Granite filled with grace

Mundic testing: the die is cast

To have a Mundic survey or not?

Does our extension have a Mundic block problem? We didn't know. And it was a real worry.
For a start, even the possibility of Mundic can put buyers off before they actually come to view. Buyers always have to have a survey, but the regular survey doesn't include Mundic testing –. That costs a lot more, and the extra cost can really put buyers off. And if the worst happens, and Mundic is found after a potential buyer has had a survey done, we could lose a month or more and have to start the selling process all over again.
We thought it might be best to find out before we tried to sell the house. But having a Mundic block survey done is an expensive business. For any house short of mansion status – even just a two-room extension – a Mundic survey costs about £350. Apparently most of the money goes on drilling and laboratory fees, which are much the same whatever the size of building to be tested.
After a good deal of thought, we decided to go ahead. Then we can “tell it how it is” to prospective buyers.
The survey was quickly arranged, and suprisingly easy. The samples are cores about 8 cms across and 15 cms deep, and have to be taken from both inside and outside the house. Afterwards, the holes are plugged, but the surface isn't repainted, so we were worried that we might be left with ugly areas of plaster.
Our house's outside walls are oainted white, so that was no problem – we just had to paint over the plugs with masonry paint. And inside, our kitchen cupboards are only oartly bcked, so we just opened the cupboard doors, and samples were taken inside the cuboards, above the backs. No-one will ever see those unless they get down on their needs and peer in!
So far, so good. Now we just have to wait for those results…

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A Journey for Holy Week

Holy Week begins

This year, we have a new way to observe Holy Week. In our church, we have made a labyrinth, an aid to prayer and meditation called `Sensing the Passion'. It is a journey with Jesus through the events of the first Holy Week. People will be invited to follow the path, and think, not only about the last journey of Jesus' life, but about their own lives and those who suffer in our world today.
We are setting it up on Palm Sunday, when we shall be away at a party, so I am going to be responsible for the simplest Station. It just has a suitcase with stones – pebbles, really – and a pail of water. The people following the labyrinth are invited to think of a problem that's really worrying them, pick up a pebble and drop it in the water, with a prayer that God will take the burden from them as the water takes the pebble.
This is the first station on the trail, and I guess the idea is to help people to shed their worldly burdens before following the rest of the journey. I hope the travellers will find it helpful. Every day from Monday until Thursday, the church will be open for people to come round. I'm on duty on the first morning, so I may find out

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The Mundic Dilemma

Selling a house built of concrete

Ever heard of Mundic blocks? Mundic is a form of concrete with a problem – sometimes called “concrete cancer”. In the 1920s, people found they could make concrete blocks more cheaply by including material from mining spoil heaps, especially from tin and copper mines. Trouble is, it turns out those spoil heaps were full of impurities such as sulphites, that reacted with the basic material to form pits and holes: a bit like gruyere cheese. And the blocks were irreparably weakened by these changes, hence “concrete cancer”.
The problem wasn't discovered until the 1960s, and even then it took a while for the word to get round. So any house built of concrete before the 1970s could be affected. And even after that, surveys often didn't check for the problem.
In some parts of the UK, the Mundic problem is very rare. But in Cornwall and other parts of the south- west it is quite common, because worked-out tin and copper mines – and their spoil heaps – are common in Cornwall.
If you are a house buyer who needs a mortgage, houses built from Mundic blocks are a big no-no. And there is also the problem that these houses won't increase in value much, if at all. Mundic properties are popular with buy-to-let people, though, as the houses are usually very cheap, and can last a long time before falling own.
For sellers, the situation is a bit of a lottery. Many people, like us, bought their houses before the Mundic problem was discovered, or at least widely known. Luckily for us, our main house is built of stone, and only the kitchen and bathroom extension is concrete, so at worst it would be a limited problem.
But it would still BE a problem, because it would limit the mortgage a buyer could get, and affect the growth in the value of the house. So what do we do?

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No more springs in this Cornish home

Selling our house

It was not until I'd posted that last entry that it struck me: this is almost certainly the last spring that we shall spend in this house. So we shan't see the sun move round to flood our workroom through the blinds next year.

