Thursday, August 20, 2015


Bristol was a real treat.  I’d never been before and was lucky enough to stay with a great friend, Mike, just before he packed up and headed to a new life in Spain.  He knows the town like the back of his hand and we spend several days touring round all the interesting and alternative spots that he thought might take my fancy........

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Eco hamlet in central Bristol

they even stick pencils in the road outside schools!!

Gaudi style community restaurant

Shaun the sheep was everywhere - on tour

Then off to see Simon, another host with a stunning wooden house and fascinating gardens just out of town.  A short visit but definitely worthwhile and someone I hope to meet up with again.  His home was an inspiration to home made, lifestyle similarly put together and outlook on life coming from the same sort of place as me.  Along with two other helpers we had a terrific time, ate the most amazing vegan, mainly raw, feasts and put the world to rights.

my home for the week

hand made home

a pizza rocket stove

inside the wooden yurt

with a mezzanine bedroom space

grow it all together garden

brilliant use of digger tracks

My return, through Bristol was timed for Bristol Pride. Stayed with Mike again. I hadn’t been on a Pride march since the 90’s in London and was pleasantly surprised with the size and efficacy of the event.  The march, complete with banners, music and chanting took us through the centre of town, including a shopping centre! culminating in a canal side park with stands, stalls and a couple of stages hosting various acts.  The main stage, rather mainstream and modern for my tastes so I tended towards the alternative stage, with drag acts singing the old favourites, encouraging audience participation and plenty of the usual acid humour thrown in for good measure.  We ate drank and enjoyed the acts, scenery and spectacle of the day before heading back for a couple of hours shut eye before heading out clubbing.  The things one misses without realising.  I had thought that my clubbing days were long gone, but no.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, dancing the night away through to four or so in the morning.  Unlike days gone by, I was fuelled with mineral water and lemonade this time so woke up the next morning almost as bright as a button, vowing not to let it be so long again before I hit the dance floor again.  

catching up

My trip back to the UK was the result of an accumulation of possibilities that started gathering together sometime during the autumn of last year.  In chronological order, for want of a better way of organising things:

En route, I stopped off with the family Meers to catch up and spend some time,  chaotic and enjoyable as ever, they were in the throws of starting their summer glamping site, erecting yurts, tipis and a new shade structure for people to dine under in the shade.  I called in on the way home too, expecting an overnighter and ending up staying three days to help them host a wedding on site.  Fabulous fun, in a way only they seem able to manage - the sort of organised chaos that comes right, with a wing and a prayer, just at the last moment.  Everything fueled with great food and washed down with lashings of cheap beer.  

Dad’s Birthday, an important day, especially as my brother is in the UK too and so we can get the whole family together which is a rare occasion these days.  It was great, we went out for lunch and the whole family spent time together and had a lovely time catching up and celebrating.  

College reunion.  I haven’t been back in 25 years, so I thought it was high time, and with the promise of a good party and the chance to catch up with plenty of folk that I spent two years of my life living, studying and enjoying life with, an opportunity not to be missed.   I was right, it was an absolute ball.  The evening gathering took me(us all) back to our college days with a great collection of students from many years all gathered in the bar swapping life stories, reminiscing old times, plenty of beer and cider to lubricate the evening, a great hog roast and dancing like I’d not danced for years.  The atmosphere in the tiny disco/night club room was electric with positive energy, nostalgia for the times we shared, a room full of smiling, happy faces all reliving a night of our pasts together.  It couldn’t have been better.

Annual visit to the dentist.  Who knows what delights that will bring.  Indeed.  Three revisits with plenty of attention required.  Getting older and the lack of early care and a sweet toothed diet is taking its toll.  Thankfully I was given the thumbs up on general maintenance and ongoing care.

MOT and service for Percy.  I can’t import him into france as he doesn’t fit with their standards, so he has to return each year for MOT certification here.  He’s getting a bit of special treatment this year, with rust spots being sorted and a couple of minor dents repaired.   Well, after the event, much more of a special treatment than initially anticipated, excessive welding was needed for the MOT and a new front wing and bumper after a minor tussle in the west country with a london driver (paid up insurance job!), he’s back looking as good as new.

My biennial mini tour to as many of my friends to spend time, catch up and generally spend a good bit of time with the people that I love and am too far away from to see more frequently.  Hopefully, before too long they’ll be able to visit me too.

I’m really looking forward to my mini adventure and have filled in the gaps with a bit of exploratory helpXing just to keep life interesting.  Two visits to intentional communities, one that focusses on sustainable living and the second, a meditation and relaxation retreat type place.  I am interested in seeing how such places work and whether it would be something that may be of interest for the future.

