Monday, 5 October 2015

A Wild Week


Last week was a great week for watching the wildlife in and around the garden at the glorified shed.

It all got off to a great start on Monday evening when I spotted movement in the apple tree. Nothing unusual about that, you may think, but there was something different in the type of movement that I was seeing, so I decided to take a closer look. And what did I see? A female sparrowhawk commandeering a branch of said tree as a plucking post. I managed to get quite a good view and was even treated to a low level fly past when I was able to view the bird in all its glory. And so my week of wildlife wonders began.
And of course I've been seeing the usual herons,
egrets, lapwings, moorhens...

On Tuesday the sun was shining brightly and I paused to enjoy a morning coffee in the garden. Then what should come swimming down the river? A seal. Now I’d seen seals in the river before, but had previously only enjoyed brief glimpses, but this latest visitor proceeded to put on quite a show. It swam up and down for some time, poking out its head or gently arcing back into the water. At times I could see it swimming just below the surface – it was a real treat! I managed to spot the seal (or maybe a different one, who knows?) a couple more times during the week, and am eagerly keeping my eyes peeled for further sightings.

On Thursday I spotted a beautiful, blue dragonfly desperately trying to escape from a spider’s web. I managed to rescue it and watch it slowly regain its strength before disappearing – that was my good deed for the day!

Finally on Saturday morning, whilst the rest of the family were still in bed, I was enjoying an early morning coffee when I heard I strange tapping noise. I glanced out of the window and was treated to a view of a great spotted woodpecker diligently hammering the wooden bee attractor that hangs on the apple tree. It then proceeded to remove the internal bamboo tubes one by one and fling them on the ground, before sticking its head in the resulting space to have a good root around. Finally it flew away leaving a pile of sticks on the ground, which would have caused a great deal of puzzlement had I not seen what had actually happened.

Well, that was last week, what wildlife treats will this one have in store?

STOP PRESS! We have a usable bathroom although there is still cosmetic work to be done before I bore you with a photo of our creation!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Have You Herd?




Our newest ‘neighbours’ at the glorified shed are a herd of cows that have been moved onto land across the river directly opposite us. We’d been seeing the cows for some time from a slightly further distance, but their new grazing station is that much closer.

We often hear their gentle mooing and watch with a modicum of trepidation when they get too close to the water’s edge, but by and large their presence does add to the whole ‘country appeal’ of our rural home.

However, we know the story of the wayward cow, and are on standby should the tale repeat itself. Many years ago, a somewhat brave (or possibly clumsy or stupid) individual made its way across the river and arrived in what is now our garden. Its distressed moos were heard in the early hours of the morning, alerting people to its presence. It was finally escorted from the premises by a bemused policeman and a slightly red-faced farmer.

One morning recently, we woke to the sound of louder mooing that sounded much closer than usual and for one moment thought that history was repeating itself. It was a false alarm, however.

More on the nature front, I’ve once again spotted a seal in the river. As I sat outside enjoying an early morning coffee, a lone seal swam past. At first I was only able to see its head above water, but then it decided to make a dive for it, treating me to a view of its whole body as it arced over into the water. It was very obliging of if to perform right in front of me, next time perhaps it could be even more obliging and make an appearance when I actually have a camera to hand!
 
Then just yesterday my son was delighted to spot a weasel in the garden – so now we’re all keeping our eyes peeled for a glimpse of one too!

There’s no doubt about it, the wonderful view, proximity to nature and interesting wildlife compensate greatly for the slow renovation of the glorified shed!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A Year On


It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living at the glorified shed for a whole year now. How time flies – and how ‘normal’ this glamping existence has become!

Visitors are sometimes surprised that we appear to have made relatively little progress on the surface of things, with the renovation process seeming achingly slow. But there are a number of reasons for this gradual approach.

Firstly we were starting with a near blank canvass – a utilitarian shell, formerly a workshop, designed without any creature comforts, or even insulated walls! We really had to start from scratch, redoing electrics, laying new drainage, insulating and plasterboarding walls – the list goes on!

Secondly, where possible we are doing a large amount of the work ourselves to ease the budget (Budget? What budget? See below). Our time is obviously limited as it also has to be spread around work commitments – my husband’s design business, for which I also do copywriting; family commitments – a son still at school, a daughter bringing up a young son alone, another older daughter with slight learning difficulties and two elderly mothers for whom we are the sole carers; and just having a life!

Lastly, limited funds. We’re not of the ‘Grand Designs’ variety of homebuilders, with a budget of many thousands and a crack team of builders to hand. We’re slowly buying materials and paying necessary workmen (basically plumber, electrician and carpenter for specialised jobs) as we earn the pennies.

At least the view takes care of itself!
All that said, we have come quite some way since we first arrived at the ‘shed’ last September, making it at least liveable, however ramshackle some of the arrangements may seem.

As I write, the next major stage of electrical upgrade is taking place and the bathroom is nearing completion, with the ceiling going up and the plumber booked for the big installation of the suite (technically not a suite, as we’ve chosen individual pieces that work well together). What luxury it will be to step into a fully fitted bathroom of our own, as opposed to turning up at my mother-in-law’s with a towel!

All the months of running wires and pipes, working on walls and planning and replanning designs, we’ll have a finished room at last. The next big push is bringing the large, open-plan living area up to scratch with cosy insulation and a wood-burning stove.

Who knows, next year we may even get the kitchen area fitted out and some bedroom walls put up!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Progress and Paint


This past week has seen a flurry of activity at the ‘glorified shed’ accompanied by a cloud of plaster dust and the reassuring smell of new paint.