We have lived in our home very happily for 25 years, but now, as we get older, we need a smaller and more appropriate house. We don't plan to move far away - we'll stay on the same street if we can - but it will still be a real wrench.

And I am already beginning to understand why moving house is the third most stressful event after bereavement and divorce! We have arranged for an initial valuation, but we find we are missing an important bit of information about our house - a detail that could make a difference of tens of thousands of pounds in its value. We are talking about what to do next...

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Spring in Cornwall

Spring is here

Our house is built on the side of a hill, which is one side of a steep valley, and faces east. In the winter, the sun doesn't get high enough to come over the hill opposite until late morning, and then the sun is well to the south, so it doesn't come directly into our workroom window. You can see the view from the window in the middle of my banner graphic.

About the middle of March, the sun's arc gets steeper, and from then until late September the sun shines in most of the morning, and we have to put the blinds down to stop the computer monitors melting... So although we have to shade ourselves from it, the rising sun shows us summer is on the way!

Born in song

How to stay sane and happy? Sing!

What do you do to cope with the stresses of ordinary modern life? Here in Cornwall, one of the things we do is to sing - or if we are not so good at that, to listen. Throughout Cornwall, there are dozens of amateur choirs, mostly of male voices, of a very high standard, who give concerts throughout the year. The large number is partly because the people of Cornwall were originally Celts. Cornwall, in the far south-west of Britain, is was one of the last places where the Celts were driven by successive invading hordes from the Romans to the Normans. And all Celtic people sing as easily as they breathe. The people in Wales, northern Scotland and Ireland are Celts, too, and they also have a great singing tradition.

Singing is also an important part of religious life in Cornwall. The county is a stronghold of Methodism, a movement always said to be “born in song”. John Wesley preached many times in Cornwall; not a mile from our house, there's a stone commemorating one of his open-air services. Last summer, our minister did an exchange with a Methodist minister from Connecticut, who was seriously impressed with the singing. She told us that, when she gets to heaven, she's going to insist on sitting next to the Cornish Methodists, so she can sing along with us…

A wonderful time of the singing year for us is the ten weeks of the summer, when evey Sunday we have an evening Choir Service in our church, with a different choir every week. The church is always full, and the music is always wonderful.

Perhaps it seems especially good because our church, though not very large, has a gallery, so we can seat a fair few people but we all seem to be quite close together. And some of the choirs come back in the winter -- we have a concert at least once a month, and two in December.

But the highlight of the singing winter for me is always Christmas Eve. A men's choir based in the next village to us, Polperro, always goes carol sining round the village on Christmas Eve, and many of the visitors down for the holidays join in. Of course, we sing traditional carols like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. But we also have old Cornish carols -- 'Tis Christmas time, Hail smiling morn, Bethlehem Star -- that we don't hear anywhere else. There's something truly magical about standing a hundred feet above the harbour, looking over to the houses across the water, and singing our hearts out.

This year, I shall miss that lovely treat, because we are going to spend Christmas with our two-year-old granddaughter in Dublin. And of course we are looking forward to it very much, and we'll have a wonderful time. But on Christmas Eve, a large part of my heart will be at home in Cornwall, singing to welcome the birth of the Prince of Peace.

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Why Granite filled with Grace?

Proper Job

I've lived in Cornwall for the last 24 years. The standard joke - and it's actually half serious - is that you have to have two generations in the graveyard to be truly Cornish. Until a few years ago, I thought I'd have to rely on being `born-again' Cornish, but then I turned up an ancestor five generations back, who was undeniably Cornish. So now I say that the half-pint of blood she left me is the most important part.
If you've never been to Cornwall, you might be forgiven for finding this attitude, which is very common among `incomers', rather surprising. But Cornwall is very special. My title is the name of a song, a little laugh-at-ourselves witticism at one of the local phrases - a `proper job' is something well done. And in the song, Cornwall, whose geology is thoroughly granite, is described as `granite filled with grace', which just about sums up the place and the people who live here.

My plan is to give some idea of what it's like to live and work in a beautiful town where about half of us are here all the year round, and the rest come and go like the swallows. And where the population is 7,000 in the winter and 27,000 in the summer... As well, I'll try and give a flavour of a unique, much-loved place.