The Museum of Obsoletion Piece
Among the various exhibits inside we expect you'll find one in particular that will bring back warm memories.
Monkton's Old Blue, the beautiful oil-fueled Old Kitchen Aga that's been cooking our food, boiling our kettle and drying our curry scented clothing lo these five to ten years is on its way out, and we would like to take some time to praise before burying it. (Unless somebody wants it, that is. Anybody who wants it should please get in touch. Burial's just starting to seem the likeliest option.)
We've been talking for some time now about seeking a wood-fueled replacement and saying no thank you once and for all to oil. And oil for its part gamely continues to nudge us closer to a spend-to-save leap off its ever rising price peak. Now we're starting to really survey the options, though, the landing seems less clear.
Turns out our kind of cooker can't be converted to woodburning. And woodburning cookers don't tend to come nearly as big. And ones that do will, like as not, have electrical components. Or be exorbitantly expensive, even taking peak(ing) oil prices into account. And none of them are likely to be powerful enough to feed us and feed our boiler. (The other another factor: our boiler runs off the same oily tank as the cooker when the sun's not shining. Which is, you know, a good some of the time.)
And this is before we even get into all the fun of where the wood will come from and be processed and be stored, who's going to be on the stock-the-fire rota, and where we all can go for a crash course on cooking for fifty on fire. (Answers: neighboring woodlands sustainably managed, on site by hand, woodshed, every last one of us, and just down to Fivepenny or Tinkers. But as I said, we've not even gotten to these questions, easily answered or no.) And all this without even touching on the whole wood chip v pellet v well, wood debate. Although we're more than happy to touch on those too, if you're interested.
Now, our cooker could be converted to electric. Indeed, this might look to some to be the cheapest and easiest option. It doesn't involve dismantling Old Blue altogether or removing it from Old Kitchen, for starters, and cooking on electric's like flipping a switch. But we'll probably get into all that in the blog entry about electric car refueling stations, so let's shelve it for now. In fact, let's step away from the Aga and check out another couple rooms of the Museum. As we're here.
Ah, yes. The room of Electrical Toasters, some still showing clear evidence of high speed collision with the courtyard concrete or grassy terrace. Possible explanations offered in the brochure include that special kind of rage a broken toaster inspires and the urgency that comes of a kitchenette filling with burning bread smoke. The Electric Kettle display in the next room over is arranged chronologically in two long glass cases, with tags indicating date and cost of purchase of each item. The attractively presented graph covering the room's far wall illustrates the correlation between cost of purchase and length of usage, and brings to light a gradual rise in the amount paid for each kettle followed inevitably by a drop back down to the cheapest on the market when the most expensive breaks. The reverse correlation between the steady rise in market price and drop in kettle life span can also be clearly seen here.
Some of you sharp eyed observers of truth will have noticed that the toasting and boiling implements shown in the Aga photo above are not to be found in the MoO Aga exhibit. These particular items were found in a certain Weasel-sub-Birdport basement, as it happens, and brought back into service here at Monkton. They will continue to stave off any need for their electric alternatives just as soon as we've figured out what we're cooking on.
Wish us luck, then. And in the meantime if you're looking for an old home for any wooden or metal implements of handtool times, I'm sure we could come up with something electrical we'd be happy to trade. Or if you know of anybody who might be upgrading their woodburning ESSE, we're certainly not too proud to shop second hand!
The Off-Grid Work Day
Oil-fired aga and boiler gave way to bonfire and clay oven for meals (with three lovely cyclists from Bridport taking us up on our offer of free-lunch for the self-propelled). Discussions were scheduled for important topics we don't take enough time for amidst the general electric buzz. And we hid the car keys. The result, as Bex observed, was a whole lot of powerful reminders of just how autonomous we're all actually not.
