Monday, 26 November 2012

Chim chiminey, chim-chim che-ree

Now, before I had my woodburning stove installed, I had to have the chimney swept so that it was all nice and clean. I'd made an appointment a few weeks ago, because at this time of year, as you can imagine, sweeps tend to be quite busy.
The day came for the appointment, which I had carefully inscribed in my diary. No chimney sweep. Oh well, I thought, I'll try another sweep. It's quite common, in London, for tradesmen not to turn up - they get stuck in traffic or on the previous job. You just shrug philosophically and phone someone else.
I phoned another sweep, and a very friendly lady answered. I explained that the sweep I had booked had not turned up. Could they do my chimney by Thursday - two days away? No, she said, she was very sorry but they were fully booked. Who was the sweep who had failed to turn up, she asked? I told her.
I rang the next sweep on the list and left a message, saying that someone had let me down and I needed to have my chimney swept by Thursday. Five minutes later, another very friendly lady (everyone in Gloucestershire seems to be incredibly friendly) rang me back and said they could do my chimney on Wednesday morning.
I sat back, feeling relieved, when the phone rang again. It was the original sweep. "I hear you've been telling everyone I didn't turn up for the job," he said. "You booked me for tomorrow, not today."
Oh. My. Goodness. I had been blackening his name (if you'll excuse the sooty metaphor) to half of Gloucestershire and all the time it was me that had made the mistake.
I apologised in a suitably fulsome manner. Then I rang the previous sweep and grovelled to the friendly lady, explaining that I would now have to cancel my appointment. She said that was perfectly all right.
The next day, the sweep turned up, on time, and I began to apologise again for casting aspersions on his reliability. "That's OK," he said cheerfully, "it was only my mum." What, his mum was married to the second sweep? "Well, he's her partner," said my sweep. What about the third sweep, the one I had to cancel? "Oh, that's my brother," said the sweep.
I've now made an appointment to have my other chimney swept. I have written it down in very large writing.

Whatever the weather...

Since I moved to Bibury, the weather has alternated between torrential rain, howling gales and fog, with the occasional glimpse of sunshine, usually in late afternoon when I am driving due west.
I enjoy weather. I love watching storms, I don't mind being out in the rain (as long as I'm not on my way to work, or some event at which I have to look smart), and the first snow of winter still seems as magical as it did when I was a child.
In the country, however, you are far more aware of the power of the weather and its ability to wreak havoc frighteningly quickly. Here's the entrance to Bibury Trout Farm, on the River Coln, which runs through the centre of the village. In summer, the "dimpling stream runs laughing by", as William Blake put it. Today, swollen by days of endless rain, it was a ferocious torrent, submerging the footbridge that leads to the shop where I buy my newspaper.

The other day I had to drive my daughter back to Bristol University, a fairly easy journey of about an hour and a half. Just as we were about to approach the motorway, a "Road Closed" sign brought our route to an abrupt end, sending us on an odyssey across the sodden countryside. Every half a mile seemed to bring yet another flood to ford, the water rippling around my axles.
I could tell my daughter was a bit apprehensive, so I had to pretend this was the sort of thing that happened every day. (As indeed it is, at the moment!) But at one point we both let out a yelp of fear as a motorist travelling in the opposite direction roared past us impatiently, sending up a wave of water that washed right over the roof of the car. Selfish scumbag. We got to Bristol safely, but my knees felt distinctly shaky by the time we arrived.
The following day, I went up to the Burford Garden Company (the poshest garden centre in Oxfordshire) to buy a log basket for my new wood-burning stove. They were having a Christmas shopping evening and the place was awash not with water, but with mulled wine, cider and various seasonal tipples. The rain had stopped, blown away by high winds, which whipped at my scarf and hood as I got out of the car.
Normally, I don't need any encouragement to spend hours browsing around a garden centre, even without mulled wine and samples of cheese, but the wind - and the thought of fallen trees - sent me scurrying home with my log basket and a car full of wood and kindling. At times like this, at home on Awkward Hill seems the best place to be.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The first week in Bibury

I got up early this morning, mainly to put out the rubbish. We didn't have such stringent recycling regulations in London, so I felt that I needed - like any true journalist - the pressure of a deadline in order to get my head around which sort of waste went in which sort of container. And the rubbish is put out before 7am.
Thus it was that I was able to capture the dawn coming up over Awkward Hill, and the mist rising off the meadow. You could tell it was going to be a beautiful day.

It's been a busy week. Moving house is always a stressful business, and however well you think you have planned ahead, there never seems to be enough space for all your stuff. Another law of moving is that all the boxes that contain things you use least often are always the boxes that are closest to hand. However, you can't get away with just carting them off to the garage or the shed, because there is always a chance that some helpful person will have tossed in the tin opener, or the dishcloth, or some other household essentials, just to fill up the box.
I've spent most of the week without a broadband connection, too. And my landline sounds as if someone is scrunching up a packet of crisps whenever I try to phone anyone.
It seems odd not to be at work. It's not that I miss it; it's more that I have a vague feeling of guilt at the back of my mind. I feel as if I'm bunking off. Shouldn't I be doing something other than sitting at home leafing through kitchen brochures?
I look back over the week's activities: I have found the recycling centre; I have driven my daughter to and from Bristol through torrential rain and floods; I have found the Swindon branch of B&Q; I have emptied scores of cardboard boxes and unwrapped dozens of items of kitchen equipment. I have even found time to do two loads of laundry, and I have polished and swept. The cottage is beginning to look more like home, thanks to the new woodburning stove which was installed yesterday.
Here, though, are the real achievements. I saw a buzzard sitting in a tree the day we arrived here. I've seen deer grazing at dusk, and pheasants strutting through stubble. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I heard an owl call.