The Pig Yard

March - According to the forecasters this has been the driest Winter since 1976/77 and the pessimists are already predicting drought and hosepipe bans in the Summer, we shall wait and see but nature has a way of balancing these things out so it maybe a wet year ahead. We've had the usual busy month and it has zipped by. With the clocks going forward towards the end of the month it makes a great deal of difference to the feeling that spring has arrived. Our commitment to Spring is that we've turned the central heating off but we're still having log fires most evenings.

Our Orange Wednesday trips to the cinema sometime lead us into dubious choices and this was one of them. Although Million Dollar Baby received rave reviews when it first came out in Britain it was only at the local cinema for a short time. It wasn't until it won the Oscar that it returned and then only briefly so we took the opportunity. We were so glad that we did because it was a well developed film, good characters with a heart rending conclusion. If we'd known before hand we would've taken at least one full box of hankies.

Wood cutting - Steve cleared the main wood barn of the Poplar tree we cut up in Autumn 2003 and this is now split and stacked ready for burning next Winter. There is still a pile of wood outside the corner barn that needs cutting and stacking inside the wood barn so it dries over the Summer.

We seem to have got through a lot more wood this year than we have in the past and it maybe because we've managed to keep the log burner in overnight, often for several days especially now that Jane is working part time and is home a lot more.

It's always difficult to judge how much wood is enough and there is a temptation to take whatever one finds without being too selective but the Poplar has proven to be very poor in terms of the heat given off. It is very easy to split but becomes very light once it has been seasoned and burns very quickly.

We managed to fit in out first flight this year. The visibility wasn't very good and although it wasn't very fast at one thousand feet, no more than 9 knots, it maintained a steady five knots on the surface. Steve and Nick were both a bit rusty because their last flight was back in September but it was a good one to practice on. Nick did the final landing just outside Bugbrooke.

Jane & Sue were crewing. They obtained permission and were onto the field within fifteen minutes.

We shared the sky with Colin who flew the new NAPS balloon. Colin is getting some hours in because he is preparing to undertake the crossing of the English Channel. For someone who doesn't swim this is a brave undertaking. He's borrowed our four gas tanks so that he will be able to fly for at least four hours and make it across the shortest distance - about 22 miles. Without the tanks we cannot fly for the rest of April because it takes too long to transfer them from one basket to the other.

Flying 22 miles is not a real problem but the way the French coastline runs there is only a small margin of error so if the wind changes direction and you miss landfall you fly parallel with the coast for many miles before running out of gas and ditching into the sea with the loss of all equipment. At this time of year sea temperatures are so low that survival can be measured in minutes rather than hours. This is not an undertaking for the feint hearted.

Shall We Dance was always going to be a lightweight film but Jane's enthusiasm for Richard Gere is unquestionable and so we really had to go. Despite Steve's reservations he enjoyed it as well with oodles of feel good factor.

We were not too sure that we wanted to see Jack Dee but we booked the seats anyway and we are so glad we did. We had a really great night out, he did two one hour sessions with plenty of topical material some of it being directed at local events with Bellinge getting several mentions as the worst area of Northampton, with comments about excess furniture dumped in front gardens etc. He also touched on balloon flights in Africa (picnic hamper for the lions) and the frustration experienced at the Pharmacy when 20 minutes is taken to dispense 14 pills!! (Both subjects close to home).

His dead pan humour is excellent and we ached from laughing by the time we left the theatre. If only Northampton drivers could sort themselves out when leaving a multi-storey car park. There weren't that many cars but they seemed to take an age just getting out onto the empty roads around.

It took us several months to get these cobbles from the supplier and they remained stacked in the yard over winter so it was with some delight we managed to get them laid this month. We always knew we hadn't bought enough but we didn't realise how far short we were going to be. Steve had estimated this should be enough to go along the length of the path without filing in the curved part - how wrong he was. We've ordered another 9 square metres from another supplier and we expect this to be delivered in the first week of April.

We're very pleased with the effect and the professional effect we've achieved with a little hard work. The hardest part is preparing the underlying surface before covering with a layer of sand. Techniques were learnt from our neighbour who had professionals in to remodel/pave her back garden.

Before Dave & Lucie left for Australia they left us to care for their Orange tree called Pip. Lucie grew this from an Orange pip many years ago and she nurtured it with lavish care so that it survived through the Winter months. When it was smaller it was taken into the house to keep warm. As you can see it is now far too big to be taken into the house, in fact it's all Steve can do to drag it around on the Patio. We placed into a cosy corner out of the wind and then wrapped it up in plastic popper film to protect it from the worst of the frosts. It seems to have decided to stay with us - what a responsibility.

Now that Spring is here we have unwrapped it and dragged it back to it's warmer weather position.

The first lawn cut of the season was not without incident. No sooner had the motor mower fired into life the drive belt snapped so that Steve had to push it to and fro - this is one way for him to keep fit. We were amazed to find that it was going to take up to two weeks for Garden Machinery to get a new one - Steve was under the impression that V belts only come in a certain number of sizes and it would be easy to find one.

No matter - the garden looks fine in the Spring light and with a few weekends of work it should be back to its usual beauty.

Steve took a week off work to decorate the family bathroom upstairs. There are three rooms which we haven't decorated since moving into the house in January 1997 and this was one of them. We don't often use the bathroom, only when we have a house full of guests, an infrequent event and so we hadn't bothered ourselves too much about rushing to decorate. Steve got it into his head that he wanted to achieve something and tackled the bathroom with enthusiasm. Jane made an excellent choice of colours and the whole thing has turned out really well.

At the end of the month we went for a walk in Salcey forest. It is run by the Forestry Commission and we couldn't resist taking some photographs of the cafe, tables and signage for our friend Ian who we used to walk round Salcey twenty years ago when it was far less developed, in fact it had nothing there but trees, barely a car park. The woodland walks are now gravel covered, well signed and indications of what maybe seen at different points around the walk.

We had a short but pleasant walk and then sat and watched the world go by at the cafe with a hot mug of tea and coffee (Steve tea, Jane coffee). Steve mused that it will be like this when he retires and seemed happy with the idea.