Thursday, 30 September 2010

A night out.

We've had a night out on the town. Thought we'd try out the local cinema - by local I mean 20 mins drive away in Builth Wells, as the closest thing to a cinema in Llandod is film night at Friends of the Earth in the Quaker meeting house.

Builth's cinema is located in the Wyeside Arts Centre - another volunteer-run, community-based, lottery-funded project. It is delightful and felt very arty to be there. Here's how the conversation went at the Box Office:-

Me: "Hi. Is The Illusionist on tonight?" (I'm not the chatty sort)
Volunteer: "it is now"

Here's Ian in his seat - it was a difficult choice - he didn't want to take anyone else's place or block anyones view. Never before have we had a whole cinema to was great.

The film we saw was great too - a very cool animation with absolutely brilliant artwork and a sadly sweet story about a down-at-heel magician trying to make a living. Here's a link.

Pork scratching

The newest arrivals at Ashfield (apologies for poor editing):-

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Todays blog is a case of getting something off my chest. So it's less pictures and more writing - if you get to the bottom you can claim your prize of a jar of best apple chutney!

We are thinking a lot about food at the moment - not just the "mmm i could scoff a whole chocolate cake" type of thing - but more "is there an alternative to eating the highly processed, mass produced, crazily transported food we have been consuming for years?". This has not been something that interested me particularly - and to be honest I have glazed over whenever Ian has been enthusiastically proclaiming the end of oil and cheap food. I quite like not having to write a shopping list and just dreamily wander around Sainsburys picking the same things off the well-stocked shelves week after week, to make the same meals give or take a few variations. I haven't been the sort of cook to study recipe books, check ingredients or even watch Jamie Oliver on telly - I have found it all BORING. I have been LAZY.

Is this slowly coming to an end? With Ian doing his Nuffield report on the big question of how food will be produced for a growing population in the face of climate change and decreasing oil reserves, I am brought face to face with this thorny issue on a daily basis. I even woke up in the middle of the night worrying about how I would save seed from runner beans if i ever needed to .... ok I know that's a bit tragic but your mind does strange things in the middle of the night.... I need to get out more.

Anyway I have learnt a few things from all this and I thought I would list them out to get it out of my head (so i can sleep again):-

1. Oil has only been around for at most 150 years and the price of food commodities now directly follows the price of oil in the world markets.
2. Oil is integral to the production of food - 46% of food is grown with nitrogen fertiliser which is oil-based - not to mention plastic packaging, heating, cooling, and transporting it around the world. It is estimated that 2 pints of crude oil is used in total to produce one roast beef dinner (yuk).
3. Way too much land is used to grow crops for biofuels
4. Way too much land is used to grow beef - it takes 15,000 litres of water and 8kg of wheat to produce ONE KILO of beef!
5. In the ratio of energy in to energy out, organic mixed cropping methods are 25 times more efficient than current farming methods.
6. Water is an issue in the developing world like India - we import lettuces from India which are watered from deep ground water wells. New deeper wells are being dug every year as ground water is running out. We are literally importing their water into Britain (in lettuces), taking it out of an eco-system that desperately needs to keep it.
7. It is estimated that for our country to be self-sufficient we need to either grow two-thirds more than we do at the moment - or eat 40% less. I think we'd all be a lot healthier if we did.

The only conclusion i can come to is that we need to eat local, organic and vegetarian - as much as is realistically possible. Sounds a bit boring doesn't it? I like growing things though - and I like eating cake - and I like cooking delicious meals for my guests (as long as i don't have to read a recipe book!). It's a big change and we're not emotionally ready to do it - let alone agriculturally ready. Life is too busy for most people to grow their own food - and gardens are too small. I guess that's why allotments are in hot demand.

I have also come across different goals - like trying to eat at least one food every day that we have grown, gathered or hunted (!). Today we ate tomatoes and aubergines from Ashfield (that counts). But we also ate farmed salmon from Scotland, rice from who-knows-where, broccoli, pepper and onions from? I find you have to think about each individual food item - where it came from, how it was grown, how far it was transported, is it organic, is it made from GMO's and on and on. And that's before even thinking about Fair Trade issues and supermarket domination. It's a VERY BIG SUBJECT.

On that last subject, we are having a gap year from the big supermarkets. It's been a challenge to buy all the bits and pieces I would normally buy in Sainsbury's - lightbulbs, matches, shoe polish, etc etc - and Llandrindod Wells isn't exactly the centre of the universe for shops!! It's been good using the Coop though - we've allowed ourselves that luxury because we've got to eat something apart from apple chutney and tomato soup and they have the best Fair Trade record. It also makes me feel like I'm kind-of on holiday here in Wales, so that's definitely got to be good.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Stained glass mosaics

I have a new acquisition on our kitchen windowsill. I bought this gorgeous stained glass mosaic from my friend Pam Wells, at her Somerset Art Week's Open Studio in Middlezoy. I love it!

