Another Day Goes By Without Resolution

The water is still flowing out of the sewer and across the garden.  Here’s today’s picture.  It’s coming out of the drain at the top of the picture and running along the wall.

My two previous posts are also about this problem.

Sometimes when the flow is higher it gets into the drain at the lower left.  We don’t know where that drain leads to.  It’s only meant to carry rainwater away from the roof over the front door.  There is a possibility that it drains through a soakaway into the Ash Brook (the Cardingmill Valley stream).  If that’s the case – goodbye trout, goodbye bull head, goodbye caddis flies … I could continue… but don’t forget that those creatures feed the dippers and kingfishers that also live along this stream.

There were multiple promises from Severn Trent yesterday that they would get Amey to phone us in the afternoon and they would give us an update today.  Again they didn’t.  It was obvious that the work wasn’t done AGAIN last night, but we had to phone them this afternoon to find out that they still can’t get the manhole up in the main road and therefore can’t access the offending sewer.

Today I have contacted the Environment Agency.  I have also put in a query to Shropshire Council and John has written an official complaint to Severn Trent.  It’s time to ramp up the action, so the next step is social media and then the press.

Still living by an open sewer!

Couldn’t sleep this morning, so got up and went out to look.  The drain is still overflowing and sewage is still running out.  It has been 11 days since the problem started and 7 days since Amey/Severn Trent first visited the house.

Yesterday Lauren from the escalation team promised to phone me first thing to let me know what progress had been made. No call by 9am so I phoned Severn Trent AGAIN!  I asked to be put through to Lauren and was told that she wasn’t working today.  However, they promised a call back from another member of the team and 10 minutes later I had Peter on the phone, who explained that Lauren had been moved over to another job temporarily.

Peter checked with Amey.  This time they came out overnight and then discovered that they couldn’t raise the manhole cover!  Can you believe it?  They claimed that they didn’t have the right tools!!!!!  What kind of boss sends men out on a job without the right tools? Why didn’t someone go back to base and GET the right tools?

John contacted our insurance company yesterday and is now starting the official complaints procedure.  We are both dumbfounded by the complete and utter chaos we have encountered on this job:

  • There has been a total lack of customer service. Just a daily reassuring phone call with explanations would have helped, but this was NOT FORTHCOMING. We have had to phone them every day to find out why the problem was still on-going.
  • The procedure for contacting Severn Trent leaves a lot to be desired.  You are put on hold and forced to listen to very irritating, tension building music while you wait for someone to answer.  When they do answer you get platitudes and false sounding apologies, but no positive action.
  • The sewage sub-contractor, Amey, seems even more incompetent. Wrong tools for the job, no sense of urgency, no customer information on progress,  excuses, suspension of jobs because of the end of a shift, the list goes on!

This is, by far, the worst service we have had from any company since we returned to the UK in 2005.  I’m totally sickened and disgusted.

Raw Sewage in our Garden!

On May 25th, John noticed sewage bubbling up from one of our outside drains.  We were just about to leave on a trip so I made an appointment with British Gas Home Care for the following morning, and asked our good friend Pam to wait in for them.  She very kindly agreed and Dyno-Rod (subcontractors to Home Care) showed up as promised early next day (May 26th).

Dyno-Rod cleared out our drains but realised that there was a blockage in the main sewer, so they called Severn Trent (our water and sewage company).  Pam heard the conversation where Dyno-Rod explained the situation to the Severn Trent people over the phone.  Dyno-Rod told Pam that Severn Trent would be out to fix the problem.  Everything seemed to be under control.

On Sunday (May 27th) there were strong thunderstorms over Church Stretton.

On Monday (May 28th) Pam came to our house to check if everything was OK.  It wasn’t.  More water had come down the sewer, a manhole had been lifted and sewage had flooded out into our garden.  She immediately called Home Care again and arranged for another visit from Dyno-Rod for the following day.

We cut our visit to London short and caught an earlier train back to Church Stretton on Tuesday (May 29th).  We arrived back while Dyno-Rod were still working.  Again they called Severn Trent, who claimed they had not received the call on May 26th and therefore had no record of this case. This time, we were assured of a quick visit and given a case number.

