Wednesday 31 March 2021

Bike ride to Woodstock

What a beautiful warm and sunny day today. We celebrated by going on an excellent bike ride. Bicester Cycling Club have put their cycle routes online and we followed their 52km taster ride.

It was a lovely journey along deserted roads through the Oxfordshire countryside.

At one point we got stuck behind a peloton of lycra clad club cyclists and I could easily have overtaken them, but it seemed a bit rude and fortunately our journey then took us on a side trip down a Sustrans off road section.

Obviously, no bike ride is complete without a coffee and cake stop which we enjoyed in the very upmarket and pleasant village of Woodstock.

Then a nice run home just in time for lunch. 

Monday 29 March 2021

Two social events

For the first time in many months Darren and I dressed up for a social event. Graven Hill Residents Association had arranged a virtual wine tasting event on Zoom, fortunately with real wine.

The dress code was Creative Cocktails and this was the best I could come up with. It was a lovely evening and the red wine was very tasty, the white wine not quite so. 

Today we finished setting up the outdoor living room on the terrace and as soon as the sun came out I tried it out.

Darren built the furniture, I painted it and Ikea provided the waterproof cushions.

It was very comfy and we gave it a proper trial this evening when S and P called round for a glass of wine or two.

Friday 26 March 2021


 We have finished the watercourse between the top and bottom ponds. First thing today it looked like the photo below, and then it poured with rain so we collected quite a bit of water from the guttering on the greenhouse.

With a bit of trial and error we ended up with a meandering stream that starts with the overflow to the top pond, then the water dropped into a wide pot, down a concrete gutter to another pot, through a pipe into what Darren calls the dalek, and finally down another gutter into the bottom pond.

We haven't tested it yet because we are waiting for some filler to dry, but we are going to trial it tomorrow, so fingers crossed. If it is okay then it needs lots of plants around it. 

Not sure yet how attractive it is, but I think that it will be fun. I think that the fish will like the trickling waterfall, just as long as they don't try to slide down it. 

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Cycling to Oxford

First outdoor bike ride of the year - and it's good to get some fresh air and to be outside in real life on the bike.

We set off later than expected because it took us ages to get the bikes prepared, find bags and panniers, decide how many clothes to wear, pack some left over pizza slices, etc, etc. Got there in the end though, and then we were off. 

The route to Oxford was along quiet roads with the wind in our face. It made a change from the fan in our gym, and was quite hard going at times.

I was glad of the break in Oxford and we were living the dream - cappuccino and carrot cake from a lovely little coffee shop.

It would have been a five star dream if we could have sat inside to enjoy it, but fingers crossed that won't be too long away.

We cycled along enjoying the sights, couldn't stop too long as it was pretty nippy, and then we started heading back home. 

We were in for a lovely surprise as the wind pushed us forward and we charged along country roads in record time. In this map photo, we started in the top right hand corner and went anti clockwise down to Oxford in the bottom left. Cleverly, the map also records our speed and we were mostly going at green pace (slow) on the way out, but red (rocket pace) on the way back. 

A good first ride and already looking forward to the next one. 

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Vaccination day

I got my jab this morning at the Bicester Heritage Centre. I have never seen anything so well organised and friendly. From my first step out of the car to my arrival back 12 minutes later, I spoke to at least a dozen helpful people who directed me to the right place, checked my name and address about five times, jabbed my arm and then directed me back to the car.

I waited for 15 minutes before driving home and felt totally fine, but I must admit that I have got a bit of a headache now.

I meant to take a photo but it was all so quick that I never stood a chance. Darren has his next week. 

But back to the pond, and our attempts to connect the two ponds. I am making concrete bowls and pipes and this is how far I have got so far.

Quite a bit of sculpting left to do, but Darren has already connected up the pump.

It definitely works, and we are also collecting water from the greenhouse roof, although it hasn't rained yet so I had to test it manually.

Monday 15 March 2021

Stork on parade

We finished off the new pond today.

Firstly Darren got the hose pipe out and topped up the water. This is an unusual phrase to say, but, it didn't rain enough to fill it naturally. As we aren't patient enough to wait, then we were left with no choice.

He then fixed the edge of the pond down.....

...... and I painted the wood.

I then paid a quick visit to the nearby water garden shop and bought special water pots, special water compost, bits and bobs and two pond plants. I spent a happy hour turning our overgrown three existing water plants into seven, and planting up the two new ones.

They are making themselves at home either in the new pond, or spread out a bit in the old one.

Finally, our stork is now on parade on the edge of the pond and is staring proudly around the whole garden. 

