The Winter Olympics

Image of curling house and 3 stones

I have become obsessed with the Winter Olympics. I am one of those few people for whom the summer Olympics holds no attraction – I pretty much ignore it, even in 2012 when it was held in London. I had just moved to Aberdeen and it felt like that was probably just about far enough away to be able to avoid all the hype. I am sure there are many great sports in the summer Olympics, but to me it appears to be endless running and cycling, things which have never appealed to me.

Strange, then, that I have always enjoyed the Winter Olympics. Especially as I have always hated snow and ice. The fact I find frozen conditions so stressful myself just heightens my admiration for those who embrace it, make it their passion and even their career.

As a child growing up in the Torvill and Dean era, the Winter Olympics started and ended with the figure skating and, while I still enjoy it, over the years I have become more aware of other winter sports. Like many English people, I had never heard of curling until the GB women’s team took Gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City. While there are English curlers, it remains much more firmly embedded in Scottish culture. Like many others in the UK that year, I watched with fascination as the women launched gleaming circles of granite up a sheet of ice, which they then attacked with a sweeping brush. I hadn’t a clue what was going on, but I loved it. Now of course, I watch the curling with much more understanding and even more pleasure, as D was himself a curler until we moved to Yorkshire, where the nearest rink is sadly too far for him to reach.

This year, it is the Luge and the Skeleton which have caught my imagination, even before Dom Parsons claimed GB’s first medal for us. Who in their right minds launches themselves down a tunnel of ice at 80 plus miles per hour on a tea tray with no brakes? One former slider summed it up perfectly in the BCC studio when she explained how all the participants have great respect for each other because they are all slightly “bonkers”. It’s more than the craziness of it, though. I am in awe of their control, how they navigate the path using (I presume) sheer muscle strength in legs, feet and core. In fact, there are so many sports requiring a core of steel. The ski jumpers, who lie almost horizontal, parallel with their skis, the ice dancers cutting extraordinarily beautiful shapes into the ice and the air as they twist and spin and the snowboarders, performing intricate somersaults mid-air before landing on snow that I would be terrified even to walk on.

More than anything, it is the commitment and the passion of all competing which I find inspiring. The elation when they do well, the devastation when it goes wrong. Without knowing anything about Luge, for example, nobody could fail to be moved by Felix Loch’s reaction to his final run, when a single mistake, his first of the week, not only cost him a Gold but deprived him of a medal altogether. Equally moving was Austrian David Gleirscher at the same event who won the first Gold for his country for 50 years. I have become invested, not just in the sports, but in the people, in their stories. And perhaps that is the other difference I find between the Summer and the Winter Games. I know that, for both, the number of medals can make a huge difference to future funding for the different sports and so it is hugely important. And yet the Winter Olympics feels to me much less about counting medals like Scrooge counted his money. It feels much more about battling extreme conditions to represent your country. Whatever my own opinion of the stuff, snow and ice can cast a magic over anything and this event is made extra-special by being, I think we all agree, ever so slightly barmy.

 

 

The Beginning of Hope

Yellow daffodil

And then, as if by magic, the sun came out. It suddenly seems unbelievable that I was fearing winter would never end but a week ago. Even though there is still a chill in the air, the sunshine has a touch of warmth in it and I can feel my whole being responding to it, turning my face to it with appreciation in much the same way as the primroses which have bravely survived the past few cold and bleak months to bring us a touch of colour and comfort. Day by day, the mornings are getting lighter and dusk is arriving a precious few minutes later. Even the overnight rain is welcome – the lawn is greening up already and the water butts are full, waiting to come into their own in the spring and early summer.

Garden with shafts of sunshine beaming down on to the green lawn
Totally the wrong light to capture the garden but shows up those shafts of sunshine beautifully!

The cats are still wary of the great outdoors. “Are you sure that cold, wet, white stuff has gone?” they ask as I open the door. They sniff the air anxiously, assessing what to expect when they finally take the first cautious step across the threshold. Once they are outside, though, it has been noticeable over the past few days that they are staying out a little longer. The Calamity Cat particularly enjoyed the sunshine as much as I did, lying out on the patio table to fully absorb as much heat as she could. Once the sun went in, though, she was soon back in her usual place snuggled by the radiator.

