Happy New (well, new-ish) Year! I hope 2016 has got off to a good start for you in spite of the dreadful weather which continues to lash the British Isles... the continuous cycle of Atlantic storm-fronts is making me feel as if we're living the movie Groundhog Day - at least we're not flooded out in Helmickton, unlike so many unfortunate folk.
However, our New Year began rather soggily with a session of processing wood in the inevitable rain: Mick 'Axemaster' did the chopping, and I stacked the chunks in the wood-store. It's a labour-intensive job but massively satisfying, and a nostalgia trip for two people who grew up in homes heated by solid fuel - not to mention a dream come true for Hubcap, who always longed to grow and use his own trees. It's also environmentally friendly in that we're using harvested and/or scrap wood which would otherwise go to waste - and the pay-back comes in the pleasure of having a real fire, and our greatly reduced fuel bills. Our fabulous Dunsley multi-fuel stove (below) is worth its weight
in gold, and must have paid for its installation costs several times over in terms of the money we've saved. To give you an example: since the end of October, we've spent just over £100 on coke, which we use to supplement the wood if it's particularly cold, or if we want to keep the fire going for a long time while we're out (wood alone tends to burn away quickly) - a pretty modest expenditure for the winter months! In addition we use electricity for cooking, lighting, the usual appliances and the pump to run the central heating - you might be able to make out the thermostat and control box on the upper left of the picture - which, thanks to the small, efficient company Ovo Energy with its blissfully straightforward tariffs, costs us the paltry sum of about 75p a day. I think that's quite impressive for running a 3-bedroom house and meeting all the fuel needs of two humans and a spoilt cat!
It wouldn't suit everyone, of course; there's no denying that solid fuel creates a lot of mess and dust, plus you really have to work for your heat, (cleaning out the ashes, chopping kindling, laying and lighting the fire and keeping it fed), rather than just flicking a switch. But it's a fraction the cost of gas central heating and great for a traditional, frugal, make-do-and-mend couple like us; also the flat-top stove is great for warming plates, keeping food and drinks hot, proving dough, softening pulses, drying wet boots and gloves... it's a real helping hand in the kitchen and I don't know how I'd manage without it now. And there's nothing quite like the cheerful warm glow of a real living flame to brighten the dark days of this seemingly endless wet winter!
During the second half of Hubcap's winter holiday last week, we finally got round to going to one of our favourite local venues, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see the famous poppy installation Wave, by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper. Derived from the Tower of London installation Seas of Red, created to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war, Wave had attracted tens of thousands of visitors to YSP; and even though we'd missed it around Remembrance Sunday, we were excited about seeing it at last.
As you can tell from the rather dreary image on the left, it was another damp, grey, squishy day - but the site was still beautiful, if extremely muddy, with plenty of man-made and natural wonders to enjoy, (like the amazing ancient ash-tree Mick's admiring in the image below right). Given that it's the off-season, we weren't surprised to see masses of work going on around the park, including repairs being made to the bridges; and we couldn't fail to notice the enormous cherry-picker crane lurking behind the trees (below left) and wonder what it was doing there... then when we reached the Lower Lake, we found out. Yes, we'd come to see
Wave at the very last possible minute - the bridge where it was sited was closed to the public, a team of workers were in the process of dismantling it, and the crane was there to give them access to the poppies planted over the water! They very kindly allowed me to sneak past the barriers to take a couple of photos (below centre); and even though part of the installation had been taken down that very morning, it was still a spectacular and moving sight. As an ex-museum worker, I also found it extremely interesting to see the scale of operation involved in removing an artwork on this scale: some 4500 hand-made ceramic poppies and their black metal stems to be packed away in a series of crates (the white squares you can see beneath the arch of flowers on the image below). So although it was rather a shame to have missed Wave in its full glory, we had the consolation of seeing a part of its journey which very few other visitors would have been party to, and I'm really glad we went.