The bathroom walls have been sanded, coating much of the ‘shed’ with a fine, telltale dust that has required diligent removal, followed by application of the first layer of paint in the form of a white undercoat. This stage has been incredibly fulfilling and reassuring, as suddenly the place is starting to feel like a proper home, not just an impromptu camp. Next on the agenda – a splash of colour!

It will even be a luxury to have a
place to hang a towel.
Also big news is the fitting of our new front door – a good, solid, wood affair, with a small leaded glass section and antique black fittings. We now no longer have to worry that the former, plywood, 1960s version complete with sign stating ‘Entrance’ will collapse when opened. Sometimes I’m tempted to walk in and out of the door purely for the novelty factor.

We’re now entering a more fun stage of the process – buying the bathroom suite and fittings! We’re going for all things curvy – a curved shower unit, a curved corner bath, a bit of curved shelving – well, you get the picture.

Fingers crossed that I’ll soon be able to introduce you to our long-awaited bathroom, which will only leave all the other rooms requiring building/renovation! In the meantime, let glamping resume.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Change Is As Good As A Rest!


A couple of weeks ago we packed our bags, loaded up the car, dusted down the road map (I still love maps and loathe Satnavs) and headed for the hills – or to be more specific the Yorkshire Moors.

It was good to take a break from the slow process of renovating the glorified shed and to stay somewhere that had bedroom walls, a decent bathroom and a proper kitchen, even though the accommodation was a (quite grand) static caravan.

At the shed, we’re surrounded by countryside, wildlife, open views and a quiet rural existence. So did we head for a vibrant city location? Or did we choose an exotic beach destination? Or maybe even an all-action holiday complex? Of course we didn’t. We chose a caravan park surrounded by countryside, wildlife (well supposedly, but I saw less than at home), open views and a quiet rural existence (apart from the nearby railway track). It seems that we love our environment so much, that even on holiday we swap it for something very similar, just in a slightly different place.

Of course, we ventured into the City of York, making use of the excellent, great value park and ride system and visited an old favourite place of ours – Whitby. We even had a theme park day, but also enjoyed peaceful countryside picnics and visited a couple of Yorkshire’s abbey ruins. You’ll be able to read more about those visits at www.shoppersjoy.blogspot.co.uk over the coming weeks.

But now we’re back, and it’s time to turn our thoughts back to the task in hand. Our progress has been a little hampered by an injury sustained by hubby whilst away (more of that to come on Shoppers’ Joy too) but we are making fresh plans, which we hope will soon bear fruit.

In the meantime, it’s back to ‘shed’ living surrounded by countryside, wildlife, open views and a quiet rural existence... Have we ever been away?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Going Batty


OK, we’ll get the obvious comments out of the way for a start: “What do you mean going?” “We thought you were already!”

I’m not actually talking about my mental state (although some think I’m mad when I say I can’t stand Prosecco or have no desire to visit America) but wildlife.
 
I’ve often commented on the varied wildlife that I can watch from the comfort of my little riverside haven and the list seems to be growing. I continue to watch herons, cormorants, egrets, woodpeckers, goldfinches and all manner of birds on the riverbank and in the garden, but recently I’ve been seeing much more.

With the onset of warmer evenings, I’ve taken to sitting out in the garden enjoying the view, armed with a glass of wine (not Prosecco) or gin and tonic, enjoying the tranquillity of it all. It was on one such evening that I had an extra close-up view of the bats. Now I’ve always loved bats (yes, I just keep getting stranger) and have seen a few flitting by in the past, but on this occasion they were circling so low for insects, that they were only about a foot or two above my head! This didn’t faze me (I don’t believe in the old wives' tale about bats in the hair) but fascinated me. To have such a ringside seat was amazing!

But bats aren’t the only creatures that I’m watching on a summer evening. I’ve also discovered water voles! Strange splashing noises from the river alerted me to take a closer look, revealing a dark shape swimming in the water. This shape then made for the riverbank and climbed ashore – a water vole, Ratty himself!
 
Then to add to the list, I was sitting in the garden reading one afternoon, when I noticed something making its way rapidly through the grass heading towards me. As I looked closer I realised that it was a newt that then dashed past me into some nearby shade. Whether it came from the river or a nearby pond I’m unsure, but it certainly took me by surprise.

I’m always on the lookout for the arrival of another seal, having seen one splashing in the river directly in front of the glorified shed last summer. But I’m still waiting...

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I’m Only Tweeting With The Birds!


If you’re someone who has been following me on Twitter, I’d like to let you know I’m currently closing my account for reasons that you can read at www.shoppersjoy.blogspot.co.uk

It’s been almost a week since I posted my last tweet, and although I will miss chats with some of the lovely people on Twitter, I’m enjoying not to feel the need to rush on to the site to keep up. I’m taking the extra time to  enjoy the river, the garden and the tweeting of the birds!

I hope to still keep in touch via my Blogs and Google Plus page here

Until then, enjoy the beautiful weather everyone!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

We’re Making Progress!


It’s been a busy week here at the glorified shed – things have been happening that are actually noticeable!

So far much of the completed work had been ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak, with underground drainage, removal of old pipework, rerouting of some electrics etc, but now there are changes for all to see.

Progress has certainly been made with regard to transforming the former workshop office into a bathroom. In recent weeks Mr H has been insulating the walls, putting up plasterboard and laying a level floor. Now the plumber has been in and put all the pipework and drainage in place for the washbasin, shower, toilet and bath. It’s now clear where each will be and it won’t be too long before they’re actually in place! We’re frantically ordering and buying all the paraphernalia needed for the finished, much anticipated, bathroom.

