Soaps for autumn 2016

Forgive the blatant self serving advertisement of Gosia soaps, but if I am to retire early then she needs to sell more soaps! 

Forgive the blatant self serving advertisement of Gosia soaps, but if I am to retire early then she needs to sell more soaps!

I have recently updated our web page in Polish and English so now there is no excuse! And just in case you don’t click this link I have copied the contents below. Continue reading “Soaps for autumn 2016”

A picture post

 As the title implies my camera and computer bumped into each other after a short time apart, so it was nice to catch up.

Alcoholic constipation

A condition that many people suffered from in their late teens and early twenties, especially in the UK in the late 1980’s early 90’s; where the cultural consumption of alcohol seemed to explode as the nations disposable income increased and even if it didn’t for you, then having a pint seemed like a good way to console yourself! Alcoholic constipation was born – the inability to pass a pub – without stopping off for a pint!

It was around this time, whilst down on my luck, that I bumped into a chap called Victor Budris, oddly enough in a bookies, in Scarborough. He explained to me that he was heading off to Jersey to pick potatoes to fund his lager lifestyle. The rest as they say, especially if you have read my past post, is history.

A Young Persons Railcard, the key to a half price train and ferry ticket to Jersey, was all I needed to head off into the glaring sun as I headed south.  About 20 hours after setting off I arrived in the land of plenty. Unfortunately my meagre savings and the recent expense of travel left me with less than £5 in my pocket and the prospect of a pint was still over 7 miles (12 Km) away. I later learned that we couldn’t have found a more distant pub in the Island from our starting location, but the calling of a tax free beverage and the possibility of gaining employment was the only incentive I needed to make the hike.

Why the long walk for a pint? Victor explained to me that if we arrived at the pub (the La Ralais de Mielles) around tea time then all the farmers would be popping in for a pint after a hard days toil in the fields; this would be an ideal time to say those immortal words ‘gizza job’ and thus find gainful employment as tuber excavators. As a plan it seemed a bit loose, but Victor had three seasons under his belt so I went along with him; what did I have to lose other than my remaining £5 and some boot leather.

Of course the plan worked, my pint cost me less than 50p and we both had jobs within 20 minutes of walking into the pub, not to mention accommodation which, although basic, covered the essentials for survival in a distant southern Island.

For the season of ‘87 The Ralais, our shortened version of La Ralais de Mielles, became a second home, along with The Bell Tap, The Marina, Sands, The Forge, The Watersplash and Les Sables d’Or; yes you guessed it I had started to suffer from alcoholic constipation, and as I returned to Jersey again for my winter break I thought I would visit some of the old dispensaries.

As is often the case in this modern world of finance, the developers have moved in and little remains of the hostelries that I used to frequent; still the pictures are a god introduction of the countryside and architecture of this wartime German stronghold; more of which on another post.

 

 

Nuts, lumps, bumps and pumps

I know, I know, it’s a while since I posted; what can I say!

Events as ever have moved us (me) in unexpected directions and all I can do is try and stick to the road and hope that I don’t pick up too many points on my license on the way! And whilst this brief account of recent events only scratches the surface these are certainly the highlights.

Nuts: I reckon about 50Kg, maybe more; it’s very hard to tell for sure, but the plastic trays and cardboard boxes that littered the floor of the house indicated a good harvest of walnuts.

It almost seemed to happen overnight, the cold air crept in, the wind kicked up, the rain came down and the nuts began to fall; at times it was almost dangerous to be under the half dozen walnut tress, that we inherited with the land, for fear of concussion.  This windfall also coincided with the annual mushroom hunting season and the pear trees lightening their load, so my morning walk with the dogs often saw me returning with a bucket full of walnuts, mushrooms and pears, even the occasional chilli; as well as two well exercised dogs after a good long outing.

Lumps: One thing you can be certain of when you are building a straw bale house is that you will always have lumps in your clay, although our tactic of using refined clay from the brick factory has taken quite a bit of work out of the whole process, it can still resemble a badly made industrial strength custard on occasion. Needless to say that we ploughed on with the rendering of the house with clay slip and then clay render, lumps and all,; firstly with the help of friends of ours that stayed on after the wedding and then with new volunteer Sam and a return visit from volunteer and friend Paul. Many thanks to all involved. Gosia and I even managed to finish the first and second coat on the second floor before the cold snap crept in and everybody had gone home the the relative and respective warmth of Ireland, Scotland and England.

Bumps: Whilst the pictures may not show, the reality of living flesh clearly indicates that Gosia is with child! I know this seems all very sudden and the thought of shotguns may be in some peoples minds, but the wedding was planned, unlike the bump, and no one was struck down by lightening at the alter despite the countries high religious values. I have to say that we are both delighted and excited, especially me as I will have an addition to the workforce in three or four years time! But with only four months to go until out little girl is born, a new urgency is upon us to get the house habitable as soon as possible, certainly for next winter.

