A little upcycling and a broken husband….

Before we took on international roles at work Mr W and I were regular fell walkers and could climb like mountain goats. These days not so agile. So after moving to Cumbria I had made it my mission to get us hill fit again. All was going well with the training until yesterday when I broke Mr W. After 10 miles of up and down fells he could hardly walk and I had to abandon him to go and fetch the car. He’d have been sat on that bench by the roadside for 2hrs if the 2 old fellas I’d asked for directions hadn’t given me a lift back to the car park. Cumbrians are lovely people. The 2 guys were old school friends, one local and one now living in Truro. They meet up annually for 2 weeks in Sept to fish on Bassenthwaite Lake (technically the only lake in the Lake District, all others are called waters or meres). During the drive back to the car park they asked me about Mr W’s injuries and I explained that he would be fine, but there had been a risk of me killing him if I’d had to listen to his moaning much longer……I mean look at the beautiful views!

On the plus side we got home a little earlier than planned which gave me chance to finish my bar stool project. A few months ago I picked up 6 cast iron pub stools that were missing seats in a junk shop in Greenwich. Since then I’d been looking for the perfect perches to top them. I found them in Lille in the form of old French tractor seats. These days farmers like upholstery and suspension, but farmers used to be made of tougher stuff and the seats were moulded iron. I wire brushed 4 of them to remove old paint flakes and scrubbed the bases which were already bare. I drilled holes into the bases to fit the new seats and then painted the bases and seats with smooth black Hammerite. I love Hammerite; you can paint directly onto rusted metal, it rarely needs more than 1 coat and the finish is smooth and leaves the metal gleaming like new. Voila!

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I only managed to find 5 tractor seats in Lille, so I’m on the hunt for one more, unless I find something more interesting for the remaining 2. In the meantime I’d better go and check on the chucks. Phyllis has been nesting in the same place for 48hrs now even though the rest have been roaming free – in the garden, the lane, the neighbouring fields and the neighbours gardens……Hopefully it’s just broodiness and nothing more as she is my second favourite (after Harriett) and was named after my Aussie friend Phil. He’d be very upset if something happened to his namesake.

Phyllis
Phyllis

 

 

Do you have what it takes to go hardcore treasure hunting?

Back home and I think the chickens missed me. There was definitely extra clucking when I went to feed them. Its not like they didn’t have company while I was away though; with 2 neighbours and my stepdaughter all doing shifts they had more minders than Beyonce. Scratchy the cat on the other hand was his usual indifferent self. Sharon told me she spent 30 mins cuddling him every night so he’s probably wishing I’d stayed away……

My Lille trip was a huge success. Braderie de Lille is an annual event held the first weekend in September. It dates back to the 12th century and claims to be Europe’s largest flea market with 10,000 sellers and millions of visitors. Even though I’d done some research I still wasn’t prepared for the size of the market and the range and quality of the goods available. I was like a kid in a sweet shop – miles and miles of old, dusty, quirky, interesting stuff! Like the car boot (see one of my earlier posts) I was a bit of a rookie but with some on site improvisation we managed to secure a haul of treasure and get it all in my 4WD. Here are my tips for other first timers:

  • Go with a wish list. There is so much on offer you run the risk of filling the car with random purchases before you spot the items you really went for.
  • Measure your rooms and spaces before you leave home and take a tape measure to the market.
  • Take the biggest vehicle you can, and if you own it line it with old sheets so that you don’t damage the interior shoving furniture into it (sorry Mr W…). Measure the inside of the vehicle.
  • Take a trolley or barrow to carry heavy items, plus straps to secure them. We bought 2 granny shopping trolleys at the market ( €15 each) and pilfered some string from a stall holder. We broke one of the trolleys carrying a set of industrial chairs, and the string finally broke under the weight of a church pew. At one point we commandeered an abandoned supermarket trolley so we might have been rookies but we were certainly resourceful.

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  • Take at least one other person to help carry things, but make sure they’re strong and have the stamina – you don’t want a whinger holding you back!
  • Take your whole budget in cash, I didn’t see anyone with a credit card machine and only a few cash points, and go prepared to barter. Typically we would pay 60-70% of the first price quoted.
  • Staying in Lille is ideal, and I’d recommend the hotel L’Hermitage Gantois. It’s a beautifully restored former hospice and perfectly located. They have valet parking but can’t get your car out until 8pm on Sunday so you can park at Grand Palais multi-storey which is a 10 min walk away – €22.50 for 24hrs.

