The Study

My old desktop

My old desktop

Flushed with success at releathering an old desk in London, I set my sights on a bigger project. Not just a desk but my whole study, the throbbing nerve centre of fotoLibra in North West Wales. My desk had been looking a little tired for years and I hadn’t really noticed; much like the growth of extremism, it just crept up on me. Remove the pile of papers and this is what I saw.

But after I’d done the releathering in London, I saw my Harlech study with new eyes. The desk has admittedly seen better days, but then so had the whole room. Frankly, it had become a tip, and we hadn’t even noticed. So a decision was made — redecorate!

The walls are now in Dulux Parchment, the skirting boards are in Little Green’s latest hue Urban and the rest of the woodwork is in Wilko’s Moonlight White Satin. Von has cleverly recycled curtains from Stortford and they fit perfectly.

And look at wot I done to my desk! This is a significant feat of releathering, and it doesn’t come cheap. It’s a nice piece of schmutter, as we say in Harlech. I hope and pray our summer pobl respect it and treat it well, and not use it as a cutting board for infantile projects. If they do, it’ll cost them £300 to replace it.

The releathered desk in the redecorated study

The releathered desk in the redecorated study

Fuse Boxes

It sort of came to a head last year when a visitor to Murmur-y-Don rang to say the upstairs lights had fused.

“No problem!” I chortled merrily. “The fuse box is under the stairs and all you have to do is locate the holder for the broken fuse, pull it out of its bakelite range of sockets, find a card with 5 amp fuse wire on it, cut off a length — 2 or 3 inches will do — unscrew the screws holding the broken fuse in place, thread the replacement fuse wire through the ceramic tube and … hello? Hello?”

Our splendid fusebox

Our splendid fusebox

“He hung up on me,” I reported to Yvonne. “I’m not bloody surprised,” she replied with asperity. “Your great-grandmother contracted Joseph Swan to install that fuse box back in 1897. Isn’t it time you trundled into the twenty-first century?”

Did you know you don’t have to do the thing with the wire-cutting any more? The EU has introduced us to an object called a Consumer Unit, a damn fool name for a fuse box but a fuse box nonetheless. This is a work of genius. We’ve bought two of them. As I write we haven’t got any power in the green room, the yellow room, the landing, the hall or the study, but that’s not the point. Look at these wonderful shiny white objects, with lots and lots of switches. Every man’s dream. When it’s all connected up, as Gary the Sparks has been promising for three days, we will have electric power in all the places we had electric power before.

The garish upgrade

The garish upgrade

And when a fuse blows, all we will have to do is flip a switch, I think.

We’ve kept the Bakelite breakers because once Brexit is implemented it’s my belief we will be compelled to reinstate them. And we’ve got the Whitworth screws to mount them with, instead of those filthy foreign Metric ones. Floreat Britannia and all that. Flipping a switch to change a fuse will be left to those effete, jejune, epicene European devils, not man enough to wrestle in the dark with pointy bits of wire. Hmmph!

Between Two Fires

Between Two Fires by Francis Millet

Between Two Fires by Francis Millet

As a child I used to lie in bed staring at this reproduction picture on my bedroom wall, the Green Room in Murmur-y-Don. I was gripped by it, and made up endless stories about the characters. When the bedroom was redecorated the picture was never rehung, and gradually I forgot about it.

I rediscovered it at the back of a cupboard several years ago, and rehung it in the Blue Room, which is now my bedroom.

It retains its hold on me. What is the story? I still haven’t found out; it’s one of those fascinating, enduring mysteries, like where the heck Port Vale Football Club is.

But I have unearthed a little more about the artist and the origins of the painting. ‘Between Two Fires’ was painted circa 1892 by Francis Millet, an American artist living in Broadway, Worcestershire. He drowned on the Titanic twenty years later. It’s owned by the Tate, but being wholly unfashionable it is probably locked away in some dungeon. It’s certainly not on public view.

The point of this blog is not to criticise the Tate (again) but to praise them. In their online catalogue they reproduce the painting, supply a little background and then — here’s where credit’s due — they provide some of the best keywording I have come across. fotoLibra contributors take note. Look at this:

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 10.47.32

I’d like to know who did this excellent work so I can credit them properly. Well done.

Drystone Walls and Trees

One of our pine trees has shifted in a high wind and its root movement has toppled fifteen feet of a five foot high drystone wall. It’s an expensive business living with trees and drystone walls.

Key the strimmer said he had a mate who could help out. Mates are always cheaper than professionals, so I asked him to pop over.

Emrys arrived very promptly with his sidekick. Obviously the tree had to come down before the wall was repaired. There was a lot of sucking of teeth and shaking of heads. “Big tree, mind,” said Emrys. His mate nodded thoughtfully.

“Was it Gwyn?” he asked. I nodded. “Odd name for an Englishman,” he mused. “I’m Welsh,” I retorted, repressing a flush of irritation.

“OK,” he said. “£800.”

“When can you do it?” I asked. They exchanged glances. “We could do it tomorrow. Shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”

I’d found the Eddie Grundy of Harlech. “Right,” I said, “the maximum I’m prepared to pay is £400. There’s no way you can meet that price.”

Immediately he reduced his price to £600. This was getting insulting. I walked away, after thanking him for coming over.

The following day I had the tree taken down by a professional tree surgeon for £120. He logged it and took away the trimmings, leaving me with a lovely stack of branches to cut up for firewood.

Farmer Barry came round to look at the drystone wall. “£200?” he hazarded, knowing full well it was an outrageous rip-off. I shrugged and assented. He’d done a great professional job on another of my drystone walls a couple of years ago.

