Monthly Archives: October 2019

Z’s homes – The Avenue

As well as being an auction house, Russell’s business was an estate agency. There was a house that just wouldn’t sell. The owner had had nothing done to it for years and eventually he died. Whoever inherited it sold off most of the garden for building – two bungalows and three houses were built there, with their own little slip road – and the house itself languished unloved. It needed a good deal of repair. A couple of ceilings had come down during the war, though the house itself wasn’t hit, and they’d had temporary replacements installed, which had never been renewed. So, after several months, Russell decided to buy it himself. This was at about the time we got married and he got the structural work done, meaning to put it back on the market.

It’s a detached Edwardian house, so was then about 65 years old. It has a big bay window facing the road with a large porch at the corner, a good size kitchen, utility room, toilet, big square hall that is quite large enough to be used as a room, a sizeable drawing room and a slightly smaller dining room and, upstairs, four bedrooms and a bathroom – that last was rather small and uninteresting, at the end of a long passage. Outside, there was a small front garden with a cherry tree, a narrow flower bed and path outside the kitchen leading to a small square lawn and a patio, and a garage.

As I said before, I just didn’t feel at home in our first house. It just didn’t suit me, though I’m still not really sure why. So Russell suggested I look at the house in The Avenue, to see if we might move there. And that’s what we did. It was much more fun to plan decorations and a new kitchen than just to move into a house that wasn’t my choice. I was especially pleased with the kitchen, which I designed myself. I had a peninsula unit coming out into the room at right angles to the main window, which had the sink at the end. Standing at the end of that peninsula, the working area was to the right; first the sink and then all the worktop. Opposite on the right, was an alcove with the gas rings and cupboards underneath, an eye-level grill on the wall with an extractor fan above, and a separate oven, so that I didn’t have to bend down to it. Beyond that was a big walk-in larder.

I had an extra-wide work surface fitted to the peninsula so that it jutted several inches out to the left (that is, the other side from where I stood to cook or wash up), so that kitchen stools could be tucked underneath and, when you sat on them, there was room for your knees. To the left of that was the boiler and another seating area where we had breakfast. The wall opposite the window had wall cupboards – I always liked to have plenty of storage space. A builder friend of ours was impressed by the design and always asked my advice on kitchens in houses he was building. I don’t know how it was that I got it all right first time, I was only 21, but I was a keen and efficient cook, even in those days.

As i said, the bathroom was poky and not very inspiring and I wanted to change that; or rather, to have an entirely new bathroom. So we converted a bedroom into a bathroom/dressing room for me. We came unstuck over the decorations though. I chose a wallpaper in a dramatic jungly print, with lots of greenery and vines. We ordered it and waited, and waited. It was in the mid-1970s when industry in this country was in a pretty poor state. Relationships between management and workers were, in many factories, antagonistic and there were strikes on the one hand and unfairness on the other. You could go into an electrical showroom and see the fridge you wanted and order it, but it would take at least three months to arrive. And, having waited months, they finally said that the wallpaper was out of stock everywhere and had been discontinued, so I had to choose another one; which I can’t remember at all. We did have a really lovely dining room wallpaper though, in deep red and cream, and the hall was blue and white with a dark blue carpet that showed every bit of fluff and needed hoovering daily. The drawing room was painted pale green and we bought a beautiful Chinese washed silk rug for it, that is now in our bedroom. No idea of the colour schemes in the bedrooms, so they were probably neutral.

I was very happy there, with baby Eloise. We had nice neighbours and the house was stylish and comfortable. I planted a chamomile lawn and grew vegetables and herbs in the flower beds. Then I became pregnant again and Alex was born in April 1976. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that this was a famously hot, dry summer. Being fair skinned and prone to burning myself, I worried that my babies would get sunburned and we didn’t take full advantage of the fabulous weather really; but then we also had another project on the go that year.

Alex was born at home, but not our own home. He was born at Seaview, my childhood home, where my mother still lived. She had just remarried in February 1976, to my dear stepfather Wilf Edwards. Will was thrilled and happy to be welcomed into the family, having lived alone for some years since he and his first wife had separated. Anyway, it was not too long after Alex’s birth when Russell came and suggested we have a little outing to look at a house that was coming up for auction – his partner did the property auctions. Russell was quite casual and relaxed about it, my mother was happy to look after the babies and off we drove.

