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More bathroom hassle

It’s definite – there has been a significant leak in the so-called “family bathroom”, probably ongoing for over a year. The water seems to have penetrated behind the tiles from the shower, and run down the wall behind the bath, soaking the floorboards underneath. The plumbers have been back, removed the bath, and stripped the tiles off the two affected walls. I’ve now got a dehumidifier in the bathroom to dry out the sodden floorboards – it’s quite amazing how much water it’s been extracting.

I think that most of the floorboards will survive once they’ve dried out thoroughly, but the one closest to the wall will have to be replaced, as it has rotted right through. I’ll also have to have the two affected walls retiled, which is annoying as it’s only a few years since I last had that done. And I’ll need a new bath as well.

The plumbers also moaned about the state of my pipework, which apparently dates back to the 1930s. I’m not surprised – it would be around then that the cottage first got an indoor bathroom. I remember that when Christopher and I first moved in, the hot tap in the bath ran brown from a rusty iron pipe. We had that replaced with a modern plastic one, but left the old copper pipes as they seemed sound. I’ll have to see what the plumbers recommend this time – I want to avoid future leaks if possible, but I see no point in replacing sound pipework just for the sake of it.

Christopher’s Tree 2019

Christopher’s stepfather, Peter, has kindly provided an update on how Christopher’s Tree is getting on at his local Woodland Trust. You can see that they’ve cleared the vegetation behind the tree, so its got a bit more room. It looks to be a flourishing young maple tree. It’s hard to believe sometimes that Christopher died nearly nine years ago, but that’s clearly not a sapling any more.

Therapeutic Throwing

Work has been particularly challenging recently. I’ve been running another equipment trial, the most complex to date, with more bits of kit and more subcontractors than I’ve ever done before. The weather was atrocious, and the roof of the portacabin I was using as a base started leaking – to the extent that I had to rope my customer in to help me place buckets to catch the drips! There was no respite when it was over, either – I’m already bidding to be involved in the next round of trials, and there’s a huge amount of very detailed planning to do.

So I was really pleased when I checked my diary to see that I’d had the foresight to book a session at Eastnor Pottery on Saturday. Throwing pots is a really good de-stressor, and I got through nearly two bags of clay yesterday throwing pot after pot. I turned a number of them into gravy boats – it’s quite satisfying to take a round pot and deliberately deform it into an oval jug. I’ll go back in a few months time to make and fix the handles on them.

I’ve been going to the pottery for over twenty years now, and have watched it develop and grow over the years. When I first started going there, it was largely an artisan pottery which did a few weekend courses on the side. Now they have several employees, plus a succession of apprentices, and offer a range of “pottery experiences” ranging from one hour “throw a single pot” sessions through to hen parties, corporate events, school and children’s sessions, as well as the weekend courses. The Pottery Throwdown programmes a few years back certainly stoked demand, and Jon (or more likely, his wife, Sarah) is an astute enough business person to capitalise on it.

They’ve expanded from just the original studio to add a marquee in the garden for large parties, have put a pottery wheel in the ante-room to the main studio, and most recently they’ve converted the adjacent old storage shed into another studio space (the “potting shed”). So now they can cater for up to four independent groups at a time. It’s perhaps less tranquil than it was twenty years ago, but it’s got the happy bustle of a thriving family-run business. Indeed, Jon and Sarah’s younger son was working there yesterday as a Saturday job. It was good to meet him at last, as I remember Jon taking paternity leave when he was born……

More Dodgy Electrics

The shower isn’t the only electrical problem I’ve been having this week. I got home from work on Wednesday to find that the internet was down. That usually means a call to my ISP, waiting on hold for half an hour, and then asking them to reset the target SNR on my phone line. But this time, when I picked up the phone to call them, I realised that I didn’t have a dial tone. The landline seemed to have gone down. I tried a few simple checks, unplugged the cordless phone and plugged a spare old-fashioned telephone into the master socket. Still nothing.

It’s actually surprisingly difficult to report a line fault to BT when you have neither a phone line or the internet! In the end I dug out an old phone book from the bottom of a cupboard, looked up the fault-line number the old-fashioned way, and called them from my mobile. You have to go through loads of automated menus, which I hate, before you finally get to speak to a person. But the line test that he then carried out showed up clear – it wasn’t the phone line itself that was at fault.