Some reflections from the day:
- Batteries, cigarette lighters and oil lamps exist in a very grey area, acceptability-wise; solar calculators and wind-up torches less so
- The bucket-and-trivet contraption fashioned to replace the electric pump in drawing water from the well could use a little grounding; alternatively, it encourages working in pairs
- Posher and basin are surprisingly effective and fun for washing nappies
- The lack of computers, telephones and stereos can lead to better interpersonal communication (and bringing out Simon's victrola) just to fill the silence
- Bonfire and well quickly become areas of focus (and fun), drawing people together to achieve common, immediate goals
- The church bell's chimes make a welcome replacement for the wall clocks' and mobile phones' (surprisingly disparate) timekeeping
- Tasks made more difficult require people to cooperate and consider things together: keeping the kettles filled on the fire for cooking and washing and countless cups of tea, for example, puts fuel use and water consumption foremost in a person's mind
- Things may be a lot clearer cut for purists, but it's at the price of photos as priceless as the one above
- Switching on lights when entering a room is just a little too automatic
Love and thanks to 350.org for the incentive, and to the planners and participants of the other 2000 or so actions worldwide. Sorry we didn't get our picture in for the live feed yesterday, but...
The Tale of the Two Little Pigs
As they were lifted squealing out of the back of Gill’s Citroen Berlingo and into their enclosure they took their chance to escape and ran. Their escape bid was successful. Mingus only got as far as the potato patch but little Blossom disappeared across neighbouring fields. Excitement turned to dismay but Simon immediately rallied everyone to help capture Mingus. Four volunteers with hurdles tiptoed across the potatoe patch towards the unsuspecting pig hidden amongst the foliage and cornered him. Mingus was carried squealing back to the van and taken down to the cow sheds. There were mixed emotions – relief that Mingus has been captured but where was little Blossom and how would she cope out there alone in the big bad world? Everyone had their own thoughts. Realistically all thought that the fleeting glimpse of the little ginger pig was the last that anyone would see of her.
Two days later Blossom was spotted – on the front lawn at breakfast time. News spread fast and everyone was happy however, all were asked not to try to catch her for fear of frightening her away. We had to bide our time and tempt Blossom with food to stay around and hopefully an opportunity to catch her would eventually present itself! Sightings of Blossom became more frequent. Sarah saw her in the potatoe patch early in the morning. Charlotte and Nieevie saw her skipping across the meadow as the sun was rising. Catherine saw her watching the hens being fed. Almost everyone spotted her – except Mark. But the pig saw Mark. He was telling our new campers that although their tent was in the cow field and we had a pig on the loose they would be quite safe . “Do you mean that pig?” asked the campers – Mark looked behind him and there was Blossom. Now that wasn’t the last Mark saw of her. Late that night on hearing the sound of screaming, Mark ventured out with torch in hand and found Blossom annoying the cows and calves in the meadow right next to the tent. Oh dear! Rescue complete the shaken campers spent the rest of the night in the house.
The days passed and whilst Mingus spent them feeling sad and lonely in his sty Blossom was having a ball - becoming bolder and more settled at Monkton. She seemed happiest spending time with the cows and calves although they didn’t take to Blossom often chasing her away. Blossom was not to be discouraged and to be fair the calves did seem to enjoy having a new playmate, After all they were all the some colour! So Blossom joined the cows – eating the grass and even trying to suckle. She began to think she actually was a cow and that Milou was her mum. She followed the cows as they went in for milking but was always fiercely driven away them. One morning her persistance paid off. The cows let Blossom follow them right into the cow shed but the game was up as Gill quickly closed the gate. Mingus was reunited with Blossom and they both lived happily ever after in the newly reinforced pig enclosure next to the potato patch.
Delphine (or not Delphine)
It's with great pleasure that we announce that this Tuesday night past, down in the cowsheds, Folly gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Initially upon being asked the name of the happy, healthy young Jersey, Simon reported she would be called Delphine. This has since been nixed: seems that's the very same as the cow from Cold Comfort Farm. And therefore (clearly) inappropriate.
With one name still pending, then, we await the birth of Milou's calf later this month. Suggestions welcome. Only French names considered.
The Wish List, or 'The Recycle Shop Came Up Trumps!'