Inevitably as our thoughts turn to spring, they also turn to the garden. Bulbs are starting to appear and our first snowdrops are in bud. I am delighted to see them, partly because I love their delicate beauty and message of hope, but also because I divided them and moved some from front to back last year and I was worried that they would suffer as a result of my inexperience. The rhubarb is starting to peep above the earth already and there is new growth on the roses and on the lilac gifted to us last year by friends. Yet again, nature has shown me that there is much to look forward to, however long the winter feels. There is a feeling of anticipation, of the excitement of new life being just around the corner.

Emboldened by what the garden was telling me, I spent an hour in the greenhouse at the weekend, potting on the seedlings which have been overwintering there, grown from seeds I gathered at the end of last summer. Foxgloves, poppies and sweet peas are jostling for space, rubbing shoulders with the onions, garlic and strawberry plants we also have in there waiting to be planted out in warmer times. I have discovered potting seedlings is incredibly satisfying – totally absorbing, suppressing the mental chatter which still takes over from time to time.

Seedlings growing in a greenhouse
So the next question is, where are all these seedlings going to get planted??

Indoors, the planning for the coming season continues. The flower garden has been measured and we have agreed to start our changes with the area known to us as the Frog Patch, as it is where Calamity kept finding frogs during our first summer here. It is actually a large raised bed, bordered by a curved dry stone wall and containing lots of geranium ground cover as well as the buddleia and a rather attractive hebe. We aren’t neglecting the kitchen garden, though – we have gathered together our seed packets and, mindful of the need to rotate our crops, we are making plans for our beds. We still have leeks, sprouts, garlic and even a few carrots in the ground, which should see us through to spring, when we can start afresh with a new season.

I can’t wait to get started.

 

In Search of Spring

Pampas grass in flower and covered in snow

At about this time last year, I took a walk through the garden and had my eyes opened to the beauty of winter. This year, though, I am struggling to see the positives. It feels like it has been cold and unpleasant for months, even though I know that we actually live in quite a sheltered valley, and have seen far less snow and ice than elsewhere in the UK. I just have to face the fact, I think, that I am not a winter person. Ironic, really, that when I met him, D spent most of his spare time at the curling rink.

The cats are no more impressed than I am. They both ventured out into the snow briefly to play but the novelty wore off quite quickly when their paws got cold and wet. Since then, they have asked to go out and then looked at me in disgust when I open the door. When they have gone out, they have usually been back within a few minutes and headed straight for the radiator. The summer, where they are out until late and we all enjoy the sunshine seems like a different lifetime.

Grey and white cat in a garden with snowflakes swirling around her
“Make this cold white stuff stop!”

As if to add insult to injury, we got up this morning to a cold house. You may remember that last year we welcomed a new addition to the family in the form of a new boiler, affectionately named Boris. He has kept us cosy inside, no matter how cold, snowy and unpleasant it has been outdoors. Today, though, he let us down. I thought it was odd when the cats came straight back to bed after breakfast, snuggling up relatively close to each other as if huddling together for warmth. It soon became clear why as I went downstairs – no heating, no hot water. Disaster!

It wasn’t really Boris’s fault. We were responsible for his welfare and we had been negligent, not topping up the pressure when we should. The result was that Boris kept on going for as long as he could but, as the water pressure dropped to zero, he just couldn’t carry on. Fortunately, he has a built in sense of self preservation and his automatic cut-out swung into action and switched him off.

Green outdoor boiler
Poor Boris! It really wasn’t his fault

All that would have been unfortunate but we could have shrugged it off with an embarrassed “oops!” if it hadn’t been for one thing – we couldn’t actually remember how to repressurise the system. D went off to his nice centrally heated office and I wrapped up warmly in coat and fingerless gloves to try and get hold of the heating engineer.

Eventually, he came to my rescue and talked me through the solution. I apologised to Boris for our neglect and promised faithfully to look after him better in the future. I think we reached a new understanding and it has brought us closer as a family. Certainly the cats are grateful – they are back sitting by the radiators and looking much happier!

 

 

 

The curious incident of the cat in the night-time

Aberdeen rooftops in the sunshine

When we are in Aberdeen, our lives could not be more different from home. Our green and quintessentially English village feels a long way from this imposing Scottish city. We stay in a top-floor flat in the centre of the city, surrounded by granite tenements similar to our own, with rooftop views and largely untended shared gardens below. Unlike home, where we have to get the car out even to pick up a takeaway, here we have everything on our doorstep with all the associated sights and sounds of city life.