The earliest they could send an engineer out to investigate was today, which meant a whole day without internet access. I hadn’t realised how much I use it until it was taken away! I did work out how to use my phone as a hotspot, but I’m on such a stingy monthly data plan that I was wary of using that too heavily as it would get very expensive. Fortunately, it didn’t take the engineer long to diagnose and fix it once he turned up. He reckons that there must have been a lightning strike during the atrocious storm on Wednesday, as the master socket and the phone were both thoroughly shorted. If it was a lightning strike, I was very lucky that it only took out the phone and not something more critical. Like my roof for example!

He’s installed a new master socket, and my broadband is now back up and is marginally faster than before (though still what the ISP engineer euphemistically calls “very rural”). But I’ve not managed to find anywhere in Malvern that will actually sell me a cordless phone. I bought the last one from Waitrose, but they don’t seem to stock them any more. I bought the one before that from a specialised phone shop that is long closed. And I tried a phone accessory shop that has sprung up recently on the high street and they looked at me as if I was mad. A landline phone? No, they only dealt with mobiles. I could probably have found something from Argos on the out-of-town retail park, but instead have given in and ordered one from Amazon which will arrive tomorrow. Thus helping to ensure the death of the high street…..

Dodgy Electrics

No, I don’t mean the car for once. Though that would also be true – the Mini’s fan and aircon now only work on the top two fan settings, which are extremely noisy and blow a gale. It looks like a dodgy connection at the switch for the settings I prefer to use. Annoying, but hopefully not an MOT failure…..

The house electrics however have been causing distinct problems. The new plumber has been back and installed a replacement electric shower in my en-suite. It’s mostly a back-up for when the main shower in the extension is out of action, but I thought I’d better give it a go. All started well – it’s not a power shower, but has perfectly adequate water pressure. But then, just as I was covered in soap, the electricity cut out and it stopped. The RCD had tripped.

That would have been bad enough if the trip switch for the shower was in the main consumer unit in the kitchen. But for some reason it’s in the meter cupboard, which is outside the back door. I know it seems perverse to complain about having to go outside in the rain to turn the shower back on, when I was wet already. But it was very annoying. And it wasn’t a one-off. The same thing happened when I tried it again the next day – and at pretty much the same point, when I was covered in soap again….. So for now, I have a back-up shower, but it’s only suitable for very quick showers, unless one is prepared to sprint to the meter cupboard to reset it. What a good job I wasn’t trying it out on a day when the gardener or window cleaner was here, or he’d have got an eyeful!

Basic ID security

I booked a holiday recently for later in the year, just another holiday cottage, but through a company I’d not used before. I did it all online, and provided my mobile number.

A few days later I got a call to discuss my booking. All very well, until the caller asked me to confirm the first line of my address before she would go any further.

Hang on a minute. She called me, from a number I didn’t recognise, and which was not the same as the contact number on the holiday company’s website. And now she’s asking me to provide personal information over the phone? She could have been anyone. Next thing I bet she’d have been asking for my credit card details to “complete the booking”.

It was very probably a legitimate call from the holiday company. But on principle I simply don’t ever hand out personal details of any kind to people who call me out of the blue. I would always initiate the call, on a number that I trust. And what was worse was that she didn’t seem to see that there was a potential issue with her protocols.

There is so little data privacy these days that I’m probably fighting a losing battle. But it makes me very cross when companies that ought to know better act in an indistinguishable way from scammers.


I am not green-fingered by nature, and neither was Christopher. When we were thinking about buying this cottage, we were very wary about taking on the garden – and rightly so, as we really didn’t know what we were doing. However, one of the last things that Christopher planted in the garden before he fell ill was some oriental poppies. For some reason, they seem to have thrived and come back each year more flamboyant than ever. They’re not exactly neat and tidy, but they certainly are eye-catching!

A trip to Hellens

There is a very interesting old house about 15 minutes from me, which dates back in part to the Norman Conquest, though much of the remaining fabric of the building dates from when one of the owners in the Tudor period married into money and was able to afford to do it up.

