And it’s a smashing read. Old money on their uppers, posh people with ponies, Tory and Liberal MP shenanigans in the House of Commons and Socialist Workers Party activists agitating at the other end of the political spectrum, Cormoran’s chaotic love life and Robin and Matthew’s marriage (yes, sorry, spoiler, it did go ahead), the Uffington White Horse and the 2012 London Olympics. Plus Latin aphorisms and quotations from Catullus and Plato – and Ibsen.
Worth the wait and very happy to have found it in Hereford Library on Friday.
One of those books I set aside… Partly because of the lure of Lethal White, and partly because I found the structure a bit of a slog: The Secret Life of Trees reads a bit like a list of trees padded out with taxonomic and evolutionary background. I craved some social or history detail.
I feel I ought to pick it up again at some point, seeing as I’d just got to Order Fagales aka Oaks, Beeches, Birches Hazelnuts and Walnuts, which covers most of the trees here at Forty Acres.
Drinks with “neighbours”, Storm Dennis flooding and mouse wars continued.
By Monday the weekend’s rainfall courtesy of Storm Dennis, on top of Storm Ciara’s the weekend before (and all the rain over the winter so far), was draining into the larger river systems, causing further flooding across South Wales and the West Midlands.
I can’t even imagine 700 tonnes of water / second.
Perversely it was blue skies here on Monday. Marshall & Co from Finney’s replaced the gutters along the side of the house that faces the road in the morning, and in the afternoon I did some mistletoe and spiky sapling removal in the orchard, and hauled hanks of weed out of the pond. Daffodils out, and some crocuses emerging under the pear tree.
All the rainfall did not prevent Phil and I hosting our first non-family social engagement at Forty Acres, and on Monday evening we had the the Kerry’s Gate ladies round for a glass of wine. Starting to meet and get to know people is helping me feel like we’ve moved to Herefordshire rather than merely being on an extended holiday.
This week was due to be one of my “work weeks”, getting the train there on Tuesday morning (Hereford – Paddington via Newport), and back again on Thursday evening. I’d been monitoring the Transport for Wales and GWR websites on Monday, and it looked like there would be a rail replacement service from Abergavenny to Newport. That line is often closed after bad weather. However, when I got up at 2.30am to check for any updates the GWR site showed all the morning’s London trains as cancelled and the Transport for Wales page had changed to tell travellers to take the Stagecoach South Wales bus to somewhere and then change onto a Newport Buses bus (1h48mins), and it wasn’t clear whether there was also a rail replacement bus as they’d provided on Monday.
So I stayed put.
(I feel like we are working our way through all the Country Life tests just to make sure we do really like it!!!)
Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday and Thursday were busy with work. Lots of video conference calls, which I feel always tests the 4G wifi. Particularly when there’s a downpour. I’m still working later into the evening than I should.
Thursday evening, Phil and I celebrated the start of our weekend by driving into Ewyas Harold to get “fish and chips” from The Old Stables Chip Shop. Highly recommended. Large chips = giant portion, made with Wormbridge potatoes, and my battered mushrooms were medium-large mushrooms with an almost tempura-light batter. YUMMY.
Driving via Abbey Dore revealed even more pot holes, and some water still coming across the roads as the waterlogged higher ground and fields drain.
Friday, I drove into Hereford to do some food shopping including an impulse purchase of a 12.8kg bag of bird seed, and nipped into the train station to ask about Storm Dennis-related refunds and changing tickets. Then coffee at Dinedor, discovering that the roads via Hampton Bishop and Rotherwas were still closed – at Mordiford Bridge and the notoriously flood-prone stretch of road by the old railway bridge respectively. Put out a feeder full of bird seed in the afternoon, and once the blue tits, coal tits, great tits and robins discovered it, they were frequently fluttering visitors. As was, I spotted on Sunday, a mouse, foraging for fallen seeds beneath!
Yes, mouse wars….. after our first kill in the electronic mouse trap, we had less success, eventually realising that it wasn’t working when the “kill!” light started coming on when we had the trap out on a work surface. So, plan B: traditional trap, baited with peanut butter, laid in the kitchen where the mouse poo was located. But only on the condition that Phil dealt with any dead mice. So far, the mouse (mice?) is winning, managing to extract two lots of peanut butter without coming to any harm.