It was another Edwardian house, a former rectory. I remember so clearly walking in through the front door for the first time. But that’s another chapter.

Smoke gets in Z’s eyes

The chimney turned into quite a worry. We waited a couple of days and then lit the fire again. After a while, it smoked heavily again. The sweep couldn’t come until Thursday and, on Wednesday, we tried again. It was fine for about twenty minutes and I cancelled the appointment, for quite five minutes; but then the room filled with smoke again.

It’s still a mystery. He swept the chimney thoroughly and almost nothing came down – soot wasn’t to be expected as he swept it back in the summer, but there was nothing untoward. The chimney had a stainless steel lining installed before we moved here, so 34 years ago and, as soot is corrosive, it’s possible that a new one is needed. This is a highly depressing prospect – not so much because of installing the new one, but getting the old one out. However, we gave it one more go … and the problem has been cured, it seems. Our theory is that a bird tried to build a nest and sticks got stuck, the first few fires we lit consolidated the debris so that, after a few times, it jammed the chimney. However, it was still gradually being destroyed by the fire and, when Leigh put his brush up, it flew up the chimney rather than down into the grate.

Not very convincing, I know, as an explanation, but it’s the only thing I can think of.

The chickens are still fine together, though the old ones are a bit unsettled by all these youngsters rushing round. When I go out to the greenhouse, the big black ones hurry up to me and tell me all about it. I’ve added a couple more perches, which has helped accommodation. There’s plenty of room but they don’t all want to cuddle up. The two big black hens are laying in the other greenhouse, by the grape vine; the big brown hen is off lay at present and I’ve no idea where, if anywhere, the bantams are laying. When we get a few days of bad weather, I’ll keep them in. Then, at least I’ll know if they are laying at all. Right now, they’re really not earning their keep.

The rain it raineth on the Z

It’s been really dry all summer. That changed today. There has been some rain over the past couple of weeks, which at least turned the grass from brown to green – it’s a marvel, how quickly it regrows – but today it bucketed down. Someone put photos on Facebook of the main Norwich bypass, which had to be shut as it was flooded.

We had a bit of that in the house. The join between the main old house and the built-on bit (about 28 years ago) has never been 100% but it’s usually dry unless there’s torrential rain with no wind: ie, straight down. And, the other day, filling in a gap where we don’t want birds to nest or bats to hibernate any more, nor draughts to freeze the study, we had some filler left over, so used it in the attic. And that seems to have worked but, all the same, there was a drip in the inglenook in the dining room, which I can’t explain as yet. I’ve learned to my cost (which is another story entirely and here is no place for it) that water needs to get away and stagnant water is the real problem, so a small amount every few years doesn’t worry me. Later, however, Rose’s Boy came through to report a drip in the annexe kitchen.

We’ve tracked that down in the attic too, and I’ll get the builder in to replace the tile, which must have cracked.

We relaxed with the remains of our lunchtime wine after that – it is Sunday, after all – and then we decided to light the fire as it was a bit clammy, if not actually cold. Within ten minutes, there was a worrying amount of smoke in the room. We’ve no idea but something is blocking it. The chimney was swept in the summer and it was fine yesterday when we lit the fire and it burned all evening. We hastily removed the logs and let it die down, and I’ve texted the chimney sweep. And turned on the overnight heater.

We feel that the elements are against us.

I didn’t let the chickens out today, as the forecast was so bad, but gave them lots of veggies as well as their normal food. I didn’t go out during the day, for obvious reasons (I’d have got soaked for no good reason) but, when I went to shut them up, they were nicely mixed up, young and old, on the perches. So they seem to have been okay.

Tomorrow afternoon, I have a training session in school on Safeguarding. I’d rather thought I’d left this sort of thing behind me. I’m going to get an ID card and had to send in a photo. The most flattering ID-type picture is my most recent passport one, but it isn’t exactly recent. Still, as long as it’s recognisable and it has the advantage of not making me look as if I’m in a police lineup.