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So what treasures did I find?

A church pew for €70, and a set of industrial style chairs for €130, I bartered for 6 and he threw in the 7th for free!

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A ladder back style chair with rush seat, an old trunk, €30 and a pot belly stove for €50. Bartering for the stove was fun as 2 other stall holders joined in!

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Two bar signs for my stepdaughters garage bar – €10 each. One lights up and just needed the plug changing so it would work in the UK

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A beautiful brass coat rack and parcel shelf like the type you see on old trains – €120, and what appears to be a wall mounted stand for riding hats which I plan to put on the back of a bedroom door – €10.

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But my favourite purchases have to be the 5 tractor seats I bought individually at an average price of €12. They will be perfect for the cast iron bar stools I bought in an antique shop.

My sister also brought home a haul (well I did as she was flying), and her favourite purchase was the antique lift floor indicator. We’d seen it on the first morning priced at €350 and it was still on the stall on Sunday afternoon and we took it home for €120 – bargain!

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Next year I will be hiring a van, and possibly a trailer…. My sister is already invited based on her strength and stamina. Two other friends want to join me but I may need to test their endurance first…….

Feeling old….

A month ago when I set up this blog I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for figuring out the technology. Now I have a problem (adding photo’s) and feel like an old lady thats been given a computer for the first time. Needless to say blogging temporarily suspended while I try and fix things – wish I was a young hip techno-savvy geek!

A folly in the city?

Wherever I am I’m always on the look out for design inspirations and London never disappoints. Drinks with friends last night took me to The Folly which I love because it’s so not The City where it’s located. The interior has a real forest feel but also includes lovely vintage kitsch and it’s own pop up homewares shop. With free wifi and lots of natural light it’s a great place to camp out too – and the service, food and wine list aren’t bad either!

Forest feel bathrooms in The Folly, London

Door to who knows where in The Folly, London

Forest feel dining at The Folly, London

A little up cycling, down cycling and recycling

I eat a lot. Fact. Thankfully I also like exercise, but I’m an outdoor person that hates gyms. This is probably because the ones in London are often below ground and/or windowless, i.e. completely devoid of natural light. So to avoid morbid obesity I used to cycle to work. Now cycling in central London comes with a certain amount of risk but with some basic common sense (keep your eyes on the traffic and don’t listen to your iPod when cycling….) you can avoid serious injury, if not the pollution. In 10 years I only had 3 collisions, none of which were my fault. I rear-ended a cab which stopped abruptly to pick up a fare, I was side-swiped by a white van that decided to illegally undertake a car in a bus lane, and I was hit side on by a car that turned left without indicating or checking their mirror. The only time I really hurt myself was when my mudguard jammed my tyre as I took a corner and I fell off sideways like a sack of potatoes. Three men came to my aid and I cried. Humiliating. For 2 weeks I had a lump the size of a tennis ball on my elbow and couldn’t wear tights because they kept sticking to my weeping scabby knees. So cycling in pollution free, bike friendly Cumbria is an absolute pleasure, but it does have its ups and downs, literally. I don’t think there is a stretch of flat ground longer than 50 metres in the whole county. The ups can be exhausting but the downs are fantastic. Although the pleasure of hurtling down a hill at 35 miles a year is slightly tainted by the knowledge that you know there will be a massive uphill at the end of it. Yesterday I did a circuit of Derwent Water, passing through beautiful Borrowdale and the Newlands Valley. I met 2 lovely old fellas outside the Swinside Inn where I stopped for lunch who were also out cycling for the day. (This pub is hosting a chilli festival and its own Oktoberfest this month – who needs London!). Today I did a circuit that took in Kirkland, Ennerdale Water and Ennerdale Bridge. More breathtaking views…..and hills.

