Tuesday, 6 December 2011

At last - A Window Sill!

Progress this week has been a couple of smallish steps but ones that feel like giant leaps.

The first was the addition of the roof. It was very cold when I came to do it and I had to keep re-attaching my fingers as they fell off. Not really good to be applying bitumen products at that temperature but got out the trusty heat gun and in just a couple of seconds the flashing tape was soft and sticky. I has rained a few times since it went on and so far not signs of any leaks so I am hopeful I have done a reasonable job.

The other step completed this week was the addition of window sills. Again cut from reclaimed timber and cut and shaped on the saw table I was pleased that at the end the job was better than I expected, although not as good as I dreamed it would be. They stand proud from the wall to make space for rendering but they really make the woodwork start to feel like window frames instead of a wooden roof support.

Next step is to start to add the windows, but not today as it was just a mite too wet.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The porch keeps on moving along...

After a couple of pretty intense days of activity the porch now 'feels like a room'. There still a long way to go but my cold and the rain has driven me inside today.

Next step is the roof... but what with Granddad needing an operation on this week as well as other social issues it now looks like roof time will be next week - weather permitting.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Bringing the porch up to date...

It is that time of year when frosts come.... we all know that but while the mortar in brick and block laying hardens it must not fall below 4 degrees centigrade - up to a couple of days or more - so naturally the walls have waited until the forecast gave us a few good (and reliable)  overnight temperatures. And rather than build all 4 layers of blocks in one go (a practice that would put a lot of pressure on the first layer) I set about building the walls in 2 visits. Those 28 blocks I was given turned out to be 31 and by buying just 4 more I managed to finish both the footings and the walls.

So far so good - now for the expensive bit - the woodwork. We always new this would be pricey abut when freecycle struck again I couldn't believe my luck! Somebody was offering old roofing joists - up to 200 of them. Sadly they were very oversubscribed but I managed to end up with 6 - each between 10 and 14 feet in length. There were six but this photo shows most of them cut into pieces and only the current offcuts left.

But after that has hit this
and you have taken away this

You end up with stuff ready to be cut into usable lengths.

Now I feel like real progress is being made!

A porch for all seasons...

Since Dylan came to stay we have been wanting a porch over the back door... somewhere to kick off muddy boots, hang up wet coats and towel down a muddy dog.  We got quotes from builders and what we found most disappointing was not the the cost but that they wanted to put up something they wanted, not something we wanted. Undaunted we moved with  the idea that we would "do it ourselves".

Hang on, that should be "The Mole" would do it himself. This would certainly work out cheaper but it would put the choice of materials, size and time scale into our own control... no waiting for builders to not turn up to do what they wanted.

Problem is that I have never even helped on a project like this, let alone done one! It was time for the internet.

I set out looking for helpful sites to show the process, methods and pitfalls and found some very excellent ones out there.

So we told Granddad and he suggested he had some windows and a door we could use. That would certainly save money, but starting in the middle of the walls didn't seem like anything I'd read about on the internet!

We looked anyway and started to agree on the actual floor size because of the windows and I suppose that was a logical start after all.

As keen 'freecyclers' we keep an eye out for anything that could really be helpful and were delighted when someone, less than a quarter of a mile away, had 28 concrete blocks going a begging. Not for long though because they were soon stacked neatly on the garden and "the game was afoot"!

Hiring a concrete mixer - for 1 day only - and having purchased the sand and ballast in several car journeys ahead of the day I set about constructing 'the slab' while my helper watched in frustration that I wouldn't allow him to help. However he does seem to approve now.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A season over?

It's the time of year when we lift the beetroot, pull out the tomatoes and beans and start digging the weed out and so it feels like the end of the season. It's a time that invokes a degree on melancholia as we think of another season over.

It's our first season on the allotment and how did it go? I suppose better than it could have but not as good as I would have liked.

So let's talk detail....

Cabbage - We've had some good ones, and more good ones are coming but they need protection from birds until they are quite large.

Cauliflower - some quite good ones but these suffered quite a set back because of birds. As did..
Kohl Rabi - we have had a small one which is one small one better than we ever had before the allotment.
Cucumbers - (Those yellow things in the picture are Crystal Lemon) Loads of Crystal Lemon and about 6-10 traditional green ones
Runner beans/Climbing beans - did very well but early wind damage set them back going away in August let them get out of control.
Tomatoes - we did very well and blight was not too much of an issue.
Peas - quite well but birds and wind damage caused set backs.
Potatoes - planted in the wrong place and the ground wasn't well prepared enough.
Radish - some very good ones but not enough succession planting.
Parsnips - some lovely ones but some places where germination just didn't happen.
Carrots - some quite nice ones, but a lot of damage and I need to find out why.
Broad Beans - Quite a lot but maybe we didn't pick fast enough. We plan on eating them (having dried many) over winter in soups etc.