There's still much to be done in the living/kitchen area!
And as if this wasn’t enough, we’re also in the process of a having a new front door fitted. Not the sorry excuse for one that is peeling and cracking and is still bearing a sign marked “Entrance”, harking back to its workshop days. We’ve chosen a good solid door, with a small ornamental glass section, sporting antique-style fittings, and have even selected the paint colour in readiness. However, the job is far from straightforward, as the whole surround and frame has to be replaced first.

But once the bathroom and door are both complete, we’ll have our first proper taste of how our home may finally look, which is quite exciting!

Our thoughts are already turning to the next job on the list – insulating and plasterboarding the walls and ceiling of the main room, which is to be an open plan arrangement comprising kitchen, lounge area, dining area, home office space and hobby/crafting area. Hopefully we’ll see the addition of a wood-burning stove before the onset of winter too!

These are exciting times here at the glorified shed!

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Things I’ve Learnt So Far


Since moving to moving to my rural home in the glorified shed last autumn it’s been quite a learning curve. Settling into my new surroundings and embarking on a renovation project like never before, have each involved many new challenges and lessons.

Spot the heron!
So this is what I’ve learnt so far...

A building or renovation project does not, as rumoured, take twice as long and cost twice as much as expected to complete. It does, in fact, take at least three times as long and cost at least three as much as expected – well, in our case anyway. I’ll let you know if those figures change further. Of course, if we weren’t trying to live in the building at the same time, and could afford an expert team...

Having taken an interest in birds since moving here, I’m now able to identify quite a variety of species on sight, but am yet to master identification by song. With the odd exception, I can rarely identify a bird by its call, though I often wish that I could. The other day I heard a very shrill noise, and was just wondering which bird it belonged to, when my husband walked round the corner pushing a squeaky wheelbarrow! I still have much to learn!

Sadly, a fair amount of rubbish gets washed up with the tides on this stretch of river – but on the bright side we seem to acquire an endless supply of footballs!

In a small village, you may think that people don’t know you or anything about you – but you’re wrong!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Wayward Swan


On our return home from a recent trip out, we drove through the gate to find a swan pacing up and down in our car parking area. Said swan appeared somewhat agitated, intermittently peering anxiously through the chain-link fence that borders the river, in between wandering back and forth.

We decided to give it a wide berth and carefully made our way round to the front of the glorified shed, where we realised there was a trail of white feathers, leading back to where the swan now stood. On following the trail, we discovered that it started at a small gap in the bushes, which separate our garden from the river. A number of feathers were stuck on the leaves around the small opening, indicating that the swan had pushed through the gap, far smaller than itself.

The swan had obviously burst through the bush in some hurry – but what had caused its haste? An altercation with another swan? A daytime visit from a fox? We could only surmise.

Despite its agitation, the swan didn’t appear injured, so we tried to coax it back to the water by laying a trail of bread between its position and the easiest route to the  river – to no avail. We eventually decided to consult the RSPCA who said that it would come out in due course, unless we managed to remedy the situation in the meantime.

Our next thought was to give the swan some water, which it eventually drank, then ate a piece of the bread, which seemed to revive it slightly. We left it to recover and went to sit further along the garden. In due course we heard the pad of feet approaching and the much calmer swan appeared around the corner of the building.

It then slowly made its way down the lower path of our garden (between the bushes and river) whereupon it looked momentarily surprised (if that’s possible for a swan), as although the tide must have been in when it had arrived, making the river almost level with the garden, it had now gone out, leaving some distance between the two.

Finally, after much more pacing and deliberation the swan made it back into the river, where it swam off at some speed. So all’s well that ends well.

We had been starting to think that we’d acquired a permanent, resident swan!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Village News


Our adopted rural village is a peaceful place, often untouched by the chaos of the outside world. (Though I say adopted, my husband is a ‘returner’, having lived here many years ago).

Things here jog along at a steady pace with often very little to report. So much seems to be slowed down here – even the rubbish collections are fortnightly and the buses run one to two hourly, sometimes not turning up at all! Therefore it’s rare that l have any local news to report, however minor.

But I do have news – in a very loose sense! Firstly, at the time of the general election, we also voted in the parish council election, which has resulted in a few new faces on the parish council. In fact, at the last minute, the campaign for the election got a bit dirty, with a letter circulated by existing council members, literally running down the opposition. This was a move that obviously backfired (not surprisingly) hence their replacement!

And shock news! The bell-ringing night has changed! The activity has moved from a Tuesday to a Wednesday, which certainly managed to confuse me. It may sound sad, but you get used these little routines and use them to keep track of the week. Not that I’m a bell-ringer, I just can’t help hearing the enthusiastic chimes from the ‘comfort’ (hardly that yet) of the glorified shed.

Although our home is tucked discreetly down a narrow lane and our forays into the village mainly consist of trips to the village shop, the odd drink at the pub, standing at the bus stop or a wander to the recreation ground, we ourselves have obviously become news. There are certainly people that we are not yet familiar with, but who seem to know us. My daughter was quite surprised the other evening, to get off the bus and be greeted by a stranger saying, “Hello Amy how was your day at work?”

She arrived home quite stunned, saying, “But how did she know who I was?”

The village grapevine is obviously hard at work, but actually shows what a friendly place this is. I’m glad that our ‘news’ is quite minor – long may it stay a peaceful place to live!