Pumps: Of course we knew the news quite a while ago, so much so that I put a few feelers out for work at the wedding, and as luck would have it a job offer came my way from long time friends of ours back in Jersey. I have to say that this has turned out far better than I could have imagined as not only do I have a job at the local petrol station, I’m also lodging with my new boss for the winter just 500 yards away from work. A full shift plus ‘special projects’ to keep me occupied is exactly what I needed to fund the heating system and keep me occupied whilst returning to my old home of Jersey. Having spent so much of my adult life here I still have affection for this small Island in the Channel and I hope to post a few pictures of my favourite spots whilst I visit.

So there you go, a brief account of the last month or so, filling in, but leaving many gaps for my later recollection. I would of course tap on the keyboard a little longer and I hope to do so soon, but for now my job is done, I have at last updated the blog; I can sleep well tonight 🙂

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My new desktop, to keep me motivated whilst working over the winter.

No time like the present

OK, you may have guessed that there is no way that I’m going to catch up unless I come up with a radical solution and so, for one week only, I’m heading into a new format to enable me to provide an overview of progress over the last three weeks without having to rely on my memory too much.

The Garden: I thought I better give a mention to the much neglected garden, all the work on the house has meant that many a plant has fallen by the wayside, or taken over the way side as they grow out of control. Of course we have had a steady supply of fresh veg and they are part of our daily intake, be in peas, beans, tomatoes, onions or courgettes; you will always find at least one on your plate, but as I look upon the tangled mass of beans and peas I can’t help but think we could have looked after them better, if only by translating the packets and planting the runners with stakes and the dwarf in rows; something that I only half heartedly addressed as I realised our mistake. Still the older beans will be left to dry on the stalks, a fantastic winter staple and any new growth will continue to be eaten. The same for the peas, old stock will be dried for next years seed and anything fresh popped on the plate or in the freezer.

The humanure tomato experiment continues, although we spotted blight in a few of the main crop plants last week so it’s only a matter of time before the experiment has to come to a premature end. However I can report, without the picture I forgot to take, that both plants are bearing fruit on three trusses and look far healthier than their unfertilised counterparts.

The potatoes have taken a hammering from the beetles and much of the foliage was lost in the last few weeks, but we have dug a few up and they are tasting good, so I’m still confidant of a reasonable crop; we’re just waiting for the harvester to turn up along with the neighbours 🙂 the tradition here is to leave them in the ground for as long as possible to prepare them better for winter storage.

The oats are doing well, although we ploughed back about a third of the crop on the top boundary of the field as growth was slow; hopefully this will help as a green manure.

The House:  As you would expect this remains the main focus for us as we try and get as much done as possible whilst we have the weather on our side. Having the help of the volunteers Paul, Alexandra and Iulia was a massive help, the internal window surrounds were remodelled, the entire ground floor received its first clay slip coat, the timber for the terrace was planed, sanded and painted, along with the basement exterior walls to match the rest of the house.

Not to mention our friend Slawek who fired on with the task of getting the terrace ready for the roof; this final task was completed last week and we have since taken delivery of the tin roof to be fitted by the experts as and when they can fit us into their schedule, fingers crossed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have started to fit the terrace decking board which we have all had a part in plaining. If anybody is interested we are selling luxury rabbit bedding 🙂

We also had the assistance of our ever helpful friends Steve and Dorota who came over with the tractor and front loader to do a bit of landscaping; saving my back from carting hundreds of barrows of earth; as ever a big thanks for all and everyone’s help.

As the saying goes a picture can tell a thousand word so I’ll save myself a bit a typing

Nature: As ever I seem to forget to appreciate the things that go on around us, but once in a while something happens that I have never seen before and I become focused and appreciative again. I have mentioned the resident buzzard family on a few occasions, in fact I was a little worried that the recent felling of trees by a neighbour had left them homeless and this was the reason why they hadn’t been there usual vocal self, that was until the recent sighting of the first flight training lessons administered by the two adults to their single chick. We have witnessed this ritual for the last three years and it’s always entrancing, but then out of the blue one of the buzzards pulled back it’s wings and went into a dive, more falcon like than buzzard; or maybe not? I certainly haven’t seen them do it before and it was great to watch; as it never caught anything I’m guessing it was just another subject of the training curriculum.

The young hares seem to be ever present, unfortunately for them Zara has a fare turn of speed, and whilst I feel sorry for them if she catches one I’m also reassured by the large numbers that I have spotted in the area; we don’t seem to be suffering from the decline that is news worthy in other areas of Poland.

The young deer are coming closer and closer to the house, thankfully curiosity did not kill the fawn and they easily outrun Zara and Jackie who have so far kept them away from the veg without putting meat on the menu.

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Volunteers: I know that I have mentioned Iulia,  Alexandra and Paul on a few occasions, but I’d just like to say thank you again for all your help, great workers and great company who made a big difference in the few weeks that they joined us. Paul is heading back again in September, gluten for punishment, or maybe just gluten as he loved the food most of all 🙂 We also have two other ‘possibles’ coming to join us late in August so things are looking good and finishing the plaster inside before the winter may be an achievable target.

