The Swallows are back and despite an exhausting week fraught with off-grid technical problems, the sight of these acrobatic flyers darting in and out of our dilapidated barns is a joy to behold.
One year we hand raised a chick after the nest was abandoned. It thrived on mealworms and crane flies, which we captured in great numbers trapped in the greenhouse. Growing strong, it would fly high above the garden and return to our outstretched fingers, magical moments I will treasure forever.
We presumed that the swallow would eventually start feeding for itself but alas, the laws of nature dictated otherwise. While we continued to provide food, we found our feathered friend would not hunt for itself. It saw us as its source of food and would simply squawk and pester, flying into our faces and getting tangled in our hair, until we issued rations. We would have been happy to keep it but feared for its well-being. Swallows are fair weather tourists enjoying our climate and smorgasbord of flying insects during the summer months only. When the weather turned her kind migrate thousands of miles to warmer climes – and what would our pampered pet do then?
We had to be cruel to be kind and stopped feeding. Eventually we closed the doors and windows so she couldn’t fly inside demanding food. I hated it and to make matters worse, I saw her being bullied and chased in the sky by her own parents who had nested again in the barn and were bringing up a second brood.
Eventually we lost touch with her but I hope she found a safe place and completed her genetically pre-programmed trip to Africa. Certainly, when the swallows return at this time of year, one will always fly right into the house through the open door and we like to think its ‘our swallow’ returned safely home.
The technical problems which have soured an otherwise delightfully spring-like week began on Wednesday when the Aga started playing up. Every day I riddle out the ash and restock it with coal, the same routine at about the same time, but the Aga has a life entirely of her own and despite the strict regime pretty much does as she pleases. Some days she will burn with a generous heat cheerfully boiling the kettle and cooking the dinner, other days she slumps into a dour mood and no amount of coaxing will bring her round. Most likely linked to atmospheric pressure or the changing winds affecting the draw on the fire, I muse that having spent so much time together the Aga and I are somehow intrinsically linked and I’m reasonably accepting of her cantankerous mood swings.
Wednesday however was something entirely different. Coming in from a productive few hours in the garden to cook the tea, I was shocked to find it raging uncontrollably with the temperature gauge dangerously in the red. The best way to release heat is to lift the top lids, which I did and then not wanting to waste the heat decided to get on with some cooking. With the hot plate hotter than I’ve every seen I was able to whip through a batch of dishes and when the kids got home from school there was a soup, a curry and a huge pile of pancakes waiting.
It wasn’t until much later when hubby got home that the seriousness of the situation dawned. Breaking the seal that holds the chimney flue in place, he removed mountains of soot and coal dust which had built up over winter. The uncharacteristic heat was the result of additional combustion inside the Aga as the soot ignited, he gravely suggested. Feeling rather foolish for dealing with the situation by making pancakes, I have to admit that made with our own fresh eggs and topped with my homemade redcurrant jam, they were really rather delicious.
The following morning hubby left for a few days away on a work trip. Having averted a disaster in the kitchen he had no reason to believe there was any cause for concern – except when he is away things tend to go wrong. In fact pretty much every one of our major domestic disasters happen when I’m the only responsible adult for miles around. Not long after we moved here hubby was away overseas when the spring water supply blocked up. Only discovered in the dead of night when water stopped running out the taps the crisis was compounded by the fact that the system we had in place at the time meant that the wood burner, which was going strongly as it was a cold night, had to be immediately extinguished with buckets of soil because it was heating an empty boiler – likely to explode! The lounge covered in damp soil and ash, no water and no water supply, it was certainly one of those moments when I wanted to “give up this good life” and find a more modern home. Another time, hubby was quite literally the other side of the world, in Australia, when my eldest was rushed into hospital for an emergency operation…
We’ve learnt a lot since those early days here and are getting more experienced at dealing with problems as they arise but there’s always something you haven’t come across before.
Our house runs on batteries and the diesel generator kicks in when the batteries need charging. The benefit of this system is you have power 24/ 7 and the generator only runs for about 2 or 3 hours a day. One of my routine maintenance jobs is to keep these batteries topped up with water and that night, when Hubby was away, I’d completed the job and was running the generator on a special overdrive setting, which I do regularly to clean the batteries. The lights in the house flickered and dimmed then I was plunged into darkness.
Mechanical problems are not altogether unusual so, pleased that the kids were tucked safely in bed, I pulled on a coat and stumbled out to the generator shed. The inverter, which is a LED flashing digital display piece of technical kit which converts 24 volt power from the batteries into 12 volt power to the house was making a horrible noise. You didn’t need to be a technical wiz to know it was goosed.
We managed without electricity for 24 hours until the repair man arrived to tell me what I already knew. There is never a good time for a vital piece of kit costing probably a few thousand quid to be condemned irreparable, but it has and that is where we are now. The generator is currently hot-wired to the house, bypassing the inverter, so we have electricity back but only when the generator is running. You can’t run it all day so we’re limiting ourselves to just a few hours in the evening when we go power crazy running the washing machine, lights, computers, the wireless router which gives us internet access through a dongle, the television and so on. It’s interesting to notice how accustomed (I nearly typed addicted) we have become to all these modern conveniences but it will be a good test of our off-grid resilience as this state of affairs is likely to last a week or more.
At least we have the swallows to entertain us.
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All the best
Mum in the Woods.