Of course, I really should spend some time in the house soon. It's not going to decorate itself after all. We've got a plasterer coming on Tuesday to do a final awkward bit, and I'll do a DIY update after that.
Looking back at my pictures from the last few weeks, it's quite clear I've spent most of the time I've not been at work wandering the countryside. The weather's been good here, and I can't bear to be stuck in this dusty, half decorated house. After work, and at the weekend, I'm just desperate to go outside.
This was a brief stop on the way back from a little market town with a friend. I've driven past here countless times, but never stopped and walked down the path a little way.
A bit of clambering (and a bit of swearing) and we found ourselves quite high up and looking out quite a long way.
Another day, we went to another market town looking for a new house. When we go somewhere new, we like to wander about and see what's close.
I'd happily live near here. It was pretty hilly, mind you.
Next, our trips took a less scenic (but more tasty) turn, with cake and a fair in a park.
One evening after work, as the light faded, we headed out to the peak district. There was no epic sunset, and there were a party of scouts whose shouts echoed around the valley, but it was still peaceful.
Yesterday the sun shone, and when a friend suggested a trip out after tea, we jumped at the chance. We hadn't eaten, so we took slices of pizza and a bit of cake, and found a 'beach' (or as close to a beach as we get round here) by a reservoir.
We skimmed stones and watched as the sun set over the hills.
Sometimes even just going out for an hour can feel like a rest. After work, it feels like a whole other day.
Of course, I really should spend some time in the house soon. It's not going to decorate itself after all. We've got a plasterer coming on Tuesday to do a final awkward bit, and I'll do a DIY update after that.
After my slow start to the year on the reading front, things have picked up over the last couple of months, partly because I've been on holiday, and one of my favourite things to do on holiday is to head straight to a charity shop and pick up a large pile of books. So here goes - what I've been reading in March and April.
Running Free: A Runner's Journey Back to Nature (Richard Askwith)
This book sat on my shelf for a good while as the opening chapter irritated me and I couldn't get past it. I thought it was going to be all 'isn't it terrible that people wear GPS watches', and I quite like my GPS watch, and didn't want to feel told off. However, I'm glad I got past that as the rest of the book was actually quite charmingly enthusiastic about running in fields and listening to the birds. Made me want to run a bit more.
Purple Hibiscus (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
I found this via a friend, who suggested this Ted Talk about the dangers of telling a single story about a place and the people who live there (for example 'Africa = famine'). Do go and listen to it. I took on board what the speaker said, and decided to start with her own first novel, and got her second out of the library at the same time as I know what I'm like for finding an author and reading everything they've ever written. This is an evocative story of a young Nigerian girl who ends up living in her aunt's house, much poorer but free from her abusive father. In places it's quite disturbing, but overall positive. This is the book she refers to in the talk, which someone told her wasn't 'authentically African'.
Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
This is the author's second, much more involved novel, and tells the story of the outbreak of war in Nigeria in the late 1960s. This is a place and period of history I knew nothing about, and I always learn about historical events better through novels and the stories of individual people. This gives a vivid picture of the lives of people both before and during the war and the famine that followed. Highly recommended.
Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters (Laura Thompson)
I don't quite know how I ended up with this book, which is a brief biography of the six upper class Mitford sisters in the 1920s and beyond. Fascinating, disturbing, and rather odd.
The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year (Sue Townsend)
I'm still not sure what I thought of this. Rather daft, although I confess I identified with the desire to just stop doing things and take to my bed at the start. Increasingly sad and disturbing (and quite ridiculous) towards the end.
Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (Maya Angelou)
This is the kind of book you can't really write until you get into your sixties I don't think - full of tales and advice and snippets of wisdom acquired over a long eventful life. I read the first volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography at school, and read the other six volumes since - but I've just discovered all manner of other things I didn't know about her in this wikipedia entry. Incidentally, she was good friends with one of the Mitford sisters.
Fruit of the Lemon (Andrea Levy)
Another holiday charity shop find, and continuing my theme of reading in detail about individual lives, whether real or fictional. This one is fictional, but is about a young woman being sent from London to Jamaica to learn about her family and background.
So a fairly random assortment, as usual. I'm not much of a literary critic... but it's proving interesting to keep track of what I'm reading over the months and it's making me more aware of finding new authors I think, and encouraging me to put aside more time to read, which can only be a good thing.
