Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Emerald Isle

I've noticed a pattern in my life, whereby during January, February and March, I'm mainly left to my own devices, so I can go at my own pace, following my little routines and keeping up with all my little jobs. But then, once Spring hits, it just becomes this crazy whirlwind of trips and invitations and weekends away and visitors and being ON all the time, with precious little down time.
The Portaferry side of the Lough
Don't get me wrong; I enjoy every minute of it, but sometimes I just feel the need to crawl away and lie in a darkened room with nobody to please. I think this phenomenon is called being an adult. Do you ever suffer from it?
So, the last few weeks have been busy, full of all the things above, and the next month is pretty booked up too. 
The most recent event has been three days in Ireland with work. The whole team went on a bespoke residential training course/team building thing, which was really interesting and lovely, but also quite intense since we spent every waking hour together. I'm not used to that much talking and listening. I came home and went straight for a lie down.

It wasn't quite, 'Hello Q, I'm off to bed', but very nearly.
But anyway, look at this beautiful place! Who knew Northern Ireland was so pretty?
This is an hour's drive from Belfast, but a world away from what I'd expect. Wonderfully peaceful, and  such a different pace to where I live.
Strangford village on the other side of the water is the very definition of pretty
We stayed on the shores of a lough which is fed by the Irish sea. A ferry whizzes you across to the other side, but when the fog comes up, even on a beautiful sunny day, you get trapped until it disappears again.
In our odd bits of spare time, we paddled in the water. It was freezing cold and totally heavenly. We went for a beach walk, a village tour and a woodland wander. 
And we ate for England! Celia, our host at the b&b is a top notch cook and real foodie. In fact, turns out that amongst many other things, she's the leader of the Slow Food movement for Northern Ireland.
We ate lentil salad with miso paste, shredded beetroot and cabbage salad, seaweed with labneh and herbs, cauliflower cheese, homemade quiche, soda bread farls with dulse, plant-based yoghurt with stewed rhubarb and granola, lemon drizzle cake with ginger and turmeric, her own honey..the list goes on. It was exactly the kind of food I like to eat. She made all our meals except for one, when we ate out, so that the carnivores amongst us could get their chops round some meat.
When we first googled the little town of Portaferry, we saw a lot of photos of boarded up houses. It all looked a bit run down, but with people like Celia and her partner moving in and doing grass roots regeneration projects, it's being brought back to life.
I love that. It seems to me, that it would be better to invest money into places and communities which exist and are run down in the first instance, before building all over the green belt? These places have history and soul and there are always lovely old buildings waiting to be brought back to life.

Look at this lady! She runs a little shop called Blaney's which sells penny sweets and smells like the kind of shop my grandparents used to take me to. Gosh, I'm a sucker for nostalgia.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Red, white and blue

I had a lovely sunshine-filled week off work last week. 
Here I am in that classic Union Jack colour combo inspired by Helga the Great. 1970s cotton midi skirt courtesy of our Curtise (Missing In Action at a local charity shop, last known sighting: Sheffield)
We fitted in a quick trip up North to attend a christening, which somehow we managed to miss. However we did make it for the buffet afterwards. Oops. 
I baked a Nigella Apricot, almond, rosewater and cardomon cake. It was a bit of an acquired taste, but by the time we'd finished scoffing the whole cake between the two of us, we'd definitely acquired it. 
I also pottered in the garden, hung out at the allotment, went out for dinner and....what else? Oh yes, I bought a car! 



I've been driving a red Nissan Micra for the last 12 years. Not the same vehicle; when one died, I went out and bought a replacement. My friends who'd teased me about me driving a Noddy car, had a good old belly laugh over that. I did too. They assumed I'd be upgrading. But I don't know anything about engines, and all the mechanics I spoke to agreed the old style Nissan Micra was a good reliable car. So, that was my logic. But really, that model is too old now to go for a hat trick, so I knew it was time for a Brave New World.
I asked my tennis chums for advice and one of them suggested a Fiat 500. Brilliant Nicole got it absolutely right. It's small, economical and I love its retro design. I found this one over the border in Derby.
I know I will feel a little bit blue when I take the little red car to the scrappers, but it turns out the future is white. I love driving round in this little car. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

In search of bluebells

A couple of weeks ago, we set off in search of bluebell woods. Every year I have the same idea, but every year I seem to leave it a little bit too late and miss them, so this year I was ready. As soon as ours were out in the garden, we were off.

The internet is brilliant for finding out about this kind of thing. We ended up in the sweetly named Bunny Woods, which is just by a village called Bunny, over the border in Leicestershire.
Of all the habitats, my favourites are woodlands and mountains. I know most people favour the sea, but not me. I dream of a little cabin in the woods, surrounded by bluebells, foxgloves, scabious and anenomes. In the autumn I'll pick brambles, mushrooms and sweet chestnuts. There will be a little stream to cool off in.
I'd decided I was going to sell this vintage 60s or 70s dress, as part of my great clear out, but I thought I'd give it one last outing, just to make sure. Anyway, I've changed my mind, it's staying put for the time being.

