A Very Small Holding

The Elliffs journey into the good life

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A very dangerous taxi

The arrival of our second child was on the horizon. Katie was unable to drive and relied on me to provide transport to her regular appointments. This was the downside of our move to the countryside. There are no shops, no newsagent, no bank, no library, no dentist and no medical centre. When Matilda was born Katie was able to walk into the town at her convenience. Unless she wished to buy a pint, a Sunday roast or a curry she would have to travel three miles to the nearest high street.

Within a month we would need to make the necessary visit to North Staffordshire hospital. It was therefore the perfect time for our car to request a trip to the mechanic. The engine cut out when we were on our way to the local church play group. We were fortunate to be only a few hundred yards from the village, and had a short walk back to our home.

That evening the news we received from our car mechanic was not good. Although the vehicle could be repaired and the problem simple, it would require a new part to be delivered and cost hundreds of pounds. With a week to wait for the car to be fixed we needed to make provision should Katie need to visit the hospital at short notice.

The next day Katie was forced to book a taxi for one of her many hospital appointments at the maternity unit. The taxi driver was unaccustomed to rural life and his car was almost flattened by a horse, which he had shown little respect for and had driven far too close behind. When Katie returned home safely, I left to hire a small car to avoid another journey in an overconfident taxi.

Katie’s father delivered several wooden pallets that he had liberated from his factory. I had requested them to enable us to build a collection of compost bins. There were not enough pallets to complete my original plan, but enough to get us started.

I used the pallets to create the four walls of the compost bins. In the end there would be four compartments to allow the bins to be used in rotation. While one bin was being filled with fresh green waste, another was rotting down and a third ready to use on the allotment.

Compost bins constructed from wooden pallets and cardboard

Compost bins constructed from wooden pallets and cardboard

To begin construction I bound the pallets together with cable ties and insulated each bin with flat-packed cardboard boxes. I recovered two large wooden boards from the workshop, previously used as the base for greyhound bedding. These acted as lids for each metre wide bin. Two large plastic sheets, that a new mattress had been delivered in this week, were placed over the bins to protect them from the rain.

I started filling the first compost bin with waste collected in our old plastic silo. I added soiled straw bedding from the chicken enclosure and ash we had been saving from the wood burning stoves. On top of this mixture I placed a sheet of weed suppressor and an old carpet to provide additional insulation. As the waste built up bacteria would begin to break down the organic material and produce some fresh compost within a year. That was our expectation.

Although we had started removing trees from our land we did not wish them all to disappear. We both appreciated trees and wanted to protect the traditional trees we had acquired while removing the intruders; such as the Leylandii. Following the removal of the sixty foot Leylandii at the front of our house the Sycamore beyond it was now in full view. I had noticed it was wrapped in ivy from the roots up to the crown. To prevent the ivy strangling the life from the tree I removing it, certain that I heard the tree breathe an audible sigh of relief.

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A very productive dad

My parents made another visit to our home while I was away on my bi-annual golf weekend. We had invited them to stay to provide transport for Katie should her pregnancy end prematurely. Her due date was only a month away and she was unable to drive due to the size of her bump.

My father enjoying himself with a large axe making firewood for our log burner

My father enjoying himself with a large axe making firewood for our log burner

During my weekend vacation to Cheshire my father made productive use of his time without me. He began by constructing a workbench in the workshop, using wood we had acquired at a farm auction and four metres of new hardboard from a DIY store.

We had also purchased an axe, and so my father began chopping the numerous logs we had inherited into firewood. There were several small DIY tasks around the house that I had neglected and my wife made good use of his services while I was away.

We hired the services of local man with a stump grinder to remove the remains of two trees that were felled the previous week. We had been given his details by the tree surgeons after they had completed their work. The large grinding machine pummelled the tree stumps into small pieces of soft bark. We wanted the large tree stumps removed to make way for a new garden fence and a new bed in the allotment.

While we were at the allotment digging out the mound of bark one of our neighbours asked if I would be interested in possessing a few dozen paving slabs. She had replaced her small patio with a parking space for her car and had no need for them. My father and I happily collected the heavy concrete slabs from her front yard, aware that any free materials or equipment may be of use in the future. In the spirit of goodwill I exchanged the paving with a number of freshly cut logs we had accumulated awaiting storage.

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A very nostalgic journey

We began searching for a trailer after we had the tow-bar fitted the previous week. A trailer would allow us to collect equipment, livestock and resources more easily. We saw the trailer as an investment. It would retain most of its value and it will save money on delivery charges and fuel.