I didn't spend much time in the garden in April. Between a work conference, my cycling trip and our week in Northumbria, I was away for almost three weeks of April, and the rest I seemed to spend packing and unpacking and repacking, and preparing to go away and getting used to being home again.
I did sneak out to take a few photographs in the sunshine right at the end of April though. Things have taken a rather tulipy turn out there. When my mum visited in the autumn, we spent a rather chilly couple of hours haphazardly planting bulbs, and our lack of planning and coordination is very evident.
Tulips have popped up all over the place - pink, bright red and frilly, and these rather fetching dark purple raggedy-edged things.
I often think I should take a more coordinated approach to garden planning, and have some kind of vague colour scheme that I stick to, but this is such a small garden that you can't commit to too much of one thing in case it doesn't work, so every year I end up with a slightly different higgledy piggledy look. It suits me. The neighbours may well laugh, I don't care.
We harvested a small bit of rhubarb in April too - just enough to top up a crumble with the rest being from a friend's allotment. The gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes are looking like they're in for a good summer, and the first flower has appeared on the fuchsia. I've finally pulled up the ornamental cabbages, which went to seed several weeks ago, but the bedding plants (violas?) I planted last August are still going strong, although they're starting to get a bit leggy now. A trip to the garden centre might be in order soon.
How is it the end of April already? Just where does the time go?
After my energetic cycling escapades, we escaped off up to Northumbria for a bit of a sit down in a house free of paint tins and wood. Our house was cheery and calm and surrounded by a small flock of sheep, who nestled down to sleep each in the shelter of our wall.
We spent a lot of time just sitting in the house.
We also spent a lot of time pottering around market towns and tea shops, and one day found ourselves in the centre of Britain, where we found the Centre of Britain Sweet Shop, Centre of Britain Post Office, and Centre of Britain Launderette.
We wandered along Hadrian's Wall for a while too, and pottered about the surrounding countryside.
I could have happily settled in and stayed in our holiday cottage for a few more weeks, but real life intervened and we had to come home. Still, as my mum always used to say when we were young and complaining about the end of our holidays, if you don't go home, you can't come back again.
As threatened, me and my bike went off on an adventure last week. Not to Scotland, as originally planned, but across the Trans Pennine Trail to visit my sister.
First I had to get onto the trail, which involved three miles downhill before a nice gentle cycle through the woods. The perfect start.
My first section of the trail was rather up and down through some woods. The sun was shining, and I barely saw anyone else all morning. Most jolly.
Everything went swimmingly until after lunch, when I reached Dunford Bridge. I knew the next section was 'more challenging' but I hadn't realised quite how much more challenging...
First was a short steep incline, followed by a long slow uphill drag.
The views did get substantially better from this point on, and I kept stopping to look back down the hill I'd just cycled up. It doesn't look like much of a hill, but I can assure you it was, and it went on for a long time.
At the top (for now) the trail crossed the busy A628 and went off road, over the moors. See that plastic bag, blowing in the wind? Yep, that wind was blowing in my face, and would continue to do so for the whole of my two day ride.
The scenery was spectacular and it was quite epic being out on the moors by myself, but the surface wasn't exactly easy to cycle on, and this bit took me rather a long time...
I had to navigate through a field of rather scary looking giant grey furry cows (no, that's not a technical description, and I'm still trying to find out what they actually were) but fortunately they looked happy enough lying in the sunshine and didn't feel the need to chase me and my bike. I didn't stop for a picture though, just in case.
Eventually the trail dropped down towards those reservoirs you can see in the distance.
This bit of the trail was ridiculous. Steep, loose rocks, and steps. I had to get off and push, and it was still slow going. Definitely made for mountain bikers, not jittery ladies on folding bicycles laden down with panniers full of snacks.
But I made it, and cycling along the reservoirs was quite pleasant in comparison.
I confess I ended the day by hopping on a train. I'd done 36 miles, still had 16 to go and wanted to see my friend and her children before they went to bed.
The next day started rather less scenically, with a bridge over the motorway and a rather unglamourous bit of woodland and river alongside the M60.
After that, the trail followed the route of an old railway line for about seven miles, which I confess was rather dull after the previous day's far-reaching views. It was also quite a lot colder, and after being sunburned in a t shirt the day before, I spent day two huddled in three layers with my gloves on.