It was a bit cool so to begin with I had a thermal top on underneath, but once we set off, I had a 'Stop the car!' moment. I had to go back and strip off. It's a thick crimplene, and with the extra layer, I felt like a boil in the bag chicken.
I felt a bit Little Red Riding Hood charging round the woods in this outfit, and told him so. He said three little words. 'Don't Look Now'.

That's probably more like it.
There they are!
Little purple beauties.

I'm so pleased Spring is here, even though it does mean another year is whizzing by. I'd rather age surrounded by sunshine and flowers. Although as I type this it is raining again. If I ruled the world, we'd have sunshine during the day and then rain at night, because the garden needs it and it's a nice sound to sleep to.
He's been busy up the allotment building a shed. The blossom is out. Again, that is such a fleeting moment. One minute it's on the tree and the next you have confetti all over the lawn.
I hear we have summer again tomorrow. Bring it on I say!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

What's new, pussycat?

Lately I've been having a bit of a Spring purge, chipping away at all the endless things I don't need. It's the usual pass it on to friends, charity shops and ebay scenario. I try not to pass anything more to landfill than absolutely necessary.

I'm hoping eventually to be able to reintegrate the small bedroom back into the house as usable space, maybe with my sewing machine set up so that it's much easier to do little sewing projects. In the meantime, every now and again, I claim the dining table and then there's fabric and thread everywhere for a few days.
I've taken up patchwork again, slowly. I'm sure I'll decide eventually what to use it for.
Sometimes a stray pin finds its way onto the sofa or rug, and then there's a massive yelp as human flesh yields to sharp pointed metal. I get told off and hang my head in shame, but somehow it keeps happening, so I think everyone will be pleased when the sewing department is rehomed.
I knocked up this little bag with some leftovers. It's very useful for days out. The turquoise fabric is what's left after making a dress and a pair of shorts, and the pocket fabric also has a matching cushion and porch curtain.
I know you're supposed to stand three quarters on and do something with your leg to make you look slimmer. Maybe even brush your hair. But, let's be honest, this isn't Vogue.
I've been growing that belly this winter, since I've been unable to play my beloved tennis, but it's time to sort it out. Walking, salad and weekend-only alcohol are on the cards.
I've also been following the rule of dealing with things on the mending pile before starting a new project, so hems have been altered and other scintillating things of that nature. The dress above was a 1960s Hawaiian dress before, but huge and in a different style. Luckily the main pieces were intact so I unpicked it all, made a pattern from another dress I wear loads in the summer, and remade it.
The much worn 1960s dress having a day out in Dordogne, last September
My current project is to recycle loose covers from our old sofa, which, after 20 years service, has been retired. I'm currently unpicking what feels like miles of stitching. In its next life, it will be a dress.

Talking of creative things, a while ago, I received the most wonderful surprise package. I came in after work to find it on the kitchen island. I was mystified, so I started ripping it open. Everything about it was beautifully done. The penny was starting to drop. It was a gift from the lovely and talented Lynn after I commented on her blog. I once had a writing case very like this, which had belonged to my dad, and which was stolen in a burglary, years ago. So this replaces it. I can put special bits and pieces in it.
Thank you so much Lynn, it was the kindest thought. I love it. x

So how about you, has Spring had any effects on you? Any cleaning and tidying? Or are you inspired to start a new project or regime?

I loved hearing about what's happening in your towns and villages, thank you.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Country roads take me home

I've just had a whirlwind few days down in the South West, visiting friends, family and sorting out the last few bits to do with my mum's house before it gets passed on to new owners.
I stopped off in Bristol on the way down to catch up with my lovely greeting card chums. I really miss seeing them, but we're planning a proper day out soon.

It was a pretty full on schedule and I camped out in an empty house again, but it was lovely to see everyone, albeit briefly and spend time in the country towns and villages of my childhood.
Even though I wasn't staying in Merriott, where the family home was for many years, I always like to drive through, just to check all is well. It's very rural. Not a place in any kind of hurry. People say hello when they pass each other on the street, even if they have never met before.

