About Alison

Escaped to the country with ideas common to a lot of us, of country walks, pubs and the odd bit of "building"! not quite the quiet life I'd envisaged, but always full of ideas follow me and my other half on our adventures to find our own bit of heaven, in the Forest of Dean.
You can also follow me on Twitter @alisonbarton1, or join me for chats on my other blog http://cupofteaandachat.blogspot.co.uk/. enjoy!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Let's be on a (T.V.) Show?

So we finished the extension all the windows have been replaced some even made much bigger and the lounge made from knocking through a wall is taking shape.

Is it time to sit back and do the little jobs to finish off each room we have disturbed so far and have a break from massive dust clouds and tools in strange  places.

No of course not, I was tweeting one dark evening in November when I saw a message that screamed out to me. Do you have a budget to make over your kitchen and want it to go further? Be on a TV show and have one designed for you.  I thought they mean us, Although Phil would have butted in at this point if he had been there and said,”we don’t have a budget for the kitchen and we haven’t finished what we are doing yet.”

I decided it best not to trouble him with this tweet as it may come to nothing, I also wanted to check it out as it may have been a scam, you never know. So I sent a tentative e mail to the production company, picked a figure out of the air and told them what our (imaginary) budget was.

Before I knew it I had to tell Phil we were having a visitor and to change his shirt, they were sending a researcher, to film a small audition. He looked puzzled then I had to rewind and tell him everything from the beginning, details are so boring, why doesn’t he just go with my flow?
Before would there be an after?

This guy came and took some still photos of the "old kitchen" and then he interviewed us,we talked so much we used up the battery on the camera and he had to try and finish with the camera on his phone. We had a laugh anyway and thought nothing would come of it. I was a tiny bit excited when the presenter turned out to be Nadia Sawalha. I really like her and the whole call of the greasepaint was starting to get to me. The there was a big lull a big lot of nothing after this initial buzz of activity while we waited to see if they wanted us on their show.

My lovely little car had to go
Besides the obvious excitement of being involved with new people and filming etc there was this opportunity to possibly more than double our “imaginary” budget and have the input of a  really first rate kitchen designer, Kerr Drummond, to literally create our dream kitchen. Whatever happened I was going to make this opportunity come to fruition, some financial juggling may be required but I am good at that.     

When we got the news that we would be on the show and the team were coming to do first days filming just after Christmas I was both tremendously excited and nervous, I looked at my lovely little Figaro (my little car) in the garage and decided I would have to sacrifice her for the new kitchen.

So goodbye Figaro and dark kitchen hello Hollywood!


Saturday, 28 July 2012

OK this may sound crazy but……now we’ve downsized lets extend?

As it was when we moved in

 We moved at probably the worst of times economically but its working out ok. We sold and bought in the same depressed market, having had our old house over eight years so we had a buffer from the crazy hikes in property prices in the mid Naughties.

I did discuss the loss of space with hubby and we worked through it, emotionally logistically and agreed it could be done without feeling cramped.

This is where I thought we could extend?(at the side)
After moving in and living with the cottage for a while and starting listing the improvements we wanted to make and which were the priorities.  We installed the central heating system as a major priority, but before we did anything else I said “If we were to extend, and I repeat if, we should consider it now before we do anything else”. He gave me one of them looks, you the one, “I knew it I knew it”. I reassured him it was just an idea at this stage, and best to think about it before we go any further. 

We can't do it all ourselves u know!

The work begins

We evaluated it and agreed an extension was a good idea.
 We also decided that even though Hubby had built a few extensions himself in his time, this time we would have someone do it and complete it at the same time as knocking out and replacing all the windows in the cottage. A bit of “Wam bam, thank you guys!”

So we wanted another room for hobbies a sort of” break out” space to play read think away from each other, and I wanted a broom cupboard and a utility room that was separate from the kitchen. I loved the idea of a proper laundry, no cooking smells, no dogs, just clean ordered useful space.
So we went for it and although not quite finished we do love it and the benefit of downsizing to a more rural area is, you do get more for your money and if you are looking for less, you have money to create exactly what suits you and your family in the precise location you want to be
  It’s not everyone’s choice to live away from everything and its no good if you are in that stage of your life when its work, work work. But we have done that and got the T-shirt and paid for the convenience of living at the hub now we are having an adventure creating our own little piece of paradise. It may be dusty, and we may have frustrations along the way but it’s our dream and we love it, although there is still a long way to go and many more ideas to come!


