A white elephant and a nail brush

Monday, August 29th, 2022

It’s quite a while since my last news item. That is because it has been an unprecedentedly busy summer. Guests have stayed here most days and we are almost fully booked until October.

When I started the B&B I quickly realised that I was going to need a lot of machinery to cope with the laundry. My initial hopes of contracting out laundry or hiring bed linen were soon dashed when what few services existed in this area proved to be far too expensive. The tumble dryer that I bought was a huge disappointment. Not only are these things expensive to run, but pure cotton bed linen comes out far more creased than when hung out to dry on a washing line. Creased sheets need more ironing, which again costs time and money. The only thing I ever use the tumble dryer for these days is as a fluffing up machine for laundered towels. But no more! With the soaring cost of electricity, fluffing up towels by means of tossing them around in hot air seems a ridiculous and extravagant waste of electricity. As from last week I have been burning up the calories with the aid of a stiff nail brush. Smoothing and buffing up freshly laundered towels with a stiff brush is surprisingly hard work but is also surprisingly effective. It works much like a suede brush on goat skin shoes. The big white elephant of a tumble dryer stands unused in the laundry room as a memorial to the days of cheaper electricity.

Strawberry Season

Saturday, June 18th, 2022

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, at around 30 degrees Celsius from morning until evening. Strawberries that were pink in the morning were red and ripe by the evening. What can be nicer than to populate the breakfast fruit bowl with Kentish strawberries picked from the garden a few minutes before?

Regular visitors may wonder what happened to my colourful jars of jam. I reluctantly decided that guidance given by the Food Standards Agency confirmed my suspicion that the practice of decanting jam into containers, which might be opened and closed repeatedly for several days — or even weeks in the case of the less popular flavours — was not something I should continue to do. The risk of mould and/or contamination is simply too great. In addition, checking every jar every morning for signs of mould, not to mention carting all the jars to and from the fridge each day, was becoming too much of an onerous task, as well as taking up a lot of fridge space. When mould appeared, I would have to discard the whole jar, which was wasteful. For reasons of safety and hygiene therefore, I decided that sealed individual portions should replace my colourful array. Fortunately, Tiptree provides a good selection of fruit jams, as well as chocolate spread, honey and lemon curd. You will certainly find B&Bs that do supply home-made jams — and I have many memories of wonderful locally produced confitures eaten with my morning croissants in southern French chambres d’hôte — but in our damp English climate, especially when you live in the middle of the woods, mould is an ever-present hazard and I do not have the turnover of guests to warrant keeping ten flavours of jam in an unsealed, non-vacuumed state.

A Golden Cascade

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022

We have reached peak season, for guests and rhododendrons, and the diary is full for the next couple of months. I don’t have much time to go in the garden, but while walking up the drive I was surprised to notice this magnificent laburnum tree half concealed in the woodland to the right. You can see in the photo how far to the left and the right its branches extend, poking their way through rhododendrons and pines, all jostling for space and light. What is less obvious is how tall this tree has grown. The topmost blooms (and there are more above the top of the picture) must be well over 50 feet above the ground. It is a shame that the tree is inaccessible, because its cascading golden flowers are truly spectacular. Here is a close-up of one of the blooms nearer to the ground. To reach it, one has to battle through a dense tangle of bushes and brambles. But what reward awaits the treasure hunter!

Laburnum flower

Burying the electrics

Sunday May 8th, 2022

The staff 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, and either raise the roof in line with the rest of the house to create up upper storey with a couple of bedrooms and proper bathroom, or do something creative with the ground floor so that there is a good bathroom near to the bedrooms instead of at the other end of the building. That will make it a much more desirable and flexible space for a couple to live in and look after the grounds and garden. More details in due course.

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.