In between cycle rides I dabbled in another kind of cycling; a little upcycling. In my view there is little difference between upcycling and recycling as both involve adding value to something that has little value in its current form. I guess upcycling just sounds a little cooler. Anyway, I’d been struggling to find picture frames for my newly decorated bedroom as I wanted a linen/taupe colour to match the soft furnishings. Then I remembered I had a tin of Annie Sloan french linen chalk paint I’d bought after the painting class I took in London. So I dug around my garage and found 5 old frames that would fit the prints I’d ordered and set to work. 2 coats of paint and 1 coat of clear wax later and I have the frames I wanted. For those of you wanting to try the Annie Sloan paint I recommend watering the paint right down and applying at least 2 coats to get the best finish. I’d also recommend Harris paint brushes, they work well with the paint, they don’t lose their bristles and they’re really easy to clean. You don’t need the Annie Sloan brushes.

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When I was digging around in the garage I also found a small wood and leather chest. Mr W is a chilli fiend and one of his Christmas presents last year had been a box full of chilli chutneys and jams, and this had been the box. I’d been looking for something to keep paperwork in and decided with a coat of Annie Sloan this could do the trick.

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My final bit of upcycling was actually to preserve not improve the item. 3 years ago one of my oldest friends Meredith stayed at Holly Cottage with her young family. The following year they gave me one of the best presents I have ever received. Her very talented husband Mark had painted a picture of Holly Cottage which now sits above the fire in my sitting room. I have been concerned about damage to the painting as the canvas was exposed. So this morning I replaced the frame with a lovely gilt one I found in Oxfam which includes glass to protect the painting from dust and smoke from the fire.

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No biking tomorrow unfortunately as I’m off to the big smoke for a course in digital marketing (funded by my former employer as part of my redundancy package). Then its onto Lille for the Braderie de Lille flea market, an annual 2 day event and the largest flea market in Europe. I’ve measured every available space in the house in anticipation of all the treasures I expect to find, and I’m taking the Shogun to ensure I can get them home. I’m going with my sister but even she’s not allowed any space in the car, and is having to make her own way there. Note to self, must get plenty of Euros on the way……

Derwent Water from Borrowdale
Derwent Water from Borrowdale
Newlands Valley from Swindale Inn
Newlands Valley from Swindale Inn
Ennerdale Water before the massive down hill!
Ennerdale Water before the massive down hill!

From sales management to chicken herder, online retailer and interior designer

Now the ladies are acclimatised I’ve started to let them out into the garden. On their first outing I spent most of the time trying to keep them from transferring all of the soil from my raised flower beds to the path…On their second outing I managed to herd them up onto the lawn. When I checked on them a few hours later they were behind the summer house digging like their lives depended on it. Clearly they hadn’t realised that if they wanted to escape they could just walk down the drive and across the neighbouring fields. Getting them in this afternoon so I could go out proved to be a little challenging. The phrase ‘herding cats’ should really be replaced with ‘herding chickens’ I’m convinced it would be easier with cats. My former workmates would have laughed their socks off if they’d seen me chasing Agata across the garden when she tried to make a break for it, while shouting “go to the hen house” to the rest of them….20 minutes it took me. Thank god I only have 7 chickens. I keep telling myself the eggs will be worth it (possibly prize winning my exceptionally competitive side says….)

I may not be a natural chicken herder but I’m definitely happier since I started my new life in Cumbria. It was a year ago when I realised I wanted to do something different with my life. I just couldn’t work out what I wanted to do. My friends often complimented me on my homes but it was only after the third visitor to Holly Cottage suggested I consider designing homes for a living that I started to wonder if this was something I really could do. When I thought back it was always something I’d been passionate about. I used to drive my mum crazy reorganising my bedroom and begging for it to be decorated again. I bought my first house very young and decorated it myself, stripping floorboards and filling it with second hand furniture I’d salvaged from friends and relatives. This trend continued throughout my 20’s and 30’s, experimenting with different styles and designs. One of my favourite being the uber-modern apartment in Greenwich that came with 1000 sq. foot of roof terrace. I grew the most beautiful roof garden that lit up at night. I was devastated when we sold it and the buyer insisted I remove it before the sale completed. I cried when I came home to bare concrete 2 days before we moved out. I kept telling myself it was just a garden, but it wasn’t, it was a little slice of paradise 6 floors above the streets of London.

