House repairs & housekeeping

I was delighted to hear that your dry rot (caused by wetness) was really only wet rot (caused by intermittent dryness as well as wetness) – because the former really is bad news whereas wet rot, as I understand it, is not ‘malignant’, and can be cured reasonably easily provided they can find the source of the wet.

I have now engaged with X to come and build us a new fence along the bottom boundary, which will involve removal of the present compost enclosure. … So I must pull down the remains of the aviary, and remove most of the plants from that border for safekeeping until he has finished. Not, of course, that he is likely to start when he says – he never manages that – but just in case he’s nearly on time, we must be ready.

I’m glad the wood worm treatment is over, though perhaps even now not seeming quite a thing of the past. I was surprised they demanded as long as six weeks before you could cover it – but let’s hope that by then you will have been able to get the other jobs done which are essential… I am enclosing a bank draft as our contribution to getting your flat as you would like it. All these little men must be costing you a lot of money.

all these little men

Our building is all go now. The frame is up and the roof and weatherboards go on next week. The concrete block wall would probably withstand an explosion – it’s SOLID. We’re managing to afford a new kitchen while we’re about it… We’ll have a new wall oven and gas hob (our stove’s being decidedly temperamental – I think the thermostat’s broken!) We also have to have a new water heater… All this fits into the amount we’ve borrowed – on paper at least!

We’ve also bought an extractor fan for the stove hood. It’s not as strong as previous ones we’ve had and makes a bit of noise, but it does seem to get rid of the smells and steam, and we don’t need to have it on when we’re in there.

We have been having much attention given to our telephone. It went out of action a few weeks ago and we complained – and had a van here all day with a pleasant young man who seemed thoroughly confused at our wiring system (between our three phones and one outside bell) and eventually rigged a temporary wire over the top of the house as part of trying to reduce the buzzing in our ears. It didn’t do much for us. Then last week two men in a van turned up, and again stayed most of the day, plus a supervisor in a car for half an hour, and another van. They traced the whole thing, and went round muttering things like ‘the yellow is crossed with the blue’ and ‘there’s a groundswell on the red’ – and gave us another new line under the house instead of the one over the roof. They worked very hard even though it was raining most of the day – and eventually went away triumphant.

The friendly plumber came and estimated for a new basin. I inherited a cracked one where the old girl’s husband had had a seizure or something and dropped a heavy bottle from a short height into the basin. The nice plumber said cheerfully ‘Claim on insurance – they aren’t to know you didn’t do it’ which seems sensible but immoral! The roof man suggested the same so I see I have been missing out all these years on something everybody else does – no wonder the rates per year are so high now.

X has replaced the supply of drinking water we keep, last done 3 years ago, and I found my dried milk to be the same 3 years out of date.

He helped do a massive clear-up in the front garden and we packed the green bin to overflowing. I also collected oddments I wanted to get rid of to put outside the gate and almost all were taken – it’s a good idea: you’re invited to help yourself to anything you’d like and a van collects the rest. ‘They’ call it trash.

Our TV which we’d been saying was so good suddenly packed up and our nice repairman said a new ??? [part] would cost over $100. So we decided to do it now before the old one cost any more. That took all the morning – I’d phoned round getting prices so was able to knock them down $60 – X just can’t do it – I have no qualms – they obviously won’t lose on the deal.

I have been lucky through the coldest nights (so far) and haven’t frozen up – apart from one outlet from the bath which was my own fault as I knew the taps dripped and I forgot to jam the plug in securely after my bath. Fortunately I was able to face the damned snow and unstoppered it with a boiling kettle and a little wangling of the icicle that had formed (despite the protective bag of bracken put over the drain which was supposed to prevent the frost getting through!)

We all keep on gardening

My B&B business is still thriving, nearly all the proceeds of which go into the upkeep of the garden. However hard I try to be abstemious, I always end up spending a fortune on seeds and plants each year, and then wondering why I have to spend so much time watering when the weather is hot and dry! … some things did extremely well, such as roses, peas, garlic, onions and autumn raspberries, while others failed quite spectacularly, in particular, summer raspberries, most tree fruit and broad beans. All my tomatoes and peppers were very late producing anything edible, due to the lack of sun in early summer, but there wasn’t a sign of the usual infestation of whitefly. There’s no pleasing gardeners, is there!

I had a lad who helped with the mowing for most of the summer. Very useful but he did it so badly that it nearly drove me to drink!

The ground is squelchy with wet after last night’s downpour and there won’t be very much more I can usefully do in the garden until it dries up a bit! The poor little seedlings do look bedraggled after it and I might earth them up a bit I suppose, but it seems rather fiddly and pointless to mess with them. Actually the slugs will finish them off in one more night if I leave them I expect – they have devoured a line of carrots, the first line of kale and sprouts and all the dwarf beans to date so there isn’t much hope I feel!

There is quite a large backyard which has an orange tree and some vegetables which I planted. However it mainly looks very run down as nothing has been done to it for years. I expect I will have to battle for several more years to rid it of noxious grasses which just take over if not kept constantly in check. Come autumn I will have planned it (I hope) and can plant some shrubs and ground cover which should improve it greatly. I have things in the front garden now – some cooking herbs, a climbing rose (to hide the iron fence), a white and ordinary coloured lavender, a rosemary bush, and two daisies both of which have a fungus and will have to be destroyed.

…if you’re against strong poisons on weeds and have only a small area, a drop of petrol will go down to the roots in no time, useful for between paving.

water creature

 

For my birthday in July everyone generously gave me money so I could put a water feature in the garden or, as X calls it, my water creature.

 

The garden has been lovely, always something new… I got quite a lot of strawberries last year, made lots of my strawberry syrup and bottled it. We shall use most of our homemade jams in the tearoom, muffins & jam etc. I may do marmalade and lemon curd for sale as one can make them any time. We have a good fig tree too, some citrus and mulberries besides plenty of pawpaws. We may do things like homemade bread & pate for lunches, and fruit salad. Youngberries and blackberries are growing well. Hazel nut trees have taken and one sweet chestnut tree, one blackcurrant (one small shoot survived the new gardener!) [Green with envy re this list!]

The weather here in Sydney is gradually getting warmer as spring turns into summer. The trees and shrubs are all in bloom so the City looks great. The Jacaranda trees have been stunning. I went on a garden excursion recently – to see some private gardens in the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately it rained all day and it really rains hard here. Anyway we had to spend a lot more time on refreshments than viewing.

The varieties of potatoes have me intrigued. One of the ‘house’ type magazines I bought had a feature on potatoes: it was really quite an education. One rather intriguing one is Purple Congo which is quite small and dark purple. I t mashes quite well apparently, to a beautiful lavender shade reminiscent of a colour some elderly ladies used to like their blouses. A bit off-putting, so I haven’t tried it, even though the writer of the article did promise it was very tasty. I am not going to have any vegetables other than a few herbs in pots. I cannot get enough sun at the right time for them to grow properly. I don’t want to put them in the front, although many home gardeners of Mediterranean origin do. You see these beautifully staked beans and tomatoes in beds next to the roses, which may have garlic or onions growing under them. … I sort of run out of steam when planting the front, as I came to the foundations of the original house in just that strip where I could plant. So it was digging and prising small stones from between very much larger and heavier ones, and chipping off the sopping old mortar. I couldn’t get out the largest: they were just too heavy, apart from being at a depth of from just above my knees down. I would see people drive and walk slowly past me trying to peer inconspicuously to see what I was doing, knee-deep in my own front garden.