Monday, 1 June 2015

The View It Is A-Changing


As we approach our first summer at the ‘glorified shed’, I’m aware of how much the rural landscape has changed over recent weeks.

My immediate view of the river, that runs just metres from my window, has been somewhat obscured by the leafy growth of bushes and trees along the edge, which now allow only for mere glimpses of swans, herons and egrets that frequent the water and opposite bank. In turn, the birdlife has changed, with only the seldom appearance of the once numerous cormorants and not the slightest glimpse of a lapwing or redshank in weeks!

The garden area, which burst into life with its spectacular blossoms in the midst of spring, has now become awash with green, interspersed with brightly coloured roses and the golden offerings of the laburnum tree.

And of course the surrounding fields have changed too, many have been filled with the vibrant yellow of oilseed rape (although now being replaced with swathes of green), with its pungent aroma and tendency to trigger my hay fever. Indeed, we’ve all noticed an increase in sniffles since moving to our rural home, a slight downside of country living, but one far outweighed by the benefits of the new lifestyle.

The country lanes have become harder to negotiate, with hedgerows and trees encroaching more on the roads, causing motorists to exercise more caution – and that’s not a bad thing at all!

Once we’ve experienced our first summer here, we'll have had a taste of all the seasons in our rural retreat, each of them bringing a different aspect to the landscape which I’ve loved. The ever-changing wildlife, diversity of colour and altering moods of the river all keep me interested in our rural surroundings.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Country Crafting


I’ve always loved passing the time engaged in crafts of one kind or another. It’s something I’ve enjoyed ever since I was taught knitting at infant’s school. Yes, we were taught knitting - boys included, they knitted ties, whilst us girls created clothes for our dolls, then we all made dishcloths for our mums!

Over the years I explored various craft methods, both at school (papier-mâché, raffia work, weaving etc) and at home (origami, crochet, embroidery and so on). As the years have progressed, I’ve decided that my favourite crafts are cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, tapestry and small sewing projects. I’m definitely no seamstress and lack the dressmaking skills that my three older sisters were blessed with. The nearest I get to dressmaking is watching ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ on TV.

Now as we plan how our completed home will look, as it emerges from this strange dwelling currently dubbed ‘the glorified shed’, I’ve started to think what crafty offerings I’ll be able to use to furnish the finished result.

Since arriving here I’ve already run up a handy draught excluder using over-sized pom-poms, and there is a small pile of tapestry cushions courtesy of numerous hours of contented crafting. But which project should I embark on next? Will I even turn my hand to some previously untried activity?

I’ve certainly been spending time compiling a scrapbook of effects, colours, furnishings etc that I dream about adorning our finished home. This has become a work of art (and labour of love) in itself. It certainly holds some tempting ideas, whilst giving us all something to aim for.

Whatever I end up creating, I’m sure to spend many happy hours crafting in my little rural retreat!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Culling The Clutter!


When we performed ‘The Big Move’ last year, we naturally cleared out heaps of rubbish in the process. Numerous trips were made to the local tip, although we still seemed to have an enormous amount of things to pack in boxes.

Many of the items that came under the heading of ‘keepsakes’ were despatched to my mother-in-law’s loft. Other belongings were stowed in boxes under one of two categories – group 1 for things we would need almost immediately, and 2 for items that we would unpack at a later date.

Following the move, we had to reorganise some of these boxes as our plans changed. Our original idea of moving into our static caravan whilst the renovation took shape was shelved, due to an issue with transporting said caravan down our lane. Deciding to live in the ‘glorified shed’ whilst simultaneously working on it seemed to warrant a whole different set of chosen belongings.

We finally organised ourselves and have lived ever since with half of our possessions still boxed and stored at various points around the building. What suddenly struck us a few days ago, however, was that we haven’t missed the things that are out of reach. In fact, we’re struggling to remember what half of them are! Which got us thinking...

How many of our possessions do we not actually need? Ok, we’re living a slightly pared down lifestyle, and when we open the boxes we may find some items that we greet like long-lost friends. But we can’t help wondering whether half the boxes’ contents will be destined for the tip and local charity shops. Less is more, as they say, and maybe we’d all got used to too much clutter.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens at the grand opening of boxes – whenever that may be. Will we exclaim, “How lovely, how did we manage without this?” as we lovingly unpack each item, or will our reaction be more a case of, “What on earth are we doing with that old thing?” Time will tell, but I have a feeling that we could be saying goodbye to an awful lot more of our old possessions.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Taste Of Luxury


As I wrote in my last post, I’ve recently left the confines of the ‘glorified shed’ to venture on a few small shorts breaks. Both times I’ve been quite happy to return to my rural haven, but what those breaks did do, was highlight our present lack of facilities and the strange glamping existence that we currently lead.

The months we’ve spent here, managing with impromptu accommodation whilst renovating this former workshop, have just become quite normal to us. It’s not until we go away that we realise that we’re actually living some alternative existence.

Our recent Travelodge stay seemed total luxury – I mean bedroom walls, can you believe it? At the ‘shed’ our bedroom is just an area created by strategically placed furniture. The internal walls that we do have are mostly bare, but at the Travelodge they were painted! And oh the bliss of having our own bathroom – don’t worry we do shower, we just have to pop round to my mother-in-law’s to be able to do so.

And then of course there was Pontin’s. Although accommodation was modest, there was a kitchen with a real cooker. At the shed we just have a mini oven and a microwave sitting on an old workbench. I even got to wash up in an authentic kitchen sink; here the arrangement is a series of bowls that sit on an old camping table. Oh how the other half live!

