A letter to Paul

Dear Paul,

While we’re all isolated I thought I’d just write you a (public!) note and tell you that we miss you. Since others might be reading this, let me just say that we miss all our other friends, too, but are grateful to those who have taken the time and trouble to phone or email. We’re well and enjoying the peace and quiet; John in particular is quite happy to be tucked away in our little dell.

You’ll be pleased that we’ve taken note of your advice to mow more often and John has been out with the mower. Needless to say, after 2 years with no use it took a while to start, but start it did and he got it done!

Today, I decided to take a walk round the garden, as you and I do on Thursday mornings. I thought you might like to see how it’s progressing.

The Hellebores are now in full bloom. They look lovely. Click on any photo to see it in full screen

Here are some more from the woodland path

Mahonia in full bloom. Today I started in all around this to cut back brambles as thick as my wrist!

The marsh marigolds are spreading from the bog to the edge of the pond and this year the wood pigeons haven’t been ravaging the leaves!

Down the back of the house there are violets in the gravel, in a couple of places in the garden, the skimmia shrubs give off a lovely perfume while their tiny white flowers set off the red berries from last year and every now and then you can spot a large vinca flower peeping through the jungle!

The badgers are working hard next to the compost heap – the pile of soil dug out of the sett continues to grow apace. And it’s not just soil, is it? Look at the size of some of the rocks they’re shifting!

Talking about compost – I’ve started collecting some of the more noxious weeds in this dustbin. I’ll fill it with water and we can make our own fertilizer.

Since I took the pictures I’ve started a new scheme. Rather than work bed by bed, which is difficult because I keep seeing all the beds that haven’t been touched, I’m picking on one species of “weed” and trying to get it all up from all the beds. Obviously, I won’t be able to do that with the ground elder since it’s ubiquitous, but over the last couple of days I’ve managed to collect almost a dustbin full of green alkanet. I know I haven’t eradicated it, but it’s made all the beds look better for the moment.

My next purge species is brambles. Again, it’s impossible to get it all, but clearing it off the paths and out of the shrubs and flower beds makes for easier access and allows us to move around the garden more easily.

Moving on to our mini meadow there are lots of flowers in bloom or about to bloom. Clumps of daffodils, white snakes-head fritillaries and primroses are leading the way. The cowslips will be out next week and the common spotted orchids are starting to push up leaves.

As you can see, John’s heather bed is looking good. In the background is the fabulous honesty plant that grew into a giant after the great sewage flood. The seed pods are now falling apart, but underneath the old plant are millions of new seedlings. You didn’t need to put any of the seeds into pots for me, we’re going to have enough for the whole garden and then some!

The bergenias have been a picture through most of the winter and early spring, but the blossom is starting to fade now. But look how happy these little daffs are by the front door! And look closer at the window where you can see my Scrappies mannequin all dressed up and ready to go out!

So Paul, here come some success stories. The new bed in the back garden is looking lovely with daffs and hyacinths. There’s lots of other stuff coming on well, too. Although I don’t have a picture, the “red bush” that you moved (whose name I can never remember) is developing buds so I think it has survived the winter and Pam’s old Pieris is not only covered in white flowers, but also producing new red leaves.

And finally, I’ve cut back the flowers on the magnificent grass (which you can just see behind the artichokes) and put them in a chimney pot so we can continue to enjoy them for the next few weeks.

I guess that’s all for now. I hope you and yours are healthy and well and I look forward to seeing you again when the emergency is over.

cheers ….. Joan.

… more about the big trip

Boxing Day was a free day – no organised trips and no supplied meals except breakfast. Along with most of the group we took the funicular railway (stunningly designed by Zaha Hadid) up to Hungerburg and the Nordkette mountain range, but we stopped short of taking the cable car onwards and upwards. There were crowds of skiers going up into the clear blue skies and it looked like quite a squeeze! Instead we took a path that led upwards through some woods and spent a little quiet time on our own watching the local birds and squirrels (which are the same species as the UK Red Squirrel, but with much darker fur).

In the late afternoon we found a restaurant and had an enormous meal of pork schnitzel and apple strudle, before taking another wander through the night-time quiet of Innsbruck.

On the following day (27th December) we took the train from Innsbruck to Jenbach and then the narrow gauge Zillertahlbahn to the resort of Mayerhofen. There we wandered through the town, watching the skiers negotiating the pavements in their ski boots, browsing the shops (a little), admiring the chalets and finally we were treated to an amazing rainbow coloured sun halo when it went behind one of the mountains.

The next day we were up early to catch the train to Verona. We then boarded a bus for a guided bus tour followed by a guided walking tour. I think I’d like to go back to Verona, but if I do I won’t be doing the obligatory walk into the crowded courtyard to gape at Juliet’s Balcony and admire the lovesick graffiti on the walls!

… The Big Trip Part II

Our hotel in Cologne

On December 22nd we started our Great Rail Journey from St Pancras station, taking Eurostar to Brussels and then continuing on to Cologne. We were too late and it was too dark to see the town, but we were able to spot the great Cathedral from our room. Next morning (December 23rd) we were up quite early and continued on our journey to Innsbruck.