Most of the village is made up of 17th and 18th century hamstone cottages, hamstone being the local honey coloured stone, quarried at Ham Hill, a place we spent a lot of time running around in during our childhood.
Manor cottage, a grade 2 listed farmhouse built in 1663, which sits at the end of our road. I love the mullion windows with curly ironwork

The village is still encircled by working farms so it's quite common to get caught behind a tractor. In years gone by, you'd get stuck behind animals moving from barn to field, but that doesn't happen any more.
Pronounced 'Tamill' by the locals, just down this lane is the mill which produced the sailcloth for The Victory

Merriott was mentioned in the Domesday book, mainly for its rich agricultural land but also in relation to its mills which produced cloth for sailcloth, including for Nelson's ship, The Victory. This means something to me, as my four times great grandfather fought alongside him in the Battle of Trafalgar.
This is cider country. That church is where my great aunt was christened, married and had her funeral service. She was born and bred in the village and had the most wonderful Somerset accent, along with her mother, our great-great aunt, who would tell us stories about her life in service in the big house, and had the most endearing chuckle in the entire universe
The next town, Crewkerne also has its connections, as that is where Vice Admiral Hardy of 'Kiss me, Hardy' (or kismet, you choose) fame, went to school.
The old lock-up, where drunks would get put in for the night by the local constabulary after drinking too much cider

At one point the village was owned by the family of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, but after she was executed, the lands were seized by the crown and redistributed. There was a rumour that our school, not so far away, was haunted by poor old Lady Jane. Who can blame her for not finding peace?
This lovely lady was like a second mum to me in my late teens and early twenties when my parents lived abroad and I was living in the family home. She's a great cook and full of life and fun. We've remained friends ever since and I always try to see her when I'm down that way.



The latest upsetting of the peace relates to Damien Hirst's sister, who has bought the old King's Head pub then shut it and tried to gain change of use to make it into a house. The locals aren't best pleased.

So, do tell, what's it like where you come from? What's great or interesting about it?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Now is the Wetherspoons of our discontent

Well, that's what Vix and I thought when Curtise turned up, scandalising us with news of a bad review of one of the three Wetherspoons we had to choose from on our inaugural tour of Leicester. If there was a bad one, we missed it. And we gave it a fair shot, visiting two thirds of their offering during our few short hours there.

Must have been someone with higher standards than us.
I love this picture of these two giggling away
In the Victorian era, Industrialisation happened in Leicester, with textiles, hosiery and footwear bringing wealth to the city. These grand buildings of the time are so impressive. On the left, the white building looks like a chateau with its external staircase, and the opulent copper door on the right is definitely meant to be seen

Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, dating back to Roman times, and unlike many other cities, has managed to retain a large number of its historic buildings. The first one we spotted was this amazing Art Nouveau building, built in 1901, The Turkey Cafe.
Vix looked like a Russian Princess with her huge furry hat, whilst Curtise and I followed in her wake as ladies-in-waiting. My favourite example of the Vix effect on this occasion, was when one fellow came up to us and said, 'hold on, didn't I just see you...at London Fashion Week?' We had to laugh.

When we saw this road sign, we knew we were in exactly the right place. Cheap: our motto and our byword.


When this day out was in the planning, Curtise sent me a text: 'Your mission - should you choose to accept it - is to research chazzas, vintage shopping and Wetherspoons in Leicester. Yes, I know - homework.'

Back in the early to mid 1980s, my boyfriend at the time was at Uni in Leicester, so we used to go to this market to get our fresh veg. There's Lineker's, good old Gary's family business.

One foot in the grave? No, we've got plenty of days out left in us.


Well, I'm not one to shirk my responsibilities, so I set to. Turns out Leicester has rather a good vintage selection, of which we visited three.


Our favourite was Dolly Mix Vintage. Three floors of frocks, from antique to the 1980s. The interior was rather inspiring too, with a loft style room, filled with quirky props and plenty of windows for light. I noticed a definite Eastern influence. We agreed we could happily live in a space like that.
I absolutely loved this little corner which was set up as an artist's studio with a poster of a Thai Prince above it



No day out is complete without a lunch break at the aforementioned Wetherspoons. We've become so predictable. Mexican bean burgers all round. They had a pint, I had a glass of wine. Because, as my companions like to point out, I'm a lady.

In case you were in any doubt.






Shopping fix sated, we decided to have a bit of a mooch around. We knew we wanted to visit King Richard III, who has found his forever home in the Cathedral after spending a frankly impolite amount of time kicking his heels beneath a car park.
We paid our respects, and all agreed we love the smell of a church. That mix of history, wood polish and incense.


So, what did I manage to find? A couple of 1970s German cotton cushions, with a really cute print and a fabric box were my favourite purchases. But I also came home with some great gifts from the girls. The funkiest pair of vintage Wellies from Vix, plus a zip pull for my dodgy shoulder and an enamel pendant. From Curtise, my very own Skirt Supplier, a fab 70s midi skirt and a 70s does 40s top which fits me to perfection.
In a nod to my Irish roots, I wore green and a shamrock for St Patrick's day



Such is the success of our trademark days out that my sister and I are going to do one soon. Coming to a town near you?