Our car was able to tow up to a tonne in weight which restricted our search to smaller livestock trailers. A new trailer would be beyond our budget. Ifor Williams are the Rolls-Royce of agricultural trailers, but even a second-hand Ifor Williams trailer would be more than a thousand pounds.

We were lucky to find an alternative six foot livestock trailer for sale on the Internet. It had a detachable canopy, enough space to carry two large pigs and had been used infrequently. We arranged to collect the trailer from the owner whom lived just across the border in Wales.

It would take ninety minutes to drive from our home in Staffordshire, across Cheshire and into Wales. We did not realise it at the time, but the route we had chosen passed by numerous locations from our recent past.

We discovered that our destination was situated a mile from a house we had viewed the previous year. It had ten acres of land included in the sale, but the elderly vendors had sold the farmyard and an adjacent nine acres to a developer. This required an entrance to be added that cut across the remaining stretch of grass connecting the crumbling farmhouse with the two five acre fields. It was a despairing, but an often repeated situation for smallholdings or farms without heirs. The prime land would be sold to developers or consumed by neighbouring farms, leaving the old farmhouse isolated and uneconomic as a smallholding.

On the journey into Wales we also passed three other properties that we had viewed during our search for a suitable home. Each we had rejected for various reasons including their condition, size and locality. It made us realise how lucky we were to have stumbled upon our new house.

The livestock trailer safely collected from Wales and delivered to our home

The livestock trailer safely collected from Wales and delivered to our home

We collected the trailer from a fellow smallholder, paying in cash, and tentatively made our way home. We made a brief pit-stop to purchase a substantial motorbike lock and secured the trailer to the chestnut tree on the allotment.

During the first few months living in the village we had meet a majority of the residents and gleaned a lot of information about its history. One small question remained unanswered during all these conversations that was pertinent to our allotment. There was a small section of land that cut into the middle of our triangular plot, that no-one appeared to own. It measured only a handful of metres square, but it was an irritation and needed to be maintained.

The scrap of land had been neglected for over twenty years, so I made further enquiries to determine if any of the neighbouring residents would mind if I took ownership of this eyesore. I received no objections and therefore we removed our bounding fence and connected the perimeter fences that had previously navigated around the obstruction.

In August we had hired a tree surgeon to remove the sixty foot tree that loomed over the entrance to our house, and to extract the dead eucalyptus tree from the allotment. Two months later two men arrived equipped to fell the trees and then shred the evidence.

A tree surgeon removing the last few branches of the leylandii

A tree surgeon removing the last few branches of the leylandii

We had requested that they leave us with all the logs and large branches for use as firewood on our log burners. The eucalyptus had died a year earlier and so the timber had already dried to a point where it was safe to burn the wood this winter.

The tree surgeons made light work of both trees. Climbing up, removing the branches as they went, before descending, chopping the trunk into manageable slices.

They had completed the work by the afternoon and we had a large pile of unprepared firewood that would last us more than a year. I took note of their branded equipment and bid them farewell.

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A very traumatic event

There were numerous farms in the area offering food and other products from the farm gate. We wanted to purchase some dry logs and kindling to use in our log burners. One entrance in the nearby village of Tean appeared to be the most welcoming and so we decided to investigate.

The visit proved to be enlightening. The farm gate belonged to a smallholding hidden beyond the houses lining the main road through Tean. The owner had a small nursery, a variety of poultry and many other animals on his twenty acre holding. We bought our wood and then began a conversation that ended with us asking him to provide a quotation for building a large allotment shed. One of his many money-making enterprises was designing and building chicken coops. A shed was an extension of this occupation.

We had originally thought that we would dismantle and reconstruct the cattery to become our shed. However, following David’s visit to the allotment he suggested that we keep the cattery intact as it was ideal for housing chickens. We intended to expand our flock of hens and to try our hand at breeding, the advice made perfect sense. He suggested that we build the shed the other side of the entrance on the paved area that I had recently cleared. It had no other purpose and was sheltered from the sun. A few days later we had ordered a twenty-four by eight foot shed, to be delivered and constructed a month later.

It was our daughter’s second birthday this week which restricted the time available to maintain the croft. I did manage to spend one dry afternoon clearing debris from the old cattery roof and cutting back branches of the invading trees.

Tabitha, our twenty-one year old cat enjoying the sunshine in the safety of our lounge

Tabitha, our twenty-one year old cat enjoying the sunshine in the safety of our lounge

The birthday itself did not go according the plan. Unfortunately we had to take our last cat, Tabitha, to the vets that Friday morning. She had been acting oddly; subdued, not eating her food and drinking water from puddles in the garden. The vet confirmed our fears; Tabitha’s stomach was tender and her heart was beating erratically. At the grand old age of twenty-one we did not wish to put her through the trauma of an operation that was unlikely to resolve her condition. We had to make the unenviable decision to put Tabitha to sleep and ease her pain forever.

