As you may have already noticed, it’s been a little while since our last blog. There are a couple of very good reasons for this. One is, I’ve been incredibly busy! I’ll go in to that as the blog goes on. The other is, there has been something of a power shortage going on at the farm! Our power has been provided by a 6500 watt generator (as shown in the picture) up until the middle of November, when the said generator decided it had done enough powering, and was just going to make noises like it was making power, but not actually make any power! So, that left us in a bit of a pickle. Our friends lent us a 1500 watt generator to tide us over, but with an electric hot water heater that needs all 1500 watts to heat the hot water, we had to be very careful about what power we used, resulting in most things being switched off, powering up only our mobiles, broadband dongle, laptop for entertainment, and a rechargeable lamp! No fridge/freezer, no microwave, no hot water!! It’s been an interesting last few weeks…
I’ve included a picture of the generator as we’ve been in serious dispute with the manufacturer for the last few weeks. They voided our warranty, stating that powering a caravan was not domestic use! Go figure that one out!! That, combined with the fact that they were sexist in their attitude to me (I’m sorry, which one of us two does all the construction, fixing, plumbing and electrical work? Not a good idea to be sexist with any woman in this day and age, but seriously… with me?), obtained our generator by deception (the collection and redelivery costs doubled between collecting the generator from us and then offering to return it to us), and the fact that their on-line sales material is misleading to say the least (the say the generator is ‘Heavy Duty’, but what they don’t say in any of their sales materials is… they just mean the ‘frame’!), meant we had a battle on our hands! Two customer Service agents later, and a few emails copying in the CEO of the company, the matter has been satisfactorily resolved in our favour, but we had to cause such a stink about it. My advice… if you are looking to buy a generator, DO NOT deal with the company that we bought ours from!
Getting back to why it’s been a busy few months, September saw me mostly recovering from breast surgery, and certain deadlines were looming as my recovery came to an end and the month of October began. My first priority was to have the farm ready for the visit of Adrian’s mum and dad. They live in New Zealand, and every time they come to the UK it’s always the last time they are going to come. Something, however, always crops up and they come over doing a whistle-stop tour of all their friends and family over the course of about a month. All they had seen of the farm were photos, so we were excited to have them come and visit so that we could share our vision of the future with them. Mum has some mobility issues, and the stack of breeze blocks we had as our steps in to the caravan were not going to cut the mustard. To be fair, we were also struggling to keep the mess down in the caravan due to stepping in straight off a muddy field, so it was decided that I would crack on and build some decking and steps with a hand rail now, rather than later as we had previously discussed.
So, with my clamps at the ready, I had the best fun playing with some wood! I’ve never made decking before, let alone raised decking requiring steps, but that didn’t phase me much. I believe wholeheartedly that if you believe you can, you can, and if you believe you can’t, then you are probably right! I believed I could do it, so I just got on and did it. The hardest part of the whole process was knocking met-posts with two foot tails in to ground that holds random chunks of granite beneath it. On 5 of the 6 met-posts I got away with it, for the bad one I compromised, allowing the ground a small victory, and simply adjusted the length of the post to fit the frame. I guess the moral of the story is… sometimes it’s okay to lose!! With the frame built it was time to get the decking on to it and make some steps. Mum had stated that her preference was for the handrail to be on the right hand side, and like the good girl I am, that is exactly where I put it!
I’m pleased to report that the decking and steps were a complete success. For the three days that mum and dad were with us, mum had not one single issue getting in and out of the caravan. Dad even commented on how impressed he was that I built them myself. That filled my heart with joy! I’m immensely proud of all that I have achieved since we’ve embarked on this little project of ours, but to be honest, I am probably most proud of the decking and steps! They have made a real difference to us too! Whilst mum and dad were with us we used our 4-wheel drive to give them a guided tour of our land, and with both of us taking a turn in the driving seat, they got every detail of our plan and could see where things were going. It also showed them the scale of the project quite clearly. 13 acres doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you get to drive around it, it shows that actually, 13 acres is plenty to be going on with.
Once the royal visit was behind us, another deadline was fast approaching, and it required my full and immediate attention as soon as I had recovered from the cold that hit me hard on the last day that mum and dad were with us.