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Water water everywhere

Having the multi fuel burner was exciting but the fun was short lived as of course it wasn’t connected so not warming us and it signalled a lot of hard work ahead. Because none of the businesses who had quoted could manage to provide a quote let alone any free time to install our heating system Phil had been cramming on the internet and had declared with confidence “how difficult can it be?”

Washington, DC auto mechanic under car, 1942, Photo-2
Getting stuck in 
I had every confidence in him.  Madonna doesn’t have a thing on himHe is the master of reinvention and can turn his hand to anything  During our marriage we have had more rough times than the Flying Dutchman doomed to sail the Cape of Good Hope.  Over the years he has got us out of more hot water than a really good plumber who always turns up when called. I remember when we were first going out, his determination to solve a problem used to drive me nuts, but I realise now its one of his finest attributes. The hours he worked on his old car to fix it to save money and keep us mobile, were endless, I would have given up, so many times. If you are a bit flaky with a low boredom threshold its vital you find a partner in life who is has more tenacity. So if this applies to you set a resilience test for any prospective life partner, to see if you will make a good team in that regard. In my own defence I contribute spontaneity and excellent ideas!

He carefully explored the pros and cons of copper pipe and connectors versus plastic, he designed the system with help from our good old brother in law and together they set to work. Christmas, that false deadline was ever encroaching on us. For some reason no one showed any interest in popping to see us. I had cleared the rubble and put up a tree in the newly enlarged sitting room. The ice glistened on the tree like stars, brr!!

The dogs get to the heat first we went for the wine!
Pipes cut and laid, connections made radiators hung and waiting. The complicated, bit connecting to the burner itself, brilliantly executed, pipes on the rise to ease water flow. It looked magnificent. It was a colder than ever: Christmas Eve, we were alone together and it was time to test the system. Nine radiators around the house and the burner had to be watched, but we did it. Silence is golden, not a sound, we darted around checking everywhere and I returned to the burner and looked at it lovingly. I was just about to shout to Phil he was a star, when I thought I heard a strange hissing sound, I tried to discount it, but there it was more insistent than before. I looked closer to the side of the burner where the cruel sound was coming from and got a shot of fine spray in the eye. Blast “leak , leak,” I shouted, in all Phil had to modify and drain the system five times that night until just after midnight into what was actually Christmas morning we lit the burner and heated up the house for the first time, my hero. I know I couldn’t have kept going like he did, you know it was a great idea when I decided to marry him!


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Lights, Camera, Action!

The sitting room we inherited

Nothing spurs you into activity more than physical discomfort. We moved into our little Forest cottage in the summer and even then it was cold,”indoors.” As the evenings started to draw in through autumn we started to feel the chill even more and the light was never quite, well bright enough to see. I was thinking of getting my eyes tested and constantly cleaning my glasses, but had to accept it was the general gloom of the interior once actual direct sunlight stopped shinning through those tiny windows.

Starting to "improve"?

We knew we had to change the windows, and put in a much better heating system, but like a game of chess there were things that needed to be done first. As there was no natural light in the back room behind the little sitting room. My idea was to knock down the dividing wall so the light from the front of the house came through to the back. Once we had reconfigured the rooms we could then site radiators and run pipes. Great, but remember these walls are 20” thick. We started so we had to finish as the weather was getting colder. We had to dismantle most of the existing heating system as we worked and now had limited options to keep warm.

The wall down dust and boulders
Because of the dust we had set up camp in our bedroom, but do you know dust can come through floorboards and carpets! When we were busy it was not so bad, but once we stopped, I had taken to getting into bed with a thick cardigan on and knitting with gloves on. I looked like a character out of a Dickens novel, all poor and Victorian!

We would leave the windows  and solar panels to the following year, but the difference with the wall going down was amazing even though the floor was full of boulders and dust half tiled and half cement, it looked brighter already.

Phil working hard

Simultaneously to getting this work done we had been scouting around for a local company to install a multi fuel burner with a back boiler, big enough to heat the radiators around the house. I am not sure if this was my idea It’s pretty technical and a bit detailed and doesn’t sound like one of my brainwaves. We had discounted both calor gas and oil as impractical and too expensive.  Solar energy was only ever going to be a top up, alternative option, after all its not Florida
We asked neighbours for recommendations of someone local who could do a good job. We got quite a few suggestions and started asking them to quote. We had a lovely time to start with all these chatty local guys coming round having a cup of tea and slice of cake with us, talking through the plan and adding their own ideas. They were so friendly sometimes I felt I should invite them to stay for their Dinner. When we got to the forth one it started to get a bit tiresome. Two hours was not an unusual time for them to spend measuring, talking and drinking my tea. Then we waited for the quotes. After a week Phil started calling them back.

