Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Busy Week!

We've been preoccupied with work around the house and garden this week. Monday and Tuesday were taken up with asbestos removal, Wednesday with the installation of our new combi boiler and Thursday and Friday we were in the garden with Nick and Mike. The latter will be covered in our sister blog
I'll try to update that tomorrow, meanwhile here's a picture of Nick and Mike working hard!

I mentioned the asbestos removal in my previous post. After the guys in the hazmat suits removed it, another guy came the next day and did tests on the air around the boiler and in the containment unit. We passed the tests with flying colours, so they took down all the stuff and Neil (from British Gas) moved in to take out the old boiler and install the new.

For the sake of our American friends, who do things a little differently, I should explain how our old water system worked. It is fairly typical of many houses in England. The boiler is located in the kitchen (it's the white object on the right of the picture). It heats the hot water for household use and the hot water which circulates through the central heating radiators. Very few places in Britain have basements, neither do they have forced air central heating like they do in the US.
In the old days all of our water systems, except the tap in the kitchen would be tank fed. In our case there was a cold water tank in the attic that supplied water to the heating system and to the taps in the bathrooms. Hot water was stored in a copper hot water tank found in the airing cupboard (it's on the left of the picture, the tank is enclosed in an insulating jacket). Keeping the hot water tank in a cupboard gives you a nice warm place to finish drying your washing and air your damp clothes. Most tank fed systems give you rather low water pressure.

The thing we have installed is called a combi boiler. It still heats the water for the hot taps and the central heating, but it does it "on demand". There is no hot water tank and it works with water on mains pressure. Here's what it looks like in the kitchen now. The flue pipe is gone. The boiler is a condensing boiler with a counter-current heat exchanger and it vents to the side. Condensation is collected and drained away. The little red object just above the ground is a large magnet that collects up some of the rust and iron that circulates through the central heating system. The airing cupboard is now empty - it's going to become a larder for me and a cupboard for John's study. Believe it or not, it has two doors!

In the foreground of this picture you can just see our double oven. I'm in the middle of cleaning it. In fact, we spent most of today cleaning up in the kitchen. There was quite a bit of dust on all the surfaces, and it was time for a spring-clean anyway!
Later today I took my first long hot bath. Now we're on mains pressure we get a much better flow of water and I was able to fill the bath in 5 minutes rather than 20 minutes. And there was no worry about draining a tank. The water was lovely and hot the whole time! If I'd needed to I could have topped it up at any time. What luxury!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Alien Invasion?

I took this picture in my kitchen today!

What is this masked creature you ask? Well, he's obviously not too dangerous as I lived to tell the tale.

The next picture explains it all. While we were being surveyed for a new gas boiler they found a small asbestos board stuck to the ceiling around the flue of the old boiler. We had to have it removed before they could work on the boiler.

So we've been invaded by men in hazmat suits. They came down the driveway in a very big van and towing a portable decontamination shower-unit. They just made it down and were able to separate van and trailer to get them turned around.

They sealed off the part of the kitchen where the asbestos is and joined that up to a polythene tunnel leading outside. They set up a negative air pressure in the house and air in the tunnel has to be filtered several times as it is drawn out.

The guy doing the work wore a red suit while working in the tent in the kitchen. Then he had to change into this blue one before coming out. The red one is in the bag and will be disposed of. He then walked about 10 feet to the portable decontamination unit where he showered and disposed of his blue suit.

All this for a board which was no more than a foot square!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A New Pheasant in the Garden

Mr. Magnificent, our lovely tame male pheasant disappeared last summer. We think he'd been in the garden for about 3 years, so it's not surprising - they don't last much longer around here.

We now have another cock. We've called him "Greenback" for obvious reasons. He's much shyer than Mr. M., won't come for peanuts and visits at quiet times of the day (like early in the morning). However, this morning he hung around for quite a while and I was able to get some pictures. They're not very good, but they do show how green his back is.

I was playing around with Picassa and really love what happens to pheasant colouring when you saturate it.
Check out the Peel Wyke site, I'm just going over there to post about this week's work.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Encaustic Art - WOW!!!!!

We've just had a volunteer's craft day at Scrappies. Irene and Sheila taught us some of the basic techniques of encaustic painting. This is where you use melted wax to make a image. We used small irons and stylus's to make some wonderful images. I've just updated the Scrappies web site with lots of photos from the workshop. You can find them by clicking here. The pictures above are some of my experiments. I was very pleased with them and would like to have another go at it sometime in the future. I went out on the web and found the site of the guys who developed the technique. They have lots of examples in their galleries - take a look!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sun and Snow!