Both stays were inspiring, interesting and very different.  I’ll write more about them some time but have too much catching up to do to give them justice for the moment.  Just a couple of photos of Lyme Regis for the moment.

Though I did get to visit the Scythe Fair and bump into some lovely folk that I had the pleasure of meeting at Nick’s in France a few years ago.  Random scything photos:

And the lovely communal gardens of my second stop over near Shaftsbury.


making comfrey tea as a tonic to water onto the garden.  Stuff tubes with fresh leaves and wait for the juices to seep out and collect in the bottles below.  Dilute plentifully and water onto your veggies once in a while.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

deadlines get work done

House sitting is becoming a bit of a habit.  I’ve just completed the second sit, this time with a bit of a menagerie.  Three dogs, two cats, chickens and a horse.  Just down the road, so have continued to work on my ongoing projects.  The dogs were mischevious but very loving, several things got chewed to pieces, including my camera which I stupidly left within reach for a few minutes. (thankfully it still takes photos, but the screen no longer functions and it’s all a bit worse for wear.)  It was lovely to be in a house with all mod cons.  Light a fire on the cold damp days and watch crappy english TV via satellite. Not something I would normally entertain, but on those odd occasions, just the ticket.  I felt guilty if I left the animals alone, in their kennels, for too long, so tended to spend a fair amount of time at the house.  

A deadline can work wonders for productivity.  I’ve come away to visit friends and then on to England for a few weeks, so have been focussed on getting as much done as possible.  

Installing the guttering and getting the water saving system to work.

water butts in the vegetable garden 
Clearing and mulching all the newly planted shrubs and trees

straw mulch as a weed suppressant and for water retaining 

Building a table out of reclaimed pallets so that I could have the neighbours for lunch.

ten minute pallet table

Strimming round the field and mulching all the new hedge plantings with straw.

the hedge line looking great with it's new straw mulch

Finishing the steps through the hedge.

steps from field to garden

Planting all my seedling vegetable plants.

Then tidying the whole site to minimise loosing items into the fast growing vegetation which will have grown enormously by my return. 

I'm not going to be back till late July, so have my fingers crossed that the weather remains changeable with enough rain to keep the vegetables alive.  I hope that with the efforts in mulching and early care, they should be off to a good enough start to survive most eventualities.

new roof

A couple or three weeks ago I went up onto the roof of the chalet to spread out some black irrigation pipe so that it gets plenty of sunshine.  Now that I have mains water to the front door, thought it the ideal time to install a basic hot water shower system.

The black, water filled pipe rests on the roof in the sunshine all day soaking up the rays of the sunshine, the water inside getting warmer and warmer, by mid to late afternoon I then have 25m of toasty hot water to draw off through a shower head.  More than enough for a quick soaking before turning off the supply to soap and clean then plenty of warm water left for a decent rinse and light relax.  Too long running and the cold comes through.  It concentrated the mind to matters in hand and ensures that a minimum of water is used for ablutions.  Next step, a way of saving this water for reuse elsewhere on site.

Anyway, whilst I was up on the roof I noticed some worrying signs.  The nails had started pulling on the tarred felting, a waterproof layer that is supposed to keep the chalet protected from the rain.  Several nails had pulled right through the felt, whilst others were well on the way.  A more permanent covering is definitely needed.  In the back of my mind I had thought that I would find enough second hand corrugated over a couple of years to give the shed a rustic, lived in ‘hat’, but this discovery changed my mind.

Within the week it’s done.  I took advice, got a couple of prices for tin and timber then set too.  The guy at the builders merchant couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Percy the camper van reverse into the store to load up.  “No,no,no.  It’s not possible.”  he told me when I got out.  “It will never fit in that.”  He soon changed his mind when I opened the back doors, revealing a clear passage through the centre of my home, large enough for the 4m long battens and rafters and all the 3m long tin sheeting needed.  He’s great is Percy and took it all in his stride.

The first bit of roofing I have done, completely on my own.  No one to discuss things with, take advice from or follow.  I just got on with it.  Vertical battens up the roof at 50cm spacings followed by horizontal rafters across the width of the roof.  These I positioned directly above the structural rafters within the building so that they could be secured well with some hefty screws.  I screwed straight down through the rafters, battens, felt and wooden roof structure right into the fabric of the building and it’s as solid as can be. 