When we bought the land that is now Axe Head Farm it had two poles on it belonging to Western Power, providing electricity to our neighbours. A friend advised us that we could contact Western Power to negotiate over the poles and there being on our land. The poles had a way-leave on them, but that wasn’t a contract with us as the new owners. After checking this with someone from Adrian’s past who works in the legal profession, we were told not to waste our time. Given who that person was, was just the incentive we needed to crack on and see how we got on. After some stealthy negotiating and a long drawn out legal process, we were able to successfully negotiate a new deal with Western Power, and part of this new deal was to give us a very good price on getting two new poles and a shiny new transformer to provide power to the farm.
My job was to dig a trench 70 metres long and a metre deep, lay some ducting in the trench with a draw rope through it for the cable, erect a board to mount the meter box on and be ready for the power company to come and do the rest!
It’s fair to say, I love playing with heavy machinery! What I love significantly less, is when the weather turns and the mini-digger ends up making a right old mess every time you manoeuvre it in to your next position for digging. I had just two days of good digging weather, but as you can see from the photo, despite Mother Natures best efforts to ruin my work, I persevered and got the job done. Getting the draw rope through the duct is another story, and proved far more difficult than I was led to believe. I got there in the end though, because where there’s a will there’s a way!! Oh, okay, so in reality, I hired a cobra reel sufficiently long enough. The carrier bag tied to the rope and sucked through the duct by a vacuum cleaner was a massive fail. There isn’t a vacuum cleaner in the world with sufficient suck to pull a rope and carrier bag 70 metres it would seem.
By the end of the weeks hire on the mini-digger the 70 metre trench was completed. Thanks to the help of the Western Power team of Adrian, Eddie and Billy, the duct was laid out and the trench was partially back filled to keep the ducting down. Once the draw rope was through another group of Western Power lads came and pulled the cable through the duct, and I was able to complete the back filling of the trench. My part in the process was over. All I had to do now was wait for the day that the transformer was to be attached to the pole and the power supply edged ever closer to the caravan.
It was with great excitement that we welcomed on to our land the team of lads that would come and fit our transformer, bringing not only electricity to our farm, but realisation to our dreams. Since making the initial enquiry with Western Power to negotiate over their poles on our land in February 2015, we would finally see the results of those negotiations actualised in late November 2015. What we could never have anticipated was the free upgrade on our transformer. When we started the process off we had asked for a 15kva transformer to be fitted. By the time they got the legal process completed, they had stopped installing that size transformer, so our shiny new one was a whopping 25kva. Result! That size transformer would see us able to move the farm forward on so many levels. To us it was like it was Christmas Day. Although, it didn’t mean we had power yet, we just had power getting closer.
As an ex-truck driver, one of the most exciting things that happened on that day, besides the shiny transformer being fitted, was the arrival of a Unimog to Axe Head Farm. I was as giddy as a kipper as I saw it drive through our gates! Admittedly, there was lots of other cool vehicles come on to the farm, but a Unimog… that’s a real result! All the equipment that was on site that day, combined with the bad weather, meant that the land got pretty churned up. This is where Western Power went above and beyond. They left their JCB parked up overnight and the next day, the driver was back on site to tidy up the mess. He also removed the stumps from the old poles, and as we were keeping the old poles to play with and they are quite heavy, he moved them for us to a place where we would be able to work with them, without them just being dumped where they fell. It was well above our expectations, and most certainly given the mess, very much appreciated. Thank you guys of Western Power. Great job!
Our chosen utility company made an error of communication in early November, and that error was making it look very unlikely that we would have any power this side of the New Year. With our generator out of action, December was looking like quite a bleak month for us. As with our generator issue though, successful negotiations came about via our persistence, and we are now all powered up! It’s taking some getting used to. We call it our ‘silent’ power. After 8 months without constant electricity, and the hum of an engine ever present when we did have it, we now delight in flicking on a light switch. We realise that where we felt we were coping well with our power issues over the past 8 months, actually, we were merely putting a brave face on it.
On a personal level, and as the person that has been here 24/7 over the last 8 months, I wouldn’t change our experience and circumstances at all. It makes you realise how we take things for granted when we have them all of the time. Living without mains electricity, without mains water, and without constantly available hot water, has helped me to see the benefits that I had grown so accustomed to. I hope that the memory will stay with me for a very long time. That I will continue to appreciate it every time I have the luxury of flicking a switch for light, have constant hot water and can shower on demand, rather than by planning. No, however hard the last 8 months have been, I wouldn’t change them and am grateful for the experience. Easily said now it’s over!!