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MidnightThe imminent arrival of autumn is marked first by the migration of the house martins back to Africa. They have been here since the early summer, re-using their mud nests under the projecting crenelations at the tops of the towers and over the octagon bay.  They are most welcome visitors as they seem to keep the fly population under control, and when they go, the flies come into some of our rooms in force, but quickly get hoovered up.

We start to light fires in the Great Hall in October. Their effect is largely cosmetic, given the space they are required to heat if the central heating is not on, but the effect on visitors is very beneficial, and they certainly seem to feel warmer, particularly after braving the chill of the Entrance Hall.

We turn on our central heating very selectively. There are about 12 separate zones and five boilers, so we can avoid unnecessary heating in areas not being used. We use oil at the moment, so the cost has increased very rapidly in the last two years. We are careful, but have to make sure our customers are warm at all times.

One of the clearest harbingers of the winter months is the arrival of our cat in my basement office, having spent the warmer months mostly outside. Normally, she settles in a redundant antique wicker filing tray on a table next to the radiator, but when the radiator is turned down as I try to save fuel, she seeks another warm place. My laptop is her preferred choice at the moment. Whilst I can use a separate keyboard and screen, I am nervous that she will press the Send button with a paw and a message will be sent before I have checked it. I tolerate a certain amount of this foul weather friendship, but eventually lose patience and move her on. She is quite forgiving, luckily.

JH-B    20th November 2011.