We were too upset to watch the fateful event take place and wished our last memories of Tabitha to be a fond farewell. We left her in the vet’s capable hands and returned home to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our daughter.

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A very instructive purchase

An aerial view of our village showing the large number of trees in our rear garden and the hedges surrounding our land

An aerial view of our village showing the large number of trees in our garden and the hedges surrounding our land

It was evident that due to the number of trees that we had inherited a portable cutting device would be a very useful acquisition. We had two log burners that will need wood cutting to a sensible size, hedges that required frequent maintenance and I had a teenage desire to own a chainsaw.

An electric chainsaw would not be practical. The distances from a power socket to each corner of the property were too great. Although more expensive a petrol powered chainsaw seemed our best option.

Following one of my many visits to the local recycling centre I visited a nearby Aldi store. They held weekly sales of selected household goods stacked between the rows of foreign sourced food. This particular week various items of garden equipment were on sale, including chainsaws and hedge trimmers. I ignored the principle that you get what you pay for and purchased the inexpensive petrol chainsaw and a petrol hedge trimmer.

It was not long before I regretted my purchases. After many frustrating hours in the workshop I failed to start either engine. I read several online forums and discovered this to be a regular issue with both these products. I decided to cut my loses, with a lesson learned, returning both items and collected a cash refund.

Another purchase I made this week proved to be more successful. We knew that a trailer would become a necessity as we developed our little smallholding. Before we contemplated this important purchase we required a tow-bar to be fitted to our car.

Heeding advice from Katie’s father we ordered the appropriate tow-bar kit from Towsure, the market leader in this arena. He also offered his services, in his capacity as an off-road enthusiast, to fit the tow-bar. He had been refurbishing a classic jeep for several years and had all the equipment needed to dismantle and rebuild the rear of our car.

I drove to his house in our old home town and assisted him as we fitted the tow-bar to the chassis. After an hour we had the car on a ramp and the tow-bar fixed in place. The electric connection proved to be a more difficult task to complete. We had to pass a wire from the rear of the car to the battery in the engine compartment. Several hours later the work was complete; we had threaded the wire through the upholstrery to the relay in the boot. The wiring was rudimentary, but the lighting test was successful, ignoring the warning light that now illuminated the dashboard. We saw no obvious reason for this warning and there were no malfunctioning bulbs. Therefore we packed up our tools and I headed home triumphant.

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A very bad use of space

Since the move to our new home I had focused my spare time maintaining the croft and preparing the land for the following year. I had neglected the house itself, which fortunately for us was reasonably well decorated. We had hung several pictures, mirrors, shelves and curtain poles, but the house was largely as it was on the day that we moved in.

A few days trapped in the house by the rain turned our attention to our homestead. We had moved in with the intention of converting the garage into an office. I was occupying one of the bedrooms, sharing it with the nursery. As a location for my small business it was far from perfect.

We invited two local builders to the house to discuss extending the building and converting the garage. We wanted a rough idea of the budget we required to build an office and also to extend the rear of the house, adding a fourth bedroom and a dining room. Both builders provided an equivalent ballpark cost that sounded reasonable and within our reach via a remortgage. The builders were equally successful in failing to follow up their verbal quotes with a concrete proposal. However, we had an idea of the cost and therefore our architect, whom was already drawing up plans for the extension, would not be wasting their time.

While we waited in hope that the house would grow in size we tried several ways to improve the space upstairs. One simple measure was to remove the fitted wardrobe that had been left in the master bedroom. This had reduced the room’s capacity by a fifth and meant that we could only get into our king-size bed from one side. The room had already been reduced in size at some point in the past to double the width of the adjacent bathroom.

I dismantled the huge wardrobe units and transported the heavy panels to the workshop. We repositioned our bed in the centre of the room facing the window, overlooking the front garden and the croft opposite. We left the bedroom wall with screw-holes exposed in the expectation that we will be decorating the house following the much anticipated extension.

The incinerator on the base of the old greenhouse filled with branches

The incinerator on the base of the old greenhouse filled to the brim with branches

During intervals in the rain showers I continued use of our new incinerator burning the branches, shrubs and vines that had previously been removed from areas of the croft. I also dismantled a bench that had been constructed under the chestnut tree. It had an ornamental rose growing up either end of the bench, wrapped around thick posts that held up a small canopy. The plant had grown like a beanstalk into the chestnut tree. The main trunk several inches thick and extending a dozen metres into the tree. I pulled the bench posts out of the ground and severed the rose plant at its root. The large thorns proved tricky to avoid as I pulled the thick stems from the boughs of the tree. I chopped up the woody plant and added the sticks to the bonfire.