Here are Pam, and Cherry Morgan - feltmaker extraordinaire - in their studio exhibition and some of Cherry's fluffy cupcakes. The art weeks continue until the end of next week.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Having just spent 2 weeks at home I'm feeling a bit of a fraud writing a blog called 'My Wales' when all I write about is our house in Somerset! I am absolutely loving our renovation project - it is the best job I have ever had. What an opportunity to redesign a house from scratch, and the garden.... I feel so peaceful whenever I am there and love every bit of it. This week I have been mapping all the physical features - trees etc so we can keep a record of the drains and water pipes we have been laying, and collect the names of the trees as we discover them.

This is where the engineer in me and all those years looking at plans is coming in useful. I don't seem to be able to think without a plan in front of me. We have sadly wrecked the lawn and laid pipes from the borehole to the shed, up to the house, and down to the veg patch, and put french drains in the lawn. Digging the trenches revealed why it was like a paddling pool last winter - the ground is solid clay except for a couple of inches of topsoil where the water sits. Now, hopefully, it will trickle through the gravel into the perforated pipes and run down to the field where we will one day - hopefully - have a pond. I can't wait for rain to see if it's working! Apologies to those who might find drainage boring - that was me too until this week!

Roger digging the trench across the lawn - 0.8m deep so the water doesn't freeze on its way to the house
then perforated drainage pipe laid 200mm below the surface -
and backfilled with gravel, then topsoiled and seeded (thanks Dad x)

....all under the watchful eye of freddy frog

old things...

As I am now re-united with my computer (and Ian) in Wales I thought I'd make another post on here. This is one of the victorian COBB bottles we found under the barn floor. Apparently they were for lemonade, not beer, and were nicknamed the 'penny monster' being returned to the shop for a penny, unless the bottle was broken to get the marble out. Thanks Kelvin.

We keep the bottle in our 'eco-loo' out in the garden - a composting loo that uses sawdust and nature but no water (it smells a lot nicer than a chemical loo) - along with the old Hotel Splendide barn door from my parents farm:-

The picture below shows the door in situ with my Dad (far right) as a boy, his father standing next to him, his sister Molly on the left with their housekeeper and the American soldiers who were billeted there during the war. I remember as a child going up the precarious old stairs in the barn and seeing a loo apparently stuck in the middle of the floor - this is where they lived while they were manning the searchlight in Big Meadow. A little bit of Darch family history. That barn was since converted to an architects office and is now a lovely house. The strange thing about this is that MY memories are now part of the history of the farm - that really makes me feel old!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Small delights

Cyclamen bravely growing in the rubble of our garden.

A big green dragonfly that visited our little pond - is it laying eggs?
A tree covered in tiny crab-apples. We are gradually discovering what all the different trees are as they have come into fruit this summer. I think these are crab apples - they are a deep dusky red but are still rock hard.
Todays bottle-find uncovered whilst transplanting cyclamen. We now have about 11 or so little bottles of different shapes and sizes on a shelf in the shed. These include 2 victorian beer bottles with marbles in the neck, found under the old barn floor (previously a sitting room before we took the floor out) - I can just imagine a farm worker of 120 years ago relaxing in the corner of the haybarn to enjoy his beer after a hot day in the hayfields.
Bright yellow pumpkins quietly growing on some wasteground where we had removed some large bushes but not been able to dig out the roots. Although the seeds were sown very late, they have produced several large pumpkins and spread out beautifully over the lawn making great ground cover and keeping the weeds down.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Hearing God? yes please

Wow I've just booked myself into a weekend course called "The Art of Hearing God". But what a struggle it was to do it. I KNEW I wanted to go on the course but everything in me was saying, "don't bother, it'll be a waste of time" and "it'll be too nerve-wracking doing it on your own", and "you can book it but you can always back out". What rubbish! I want to know God better, to learn to hear his voice more clearly, to grow in the 'prophetic', and I even have a sense of desperation about it - is anything/anyone else in life really worth pursuing? We can feel so pressurized to conform to our materialistic all-inclusive world and I for one find it hard to keep on standing up as a Christian ie. to have no compromise, no fear of speaking the truth about Jesus Christ - even though I am sometimes absolutely overwhelmed by his love for us and for our hurting world. I have even found it hard to write this on my blog - knowing God is the single most important thing in my life, yet I think twice about writing it and what people will think!! Crazy old me.

Anyway, I've done it and paid the fee. October 7th - 9th is in the diary. For those interested it's with something called Streams Ministries and is held in Cheltenham.
They also do courses on interpretation of dreams, and using your prophetic gifting. Oh, and for anyone who's thinking "that's only for you religious people" I want you to know that there is no divide. God is speaking to all of us - we just need to hear him. Religion just gets in the way.

Friday, 10 September 2010


I feel like we should be having a party - what an amazing thing to see actual water coming out of the ground - even pouring out of the ground for a while and running down the old stream bed towards the waiting field drain underneath Mike's maize. Eddie the borehole man drilled to 130 ft through the 'Mercia Mudstone' beneath our garden at Pengotton (and most of Taunton Deane) to two underground watercourses which had been earlier located by Eddie's wife and her mate with a pair of bent copper rods and a hazel stick. Yes we were sceptical, even after having a go ourselves and feeling the rods turn to cross each other, and a small part of me still wants to know if we would have found water anywhere else we might have tried.

