Slow Lane Life II

How we moved to the West Country and learned to slow down even more



While the back yard was in progress, I had my own little project going on. The dining room poses challenges; it has three doorways, from the hall, to the kitchen, and  to the stairs. And like every other room in the house, it needs to have our books crammed in wherever possible. The junk shop down the road yielded – at a modest price – a sturdy bookcase with adjustable shelves. Just the thing to fit into our decidedly non-rectangular alcove, where once (when? many years ago) there was another doorway into the room.

Trouble was, the bookcase was in my least favourite orange knotty pine. R6051571 R6051572So out came the chalk paint. Old White and a tester pot of Burgundy. R6051987R6051619 Result! I love the way it all looks as though it’s leaning; that’s one of the charms of this old house – no straight lines. R6051986 R6051985This can be a gloomy room, with its internal window and the oversized dresser that I won’t part with, and needs to be simplified, pared down as much as possible. So we changed the overhead light too; The Gardener’s choice.

And why no tablecloth? I hear you ask. I have lots of tablecloths and runners, and love a nicely dressed table, but this one gets wiped and laid moments before dinner is served. Because to some cats, a tablecloth is just …..bedding….. R6051978


Trying hard

….but after three years (post-transplantation from my Newcastle allotment), one tiny but formerly-prolific red gooseberry bush sent me a very clear message. R6051982Yes, poor gallant little RGB, I hear you; I shall move you to a brighter patch of the garden. Thank you for my six little gooseberries anyway; they tasted pretty good.


A rubbish post

imgres urlBin day (rubbish/trash/refuse collection) here occurs fortnightly, with recycling and food waste collection being weekly. It’s always a noisy affair, with much banging, clattering and chucking of glass items, the road often being blocked to other vehicles as the huge wagon trundles slowly up the hill and down again. The narrower lane at the top has a later service with a smaller vehicle.

But in the equally narrow streets of the Greek island of Syros, where my sister lives for half the year, bin day is a much more frequent and picturesque event. The hi-viz jacket remains the uniform apparel, the pace remains slow, and there’s no impatient traffic build up as the bin man and his team of one plod up and down the steep steps and alleyways. photo 1 photo 3 photo 2Such a nice idea. I wonder if West Somerset Waste Partnership would be interes…. maybe not.


Three years

R6051895I know I write about this every year, but always being rather emotional about it, I’m about to do it again….. On this very day, three years ago, the Lovely Son and I – along with two dogs and four cats – set off at midday on a long, hot, tiring journey in an overstuffed car to this cottage. North-East to South-West in a day; the end of an era. I hadn’t wanted a cottage, especially not one with low beams, but this one had whispered to me as I crossed the threshold to view it: “I’m yours.” and I was compelled to listen. A few weeks later, I was moving in.

The sale hadn’t quite gone through, thanks to a nervous solicitor who didn’t understand the flying freehold issue that is so commonplace here, but the lovely vendor had calmed me down considerably over the weekend by saying that I was just to move in, regardless of whether or not the last-minute tenancy agreement had reached her.

And in we came, at around 8.30 in the evening. Looking back, I am still amazed that I had survived the deep exhaustion of the preceding months, and recall that dreadful car journey with horror, but I was able to walk into the cottage with a sense of elation at having moved at last, after several years of planning and preparation, scouting and setbacks. Of course, an empty house looks rather different from when it was viewed, fully furnished and presented for sale, and some areas were rather more urgently in need of work than I had remembered. There was much to do, but over the following months, mostly spent in the company of visitors and builders, it became my house, and my home. Our home.

I love it here.


Tricky question

R6051953 - Version 2Sipping iced coffee in town this morning with a new friend who is struggling to adapt to a new life in a new village after dramatic change was forced on her, I listened to her describe how habitually industrious she is each morning, finishing all her routine chores by 10.30, then not knowing what to do with the rest of her day.

“What do you do all day?” she asked me.

“Search me.” I said.

