An Essay In Concentration

On what has been the coldest morning of the year so far, Martin Bowers from Fordingbridge arrived promptly to start work on replacing our Wisteria arbour.

The first stumbling block was literally one of concrete – a thick layer from which he had to prise the sheathed bottom of a post needing replacement. It was very hard work – even to watch him.

The same was true of the next one which Martin drilled before breaking up to make room for the second post, which would be

cemented in like the first.

Great concentration, employing the obligatory pencil behind the ear, measuring tape, string, and spirit level, was demonstrated in lining up the second post.

Unfortunately Martin then discovered that some of the older posts he had thought could be utilised were rather too like the curate’s egg, and only good in parts. He will therefore need to return with more new timber to complete the job a day or two after Christmas.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s thick chicken and vegetable stew with crusty bread. The accompaniment to the Culinary Queen’s portion was Hoegaarden, and mine, Chateau Chante Mistral Lirac 2020

Flooring Day 2

Connor began the day by sanding yesterday’s dried screed.

He topped the level up a bit and turned the dryer on it

while smoothing more by hand. The spirit level is regularly applied to achieve a perfect finish.

While allowing the corner to dry once more, our craftsman tacked down sheets of ply at the further end of the room. Note the ear muffs to protect his hearing from the noise of his equipment.

Elizabeth arrived late in the morning for the second of our secret trips. Leaving Connor to his work and Jackie in her kitchen refuge we set off

in steadily pouring rain depositing pools all over the roads and, even at that time, requiring motorists to keep their headlights shining into the ripples. Spray constantly cascaded over anything that passed. This continued for the next four hours.

On our return Jackie produced a photograph of the final corner of fresh screed which dried while Connor began to lay the

Karndean Pale Limed Oak flooring,

making his usual meticulous joins with the skirting boards. The bodged cut through the second board was made long before we came here.

Each time he shifts his work area Connor shifts furniture and equipment.

We will soon be dining at Lal Quilla, but repeated flickering of lights is causing us to fear a power cut later on. I am therefore publishing this post early enough to deprive me of tempting our readers with more mention of culinary delights.

That’s The Way To Do It


I spent much of the day trying not to hamper Richard while he continued to work on cupboards.

In the corner to the left of the old fireplace hung a non-functioning extractor fan. Planning to install a functioning fan in a different position, and having fitted cables for the cooking appliances, Richard set about preparing the wall for a cupboard.

The next step was to prepare a back for the cupboard. First, with the aid of his scribing block, this panel was to be made snugly to fit the slightly wavy line of the wall. In the last of these photographs, Richard explains the purpose of this little square of wood enabling him to pencil the exact route following the wall onto the pliable template panel.

I then learned how this little block could be used to transfer the precise line onto the final panel.

Clamps had been applied to prevent excessive movement at the early stages of the process. Note that plumbing has been attached to the underside of the sink.

The sheet was then cut with equal precision with an angled saw. The craftsman wore his mask to prevent his breathing in the flying dust. The purpose of the angled cut is to allow Richard to plane the edge from the rear so that it is not visible from the front.

Why, I wondered, were narrow battens attached to this panel, once in situ?

The answer lay in the grooves in the shelves that were then cut exactly to size,

and fitted in place on the wall. Note the small piece of wood employed to protect the shelves from direct contact with the hammer.

Interspersed with this activity, another batten was going up on the adjacent wall. This was one of a pair of gravity battens matched to those previously attached to

the cupboards that were to hang firmly fixed there. Richard was pleased that the Kitchen Makers logo is visible on his T-shirt.

Before putting anything else on that wall more dodgy wiring needed tackling.

As Mr Punch would say: “That’s the way to do it”.

Every time we have passed The Hobler Inn on Southampton Road over the last two or three years, we have said we should try it sometime. This evening we did, and were not disappointed. Our superb starters were respectively whitebait with fresh salad and crusty bread, and chicken satay with equally excellent salad and pitta bread. My main course was fresh fish, chips, and mushy peas; Jackie’s was perfect penne pasta. I drank Ringwood’s forty-niner and Jackie drank Amstell.



A Firm Base


Aaron of AP Maintenance does not hang about. Skilled, patient, and thorough, our friend nevertheless manages to work at an amazing rate. He will tackle anything in the garden that you ask.

This morning’s exceptional effort was no exception to his general rule. In less than three hours he had laid a seven foot square stone base for our anticipated greenhouse.

Aaron laying greenhouse base 1

First, the area from which he had already removed a tree needed to be cleared of bits of rubble

Aaron laying greenhouse base 2

and some plants.

Aaron laying greenhouse base 4

The outline was then cut clear

Aaron laying greenhouse base 8Aaron laying greenhouse base 9

and swept.

Aaron laying greenhouse base 5First base line

A dry mix of sand and cement was applied, to form a bed for the stones.

Aaron laying greenhouse base 3

Everything was carefully measured,

Aaron laying greenhouse base 6Aaron laying greenhouse base 7Aaron laying greenhouse base 10

with a spirit level regularly employed.

Aaron laying greenhouse base 11

A final sweep added the cement bond into the crevices between stones.

Observant readers will have noticed the roll-up behind the craftsman’s right ear. We keep him plied with mugs of tea which he usually allows to cool before he drinks on the go. Otherwise the only breaks he takes are of the length it takes to smoke one of the cigarettes. Today he was so engrossed in what he was doing that he forgot all about the smoke.

Alongside kitchen window

This is the current view of the path alongside the kitchen window, as it awaits delivery of the greenhouse. The white patch at the end is the stone base.