It’s amazing how after some eight months or so of making do, the smallest of things can seem like treasured luxuries.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re managing quite nicely in our little ‘work-in-progress’, but once in a while it is nice to remind ourselves of the niceties of ‘normal’ life. And of course, these reminders spur us on to get things moving here. Of course daily life has a habit of taking over, slowing down progress. To save money, we’re only pulling in people to attend to such matters as plumbing and electrics, for everything else it’s a question of do it as and when we can. But slowly and surely things are happening, and one day we’ll have the home that we really want.

In the meantime there’s always Travelodge!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Living In A Bubble


Since moving here at the end of last summer, we seem to have become increasingly cocooned in our own little world.

Life in suburbia involved so much happening around us – people walking past our home, cars driving along our road, casual callers at our door (the latter sometimes being more irritating than welcome) – all of which constantly kept us in touch with the world at large.

We love the peace and quiet of our new home, but it’s true to say we could become increasingly cut off if we don’t make a conscious effort to connect with the outside world on a regular basis. There are no passing cars or people, no one calls except the postman, delivery drivers and invited guests. Even with the general election looming, we’ve not had the usual flurry of canvassers touting for a vote – just one lone, brave individual that seemed to have found us against all odds.

Of course, we do sometimes see dog walkers on the opposite riverbank and boats do pass by from time to time, but we see far more birds than we ever do people, and we find ourselves living in a state of contentment that often means that we don’t leave our home for days on end.

However, over the last fortnight I’ve had not one, but two short breaks away from home that have reminded me of what’s out there. The first was a seaside break with my daughter and young grandson, staying at a holiday complex on the south coast. I was thrilled that our accommodation turned out to be on the edge of the site, with the back windows overlooking a field of sheep – I’ve become so accustomed to the feeling of space! The seaside town itself was quiet, even more so as it was so early in the season, but the lovely weather meant my grandson was able to experience the excitement of building sandcastles and paddling in the sea for the very first time. It may have come as quite a shock to my system had the surroundings been more urban, or teeming crowds had filled the streets! I had a lovely break, but was pleased to be reunited with my rural surroundings on my return.

The second break merely involved one night away from home, but it was a busy 24 hours, that took me out of my little bubble once more. This time it was a trip for just my husband and me, and involved visiting an art gallery, lunching and dining out and a stay in a comfortable room overlooking a lovely harbour. We spent some time wandering around looking at the boats and the sea – as if we never get to see boats and water at all!

What I noticed about both of these breaks was, that as much as I had enjoyed both of them at the time, I didn’t get the feeling of not wanting to come back that I’d experienced when returning to previous homes in the past. It was lovely to go away, but equally as lovely to come home.

So now, here I sit once again, ensconced in my little bubble, enjoying the tranquillity, but making the effort to be aware of the wider world. I chat to folk on Twitter, keep up with the news, will most certainly vote in the forthcoming election and am continuing my campaign to push for a review of Ofsted (more of this and reviews of my stays can be read at www.shoppersjoy.blogspot.co.uk over the coming weeks).

I love to feel peaceful and contented in my bubble, but I must remember not to become disconnected from the real world!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

River Fever


Since moving to our new riverside home (aka the ‘glorified shed’) some eight months ago, we’ve not only adapted to our new surroundings with ease, but positively wallow in them.

Any hardships experienced from our ‘glamping’ existence whilst renovating the former workshop are offset by the stunning view and peaceful atmosphere that we now experience.

Of course, like many people, we’d intermittently hankered after the rural dream, watching Country File with misty eyes and browsing the pages of Country Living Magazine with a ‘what if?’ scenario in the back of our minds.

What is strange though, is that in our ‘other life’, living in everyday suburbia, we often enjoyed countryside visits as a treat, but since moving to our rural location, we don’t consider trips to town anything to write home about, keeping them to a minimum.

Have we been tempted to book a city break? No, just a holiday in a (would you believe?) different rural location. Have we rushed to visit town-based friends for a change of scenery? No, we just invite them here – despite the building chaos. We’re not tempted by the lure of vibrant shopping centres, bustling streets or the bright lights of town.

We recently popped out for lunch. Having arrived at our chosen eating place, I exclaimed, “Let’s grab this table here, it’s by the window with a lovely view of the river!” A comment that yielded strange looks from the rest of the family, which seemed to say, “But we live right by the river and see it every day!”

That’s very true. As I sit at my computer writing away, I glimpse the river and surrounding countryside every time I pause for thought and glance through the window that’s right in front of me, but do I tire of it? No way. The whole effect is very calming, a feeling that I want to take with me wherever I go.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Walls And A Floor!


Progress, however small, has been made at the ‘glorified shed’!

The former workshop’s office is undergoing its transformation to become a bathroom. As I’ve previously reported, outside drainage has been installed, electrics attended to and insulation commenced. And now, not only are the walls being insulated, but are about to be plasterboarded too!

Even more exciting we have a floor, not just the uneven, shoddy excuse for a floor that was there when we arrived, but a smooth, even proper floor. With work progressing I can now at last look forward to a bathroom suite being installed in the not too distant future.

For months, we’ve traipsed across to my mother-in-law’s in all weathers to grab a shower. How amazing it will be to step into a bathroom that we can call our own!

For the same number of months I have pored over pictures of baths, shower cubicles, vanity units and the like, even sticking all my favourites into my coveted scrapbook – my dream home on paper! Soon I will be shopping for these items for real!

Now this may sound like I’m getting somewhat overexcited about the whole thing, but believe me, when you’ve lived for eight months with no bathroom to call your own, this is a major event.