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A very leaky roof

The last few months had seen several days of torrential rain. Following one of our wetter summer days I wandered into the cattery to collect a pair of gardening gloves. I noticed that the ceiling of the second cat pen was dripping wet. On further inspection where I had stacked all our seed trays there were several plant pots full of water. The wooden ceiling was bowed, the centre a foot lower than the edges. A single mushroom was taking advantage of the damp conditions and hung from the ceiling.

I emptied the handily placed pots of water when I ventured outside to investigate the roof covering. The previous owners must have known there was a problem because they had placed a tarpaulin on the roof with bricks holding it down. Unfortunately the tarpaulin did not completely cover the roof, the rainwater ran merrily passed the tarpaulin and through the cracks in the plastic roof sheets. The sheets were sat on the original wood and felt roof. Lifting up the plastic I discovered a large pool of water on the felt.

I climbed on to the cattery roof and made a full inspection of the plastic roof sheets. There were half a dozen cracks along the line of the perimeter fence. I presumed that broken branches from the trees above had caused the damage. The plastic was thin and not designed for heavy weights.

I rearranged the tarpaulin to completely cover the worst of the damage, allowing the rain to run into the gutter. I had to clear debris from the gutter to let the water to drain freely and brushed the collected pool of water from the roof space. I hoped that my minor reparation would be sufficient to prevent further damage to the roof.

My sister had started clearing ivy from the driveway front gates of when her family had visited a fortnight ago. She had been using a hedge trimmer, but stopped when the trimmer stopped working. We discovered later that she had sliced through the power cord.

The front entrance after the gates and roten fencing had been removed

The front entrance with the delapidated gates and fencing removed

The front gates were on their last legs. The fence posts were rotten and were likely to collapse at any time. We had decided that we would replace the gates to secure the front garden and prevent our children from running into the road. The fence that led from the gate to the edge of the road was barely visible. It had deteriorated more than the gates, consumed by ivy and wild shrubs. We were planning to clear this area and cut down the sixty foot leylandii tree.

While Katie was out with Matilda I decided to start removing the gates. Both gates lifted from the ground without much of a fight. I moved on to the fence and began hacking away at the ivy. I cut down two small trees that had rooted themselves among the shrubbery and cut the ivy at its root. A few hours later I had cleared the area leaving the large leylandii exposed in preparation for the visit of the tree surgeons in a month’s time.

Over the past few weeks I had been taking rubble bags full of branches and foliage to the local recycling centres. It seemed that there would be a regular need to dispose of branches and other woody material that was unsuitable for our log burner or any other purpose. To avoid repeated ten mile round trips to the recycling centre I purchased a small incinerator. We had one of these small metal bins at our last house, but it had disintegrated through frequent use and exposure to the elements.

After I had started my bonfire I was informed by a neighbour that a previous tenant had dug a fire pit in the field. This may be an option for us in the future, but for now a small metal incinerator would be adequate. I had positioned it on the base of the old greenhouse a safe distance from the perimeter and overhanging trees. I cut branches into foot long sticks and separated them into two piles, those thick enough to use as kindling and those fit only for incineration. The smoke billowed out through the chimney lid, across the allotment and was dispersed by the hedges before it reached any of our neighbours.

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A very safe garden

An important characteristic of the house that we had chosen to make our home were the generous front and rear gardens. We are settling down with our family and wanted the children to have plenty of outside space to play in. Our playground would be the land across the road and they would have the gardens. We had also been lucky that the previous owners had abandoned a large playhouse and a climbing frame in the back garden. Both structures were sound and reasonable new. The play area would need to be cleared and the surrounding garden made safe for toddlers.

One important feature that was missing from the gardens were secure gates to prevent young children from running out into the road. The passage beside the house was only half a metre wide, but would allow an unsupervised child to leave the back garden and access the driveway. The driveway gates were broken and provided an easy means of escape, especially for our mischievous daughter.

Beside the playhouse a small enclosure had been built to contain pet ducks. A small duck house was located behind the playhouse wedged between the playhouse and the perimeter fence. A two bar fence began at the boundary fence and ran to the central pathway separating the poultry from the main garden. The duck enclosure was entered through a small gate from the pathway.

