500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

A butterfly flaps it’s wings in South Bohemia


I saw a fascinating video recently about how to fix the wings of a butterfly – I think  made by someone who works in a sanctuary – rather than someone who lives with a cat who likes to hunt them. Today Pavouk turned up with another flightless specimen and I knew what to do… rather than rescue it to allow it to spend the rest of it’s hours earthbound.  As there was less than 40% of the wing missing – I held the two wings together and snipped them so that they were even – and he flew off. I wonder what distant storm will be caused.

Panning for gold


Rosie and I went gathering mushrooms the other day. It had been raining heavily so excellent weather for it – we found a great patch of Chanterelle, a couple of Porchini – including the Luridus variety, as well as Chamomile and some wild raspberries.  While we were out I got us (a little bit) lost and we had to hop across a stream to get back on course. It was there we made our discovery…

Gold! Well… Clay! Which you must admit, is just as exciting (and far more malleable at ambient temperatures).  When we got home I referred to the self sufficiency book Dad bought me and it provided detailed instructions on how to test the clay for PH balance, treat and process it… that book is so good. If we ever loose the Internet & civilisation, we’ll be okay.  So, we ignored the instructions and got straight on with making stuff. Rosie did a ceramics course recently – so she’s the expert!

The next day I got out my enamel kiln. The kiln is not large – in fact you could just about fit an apple in it. It was given to me by a friend of my mum’s – when I was a teenager – because she knew that I liked all sorts of crafts – and I’ve kept it ever since.  Apart from a little smoke it seemed to be working fine and the (dinky) pots were successfully fired. The clay turned from grey to fleshy pink – with lovely sparkly bits (which John says are puwer gowld!).

So far I’m a little stuck on what we can actually make from the clay – smaller than an apple, yet not tat. We’re fine for tat – we can make loads of it.  I could make ends for my home made knitting needles… bottle caps to keep wasps out of beer in the garden… John says that literally anything can sell in his gift shop in Bechyne – so the challenge has been set.

Water woes, shocks and explosions – high drama at the mill.


So at last, last month, we finally caught up with (what passes for) civilisation.  We had our new (second hand) Whirlpool washing machine and a shower attached to the boiler in the bathroom. It felt really great. For a glorious moment… then I got electrocuted by the tap on the shower – (luckily before I’d started running the water). The washing machine had blown up and taken out the boiler with it – leaving the taps and shower live.  At least it was me, rather than a visitor who got the shock.

The problem was that a plug in the bathroom (which was part of the old wiring) had been wired the wrong way – reminiscent of the copper wire that had been used to bypass the fuse system (which we discovered in the early days). Luckily nobody died either time – but it does leave the lingering impression that the house had been booby trapped.

So, yet again we are without hot water and a washing machine. When the weather is good we’re fine as we have the solar showers and bath outside. The repair cost for the boiler was greater than the cost of the boiler itself – so we’ve ordered a new boiler with three inputs – meaning that we can heat the tank from a back boiler on a stove, from a solar system input as well as a backup in the form of electricity.  That’ll be arriving next week, and the Whirlpool washing machine has been repaired – they phoned us to ask us what the maximum we were prepared to pay for the repair would be – then they charged us this amount. Our cheap second hand washing machine has stopped being.

Still… we hope to rejoin the 20th century again this week.

What do Minstrels and our floorboards have in common?


Wanting to stay as close as possible to nature – we decided to try Shellac as a varnish on the stripped floorboards. This is bought in the form of flakes and dissolved in a very strong alcohol – it would have been nice to use a local alcohol – and would have certainly smelled more pleasant, however it needs to evaporate completely – so Slivovice was not the thing to use. Shellac is a secretion from an Indian bug, which is then scraped off the trees and processed. It is the same bug which is used for the production of cochineal – and in fact, Shellac is used in food production – such as over the brightly coloured coatings on Skittles. Yum. As with anything in our immediate environment – including skin creams, the fact that it comes in an edible form gives me confidence that we’re not inadvertently poisoning ourselves by using chemicals which have not been tested a, in combination with other chemicals, and b, over the course of lifetimes rather than weeks to check of ill effects. Shellac has been used for hundreds of years in the form of French polish. It has a long history as well as uses in the food industry.

We have two litres of Shellac made up, I’m interested to know how far this will go – so far I’ve used it to treat the areas of floorboard which have woodworm damage – long dead woodworm which has attacked the wood from the sides, rather than the top – suggesting to me that the woodworm was in the wood when it was cut into planks.