Thankfully the tin sheets were all but the right size for the roof, because without power on site, any cutting would have been a major undertaking.  There is a little overlap around all edges, but that can only be a good thing.  It all fitted together smoothly and without hitch, even though I did finish part of it early one morning in the rain.  Foolish, as everything becomes real slippery, though it only took half an hour and the roof is watertight and the timbers protected.  I’ll go up on the next dry day and just put in the last few fixings.

This now leads to guttering and rain water harvesting.  I have been playing around with ideas for ages as I really need water in the vegetable garden which is about 75m away rather than near the chalet.  Not that far, but with watering cans, far from ideal.  My idea is partly in place, a pipe installed when I dug in the mains water last autumn.  It will need a bit of playing around with, bit I am pretty sure I can fill my water butts in the veggie garden directly off the shed roof.  I buried a second pipe through to the vegetable garden and hope that the levels are such that water will flow directly to where it is needed.  Gutters first then a lot of messing about in the rain to see if it all works.  I can’t wait.

basic hot water shower

black heat absorbent pipe on roof

dodgy felting

battens, rafters, etc.

new tin roof

Joy visited

My dear friend Joy has been to stay.  She booked a flight from the UK ages ago and I was slightly concerned that the weather wouldn’t be at it’s best during April.  Thankfully it was kind.  We saw days of warm sunshine, a bit of rain, the most amazing storm with thunder and lightening crashing right overhead that went on for most of the afternoon, missed snow, by a day, when we visited Pierre at Lou Rider, but mainly it was lovely.

Joy enjoying a spectacular sunset

snow on the mountains just before going through the tunnel to spain

through the tunnel to spain

Ainsa, on the warm sunny side of the mountains
 Joy’s visit was timely and gave me good reason to ease back into ‘full on’ working at a sedate pace.  We did plenty of touristy pottering about, visited markets and had long leisurely lunches found flattish places for strolls and discovered the opportunity for plenty of pauses for cappucino’s  or cups of tea.

I got to thinking how little of this I do when I am on my own, and how that must change.  Now that the project is coming up for a year in the making, the hard graft can be seen to be making a big difference.  The clearing that took months last year was brought back under control with an afternoon strimming.  A couple of hours weeding in the well mulched vegetable areas and it all looks clean and tidy.  I am smiling writing this, as the vision of ‘clean and tidy’ resembles little of what I would have imagined a few years ago.  

A deep layer of autumn leaves surrounds the wanted plants keeping annual weeds to a minimum, they protect the soil from heavy downpours and days of hot sun, regulating the soil from excessive temperature and humidity fluctuations, slowly decaying to provide food for the plants and soil organisms alike.  Meandering paths allow access to different areas of the plot, cut through swathes of fast growing natives.  Beautiful drifts of wildflowers are already bringing colour and interest for myself and the hosts of wildlife that keep themselves endlessly busy day by day.  My hours of bramble root digging look to have paid off in the most part, an occasional tour with the strimmer should knock back any determined shoots and, theoretically, in three or so years, the majority will have given up.  Other weeds are taking their place.  Buttercups are highly visible this spring, dandelions put on an impressive display and the docks are springing up here and there.  It’s going to look spectacular as summer unfolds.

still plenty of veggies fron last season

a good layer of mulch keeps the weeds down and the soil moist and friable underneath

My trays of seedlings are growing fast and will soon be ready for planting out.  Need to get some ‘friendly’ slug pellets, if there is such a thing, but I really would appreciate some of the vegetables reaching maturity and with the dampness about at present I fear or the little ones.  I’ll try a light liming of the raised beds too, though not too much as it may not go down too well with everything.  Perhaps half and half, to see if there is any difference.  Will keep you posted if I remember.

the seedlings travelled too!! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


seldom is the air so clear at this time of year.  the storm last night did a marvelous job of clearing the view.  I have a friend staying and this was the first real view of the mountains as we head off to spend a few days discovering the sights and sounds of the Pyrenees.

spring is sprung

Everything is growing at breakneck speed at the moment.  Alternating rains followed by warm sunshine for several days is providing ideal conditions for everything including the weeds.  Spring has really sprung, the surrounding countryside changing colour day by day, getting greener with every hour.  Seeds sown and germinating fast ( they will be going on holiday as I will be sepending a few days in the mountains at Lou Rider, so they’ll have to come with me to get watered!!)  Check out the photos......

fresh new growth of spring

loving the purple sprouting.  even the second cut is delicious

the raised beds have remained almost weed free where a decent mulch was put down in autumn.
liking this very much

cut a hole through the trees to get easy access to the lower field