So after discussing it with Mr W I decided to explore the idea of a new career. I signed up for a Diploma in Interior Design that I could do remotely with the British Academy of Interior Design, and started two night school courses, one in upholstery and one in furniture restoration. Within a week I was hooked and realised I wanted to follow my passion. I continued to work on personal projects, and took some other courses at weekends; curtain making, furniture painting. I even signed up for a second term of upholstery and furniture restoration. I didn’t see myself becoming a full time upholsterer or restorer but I enjoyed learning the skills and it was great to meet people that had similar interests. The multitude of courses available is one of the things I loved about London.

It all came to a head when changes at work put me in a position where I had to make a choice. I  knew it was time to move on and try something completely new, and although they didn’t want me to leave my boss and the management team were exceptionally supportive. I had worked there for 20 years and given it everything I had. I knew they recognised this but I still didn’t expect the amount of support I got. It was a very emotional last day and there were a few tears in the pub that night.

So here I am in Cumbria. When we bought Holly Cottage we decorated it as a second home, with cheap furniture and some basic upgrading. Now this was going to be my permanent residence and where Mr W would also retire to we decided to give it a proper make over. So that was to be my focus for the first few months, while I also finished my diploma. My plan being to set up the interior design business in the 2nd quarter of 2015.

That still is the plan and as you’ll have seen from my previous posts the renovations are keeping me busy. But anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn I’m also working on an idea for a new online retail business, and I have recently accepted my first interior design customer! I’ll be working for a friend and former colleague who is returning from Australia to the house she was letting out while she and her husband were out there. I haven’t seen the house yet, or heard what plans she has if any, I just know she wants a major overhaul and would like some help with creativity and project management. I’m excited and dying to get started. Unfortunately for my builders it means extra pressure on them to get my work completed. I’m an extremely “efficient” project manager when there are no time pressures, so god help them now…..

 

From the West End to West Cumbria

Living and working in London made it pretty easy to visit the west end and catch a show. I often went mid-week with friends, buying the cheap tickets if we weren’t sure how good it would be. I’ll watch most things for under £20 if the company’s good! Living in West Cumbria I now have a different style of show on offer and they typically only run for the summer season. This week I attended two; the Keswick show and Ennerdale show. OK so they weren’t preceded by cocktails and a pre-show dinner but they beat the west end hands down for variety. It seems you can enter just about anything in these shows to try for a prize; cattle, sheep, poultry, dogs, pets, eggs, vegetables, fruit, plants, flower arrangements, cakes, biscuits….the list is endless. One lady who shall remain nameless seemed to have an entry in just about every category at the Keswick show. They both had exhibitions of vintage cars and vintage agricultural machinery and the Keswick show had a display of quad bikes that gave Mr W high expectations for Christmas. They also go all out on the entertainment. In Keswick I watched champion sheep shearer Peter claim 1st prize for manually shearing 3 sheep with the biggest sharpest looking shears I have ever seen. You can watch (or participate in!) cumberland wrestling. You can enter a fell run (running up and down very steep hills for those that are unfamiliar). You can also shop – with local farm produce, plants, arts and crafts all on offer. Not a bad way to while away a few hours for less than £10 entry (£7 Keswick and £5 Ennerdale).

There’s even something for interior design fanatics like me at these shows. At Keswick I met a very talented lady called Mel who is a traditional woodturner and produces beautiful lamps, tableware and other items in her workshop in Egremont. I bought one of her paraffin lamps as I really liked the combination of the old fashioned method with the modern design.

One of Mel's wooden paraffin lamps
One of Mel’s wooden paraffin lamps

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Another of Mel's creations - a wooden serving bowl
Another of Mel’s creations – a wooden serving bowl

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At the Ennerdale show I met another very talented lady, Vivienne Coleman. Vivienne is a professional artist who specialises in pencil drawings. Her drawings of sheep really caught my eye, and I will be ordering some of her work for my new staircase. You can see her work on her website http://www.pencil-drawing.co.uk, and she has a gallery on Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/vivienne-c/sets/72157625020434836/

The spectacular location for the Ennerdale show
The spectacular location for the Ennerdale show

I have one other show in my diary that I’ve been wanting to attend ever since I bought our place in Cumbria but haven’t been able too make so far. This one includes….wait for it….the world gurning championships! Visit http://www.egremontcrabfair.com if you’re not familiar with this particular sport and would like to see last years winner and runners up…..And maybe next year my chickens eggs will be good enough to beat the multi-talented lady from Keswick…