Of course, once the bathroom’s completed, there is still the kitchen, dining area, lounge area, bedrooms...

Well, let’s just say, our rural home is very much a work in progress!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A Country Spring


I’ve always enjoyed trips out in the countryside, especially in spring.

As a child, a Sunday afternoon treat on a sunny day was a drive out into the Kentish countryside to see whatever the current seasonal attraction may be – bluebell woods, primrose-strewn grassy banks, fields of lambs or budding hedgerows. The rest of the time we led a typical urban lifestyle.

For years my life has been town based, with a sprinkling of forays into the countryside for high days and holidays. I enjoyed every moment of my rural stays in Wales, Yorkshire and Cornwall and found myself feeling extremely ‘hemmed in’ on my return.

Certainly day-to-day life consisted of urban activities and journeys, with occasional countryside jaunts being welcome, but not always frequent enough.

This year however, things are different. We’re experiencing our first spring in our rural based ‘glorified shed’. Now every journey we make involves travelling through the countryside – we’re surrounded by it!

Whether we jump in the car, hop on a bus or just go for a stroll, we pass farms, woodland, fields of sheep and horses and generally expanses of open green space in whichever direction we travel. In fact we don’t even have to leave home to experience the whole country scene, just by looking out of the window we can see the river, common land and distant hills. We certainly don’t need to go on Sunday drives to experience the countryside and we have no inclination to reverse the process and go for a drive to town!

You would even think that when planning our first holiday since moving here we’d chose a very different environment. But no! We’ve booked a stay in another rural location, just in a different part of this green and pleasant land.

This spring we’re revelling in the delights of our new surroundings. It is indeed our first country spring!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tides Of Change


With the tidal part of a river running alongside our garden, we’re presented with an ever-changing landscape.

There are times when the tide is so low, with so much of the riverbed exposed, that you feel you could walk across to the other bank, if it weren’t for all the mud! At times like this the wading birds congregate, redshanks and sandpipers, scouring the waterline for rich pickings. The odd lapwing or moorhen roam the mudbanks and gulls often congregate too.

When the water’s a little higher, cormorants come to fish, and then bask on the shore drying their wings. A few herons and egrets pause in sentry-like pose, occasionally grabbing a tasty bite, with a sharp stabbing action.

As the water becomes higher still, swans, ducks and the odd Canada goose glide by, but the river can become less peaceful with the arrival of a much less graceful creature – man! People in boats make the most of the opportunity to ride the river, some at alarming speeds in their flash cruisers! I prefer to watch the sailing dinghies and rowing boats – they’re much more sedate.

And then of course there are the really high tides. Fortunately there is a flood plain directly opposite us that spares us the wrath of these higher tides. I have it on good authority that the piece of land housing the ‘glorified shed’ has not been flooded since at least the 1960s. However, we did become a bit concerned when we experienced an unusually high tide the day after the recent solar eclipse. Although the river didn’t actually spill over onto our garden, water did cover the lower walkway that runs just below the garden’s edge, leaving a pile of assorted debris in its wake.

It’s sad how much rubbish, including plastic containers, small pieces of furniture and old tin cans, are washed along with the tides. We do seem to acquire a steady stream (if you’ll pardon the pun) of very clean looking footballs however. Perhaps I could set up a small football shop as a sideline!

Whatever the tides bring, it’s a great source of interest and enjoyment watching the changing landscape.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Peace and Quiet


I’ve always been someone who enjoys a certain amount of absolute peace and quiet. In the words of the Desiderata (Max Ehrmann), “Remember what peace there may be in silence”.

So when we moved out of a town to a more peaceful, rural location, I never worried that I would find things too quiet! I may have wondered whether I would feel isolated as I was no longer within walking distance of local shops and amenities, but not whether the serene calm of the countryside would prove stifling. I’ve not even missed frequent visits to the shops, but only go now on a ‘need to’, as opposed to a ‘want to’ basis, filling my free time with my many hobbies and enjoyment of the countryside environment.

It’s true that it can be incredibly quiet here, but in the most relaxing way. I positively relish it! There are days when I hear little more than the sound of birdsong and the odd boat passing along the river (that runs along the edge of our garden) when the tide is right. There are certainly no cars and lorries trundling past to break the peace, as we live at the end of a narrow lane – a road to nowhere but our home!

The ‘glorified shed’ is a quieter place than our old home too. We have no landline constantly trilling the alert of unwelcome junk calls, just mobiles that we can put on silent, and canvassers never seem to knock on our door – they possibly can’t even find us! We definitely live a calmer, less-interrupted lifestyle.

The longer that I live here, the more I seem to wallow in the peaceful atmosphere, finding it more of a shock when I venture into a busy town, with its onslaught of chaos and cacophony of noises competing for attention. I always emit a sigh of relief when I return to my little rural haven and the sound of (near) silence!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Welcoming Spring


Well we’ve survived our first winter in the ‘glorified shed’, although it was hardly a severe winter, for which we were thankful. In our area we only glimpsed the odd stray flake of snow, and although we experienced some chilly nights and frosty mornings, our make-do heating arrangements saw us through.
 
Walls and a roof severely lacking insulation, single-glazed windows from the 1960s that have definitely seen better days and ill-fitting, draughty doors were certainly set against us, but movable oil-filled radiators and a supply of thick jumpers helped us to manage the cold.

Now as the weather brightens with the arrival of spring, we are making plans to insulate the building and install a wood-burning stove ready for next winter. All we need now is to put the plans into action.