But then there's things like Swedes which we have had no success with. And of course we planted many other things, some with success and some not so successful.

Lessons to learn, studying to do but... The season isn't over.  It never is because it's a full circle and we are starting again with spring cabbage, broad beans, onions and other things.

But one thing is for certain... I have enjoyed the allotment this year and next year promises to be even better.

Friday, 29 July 2011

First Runners

Today's pickings...

Too busy to list on twitter!!

The shopping bag is runner beans - freezer bound for most of them. Lots more to pick.

The Peas include some of the first Alderman peas, which are looking very good this year.

The blackberries are an incidental and while we have to keep clipping them back off the allotment, they do border two sides so there's lots to come - and they are OURS!

Our first cucumber of the season and a couple more courgettes - one is a little big and was hiding. Probably the courgettes are for the freezer as they are coming thick and fast - too fast.

And our first runner beans from the allotment - Painted Ladies.

Also another good cabbage with about 5 more to come and a couple of lettuce.

We are getting a good crop in our first year.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A satisfactory week

For a little while I seem to have paused on the manic digging, planting and sowing front although I have been planting and sowing this week.

I have planted out French and climbing beans and some broccoli and sown peas, iceberg lettuce and carrots. We have a MAJOR pigeon problem and although there is a fox who lives next door we do have to net everything. I am finding the netting takes a lot of time. Setting it up, checking it every visit with more to check each visit, and weeding underneath it.

We did today lift our second cabbage which within a week of planting was nearly destroyed by pigeons but as you see the netting saved it. Also lifted the garlic and picked a few broad beans from the first row. And a couple of solitary peas.. getting towards the end of our second pea row.

Just one corner left to dig and tidy, but it has a cast iron bath on it which is something we don't want so we have offered it generally for collection - hope to find it gone soon!

The more you sow and plant, the more there is to water as well although the "polytunnel" is self watering. Need to set the last peas, get another water butt and set up a "pepper house" which will also be self watering and get more swedes set. Also need to do some TLC on the shed which was put up in a rush to be able to crack on with digging.

Friday, 17 June 2011

With every fork full the plot gets smaller

It's a juggling act at the moment between digging and planting and trying to keep the weeds at bay and under control. We seem to be about on target with planting so today I took the opportunity to get some tidying done. When I was given the shed I also got 5 fencing panels at the same time. The panels are six feet square and a bit worse for wear so I decided that they needed taking to pieces to make them go further.

Our plot edges onto the area known by the association as "The Wild" - it's the only plot that does. The Wild is a collection of various plants but the most wild is the bramble which is constantly trying to get across the plot. This makes it very difficult to get a proper edge to the plot. Having taken one of the panels to pieces I have erected a small fence to define the edge of the plot - Nothing May Cross The Line!

This section is made of four sections each of six feet wide (about) and it was made from one panel. I have taken a second one to pieces ready to do the next section and this will finish this run. I now have to dream up a way to use the other 3 panels!
The poly tunnel/lean to is about complete, although as its a prototype it will keep having little changes made, and is now the home of courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines. I have also set up a self watering mechanism. Rain falls on the shed roof and is collected in a water butt with it's tap turned on and is delivered by a hose system, drop by drop, to the plants. It is nice and warm and humid and the plants seem to be doing well enough. But space on the plot is at a premium so on the other side of the shed, by the path, we have planted a few tomatoes.

 Of the trees the trees that were planted on the plot before we took it over there are only a couple that show any serious attempts at fruit this year although it was a very bad winter. There is one apple with a few set apples and this pear tree which has quite a lot of fruit and I am looking forward to it being ready to pick.

We have spent time this week planting peas, beetroot, lettuce radish, tomatoes, broccoli and more and have ambitions to plant a lot more and soon, including cabbage, peas, various types of beans and are starting to worry where it will all go!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Keep slugging away...