It was with a heavy heart that Catherine rode off with Sarah for the Honiton Recycling Shop this morning. The fox had been in the night, taking off five of the chickens as well as the new bantam cockerel only just settled in. The incident was a lesson in mindfulness, a reminder of the importance of focusing always on the work at hand: of not taking on too many jobs and risking letting one (like closing up the chicken house) slip from memory. But life must go on, and Sarah only had the van for a week and we needed the van to pull the trailer if there was a chance of getting any decent mattresses back. And so.
To better express the significance of what happened next, we might want a little background detail. So. One of the many pages we look forward to adding to our website one day is the Monkton Wish List, to let visitors, guests and friends know what we're particularly needing at any given time, just in case they might be looking to get rid of something similar. And at the top of that wish list when I daydream typing it is always 'Willow pattern dishware in blue'. Two birds swirling together above a bridge, pagoda and boat scene, a depiction so we're told of a Chinese tale of starcrossed lovers-- if you've been a guest here in the past I don't even know how many years you'll no doubt know the one, and you'll appreciate why we want new ones. (If you'd like to learn about any more to-be-listed items with a keen interest that just won't wait, email us for more details.)
Questioned later, Catherine claimed not to have been visualising anything much when she entered the shop. But lo and behold, right there in the display case, a complete set with cups and saucers AND BOWLS WITH LIDS (that we're not sure what we'll be using for) just recently reduced from £40 for lack of interest. Beat that, would you? Bring on the special occasions, friends: we've got the china set now!
NOT TO MENTION...
Lynden's gone and replaced those sliding doors to the kindy with something truly spectacular,
clever WWOOFer Rike has picked up juggling in her day off,
and the chickens remaining have organised their own Easter egg hunt and found a new use for an old herb spiral into the bargain!
Under the paving stones, etc.
Sure we could all name one or two areas (or more, each) in need of improvement, but it should be remembered this house has been doing its best by its residents and guests for the past century and a half. For that and for everybody else out there who loves an impractical old building but doesn't have the funds to get it all fixed up at once, we hope to chronicle our slowly-slowly process of Sprucing Up The Court.
Time and money constraints make it necessary that we focus on one area at a time, and the top of our list these past few months has been that unsightly blight of mid-20th century decorating: plastic floor tiles. The discussion of replacements seemed like to last as long as the tiles themselves, though. Do we prioritise sustainability or economy, ethics or aesthetics? How much time can we afford (with a full house booking due over spring holidays) to search out the best balance of all the key factors?
New plastic tiles made with 'some recycled materials' (the rough-surface kind with the sparkly speckles to be found in many a commercial kitchen and cafeteria-style eatery) priced out cheapest. Rubber flooring had the swankiness vote, not to mention natural origin and sound absorption quality (a major attraction, you might agree, for our visitors' dining room). Wood paneling would be ideal, but the beech trees felled in February wouldn't be seasoned for years yet and even locally outsourced wood would come to more than the other two combined. Then Simon's pending slate delivery from Cumbria (to make shelves and, yes, flooring for the Dairy) made for further delays as its attractiveness and relative affordability was weighed against its propensity to chilliness and its literal weight. A heavy load to carry down from the beautiful North, it was decided, and a heavy responsibility to install it before Whitsun, much less Easter.
Somehow we never worked up the motivation to go for ugly-but-affordable, and it may have been a group-subconscious stalling tactic to put off the decision until Sean had pulled up a corner of the chipboard for a peek. It might be old stone tiles like those in the corridor, we imagined, and wouldn't that be grand...
It was then, as you'll have guessed from the spoiler at the top, we uncovered the dining room floor as it was meant to be. And the speed with which the plastic tiles, chipboard and tens of thousands of rusty old staples were ripped out of there and the beautiful old wood sanded down and coated up for its new debut suggests to me at least that we might well finish the other dining room before Christmas if we all get behind it together, even if we opt for the Cumbrian slate.
ps Thanks again to the lovely and accommodating bunch that came with slippers in hand the weekend that the varnish was still curing!