On Christmas Eve we were taken on a guided walking tour of the old part of Innsbruck. In spite of the rain, it was good to get our bearings and learn something of the history of the town. Below, are some photos taken on the tour or soon after. The rain slowly petered out and we were able to enjoy some of our walk in sunshine.

Christmas Day dawned bright and sunny. Not that we saw the dawn. The night before we were treated to a multi-course Christmas Eve dinner! Once we’d dealt with our hang-overs we took the Stubaitalbahn tram up to Fulpmes where we walked around this lovely Tyrolean village and indulged in large mugs of Glühwein. The next set of photos are from Christmas Day.

This time last week …..

This time last week we were just setting out for the final treat of our big holiday. January 4th was our 50th wedding anniversary and we were planning to spend it at Saddler’s Well Theatre enjoying Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

Wow – it was wonderful!!!!! What a way to end a holiday. John said it was the best ballet he’d ever seen and I agreed. It was passionate, musical, thought provoking, visually stunning and beautifully performed.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves ….

We started our trip on December 16th, taking the train to London for a few days. The 17th was my birthday so we took the tube out to Edgware to pay respects at Mum’s grave before taking the 113 bus all the way back into central London. Our American friends need to know that riding buses is free for UK pensioners. It took a long time to make the journey, but it was fun to ride on the top deck of the double decker and pass my old school, Swiss Cottage, Lord’s Cricket Ground, Regent’s Park and Sherlock Holmes’ place in Baker street<grin>.

Regent’s Street Lights

As dusk fell on central London we found ourselves walking along Oxford Street to Oxford Circus and then down Regent’s Street to Piccadilly Circus, taking side trips into Carnaby Street and dining in an old Victorian Pie Pub. The Christmas lights were fun, the dinner was delicious and our playful visit to Hamleys famous toy shop topped off a busy but exciting day.

Carnaby Street

The rest of the week continued with museum visits, exhibitions, galleries and lots of food and wine. Here are a few pictures I took in the Burlington Arcade after a visit to the Royal Academy.

Then, on the 22nd we set off on Eurostar for the continental part of our holiday. But that’s a story that will have to wait for another day!

Special Test of New Editor

WordPress has given us a new way of doing posts and pages. I lost the last attempt to post here, so I’m trying again with this test.

Autumn Update

Our shed has gone!  Not the new one, of course, it’s the old one that was rotting gently at the bottom of the garden.  Paul took it down for us leaving this huge concrete pad where the new compost bins are now being built.

We decided to use recycled plastic “wood” to make the new bins.  It’s strong, tough, won’t rot in that damp, dark environment and will definitely see us out!

Below, I’ve put up a gallery of photos of the build – it’s not quite finished – and added a few of the colourful autumn sights of the garden.  Today I noticed that the leaves are just about gone from the witch hazel but that’s good because it means we won’t have long to wait for the sweet yellow flowers.  Winter is on its way – sigh!


Sewage – the aftermath

John pointed out that my last post still has sewage pouring from the drains.  I need to let you know that after two weeks they finally got it sorted out – draining the sewers along Shrewsbury Road and hence allowing the Longhills Road muck to drain away.

The depth of solids in front of the house was about 3 to 6 inches.  They did cart a lot of it away, but there was still a lot left under the plants so we just put up with it for a month or so as it disintegrated and leached into the soil.  None of us touched the contaminated beds for several weeks, just in case of infection. Needless to say, that allowed the tomato plants (grown from seed which has passed through humans) to proliferate, and we had a forest of them.

All that is over now, but there’s a legacy from all that fertilizer: Sedums as big as your head, the greenest vegetation you’ve ever seen and a very large mystery plant which we are waiting to identify (it might be Okra, but I really don’t know).

Apart from the above, we have Virginia creeper obscuring the windows on my upstairs office, Jasmine climbing the walls and trying to get in the windows in John’s ground floor study and the healthiest looking climbing Hydrangea this side of the black stump!

In other garden news, we are now the proud owners of a new potting shed.  I’m hoping it will be dryer than the old one, so the tools won’t get so mouldy!  Also, the big window should allow us to get a head start on sowing seed for the spring.

And there are two rather nice success stories to report – both due to Paul’s good work.  First, there’s the hibiscus.  This was in the garden when we first arrived 13 years ago.  However it was in the shade and not doing well.  We moved it, but it did even worse in the new position as trees and shrubs grew up around it.  This year, we had to move it to make room for the new shed.  Paul potted it up in new compost and we put it on the drive where it could get some sun for at least a few hours each day.  We did have to water it a lot as we had a very warm dry summer, but it has put on lots of foliage and last week it finally flowered.  And the flowers are very pretty indeed!

Secondly, one of our shrubs has been very loath to flower or produce berries, but Paul pruned it properly this year and it, too has become really productive.  Many thanks to Paul for all his willing and hard work.  John, in particular loves the purple berries and they stay on the bush long after the leaves have dropped.

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.