I have been trying to concentrate on building a lean-to greenhouse for the allotment to go against the shed, the trouble is that with digging, planting and weed control there just aren't enough hours in the day! It is getting there and needs a few tweaks to strengthen the windward side. I have made this mostly from the rescued parts of the collapsed polytunnel so they need a fair amount of reinforcement. The things we are growing at the moment are doing very well and the radish we had in the polytunnel are about done now but the lettuce are now coming on strongly. The big problem we have is pigeons! Because of this everything needs netting, which is a bit of a nuisance but occasionally we find pigeon feathers scattered around so we know that the resident fox family has been at work, although it may be the friendly buzzards.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Tale of Two Vacuum Cleaners

Sometimes you think of a blog title and then struggle to justify it! Well, we do now have a replacement.

A few years ago we needed a new vacuum as the insulation tape holding the pipes together on the old one was becoming tacky again, the belt kept smelling and it was getting a problem. So we chose a new one. The new one was a Hoover PurePower 1800! We were still shunning Vortex at the time as they were still overpriced and experience showed they were not yet as good as the old vacuums. This was only three or four years ago. We expect a vacuum to last about 10 years or so and it works out to be about ten pounds a year or twenty pence per week (plus bags, filters belts etc).

Wifey wasn't enamoured by it from the off and I think it knew. It didn't pick up as well as the old one did and wouldn't tilt easily and fell over when using the tools. I think it wasn't enamoured with it's new owners. The start of a love/hate relationship I wonder?

At about two years old the machine refused to power on. I took it to pieces and put a meter on all the relevant bits and determined the 'quick start' board had failed so I wired around it and hey presto it worked again! AND it behaved no differently to how it always behaved.

A few months later... the machine refused to power on. I took it to pieces and put a meter on all the relevant bits and determined the cable had gone open circuit. So through trial and error and cutting out about a meter of cable I found the break and got it working again.

A few months later... it refused to switch off! So unplugging it became necessary to stop it. Can live with that I suppose.

A few weeks later... The belt stopped working. So I replaced it - I like to keep one in. Now the switch started working again - looking good? I also ordered new belts on the web as that one was my last.

A few days later... The belt fell off again and on looking at it I found that part of the body work had broken. Plans built themselves inside my had to fashion a fix and resolve the broken body part.

Next day... The machine refused to power on! But this time the switch was broken.

I could come up with fixes to both parts but one thing is clear - this machine is determined to die and I am only being cruel in perpetuating it's existence. It became clear that it was time for ANOTHER new one.

We started to look at the highly complex and dynamic market that is 'Vacuum Cleaners'. These modern devices like digital cameras, mobile phones, TVs etc must be very simple because you enter a shop and you can easily get mobbed by all knowledgeable individuals who can show the nuances of how much better the most expensive ones are - but enter the vacuum cleaner part of the shop and you have entered a desert of knowledge - this underlines how complex this market must be! I went out into the 'digital' world and dragged back, kicking and screaming, a sales assistant and a chocolate fire guard came to mind. Pushing him to look for answers - because he didn't know about anything that wasn't digital - he did finally come up with some answers.

So what's so difficult about vacuum cleaners? Well 'what maintenance is needed to the filters?', 'You do stock the filters? No? But you can get them?', 'What is the price of the filters?' And I was horrified that on some the filters need to be replaced annually and cost 30% of the cost of the machine! Ok I am mean, but I only want clean floors!

We waded through the models available and found hoses that wouldn't enable you to clean the stairs, machines that wouldn't lie down enough to get under furniture, machines that were just too heavy and many other problems. Finally we chose one - one I didn't want to go for at the off but really felt it was the only practical machine. So why didn't I want it...? Well it's the same model as the one that failed! Obviously uprated a bit but the same model. So we came away without one. Why? Because the same shopping group offered the same model 17% cheaper on the web! (It pays to be aware before you go out!).

So while I agreed 100% with the choice I still find it rubs salt into the wound that Wifey thinks this one is really good. Perhaps the old one was a Friday afternoon model because she NEVER felt that about the old one.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A birthday dinner

'Twas Wifey's birthday and eldest daughter - about to start her new job - had come and taken her shopping while I waited in for the delivery of a new cleaner. Youngest daughter was at school and so Wifey had not yet opened her parcels as there wasn't time before school. It was an early finish for school and just before she got home the vacuum FINALLY arrived. It was within the terms (just) but having been without one for 4 days it seemed like forever. The story of the vacuum is a tale in it's own right and brings a smile to my lips when it's not a tear to my eye!

Parcels were opened and we piled in the car for a quick trip to Carsington Water where we intended taking in the shops so we left Dylan to guard the house - barking his assurance that he would do the job well - or just barking not sure which.