The filler I made up with sawdust and shellac hasn’t been successful – perhaps because the sawdust wasn’t fine enough. I was hoping I could fill the woodworm holes with this mix, but it’s not quite right yet. It’s nice having the chance to experiment anyway.

Whitewashing in the truest sense


Most people are aware of the quantity of man-made chemicals we now carry in our bodies – with all sorts of nasties even being present in breast milk. Fire retardants are particularly vile, and, as with most modern day decisions, ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice’. Fire retardant on pillows: you are less likely to set fire to your head, and more likely to get cancer.

Whitewash is essentially a mix of calcium hydroxide, chalk and water. I can buy it ready made for 165kc for 15kg – so it’s much, much cheaper than paint. It appeals to me for the same reasons we’re experimenting with Shellac. Once I’ve got the basic repair and decoration finished I plan to experiment with pigments added to the whitewash – though I will certainly not be using pig’s blood as they did to produce ‘Suffolk Pink’ in the old days. I was thinking more along the lines of leaves and berries for a Dulux style hint of colour.

I’ve been painting with the whitewash for a few days now. If you get it on your skin it’s incredibly drying – it’s important to wash it off quickly or your hands will become dry and cracked (rescued only by the Body Shop’s Hemp hand cream).  I’ve been using a domestic whisk to mix the paint – which settles over time into a watery layer over the heavy, cream cheese consistency, lime. Once mixed together thoroughly whitewash should have the appearance of yoghurt.

A few days ago I used paint which hadn’t been mixed properly thinking that it might save me time on additional layers – it went on well, however when I came back to it today I found that it had cracked into small squares and was loose or peeling off the walls on about half of the places I’d painted. My only excuse was I was rather unwell with a horrible cold, but it was a bad job. Mike said it could have been the paint itself, but I know that I tried something different and it’s worked well in the other rooms. Lesson learned. I then had to sweep down the walls again, vacuum up the mess and start again. The brilliant white emulsion is faster and doesn’t rub off on other things (like a paint made of chalk does), but I’m far more concerned with our health and the health of the house – why add VOCs to your home if you don’t have to?

Global Agents for Change visit – accompanied by a huge storm.


The house feels verry verry quiet.  We had been gearing up for the visit of our 24 cyclists for some time… clearing out the courtyard for the hog roast, building the frame for the solar showers and laying down the hosepipe covered by tin guttering to heat the water, and clearing away as much clutter as possible.

Friday was a wonderfully hot day, but as the first of the cyclists arrived, so did the first signs of bad weather – a storm cloud made it’s way over from Tabor as they did.  As more people arrived, so the rain became heavier.

The last cyclists had not been able to find our road, and instead had stopped at a farm in another village which had the same house number as ours.  The perplexed farmer had no idea why two girls who spoke no Czech were pointing to their T-Shirts and expecting to put up tents in his garden.  Shortly after their arrival here, as we were serving the food, the light show started. A wonderful, wonderful lightening storm – if you weren’t trying to cater for 36.

As well as the Global Agents (Gala’s description), we also had Olivier and Arno – French couchsurfers, and Janni from Finland. Our workaway.inf0 guest Jessica, Shane, Nat and Keith from The English Centre, Tabor. And of course, Pig John (as he now wishes to be known).  After the barbecue we watched the storm from the porch.

It’s a pity…


In a rare show of workmanship in electrical goods imported to the Czech Republic, my portable stereo has worked well for 15 years – okay – so the casette player died some time ago, but that’s a dead format innit?  I bought it when I lived in Prague for a while in the mid nineties – and it withstood at least 11 house moves. I’d marked my favourite British radio station – Radio 4 – on the dial with nail varnish, but to be honest, hadn’t given the stereo a second thought after discovering how bad the music played on commercial stations could be here.

Not a second thought until… I saw it in the car of our teenage neighbour. He has been hanging around at the house a lot recently, and we even gave him the job of cutting the grass because he seemed lonely… living with his grandmother in a tiny hamlet with not a single sign of friends or a girlfriend. He’d sat on the porch and watched old Czech films with us, and we’d played football together a few times.

When we asked him what the stereo was doing there, he said that he’d bought it in a nearby town. We could have been prepared to believe him about this, well at least there was a type of explanation which wasn’t completely implausible… until he returned the stereo with the radio frequency dial smashed off – it had been there (nail varnished proof and all) half an hour before, when the stereo was sitting in the back of his new car.

If he’d asked if we had an old stereo he could have I would have been happy to give it to him, but instead he took it, which makes him the prime suspect for the break in we had in the winter and the dissapearance of lots of tools from the house.  It’s such a pity. What a stupid, stupid boy.