Unfamiliar noises fill our nights – traffic, sirens and the ever-present seagulls who barely seem to sleep. One more familiar sound, however, disturbs us each month. Although central, our area is largely residential and so we see a number of cats about. One family, in particular, fascinates us – a young couple (we think), with an adventurous pet. They wake us at least twice during our week, often more. We have never seen them but we weave endless tales of their adventures.

It seems their cat, like our Princess, likes to be out exploring, no matter the weather or hour. When he comes home, he calls loudly to them, to let them know that he is home now so they had better open the door and the Felix too. The cry is loud enough to penetrate my dreams, and I toss and turn, dreaming that the Calamity Cat or the Princess is calling to me and I can’t reach them. Usually, eventually, the noise wakes me up altogether and I lie there hoping that they will hear him quickly and let him in out of the cold.

Just as often, the boot is on the other foot, though, and they are out looking for him. We often hear them out calling his name, sometimes him, sometimes her, sometimes both. They walk the streets and we listen anxiously for their relieved “There you are! In you go” when he finally turns up. Sometimes a couple of calls does the trick but more often they can be out for half an hour or more. We don’t know where the cat goes to – is he close by, listening to them call and thinking, “Naw, I’ll wait a wee while, just to make the point” or is he urgently hurrying home from a distance, having picked up their calls from afar?

It isn’t just the level and the pitch of their calls that keeps us awake. We have spent months trying to work out the name of this cat. I’m not sure if it’s the local accent which confuses us or the way the sound bounces around between the tall granite buildings but it drives us crazy. For some time, I was convinced he was called Neeman, although it seemed like a strange name for a cat (or anything else for that matter). Last week, however, we both decided we had finally cracked it. “The cat’s called Nemo”, D announced triumphantly the morning after a particularly lengthy search the night before. This does seem more likely, I admit, but it wasn’t what I had heard. “No, I heard it right this time, I’m sure,” I replied. “He’s called – wait for it…” I paused for effect. “He’s called He-Man!”

D’s face said it all …

 

 

Hello 2018!

Ceramic tealight holder with meadow design

And so Christmas is over for another year. The presents have been opened, appreciated and in many cases used already, such as the beautiful candle holder in the headline picture above. The dinner was cooked and eaten, TV watched and family visited. Finally, this week, we took down the tree and put everything away for next time. It was good to get the house back to normal, clean and tidy ready for whatever 2018 may bring.

The garden, too, is in need of a spring clean. We pulled up a lot of veg for our Christmas dinner – carrots, leeks, the last potatoes, parsnips and sprouts – so there are a few empty beds to clear and make ready for the new season. The sweet peas, foxgloves and poppies which have germinated in the greenhouse from seeds I collected last year need thinning and potting on and there appears to be a large amount of pruning to be done. One of D’s gifts this year was a good quality pair of secateurs and matching knife, so he has been out cutting down the roses and tidying a few climbers which were making a bid for freedom via the guttering on next door’s shed. After last year’s attempt at pruning the apple tree, though, we may leave that to the professionals this year.

I had planned to cut back the herbs, too, but the smaller birds appear to be loving the seeds on the lemon balm, so I have left them alone to be enjoyed. Fortunately, the cats don’t seem to have noticed the sparrows and the brightly coloured goldfinches so far. The Pampas flowers are already being stripped for nesting material too and, as usual, we are sharing our home with some variety of feathered friends, who are living in the eaves. I have also left the hydrangea flowerheads intact and their intricate structure has brought me much pleasure through summer and winter alike.

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We haven’t had much snow here, much to our relief, but both the cats did go and play in it for a while when it was here. The Calamity Cat particularly enjoyed it, leaving a trail of paw prints in the previously untouched snowfall and pouncing on imaginary prey which was hiding in the strange white stuff. Once she had had enough though, she returned to us complaining vigorously that her paws were cold and her underside wet. It was fun for a time but could we make the nasty white stuff disappear now please?

Beyond the tidying and nurturing the start of this year’s plants, we are starting to plan for the coming season. We are going to concentrate on the flower garden this year. It’s a mature garden and we don’t want to lose the structure that we have but we want to put our own stamp on it in the same way as we have the kitchen garden and the house itself. More colour, more scope to experiment and play and more variety is our aim – it will be fun to see where we can take it as the year progresses and I hope you will stay with us for the journey!