Hellens Manor

Unusually for such a historic house, it’s been in the same family for the last 800 years or so. It’s now owned by a Family Trust, presumably to avoid issues with inheritance tax etc. The family don’t technically live there any more, at least not full-time, but they still have an apartment there, and the house is still very much used. It’s nothing like a sterile National Trust property, primped and preened to be at its best. Hellens is delightfully shabby, clearly has serious damp problems, and is stuffed full of family portraits and photos. There were fresh towels in the bedrooms at the foot of the four-poster beds, I caught sight of an ironing board in a service corridor, and the toilets for public use are clearly in the house laundry – there was a load of washing still in the tumble drier!

There is a team of needlewomen from NADFAS (national association of decorative and fine arts, I think) who are very gradually renovating and replacing some of the textiles in the house. There is a pair of crewel-work curtains in the drawing room that they completed a few years ago after over 4000 hours of sewing, and they’ve recently made a set of chair covers for the dining room.

I like to visit Hellens every few years to see how they’re getting on with the renovation and the garden – it really puts my issues with maintaining my cottage into perspective! The opening hours are quite restricted, and you can only visit as part of a guided tour. The story you get varies according to which of the guides is giving it, and what bits of the history have most captured their imagination. They all though cover the story of the unfortunate daughter of the house who eloped with the stable boy, and on her return was locked in her bedroom for the next thirty years!

Since it was a Bank Holiday today, I was off work, and Hellens was open in the afternoon. The sun came out, and I decided to pay a visit. It was well worth making the effort. It’s as shabby and interesting as I remembered from my previous visits, and the NADFAS needlework really was exquisite.

Calling in the plumber

You would think that with three bathrooms in one smallish cottage, I should have an embarrassment of plumbing amenities. There’s what an estate agent would call the main “family bathroom”, an en-suite in my bedroom, and a very handy shower room in the extension. But over the last few weeks, it all started going wrong.

The electric shower in the en-suite broke, there seems to be a leak in the shower in the main bathroom, and the shower in the extension won’t drain properly, even with several bottles-worth of drain unblocker. Then to really cap it all, the flush mechanism broke on two out of the three toilets so that they were unusable. Either I’m very unlucky, (or clumsy?) or there’s a design flaw, as exactly the same thing went wrong at the holiday cottage in Ironbridge last month….

I’ve been meaning for a while to call in a plumber to sort it out, but have been so busy at work that it never got to the top of my to-do list. However, when the second loo broke, that was the final straw! I was on to my final back-up and Something Had To Be Done. I didn’t want to call in the plumber I used last time, as I didn’t like his attitude. But the new one comes with recommendations and seems to be polite and efficient.

He turned up when he was expected, with two plumber’s mates, and sorted out the immediate problems. He’s cleared a blockage in my main drain, which was causing the drainage problem with the third shower, and has fixed both the broken toilets. The electric shower will have to be completely replaced, so that’s a job for another day, and the leak in the main bathroom needs to dry out before it can get fixed. So he’ll come back in a couple of weeks to finish the job. But at least I know have one working shower and three functional toilets – which is significantly better than I had this morning!

Lunch at Stokesay Castle

Stokesay Castle gate house with castle behind

Stokesay Castle is about half way between Ironbridge and Malvern, so it was an ideal place to stop for lunch on the way home from my short holiday. It was one of Christopher’s favourite English Heritage sites, and we used to go there at least annually to look at the wonky gatehouse and solidly-built tower, great hall and solar block in the castle courtyard. It must be over ten years now since I last visited, and I enjoyed seeing it again.

Previously, I remember that there was a small tea-shop in one corner of the courtyard which sold cold drinks, ice-creams and little else. There was hardly any seating, but you were encouraged to eat your ice-cream on one of the benches in the castle grounds. That was missing a clear retail opportunity to extract more cash from the punters, but there was no space for anything more. However, English Heritage have clearly been thinking about how better to monetise their visitors, and have recently converted a cottage at the end of the car-park into a good sized cafe / tea-rooms. I had a delicious, but rather enthusiastically-priced, ploughman’s lunch there, before reacquainting myself with the castle.