Aaron mixed the sand and cement at the end of the Back Drive and transported it to this corner in a wheelbarrow, as he did with the heavy stone slabs. In passing he had every opportunity to make the acquaintance of the

Rabbit 1Rabbit 2

rabbit on the grass.

Bird sculptures

The Head Gardener, however, was more enamoured with the birds of Somerset she had brought back from her brief holiday.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s super-spicy pasta arrabbiata with which I drank more of the Fleurie. Jackie didn’t imbibe because she had finished her Hoegaarden on the patio beforehand.

The Fireplace


This morning I printed my pdf download of ‘Bits of a Boyhood’, Bruce Goodman’s story of his growing up in rural New Zealand, that he has generously provided free of charge. Bruce is such a good storyteller that I know I will enjoy it.

Fireplace originally

Barry and Owen of New Forest Chimney Sweeping completed the fitting of our fireplace dating from the turn of the 20th century.  This is what they began with.


The way these two men began by laying out their tools and equipment indicates the thoroughness with which they approach their work.

Everything was therefore available as soon as it was needed.

Two heads are better than one

Barry is clearly the master craftsman, and Owen the apprentice, but the father seeks the son’s views along the way. Two heads, it would seem, are better than one. Before they began they drove off to purchase the fireback, seen here lodged in place.

Next came lining up the fireplace and surround. This was a process that was continually being repeated as they went along.

Screws were applied to the carved wooden surround,

Applying brackets to surround

to which brackets were fitted prior to fixing it to the brickwork.

Holes were then drilled into the cast ironwork.

Owen took a hacksaw to the fireplace while Barry continued with the brackets,

 which the father then trimmed.

Lifting surround

The whole structure was then lifted into place,

Checking the fit 1

then securely fixed, when Barry carefully checked the fit.

Spirit level

Note the spirit level.

Owen cementing

Owen then cemented the inside space,

and Barry provided a level and beautifully smooth floor,

Testing the draw

finally testing the draw to his satisfaction.

Baz and Owen attending wedding 2008

The services of no chimney sweep are complete without attendance at weddings, thus bringing good luck to the bride and groom. This photograph was produced in 2008, when Owen was rather smaller. It is one of a bound collection kept for display.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s classic chicken jalfrezi, savoury rice, onion bahjis, and a paratha. Jackie drank more of the Vernaccia di San Gimignano and I drank Cimarosa reserva privada carmenère 2015.

Cleaning And Hanging

This morning’s test confirmed that Matthew has successfully cleared our shower soak away. Goodness knows what the blockage was, but Bullitt had not penetrated it.
To begin the day, Jackie and I each carried out a fairly extensive cleaning task. Personally, I think I drew the short straw. My task was the removal of the third lavatory seat, the scouring of the porcelain, and the fitting of a replacement. Mat and Tess had brought us the replacement yesterday. we had actually given it to them for Christmas, but it didn’t fit their colour scheme, so they bought another, and we bought this one back off them. That way they still had a present from us. Should anyone wish to read a description of the seat replacement process, I would refer you to ‘Beyond Rancid’ posted on 8th of this month.
Clock from MichaelJackie chose to clean and polish the refurbished clock given to Jessica and me by Michael thirty three years ago. And a very good job she made of it too. It is a much lighter wood than I have known for years.
This afternoon hanging was the task. Whilst Jackie hung a pair of curtains she hand bought in B & Q on a length of dowelling from Knights ironmongers, I paid attention to a couple of pictures.
The curtains frame the kitchen window rather nicely, and happily blend with the cloth that happened to be on the dining table. Curtains at kitchen windowOn the bottom left of the window-sill stands a stoneware vase that Becky made for Jessica and me when she was an art student in the early 1990s. Suspended from the ceiling at top right are a set of wind chimes made from silver-plated cutlery given to me by Michael’s children when they were all quite small. They are on the list for a polish.
Towards the end of the last decade, when I was living in Sutherland Place, I printed a large number of A3+ size prints of my colour slides, and began a practice of changing those on display each week. I bought two large frames with perspex windows having magnets at each corner. It was a simple process to slip out on photo and insert another. Now we have a suitable property in which to begin again.
We had a diversion to B & Q in Christchurch, where we bought a spirit level, the like of which has been a stranger to our house for many years. My pictures are held by two nails, so a means of ensuring they went up in a straight line was a definite requirement.
I have chosen to reproduce the framed hangings as they are in situ. This means that the observant viewer will be able to work out where they are in the house. Michael 8.65The portrait of Michael in the kitchen sink, taken by me at Ashcombe Road whilst Vivien was bathing him, is from August 1965. Is there anyone who has at no time bathed their child in the kitchen sink?
By September 1967 when the next photograph was taken, Vivien had died and Jackie and I had met. One pleasant outing was taken with Jackie, her mother, and her sister Helen. Helen & MichaelThis picture was in a carriage of the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch steam railway. It has always remained one of my favourites. I have never returned to that tourist attraction, but Jackie, who has, tells me that the view we had enjoyed on that day is now obscured by houses.
Giles Darvill is one of my oldest friends, and, by virtue of living in Milford on Sea, is now a neighbour. This evening Jackie and I visited him and Jean, his lady friend, and dined on an individual curry carefully selected by Giles for each of us. Jackie drank Kronenberg and the rest of us two different red wines. Giles had not seen Jackie since 1972, but the years just rolled away and we enjoyed very pleasant company.
The stained glass piece my friend made for my fiftieth birthday has already been mentioned. Other works of his also adorn our home. The fascinating fact is that, of my possessions brought to our joint home, Jackie selected those for display without knowing their pedigree.