Burying the electrics

Sunday May 8th, 2022

The caretaker’s cottage is currently vacant. It is essentially an annexed bungalow, originally built as servants’ quarters, with a crazy layout, an inadequate bathroom and a lot of wasted space. It needs to be reconsidered, rearranged and reconfigured. To this end, we plan to regularise its odd shape at the back, take down the chimney, raise the roof in line with the rest of the house and create up upper storey with a couple of bedrooms and proper bathroom. That will make it a much more desirable and flexible residence.

The first step is to bury the overhead electricity mains cable so that it is out of harm’s way and not the death trap that it currently is for anyone who needs to check the roof or clean the gutters. Dan the builder spent four days in hard labour wielding diggers, drills and spades to dig a trench from the pole to the house, and the electricity crew spent Thursday and Friday laying new cables and dismantling the old ones, and Dan did all the backfilling and making good in record time. Today, apart from a new line of cement marking the location of the trench, you would never know that such a major job had just taken place. Two paw prints made by one of the cats adorn the fresh cement. Next step is for the architect to draw up the plans.

April Fool

Friday, April 1st, 2022

Following yesterday’s bunch of golden daffodils, this was the view from upstairs this morning at 7.30, with the temperature barely above zero degrees Celsius. The blizzard came and went within half an hour, and by 9 o’clock, the grass was green again.

White gold

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

Last week saw high temperatures and sunshine hot enough to make it impossible to sit outside without parasols and sun hats. This week we are back to single figures and night frosts. Today we had even snow showers — the first snow since 2020. The daffodils in the garden are nearing the end of their flowering season.

Early Check-ins

Monday, March 14th, 2022

This herd of five deer arrived at dawn and spent the whole day grazing peacefully in the garden.

Eunice and Franklin

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Last month’s storms left us without power for three days and without Internet for more than a fortnight. Even the mobile phone signal disappeared for two days. We were truly cut off and it was fortunate that we had no guests. We quickly found out that candles were not a good idea as Peonie, the black cat, nearly set fire to her tail. The big old oil lamp was very useful to light up the long, dark evenings and we huddled around the wood-burner for warmth. I have now bought three hurricane lamps, a good stock of lamp oil and spare wicks, and I hope we shall not have to use them. The photo above shows one tree that came down during Storm Eunice and did its best to bring down the broadband cable. The tree snagged the cable but did not break it. The tree that came down on the other side of our gate, during Storm Franklin on 21 February, finished the job (see photo below), and it took several teams of men many days to restore our line, first temporarily and then permanently. Running a B&B, or even one’s life, is simply not possible without Internet as too many systems won’t function without it nowadays. Oddly, these two trees were just outside my boundary. Not a single tree came down in our garden or woodland. Standing in the garden during the storms was a strange experience because the trees all around absorbed the wind’s energy and we didn’t even feel the slightest breeze, yet the roar was like that of a jet engine.

Best Thing Since…

Friday, February 18th, 2022

My latest acquisition is something I’ve been wanting for years and never found online until now: a gadget for slicing homemade bread. Either they are industrial machines costings thousands of pounds or they are cheap, poorly made, low-quality, flimsy plastic gadgets. I make bread several times a week — sometimes every day in high season — and slicing the loaves is physically hard work and quite exhausting. Unlike shop-bought bread, which is baked in ovens into which a copious amount of steam is injected to keep the crust soft, homemade bread has a tough crust, and my least favourite task is slicing up whole loaves so that packets of four slices can be wrapped and put in the freezer as soon as possible, to be taken out as and when they are needed for breakfast.

After a conversation with guests last week about how to run a B&B single-handedly (answer: get the right tools for the job, preferably German models), I determined to have another hunt for the one thing missing that would make my life so much easier. And at last I found it: a robust, solidly built, all-metal mechanical slicer made by Graef, which should last for decades. It looks very smart in its enamel red painted coat and wooden handle. I tried it for the first time this morning and was astonished at its ease of use. The large cutting disc sliced effortlessly through my wholewheat loaf like a knife going through butter. It was so quick to cut up my loaf with no effort at all that I wonder why anybody bothers with electric slicers. Best thing since sliced bread.

Plumbers to the Rescue

Saturday, February 5th, 2022

Last week we had a major malfunction in the engine room. The big boiler in the basement lost pressure rapidly and could not be repressurised. I knew at once that one of the pipes in the ancient network that runs underneath the house must have finally given way. The same thing happened back in December 2018 (documented in these posts if you dig far enough), but we can only replace these old pipes section by section as and when they fail, otherwise we’d have to take up all the floors throughout the house and renew the whole of the vast underground network of ancient steel pipes, which are not encased in anything other than wet ground. Rust has eaten away at the metal, which is now wafer thin, pitted, perforated and probably held together by Wealden clay acting as a sticking plaster. Luckily my marvellous family plumbers, who have looked after this place for decades and know every detail of its intricate systems, arrived very promptly and quickly located the leak, which was under the floor of the cupboard under the stairs. Not the easiest of places to work in! The photos below show the pipe, removed and lying on the ground, together with other bits of rotten pipework revealed in all their naked glory in the lower photo. It looks like something from the Titanic. I know there are other leaks waiting to burst forth, because the boiler needs repressurising every few days. Like rotting teeth that have not visited a dentist in decades, these pipes will all have to be extracted in due course, to be replaced by shiny new implants. We can only wait for the next cavity to appear.

Preparing for Christmas

December 17th, 2021

As we wait for the omicron surge, I have decorated the breakfast room and will carry on as normal. Triple vaccinated and armed with colourful FFP2 masks and white FFP3 ones, we are open for business, albeit at arm’s length, until further notice. A happy Christmas to guests, family and friends.

Waterless weekend

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

At the beginning of the week, this is what the guest kitchen’s table looked like after two days of no water. A burst water main (yet again) proved difficult to repair, and when the water was turned back on there was no guarantee that it would not be turned off again. So I hurriedly filled every vessel I could lay my hands on while the going was good. My guests endured the lack of baths and showers, not to mention the waterless closet (i.e. non-flushing loo) with admirable stoicism. I watched the growing pile of two days’ worth of greasy bacon pans, sausage tins and egg and mushroom skillets, together with dirty plates, cups, glasses and cutlery, plus our own supper dishes, with increasing alarm. Would I run out of things to cook with or eat off? Poached eggs were definitely not an option as I barely had enough bottled water for the tea pot, coffee jug and tooth mugs. The water board claimed to have left bottles of water in a lay-by, but when I got there, there was not a drop left. The water came back just in time to avoid having to cook a second breakfast without it.

Autumn Golds

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

Waiting for the right moment to photograph the parrotia persica at the bottom of the garden is always nerve-wracking. It takes weeks for this big tree to colour up, and if I wait too long there is the risk of an overnight gale stripping it of all its leaves. But I think today is the day!