Monday, 24 October 2016

Allotment life

I haven't bored you with treated you to an allotment update recently, and really I need to before the gloom of winter descends and it's all just a distant memory.
If we ignore June, we had a pretty good summer here in the East Midlands, with plenty of sunshine and warm days. I'm not at all a sunbather, but I do love waking up to bright days and being able to wander around in flip flops and summer dresses. I hate having to wear loads of layers, and I miss the flowers in winter. I like swimming in the outdoor pool and eating supper on the patio, so although I die in the intense heat (after a lot of moaning), I truly do love summer best of all, with Spring getting a Silver medal and Autumn scooping the Bronze.
The blackberries this year were plentiful and delicious. Gentleman's Avenue, where the bigwigs of Nottingham had their plots. Our friend Dancing Dave has just landed one there. We're going up for a visit next weekend.
August/September was lovely so it seemed the perfect time to invite some friends up to see what it's all about, this allotment life. If I'm honest, I've hardly spent any time up there this year. I have two jobs and an unpaid role which take up most of my time and energy. Every year I say I'm going to do less work, but for the time being, it's just wishful thinking. Good job there's a man-who-can to keep things going.
So one weekend Serena and Claire came to see us. We hadn't discussed food or anything but great minds think alike. We took homemade scones, cream and jam made from the currant bushes up on Q's plot, and they brought wine and crisps. What a lovely combination that proved to be.
A surprise visitor. So beautiful!

A sudden downpour sent us scurrying into the shed Q has fashioned from some bits of wood he was given, including a child's Wendy House. It's still awaiting a finished door and windows, but hopefully by winter it will be watertight, so he can seek refuge and make himself a cup of tea. 
Then the following weekend Phil and Varanya visited. This time we had bread, cheese and a cup of tea. It's one of the rules of nature, that everything tastes better outside, so we really enjoyed it.
The allotment has a very special feel about it. It's easier to relax and unwind up there than anywhere else I know. There's the most amazing variety of wildlife, big skies, the wind blows and you feel free. I love it, much more than our garden.

I'm already looking forward to next summer when we can have some more friends to visit.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

She was a day tripper

I had a bit of time off work the other week, and there was talk of maybe going away for a few days, but we didn't get our act together, so after careful scrutiny of the weather forecast, I persuaded Q that a day out was in order.

As a driver, I find train trips such a luxury. No traffic, no mystifying one-way systems and no hassle with parking. Plus, it can be quicker. Twenty three whole minutes to Newark-on-Trent, a small market town on the banks of the River Trent, bursting with civil war history. Plus you get to see fields and orchards and woodlands and into people's back gardens. Much better than roads.
That's the ruined Newark Castle there, 12th century if you're interested. I like the fact that it sits within a park, accessible to all, and actually there were quite a few people just sitting there, basking in the early autumn sunshine.

That's a me-made patchwork skirt there, been slowly adding to it for months, thinking it might end up as a bedspread, but I had a rush of blood to the head and decided to make it into a skirt. It looks fine from the front but from the side I look a bit like one of those crocheted dolls who use their skirts to hide the loo roll. Not exactly the look I was aiming for, so it may find itself on a bed yet.
We'd been given some hot tips about where to go for eating and drinking, but the rest of it was free form, just wandering and exploring.
We sat outside for a coffee and it felt positively continental. We both agreed we could be on holiday and rebranded our day out as a mini-break.
There are a few plaques referring to the siege of Newark during the Civil War, but I plumped for this one because it features Charles the First's Queen, Henrietta, who happens to share a birthday with me*. When you get to my age, you want to share photos with someone older than you, and she is. 357 years older to be precise.
*some sources give it as a day earlier, in which case 357 years and 1 day older.
We missed a trick, visiting on practically the only day of the week there is no market. Some days it's a fruit and veg type market, but on others it's a flea market. I'll be going back on flea market day.
There's a big old church just off the Market Square. It asks for donations from people taking photographs, £1 for stills and £2 for videos. Being the well-behaved, law-abiding citizens we are, we did as we were told. I saw a couple of buckets on the floor and put my coins in. Turns out they were the buckets to collect rainfall. Oops.
A carved wooden door within a door, and vintage grafitti on the choristers pews! 
And guess what else there is? Only a vintage shop called Vintage Vixen! I had heard of it before, but had completely forgotten about it, so what a nice surprise. The lady who runs it was lovely and her prices were very reasonable, so we spent a happy half hour rummaging through the rails. I saw a few things which I thought...oh, yes, Mim would like this and ooh, that would be perfect for Curtise. Turns out there were a couple of things which were perfect for me too; a pair of 1980s dungarees and a red dirndl skirt. I've hardly stopped wearing them since I bought them, so I'm sure they'll be coming to a blog post near you soon.
Me-made patchwork skirt, t-shirt, necklace, cardigan and belt charity shopped, earrings and havaiianas gifted