 

Prize winning onions at Keswick!
Prize winning onions at Keswick
A Silkie - a fluffy variety of chicken
A Silkie – a fluffy variety of chicken
Peter the champion sheep shearer in action
Peter the champion sheep shearer in action
Mr W with his eye on a quad bike
Mr W with the quad bike he had his eye on…..
One of the many vintage cars at Keswick
One of the many vintage cars at Keswick

A not so typical English garden

Beate is still with us so I’m starting to think she’s just more like her namesake (my friend Beate Schmitt) than I realised. Both ladies are smart, (chicken Beate was the first to find the water butt). Both like to avoid the crowds, (chicken Beate prefers the nesting box to the perch at night). Both enjoy a quiet moment, (chicken Beate sometimes like to stand quietly in the corner of the pen). Perhaps I have an uncanny knack to spot a chickens character traits early on. I wonder if there is a market for this unusual skill – Mrs W, chicken whisperer?

Turns out my chickens also provide great party entertainment as my weekend guests spent hours trying to outwit each other with new chicken names. The clear winners being Margaret Hatcher, Yolko Ono and Princess Lay-er.

We had fabulous weather for the BBQ yesterday and when the sun finally went down we lit the fire pit, the chimnea and the stove in the summer house so the festivities could continue in the garden until after midnight. The garden was one of the things that attracted me to Holly Cottage when we viewed it. But only because of the size and the views of the fells; thankfully I could see the potential, Mr W couldn’t. The former owners had made some disastrous design choices including rows of fruit bushes mid garden, a huge potato field in one corner which I think was once a compost heap, and randomly placed fences. They had also neglected some areas completely, leaving me with mounds of brambles and weeds to deal with. Every year for the last 4 years I have tackled a new area with the help of Alan my local landscaper, and the major re-modelling is now complete. I describe myself as an interior design fanatic, but perhaps I should drop the ‘interior’ as I don’t limit myself to the house. Rooms should be designed to be both beautiful and functional and the same principle applies to gardens. I have a particular fondness for incorporating unusual articles into my garden design. Currently these include a mangle, old pot manholes, and cable reels.

Old pot manholes purchased for £10 each from a local farmer
Old pot manholes bought for £10 each from a local farmer

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Poultry feeder bought on eBay - now a planter
Poultry feeder bought on eBay – now a planter

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Maple tree enclosed in a cable reel salvaged from the roadside
Maple tree enclosed in a cable reel salvaged from the roadside

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Dolly tub planters - one purchased on eBay, one salvaged from a stream!
Dolly tub planters – one bought on eBay, one rescued from a stream!

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Old apple trays bought on eBay and nailed together to create a plant stand
Old apple trays bought on eBay and nailed together to create a plant stand

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I completed a new project just in time for the party – a bar table made from an old oak whiskey barrel and a table top I salvaged from the local tip. (The guys at the tip recognise me now and let me take items that catch my eye). I sanded, aged and waxed the table top using a homemade oxidising solution and liming wax. I did the same with the barrel and then painted the iron hoops with black Hammerite. The result is a beautiful soft blue-grey finish that blends into its surroundings.

Pine table top salvaged from local tip
Pine table top salvaged from local tip
Oak whisky barrel purchased online
Oak whisky barrel purchased online
Finished table
Finished table

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Table top finish
Table top finish

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So I just need some bar stools to go with my new bar table. I have the bases, as I bought a set of 6 in a junk shop in Greenwich. I’m now on the hunt for the perfect seats. I’ve toyed with tractor seats and sanded tree stumps but I think I can do better than that. If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

 

Cast iron pub bar stools from a junk shop in Greenwich
Cast iron pub bar stools from a junk shop in Greenwich

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Do chickens like naan bread?

Apparently yes. This isn’t a bizarre experiment to see what I can get my ladies to eat, we just had some left over last night after dinner. I have replaced a house full of contractors with a house full of family and friends, with numbers increasing as the weekend goes on, reaching its peak on Sunday when we have our annual summer BBQ. An event we started in Leeds, continued in London and have now located to Cumbria. It usually starts around 2pm and finishes approx. 12 hours later when nobody can stand anymore – literally.