Today is a red letter day. We saw a sunbeam in the house for the first time since November. Here's photographic evidence of it. I love that first sight of the sun, it means that spring isn't far away and that we shouldn't see much more of winter's depression.
You'll notice that there's plenty of snow in these photos. We've had about 6" in the last couple of days. Actually, it's been quite a cold winter altogether and there's more to come. There's so much snow that we've had to cancel this week's gardening session. More about that on our sister site.

We were finally able to test the 4-wheel drive on the RAV4 today. John drove up and down the drive - he said it was a piece of cake. That's a relief as it's a pretty steep, shady drive and the snow takes a long while to melt off. It's good to know we're not snowed in if there's an emergency. It's different for Steve and Marjorie next door. They face a hairpin bend to get onto our drive and with a normal car I don't think Steve would be able to make it. Never mind, we're here if they need us and we check up on them from time to time.

Here's another photo from the garden. It's of our lovely old Mahonia. Right now it's in full bloom, but the snow is hiding all that. However, we were impressed with how the snow emphasised the shape of the leaves. Hope you like it too!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

It's snowing again!

The snow is falling in the valley, the wind is howling and the temperature is dropping rapidly. So I'm staying in to do some catching up on blogs, websites and volunteer jobs.

First I want to ask all of you to do me a favour. If you have time, please check out the Church Stretton Arts Festival Web Site at:

I want you to imagine that you're visiting Church Stretton and you want to know what's on. Tell me what you think of the web pages. Do they make you want to visit us? Do you find them exiting or interesting? Can you find all the information you need? Is there anything else I should include?

Please send me e-mail with your comments. Thanks.

So far it's been quite a cold winter. I'm not really complaining because it's really nowhere near as cold as it was in North America, and we need a cold spell to kill off the bugs and convince the plants that summer is coming. However, it's sad to see that some of the plants had already started to put out leaves. We're expecting it to be a very cold wind with cold air flowing into Britain from Siberia, so there will be freezing temperatures every night for the next few days.

In addition there are dire warnings of more (and possibly heavy) snow to come. Now over here that means anything over a few centimeters of snow so we may not be able to get our cross-country skis out!

Our snowdrops are out already. In fact, they've been out for over a week. Unfortunately, we managed to trample a few of them when we were working in the garden last week. There are big works going on in our garden. We're working with a real live garden designer to give it a makeover and make it more wildlife friendly. I've started a new blog for this, with pictures and descriptions of the work as it goes on. You can find that at the following address:

We've been working on the garden for the last three weeks, in spite of the low temperatures. I guess it's been between 2 and 8 C while we've been working (in the 30s for the Americans!), and some of the time it's been windy or drizzling. But we Brits don't let that stop us. If we did we'd never do anything outside!!!! Last week you would have been amused to see us serenely drinking coffee and eating cookies outside. We've even set up a table and comfy chairs so we can relax during our coffee breaks!

The picture shows us piling up the old fence sections to make a habitat pile. The thing that looks like a dead dog is in fact a soggy mess of old newsprint paper that we found behind the garage. We moved it out there after it got wet when the upper garage roof leaked on it. I had been keeping the paper to make into paper mache - yet another brilliant craft idea that never went anywhere! That's me behind the fence and in front is Mike Russell who is our designer. Mike specialises in Nature Gardens, so he's the perfect person to work with. He's not only designing the new garden, he's helping us to do the work.

One of the benefits of staying out all day is that we've seen some new wildlife in the garden. We've spotted a goldcrest several times (it's a close relative of the Golden Crowned Kinglet of the US) and we saw a tree-creeper one day too.

We've been a bit worried that we would disturb our badgers, but two of them showed up on the patio a couple of nights ago and today we saw our diurnal badger for the first time since before Christmas. He still seems to be doing well, even though he continues to make forays during the afternoon. Here's a nice picture of him that I took in December. You can really see those strong claws in this picture. No wonder they do so much digging about the place. Now that we've taken down our fence we'll be able to watch the badgers as they walk about on the bank to the south of us. Hopefully, we'll be able to see the babies playing when they first come up from underground.

Oh well ... I suppose I'd better get back to work .....