We did take a farewell trip to Krakow to visit the town of Oświęcim which is more often referred to and better know by it’s German given name of Auschwitz; it’s my second visit, but it was no less sobering for it.  We went for the guided tour, which takes three and a half hours, but I think Paul summed it up well when he said he would had liked the time to just sit and reflect for a while rather than dealing with the information overload as the guide talked through the expansive and industrialised extermination camps. A worthwhile trip and highly recommended to everyone, but if you get a chance take time to reflect, then do, especially when you see Birkenau.

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Up to date :  Well pretty much so, of course we have had a few parties, BBQs and visitors, but that’s just part of life in Poland, especially when the weather is as good as it is. We are back in Rzemien for the usual Sunday lunch that couldn’t be beat and another week is only a good nights sleep away from us, so until next week (maybe) na zdrowie.

July, almost August, the catch up continues

I’m determined to try and catch up on July before August arrives, as I can see the slippery slope getting steeper and I’m loosing my footing; even so the catch may still be instalments as  I’m relying on dates of photos and the calendar to try and get things in order, not that it matters if things arrive in a random order, but it would be nice to have at least one thing in my life with a reliable schedule.

Having quickly read my last post I noticed that I missed on of the major events of the year; July 30th 2013 saw the installation of our first tap! In fact three taps, one in the kitchen and two in the basement, one of which is feeding the washing machine; yes you heard me right; a washing machine. Hard to believe that so many modern conveniences could arrive in one day, changing our lives forever! With all this water available we even move the bath in from outside and whilst we don’t have a tap to fill it I do manage to rig up a way to empty it!

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Plumbing is easy, it’s doors that make it difficult!
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All mod cons

2nd July:  Paul, out third volunteer, arrived today from The London and the group grows in number and character. Add Slawek to the mix, who has joined us to continue with the terrace, and our evenings are a cracking mix of conversation and laughter, helped along with great food and a modest amount of alcohol 🙂

Paul is planning his own straw bale build in France next year so we have plenty to discuss and we soon find that we hold similar views on many subjects that come up in conversation. Our opposing accents also provide entertainment for our European friends 🙂

The weather is also with us and it’s a great feeling to see things moving along and everybody getting along. Wood plaining and sanding, terrace building, window surround shaping and trimming, and a spot of painting; all in all a good days work.

3rd, 4th, 5ht and 6th of July: It started with the hedge trimmer, not surprising that it’s ground to a halt after the abuse that it has received over the previous 12 months, not surprising at all; a little unfortunate that Paul was using it at the time as I think he feels a little responsible.

It’s funny the noises that you only notice when they stop, like the sound of the grinder with the sanding disk attachment that Paul is wielding and taking out the rough spots on the wood for the terrace. The noise stopped and never started again; never mind I had picked up the grinder at an auction for a fiver so no great loss and I have a spare.

With well over five cubic meters of planks to plain, never mind all he wood for the construction of the frame and roof, the plainer that we have borrowed from a friend has proved to be the most beneficial tool available to us and it seems to run most of the day as Paul and I pass more wood through it. That is until it refuses to start after our lunch time break! After various tests and inspection by an expert it appears that the motor has burnt out and needs to be rewound 😦

Fearful that Paul has arrived with a jinx on electrical equipment I provide him with a hammer and refuse access to the chain saw! Did I mention that the washing machine pump has failed as well….

The progress over the week is fantastic and Alexandra and Iulia make a start on the clay slip coat after finishing the window surrounds with Pauls assistance with non motorised tools!. Paul is quite tall, over 6 foot I’d guess, and the extra height comes in handy.

7th July: No trip to Poland would be complete without Sunday lunch cooked by Gosias mum. It was also a good opportunity for Gosias dad to give Paul a closer look at the machinery in the backyard. The first vehicle on display is a hand built ‘woz’ (or trailer) a combination of a WSK motorbike and Trabant car; six speeds, including reverse and capable of carrying a tonne. The clay for the house was all transported from the brick factory on the back on this  wondrous vehicle; when asked how to stop, Gosias father points to his feet 🙂

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The second specimen is an unadulterated WSK, it might not go very far or fast, but its a classic and Gosia has her eye on it for the future.

And believe it or not that’s all I have time for for now, Sunday lunch is upon us, the first we have cooked at the house; Steve and Dorota are coming to join us and then Gosias family are here to pick the raspberries and join us for a BBQ later in the day; there is also a rumour that we will be heading to the neighbours in the evening, so much for a day of rest 🙂

So another weeks goes by and I’m still a couple of weeks behind, reading and writing, I’m only sneaking in this closing paragraph as the sausages are cooking, the men are in the stable fixing the hedge trimmer and the women folk are discussing the price of fish, or maybe sugar, and whilst it’s hard to be antisocial if you don’t speak the language it’s still polite to make an appearance and supply the refreshments 🙂 Have a great weekend, Eddy & Gosia

Scaffold for rent

13th of May: It was mid afternoon before we retuned to the ranch, after a couple of stops to drop things off and pick things up, amongst them a sofa bed to add to our growing collection; I’m guessing you would call them a nest of sofa beds?:)  We now have three with a fourth promised and due to be collected this weekend or next, all good stuff if you have people coming to stay, which we have due to a great response to our call for volunteers; more than a dozen respondents so far from as far afield as Korea, Romania, Lithuania, France and the UK; the last couple of weeks of June could see as many as six visitors so we are trying our best to make them comfy.