Saturday brought a lot of wind. Too windy for a walk even on the roads. So it was a day in the lounge with the LRB and the log stove on, plus a spot of travel planning – with Hazel in the morning sorting trains to Seascale for May’s LED fundraising weekend and looking ahead at options for getting up to Leuchars for our St Andrews Ladies Weekend there later in May, and sussing out trains to June’s wedding in the Valle d’Aosta with Phil in the afternoon, and doing a whole slew of Storm Dennis cancelled-travel-related online refund requests.
We drove over to the Golden Valley Community Cafe (aka the Health and Wellbeing Hub) in Pontrilas for lunch, and looked around the GV fitness Centre that opened there at the start of the year. That evening, I cooked up a “reduced winter veg pack” spin on Meera Sodha’s potato, chard and coconut curry for dinner to accompany the last two episodes of the second series of The Split. Gripping. Highly recommended. Weird to see sunny London again.
Sunday morning brought more rain splattering onto the windows driven by gusty winds, which we made the most of with the log stove and reading. Happily, the weather did improve as the morning wore on, and I managed to get outside to pick up broken twigs and small branches, and to prune the lower branches of one of the trees down towards Mower Turn, and do a bit more mistletoe removal. The first of the camellia buds are out, with a couple in bloom.
Dad and Jean popped in to deliver Jean’s old road bike (for me), carrot cakes (for us) and to help put up hooks and hosepipe holders. We don’t have a drill….
In the afternoon, Phil and I booked Aosta travel. The desire to get the train, and in particular the super scenic Bernina Express, was thwarted by the cost of tickets for the London to Zurich and Turin to London trains. So we are flying. We’ve also booked a night at the Premier Inn Gatwick for the 6am flight out, and two nights at the Hotel Torino Porta Susa in Turin. We’ll firm up Aosta accommodation once Phil’s talked to Michael and we can figure out what to do once we are there nearer the time. Not sure if we need to hire a car or not.
Admin done, I headed out to do the Cockyard walk, finding there was even more water damage to the road down by Blackmoor Farm. Tarmac peeling off in places.
Back at base, just enough daylight to attack the brambles in the bushes where dad and Jean have planted an everlasting sweet pea. Then tea and carrot cakes. Veggie bean chilli for dinner, watching the last of Good Omens and the first part of the Doctor Who Finale.
Looking back to Monday, I was hopeful that the respite from the rain would help start to dry things out, but the rest of the week saw more rain. Monsoon-like at times on Wednesday. Sleet on Thursday. Jan and I decided to abandon plans to do a recce walk for next Saturday’s Ramblers route around Peterchurch. It’s still squelchy underfoot here, and it’s raining heavily again this morning, with more rain to come …
Looking like another interesting week ahead.
Levels on the Wye and Severn expected to rise again through the working week, possibly to similar levels seen last week.
There is a very low risk of significant flood impacts by midweek.
An eventful week, starting with Mouse Wars and ending with Storm Dennis. This morning [Monday] the River Wye at Hereford Bridge is the highest it’s ever been since records began. At 9am it was at 6.09m, at 9.45am it was 6.10m. at 10.15am it’s 6.11m.
Mouse Wars commenced on Monday, after we found a shredded crisp packet in the bin – despite plugging the gaps around the holes-for-pipes under the sink. The current status is Mouse 1: Mary & Phil 1. We zapped a mouse within hours of setting the trap on Monday, but since then we’ve come down each morning to find mouse poo and / or more shredded crisp packets under the sink. Clearly Mouse No. 2 is savvier than its predecessor. Perhaps it’s time to add more steel wool around the holes-for-pipes under the sink to keep it out. And relocate the trap into the roof.
After all that excitement, I spent most of the afternoon on follow up from the LED Trustees’ meeting. And cooked vegan shepherds pie for dinner(s).