After shopping and a slap up lunch, we took the train back to Nottingham for part 2 of our mini-break, a drinky in the Famous Spiegeltent, (a mobile dance hall) which had popped up in the Market Square. This one was built in 1920 in Belgium and has even hosted Marlene Dietrich.
I had a whole bottle of prosecco to myself (OK, it was an individual serving) and he had a pint while we took photos and sang along to the Blue Danube

Da-da-da, Da-da-da, Da-da-da-da-da. Can't hit the right notes, but I know all the lyrics.

That velvet canopy was so beautiful, and actually the whole interior was really cosy. I could just imagine Ms Dietrich hitting those high low notes.
After all that excitement we went home and had a cheese and wine evening for two. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Sew; a needle pulling thread

I know the exact moment my interest in sewing was born.

I was about seven years old. Madame Di Bono (that was really her name!) was working on my First Holy Communion dress and I needed a fitting. My mother took me in to her workshop for a visit, and as always, I had my teddy bear with me. Madame Di Bono noticed that he was a remarkably bare bear and proposed an outfit. I agreed, so she stopped what she was doing, scooped up a scrap of fabric, and within a matter of minutes had made this little playsuit for him.

It was like magic. I was spellbound. So many possibilities had suddenly opened up.
Once he was in this outfit, he didn't look like a boy so much anymore. One quick gender re-evaluation and Teddy became Angelina

After that I snaffled spare bits of fabric from my mum and started knocking up very basic outfits for myself. My first efforts were a towelling halter neck top, a bikini and when I found some net curtains, an M&S vest was transformed into a tutu. Angelina got one too. We quite liked matching outfits, but then, that type of thing was popular in the 1970s.

This started off life as a shift dress, but way too big, so it needed a refashion

So fast forward to today and sewing is still top of my list when I have a bit of free time. When everyone starts talking about Autumn, I go into denial and start making summerwear. A couple of weeks ago, with temperatures forecast in the 20s, it seemed to me the perfect moment for a playsuit to match Angelina's.
It's one of those cut and shuts again. This will be the sixth garment I have made using this bodice pattern and the fifth time I've used the trousers/shorts. I've also made the shift dress/top three times. I think it's fair to say I've had my value out of these patterns.

You've seen most of them before. It might be time to try out one of my other patterns. The good news is I have next week off work, with no big plans, so I think it's time to get the sewing machine out again.
However before that, I've got a full weekend, with the girls from Uni coming to stay. Seven of them! And I still need to finish the alterations to my dress.

How about you, got anything nice planned for the weekend?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Everything but the kitchen sink*

Serena emailed me a few weeks back, asking if we were going to go to the Lincolnshire Home Show this year.