Eventually things got more interesting, with a canal, the River Mersey, and some industrial heritage.
I'd happily never see another one of these gates again.
They're at every entrance, and every point where the trail crosses a road, and they do an excellent job of keeping motorbikes off the trail, but goodness me they're a bit of a nuisance to navigate with a fully laden bike. I had to essentially get off and lean the whole thing sideways. On day two, there seemed to be a gate every ten minutes and then at one point, I hit this ludicrous set of wooden steps.
That sign at the bottom says 'cyclists dismount' - as if it was possible to do anything other than dismounting... Even pushing down these steps wasn't that easy though, and I hate to think how hard it would have been to push up them. Not what I was expecting on a cycle route!
But after this, everything got substantially easier, with a well surfaced path all the way along the river to Liverpool (via a cup of tea at a friend's house on the outskirts of the city).
The wind was in my face the whole time and I was getting rather tired by the time I reached Liverpool. I was grateful for a bit of a rest on the ferry across the Mersey.
This was the commuter ferry, and it was heartening to see so many other bikes.
On the other side, I got slower and slower. I'd already done about 40 miles that day, and the wind was against me, and I was cold and tired and sand had blown across the track meaning I kept having to get off. My nephews were getting rather impatient waiting for me, and my sister ended up cycling out to make sure I hadn't got lost (even I couldn't get lost cycling along the seafront).
I didn't cycle home. I spent a couple of days playing with my nephews, and then got an elaborate series of trains back across the Pennines and spent a night in Buxton in the rain.
And then I got a lift home. Cheating, yes, but I reckon I cycled a good 90 miles in the first two days which is quite enough for one week.
After all my preparations (which by a normal cyclist's standards wouldn't really count as 'training'), my 62 mile bike race was thwarted by tonsillitis. Most vexing, not least because I had my tonsils removed when I was seven, and they appear to have grown back for the sole purpose of causing trouble. Is it just me who thinks that's a bit weird? Well, apparently it can happen, and according to this source (reliability unknown) it can happen, sometimes in people who eat too much cake. Hmm.
Anyway, I was far too poorly to do the race, or even go and watch my sister and her friends, who had a grand old time without me. I was most disappointed (really!)
Still, it hasn't stopped me cycling now I'm feeling better. On Sunday morning it was so gloriously warm and the sun was streaming in through the windows and I just couldn't stand the thought of staying inside for the whole day. One of the things I love about cycling regularly is that the bike is always ready and waiting by the back door, and I don't need to do half an hour of maintenance and faffing before I go out. So off I went, up into the woods again.
This is my extended cycling to work route, just under ten miles, and takes me just under an hour. It's not exactly flat, although most of the uphill bit is in the woods, so the scenery is nicely distracting.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened on Sunday - I went out, cycled through the woods, and was home in time for second breakfast. It feels good to be fit enough to just decide to cycle ten miles on the spur of the moment for no reason other than 'it's sunny'.
And being fit enough to do that means that I'm not daunted by the prospect of cycling ten miles between work venues in a day, as I did today - which saved me a whole lot of time waiting for a bus.
I'm off work in a couple of weeks, and it looks like my time off will be split by a holiday together, and a few days on my own. I'm thinking me and my bicycle might take off for a country road somewhere, possibly Scotland. I've not done that for a good few years, but I think now might be the time...
We're getting to the stage where we could, if necessary, put things in cupboards and throw our house to the mercy of the market in its current state (although we'd rather finish off a few little bits first). It feels nearly there.
We've started to look at new houses again. We never stopped looking on the internet, of course, but after a brief flurry a couple of years ago we hadn't visited any, as we knew we just weren't ready to sell. Now it feels like we could if we found the right house, so our weekends are a mix of DIY and pottering around other people's houses.
We've seen three in the last few weeks - all lovely on paper, but not-quite-right in reality. The first was near here, and had lots of rooms, but they were all smaller than the rooms we have here, and some were very dark. It's the perfect house for someone though and is already sold.
The second we adored. Old and higgledy piggledy and cottagey, with lawns and vegetable beds and outbuildings, and not too far away from work. But again, the rooms were small, and an odd layout, and even I had to duck to go through some of the doorways. We would have made it work - but not for the price the current owners wanted. We've left that information with them and I don't expect to hear back.