It was colder overnight, and having got up early on Tuesday for a morning walk I encountered icy roads and snow flurries, which had turned Hatterall’s Ridge and the Black Mountains white. Beautiful. My old iPhone’s photos didn’t do it justice. But the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting over Garway Hill worked better:
(As an aside, one of the email newsletters I subscribe to is Craig Mod’s Ridgeline. One landed in my inbox on Thursday, and this part paragraph jumped out at me:
On media-free strictness: A smartphone excels, above all, at teleportation. It takes you from where you are, and places you elsewhere. If not physically, certainly mentally. This is great when you’re where you don’t want to be — on a packed commute for example. You can listen to a podcast, read an article, and be far, far “away” from a squished train. The issue is when this teleportation superpower intrudes on moments when you want to be present.
Perhaps I should try doing my morning walks without the company of a podcast or two.)
Back to Tuesday, I spent a chunk of the morning transferring info from emails into my 2020 Picos Trip Prep spreadsheet. Alfonso had emailed to say that he’d made the refugio bookings online, and Steffi had sorted out the last of the hotels. IOU payments whizzed their way across the international bank networks. Over the weekend, confined indoors by Storm Dennis, I finished the job although I’ll need to fine tune the packing list given we’ll be carrying out stuff for the 8 days on trek.
The main event of my work week was learning that my trip to LA needed to be rescheduled. Long story. A time consuming pain to have to reorganise everything, but by Thursday evening I’d managed to get all concerned to acknowledge the new date – and thankfully the March weekend we’ve agreed doesn’t muck up any of my existing arrangements. And my all-important birthday weekend. I definitely don’t want a repeat of my 40th….
On Thursday, Storm Dennis’ leading edge arrived and it poured with rain for most of the day. The was a short dry spell mid morning which Dad and Colin had spotted so they came to chunk up the trunk of the fallen willow tree. The chunked “cheeses” are huge. Friday morning provided another dry spell and so Dad and Jean came over and between the four of us we rolled the “cheeses” over to the BBQ yew tree and stacked them there to dry out. To be fair, the “cheeses” were so heavy, it was mainly Phil and dad doing the heaving lifting, and rolling.
Job done, dad took us to The Temple Bar Inn for lunch in the bar. Not a huge success. I’d go for a pint but £7 for a cheese sandwich is a bit steep when the thickly sliced bread is dry and the not-very-exciting-cheddar cheese slices are thin.
Earlier on Friday morning I’d ticked off few more of the To Dos, the main one being to organise someone to come and replace the gutters overlooking the road. Having had the gutters cleaned, the week’s rain had proved that we still had a problem. Best get that done sooner rather than later, but not something I ever needed to know how to get sorted in the Barbican. A post on Rated People produced a response while I was still at my computer, and as I type [Monday] Marshall and team are on the job.
Phil and I have yet to get our heads around “nipping out in the car”, but maybe that’s a good thing. We tend to bundle up things to do in Hereford itself, and drive in on a Friday. This week’s visit was brief as the clouds overhead were full of rain. Not an afternoon for pottering around the city as planned. Instead, a tactical shop at Asda (not my favourite) and picking up the mattress topper we’d left for a service wash at The Laundry Basket last week. Slow traffic all the way from Belmont roundabout, and it was only just after lunch. People stocking up ahead of Storm Dennis?
Back at base I spent the rest of the afternoon snug in the lounge with the log stove on. A bit of reading, mainly finally getting around to setting up dad’s old Huawei tablet to use for a new Facebook account to use here. It’s the only thing I’ll use that tablet for – I don’t want it on any of my normal devices. It’s been helpful for checking updates about Storm Dennis’ work over the weekend, and into week 008.
Luckily we are high ground but for most of Saturday we had a stream running down the road outside our house. The ground is saturated, the ponds are full to bursting, and streams are surfacing in fields.
It was worse lower down though – Ewyas Harold flooded, as did the main road at Pontrilas and the village itself. There was water flowing out of Abbey Dore Court’s former car park.