As she said, 'This will make it our 4th year...which cements it as a tradition in my books!'
Matching strappy sandals, colourful toe nails, big sunnies and straw baskets from our trip to France. We're twinnies!
I wouldn't miss it for the world!
This pair of chairs was down from £200 to £120, but I'm sure he'd have accepted £100. I was sorely tempted, but just couldn't think of anywhere to put them. There's only one thing for it. I need a bigger house.
Belt and gypsy top from charity shop £1, and 70s Pucci print maxi skirt from car boot in 2011, 50p
We have the best time. I get over to Serena's for early o'clock, then we mooch up to an airfield in Lincolnshire, via Waitrose in Newark where we get some supplies (coffee, pastries and cash), chatting all the way. We go in her car, because it's bigger than mine, so we can fit more in.
We admire these bird houses every year. I was dead set on getting a couple of these antique metal churns to use as planters on the patio with a couple of small trees in them. They were £15 each, which I thought was a good price
Once there, we hit the field, faced with stall after stall of everything antique or vintage you can imagine, from gilded mirrors, to chandeliers, to stone statues for the garden to the humblest little winky wonky stools to use as side tables to paintings to little bits of jewellery. There's every price tag from a pound up to thousands of pounds, so there's something for everyone.
Decisions, decisions. We loved that enamel dresser

Weighing up whether to try on this 1940s cotton dress
We pretend we're interior designers for the day, and like to imagine things in situ. It's all 'Ooh, that would look nice in a farmhouse kitchen, or wouldn't that look great in a loft apartment?' We don't live in either of those; they are the imaginary homes belonging to our imaginary customers. We love it! (Well, I do anyway!)
Serena has two pussy cats already, but that one nearly came home with her too.
One of the things I love about wearing vintage clothing is that complete strangers use it as an introduction to talk to you. We had a lovely chat with these ladies in the loo!
The first couple of years we took a picnic lunch, but last year we discovered a stall selling stone-baked made-to-order pizzas. They were amazing. There's no going back to sandwiches after that.
Imagine our disappointment when the pizza van wasn't there. We had to settle for chips! Lazing around on the grass after lunch meant we missed out on some purchases. By 3 o'clock when we went back to the stall to do the business, the man with the metal planters had packed up and gone
On the way home, we pop into Doddington Hall, for a coffee, then we chat our way back to Nottingham.
Finally, I get home, walk in the door, and Q greets me with the words, 'More junk?'

It's a tradition!
This year's junk: a Scottish dancing brooch (£4) to replace one I lost years ago and a bird bath (£10) which looks like it could belong to Snow White. I also bought something else which I'll show you soon!

*The title refers to a purchase in year 1, when I actually came home with a kitchen sink unit. Every year since, Q's parting words when I set off are, 'Don't buy anything big and impractical.'
Makes me laugh every time.

BIG THANKS and photographic credit to Serena for taking all the pictures of me. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

We went camping. It rained. The End.

And so it came to pass that summer arrived in Olde England. The natives were happy, basking in the sunshine. It seemed an ideal time to get the tent out and go and explore the countryside.

My idea of camping involves rugs on the grass and tea lights flickering in jars as it goes dark, drinking wine and lying on your back looking up at the stars until you can't keep your eyes open any longer.
My current favourite dress courtesy of Kinky Melon. It's an early 1970s dress by Radley for whom Ossy Clark and Celia Birtwell designed.
You see that cake? That's not just any cake. That's a homemade banana tea bread which was the best one I've ever made. It was so moist it was like eating toffee. Gorgeous!
That little fold up table, the two fishermen's stools and the cooler box were all from car boots. I bought that cooler for £1 the day before we set off. What a bargain! I love the colour.
Thinking the place would be inundated with happy campers, we booked and paid for a pitch in advance, in the Derbyshire Peak District.
We arrived at the campsite and sorted out a nice quiet spot by a river. The sun was shining. All was well. While he made lunch, I tested out the camp bed. I volunteered, no fuss. That's how much of a team player I am. At our age you don't sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag if you want to be able to walk the next day. It was fine, things were looking good.
And then it started to rain. Nice big fat raindrops with a bit of driving wind, which made it impossible to cook outside. Ours is a three man tent with a small porch at the front. With a little improvisation and a couple of umbrellas, we managed to cook pasta with a tomato sauce, but I can't say it was fun.
After tea, we decided that we couldn't let rain stop play so we went off for a walk along the Manifold river. It was just us and great big black slugs nearly the length of my feet, which moved all slowly, like articulated lorries which pull out in front of you on the motorway.