It was 'bracing' at Carsington so the shops is what we did except we played on the water exhibits - well you are only young once aren't you.

We then returned so I could take Dylan a walk before we went out again for dinner at the chosen location of Nando's. Dylan seemed to know he was going to have to stay home again on his own as he found every tiny thing to smell and take his time over.

Walk done we piled back in the car and went to The Westfield Centre in Derby where Nando's is located and had been  recommended by both daughters. Eldest goes there quite often with her partner and friends and has taken her sister who adored the place - mainly for the crushed ice machine but she liked the food a great deal too.

We were quickly seated and perused the menu. We chose and myself and eldest went to order. The queue was quite long and we waited a while to place our orders. Both Wifey and I had chosen the Mediterranean Salad while youngest chose a medium double wrap. Bad news - no Mediterranean Salad or Caesar Salad - so we held the queue up while the eldest went back and checked with the birthday girl what she would like as an alternative. Seconds choices made we returned to our seats and waited about twenty minutes for our food. OK they were busy although we didn't expect it on a Monday evening. The food was quite good and I was happy that I had chosen 'hot' but youngest regretted the choice of medium and kept the ice machine in business for a while!

We chose cakes and I went to place the orders. The queue was lengthy again and very slow and they opened a second till. I was now last in queue and seemingly second as well. The second till finished the order it was taking - AND CLOSED!! The girl who was placing the order in front of me - and chatting up the assistant - finished and her friend started placing her order! I had now queued about 15 minutes for the second time and the effect of dinner's satisfaction was wearing thin. I placed the order for the cakes and returned to the table and the cakes arrived quite quickly. I must say those that 'caked' (I am low fat and the bottomless yoghurt did not appeal at all) were more than happy with their portions and enthused a bit over them.

Coming away I tried to get to the bottom of why people like Nando's but just couldn't fathom it. Our conclusion was that if we found ourselves wanting a meal in Derby then we may go there again but if we were going out for a meal then Nando's is not a place we would head for because of the feeling we came away with.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Toothache - Thank you very much

Toothache is very painful but, rather strangely, it earned me a very enjoyable evening's entertainment!

It started back in January... I had neglected getting my teeth looked at for a few years since retiring and I broke a teeth on a wine gum. I managed to find a dentist - my old one didn't love me any more as I had gone off and left him - and managed to get an early appointment. She took a look and told me I would need two fillings and  a second appointment was made. During the cleaning process it became clear that the 'referred' pain I was having was, in fact, more problems with other teeth. Oh dear!!

As you know those of us who have toothache do not actually make life better for those around us. I don't really understand why and how that happens but there you go. I still had toothache and the prospect of possibly 3 more fillings. Wifey took to complaining on Twitter - an organisation that should be made illegal as it steals time from people and the crime goes unreported - and the Nottingham Playhouse took sympathy and gave her a 'little' compensation.

As a result of this, last night we went to see Steven Berkoff's Oedipus. The story of Oedipus is, of course, a classical one but I find it causes me angst. How can anyone condemn him when he had no reason to even contemplate doubting the rightness of his actions? But this play affected me more than on any other previous occasion with the passion that the company put into it.

We saw Berkoff's production of 'On the Water Front' a couple of years ago and I was swept along by that and 'Oedipus' features the same player's in action. The play is an hour and three quarters with no interval and is performed using only one set. There were 'glitches' but this is live theatre and there always are but some nights it will be one thing and sometimes another but once the play got under way I was entranced and really enjoyed it.

Lighting was used with particular effect with actors appearing in the middle of the stage after the action had held your attention and the live music must not go unmentioned. It was not until the final 'curtain' and bows were being taken that I realised the entire sound had been done by one man and the music by his own accordion. Also, it is easy to credit the performances of Creon,  Jocasta (whose hanging scene was both clever and convincing and had me looking for the rope) and Oedipus (whose scene when he stabbed his own eyes out was probably the goriest piece of theatre I have ever seen) but the 'ensemble' deserve a real special mention. It is difficult to watch them and think of them as 8 individuals - they work so well together they seem to be a sixteen legged symbiotic entity.

It was a fantastic night, from the drinks on arrival to the final curtain.

Oh and the teeth...  Well I have a temporary filling soon to be replaced with a proper one but I may yet need two more sorting but perhaps I can put them off a little while.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

And so I returned

Having seen what the wind had done to the polytunnel I returned - armed with 'stuff' to shore it up and protect it against future wind. When I got there it wasn't as repairable as I remembered. I took the cover off to show the extent of the damage to to the metal frame.

