Barney's Number 1 Fan...And Lester getting ready for his first mountain hike....
Dave and Helen - we actually saw the Elan Valley in sun for the first time on that weekend.This was the moment I decided my next car has to have a soft top...

And finally Sarah and Hayden - this is our day hike in Abergwesyn - very lovely, very damp and very tiring! Tired but happy...

I've decided this valley is my favourite place in mid-Wales so far - we first discovered it with Ian's parents and aunt and uncle, and walked back through it with Sarah and Hayden. So beware any future visitors, we might just have to take you there...

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Builders at last

Having just come back into Wales from Somerset again I'm bursting with things to write about. For now, I'll content myself with an update on our building project in Somerset...

This has been a Very Good Week. We have had an actual, real live builder on site!!! After almost 6 months with nothing discernible happening to our house, we now have a concrete base inside the main barn, some footings and low block walls, a couple of drains.....and a lot of sticky red clay outside where the concrete and subsoil have been excavated away from the barn wall. I can now breathe more easily. Let it rain. The barn is secure.

Here is the beautiful concrete slab (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), and the walls to the left will be the utility room - it looks tiny at this stage but will hopefully have room for a few boots and a dog one day.
This is technically what we are calling 'phase 1' - more so we can feel a sense of achievement than that any significant work has been done. Steve and Lee, our builders, have been brilliant. They turned up on time, every day, worked hard, kept everything tidy, discussed everything with us ....... and even came in under quote! What's more, they were both very good looking (don't worry they definitely won't be reading this and I'm sure Ian can get his own back with a simple mention of Alice-whatsername-Roberts).

I, meanwhile, have spent the week in trench warfare. Still sorting out the trenches dug through the lawn for water and drainage. Why oh why didn't we put down plastic before dumping all that red clay onto our lovely green healthy grass? You definitely learn by your mistakes. After about 7 hours
scraping with a rake I think the grass can breathe again. It is a challenge though finding places to put all the subsoil that is being dug out - i think we'll have to design some banks or hillocks somewhere - hopefully to look as natural as possible.

We relocated a lovely contorted hazel bush a couple of weeks ago - too early in the season as it turns out as it promptly and thoroughly died - or so I thought. Looking more closely this week, little green shoots have popped out all over it. God is good.

And to finish off, this is the view from somewhere in the Brecons on my journey back to Newbridge.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Apple juicing

Sunday - the tenth of the tenth of the tenth - was Apple Day. At least it was here in Wales. The Llandrindod Transition Town group decided to hold an Apple Day event at Ashfield. There is a high degree of 'working-together-ness' here in Llandod between like-minded groups. It makes things possible instead of Very Hard Work.

First pick your apples....

...smash them to bits with a large wooden stick in a bucket (or you can chop them and put them through a 'scratter' if you happen to have one)... here's Ian doing some whilst networking at the same time...

...then put the pulp into an apple press. A proper one can cost in the hundreds... most people make their own - with a car jack or giant screw fixed inside a wooden or steel framework and something to collect the juice as it's squeezed out. Ours was a wonderful contraption involving a stainless steel pan with holes drilled in it, a plastic tray, two wooden chopping boards, a few nuts and bolts to hold it together.....
...and a dustpan to act as a spout! The juice comes trickling out as the jack or screw gradually turn to compress the pulp.

Feed the remaining squeezed-out pulp to the pigs...
... add a teaspoon of ascorbic acid per bucket of juice, and pour into bottles. When you get home, pasteurise the juice by placing the bottles, caps off, into a large pan, and simmer at 70 degrees for 20 minutes. Replace the caps and leave to cool. This process kills off any yeasts that would cause the juice to ferment, so it should still be good in a years time!
We really enjoyed the Apple Day. It's the first time I've seen Ashfield buzzing with people - volunteers, trustees, visitors, local people - working together and enjoying the sense of making something without spending an arm and a leg.
The warmth of the day, the children watching the apple lady make apple spaghetti, and the sound of the blues guitar in the background - settled like magic in my heart. I have finally understood what Ashfield and community gardening is all about, and I don't want to leave it.