Surprise Present.

Wasn’t at home for my birthday …

Was making a speech-ette at a ceremony down in Devon where my sister in law and her husband were renewing their vows. Managed a few fine walks and visited Cleeve Abbey and Arlington Court: the first was the greatest exposition I have come across so far of how pre-English Reformation abbeys worked as communities and within their communities, the second had an impressive Victorian ornamental garden, backed by a walled kitchen garden. With this stunning “minibeasts hotel” in an alcove:


But during various walks on the edges of autumnal Exmoor and, particularly scrambling over damp, seaweed slapped, tide-rounded rocks the width of low-water Lynmouth beach to reach the sea on a very pleasant morning I felt the urge to re-read Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter. (My brother-in-law has since loaned me one; one he originally borrowed from Wolverhampton library a hundred and some years ago.)

Meanwhile our daughters had been getting together and buying a most unexpected present. Visiting the oldest on Sunday I was able to unwrap it and assemble it. Wonderful. Cannot remember exactly what I was thinking when I took the wrapper off the first present: a wrought iron fire poker …

Monday was a fine warm day, with a cooling wind. The deciduous trees are shedding their leaves, the lawn has been mown for what we hope is the final time and I wanted, like a small kid, to play with the fire-stove. No chance, we had washing outside drying – so did the neighbours.

Tuesday was our other daughter’s birthday and we met her and her partner at Twycross Zoo and had an evening meal at their house (thanks kids!)

But this morning I was up and in the back garden a little after nine. Nobody had any washing out and I fired up the fuel, using just three of the chimney pipes. It lit up well enough and I put some water in the also-birthday present, cast iron kettle and set it on the top to boil.

Meanwhile I was nearby, using the plywood a kind neighbour let us have, trying to build a box to keep all of the pots/seed trays and greenhouse swaggage in. Because there is a lot of stuff from around the garden that needs to over-winter in the greenhouse – and we need to make the space. Now I think I’m a scrounger, but our neighbour (let’s call him Mr Plummer) actually takes a white van and collects stuff from local building companies. It saves them paying the tipping costs – and he gets the material. He has a couple of houses with wood burners, but is more than generous with his caches.

So, rather than make the job fit the material I am in the unique position of, my own lack of skills notwithstanding, making a suitable container. Three feet by two so it can sit on a concrete slab found when we cleaned out behind the long timber garage sized garden shed. And, measuring up the plywood I opted for two layers of the flooring off-cuts. Mr Plummer had also selflessly suggested and supplied timber battens. I’ll use a couple of the half rounds from the one time compost heap to lift it off the ground and the black timber preservative I bought for the wormery insulating box (the beasts inside this multiplying in Biblical proportions and the “worm tea” has filled every available container we have!)

Meanwhile, beneath the laburnum by the side of the shed the wood is burning, smoke issuing from the “spark arrester” and the kettle beginning to boil. It all looks very rustic and in need of a grazing horse, a shallow stream and a primrose yellow varda. Back to reality, we decide to tip the boiling water from the first kettle away (it has taken about fifteen minutes to go from room temperature to boiling) away and set it to go again. To cleanse any residual taste from the cast iron pot.

A mere ten minutes later we are settling down to sample the first tea brewed on the new stove.

To put it politely it has a very unusual taste. We are, admittedly not used to drinking water that has been boiled over a fire in an iron pot and may need to wash the kettle a few times before we can actually drink a whole mug.

This feels something like a betrayal and I feel a little guilty… though still extremely pleased with the present. It works a treat.


3 responses to this post.

  1. A belated “happy birthday”. A great gift to keep you in the great outdoors. Also, I love your Green Man 🙂


    • That green man is an attempt to relieve the banal brick wall and was bought about five years ago at a wood fair in Leicestershire. For some reason (and I am curious) it has been pecked by small birds and bears the tiny scars.


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