Once we arrived back home we quickly decided that the house would remain off limits and the garden would get some attention, so our first batch of tomatoes went in along with half a dozen chilli plants, more butternut squash, courgettes and some spinach. The extended dry spell that we are having means that the watering can is well used and our water collection tanks are running low; I wont be praying for rain, but I secretly wouldn’t mind some…maybe overnight 🙂

Lots of weeding as ever, now that the beans and peas are coming through I can risk using the hoe, as long as I wear my glasses!

The fruit trees seem to be doing well and it looks like we will have an abundance of cherries, plums, pears and quinces; although it has to be said the apples don’t look too good at the moment, maybe it’s too early to tell.

First tomatoes and chillis
First tomatoes and chillis, horse radish flowering in the background
Field of Beans
Field of beans and quite a few peas
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Bumper crop of cherries, we just have to wait!

14th of May: Ok, back to the house, we must get something done! And we did, conscious that we will not have the opportunity to lime wash the house again once the scaffolding is down, a job we are to start soon, we decided to circumnavigate the house once more; 10 hours later we finished!

15th, 16th and 17th of May: The big event begins; operation ‘Reveal’ the dismantling of our hand built scaffold. As the weather is still hot with temperatures in the high 20’s I opted to start on the shady side of the house, following the sun and Gosia who was cleaning the window frames whilst she still could; it soon become apparent that she was working faster than me and she took up the job of removing stubborn nails and screws from the wood that I discardied from the top level of our construction. Every component removed seemed to weaken the structure and I was glad to have finished the top tier by the end of the first day, bringing me a couple of meters closer to earth.

And that set the pace for the next two days, one level a day with an ever growing pile of planks, a rapidly filling bucket of old screws and nails and a every wobblier walkway for me to work on. The forty-four supporting posts were the last item to come down and as the last one crashed to the ground on Friday evening we let out a cheer for a job well done with only minor injuries and a new found appreciation for the scale of the house. We had a couple of sticky moments as we discovered that a few of the posts still had tarpaulin line strung between them, but a penknife strapped to a four meter batten soon solved that. And of course as I was wearing steel toecap boots with reinforced soles to stop and nails going through my feet I walked backwards into a nail which found my calf muscle; Gosia wasn’t so lucky as her sandals offered no protection as a nail found the soft flesh of her foot; you only do it once and soon stop wearing flip flops on a building site.

Scaffold almost down
The shadows reveal the texture of the walls
Special tool No.2
How to cut a piece of string 6 meters high

Walking the dogs first and last thing provides a great opportunity to explore the surrounding area especially as I try and expand the territory that we cover; Zara is picking up Jackie’s hunting habits and pheasants, deer and cats are all flushed out as we do the rounds; no harm ever comes to the fleeing wildlife, it’s just a game to the dogs, although if I had a shotgun I would be tempted to have a go at the pheasants. I’m hoping their behaviour will deter the wildlife from coming two close to our vegetables, although we have agreed that the electric fence should go up next week as we are tempting fate with our open plan style of agriculture. Once the potatoes start to mature then the wild bore come out of hiding, I know it’s a while off yet, but it’s best to be prepared; I might even keep hold of afore mentioned knife on a stick!

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I wonder if thats a dog?
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Yes, it’s a dog!

18th of May: Eager to avoid and further injuries we spent most of the day tidying the site, we intend to use the planks of the scaffolding as the downstairs ceiling, once they have gone through a plainer; so it’s a job worth taking time over. We are also expecting a JCB at some stage next week to help with some landscaping and trench digging, so having the area clear around the house is essential. This should then lead onto the building of the terrace in early June, hopefully transforming the house once again as it looks a bit odd at the moment.

Naked house
The sugar cube revealed, cant wait for the terrace to be built 🙂
Scafflold for rent
Scafflold for rent

After all this excitement it’s hard to believe that things could get any better, but then in the space of a couple of bottles of beer, the bottle tops revealed that I had won two free bottles; it doesn’t get much better than that, a great end to the week:)

My lucky day
My lucky day, two winning bottle tops from Harnas beer 🙂

Early May

Ok, I’m trying out my new idea for the format of my posts to see if it works; it will also give me an opportunity to catch up on events, if not for you then for me. And if you are wondering how I have found the time to type this then it’s down to the weather and administration; the weather has turned wet and Gosia is in town ticking boxes for those nice people at the EU donations office. I don’t have long, so I better work quick!

A couple of things from April first, things that need to be recorded; the wild plumb tree came into flower on the 26th of April, the sweet cherry, sloe berry and plumb not far behind on the 29th. Apple, pear and quince just starting; looking over the valley you can spot all the fruit trees in flower indicating a house, occupied or indeed derelict. One worrying thing seems to be the lack of bees, I have only spotted bumbles so far; Gosia recalls a lot more buzzing last year, I guess the proof will be in the crop as it is highly dependant on pollination, although I not sure if this is exclusively from bees though?

