I am returned, with so much to update upon it is a little overwhelming. In the meantime, while I get my hilarious stories in order, I shall give you a brief, visual summary of the intervening months.
It is a sad day for me, after Halloween, when our amazing creature creations have to be taken down and put back into storage. I was immensely proud that several visiting families told us that ours was the best Halloween trail in the region. I can believe it. No crappy paper ghost flapping forlornly in the corner for us! We do Halloween properly. Full-sized monsters and spooky sound effects abound. Still, all good things must come to an end and, reluctantly, I put away the rubber spiders and turned my mind to other issues, such as the water leaking into the house every time it rains.
It isn't a new problem. I have been flagging it up for quite a while now. Still, at long last, shortly before Christmas, some buildings department people and an architect came to see the problem for themselves. Of course, as is the nature of such things, it wasn't raining. It was a glorious winter day with not a cloud in the sky. We would have to recreate rainy day conditions if they were to try to pinpoint where the problem lay. No problem.
"Up you go," we said to Lovely Warden, issuing him with a ladder and a hosepipe. "Try not to fall off, but if you do, try to roll with it."Afterwards, while I was mopping up the subsequent indoor water features that resulted from this experiment, the architect came to show me the water ingress points he had marked on his drawing.
"So, that's pretty much all of it."
"The entire front of the house."
"Almost every timber and every panel needs attention."
"And when can we start work on this?"
"When we re-open?"
I have been on a course. I know that this is not a disaster. It is a challenge to be met.
Time to prepare for the annual Christmas event, which entails much joyous gathering of foliage.
Lovely Warden McColleague and I duly donned our foliage gathering hats and wellies, climbed into the Gator and set off up the road, singing festively.
"Why's it making that noise?" asked McColleague as the Gator thwup-thwup-thwupped its way along.
It turned out that a knackered tyre was making that noise and Lovely Warden had to remove the entire wheel and take it into town to be repaired.
Undaunted we set off on foot to gather whatever we could carry back to the house. We wanted an enormous ball of mistletoe to hang as our centrepiece in the Great Hall. In one of the many old orchards on the estate we found just the specimen.
"Up you go," we said to Lovely Warden, issuing him with a saw and a pair of loppers. "Try not to fall off, but if you do, try to roll with it."
It was an impressive size once Lovely Warden cut it free. Almost as big as McColleague. We used double the rope we would normally to hoist it aloft in the Hall and even then I had a nagging concern it might plummet onto an unsuspecting visitor and flatten them, festively.
It was an exciting walk back across country with the fruits of our labours. Lovely Warden has a habit of taking shortcurts which involve fording streams and scrambling up near vertical slopes of mud. It all got a bit Blair Witch Project for a while. Which I liked, being a Halloween queen.
The Hall was duly decorated and set for a medieval feast. Sadly the public can't sample the food, but the re-enactors are happy to feed it to me. They have lots of interesting spiced alcoholic beverages to pass around in wassail bowls too, which makes for an entertaining evening.
Ah, back to work after the Christmas break. The moat froze solid and the flagstones in the Hall developed an alarming mould. I phoned the curatorial department for advice on the best way to tackle it and was informed to brush the mould carefully before vacuuming it up via a special filter and to wear face masks of the correct specification, to avoid breathing in spores.
Ten minutes later Lovely Warden appeared with a broom, McColleague fetched the Dyson and we all pulled our jumpers up over our noses for safety. It was fine.
So far this week I have missed the Spring Conference, a training day and a staff meeting due to the heavy snow. While I am obviously deeply disappointed I am making the best of it. Luckily McColleague and I only just re-ordered toilet rolls and biscuits last week so I think I may survive until the thaw.