Sketch pad with pencil plan of a garden
Rough plan of the current structure of the flower garden
Pencil detail of plan of garden
Detail of one area of the current layout

 

2017 – a year in review

Naive pottery nativity 3 piece tealight set

After my reminder last week of how precious our life here is, I thought that this, my final post for 2017, would be a good time to think back over the year and take a moment to really appreciate everything that has happened, good and bad, before we embrace whatever 2018 may have in store for us.

It was certainly a busy year. In the garden, we had all sorts of visitors, from bees to birds to frogs and even, so we are told, a rat or two. I admired its winter beauty, although preferably through a window in front of a warm fire, and embraced the spring once it arrived.

We developed our roofing skills on the woodstore, enlarged the vegetable patch and had a go at pruning the apple tree in the orchard. As well as a new shed, we bought a proper greenhouse. We sowed and planted – asparagus, sweetcorn and parsnips joined our more usual crop of potatoes, carrots and leeks. I made plum jam and roasted tomato sauce and many of the veg on our Christmas table next week will be home-grown. I got my gooseberry bush (although it hasn’t thrived so far – I am keeping my fingers crossed for next year) and planted a blueberry and strawberries too.

In the flower garden, we planted a rose bed and created a trellis for tomatoes. We pruned the hydrangea and the buddleia and, in spite of their age and my fears, they both responded well. Even the Pampas grass survived D’s enthusiastic trim.

The cats have also had a good year on the whole. When they weren’t sunning themselves on the new woodshed roof or supervising us in the garden, they were exploring cupboards and making a bid to eat all the food we bought in for them in the shortest possible time. The Princess has fortunately recovered fully from her suspected poisoning although sadly, it didn’t stop her from hunting for the rest of the summer.

We did the things that most couples do through a year. We holidayed, partied with family and embarked on home improvements in the form of a new boiler and bathroom refurb. We mourned with the nation after the terrible attacks which have occurred throughout the year. We faced my stress and anxiety together and together we are making our plans for the year to come.

Most of all, we are feeling blessed, to be here, to have each other and to be looking forward to a cosy Christmas, just the four of us. I will leave you with a few photographic memories of 2017 but first, let me wish you all a very happy, safe and special Christmas, full of whatever Christmas means to you. I’ll see you all again in the New Year.

A Precious Moment

Cream primroses with a yellow centre, surrounded by deep green leaves and spotted with raindrops

Some of you may remember that, during a difficult time in the summer, I learned about being more mindful and taking time out to just be. Inevitably, as I regained my perspective and went back to my normal routine, my mindfulness slipped a little. However, I do still notice more – about how I feel both emotionally and physically and about the world around me. The garden is a big part of that – the roses are still hanging on in there, in spite of the heavy frosts we have had and the primroses in the patio pots make me smile every time I see their flash of colour.

Sometimes, though, it is the ordinary things which strike me and take my breath away. Last week, we were enjoying a cup of coffee after our lunch when there was a knock at the door. We knew what it was – D had ordered our online bulk buy of cat food to keep our ever-hungry pair happy for the next couple of months. As he went to open the door, a sudden wave of pure happiness swept over me. Something as mundane as D opening the door to the cat food delivery man suddenly symbolised everything about our lives here. Nothing special, lives similar to millions of others and so often taken for granted. And yet, in that moment, I was acutely aware of how incredibly lucky the four of us are to have found each other and to have created our little family. There are so many ways we could have missed each other – if I had not moved to Scotland, if another family hadn’t selflessly sought to rehome the cats so that they could be happy again, if my friend V hadn’t wanted to go to the dancing class where I first met D. Lots and lots of decisions, some small, some large, but all leading to our New Simple Life and that fleeting moment of pure joy as I sat at the dining table, waiting for the cat food to arrive.

Some things are meant to be.

Grey and white cat curled up in a ball asleep
Happiness is …

Here comes Winter!

Traditional carousel

This past week winter really seems to have arrived. We have had a couple of heavy frosts and there has been a real nip in the air. The cats are going out less and less every day, popping out to make sure that all is well in their world and then darting back in to huddle under radiators or sprawl in front of the fire. The Princess has taken to sleeping either on my pillow with her head resting on mine or, when it’s really cold, she slides under the duvet between us and snuggles into my side.