The swallows are here at last, although they don’t seem to have taken up residence in the barn, not to worry; I know they must be nesting nearby as they are taking mud from the pit on the building site.

The coppiced trees seem to be doing very well, I’m getting about a 50% success rate with the silver birch and almost 100% with the willow. We have also had unintentional good luck with the elder which I cut two years ago to get rid of them; they have all coppiced and we now have an abundance of greenery soon to become flowers and berries!

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

5th, 6th of May: Looking at the 10 day weather forecast we convinced ourselves that we should be frost free from now on so we headed for the garden and top field; I think we also needed a bit of a break from the house. 45 or so pumpkins in along with maybe 20 butternut squash. These were joined by about 20 courgette and 20 sweet corn on the 10th. I will check for damage later today when we return, I think we are tempting fate by not putting up the electric fence.

As the dandelions are up I had a quick wiz round with the mower before they set seed; a job that will have to be repeated more often than I have my hair cut 🙂

I heard the first cuckoo of the year and the oats that we cast are starting to sprout, giving the top field a new look of dappled green. Also noticed the Lilac tree flowering and the odd sight of horse radish in flower, which I had never noticed before. We have lots growing around the land and we are careful to avoid them when strimming as they are a key ingredient in many pickles and preserves.

LilacHorse radish in flower

7th of May: Good news, bad news; the electricity was finally connected without drama or tripping fuses, I’m all set to tackle the rest of the house now. Bad news, the plaster around the windows is cracking. A combination of vibration from the opening and closing of the windows and our poor attempt at getting lime render to try and stick to wood and expanding foam; the fiberglass mesh we used to help the process has failed to perform as we had hoped. The rest of the day was spent chipping off any loose render so that we could have another try. I guess we were lucky that we hadn’t started to take down the scaffold!

8th of May: We have been thinking about getting another dog and Gosia has looked at quite a few dog rescue websites to find a suitable playmate for Jackie (not quite true as Jackie doesn’t like other dogs) but you never know. Gosia finally found what can only be described as a Springer, Setter cross’; Zara. We headed off  first thing in the morning and she was part of the family by noon.

Zara

We think we have a solution for the window surrounds; the render that is used for the polystyrene insulation is quite flexible, so we have decided to give it a go. First coat completed by the end of the day, ready for a second tomorrow.

9th and 10th of May: Whilst the new render solution isn’t ideal in that it’s not a natural product, it does seem to be doing the job. second and third coats applied as required, then sanded down to blend in with the lime surround.

New render around windows
New render around windows

Jackie fell off the top level of scaffolding! All I heard was the thud as she landed on the bottom level, about 4 meters below and Gosia shouting for me to get there asap. I ran round the building shouting to try and find Jackie’s location, heart beating fast and a sense of dread; but of course I couldn’t find the black lifeless shape of a dog anywhere, she had already dusted herself off and was heading back up the scaffold! A heart stopping moment and a ban on dogs on scaffold has now been imposed.

Spider dog

And just in case you are worried about an overflow, I emptied the composting toilet, although this was in no way related to the events of Jackie falling off the scaffold:)

11th of May: Final sanding down of render and painting with a primer so that the lime wash will take, a good tidy up, a weed around the various plots of land and eviction notices left for the few mice that seem to think that our house is available for occupation. Chicken soup tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.

Monday 13th of May: Catching up with the blog 🙂 Hope to read a few before we head off later today.

Lets crack on!

In the space of about 12 days we have gone from snow and hard night time frosts to glorious sunshine, in fact the last week has equalled many a summer that you may expect in the UK; 20 + (°C) every day for the last week hitting 24°C on Friday, so warm that the Aleo vera made an out of season appearance last night to sooth my burning back!

And with the good weather comes a new determination to ‘crack on’ and get things done, which is exactly what we have done this last week.

Finished the stable, yes at long last we lime washed the exterior; two years after starting the project that provides us with shelter whilst we work on the house. Of course it doesn’t do it’s job any better now that it’s all painted white, but it’s more ascetically pleasing; it looks prettier 🙂

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Finished the soffit, another one of those jobs that seems to have trailed on for quite some time, although as we started the job late last year we were often hampered by the wind, which seemed quite severe 8m up a hand built scaffold. The fine weather has given us the boost and conditions to tick it off our list.

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Prepared the top field for planting, with a little (a lot) of help from our friends. Steve was good enough to pop over with his tractor and rotovator and proceeded to devour almost two thousand square meters of ploughed land in preparation for potatoes and various other veg. In addition Kazek went over the remaining seven thousand square meters with his spring tine harrow, so it’s ready to accept our casting of oats later in the month. Almost a hectare of land prepped in the space of twenty four hours; thank you both, especially Steve who worked into the night to get the job done,I can feel a flaszka (bottle of vodka) or two on the way.

