Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Que divertido!

Christmas at one of my favourite shops in Buenos Aires, Elementos Argentinos. Surrounded here by muted and autumnal colours, and pysching myself up for months of dreary weather this burst of colour looks so cheerful and fun, and SO Latin American. Fernando and Pablo, I miss you!

...and (an hour later) here comes the sun

The colours after the storm

The wind and rain have thrashing against the cabin all morning. It was actually quite mild at 6.15am when we drove Ollie to Hereford to catch the train, but by mid-morning it was wild outside. The kind of storms that always remind me of the moors above Haworth, back home in Yorkshire. The rain stopped and the clouds lifted, about half an hour ago and the richness of the greens and blues of the view from here were fabulous. The iphone pic doesn't do it justice.


Been There

Our Nikon has been in for repair for five weeks. Serves us right for using Jessops. I've been missing having a camera I can take more time with, so I entered a reader's tip in the Guardian's weekly 'Been There' competition. Unfortunately I didn't win the camera, but my tip was published. You can see it here, or read it below.


Estancia Dos Lunas, Córdoba
After six years living in Argentina I've been to a lot of estancias (ranches), but this one is off the gaucho-beaten track. Deep in the Ongamira valley is Estancia Dos Lunas, and riding across its 3,000 hectares is as rugged and romantic as you could wish for. The ranch is warm and hospitable, with tasty homemade food. Even the sunsets are long and laid-back, especially lazing by the pool with a big glass of malbec.
+54 11 5368 9086, tinyurl.com/ranchdoslunas, suites sleeping four from $500 per night full-board
Emma Balch

Pottery Cottage renovation: week three

After two weeks of opening up and knocking out almost everything other than the exterior walls, last week work began on the guest cottage beginning with connecting to the mains drainage, damp coursing include a waterproof membrane lining the floor and walls and a drain around the edge of the room, and a new concrete base on the floor. Stud work on the walls and roof this week, followed by insulation.
Meanwhile, next-door the walls in the main house are being built up ready for the stud work and insulation, and outside in the garden we have a scrapheap.

My starter kit

Festive fairs

Nine years ago this weekend Ollie and I were in Salzburg. After an afternoon at the Christkindlmarkt and a concert in the castle, we huddled together in the snow drinking gluwein and Ollie asked me to marry him.
I was looking for a Christmas market for us to go to this year, but the nearest one seems to be in Bath, two hours away. In Hay this weekend though there was the Winter Food Festival on Saturday, which was packed, and then on Sunday the less popular Hay Arts & Crafts Festival. It was fun to meet delightful Alejandra from Peru and Gustavo from Argentina, who I'd met at another craft fair. They have a workshop in Newbridge-on-Wye and make pretty pieces, like porcelain earrings using a beech nut to create a mould.
Yesterday I took the boys to the Royal Welsh Agricultural Winter Fair in Builth Wells. Plenty of tasty food to try from local suppliers like Black Mountains Smokery, prize cows to be admired, farm equipment to be climbed on, and Christmas crafts to be purchased.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Small world, long weekend

Thursday evening. Ollie's old pal Matt Lloyd arrived to stay for a couple of nights. Ollie was travelling back from Cambridge so I took Matt to The Tram Inn in nearby Eardisley. Lovely pub, and as our drinks were cleared by owner Mark, Matt turned to him and said 'Is your name Mark and did you go to Merchant Taylors' Northwood?' Turns out Mark was in the year above Matt at school. Small world.

Saturday we met up in the Blue Boar in Hay with Joe and Karen who live two farms down the hill from us. Karen is Mexican and used to teach in a Waldorf School. Last week she started doing a Friday after-school session in Spanish with Seth and Bo, which is great. Strangely, Jo, like Ollie is doing a PhD about Argentina AND he used to live one block away from us in Villa Crespo in Buenos Aires. Small world.

