Winter working

I’m writing this in the comfort of a delightful cottage, just off The Green, in Reeth, North Yorkshire. We’re here for a long weekend with friends and after a two hours drive, began the day with some shopping in the local Friday market followed by lunch in front of a roaring fire in The King’s Arms. Lovely.

On Monday (probably tomorrow, given my current lack of Internet access) I begin a hectic three weeks. I’m travelling to Maidenhead, where I will stay until Friday – working at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I’ve been asked to work with the college on training staff in the use of their new Moodle installation.

The following week I’m back in the south, this time working on face-to-face aspects of the TechDis Ambassador programme (follow on Twitter – https://twitter.com/TechDisAmbassad). I’m travelling to Lingfield on the Tuesday, to work with Young Epilepsy (http://www.ncype.org.uk/) on the Wednesday. I’ll then travel to Weybridge that evening before working at Brooklands College (http://www.brooklands.ac.uk/) on the Thursday. I’ll travel home that night, so I’m home for my birthday on Friday.

My TechDis Ambassador (follow on Facebook – http://on.fb.me/XS317i) work continues the following week with and overnight in Aylesbury, where I will visit Haydon Training http://www.haydontraining.co.uk/home.cfm. I will return from them on Tuesday evening and then set off again on Wednesday to Margate, where I’m visiting the Margate Adult Education Centre.

All of the projects appear to be wildly different at the moment, but we’ll see – watch this space.  Also see the TechDis Ambassador blog: http://jtdambassadors.posterous.com/.

Snowy Wales

What an unusual and interesting few days we have had.

Sharon and I had originally been invited to Steven and Rosie’s for Christmas: just the four of us with a turkey and lots of trimmings. However, this arrangement had to be altered early in December so we decided to come down and spend time with them a week earlier as Sharon would finish work at lunchtime on Wednesday, in plenty of time for us to set off.

Readers of my Saturday Walks blog will know that we stopped off at Karen and Dave’s en route and that we eventually arrived here at Ty Llwyd on Thursday 16th December. Our plan was to return home Sunday 19th or Monday 20th at the latest. This became impossible because of the weather.

Our problem wasn’t the snow that fell heavily on Wales over Thursday night and Friday, but the lane outside the house, which was like an ice-rink. Everyone around Ty Llwyd has 4WD cars and trucks and as a result we were able to get out on Saturday with Steven in his Subaru, but our Ford Focus didn’t have a chance on that surface.

Since Saturday, the road had worsened as tractors, Utes and trailers have driven up and down the lane, moving sheep and feed up around. As it is 1.5 miles to a main road, in either direction and as the top road wasn’t all that clear itself on Saturday, it was with some trepidation that we set off home on Tuesday morning. As suspected, the Focus went about 10 yards and ground to a halt so we had to continue with Stephen towing us up the hill with Rosie’s 4WD Frontera. Half way was as much as it managed before falling foul of the ice. Luckily, a farmer had seen our plight and offered to tow us with his tractor, which was a hairy but successful trip.

So eventually, we got off and on our way home. As we left Aberystwyth and begun to climb into the mountains a light snow started, which made the final drop down towards Newtown fairly hairy too. Nevertheless, from the Red Kite Café, through Llangurig and up as far as Welshpool we saw some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. At first the mountains were just brilliantly white, but as the tree line became visible, especially on the lower roads, a combination of hoar frost and snow had made the view even more spectacular. Thank you Wales.

Once home, we found pipes blocked and a topsy turvy central heating system. But we’re on with all that! Isn’t it surprising what a few days of sub-zero temperatures can change?

Washing machine

We keep our washing machine and dryer in a small room at the end of our entrance corridor. We call this our utility room. At one time, the corridor would have been a gap between the garage and the house but someone, a long time ago, brought it into the house by covering the gap and making the garage become ‘attached’. Where there used to be steps down to the back of the house (when the corridor was a gap!) there is now a utility room! Before that, when we moved in, it was a WC.

Why am I telling you this? Well, despite its convenience (we just have to pop out of what was the original main door and into the corridor and there we are) it’s still outside the main house. It has no central heating and by extension of the corridor, has a flat roof. For most of the year, it’s cold enough to store vegetables, beer and soft drinks in there. Brilliant. But occasionally this is not a good thing!

Yesterday the pipes froze.

It’s not the first time this has happened, although in January last, when it happened for the first time, we thought we’d fixed it by lagging the pipes in the garage (which feed this room) and doing whatever we needed to keep the flow flowing. However, I’d forgotten that part of the solution was to close the utility room window. With temperatures reaching lows not experienced in almost 50 years [Huddersfield Examiner] and the corridor radiator doing its best to melt the snow on the flat roof directly above it, the worst was bound to happen.