Meanwhile, in the garden things are coming to life. Daffodils, tulips and crocuses are making a welcome appearance. The number of birds I see increases daily, with more goldfinches and greenfinches visiting for food and a pair of blue tits taking up residence in the nesting box. I’ve spotted a treecreeper and a woodpecker in the garden, whilst on the river, the number of cormorants has increased and I’m hoping to soon see the return of the egrets that were regular visitors last year.

Progress on the building work may have been slow so far, but hopefully the arrival of spring will give us just the boost that we need!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Wires And Pipes


When people enquire about the rate of progress on the renovation of the ‘glorified shed’ they’re often quite surprised by the response.

Some six months down the line, they’re expecting me to report that, “Yes, we do now have a bathroom” and, “Yes, the kitchen has now been installed”. But the fact is neither is true, partly because some of the work is down to our own efforts and our time is limited, what with work, elderly mothers and children needing attention and life just being lived, and partly because much of what is being done is kind of ‘behind the scenes stuff’. You know, that gutty work that needs a lot of effort but doesn’t show much in the way of tangible results.

For example, before either bathroom or kitchen could become nearer to reality, drainage needed to be put in place. Currently both water supply and drainage only serve one small corner of the building, which is not anywhere near where the bathroom and kitchen are to be installed. We therefore had to find a willing and trustworthy individual to dig out a big trench, lay pipes, connect to drainage system and put everything back as if nothing had happened. Happily mission accomplished!

Similarly a plumber had to be arranged to run pipes from the water source to the proposed bathroom, to enable bathroom fittings to be connected.

And then of course came the matter of wiring. The room (former office) that we are converting to a bathroom contained sockets and switches not compatible with its intended use. Cue electrician. Of course, his intervention has also had to include new wiring looms, cable suitable for a shower, relocation of sockets and some shiny new switches!

So there has been progress but not of the ‘swish-new-shower’, ‘brand-new-bath’, ‘super-stylish-kitchen’ variety!

Walls and ceilings still have to be lined, flooring laid and a new ceiling put in place – then I’ll get my bathroom! Watch this space...

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Highs And Lows


Since moving into the ‘glorified shed’ last year, I have definitely experienced a huge range of emotions.

Excitement at the prospect of a new home that we’ve designed ourselves; wonder at the beautiful view and interesting wildlife I can see from the window; trepidation at the enormity of the task that we’re undertaking; near horror at the way in which we’re having to live during the renovations.

Some days I look at the current set-up, a kind of ramshackle affair with no real bedrooms (just areas divided by wardrobes) or kitchen (just a mini oven on an old workbench and a dresser crammed with as much as possible, both food and eating implements), and emit a sigh of despair. It can be quite daunting living for a prolonged period amongst ‘organised chaos’, lacking the type of fixtures and fittings that so many take for granted.

But then there are those moments that serve to remind me of why we are doing what we’re doing. The time I walked out of the door to see a heron flying over my head; one of the early days when I stood in the garden and saw the head of a seal pop out of the river and look in my direction; the morning I glanced out of the window to see a beautiful woodpecker sitting in the tree; the feeling of space due to the fantastic view that we have across the river and surrounding countryside. I just have to remember that for every down moment, there is something wonderful to offset it.

It will be quite some time until we have even a vaguely finished home, with further chaos and disruption as guaranteed as night follows day. But in my gloomier moments, when I long for cosy interior décor, I have to focus on the final goal and the lovely surroundings that have been here from the start!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

New Neighbours


After some deliberation with regard to style and suitable location, we decided to put up an additional timber building on our land.

Then we waited with baited breath for prospective tenants to take an interest. Relatively quickly viewings commenced. We looked on intently for reaction – will they or won’t they move in?

As time went on, some individuals returned for second and even third viewings. Tension mounted as we waited to see if the new residence would finally see tenants take it over.

And now they have!

You may be thinking that this all sounds very ambitious, when there is much work to be done on our own ‘glorified shed’, slowly renovating it to make it a desirable home. Why take time on an additional building? And why spoil the peace of our quiet, rural, riverside location by encouraging extra residents?

The truth is, it’s an extremely modest structure. In fact, it’s a nesting box and our new neighbours are a pair of plucky blue tits, who sit watching us as we wander about our garden.

I really like our new neighbours!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Local At Last!


Last week we finally got round to visiting our local pub – some six months after arriving in the village!

Despite it sitting at the top of the lane that leads down to our home, we just hadn’t got round to so much as popping our head round the door until now. Renovation plans and trying to organise the ‘glorified shed’ have certainly taken up a lot of our time.

But at last, not only did we call in for a drink, but sat down and enjoyed a delicious meal too. We had a lovely evening and it’s definitely something that we’ll repeat as it’s actually quite a novelty to have a pub that we can call ‘our local’!

For over 20 years, home was in a modest town, where despite there being pubs in nearby streets, they were unwelcoming affairs that seemed to close down at the rate of knots anyway. Any evenings out were always spent further afield.

Prior to moving to our current rural location, we lived in a quieter, suburban area, where the only ‘pub’ nearby was a branch of Harvester, which could be handy for a meal, but only had a poky bar that wasn’t much fun to go to for a drink.

So it’s now quite a novelty to have a warm (lovely log burner at one end), welcoming, thriving local pub just a short walk up the lane, where we can enjoy a pleasant evening and a change of scenery from the ‘shed’. It could prove a handy bolthole when the renovations get a bit too much!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Protect Our Rivers


Living, as I do, directly on a riverbank, I’ve become aware of how users of the river don’t always treat it as well as they should. I’m appalled at the amount of old rubbish that gets washed up on the banks and annoyed by people in boats constantly disregarding the speed limit!