Severn Trent/Amey came quickly that afternoon and ascertained that the blockage was indeed off our property and in their sewers.  They said they didn’t have the correct piece of equipment to reach the blockage, but that a larger vehicle would be dispatched to take care of it as soon as possible. They also said that the sewage was draining slowly, and the water level did seem to be going down in the drain, so it was OK to use the toilet and continue with domestic water use.

That evening we had more thunderstorms and the manhole was lifted again.  This time the sewage filled the flower beds and flooded onto the lawn.  Since then there has been a continuous flow of sewage out of one of our drains.  It’s worse at times when our neighbours are taking showers, etc., but it never stops completely.

Some of this sewage got under the house and there is a bad smell indoors.

It is now six days since Severn Trent visited and 10 days since the problem started and there is still raw sewage flowing out of our drains, across the patio and over the garden.  The video shows the extent of the problem.

On the 30th we phoned Severn Trent for a progress report.  They contacted Amey who said that the job had been suspended at the “end of the shift”. We were promised that it would be done “today”.  We were also told that they had to work at night because they were accessing the sewer from a busy road.

The road in question is Shrewsbury Road in Church Stretton.  It is a B road. Other utilities are able to access it in the middle of the day, why can’t the water/sewer people do the same?

Since then we have gone to bed each night hoping for a solution. But we have woken each morning to find that nothing has been done. Every morning we’ve called Severn Trent or Amey for a progress report.  Every time we have been assured that “it will be done today”.

But it hasn’t been done and we’re running out of patience. Nothing has happened for over 5 days.  No-one phoned with an explanation, an apology or even an excuse.  We had to phone up each day to get yet another stonewalling “I’m really sorry for your situation, but it’s been scheduled for tonight and I’m sure they will come out this time”.

We can’t ask the many neighbours whose sewage comes through our garden to stop using the toilet, stop taking showers, stop doing dishes and washing, can we?  Meanwhile, their effluent is polluting our property and causing a potential health hazard.

Today (June 4th) I was put through to Lauren in the Severn Trent Escalation Team who has promised yet again to get something done today.  We’ll see.

Spring is finally here!

Gosh, it’s been a horrible winter, with lots of snow and rain and wind and more snow and more rain and more wind.  Some of the shrubs have been frost damaged and wind-burned.  One of the giant laurels came down, too, with all the heavy wet snow.

Spring has been creeping in very slowly.  The snowdrops at Attingham Park were lovely, but our frogs crept in for only a couple of days between freezes to spawn.  Normally they hang about waiting for the females to arrive, but this year, they all came in, did their thing and left!  Naturally, we saw our first newts soon after – devouring lots of the eggs!

The birds have paired up and there’s lots of territoriality, showy display flights, strong singing, heavy breathing, collecting of sticks and moss and dried leaves and feathers.  In our cold garden the buds on the shrubs are barely breaking, but the daffodils are just coming up to their peak

At the bottom of the road, on the common land with the war memorial there are masses of white and yellow daffs right now.  It’s a lovely sight to see!

Today there’s promise in the air, too.  Strong sunshine and warm southerly winds have cheered us all up and Jan and I had tea out in the garden this afternoon.

While we were there we found a Larch Ladybird.  They’re very small and I’ve never seen one before.  It’s unusual because it’s tan coloured and doesn’t have any spots.  I’m not surprised that it’s here – there are a lot of larches, including a huge one next door – but it was sitting on a camellia leaf and they’re supposed to prefer conifers!

Paul’s coming tomorrow and it’s supposed to be sunny with highs around 20C.  I can’t wait!

Blast from the past

I’m cleaning up my hard drives as it is snowing outside and I need to get my office cleaned up in more ways than one!

I just found this little animation that I had on my first website back in the 90s! It runs very fast on modern computers!

Badger Movies!

We’ve just found a couple of badger movies from last year.  John set up the trail cam near one of the sett openings to see if there was any action.

In the first clip, one of our little friends is bringing in fresh bedding.  It’s an interesting action – he does it by pulling the material (grass, straw, bamboo leaves, etc.) backwards with his long front claws.  They change the bedding quite frequently, as witnessed by the trails of leaves and detritus we find across the lawns and the flower beds!  Don’t worry about the video going dark in the last half, the trail cam was running out of batter power. Sorry about that, but I thought you’d like to see the behaviour.