And thought about her question for some time afterwards. I’m still none the wiser, but suddenly it’s bedtime, and I seem to have been very busy all day. What was I doing?

Search me.


Yard work

Here’s a rather long story about a very little thing….. (skip to end if you know now how boring this is going to be!) The back yard is almost finished.

For US readers, ‘yard’ in the UK isn’t a garden, but generally means a hard-surfaced area behind a house; often functional rather than lovely, and unglamorously multi-purpose, able to accommodate washing lines, an outside loo, a coal shed and the dustbins. In our case, it is was a scruffy uneven area of old concrete and ill-assorted paving slabs between the back of the house and the raised garden; the outside loo  became the boiler cupboard several years ago, and instead of a coal shed there’s a home made woodstore knocked together by The Gardener from old pallets.

There was no way I could fancify it by calling it a patio; it was, and will remain, the back yard. It was full of trip hazards, assorted plastic pots and old recycling boxes, and many many snails, and it Had To Go. So we saved up, got an impossible quote from someone who would have swooped in with a team, a digger, a lorry and a skip, and transformed it within a day or two, and so we said thank you, impressive but not possible, and saved up some more.DSCF4225 L1096292Then we got Jason. We liked his slightly rustic style, and the fact that he understood that sharp clean lines and brand new materials weren’t necessarily what we were keen on, and his rates were fair. He was only available a day or so a week, but didn’t seem to mind working on his own and in a very cramped space, so we let him get on with it. Sometimes the weather was seriously against him, but slowly, slowly, the yard metamorphosed into something altogether more pleasing to the eye, and while still sloping in every direction possible, and still requiring a step to access the back gate, is safe to walk on, sit out on, and offer the cats somewhere to loll in the sun/conduct noisy quarrels with invaders in the middle of the night/throw up hairballs (thank you, Lottie).

Some small things remain to be done: the blown render on the house wall, a bit of pointing here and there, and the stabilising of the little overgrown wall that stops the garden from avalanching into the yard, but these will wait until autumn, when Jason has more time. Meanwhile, after the tomatoes in their old recycling boxes have finished, there will only be nice pots allowed to sit on our lovely fossil sandstone, I will always retract the washing lines, and I will never leave bags of compost, tools and the hose lying in the rain…. I will, honest.

Here’s the progress so far, from a rain-sodden start some weeks ago, to how it looks now:
DSCF4226 DSCF4228 DSCF4229 DSCF4230 DSCF4227

Then came the digging out/breaking up/setting the levels, coping with the weather, the chaos and the dirt. How Jason coped is beyond me, but as he needed much of the rubble to use as hard core beneath the new pavers, he kept it all to hand:DSCF4408 DSCF4409 DSCF4410 DSCF4411 DSCF4412 Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Exif_JPEG_PICTURE _6051473 _6051475

And of course the garden carried on growing, adding to the crowdedness…..

We chose the sandstone flags. The old bricks were kept, to be re-used as risers. The ugly manhole cover would go; access to the drain would be hidden in a special frame that held one of the flagstones. The woodstore was emptied, moved, paved underneath, replaced and re-filled.

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Oops, wrong setting on the camera….

R6051519The paving began, and it became exciting. Of course, nothing was square, or level, or even. Just like the house. Charming, but meant a lot of measuring and calculating. Jason remained cheerful and confident. In his spare time (i.e. when walking the dog before and after work) he creates land art, mysterious structures made from natural materials such as stone and wood, usually in the many woods that abound in this area. An interesting man.


Wet, the flagstones took on a golden Hamish-y glow.


Halfway, Jason had a week’s holiday in Cornwall, well-earned. The Gardener broke up some of the remaining concrete, and the cats continued to traipse through the cat flap with filthy paws. The sofa covers are not getting washed until it’s all finished….


Some cosmetic things still need to be done, like hiding the bin and recycling, clearing the black plastic containers, and planning the repairs to the walls, but we have our improved back yard at last, and we like it. R6051877 R6051874R6051875R6051872And the cats like it too. Result!


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