There is a speed sign right by our home, informing people of the maximum speed allowed. This is not there for adornment, as some obviously think, but to limit the amount of damage caused to the banks by the wash from passing boats. Natural erosion of the riverbanks obviously occurs, but is greatly increased by speeding boats churning things up. And why does this matter? We need to protect the wildlife and landscape (and more selfishly my home)!

One of the greatest offenders at exceeding the speed limit, I’m sad to say, is the army. They charge past in their little boats, but for what reason? The river narrows when it reaches us, becoming more twisted and narrower still just beyond. Not great for army manoeuvres I would have thought – although, of course, there is a pub a little further up! Surely if the army want to test their speedy boats, they would be better heading in the other direction, where the river widens out into the estuary and on to the sea.

We rarely see the river police enforcing the speed limit and of course there are no flashing signs displaying sad faces like you see on the roads. What I would really like is a ‘Brian-Blessed-Ometer’ – a device that would be triggered by speeding boats and would boom out in the great man’s voice, “What do you think you’re playing at you annoying river hog?”

Of course, many river users do exhibit consideration, and to them I’m very grateful. Those who don’t take as much care may just be ignorant of the potential damage that they can cause, and to them I request that they stop and think about the effects that their actions can have on nature.

And Brian, if you’re reading this, your input would be appreciated!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Keeping Watch!


Since moving to the ‘glorified shed’ last year, I’ve chronicled my growing interest in watching the local wildlife, in particular many of the birds not just in our garden, but also those that frequent the riverbank that I can see from my window.

Armed with a new pair of binoculars I’ve been keep tracking of the river visitors – cormorants, herons, redshanks, lapwings etc – and feeding and watching the garden species too.

I was pleased, therefore, to take part in the recent RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, settling down for a peaceful hour of viewing, and recording the comings and goings of our feathered friends. Some of the birds that I saw came as no big surprise. We always seem to have throngs of starlings in the garden, as well as a few sparrows and blue tits and the odd great tit, chaffinch and robin. However, I was privileged enough to see a bird that I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen before – a long-tailed tit. It was great so see it during that ‘golden hour’, but in all likelihood it may be a frequent visitor that I often miss seeing, as I often only pause for short bird watching sessions during my busy day.

It can be incredibly relaxing to just sit back and watch nature through your window, taking your mind off life’s mundane problems and focusing on enjoying the moment.

I’m fortunate that the computer on which I work is positioned right by the window with its panoramic river view, allowing me to take regular breaks from the screen to glance up and see what’s happening both in my garden and the surrounding countryside.

The building around me may still be very much a work in progress, but the surrounding view is a pure masterpiece!

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Beginnings Of A Bathroom


After months of settling into the ‘glorified shed, trying to create order out of chaos and tweaking our renovation plans time and again, work has finally commenced on what is destined to become the bathroom.

I look forward to showing you a picture of our
finished bathroom, instead of someone else's!
The one-time workshop office has long been cleared of its former contents, and the hard graft has now begun. As I write this post, the walls are being insulated and lined and plans have been made for the electrics to be re-routed. The plumber has been booked to attend to all the pipework and install our chosen suite. I now feel that things are really moving.

It will be such a luxury to have a bathroom to call our own, as for several months now we have been surviving with a washbasin and toilet, popping to my mother-in-law’s for baths and showers. The day I get to use our own bathroom for the first time will surely be worthy of a celebration!

Of course, the big question is, ‘Will it all go according to plan?’ We have already learnt that the statement, “It will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you first think,” is not just an ugly rumour.

Setting that aside, it’s an exciting time, and I’m looking forward to all our plans taking shape!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Mixed Reactions


When we moved to our ‘glorified shed’ all those months ago, we experienced a whole range of responses from people that we know.

Some family and friends listened to our plans wearing contorted expressions that conveyed an odd mixture of pity and disbelief. Others nodded encouragingly, albeit with a distinct look of scepticism, whilst a rare few got quite excited about the prospect, voicing a wish to do something along similar lines.

Since moving to our new rural location, visitors have been few. There were obviously those so horrified at the prospect of camping out in an old workshop whilst slowly renovating it, that they couldn’t bring themselves to come near. Others have visited, endeavouring to look keen about what we’re doing, but actually adopting a rather shocked expression. However, we have had a couple of visitors that have expressed elation at our new view – which is beautiful, and quite priceless – and a kind of understanding of what we are doing.
Our floor's not quite this good - yet!

Last week I visited the hairdresser and was chatting about our big project. The more I related to her, the more her smile dropped and a look of concern swept over her face. Her burning question seemed to be, “But is it clean?”

Well, of course, when we first arrived it wasn’t ideal. We had to remove numerous cobwebs and a copious amount of dust, but the situation is now much improved! The floor had seen better days, but we’ve now buffed it up to something very manageable – bearing in mind this is all to be replaced in the fullness of time. And of course, we keep abreast of a kind of modified housework whilst competing with the need to do an enormous amount of renovation work. Those that have been brave enough to visit have remarked that it’s all now quite cosy.

To some, it would seem that we are living on another planet, as opposed to just a ride away in the countryside. Or maybe they are worried that we have developed some contagious ‘urge-to-renovate’ disease, from which they may get contaminated.

Despite what some may think we are able to receive visitors, even if they may get asked, “Can you just hold on to that for a minute, while I just knock it in with a hammer?”