In the second clip we see that clean bedding doesn’t always equate with a clean badger!  This guy seems to have an awful lot of itchy spots!

Oeuf! I can breath!

Don’t ask me what the title of this post means – I don’t actually know.  However, my Mum always said it when something was opened up or because clear.  Actually, she had a thing about eggs.  When she didn’t know someone’s name she called them Mrs or Mr Huevo!  Dad and I used it too, but with English accents it because Mrs or Mr Wave-oh.

Enough reminiscence.  The reason I can breathe is that Paul has been working here today and has opened up about half the herb bed. He tells me that a lot of the plants will have died because there was so much moss choking things.  The wild strawberries, which also came up, were only rooted in the moss.

Over the past few weeks he has worked steadily around the garden, pruning and weeding and digging and it’s really making a difference.  He’s also mowing the lawn more regularly, so that whole thing is looking a whole lot tidier.

You will have noticed that Paul is in shorts.  It is NOT, I repeat NOT, shorts weather, but these mountain bikers are a tough crowd!  It was cold, windy and drizzly today – yuck!  Earlier this week we had the remains of Hurricane Ophelia which brought down all our apples and a crows nest.  Then it rained like the clappers for about 24 hours and now we’re getting ready for Storm Brian which is predicted to bring more wind and rain tomorrow.

I tried to get some better pictures of Paul, but failed miserably.  However, in the one picture I have with him in, you can also see a bell-shaped rusty old iron object.  That is an old “copper”.  These were what housewives and washer women used to boil up their laundry in the old days.  We found it behind the shed when we moved in.  It’s now upturned and used as a “feature” in the middle of the bed, and it covers up a big manhole where all the sewers of the neighbourhood come together.  It’s lovely to think that all the ordure of our side of Cardingmill Valley flows under our garden.

Funnily enough, while he was weeding Paul dug up a rusty old manhole-cover-lifter that some plumber must have dropped as well as an old kitchen knife.  We have lots of interesting stuff buried in the garden (apart from Granddad – just kidding).  The stream brings all sorts of things down – old ginger beer stoneware bottles from the old pop factory in the valley, bits of clay pipes, beer bottle stoppers from WWII, etc. etc. We also found the remains of an old concrete path the other day.  Further archaeological excavations are called for!

Two holidays

As the rain pours down on Church Stretton I browsed my photos from two recent trips to remind me that there can be good weather sometimes, somewhere!

In late September we went to France.  I was on a painting holiday and John was an accompanying partner with the express intention of doing some birding.  This was a fantastic week in the countryside near Albi.  Our lodgings had a wonderful view of Cordes-sur-Ciel which is named thus because it appears to float in the sky when there is valley fog about.  The company was great, the scenery fantastic and I learned a lot.  Here are a few photos.

A week after our return from France we headed off to North Somerset for a family holiday on the National Trust Holnicote Estate.  We rented Lower House, which is a large farmhouse in Bossington and over the week entertained a whole slew of family and friends who gathered to wish Joy an happy birthday (I won’t mention the number!)

Here are a bunch of pictures from over the week.  They’re not all beautiful, but they give you an idea of what we were all doing (right, you guessed it, we were mostly eating and drinking!).

2017-09-04 14.59.32

That’s better!

Taming the jungle!

Paul made a good start on the patio bed on Friday.  He’s built a tee-pee to hold the perennial sweet pea, dug up the bamboo shoots that were escaping from their beds and weeded out a lot of rubbish.  Here’s a general view of the bit that’s done.  I reckon he’ll need at least another visit to get the whole bed in shape, and it may take two!

We had a little fence around the bed to keep the weeds from tumbling all over the lawn.  Now we can take that down.  I don’t really like cutesy fences, first because they look naff, second because they trip you up and third because you can’t get close to the edge with the mower or the strimmer.

Rakings from the meadow along with windfall apples and our lovely blue lace-cap hydrangea which has been spectacular this year.