Saturday was definitely worse than Sunday. When Sunday afternoon brought a patch of blue sky we got out into the fresh air and walked down to Abbey Dore Court to see what the River Dore had done. En route we cleared a few drains. Down at the Dore, we found it had burst its banks and spread cappuccino coloured water over the fields and flood meadows nearby. The road outside Abbey Dore Court and on the stretch of road on towards the village hall had standing water and the drainage ditch that’s usually dry was carrying most of the water from the farm fields on the north to the flood meadows on the south.
There are more photos and videos on Flickr, tagged to Storm Dennis.
So, I might not make it to London on Tuesday for my February work-week… Depends on how much more rain we get and whether the train line to Newport reopens, or if I can reroute via Birmingham or direct to Paddington on my ticket – always assuming it’s possible to drive to Hereford station tomorrow morning…. Still, for now the sun is shining and the sheep are strolling around their field.
A much more cheerful week this week, boosted by last Saturday’s day out with the Ramblers my mood continuing to improve as I ticked off more of the minor To Dos Monday and Friday, had a good work-week in Manchester and met all the local folks I’d hoped to bump into again on Saturday. In addition, we seem to have survived Storm Ciara unscathed, had our first Sunday lunch at The Temple Bar Inn under its new management, and successfully undertook Operation Free Mouse…. read on.
Monday was a quiet day at 40A as P had one of his periodic migraines, so I pottered around – did last week’s week notes, wrote January’s diary entry in the Forty Acres Diary (vol 13), cleared the ash out of the log stove (it now burns much better as the air vents are allowed to do their magic).
Heading out to the small pond to photograph the cheery yellow winter aconites for last week’s blogpost, I discovered the first daffodils were out down by the train set. Although it feels amazingly early for daffs to be blooming, the Forty Acres February Flowers are fabulous. Dad, mum and Jean have spent a lot of time over the years spreading snowdrops and daffodils, and putting in lots of plants. It’s lovely. Over the course of this week, more daffs have come into flower (Jean reckons they’d be the wild ones – they are smaller than the ones you’d buy from a supermarket) and the winter aconites have spread up amongst the snowdrops. In the rose garden there’s a pink cyclamen, and, amazingly, two roses in bloom, one of which has been there since the start of January. We should be getting primroses soon – we spotted some out when we’ve been out and about this week.
I also spent a lot of time leaning out of my office window with my camera, trying to catch the red woodpecker that has started shy, swooping visits to the bird feeder. I eventually managed one successful albeit slightly blurry headed shot. In the meantime, it was a joy watching blue tits, coal tits and robins feasting away in the peanuts. So I videoed them.
I stretched my legs and got some fresh air with a walk down to Dore Abbey, where I spied what I think might have been a bat roosting high up in one of the arched windows.
In the afternoon, I dug out the sage green paint from the garage and painted over the polyfilla-ed patches in the kitchen, then settled down to finished off Tales of the Country and started The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – an excellent popular science meets biography account of the short life Henrietta Lacks, outlived by her cervical cancer cells which have powered bio research worldwide since the 1950s
Tuesday featured another early morning drive to a station to catch the train for a Mary-work-week away; this week the combo was Abergavenny and Manchester. We are about half way between Abergavenny (AGV) and Hereford (HFD), and it’s a far easier drive to get to AGV station than it is HFD. AGV means no rush hour traffic jams and tail backs; no need to cross to the far side of the City/Town. It’s a beautiful route up along the Welsh Marches via Craven Arms and Shrewsbury. I was in MN to spend time with a new recruit in the KM team, training them up on the document automation platform we use. A hectic but productive trip. Nice staying in the Radisson, and blue, blue skies on Thursday.