Thanks to 'Solar' Jim Shearman, for his unflagging efforts to make this place work better and more responsibly, and to Lynden's continuing finetuning, we have a solar-powered hot water system for the house that more than meets our summertime needs! While we do turn on the oil-fueled system for busy weekends, courses and family weeks (and we've all agreed to stick to showers during the drier months ourselves), the solar-heated system is another long stride toward responsible living. What with that and the indefinite shutdown of the aga in the Old Kitchen, our oil usage is down to just about a tenth of what it was just a couple of months back. While this does mean no slow-cooked porridge for the time being, we're sure our guests will agree it's worth this sacrifice.
Post script: Lynden's note to Jim (above) had already been documented for posterity when a previous account of water-related house strategies was uncovered at the bottom of a dusty box of disintegrating books about carpentry, mostly, behind an overstuffed armchair in the New Library. It's been dated at somewhere between May 2000 (date of the event of the flier it's written on the back of) and 2009 (when I start to recognise the handwriting. Many of the plans outlined in these papers and then put into practice are being revised by Lynden even now, so that the designs doodled throughout evoke nothing so much as a timeline with cyclical offshoots. The highlight of this report, though, hands down, is Option D (not shown on this page): 'Rip out the whole blighted thing and do it properly'.
The West Dorset 6 Peaks Challenge!
On Saturday 8 May five intrepid walkers set out to complete the West Dorset 6 Peaks Challenge. The 16 mile route which included the 6 highest points (we think) in West Dorset was devised by Roger Bell (former chair of the trustees) to raise much needed funds for Monkton Wyld Kindergarten. His 2 youngest children attend the kindergarten. Paul another kindy dad, Charlotte the kindergarten teacher, Mark and Catherine who live at Monkton also rose to the challenge.
At 9 o’clock we set off up our first ‘peak’ - Leweston Hill. This was a delightful climb through bluebell woods and in what seemed no time at all we were at the top and heading to our next ‘peak’ – Pilsdon Pen. We walked along lanes and across fields and were soon at the top. The weather was cold and grey but it suited us fine as we didn’t get too hot! From the top of Pilsdon Pen we could see our next peak in the seemingly far distance – Lambert’s Castle.
With Charlotte in charge of the map and Roger (who is actually a footpath officer with Dorset County Council) the route finding was easy. It was a steep ascent up to the top of Lambert’s Castle but with the incentive of lunch we made it – Mark even broke into a run but the rest of us kept to a steady plod.
Onwards we walked into the afternoon – up and over Coney’s Castle and across wet grassy fields down to Wootton Fitzpaine and on towards Charmouth where we stopped for tea and snacks. Only 2 more ‘peaks’ to go we thought – so off we set up Stonebarrow Hill and up on to our final ascent – Golden Cap. With tired legs we all made it and gathered for a photocall . From here it was simply a short stroll (?) downhill towards the pub at Seatown for a celebratory drink.
The 6 Peaks Challenge Kindy Fundraiser is still accepting retroactive pledges (or pledges for next year). Contact us to find out how to contribute to the Kindy cause!
More photos from the walk coming soon on Flickr.
Loud and Proud
Moss and Jane (pictured) are visiting from Fivepenny Farm, local organic smallholding and founding member of the Peasant Evolution Producers Co-operative. They're part of a growing team of land-management enthusiasts (along with Jacob sheep of all sizes, Ed and others) working under the benevolent direction of fellow Co-op member Simon Fairlie. Simon's been so good as to bring not only a dogged determination to get the grass back into shape and find out where all the phosphorus has gone, but also his renowned scythe business and scything workshops (2-4 July, spaces still available!) and the offices of The Land magazine here to Monkton.
Already this year, the project has resulted in some beautiful new fencing work and timely repairs on our beloved cowsheds (with the exciting possibility of a lime conservation and pointing course tied in). The first Monkton-based dairy cow in a couple of years (and milk and cheese) should soon become a reality as well.
WWOOFers and other potential volunteers who express an interest are welcome to spend at least one of the days during a week's stay contributing to this vital work. We look forward to hearing from you.
In the meantime, Moss and Jane send their (reverberating) love.
Miles to go before they sleep:
JP sharing some stock-
fencing wisdom with Stephen in a well-
earned break between posts