Frost covered geranium leaves
The frost accentuates the shapes and texture in the geranium leaves

On the positive side, we have also had a lot of crisp autumn days, with plenty of sunshine and a freshness that I wish I could bottle and inhale on murkier days. The cows in the field across the road appear to be enjoying this late sunshine and don’t seem to notice that they are sharing their space with the huge flocks of birds which are gathering daily on the meadow. Both cows and birds graze peacefully most of the time until something imperceptible to me disturbs the birds, who rise as one and swoop about the cows in a spectacular aerial display before coming back to land and resume their foraging as if they had never stopped. I can only assume that they are gathering in readiness for their long flight south and that they will all too soon disappear.

The fact that winter is upon us was brought home to me at the weekend when we made our journey north to Aberdeen. The hills across the Pennines were white with snow and the vast expanses of mountains, farmland and forests in southern Scotland formed impressively snowy chessboard vistas as we made our way up the motorway. It was truly beautiful but I didn’t think the other motorists would take kindly to me getting out of the car to take photos, so I am afraid I will need to leave its splendour to your imaginations.

And in Aberdeen, the breeze brings new meaning to the word “Baltic”. Here, it is literally true, as there is little in the way to slow down or warm up the winds which travel from the east to hit this coastal city. We came prepared, with hats and gloves and scarves, but it is easy to forget that the wind can take your breath away, until we return to experience it anew each month. We even had some snow peppering the rooftops overnight.

A dusting of snow on grey granite buildings
We woke up to a white world this morning

 

The Christmas lights are lit, the huge tree donated by Aberdeen’s Norwegian twin town each year is up in the Castlegate and the Christmas Village is in full swing, full of cheesy Christmas music, the smells of mulled wine and cider and delicious food from around the world and the excited laughter of Aberdonians on the helter skelter and the carousel. Even though I usually resist Christmas until the middle of December, just walking through it gives me a happy Christmas glow, and I am relying on this to keep me warm until we are curled up with the cats, safe home again.

Watch out for Maleficent!

Vivid pink hydrangea flowers amongst yellow green leaves

Last week, we became aware of the change of the seasons, with the first frost making its appearance. The leaves are really starting to change now – the beech hedge in the flower garden forms a multi-coloured backdrop to the roses, which are bravely clinging on as long as they can.

We took advantage of some mild weather and some autumn sunshine over the weekend to do some much-needed tidying up. D started with the tall evergreen hedge which separates us from next door. Getting out the old hedge trimmers, he made a start. It is not a job he enjoys – it is time consuming, the trimmers are heavy and the results are never as good as he would like. Clearing up afterwards is hard work, too, raking and shovelling leaves and branches from the lawn, just praying it will all fit into the brown garden waste bin.

Man on a ladder trimming an evergreen hedge
D gets stuck in with the old hedge trimmers

This time, disaster struck, Before he got very far, there was a smell of burning and black smoke started to belch from the trimmers. The thick hedge had finally broken them. Cursing, we made an emergency dash to Screwfix for a new set of trimmers. Well, it made a change from B&Q, I suppose.

Regular readers may remember that garden power tools are not my field. The summer D spent cutting my grass in Scotland using a mower with no blades in it was a case in point. As the hedge trimmers were even older than that mower, it should have been no surprise that replacing them was one of our better decisions. We got back in time to finish the hedge, which D did in record time. The new tool is lighter, sharper and far more effective than the old one. In what felt like a few minutes, we had a neat hedge which looked better than it ever had before and D was finally happy with the result.

In the meantime, I had weeded and tidied, dead-headed and dug to remove remains of summer annuals from the rose and hydrangea beds. All that remains to do in the flower garden is to tame the herbs (again!) and clear the bed near the Pampas grass, which regularly becomes overrun with an insidious, mat-forming and foul-smelling weed. We have no idea what it is, just that it is impossible to get rid of. We decided to save all that for another day, though.

Buoyed up by the success of his new toy – sorry, power tool – D was keen to carry on the next day, turning his attentions to our much-neglected front garden. It is intended to be a low-maintenance space, but it is amazing even here how quickly nature reclaims its own. The privet hedge creeps higher and fuller every year, almost without us noticing, while the ivy spreads its tendrils, taking a firmer hold of the hedge and spreading outwards across the gravel towards the house. The holly which grows through the yellow forsythia (itself reaching ever higher towards the sky) becomes denser and spikier and guests climbing out of their cars on the drive find a treacherous welcome as the decorative grass trips them up, intending it seems to lure them into the arms of yet another holly. This one is ludicrously shaped into an overgrown lollipop and appears as innocuous as the Ghostbusters Marshmallow Man, while being just as dangerous. And everywhere, curling its stems through everything it can, there is bindweed.