Brr freezing outside and in!
the "beast" holding the promise of warmth & cosiness
They were all up to their neck in work and would send us a quote ASAP. Three weeks later, nothing,  with another round of calls and promises coming to nought we came to the conclusion they spent all their time going round chatting to folk and living off tea and cake laid on during their mammoth visits and didn’t actually install anything. Having invested so much time we tried to recruit one guy who although “busy” had shared a lot of good ideas with us, but he had to tell us he couldn’t actually do the job because he was too "busy!".

 He came round about three times advising us and he was great and we selected a burner with his guidance and he delivered it and helped Phil and good old brother in law carry it in. It was a beast I have never got so excited over a lump of metal with a glass door in it before, not even a new car has thrilled me to the extent this handsome multi fuel burner did. It was, actually beautiful and it hinted at warmth and cosiness something I yearned for with a passion.

Alison x

Next time Phil becomes an expert central heating engineer!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

France was the original idea

Beautiful view Forest of Dean towards Wales

When I was looking forward to retirement, with a crazed glazed eyed expression some years ago. France was the place I thought we would go. It was one of my ideas to leave this dowdy persona behind and recreate the, me I wanted to be. You know grow my hair wear floaty skirts and carry a wicker basket.

Could it be France?  perhaps !
I was an avid pursuer of anything French, magazines, books, films, property prices, It was a dream shared we took holidays to get a feel for the various” Departments”.  It was an escape plan that made the drudge of the daily commute bearable. 
Now why didn’t we follow through? I am going to blame the other half for not trying enough with the language. We were going to have French evenings, speaking only French eating French food and drinking, you got it French wine. Some how something fell by the wayside and it wasn’t drinking the French wine!

We agreed if we couldn’t speak the language we could not implement my wonderful idea so it was shelved.

But Isn't the Forest gorge?
 With hindsight it probably wasn’t a bad thing, with property prices  dropping, the recession and the general logjam of ”Brits” trying to sell up their French dream and return to dear “old Blighty”. On a morning like this I look out of my window at the gloriously unique view and I am thankful I had a better idea and moved here.

We have quite a bit of work to do, as we would have in France, we can change things to suit ourselves, we can walk through the wonderful woodland, the pace is slower, it must be on a par with the French countryside? If I wanted to I could reinvent myself, or could have when I arrived, but I figured out I just needed to chill out and I wasn’t that bad after all.

We do speak the same language here which I thought would be the main bonus given we have achieved a pretty spectacular rural ideal. However there are times when “Brummy” just doesn’t cut it in the Forest. Most people are sufficiently attuned to understand us, but the other night in a local hostelry I really did need a translator. It might have had something to do with the copious amount of good old cider the jolly chap had had or perhaps, I was a bit more relaxed from the wonderfully warm welcome and slipped into a old thick dialect, not normally heard in these parts?
The garden still looks like a building site but !

The work continues but life goes on around it and it’s when I am doing these other things I get my best ideas. Next time I will fill you in on continuing saga of the Solar panels and the beast of a fuel burner we ended up getting.


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Going Green

  “The cottage has to go green!” a eureka moment for me shortly after moving in, I sprung up out of my slumbers with this startlingly brilliant idea. I prodded Phil and waited for his amazed adulation.
“Green? What sort of green?” he asked  still clinging to the land of nod. Now I was starting to feel undervalued and misunderstood. (got the second bit right!).

“Green, green” I told him shaking him gently so he would understand better, adding “its obvious isn’t it?” He sat up, “Alison, nothing is obvious with you,” He rubbed his face he was doing his best to keep up with my lightening mind. I had another brilliant idea I would go and make him a cup of tea, give him time to wake up and then everything would be explained.

The back of the house nestles into the hill with just a small gap to walk round
I had been pondering, instead of sleeping, about how we retrospectively make this old stone cottage “eco”. Our new home was a substantial structure, 20” thick stone walls, small windows, nestled into the bosom of the hill. It should be warm and sheltered, but it was like a dark fridge. This was in July, a lovely warm sunny July as well not, our usual wet miserable one. The sun didn't shine on the back of the house at all. The only place that was cosy and warm was the loft, it was like climbing into a slow cooker, toasty. But that was no good to us. So we brainstormed what we agreed should be our first priority. Unanimously we decided we needed plans to make the building more energy efficient and therefore cheaper to heat and light. We had no gas on the Hill so that was out. We had an old electric boiler to heat water , which had a timer, or a booster button to warm water for a bath. A coal fire and electric storage heaters, which warmed the rooms beautifully in the afternoon but by the evening it was cold again! And Ugly, they were really ugly!