So that was that. Emrys’s £800 worth of work over two days was reduced to £320 over four or five hours. I went to get my new chainsaw. It started very quickly, idled at 5000 rpm for a minute then seized solid. I couldn’t turn it over.

I took it to Major Owen in Penrhyndeudraeth, and they read its obituary over the phone to me this morning. The replacement parts would cost more than a new chainsaw. “But it’s brand n …” I began, then I remembered that my ‘new’ chainsaw had come with the insurance for the flood which triggered fotoLibra — fifteen years ago.

So. Tree down, £120. Wall rebuilt, £200. New Stihl MS-180 chainsaw, £235.

It’s still cheaper than Emrys. And I get a new chainsaw thrown in.

A Remarkable Coincidence

I (Gwyn) was having a huge office clearout in April 2016. As I emptied a fat file into the WPB, an Indenture of Sale fluttered out. It was the record of the purchase of Murmur-y-Don by my hên nain Jane Williams in 1923. As we knew, she bought it from a Mr. T. Wilks. We discovered his name was Thomas; we discovered he lived in Ewshot House, Ewshot, Hampshire, 250 miles away from Harlech.

So I rang my niece Emily.

Because five years ago, unaware of any connection, she bought Ewshot House, Ewshot, Hampshire.

I remain, literally, gobsmacked.

And there’s more: Emily immediately launched an investigation into Mr Wilks, and discovered he was a leather manufacturer. He had two sons, Spencer and Maurice, who played here in the garden and on Harlech beach. They grew up and went into the motor industry. Spencer became Managing Director, then Chairman, of Rover Cars, and a few years later so did Maurice.

In 1946, on Maurice’s farm on Anglesey, the brothers invented the Land Rover.

Things we’ve learned as a result:

  1. The house was named Murmur-y-Don before hên nain Jane bought it.
  2. It wasn’t the Standard Motor Company, it was the Rover company.
  3. Mr Moore wasn’t the Chairman of the motor manufacturer, it was the sons of Mr Wilks.
  4. Murmur-y-Don was a formative experience in the lives of two young boys who went on to create one of the most iconic marques in motoring history.

A Truly Remarkable Coincidence

This is one of the most remarkable coincidences I have ever come across. Certainly the most extraordinary coincidence involving me.

Cleaning out my office this morning, I found a copy of an indenture of sale dated 1923.

It related to Murmur-y-Don, which was bought by my hên nain (great-grandmother) Jane Williams in 1923, from a Thomas Wilks of Ewshot House, Ewshot, near Farnham, 250 miles away.

Ewshot House, Ewshot, near Farnham was bought a few years ago by my niece Emily and her husband Alex Vaughan. We spent last Christmas there!

I am gobsmacked.

WiFi Cameras

Homeowners are constantly bombarded with ads for ‘wifi cameras’, clever little CCTV-type devices which you can plant around your home and which will broadcast live footage to wherever you choose, so you can relax in comfort 250 miles away while watching burglars trash your house.

There are other, sunnier aspects of the devices. You can watch the weather, and in the case of Murmur-y-Don we could check that the sea’s still there when we’re away.

They’re now so small and cheap that you could fit one unobtrusively in every room.

And here comes the big problem, the elephant in each corner.

If we were to do this, what’s to stop us spying on our guests, or — even more unsavoury — playing at Peeping Tom?

Obviously we’re not going to be doing that. But now I’ve put the thought in your head, what if we were to announce in large letters on Murmur-y-Don’s Airbnb site that we have made a deliberate decision NOT to install wifi cameras in the house, so guests will have complete privacy?

Wouldn’t every other rentable villa, apartment, flat, house, palace, cottage, castle &c have to follow suit and make the same declaration?

Otherwise the assumption would have to be that those owners who don’t make the declaration HAVE installed cameras and they ARE looking at you.

Should I put the cat among the pigeons?

Round window work

We’ve had a huge amount of restoration work done on the round window: curved glass panes replaced, rotten wood replaced, coat after coat of fresh paint applied and it looks fabulous, I think you’ll agree. But the painter forgot that we use Lizard and white paint, not just white! It will look even better once it’s completed.

 

Round Window looking South

Round Window looking West

Round Window looking North

Sorry!

Being British, apologies take up a large part of my life. If somebody bumps into me, or treads on my foot, I apologise. We’re off for a long weekend in Budapest in a couple of days, and the first word I looked up in the Hungarian phrase books was ‘Sorry’ (Bocsánat, in case you’re wondering).

But I do need to apologise to Lilly, who was in Murmur-y-Don over the New Year, and Dirk, who will be coming to stay for a week at the end of the month. Lilly arrived on Boxing Day in howling gales to find no power, no light, no heat. I managed to restore power, heat and partial lighting over the phone but replacing the kitchen and Empire State room fuses was a step too far.  So no lights in the east wing of the house. My Airbnb reputation will plummet.

The indefatigable Gary managed to get partial power restored on the Wednesday, but everything blew again half an hour later. He came to the house last Wednesday and spent four hours crawling through the roof spaces. By the time he’d finished we had lights throughout the house, except for the kitchen lobby and the outside light.

That’s why I have to apologise to Dirk in advance. To fix the lobby and porch light Gary reckons he needs the ceiling to come down. No time to do that before Dirk arrives. So sorry, Dirk — I hope it won’t detract too much from your enjoyment.

Antony Worrall Thompson

I bought this Antony Worrall Thompson-branded barbecue last year, struck by its shiny stainless-steel type legs. Here it is after a year on our sheltered verandah:

A rusty heap of junk courtesy of Antony Worrall Thompson

Antony Worrall Thompson branded BBQ

Should I buy any other product branded with this man’s name?

This reminds me of Krusty The Klown’s all-purpose endorsement: I Heartily Endorse This Product Or Service.