Friday morning was spent doing jobs, which meant I didn’t venture out into Ewyas Harold to hook up with the walking group. Another time. Instead, Phil and I headed out in the car to tick off a whole list of Hereford tasks (as an aside, we still find it weird to think about doing shorter journeys by car). We filled up with petrol at the marvellous Lock’s Garage in Allensmore (after a slight delay while we tracked down the lever to open the petrol cap!), bought the week’s veg, and came away with a free lettuce, kohlrabi and artichoke (fab!); took the back roads to Rotherwas and M3 Auto to get our passenger side headlight bulb replaced (top notch service from the team there) then drove through Hereford to drop off two boxes of bric-a-brac at the St Michael’s Hospice Holmer Road warehouse/shop; bobbed into B&Q to buy steel wool, expanding foam, a door hook and a large back of rock salt; sought out a new duvet cover in Dunelm, but came away with a new 1 pt glass jug (Pancake Day ahoy); left our guest bed mattress topped at The Laundry Basket launderette at the Asda junction for a service wash; toured Tesco for a small weekly shop (having bought most of the fruit and veg at Allensmore). Then home for lunch!
I spent some of Friday afternoon reboiling the rest of my marmalade in the microwave with some extra sugar, and it’s now slightly darker, set nicely and takes up only 13 jars, partly because I filled the jars up fuller, partly because the 2 x 10 mins in the microwave boiled off some extra liquid. Very satisfying.
I also spent an hour or so raking more fallen leaves and twigs out of the small pond and then raking up the last of the fallen willow tree’s leaves and long whiplike branch ends (they don’t really feel like “twigs”) and wheel barrowing them down to Mower Turn. Dad and Colin are planning to fix up a day to chainsaw up the trunk and remaining, larger branches. Final job of the day was to squirt the expanding foam into the broken bit of the garage room. I made a bit more of a mess than I meant to…..
Storm Ciara was scheduled to arrive overnight Saturday, staying throughout Sunday and petering out Monday. So, keen to make the most of the calm before the storm, on Saturday morning P and I set out for the Kerry’s Gate – Bacton – Abbey Dore walk – and met five people en route. The most sociable we’ve been (able to be) since we arrived. The Kerry’s Gate trio were accompanied by four lovely dogs too. We swopped numbers and suggested wine, getting an enthusiastic response. The blues had lifted last weekend, and this definitely banished them further away 🙂 So – big thumbs up for meeting people who live near by and are our age (ish).
On our return, we embarked on Operation Free Mouse. Background: we’ve been hearing the scamperings of mice in the roof since we got here and when I was in Manchester last week, Phil messaged to say he had encountered a mouse in the kitchen. And then on Friday morning Phil heard scratching in one of the speakers we’ve got plugged into the TV…. yup, the mouse had got in, but as we realised after a bit of shaking of the speakers and trying to lure it out with peanut butter, it couldn’t get out. URK!!!! Operation Free Mouse saw us put the speaker into the bath where Phil undid the speaker cover, and I stood by with a welly (excellent Whorton tip there) … caught the little fella / fella-ette and took s/he far, far away from the house to let s/he go!! We have stuffed steel wool into the gaps around the pipes under the sink which is where s/he appeared from but had a mere 24 hours mouse free…. Today [Monday], we found a shredded crisp packet in the bin under the sink – SIGH – which has prompted us to set the newly purchased electric shock mouse trap, chosen because you can empty the trap without looking at the Dead Thing. I’m too squeamish for snap traps.
Having mentally battened down the hatches on Saturday afternoon and evening (reading with the log stove on in the afternoon, audio conferencing in for the LED Trustees Meeting and watching the last of the first season of Succession – sooooo good! – with Pizza à la Phil – also sooooo good!), I got up in the middle of Saturday night / Sunday morning to take down the bird feeder on the still small pear tree and the willow’s wind chimes, and to check that the willow tree cuttings weren’t blowing out of the quarry/bonfire pit. All OK (or at least, it was at 4am). With the Amber Weather Warning, we were surprised to see the FloGas tanker materialise on Sunday morning, but glad to have the gas tank refilled. We’d got down to around 20%, having started the year at 50%.
We still managed to head out for Sunday lunch with dad and Jean, our first visit to The Temple Bar Inn under its new owners. Very friendly welcome from the extended Fulgoni family, and tasty food. After a massive lunch followed by coffee with dad and Jean back at base, Phil and I indulged in a lazy late afternoon / early evening reading by the log fire. The days are definitely getting longer – we only drew the curtains at 6 o’clock. The buzzards have been out more this week, and we’ve heard the mournful hoots of owls early evenings.