We decided on taking up any government aided scheme to help, so first thing was loft insulation. We knew that we were not really loosing much heat through there at the moment with the sun  warming the roof, so we took to leaving the hatch open, in the day for the heat to filter into the upstairs rooms. But we anticipated that come the winter, that loft would be very cold. That was pretty straightforward, we arranged for a company to lay the insulation and we’d pay a subsidised amount through this scheme. To be honest we probably did pay the cost of the insulation and perhaps the labour came free. All they had to do was roll it down each gap between the planks. Me and Phil spent two days clearing the loft of all our “we’ll sort that out when we’ve moved in properly stuff”,  and then putting it all back, as well as laying new walking boards on top of the new insulation..  Remember it was hot, bloomin heck!  But job done, tick.

The large dark utility room at the back of the tiny house,  no window!
We were simultaneously researching, structural changes and agreed we needed new bigger windows and doors to include new technology double glazing  units and UPVC frames for endurance.  We desperately needed to bring more light into the house and make the most of that wonderful view.We needed to tackle some damp and find a way to insulate these thick cold walls. We considered energy options; oil fired central heating, an improved electric system, multi fuel burner, calor gaz and sunshine.  

For loads of reasons we decided to go for a multi fuel burner with extras. Well my idea was to harness sunshine as well, as it was probably the cheapest, there were downsides as it goes down every night and doesn’t really put in an appearance some days at all! 

But as part of the whole, it seemed a viable option so we organised a visit from a solar panel company. Phil had his doubts as to our suitability but I was convinced it was right for us. When I phoned there seemed to be only one criteria and we or should I say I achieved that. The guy asked me if we were south facing, I checked are you asking if I am south facing “yes dear” he replied, really ticked off, I could hear his thoughts"stupid woman," I turned to the midday sun and replied confidently” yes dear I am south facing.”


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Escape to the country? what happenened next

"Downsizing?" he queried, "yes" I said. "the best idea I've had yet. That is of course if you can cope with a smaller house", I added. He laughed out loud. He has a tendency to do that, when I come up with an idea, I think its excitement or something. Well I like to think of myself as the, imaginative one, my notions are mostly great ones I might add, some good and the odd crazy one. Whether my other half would agree on that ratio, I doubt it, but then he doesn’t have my vision

Beautiful view to the left
Anyway it was part of a big idea to retire early, recover some equity from the house and move, where houses were cheaper and pace of life slower. You know the usual,  village with a pub, nice walks good community feel. Anyhow, then we put the house on the market and it decided to crash! Don't panic, I had this other idea that we should, simply push on and be brave. We did eventually sell the house, for much less than it was originally valued at, but then again who said it was worth that much in the first place?. We found a house with a great view. Remember I have the vision. But anyone could see it had a great view

It was definitely smaller and just about made all the moving and, downsizing worth it. No one told me quite how much moving would cost though so,  if you are thinking about it, make sure you include that in your budget. Anyway moving along swiftly,  was exactly what we did, because we had sold our house and the buyers were keen to move in. with only one person behind them in the chain. Our “vendors” had built a new house and were ready to move out. With this very small chain we were moved within a month! That’s not normal but it was good for us.
and expansive view to the right

We both liked the new house, it was a joint decision to buy it., We agreed things needed doing to the house and we both had ideas about what we would do when we moved in, but that’s where the synchronicity ended. Our visions were a bit disparate to say the least.  We decided to live in it for a while and let our plans develop organically (that’s code for giving me time to get my ideas agreed!) I encouraged Phil that we needed to get to know the house and discover how we lived in it for a while.

Inside  restricted view, cold and dark (Thick walls!)

So there we are escaped to the country in a house built in 1845, with a few electric storage heaters, no gas supply, a little coal fire in the equally tiny living room, looking out to a lovely view through, you got it, “tiny” windows. It was July and hot outside but it was actually cold in the house. Anyone who says old  20” thick  stone walls are great because they keep a house warm in the winter and cool in the summer is trying to sell you the house!. Why do you think builders went on to design cavity walls!

More ideas soon