Planted onions, garlic and rhubarb; an odd mix perhaps, but it’s what we had and we had some space by the stable to fill. More planting  planned soon. Talking of planting I also managed to rescue about twenty saplings from our bramble clearing expedition last week, which I have given new homes to on the west side of the land, hopefully creating a wind break in the future as they mature; I also slipped in a few willow whips around the barn to see if they take and hopefully support the banking that has started to subside with the recent thaw.

I should also mention that we spent a day in Rzemien at the start of the week and planted up the kitchen garden there with onions, garlic, beetroot, lettuce, radish, carrots, parsley, dill and…….I forget now; it will come back to me when I see it grow 🙂 We also sorted through last years potatoes store and sorted out four sacks for seed, not nearly enough but with these and others from various sources we should be able to put a decent crop down.

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Wood delivered for the terrace, if you didn’t know the house will be encircled by a two and a half meter terrace; providing an additional 100m² of outdoor living space. Having the wood delivered, which was ordered last year, is a big step forward on starting this stage of the build. Stripping off any bark and stacking the wood has taken almost a day to complete, but we did it; another tick box ticked:)

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Electrical installation started, that is the feed from the Electricity company to our own consumer unit; although a little rusty I think I managed ok with getting the cables in place and connected up with the help of Leszek (Gosias brother) Paperwork signed off, now all we have to do is wait for the meter to be installed and the switch can be flicked; albeit only to supply two sockets and a three phase plug at this point.

And finally, although you can be sure I have missed lots out as I’m trying to think back a whole week, I emptied the composting toilet again this morning after our scheduled visits; that’s seven days usage if you discount the days we spent in Rzemien, excellent performance if you ask me and all that water saved!

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Ok, sorry, I said it was the last thing; but I have to mention as I just remembered,  that we cracked open the first humanure pile this week after about 18 months rest and it is now supplying nutrients to some of our recent plantings; I’ll leave you to ask which if you ever visit and you are offered food:)

Walling, walling, walling, rawhide! (gloves required)

Even though the Yorkshire breed is a hardy one and bare hands are the tools of a great waller (you have to feel the stone) there comes a point when you have to pop on the gloves to stop your finger ends from wearing down to the bone. Of course I’m a ‘soft lad’ after many years of tapping the keyboard, but I had thought that my season of house building had toughened me up a little.

Armed with nothing more that a lump hammer, a crowbar a pick and a couple of nails and a piece of string my first day of dry stone walling started early yesterday. The frost was thin on the ground the air was fresh and the sun was just starting to say hello, which made for an entertaining journey through the dale peering through an unwashed windscreen; thankfully I wasn’t driving.

A couple of valleys to the East on narrow winding roads, passing through the odd village and hamlet, we reached our destination; what appeared to be a well organised farm yard, even though it was scattered with the commonly found polythene wrapped circular hay bales and an assortment of machinery. The usual greetings ‘ar ya reet’ and ‘ow’s it going’, plus a fair amount of chatter that I wasn’t privy to soon revealed that the Mule (a glorified four wheel drive golf cart) was out of action due to an altercation with a steep hill and a failing handbrake, so our eyes turned to the ‘landy’ (Landrover), but of course this was also suffering from a few mechanical problems; a flat battery, a deflated tyre and a possible starter motor issue. A bit of quick thinking, some jump leads and a general consensus that the tyre would ‘be reet’ we only had one final hurdle to jump before we headed off up top and a days graft. As we pulled the Landy up to the red diesel tank to pop a bit of fuel in to stop the annoying orange warning light the plan fell into disarray, not only was the tank locked but so was the fuel cap, with no key to be found! The plan was finally shattered,  along with the early morning quiet, as a masked quad bike rider tore into the yard, sliding to a halt a couple of feet away from us. Denty (the only name I will ever know him as), the rider and supervisor, was quick to explain that our intended wall was still undert’ snow and our trip to the hills was scuppered. Fearing, or possibly hoping, that the days work was not to be, I meandered around whilst new plans were made and we soon headed off across a couple of fields to a fifteen meter stretch of half built wall; an unfinished job of fifteen years past.

The first opportunity I had to take a photo, 3 or 4 hours into the job
The first opportunity I had to take a photo, 3 or 4 hours into the job!

I was initially drafted in to do the ripping out of an old section of wall whilst the lads rebuilt the section, but as the job had changed so did my role. I was now tasked with digging out the old stone that lay at the foot of the wall, sorting and passing required sizes and filling in; all relatively east tasks compared to my intended labour. I still found the work hard, but enjoyed every minute as the the sun warmed our backs and the wind stayed calm. The layers of clothing soon came off and Hadley, my nephew, was soon bare chested; there was even a moment when he stood in the middle of the field in just his boxers and alpaca socks as he discarded his thermals; quite a sight for any passers-by, however distant. Ben, his partner in crime and on occasion referred to as a smurf due to his blue tracksuit, made much of this and the banter remained thick, fast and funny throughout the day.

All of this was topped off with wonderful scenery and on the odd occasion that we stopped to have a bite to eat I marvelled at my surroundings and I couldn’t think of any better place to be working and I was reminded of the old saying ‘you can take a Yorkshire man out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire from the man’ and for good reason.