I decided the best approach was to remove the frame, dismantling it with care, and using the cover to protect all the 'stuff' from blowing around, then come away and develop a PLAN.

Before I left I put a stake in and tied our Christmas tree to it as the wind was preventing it getting a root hold.

I returned having concocted a PLAN - a brilliant PLAN - Baldrick would be envious - Take it out altogether!
But I also dismantled the compost bins that had been left - this was already on the future GRAND MASTER PLAN but I brought it forward as I wanted to build a 'bin' to retain the 'stuff' against the wind. Theft is not a problem but the wind can carry stuff for ages. Sheds etc. are left unlocked but with nothing of value - for value read things like power tools - and there is a store of tools that people can borrow from if they find themselves wanting at some point. We had set lettuce and radish in the tunnel and this is now under fleece in the middle of the area. I have added half a dozen early cabbage that we had already growing ready for planting, planted some onions that Granddad had spare and some garlic. I have re-dug all the ground spoiled by the tunnel and dug the ground the tunnel was on as well as starting a new plot and I can truly start to say that the allotment is now MINE!!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A good week spoiled...

It has been a particularly good week. Yes it started with having to get a new dentist and then having to wait a fortnight for an appointment to get my broken tooth repaired but.... I managed to get some more done on the decorating front and then Wednesday.

Wednesday I went to install a server for someone. True to form it tried to foil my attempts at every turn but I beat it back bravely. I continued and was close to finishing Thursday but not wanting to rush went to finish the job Friday. On Friday BT pulled the plug on the internet service as it was switched from AOL to BT. This was supposed to happen Friday night - not Friday morning! Fortunately I was there to make the appropriate router changes and get them going again. I finished the day early despite taking some time for training and tuning - something I don't normally get time for and so I finished the week on a real high. Sounds sad but if you haven't been there then please don't knock it!

So this morning came and I went down the allotment for the first time this week and got a shock! Yes there's been wind but I still wasn't prepared for what I found. The polytunnel had taken a battering with some of the internal struts sheared off while others were badly bent. This poly tunnel was erected by the previous tenant and been left behind with three vines in. As well as bent metal work one end of the tunnel is badly torn as well. Unfortunately this structure is too flimsy a structure for the open location it is in, it should be in a garden where fences and trees will help to break the wind.

We are now licking our wounds and trying to decide it's future.  We had been thinking about doing more fruit in the garden and less vegetables so I think we will now move the vines to garden locations and try to salvage a summer-only 'greenhouse' for tomatoes or cucumbers or similar. It is a real shame that this has marred an excellent week.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Putting Christmas back in the box.

12th Night. Decorations go away and Christmas is over. The first of it's kind I believe and the first over a very sad watershed.

When I was a pup I remember Christmas. I was the fourth of five lads and when it came to judging the mood of my parents they always deferred to me. Why? I don't know. My memories of Christmas morning commenced with being asked "Do you reckon we can go down now?". It was exciting going down to find a pile of presents. Well a pillowcase stuffed generally. Five pillowcases around the the living room. We would open presents and there would be calls of "Look!" and we would. The room would be a mess and the toys would be played with and chocolate eaten. Mince pies for breakfast and excitement all day - until bedtime. At bedtime the magic collapsed and disappointment leapt in as you realised - That was it! Christmas DONE!

I have seen that disappointment crash in at each Christmas for my daughters until they reach a certain point. I suppose it's called Maturity. Our eldest had long past this as she sat her A levels and her sister was born and so for me to see the pre Christmas excitement/disappointment cycle start again was truly magic.

This year was different. Throughout the run up our youngest kept telling us that she was the only one of her group who was not excited about Christmas. I felt disappointed but we did everything we could. Come Christmas eve the two were together again for the reading of "The Night Before Christmas" and I hope that will continue. But as her sister went home again our youngest retired for the night asking what time she could get up. Come Christmas day we heard "How did you know I wanted this?" on more than one occasion but come bedtime she was not suffering the depression that she had previously and so I didn't go and sit on her bed and try to console her as in previous years.

But now we won't have another child of our own and so the Christmas excitement/disappointment magic is gone from our Christmases and while there may be grandchildren they won't carry the same involvement.

It's a sad time this year but a happy time as I am assured that it was still one very good Christmas.,