Anyway, for now they are the experts and water is now apparently
sitting at 40 ft down our pipe waiting for us to pump it up. That's a depth of 90 feet of water to the bottom of the hole from which we could extract 20 gallons a minute. That's 21,600 gallons every day - a lot of baths! Dad wants to know if he can pipe it over to the farm for the cows - no problem except the pipe might cost more than another borehole. I find it amazing that in this country private users can extract up to 20 tonnes of water a day without a license, and also that it's free apart from the electricity for running the pump. We still have to have it tested of course before drinking, and it needs to be pumped till it runs clear. I was imagining clear sparkling blue water shooting up like a fountain, but it was more a spurt of clay-red liquid. It's not quite an artesian well but it's definitely there.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Tomato Harvest

This post is actually 2 weeks late, but hey, better late than never. Tomatoes have been overtaken by Apple Days this weekend - apple pressing and cider making at the Walled Garden and the Living Willow Theatre near Llandod. (I am still in Somerset puzzling over water pipes but Ian is valiantly playing his part in feeding the nation back at base).....

The bank holiday weekend saw Ian and I converting the prolific tomato harvest in the Ashfield polytunnels into delicious tomato and basil soup to be sold at the Victorian Festival. All traders are supposed to be in costume so we found a boater and blazer for Ian and a 1970's Laura Ashley blouse for me from the Red Cross shop - well it was kind of old-fashioned and that was good enough for me! This was the first time we have ever tried our hand at selling food - and SirrAlan would definitely not have been proud of us. The first day raised only £22, but by the weekend the weather improved and more people came out to play and we managed to make a profit of about £120 in total. Not good for four days slaving over hot tomato soup but it was fun.

The festival is definitely the highlight of the year in Llandrindod Wells. It started 29 years ago with the re-enactment of Victorian life for a week to celebrate those 19th century visitors attracted to the health-giving substance in the spa water. The town definitely has that grand Victorian look with its tall buildings, big hotels and its man-made lake, all catering to the Victorian tourist. The spa is still there though I'm reliably informed it tastes vile.

Unfortunately those days are long gone and the stately townhouses have been divided into bedsits for occupation by its 21st century visitors imbibing their not-so-healthy substances and - basically - living off benefits. Part of Ian's job is to provide work placements for those brave enough to volunteer, some with more success than others. Ian has admitted he is on a learning curve, and I think dealing with a little culture shock!

Monday, 6 September 2010


So, where to begin? My fav picture of the weekend I think - Barney waiting to play on the Pembrokeshire coast path (great care taken in not throwing ball off cliff...)

Yes it probably should have been the castles at Carew or Manorbier, the ancient tidal mill with its 23 acre millpond, or the King's Quoit burial chamber (3000BC), but whilst the history is always fascinating nothing makes me laugh like this little dog.

Still, this morning we are back into things with Ian having three new staff starting today at Ashfield Community Enterprise - Dorian, the volunteer coordinator, Joe, the musician-turned-horticulturalist, and Richard the builder. So it feel like things are happening there at last. Hopefully it will start to lose its rather neglected, tumbleweed atmosphere, PEOPLE will start to arrive, and WORK will begin.

I, meanwhile, will have a morning agonising over the plumbing at Pengotton - should we have radiators, thermaskirt or underfloor heating and in which rooms at what cost, and thinking how we could possibly need 4 loos in a house with only two people living in it? We are still going through the design process, and though at times feel incredibly frustrated that nothing has happened there for several months we are mindful of Kevin McCloud's advice (not face to face unfortunately) that "most people spend one year planning, and two years building, but it should be the other way around".

It's not all inactive though, I'm hoping by the end of this week we'll have a visit from the borehole man with his drilling rig. I can't wait to see WATER coming up out of the ground. (....he says he's also hoping to see water come out of our ground as 'no water, no fee'... I see his point.)

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

BOG Blog

Hooray I have at last worked out how to set up a new blog, so all those thoughts of the last month since we came here can now be translated into posts. I will however start from today, as going back over everything we've done would be tedious.

So todays picture is me having just pulled my leg out of a welsh bog. This was on top of the hill called Abergwesyn Common, about 30mins from our house, on a stunning walk with our friends, Sharon, Jez and Rath. I think of these hills as 'the Quantocks' and we look across the valley of 'Taunton Deane' to the 'Blackdowns' in Somerset terminology. In reality they are quite different as they are deserted, paths are lost under bracken and years of deliberate neglect, and some of them are made of BOG. As I sank down my first thought was 'Quicksand' and then 'Bog' and sat down to avoid going any deeper than my knees. Thoughts of the bog-snorkelling championships taking place a few miles away in Llanwrtyd (Thlan-oo-ted) made me feel slightly better. Here's the link though you might have to cut and paste it at the moment until I've worked out the technology:-