Yesterday's house was pretty. We had an inkling it would be too small, and it was, although downstairs was more spacious than we thought. The garden though was lovely - but overlooked by the houses over the road, which hadn't been clear on the pictures. Having lived here, where the street runs right past the garden, I'm fed up of being watched while I potter.
But it's making me ponder on the intangible something we want from a new house, which is so hard to define. We tell estate agents we want somewhere detached, with a decent, non-overlooked garden with room for chickens, and a spare downstairs room to use for music - and those are our main requirements. There are plenty of houses that have those things, but they're just not right, for reasons we're finding hard to explain even to ourselves.
Maybe we don't have to explain. Maybe we'll know it when we feel it. Or maybe not - maybe there are many potential future homes that we would be very happy in, and the trick is just finding one we can afford that's close enough to work. We don't have an endless budget, after all, so we're unlikely to get everything we'd like in one house.
One thing we've decided that we do want, and that is quite hard to explain to estate agents, is hanging out space. We want to be able to have people sitting round the kitchen table, and still have room to make tea. We want to lounge in the living room and not feel like the walls are closing in. I'm thinking we may need something slightly larger than a teensy cottage (however cute).
So the search continues, and we try to turn each trip into a mini adventure, exploring new places (or revisiting old ones). Yesterday we were particularly fortunate as the sun shone, and we ate a chip butty sitting on the steps in a little market town I've not been to for fifteen years.
The scenery on the journey was glorious, but even thirty miles was just too far for a daily commute on those roads. It took forever to get home (I admit it would have been slightly quicker if I hadn't kept stopping to take photographs).
So we're back to the (online) drawing board. In the meantime, today we are most excited to be putting down the landing carpet after treading only on floorboards for over a year. But first it's such a sunshiney day that I'm going to sneak off on my bike for an hour.
I can't believe I haven't done a garden update since December, but I suppose it's not surprising really as I've barely been out there. Partly, it's been cold and rainy and dark, and not much has been growing, and we've been focusing on the inside of the house.
This weekend though, the sun came out, and we finally cleared a path to the front door and opened it for the first time this year (I mean, we have been out of the house in that time, we just use the back door as our main means of escape).
The garden hasn't been quite as neglected as you might think - because it runs alongside the pavement I do pull out the odd weed or bit of litter as I'm passing to get into the car. But that's not the same as being in the garden I don't think.
Yet again, I was impressed by these winter pansies, which have lasted since August, which is seven months now. That's pretty impressive, and they've just got more and more abundant throughout the winter.
The ornamental cabbage have gone to seed, but I've left them for now as I think they look quite sculptural (and also I have nothing to replace them with).
Signs of spring are peeking through though. That's my only daffodil that you can see above. My mum helped me plant what felt like a thousand crocus bulbs last winter, but so far only these at the bottom of the apple tree have emerged.
I love their delicate purple stripiness and their thin stripey leaves.
The tulips are making progress, although no flowers yet. And other signs of spring have started to surprise me, like this hyacinth that I'd clearly shoved into a pot outside the back door after it had flowered inside last year (or even the year before).
Some things are looking a little worse for wear. These pansies have clearly been munched - I suspect by a slug slithering past on its way to the nearby compost bin. I need to put them back outside the back door actually - they were moved when I neighbour had scaffolding round their house before Christmas and are now tucked away in the shade of the lilac, which isn't an ideal place for them.
Every year I think I've killed the rhubarb (and the fuchsia, but I've no evidence for the contrary on that yet this year so we'll have to wait and see). However, it seems I'm wrong - rhubarb is wending its wrinkly way up through the lavender.
Speaking of lavender... I never did get round to harvesting it at the end of last year, and it was looking rather woody and gangly. It started drizzling while I was out in the garden, but I did manage to pull the woodiest stems off this and it now looks considerably more tidy.
So there we are - a little peek round my garden on this, the spring equinox, when the day and night are equal length and we start, slowly, to inch our way towards summer.
How's your garden looking?
It's been a while since I did anything with fabric or wool, and I've missed it. My stash was mostly packed away last year (or maybe even the year before) and sits forlornly in sealed boxes in the cellar, while I wield paint brushes and plastering tools.
So I was almost pleased last week when my hand knitted socks developed holes, as it was a nice excuse to sew them up.