In the meantime I am a little concerned about Beate (white chicken number 2). She is displaying some of the symptoms Hyacinth had, i.e. standing around listlessly and not eating much. I am keeping a close eye on her, but I may need to report back to the supplier if we lose another girl as I could have an epidemic on my hands…..

The renovations are progressing nicely. Peter the magician from Back from Black Beam Renovations completed his work and the beams in our house now look like aged oak. Goodbye dark brown gloss paint. Hello beautiful beams. I wanted to share some before and after pictures so you can see for yourself. The cost of the work was approx. £4000 including VAT which included the beams in 5 rooms, plus the stairs and landing. It took Peter 3.5 days, and he worked with me to get the colour finish I wanted. I am a very satisfied customer.

Kitchen before - white gloss paint
Kitchen before – white gloss paint
Kitchen after
Kitchen after
Dining room before - black gloss paint
Dining room before – black gloss paint
Dining room after
Dining room after
Living room before - brown gloss paint
Living room before – brown gloss paint
Living room after
Living room after
Living room after
Living room after
Living room after
Living room after

In addition to being a magician turns out Peter is also a sculptor and showed me photographs of some of the metal pieces he has made. I will share when he sends me them. Very talented. He explained that he often works with a weathering steel known under the trademark COR-TEN steel. This metal naturally weathers into a beautiful bright orange rust colour, which he then seals with a rust inhibitor called Owatrol oil to maintain the finish. I plan to finish my newly landscaped front garden with arched trellis between the raised beds, and love the rusty look so will be looking out for a blacksmith that can work with these materials. I’ll let you know how it pans out.

In the meantime please pray for Beate…..and the weather, a BBQ is a lot less fun in the rain.

Too many men in my life and a lot of monkey business

This week I’ve been spending a lot of time with Peter, Barry, Mike, Kurtis and Steve. Kevin was here last week and returns in the morning. No I’m not cheating on Mr W its just that unfortunately female contractors are virtually unheard of, particularly in Cumbria, and we have a lot of work being done on the house to transform it from holiday home to permanent residence. In my former life I have been a project manager but its been a while since I produced a Gantt chart. With this many plates spinning I’m starting to think I might need one.

The main job to finish tomorrow is being undertaken by Peter from Back from Black Beam Renovation.  The house is full of exposed beams, many of them original. However, one of the former owners decided to paint them all with gloss paint…..I know, they should be hunted down and shot. Having had the original red sandstone fireplace grit blasted a few years ago when we discovered it behind a plaster board wall (I know, another crime someone should be held accountable for), I have experienced the mess this creates and couldn’t face it again. So I tried to pretend the beams weren’t irritating the hell out of me, until one day I stumbled across an ad for Back from Black in an interior design magazine. The pictures and case studies on their website were impressive but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they managed to create what appeared to be beautifully restored beams without any chemical stripping or sandblasting. After speaking with them I was none the wiser. They explain the process, but how it works is a closely guarded secret. Despite this I decided to give it a shot, on the basis the beams couldn’t look any worse. So Peter the magician has been here all week and has been steadily working his way through the house. It really is quite fascinating to see the transformation. I’ll share the before and after pictures tomorrow.

If it wasn’t enough to have a house full of contractors I also had a friend and her two children stay for a few days this week. Being the good host I had a list of suggestions to keep the children (aged 11 and 13) entertained. When I suggested Go Ape, the outdoor ‘tree top adventure’ I stupidly hadn’t done my homework. Turns out children must be accompanied by an adult and there was no way my friend was climbing any trees so I got roped in, literally. 2 hours of hauling myself across rope bridges, climbing up nets, balancing on wire cables and planks of wood 30 feet in the air and hurtling down zip lines, all while trying to overcome my fear of heights was not my idea of fun. Mr W though it was hysterical when I complained to him last night that my hands hurt like hell. Turns out I can’t support my own body weight with my arms, not for long anyway. My former employees would laugh their socks off if they knew that ‘their tough as nails boss’ had to be coaxed along a rope bridge by two small children while trembling and close to tears…..oh how my life is changing.

 

Me and my two monkey companions, Iola and Jacob
Me and my two monkey companions, Iola and Jacob
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Me hurtling down one of the many zip lines…..