As the day wore on so did my gloves, even wearing two pairs gave little protection and the material  was through on four of my fingers! I did however take heart and considered that I wasn’t a complete wuss as even my betters donned sturdy pairs as they set the heavy top stones.

With the Job done the sun decided to leave us and I welcomed the cold beer and outstanding lamb shank meal my sister had cooked; the addition of a second nephew and a few friends created the perfect atmosphere to finish the day and for the first time in a long I went to bed early and slept with a clear mind and an aching body 🙂

Missing post

After struggling to find the time to write a post I found a ‘saved in drafts’ (great blog by the way) and thought I could quickly publish it with a few witty comments to try and make up for my lack of attention to blogging.

After a quick edit and spell check I thought I had posted it, only to find this evening that it has gone missing! And despite my best efforts to find a temporary copy lurking on my laptop, it appears to be gone forever 😦

Without the time or energy to rewrite it I will surmise the entry as a ‘how to’ germinate chilli’s and making sure you get them in pots on your windowsill any time now; it will save you money and you and up with three products; Fresh Chilli, Chilli Flakes and, if you have the patience, Cayenne pepper (made from the ground seeds). I’ll try and rewrite it when I convince my sister that she should have a few plants going on her windowsill, even if there not likely to make it outside in the fickle Yorkshire summer.

So what’s happening, why no posts, no replies to comments, very little reading of your posts? All I can say is I have entered into a life of servitude, I am not only the chief cook and bottle washer, you could also add baker, cleaner, plumber, driver, shopper, electrician, mechanic, wood cutter, fire starter, recycler and all round handyman 🙂 I just don’t have the time! That’s not strictly true, but by putting this down in my blog I’ll find out if my sister is reading it and if I never blog again then call the police and tell them to search for a shallow grave in the Dales:)

I have a little bit of work lined up, helping my nephew out with some dry stone walling at Bolton Abbey, so another feather in my cap if it comes about; although I hope the weather improves a bit first!

Ok, that’s it for now, I did manage to get some photos today which I hope to post soon, but I don’t want to post too much now just in case this one disappears as well 🙂

Przepraszam nie mowie po polsku

Which, as it turns out, works in my favour; not being able to speak Polish is one of the reasons why I landed a job teaching English. Although I have to say that the word teaching should be used loosely in this context.

With no experience what so ever in teaching, a mediocre grade C GCSE from 1984, an umbilical cord reliance on my spellchecker and a prevailing Yorkshire accent; it took me by surprise when I got the job.

Of course I put it down to my amiable personality and winning smile, or it could be that the company who requested an English native speaker asked for someone without any experience; either way I got the job and every Tuesday I head off to Mielec (about 15km away) to the offices of the local electricity company to chat with key members of staff, in English.

The morning is broken down into three lessons (90 minutes each), the first two are one to one classes with the president of the company and then the financial director. The third and final lesson is with a small group who’s numbers fluctuates between two and six people, depending on how busy they are. This final group works within the accounting and technical departments of the company and their English is at a slightly higher level, which can make for some interesting conversation.

We are provided with course books printed by the Oxford University Press; although I doubt very much if there is any link to this well know English scholarly institute, and if there is then I have to say that I’m disappointed with the many Americanisms and spellings that are used throughout; the use of the letter Z instead of S is particularly annoying; although I admit it might be handy if playing scrabble!

Whilst I began using the books to structure the lessons I often found the guidelines on use quite muddled and difficult to understand, so as time has gone on the books are now only used to provide us with a topic of conversation. That is if we haven’t already settled down to discussing other things, such as the latest skiing trip, a visit to Krakow or the fate of Manchester United over the weekend. Incidentally I support Barnsley as the nearest geographical league football team to my place of birth, it also means that I have no interest in football!

And that’s it, I babble along asking questions for four and a half hours (getting paid for six), listening to conversation and correcting any errors that become apparent. I have to say that most mistakes relate to the tense used, plurals and pronouns (I had to look the last one up on Google). Everybody is friendly, professional and, with the group especially, we are able to have a good laugh; a perfect job by all accounts.

Of course I speak too fast and my Yorkshire accent, although dulled by spending many years down south, can be quite a contrast from what they are used to; but I think this all helps for preparing them for a real world situation:)

It’s also quite well paid in comparison to the average wage and I earn in a day what some people work all week for, which doesn’t seem right somehow ; but it is what it is. Hopefully in the future a similar job closer to our new home will be available and will help to supplement our income once we start farming the land and taking in guests. I’d certainly much prefer that than seeing Gosia heading off to Holland again 🙂

I like it when it snows, it makes our garden look like everybody else’s!

It’s about the only Chubby Brown joke I can remember that doesn’t have an ‘F’ word in it, and for whatever reason its a joke that always runs round in my head when it snows, as it is doing right now.

You may have noticed that my pledge to head over to the house to try and get some work done was curtailed by the weather; dropping temperatures and snow on a daily basis for the last three days has kept me in my hidey hole, which has given me too much time to think and I began to get all morbid about the state of the world, which is against my optimistic nature.