Saturday 13 March 2021

Mini updates

So, the builders have been busy all week working next door. Huge progress downwards has been made, and they are now gradually building back up to ground level.

The whole place was full of bricklayers yesterday and little walls have appeared out of nowhere.

It's quite exciting because we didn't get to see this stage on our own plot, so it is very interesting. Today our lovely future neighbours turned up to have a look, and just like I planned to do for us, they are going to take a photo every day from the same spot for a time lapse video. Hopefully theirs will be more successful than mine.

Also, my grapevine arrived through the post this afternoon and I raced to the greenhouse to get it planted.

I have to say that it doesn't look very exciting yet, and Darren is expecting big bunches of juicy grapes in the next few months, so I think that he is destined to be disappointed, at least in the short term. 

Finally, on to my concrete water feature. The best I can say is that non of it collapsed when we unwrapped it from it's shaping. It is still very wet and I have been scraping bits with a knife to improve the look, but for now it's all just being left to dry out.

This one is for the greenhouse downpipe and then the water is diverted in to the pond, hopefully with a nice splash. At the moment it is very wobbly. 

This one is a long thin drainpipe style, and I have reinforced it with a metal rebar, but it is still in its guttering pro forma while it drys a bit more. 

This one is upside down and will definitely look better when we turn it back over! 

Thursday 11 March 2021

Concrete sculpting

We had a bit of fun today and I am copying another idea from Pinterest. About three years ago I tried this in Nottingham and it ended in disaster. That time I tried to make a concrete birdbath using cabbage leaves to make the shape.

Anyway, when I tried to lift it up, it just fell apart and I had a big sulk and never tried it again. 

This time I am making a water feature for the new pond, and I am using plant pots as to make the shape out of quite a lot of concrete.

I have weighed it all down with heavy blocks and we are going to open it tomorrow and see what happens.

I forgot to mention that Darren has been busy making two wooden outdoor sofas for the top floor. They are now finished and I have started to paint them.

The weather is too cold at the moment for me to carry on with it, but it should pick up in a few days. There is also some wood left so I am hoping for a coffee table and planter too. Fingers crossed. 

Monday 8 March 2021

Working on the pond

We got on with the pond project today. I started with levelling the ground, putting in a row of blocks, and then to my complete surprise, using all of the spare sand that I was moaning about yesterday to smooth the sides and make planting shelves.

It doesn't look very sand coloured, and this is actually a very unexciting photo. 

Darren then took over and screwed all of the wooden posts together. 

Next step was the liner. Possibly a bit big. 

I was feeling very smug about the next step - filling the pond. My plan was to use the huge amount of rainwater stored in our barrels, but when we started filling the watering cans, it turns out that the barrels were almost empty.

I think that before the cold winter weather set in that I decided to empty them to stop them freezing up, but I can't really remember now. Anyway, whatever the reason it was disappointing. 

We are now waiting for it to rain so that they get filled up again, and then we can repeat the previous step. 

Sunday 7 March 2021

New pond

First of all, the biggest task outstanding for us has now been completed. We have posted our VAT return off to the assessors and now can only sit and wait for their response.

We had over 400 receipts, and probably another 60 or 70 backup pages as well as the form. I am hoping that it has arrived safely, although I took a photo of every page, just to be on the safe side. (It took absolutely ages, so I really hope that we don't need to do it all again.) 

Much more interestingly than that though, we are taking our parental responsibilities seriously now that our fish have had babies. 

Yesterday, I decided that the path from the greenhouse would have to go, and we are building a new, bigger pond in its place. 

The sand is where the path used to be, and very annoyingly, we bought quite a few bags of sand to make the mosaics in the greenhouse only last week. We could have used this sand instead, but I hadn't thought of it then, so now we have lots of surplus buckets full of sand that need a home.

Darren has chopped up some lovely wooden beams from Wickes, and the pond is going to be partly raised above the ground. It might end up looking like a sauna, but hopefully not. 

It is going to be pretty deep and we are planning on keeping it full by harvesting the water from the roof of the greenhouse. We have two dry days before it is due to rain pretty heavily so we are hoping to get it built by then. 

I think that is a bit of a stretch target as there is a lot to do to get it finished, but we are going to give it a go. 

Wednesday 3 March 2021

New next door neighbours

 It's very early yet, but our new neighbours are getting started.

Last week the ground workers arrived and marked out the site, and yesterday they dug the trenches out. 

The trenches were really deep and dug out of solid clay. 

This morning the first of many concrete mixers arrived, backed on to the plot and started filling the huge trenches.

I don't know how many mixer loads were needed, but they arrived all through the day. 

By mid afternoon all went quiet and the trenches are about half full. Can't wait to see what happens next.