Meanwhile, John has been working on our mini-meadow.  That’s the patch you can see around the cairn of stones.  During the summer it was an impenetrable tangle of knapweed, daisies and other smaller plants, but now it has been cut down and raked up.  We leave the rakings on the meadow for a few days.  This is to allow them to dry and drop their seeds. Sometimes the badgers take  the dried vegetation for their bedding, so John leaves it in a pile for them.  This time they ignored it, but carried on digging up the lawn looking for worms in the damp earth.

You can see a lot of apples on the ground.  If they’re bruised or rotting we leave them for the animals.  The blackbirds seem to like it when they’re brown and mushy – I suppose they get a bit drunk!  The crows only want to eat the apples on the trees.  They keep stabbing them with their beaks, but ultimately the fruit fall off and then the crows move on to the next apple – wasteful devils!  The squirrels run up and down collecting apples.  I don’t know if they try to bury them – I hope not.  However, I do find half-chewed fruit all over the garden.  I just wish they’d finish one before they start on another!

There’s a lot of fruit about this year.  We’ve had amazing, huge juicy blackberries, the rose hips, haws and eldeberries are plentiful and there are plenty of berries on cotoneasters and viburnums.  Some say it means we’re in for a bad winter, but I think we’ve just had a good summer for fruit!


First Letter to Paul

The title of this post sounds like one of the biblical epistles, but it isn’t. This is the text of the letter I’m preparing for our new gardener, Paul.

Dear Paul,

The Patio looking Southeast October 2005

These pictures show you what the bamboo looked like when we moved in. It was so small and dainty in those days! Over the years we have expanded the bed, but the design has never been satisfactory and I’d love to get it sorted out.


Virginia Creeper and Bamboo – October 2005

This week we would like you to start work on that flower bed next to the patio.  This is our first experiment as we don’t know how much time you will have or how much can be done in a session.  We’ll have a much better idea after you’re done, so please forgive me if I’ve asked for too much!  If it needs to continue into future sessions, that’s fine.

I’m just going to list some of the thoughts we’ve had about work on the patio bed.

  1. It’s inevitable that some plants that we want to keep will be dug up.  If they can’t be put back right away, please pot them up so we can keep them till we have a space for them. There are plastic pots in the shed and there’s reasonably good compost in the left-hand dalek compost bin near the shed.
  2. Some plants are very spindly or sick.  If you don’t think they are in the right place, feel free to dig them up.  They can be composted or moved depending on whether you think they will survive if they are used elsewhere.
  3. There are the remains of the following perennials which aren’t doing all that well but which might recover if you feel it’s worth it: spiderwort (tradescantia), kaffir lily (schystostylis), osteospermum, michaelmas daisy, sedum, stipa gigantea (getting smaller and more spindly each year), acanthus.  Please look out for them when weeding and see if there’s anything that can be done to make them into a decent display.
  4. Some plants like the phlox, astrantia and the ornamental grasses are doing very well and probably need to be divided and spread about in the bed.  Feel free to do so.
  5. You can remove as much of the following as possible: nettle, dock, sorrel, lawn grass, dead ornamental grasses, purple toadflax, ground elder, centaurea/knapweed, creeping/meadow buttercup, willowherb, nipplewort, dandelion, ragwort and relatives.
  6. Spent foxgloves can go – I’m not sure about first year foxgloves which will bloom next year – I’d like to have a specific area for foxgloves and move them all into it, but I’m not sure where.
  7. Columbines can be cut back and deadheaded
  8. Ox-eye daisies have invaded the lawn edges of the bed – I think they ought to be removed, but am open to suggestion.
  9. Smaller, orange crocosmias can be pulled out if they are in the way.
  10. We want to keep the bamboo, as it provides a lot of shelter and food for the smaller birds.  However, we need to keep it contained, so we’d appreciate it if you could attack all shoots and roots that have escaped into the bed. Thinning and harvesting seems like a good idea too.  We will keep the harvested stems to stake up other plants or make little fences and tripods.
  11. There’s a perennial sweet pea that’s scrambling all over the place.  It should be near something it can climb through – can it be moved? Any suggestions?
  12. I’m happy to leave the following as ground cover where it occurs: speedwell, scarlet pimpernell, self heal, wild strawberry, saxifrage, ajuga. Later on, we’ll try to be kind to the ivy and periwinkle, but I don’t think there’s any in this bed.

Thanks …… Joan