It occurred to me that the gate would make a suitable side entrance. We had already made the decision that all livestock would be housed on the croft, the duck enclosure was threfore surplus to requirements. It did not take long to remove the gate, retaining the post it was anchored to and unscrew the latch from the opposite fence post.

The side gate and fence constructed to prevent the children from escaping

An ivy covered fence divided our driveway from our neighbours, but it stopped short, a foot before our garage wall. Our neighbours had a car port and still had the original outbuilding at the side of their house. The outbuilding was three metres further back from the end of the fence and started on the boundary to our properties. This created a three metre gap that a child could easily toddle through, escaping via the neighbour’s car port.

I used several wooden beams I had won at an auction the previous week to construct a frame that would span the gap. I painted the wood dark brown using a small paint pot I found in the garage. A section of dark green chicken wire was nailed to the frame to complete my improvised fence.

I managed to secure the gate post to an original concrete post, hidden under the ivy, installed by the council when the properties were constructed in nineteen forty-eight. The new fence was screwed to the wooden gate post and to the corner of our neighbour’s outbuilding. The gate closed against the corner of the garage wall at a thirty degree angle. Our back garden was now secure.

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A very busy auction

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.

The crowd follows the auctioneer up the line of lots laid out in the farmer’s field

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.

The numerous trees in our back garden concealing the play area and threatening to envelop the neighbouring garden

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 children’s playhouse near the end of the garden with the small duck house wedged behind it

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.

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A very dangerous shelf

We hoped that we would never need to move home again. We took great care in choosing our new home within the limited budget that we had. One of the primary criteria was that the house had the potential to be extended. We did not have the lending criteria or the personal finances to purchase a house with all the features we ultimately desired, largely due to my self-employment and our decision to start a family. However with the ability to extend the house we may be able to achieve our ultimate objectives.

An aerial photograph of our house and the large number of trees hiding the gardens

With the future in mind we asked a friend, who happened to be an architect, to visit and give us some advice on extending the family home. One pressing requirement would be an office for my business. I was occupying one of the three bedrooms. This would not be feasible if I were to grow the business and would mean that our children had to share a single bedroom.

Following our discussion, and mulling over the various options, we concluded that a simple solution was to convert the garage into an office. The more financially efficient way forward would be to make all the alterations we desired in one build. Therefore we commissioned the architect to draw up plans for an extension that included an office, a larger utility room, a wet room, an additional bedroom and a dining room. We deferred calculating how we would finance the building work until we had finalised the plans.

Talking through the ideas for our home filled us with excitement and renewed motivation, if any more was needed, to make our smallholding exactly how we wished. We had been lucky to achieve most of our goals in the past and we hoped that our luck would continue.

This week I continued the maintenance tasks over at the croft. I trimmed the hedges inside the allotment and those surrounding the old chicken enclosure with a pair of ratchet loppers.

The hedges that spanned the boundary all needed cutting down to a sensible level. There were two hundred metres of hedges running along the two adjacent roads. The task seemed daunting for a single person and a pair of shears.

We made enquiries to establish how they had been maintained previously and were given the names of various local farmers. We would follow these up at a later date, if the farmer and his tractor did not show up in the meantime.

An area of the allotment partially cleared of weeds revealed a layer of paving slabs

In the allotment there was a large paved area covered with weeds that had sprouted from the gaps between the slabs and the dirt that had accumulated on the surface. I took a spade and began slicing the weeds from the paving and pulling out the roots. After several hours spanning two afternoons I had revealed a paved area of approximately twenty square feet in size. The section of paving near the entrance was still covered with a pile of rubble the previous owners had left us. This was another task that required additional help, this time in the shape of a skip.

While I was across the road clearing the allotment Katie was performing some maintenance of her own. The task appeared to be minor; There was a small shelf in the kitchen that was hanging loosely from the wall. It was located above the cooker and kettle sockets. Katie removed the shelf and started to re-install the shelf bracket. Whilst inserting one of the screws Katie was surprised to receive a slight electric shock. She assumed it was a static charge, but when Katie touched the metal bracket she received another small shock. As a safety precaution we manually tripped the circuit breaker and inspected the wall fixings.

It transpired that one of the screws had touched the live wire that fed the cooker socket below. The past inhabitants must have known this was an issue because they had added a wall plug, but not fixed the screw to the bracket. I removed the wall plug and further inspection revealed that they had drilled through the outer casing of the cable and the red plastic covering the live wire.

The socket circuit appeared to function correctly even with the damage it had sustained. Following a brief discussion with an electrician I filled all the screw holes with plaster filler to avoid an unnecessary bill for restoration work. I was beginning to form the opinion that rewiring the house may be a good option to add to our plan to extend the house, budget permitting.