Large variegated grass
The grass is just the beginning of the battle to reach the front door

In short, without us realising, we were slowly being enveloped by foliage worthy of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Unfortunately, though, I hadn’t slept as well as her the night before, so I was not in the mood to face it. D, ever-sensible, talked me round. “Half an hour,” he promised. “Just to get the hedge cut, that’s all it really needs.” Longing for a bath and a nap, I reluctantly agreed.

It is remarkable how gardening restores a tired body and a lethargic spirit, recharging batteries better than any nap could. Two hours later (so much for D’s half an hour!) we had tamed the wilderness, at least a little. The hedge was cut, the bushes trimmed to an even height and the ivy thinned. There wasn’t much we could do with the grass – it desperately needs moving further away from the drive but it is so huge, we wouldn’t know where to start (and even we know that November is not the month to try). I was determined, however, to reduce the lollipop holly to a more manageable size. I certainly did that, but I think we can safely say that topiary is not my strong point.

Standard holly tree pruned into a lollipop shape
Hmm, don’t think I’ll be winning any topiary prizes but at least I can get out of the car!

There is still a long way to go to make the front garden into a space we will be proud of. Nettles are still threatening the plants we bought earlier in the year and the bed near the front door is still terribly untidy and eye-catching for all the wrong reasons. However, the space feels twice the size that it did and, for now at least, we can go bed without fear of waking up in a hundred years, with the house totally smothered in forest.

 

Remind me which century we are in again?

Black gloves hanging from a metal plate on a wall with no plaster

Our recent heating crisis led, as is often the way in old houses, to yet more work needing to be done. The need for a new shower has effectively meant a whole bathroom refurb. As a project manager (albeit in IT), sorting this out should not have been too challenging for me but I forgot about risk management so, of course, nothing went to plan.

In theory, it was straightforward. “We’ll get your shower,” the heating engineer told us. “When we’ve installed your boiler, get a tiler in to retile the wall, then we’ll come back to flush the system and fit the new shower.”

D and I both hate baths. I know people who relax for hours in their baths – glass of wine, candles, maybe even a book (although the librarian in me shudders at that particular thought). I have tried over the years to embrace a bath. Taken the wine, the bubble bath, the candles and climbed in, thinking that this time maybe I will get it. Invariably, I am bored within seconds. D just finds the whole experience unpleasant. However, it was only for a couple of weeks. Surely we could manage that long?

We decided to use the tiler who did such a good job on the kitchen. Unfortunately, he had come with the kitchen fitter and so wasn’t local. However, he agreed to do the job and we set a date. “Just one thing,” he said in a casual tone worthy of Columbo. “Because the tiles run behind the toilet, you will need to remove the cistern. You’ll need to flush the loo with a bucket.”

A bucket!! This hadn’t figured on my radar at all. Still, it had to be done so we agreed to go ahead. After an abortive attempt to find a plumber, my mum and her husband stepped in to help, they removed the cistern and we found ourselves a bucket.

Bathroom with no wall coverings or toilet cistern
“What do you mean, I need a bucket??”

The next day, the tiler arrived fresh from his 90 minute journey from Hull. The plan was for a three day job, with the heating engineer due back on Day 4. The schedule fell apart – literally – on Day 1, when all the plaster fell off the wall along with the old tiles. All of it, down to the brick. So, instead of removing the old tiles and preparing the wall, our helpful and handy tiler spent most of Day 1 plastering.

Getting it to dry was another matter altogether. On Day 2, we talked nicely to it and put a heater in the bathroom to keep it cosy, to no avail. On Day 3, we bought a dehumidifier still with little noticeable difference. We had damp plaster on the walls and the tiler had to stay at home – just as frustrating for him as for us. On Day 4, the tiler still couldn’t come but at least the heating engineer was coming back to flush the system. Or was he? He rang first thing – his van had broken down so he couldn’t come, and it would be another week  before he could get here again.

Bare plaster wall
Will the plaster ever dry?

So, where did that leave us? Over a month after the shower came out, we had no shower and no flushing toilet. We didn’t want the plaster to get even wetter, so we couldn’t even use the bath that we had started by hating and now dreamed of using. We have resorted to what my grandmother used to call a Good Wash Down. (Funny how those three words always have capital letters, even in my head).

When we moved to achieve a simpler way of life, this wasn’t quite what we had in mind! Remind me which century it is again?