I finished these back in September, so they've only been going for six months, but I do wear them a lot, usually as a second pair over the top of a smaller pair in walking boots. I wear waling boots most days, and I walk a lot, so they've had a good run. But given how long it took me to make them, I wasn't about to throw them away. Instead, a bit of slightly shoddy non-expert darning was called for.
I did say it was shoddy... I never learned to darn properly. I understand that you almost have to weave new fabric across the hole, and that's what I've tried to do, but I suspect a real darning expert would laugh at my attempt.
Not exactly an invisible mend, but the heels of my socks are rarely that visible anyway. And I didn't have many colours to choose from, with my stash being packed away. So it'll do, and hopefully my socks will live to see another day.
In case they don't though, I've started a new pair.
I love knitting socks. They don't take up much room, or require much equipment, and you can move them from room to room when they're getting in the way.
I'm using a new (to me) pattern this time as neither of the two I've tried before have been wholly satisfactory. This time I'm following Winwick Mum's Sockalong pattern - I'm far too late to join in with everyone else but the pattern is well written and easy, and if you're a knitter who fancies a go at socks I'd highly recommend it.
I'm using Fair Isle effect wool this time, although I confess I'm not seeing much other than vague stripey-ness at the minute (nothing wrong with stripes of course, but I was expecting a bit more fancy). Maybe the fancier stuff will appear soon...
While I was in a making mood, I came across these dust sheets in the living room.
I'm not even going to show you a picture of the living room - it's so ludicrously Full Of Things at the minute you wouldn't believe your eyes. But this pile was taking up quite a bit of space, and I decided it was time to get rid of some of them. We've used dust sheets a lot - real, old sheets, not specifically bought for this - but many of them were so covered with plaster and dried on paint that they whenever we used them, they were actually making things more dusty.
We're also nearing the end of the big jobs that we need dust sheets for, so I kept the two that were in the best shape, and some of the rest I cut up for rags. We use a lot of rags at the minute too - for wiping up paint spills, cleaning brushes, dusting after sanding and all manner of other grubby tasks. Half an hour with a pair of scissors while talking to some friends and I had a nice useful basket which should see us through a few weeks at least.
I know cutting dust sheets into rags isn't exactly creative, but it felt good to be playing around with fabric again. I've started to think about where in the house might need a bit of soft furnishing, and have made plans for a cushion cover or two and a couple of minor alterations to things.
I can't imagine how exciting it's going to be to dig my stash out of the cellar when we finally move. I might make a 'new house' quilt in celebration.
Let's start with some home made scones, shall we? Because DIY is always more fun when you have a snack, especially a home made one.
The last week or two of DIY for me has focused on the spare room. This is the smallest bedroom, next to the bathroom, which we've always used as a workshop and general dumping ground. Over the last few months (years) we've slowly been patching up the plaster on the walls, installing window frames and skirting boards (you'd think a room would have had these already, but clearly not) and fixing the floor.
I spent a couple of nights last week up the ladder painting the ancient polystyrene ceiling tiles. We daren't take them down for fear of what we might find underneath, but they were grubby and speckled with unidentifiable black grime so I slapped on a coat of white paint and we're hoping they're unnoticeable.
The next thing to tackle was the floor.
We've never done anything with this, but before we moved here various bits of it were painted different colours so was a bit of a hotchpotch. We had a large rug we planned to use in here, so we didn't do any fancy sanding or anything, just mended a couple of boards where they'd suffered mishaps over the years, and gave the whole thing a couple of coats of dark brown fence paint, which was extremely satisfying.
Makes quite a difference, doesn't it? If you look closely you can still see lumps of glue and goodness knows what under the paint, but, well, if you come into this house and start looking under the rugs for blemishes then you might find yourself swiftly escorted out of the door...
After all that painting, we hopped to the city farm for a snack, and it was warm enough to sit outside there for the first time this year.
We've been keeping an eye out on Freegle for a bed for the spare room, but last weekend a friend mentioned that her parents were taking one to the charity shop and would we like it instead? Yes please - we don't need it in the long term so we'll pass it on to the charity shop when we're done. Today I laid out the rug, put the bed together, and the whole thing is starting to look like a room in a normal house.
Gosh. We've still got a few bits and pieces of furniture to go in here (chair, desk, standard lamp) that are dotted about the house, and I need to figure out what I've done with the single duvet, but this really does feel like progress. Right now it's the tidiest room in the house, and I can see it becoming a temporary reading room and sanctuary from the chaos in the coming weeks.