So I had to light the calor gas fire in the garage to warm those pipe through (the lagging didn’t help this process) and then I had to try and find a way of defrosting the 40 centimetres of pipe in the utility room that feed the washing machine. This was tricky because I don’t have any manly plumbing tools like a blow-torch (I used to have, but only used it for browning crème brulee). What I did find however was a 1200 watt patio/garage heater. We’d never used this before because when Sharon bought it, she thought it was a light. When I’d seen the ‘1200 watt’ on the box my wallet clenched! So it has never been used. Until yesterday.

You’re supposed to mount these things and keep them away from all living or inflammable tissue. I tried it in the garage first, balanced on an old vice (the only metal/steel thing I could find in my garage that might fit the bill!) and it certainly threw out more heat than the calor gas fire but was party to melting a plastic foot stand which Sharon uses in there (she’s only tiny). Whoops. So now, when I brought it into the house (the utility room) I was extra careful. This time I caused no damage but made all the room smell like I’d been stripping paint from the doors.

Apparently it’s the coldest start to winter in almost 50 years. [Huddersfield Examiner] I remember 1963 and for a child it was great fun with lots of snow and ice to slide on. Some drivers at that time (I suspect it was the milk float but can’t remember) had snow chains on their wheel. Whatever happened to snow chains?

For winter to come this early, before my birthday in December, is very unusual, so I suppose we’d better knuckle down and keep as warm as we can. But what about those who can’t? People still have to work – will our infrastructure we robust enough to support those who need to work? What about the elderly? My parents will still try to go out every day, partly because they always have and partly because they don’t have to turn their heating on if they are out. And: what about the footpaths – who clears those? When we were sliding down the footpaths in 1963 the house owners (the tenants really, no one owned council houses back then) would come out and spread ashes on the public path. This made our young lives pretty miserable but made sure that the footpaths were safe for everyone (workers, the elderly, young mums etc.) else to walk on.

But we have no ashes any more.

And councils are in the middle of laying off a good percentage of their staff.

Ideas?

True Grit

Well, the snow finally looks like it might be leaving us. Maybe only for a while, but it will be nice to see what’s underneath again.

I’m not sure exactly when it started to snow, but I had to postpone my visit to Sheffield on 18th December because the slight snow fall had turned to ice and I couldn’t get out of the village. I could, just, but it took and age and the journey wasn’t worth the risk.

The snow was deep and crisp and even throughout Christmas and then it came again. We had about nine inches each time (not exaggerated – I measured it with my trusty – now rusty – blue metal ruler) and then this week we had a final daylong fall of very fine stuff that caused the most problems. Our road by this time was not gritted. This caused me to postpone this week’s trip to Newcastle, partly because the trains to that city were intermittent at best – cancelled at worst.

However, this isn’t a whinging note: I think that Kirklees Council have done a sterling job with the gritting – given that we’ve had a month of what appears to have been the worst winter snow in thirty years. I heard somewhere (maybe I read it) that Kirklees had bought in extra stocks of salt/grit this year and it showed, as the roads were kept pretty clear for the best part of this extended period of bad weather. Of course the side roads were not kept too clear – but then they never were!

Thirty years ago I lived in Golcar, just across the valley from where I live now and for two years running we had to dig ourselves out of the estate. Great fun it was as well; two or three hours digging to make sure we could get out the following day and then off we all went to the pub. None of us seemed to consider NOT going to work during that period. And my own children had a great time playing in the snow with their mates too (so did I).

I have two distinct memories of snow when from I was (much) younger. As a child in the fifties (time passes so slowly when you are very young), the snow seemed interminable, very deep and so much fun. I vaguely remember the milkman’s float having chains on the wheels and those neighbours lucky enough to have cars, changing their types in winter to ones that gripped – these might have been chains too, I can’t recall, but people certainly seemed to get about. Then in the sixties, as a young teenager, it became even more fun with sledging and snowballing and making huge snowmen. We used to make super glass-like icy slides down the footpaths too – brilliant but very deadly. The householders used to throw ash from their coal fires over these to prevent anyone from killing themselves (we hated them for that).

Ash was the grit of the day then: a virtuous circle of fire >> warmth >> useful waste. No big holes in Cheshire.

Well done so far Kirklees Highways Dept. Not so well done Kirklees schools – you have VLEs!

And not so well done Kirklees whatever the bin-men department is called. December 9th was my last gray bin collection. Tut tut.