Foul Play


The drainage out of Novy Mlyn stopped working soon after we started using the inside toilet fully.  Last year I converted it into a liquid only loo (partly due to our lack of info about the complete system, and also because all available water for flushing it was rainwater carried by bucket – so best to keep things simple). It worked well for number ones, though it was a delicate issue having to explain the procedure to visitors – we politely request you poo in the garden please. Soon after we reconnected the water in the spring, we decided to use it as a proper – no holds barred  type of toilet and almost immediately the drainage failed and we discovered the loo was emptying out of the top of a pipe near the back porch. Unpleasant and disappointing.

Husband had a poke about and said it was blocked solid.  A firm of plumbers visited last weekend and offered us a quote for a new system – I wasn’t at the house at the time or I would have insisted they try to rod the thing – but they didn’t.  “If you want a job done properly you have to do it yourself” is a saying I hate in respect of the prospect of sorting out a blocked toilet. But, as a last resort I decided to have a look for myself. Armed with a long stick with a nail stuck through it, I was able to retrieve a pair of trousers, a sheet and a t-shirt from the part of the drain before the bend. The neighbour looked on, with a cross expression which I cannot fathom. The drain is not unblocked – but there may be other items of clothing etc round the corner – for which we need more specialist equipment than a stick with a nail through it.

Why would someone want to sabotage our toilet? Is it the kind of thing one goes to the police about? I don’t feel angry… like when the barns collapsed within an hour of our first visit to our new home, I feel that we’ve coped with far worse than that in recent years.  Anyway, I made use of the bath in the garden after this vastly unpleasant task.  We can’t use the bath inside because of the lack of drainage, but I can’t imagine a better place to have a long soak than a solar heated roll top bath in the sun.

Mushroom Roulette – rules to live by.


Today we ate a new type of mushroom – well – new to us – not to Czechs who’ve been eating it for hundreds of years.  Amanita Rubescens (known locally as Masák –  meaty) is a relative of both Fly Agaric (the hallucegenic red mushroom with white spots popular in fairy tale illustrations of pixies)  and the Death Cap or Destroying Angel (there’s a clue in the name) – so careful identification is essential. It is therefore important to know how to identify those which are poisonous, especially those which share similarities to edible mushrooms. About 20 people die every year in the Czech Republic because of mushroom poisoning – with Death Cap being the principle culprit – combined with human error (aka – guns aren’t dangerous).

The first time I try any mushroom I identify it using several different sources (both books and Internet based), I also get someone else to identify it, seperately, then cook it thoroughly, and only taste a tiny amount (ie cubic milimetre).  The second time, a few days later, it’s okay to eat more. Sometimes you discover that a mushroom is edible, but not enjoyable.

Some types of mushroom share a chemical element with kidney beans – so must be cooked thoroughly in order to prevent poisoning, others are poisonous when combined with other stuff – like alchohol and the Ink Cap mushroom (now used as a treatment for alchoholics) combined together cause illness.

The variety we ate today was delicious. It tasted a lot like crispy fatty bacon bits (would to somebody who has avoided pork and bacon for many years) – but perhaps because we fried it in a mixture of olive oil and butter, with lots of salt.  No matter how certain I am about identification, eating wild mushrooms feels like taking a risk, and I’m left with unsettling self doubt until they are thoroughly digested and I live to tell the tale.

We have visitors over the summer and I’m not yet sure what our mushroom strategy should be.  I think we should only cook Porchini and Chanterelle for other people – as these are very clearly identifiable and differentiable from poisonous species. We have many books available if visitors want to go into the forest themselves to hunt for different types… maybe we could find a mushroom expert who could help?

George the Second


Beware the dangers of inaccurate communication…  we now have a kitten on our hands (quite literally – pouncing on me as I try to type).

When we visited Jerry and Vladka at the weekend, we met a kitten. He was like a baby George (the cat we lost last autumn), and wanted to play football, even though the ball was twice his size. Jerry told us that he belonged to his neighbour, and had been a present and we said ‘lovely, how nice’ etc. Once everyone started calling him George (Jiri)  it transpired that Jerry had actually said ‘our neighbour will give you the kitten as a present’. After a few drinks it didn’t seem like such a calamitous error, and on Sunday morning we came home to a not-so-enchanted-by-the-new-arrival Pavouk (sister of lost George).

The kitten now has the rather grand title of  Jiri Druhy – George the Second. It’s been ten months since we last saw the original George. I hope he was catnapped by a family who love him as we did. Jiri Druhy has a lot to live up to.

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