So the best remedy to this sudden cloud was to look at some old photos and remind myself of the work that Gosia and I put in over the summer and how much closer we are to achieving our dream. One of the little projects that I think warrants a mention is the pivnica.

A Pivnica is probably best translated as a cellar or even basement, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on; or in this particular case a root-cellar; because it is essentially outside and underground. What would this be called in England?

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First things first I had to tackle was the roof, stripping back the earth and tree saplings to reveal a mixture of old terracotta tiles, asbestos and tin sheet, old polythene fertiliser sacks and the occasional old coat, which served as the roof. Once removed we were left with the rotting remains of a wooden roofing frame, and under this the earth that was piled over the top of the stone built domed structure.

Once stripped bare we had to tread carefully as the earth was starting to fall in on the inside on the pivnica and it was soon decided to leave the earth in place and create a wooden frame to support a new tin roof. Luckily for us we had retrieved quite a bit of wood from the barn renovation  and whilst it may not have had the structural integrity of fresh timber it was fine for this task.

Controversially I keep all our old engine oil and mix it with diesel to create our own creosote for treating of wood; I know some people think this might not be environmentally friendly, but in my opinion it’s a far better use than taking it to the dump and not knowing what happens to it once you wave goodbye; it hasn’t any real value so my suspicion is that it would be tipped into landfill or burned off, so treating the wood in this type of construction seems like a sensible thing to do. Thinking back to the initial cost of treating the barn with a commercial product I know what I will be using next time it needs a fresh coat.

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So frame in place, followed by a waterproof membrane of a low cost roofing felt we dug deep in our pockets and purchased new tin sheet to top it all off. Tin roofs are surprisingly common in Poland, in fact its the most common roofing material used, so we where able to pick up a basic pattern for a reasonable price and from what I have read it has a low embodied energy compared to some of the modern alternatives so I’m offsetting any harm of the home made preservative 🙂

I’m sorry to say that on reflection we will probably remove this roof and replace it with a living roof, but don’t worry the tin will be used on my chicken shed project 🙂

So that’s the outside, what about inside? Well as this was most definitely a joint effort Gosia was busy with her rubber mallet and sacks of empty bottles creating a new glass bottle floor! Its was an idea I came across on the web when I saw a few examples of people making paths with old bottles, inverted and hammered into the ground and as a glass bottle lover it seemed like an ideal solution for putting our rubbish to good use. Having said that we soon realised that my beer consumption would never provide enough material, so we employed the help of friends, neighbours and a local bar to provide us with the three thousand plus bottles required to complete the entire floor. We also inherited quite a few screw top bottles with lids, so they were preserved for future home brew projects:)

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Hats off the Gosia who completed the entire floor on her own, about the only thing I added was encouragement or criticism, but once finished I had the back breaking job of lime rendering the internal arched walls, so revenge was sweet for anything that I may have said out of turn.

And there you have it, an underground root cellar which should keep things cool in the summer and prevent freezing in the winter, I can vouch that nothing went above 12°c in the summer, but until I set up a reliable thermometer for the winter I’m not sure about protection against freezing, but my guess is that it will be good.

When people first see it they worry that the bottles will break, but belive me you could jump up and down on them, it’s solid and by all accounts provides very good insulation.

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It looks like I never took any photos of the end result, but you get the idea of how it came along; as soon as I battle through the snow and cold I will add a few more photos of the finished product…or I will find the photos I’m sure I already took 🙂

Home alone

Well not so much alone, but without Gosia. That’s right, she has left me! I know its hard to believe after all these years, the ups, the downs, the dreams we shared, the plans we made.

How could she do it, where has she gone?

Holland, that’s where, to earn some money to keep me in the lifestyle I have become accustomed to:)

At this point I should explain that Gosia was starting to get cabin fever back here in Rzemien with little to do, and decided it was time to find some work to help fund our next stage of building. And when Gosia decides to do something she does it; so after a few phone calls, a couple of CV’s and a visit to and agency to check on her English speaking abilities, she was offered a job in Holland.

So on Friday morning I drove her to an awaiting couch and waved goodbye to the best half of me and sent her off to the Land of the Nethers.

Phone and Skype updates are coming in thick and fast and it seems that everything is ok, accommodation is shared, but spacious and modern with heating and internet thrown in for good measure. Bikes are provide for the 3Km trip to work, the beach is about the same distance away and the town has a flourishing Turkish market; so fruit and veg are in cheap abundance. So I expect a super fit and healthy Gosia on her return:), whenever that may be.

So as you will imagine my Polish is improving fast, well not that fast, but it’s improving; I have no choice now that my translator has gone to a better paid job and I live in a Polish speaking household. But it has also spurred me on to try and get a bit more work as a English native speaker, although so far no positive responses back from my enquiries.

Of course I also open to going to Holland if Gosia can find me work, but only having the one language could be my downfall, so it may be back to the UK to see if the job market has improved at all.

Or I could just relax, stay calm and carry on. I’m heading over to the house tomorrow if the temperature stays above -5°c in the hope that I can get stuck into some work, at least it will stop me feeling guilty 🙂