Sunday evening we had a lovely, lovely supper in Brilley with Jo Eliot and Noel Kingsbury. Noel, an internationally renowned writer on plants and the environment (actually, I've have one of his books, Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls, stored in Argentina), cooked an incredible Indian vegetarian meal for us. I've been thinking about the paneer and spinach koftas all day...must try making them. Jo heads up the Hay Film Festival, and instantly recognised me when we were introduced last month. Turns out she remembers me and the boys from Kashi Cafe in Kerala! Small world.

We moved here three months ago, not knowing anyone, but I haven't felt lonely for a second. I've met so many fantastic people, who I already feel like I've been friends with for years.  It's helped that most people aren't in traditional jobs or work sectors, and many have lived in different places. In fact, with Em, another northerner, it feels like we've been living a parallel life: she has a son, Seth, who goes to Crocodiles, she's married to a journalist, they were in Fort Cochin when he was two years old, and they used to live in South America...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Who needs a house when you've got a shed?

While I dream up plans for the house, Ollie's thoughts are all on the shed. The priorities are to get one room of the house ready for us to live in from mid-December and to have the shed ready for Ollie to work in. We're going to put a big window at the front, so Ollie's desk looks out onto the garden, and we're going to insulate it so he doesn't freeze. Let's hope they do finish the room in the house or we're we're all going to be living in the shed.

The village post office

My grandmother was a great letter-writer and she kept in touch with her vast family in countries around the world, mostly by typed or handwritten letters, usually with several enclosures and cuttings. The only exception to this were her regular phonecalls which she would make sitting in her icy cold hallway, perched (she was only 4'2") on her 1950s telephone seat/table, with a list of topics of conversation she worked through during the course of the call. But letters were her main means of communication and each morning she walked to the post to send the letters she'd scribed the day before.

My father is very much like her and has a list of hundreds of people he keeps in touch with regularly by postcard (he two big shoeboxes full of postcards that he buys and collects to use in his correspondence) and for more thoughtful moments on letters that are tucked inside an envelope he always one of his vast collection of fountain pens.

Neither have passed onto me their particular ways with stationary and habit of sitting at their desk to write letters, but I do like being back in the UK and being able to use our postal system. Like Dad I always ask for the decorative stamps and unlike him, who buys in bulk, by the sheet, I go to the post office each day to buy the stamps I need.

Maybe I wouldn't bother if I lived in a city, but in a small village like Clyro there aren't queues with fidgety people looking at their watch. I enjoy going into Clyro Post Office and chatting with Mrs Hood, who must know all sorts about everyone in the village, if nothing else, who buys from which online shops.

As well as the Post Office it's a pretty useful village shop. I wasn't well last week and forgot to buy potatoes, carrots and fennel seeds, all of which I needed for Sunday lunch (pretty much only remembered the chicken). Hay Deli is closed on Sunday and the Co-op doesn't stock fennel seeds, so it was very handy that I was able to buy potatoes, carrots AND fennel seeds, along with the Sunday paper all at little Clyro Post Office.

I was in there today and local author Jasper Fforde came in with a copy of his latest book in hand.  Jasper has quite a cult following, and apparently Mrs Hood is part of it.

Not a bad portfolio

In case you have a spare grand and a half, a week at The House in the Hills in the Black Mountains near Hay wouldn't be bad. The owner is Steve Greenow, who is doing a grand job of managing our renovation of Pottery Cottage. I saw his house and that was me sold. I'd had several recommendations of good local builders, but Steve had worked on one of the other houses in Clyro built at the same time as Pottery Cottage and when we first met I felt he totally understood what we wanted to do with it, and had some great suggestions.

'The House in the Hills' has been in the Greenow family since 1841, but it was derelict when Steve took it over and he did a huge restoration job. Mariella Frostrup stayed there during the Hay Festival and said: 'Impeccably restored, wood and Welsh slate abound. It's so luxurious it's hard to leave.'