Everyone else was tucked up in their vans and house-sized tents. If I'm honest I prefer it that way. I like a country walk where you don't meet any other humans. Anti-social tendencies alert.
Tin roof, wooden structure, stone steps. That'll do nicely thank you. I positively swooned over this blue door and rambling rose combo.
Day 2 arrived, with a cool, steady drizzle. We decided to wander down country lanes and across fields into the next village, Hartington. Despite the rain it was a perfect country walk. Tranquil and unchanged, with sheep and cows grazing, bridges under which trolls might quite feasibly live, huge wild rhubarb, like umbrellas for wood nymphs and everywhere, wild honeysuckle and geraniums.
Hartington village starts off low, but towards one edge it reaches skyward, and that's where you'll find the church with a graveyard which melts into the foggy hills, reminding me every step of the way of the Bronte sisters.
All that walking made us a bit peckish, so we wandered into the General Stores for a sandwich and a drink. We ended up with a surprisingly sophisticated toasted goat's cheese and pesto panini and cappucino. Nothing olde worlde about that.
I'm always looking out for the perfect little hut. This one was definitely a contender.
Day 3 and it was time to trundle off home. We decided to head out via some pretty little villages. I think this roadside pop up picnic thing must be in the genes. My grandparents were always at it.

Do you ever put crisps in your sandwiches? You should try it, it's all salty and crunchy.
So that was that. And now we're back to real life. And a proper bed. Heaven!

Monday, 4 July 2016


About fifteen or sixteen years ago, we had a Swedish friend living in Nottingham. She told us that Midsummer was celebrated by everyone in Scandinavia, so when Midsummer dawned bright and sunny, we decided to throw an impromptu party in her honour. It was one of those idyllic, perfect, spontaneous evenings where we brought a few people together who all hit it off, and we drank, ate and laughed into the early hours of the morning.
The original party. This was in my old house, which had a little wooden summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. Anna is wearing a traditional floral headdress she made. She made a matching one for me too. 
Time passed and Anna left the UK, but every year wherever in the world she was, in memory of that evening, we sent a message to wish each other 'Happy Midsummer'.
A lot of the same people from the original party were able to make it again, which was so lovely. 
A few weeks ago, she sent a message saying she thought she might come over for a few days to visit us for Midsummer. I said to her, 'Do you want to chill or party?' The message came straight back. 'I!'
Gathering armfuls of wild flowers from the allotment to decorate the house for our Midsummer party

She arrived on the Thursday night, so we had a practice session, eating and drinking outside until it went dark.
The next day at brunch, Anna mentioned a great day out she remembered with us, her and our friend from Israel, so we decided to revisit Cromford Mills, built by Richard Arkwright, a pioneer in the Industrial revolution.

After a whirlwind trip, we whizzed home in my new car, which I've named Blanche Dubois, because although she looks beautiful, there's all sorts of problems under the surface.
Wearing a me-made sheet dress. That photo on the right needs to be snapped up by the local rag!
It was time to party! I have to confess, I never felt less like it, since it was the day after the referendum in the UK, but if you can't celebrate, at least you can drown your sorrows with friends.

Thankfully the almost incessant rain we had in June stopped for a day in order to allow us to sit outside. Phew. I was so busy plying people with food and drink that I forgot to take any photos. Fortunately Anna took one of me and my adorable friend, Varanya.
I've been wearing this dress a lot recently. It's a 1960s crimplene column dress with some snazzy diamante trim. I love the colour and the fact that it makes me look tall.

The next day we met up briefly with my little sis who was in Nottingham for the day, went into town, got home in time for our lovely friend Angela to visit and then went out for a meal and to the pub, where we were the last ones to leave.
By day 4, when we took Anna back to the station to get her train down to the airport, after three nights of partying, we were all pretty much broken. There was just enough energy for a quick group selfie.

We called it the selfie of pain. :D

God, we had SO much fun. Let's do it all again next year!