My parents, my sister and her family came to stay with us for a few days to view our new home and help us settle in. My family are a restless bunch and like to make themselves busy. This proved to be very helpful to us over the duration of their stay. They also provided us with several practical gifts as house-warming presents.
My sister had recently replaced their petrol lawnmower for a newer model. My father had taken possession of the lawnmower, refurbished it and brought the lawnmower with them. The size of our gardens, forty metres in length, made using an electric lawnmower problematic. We were very grateful for the donation and set about mowing the front and back gardens for the first time.
We had been reviewing the farm trade press for the past few weeks looking at local farm dispersal sales that we could attend. At these events the contents of a farm are auctioned to the highest bidder. The reason for the auction is often due to the closure of the farm, or a change in farming policy, or simply to raise additional funds. By coincidence there was a very large farm auction in the next village while my relatives were visiting.
Katie, my father and I attended the auction early on Saturday morning. There were more than five hundred lots ranging from a canal boat to a chimney pot. Over two hundred vehicles arrived, parking in a paddock beside the field where the lots were laid out in several dozen rows. We made our way along each line and made a note of any lots that would be useful to us. Katie, who was seven months pregnant, had to sit down and rest leaving my father and I to contest the open-air auction.
Everyone in attendance was given instructors as to how the auction would progress. The auctioneers would take turns leading the bidders along the lines and hoped to sell each item within a minute of frantic bidding. We registered with the auction administrators and headed over to the first item we had marked on our list. Sensibly we set a bid limit on each item to avoid being carried away by the drama of it all.
The auctioneers were true to their word and swiftly ran through the bidding process for each item. Lot number one, a workbench and various tools, was sold to a lone bidder for five pounds. When the auction reached our first choice, two plastic barrels, we did not enter the bidding after the price passed our ceiling of ten pounds and sold for twelve. Our next item was a collection of wood, three inches square and three metres in length. There were two dozen lengths that I thought we could use to rebuild the cattery. The first bid was one pound. I bid two and there the auction ended. Our first success.
We waiting for a few more lots to conclude before our next target arrived; two dozen lengths of drainpipe and guttering. Again the auction lasted only a few seconds. I bid a pound. An opponent pushed the price up to two pounds. I raised my hand to indicate a bid of three. A brief silence from the bidders led the auctioneer to lower his staff to the ground. Sold.
Sadly our victories ended there. The other items we had picked out sold beyond our chosen limit. They included a small trailer that sold for one hundred pounds, the precise value at which we had capped our bidding. Another notable failure was a stack of two dozen plastic roof sheets. The price soared passed the fifty pound limit we had set ourselves, and raced on to be sold for one hundred and forty pounds. I discovered later that we had misjudged the value of the three metre roofing sheets. I may have raised the bidding beyond the winning bid if we had researched their true value before the event.
Experience would led us to become a better judge of an item’s value. We were new to this lifestyle and would slowly learn the skills required to maintain a successful smallholding. There were dozens of farmers at the event keen to pick up a bargain. Many had travelled across the country to bid on the resources that were on offer. We talked to several of the attendees who passed on advice and encouragement. One smallholder told us that we had been wise to set a limit to our bidding. Another said that he had started a career in farming on a small three acre smallholding similar to ours.
The auction experience had been enlightening and encouraging. We returned home with our booty strapped to the roof of the car.
While we were at the auction my brother-in-law continued the work my father had begun the day before. He had demolished the cages inside the building at the end of the garden that had each housed a greyhound. The building was now empty and free to be converted into a workshop. The broken breeze-blocks, wooden frames and steel caging was piled up outside the workshop until we decided how the remains could be reused. We hoped the smell of disinfectant and bleach would slowly subside.
Another useful tool my parents had brought with them was an electric chainsaw. My father had already used it to chop down the two fir trees in the middle of the back garden. With these two large bushy trees removed we were able to see the full extent of the garden from the patio. The additional light reaching the foot of the garden would hopefully prevent the area being so damp and we would be able to observe the children playing on the climbing frame.
Katie mentioned that she had a discussion with our neighbour referring to one of the large birch trees dividing the two properties. The previous occupants had promised to prune the tree to prevent the overhanging branches interfering with his garden. My brother-in-law was eager to lay his hands on the chainsaw and an axe, and volunteered to take up the challenge. Overcoming his fear of heights he climbed a ladder and began cutting down the branches in question.
The task was not small. Many of the branches were six inches in diameter and twenty feet up. Each branch had to be nursed to the ground, to avoid damaging the fence or those of us that were helping to remove the branches. While my father held the ladder steady, my mother, sister and nieces cleared away the fallen branches. I began lopping the branches into fire-sticks and sawed the larger trunks into short stumps, so that we could use them to fuel our stoves the following year.
After we had completed our tree surgery Katie noticed that the plug socket in the conservatory was leaking. This was worrying. There appeared to be no water entering the plug socket from above, but there was a blue liquid trailing down from the wall socket. As a precaution we manually tripped the socket circuit for the second time in two weeks. When we removed the faceplate it emerged that the socket had fused, but surprisingly it had continued to function. The heat had melted the plastic casing around the wires. The melting plastic was the source of the leak. We removed the damaged double socket and purchased a new unit to replace it.
There were many more small tasks that we completed while my family was visiting us. My mother set herself to work each day making sure all our clothes were washed and dry. She also gave herself the task of cleaning out the playhouse at the bottom of the garden. She assumed that the children would like to play inside the wooden structure free from any cobwebs or dirt.
The playhouse was well constructed, eight feet square and did not appear to have any problems with damp. We had a quantity of laminate flooring that we had intended to use in the bathroom of our last house. After we purchased an additional packet of laminate strips we had enough panels to cover the floor area of the playhouse. My mother carefully cut the strips to length, laid them out and stuck them to the wooden base.
In the middle of the allotment was an old greenhouse. We planned to extend the allotment beds and this small nursery would have been an obstruction. We removed the panes of glass from the greenhouse and relocated the metal frame to the old chicken enclosure, safely out of reach of the children. Several panes of glass were broken, the door was detached and the frame was not in peak condition. We were very wary of mixing children and greenhouses.
Six years earlier Katie’s young sister had an unfortunate accident in her father’s garden. While playing a game of football in her flip-flops she had slid into the side of their greenhouse. Her foot broke through the lowest pane of glass and the pane above fell down like a guillotine onto her leg. It sliced through her thigh to the bone. She was lucky that it did not sever any major arteries and that her brother happened to be visiting at the time. He was a restaurant manager and had basic first aid training. He used his belt to create a tourniquet and stabilized the wound until the paramedics arrived. This particular story ended happily; Miraculously her leg healed completely and all that she has to remind her of the event is a scar across her thigh.