Petty pace

“tomorrow” wasn’t quite the thing, was it? Sorry. I get tired in the evenings, but blogging in the daytime seems a bit self-indulgent. Anyway, I promised you photos.

The old harbour, Weymouth

I was charmed that the harbour was much as I remembered it. Where we were standing, cars still parked at 90ยบ from the water’s edge, but there was a difference. Now, there are huge sleepers to stop them from rolling into the water. There’s also a kerb, which I’m sure wasn’t there before. Still, at least there aren’t railings. And it is very pretty. Wink reminded me that Mr Dyke’s guest house was called Harbour Lights and was on the road leading down here, but we didn’t investigate that because rain wasn’t far off and we were heading back to the car.

After a rain shower, there was another dry spell – because we’re lucky that way – and we were able to investigate the hotel. Tim was quite stunned as it came into view: he hadn’t expected anything so impressive. It is a wonderful building and, with all the bedrooms facing the front, it’s huge.

The swimming pool
The view of Weymouth beach

Wobbly because it was a panorama
The view from the road

It is spectacular and in a glorious position, yet it doesn’t make the most of it. There’s a funfair in front and nothing much in the grounds. We ventured indoors and I asked the nice young woman if we could get a drink. She looked worried. If we wanted tea or coffee, the machine was broken. So i came clean and explained that I’d been born here and would love to look around and she said we were welcome to. I can’t honestly say I remembered it, and the ballroom, which I remember stories of, was locked, so we didn’t stay very long.

When we walked down to the seafront that morning, we’d been looking for coffee and eventually found a place that promised ‘artisan’ this and that. The coffee was adequate if not excellent and a nice couple asked to share our table and we chatted for ten minutes or so. As we ambled towards the barbour, Tim’s shoelace came undone so we stopped at a bench for him to retie it. Another couple on holiday asked to sit with us; again, we chatted. Evidently, Weymouth attracts lovely friendly people and, when we went into a ship’s chandler’s shop, where I was hoping to buy a waterproof coat (but didn’t), the young woman greeted us as friends. So I retain warm memories of my birthplace.

Flocking together

I vanished, I’m sorry to say, because I’m less inclined nowadays to say on the open internet that we’re going to be away. The house isn’t empty, it never is, but even so.

We went to stay with my sister Wink and celebrated our third wedding anniversary while we were there. LT’s brother and sister-in-law came from Devon to celebrate with us. We went out and about, including a visit to Weymouth, where I was charmed to see the old harbour looking much as I remembered it, and to my babyhood home. I’ll post pictures tomorrow. We also visited Bath and, as Tim had not been there before, took a tour on an open-top bus, just like the genuine tourists we were. It was a lovely week, it didn’t rain as much as had been forecast and it felt like a holiday.

Since we arrived home, I have been much occupied with thoughts of chicks. To recap, there are Rose’s three bantam hens and a cock, my two big black hens and one big brown one, four bantam pullets, daughters of Canasta, who hatched on 14th June and five bantam chicks, sex not yet identified, children of Scrabble, that hatched at the end of July.

I let the pullets out a couple of weeks ago and they’ve returned to their coop to sleep every night. The chicks (this is a misnomer, used only for identification) had their own coop and a decent size run. Scrabble was in with them, but she was named for her love of digging and she’d ruined the bits of lawn I moved the run to. So, once we got home, I moved it again and removed her. She was very unhappy indeed, not at all ready to leave her babies, even though they were quite big enough to manage without her. Today, I cracked and let the chicks out.

This has been astonishingly successful. I threw handfuls of mealworms for all the chickens to peck for and there was surprisingly little conflict. I broadcast them well, of course, but the only hen that showed any aggression was Rose’s black bantam, Polly, and the youngsters soon skipped out of her way. The grownups went to hang out in Rose’s garden, the teenage pullets went into the long grass and the babies and mother pottered around the veg garden. Then it rained and all the youngsters, plus Scrabble, took shelter; first in the Dutch barn (open sided) with the barn cats and then in the chicken greenhouse. And then, when the old hens went home, they all just rubbed along together. I thought this would take weeks and it seems to have happened in a day. They’ve all roosted together and they’ll all wake up together and they’re one big family now. Isn’t that lucky?