Saturday 31 May 2014

Goodbye, May...

This month has been really wonderful... all kinds of lovely things to see, eat and enjoy. Even the soggy, chilly past few days (vests and jumpers are back) haven't got me down. Here are some of my May highlights:

Finding a new home... a sunshine-filled birthday with family... cow parsley, red campion and buttercups... good books to read... Joe (always)... wisteria, lilac and ferns... garden pottering... baking... finishing my first ever handmade dress... fruit blossom, wild garlic and hawthorn flowers... playgroup coffee and conversation... Jersey Royal potatoes... writing posts for This is Your Kingdom, Garlic & Sapphire and the Colour Collaborative... and a big red SOLD sign appearing in the front garden!

Have you had a good month? I hope so...

Thursday 29 May 2014

The Colour Collaborative: May: Childhood

I'm delighted to be the guest blogger on this month's Colour Collaborative once more. It makes me think about colour in terms other than simply what I'm drawn to, or what happens to look pretty to me.

Thinking about colour within the context of a particular topic is more challenging, and it's always interesting to see where that takes me.

So, childhood.

Before Joe came along in August 2012 I had all these ideas about how we'd have an oh-so-tasteful nursery (and even started a Pinterest board to that effect). Everything would be in soft, muted tones of greys and creams and taupes. Brightly coloured plastic? No, thankyou. Dinosaurs, diggers and Lego? Playgroup could deal with that.

But the fact is, childhood is in glorious Technicolour. Everything's magnified. All the senses are heightened. Life is one huge discovery; each little outing or game is an adventure. Children love colour. They need it.

We opened our doors to Fisher Price.

It wasn't even grudgingly. Because we buy used things and recycle where possible, so that kind of addresses the whole sustainability and plastic toys question. I just can't imagine depriving Joe of bold, stimulating things for the sake of subtle interior design. His room has bright primaries everywhere (admittedly against a backdrop of pale grey - we did decorate with a house sale in mind). His wardrobe is filled with colourful clothes. His books are full of colour. A crazy Ikea circus tent takes up rather a lot of floor space. His toys - trains, trucks, cuddly cats and monkeys, building blocks - all eye-jarringly vivid.

The garden has a day-glo orange swing and gaudy plastic windmills. In summer the big, blue Thomas the Tank Engine paddling pool resides in the middle of the lawn.

Childhood is all about colour.

I grew up in the Eighties, when we youngsters lived according to the colour fads of that decade: chalky pastels (pink, mint, lemon, peach) teamed with grey, or neon brights: jade green, cerise, turquoise, yellow against black. Yes, I had a Frankie Says Relax T shirt (fortunately I didn't pay attention to the lyrics). And yes, I wore it with a ra-ra skirt and fluorescent pink socks.

The pastelly shades always remind me of going to my friends' birthday parties: streamers, cake, balloons, best dresses. As for the brights: school bags (I was a Benetton obsessive), plastic jewellery and some pretty out-there outfits. Ahem.

Hardly surprising I'm hiding my face dressed in this get-up, is it?

You see, to me childhood is all about creating happy memories. And those memories are so much easier to conjure up and relive when they're in colour.

P.S. I definitely remember those skinny-rib leggings. Not sure whether or not that's a good thing though...

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below.

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Monday 26 May 2014


It's been a bit crazy this past week or so. We've been spending an inordinate amount of time making plans and phone calls and filling in forms.

We've also been spending a lot of time in Ramsbottom because finding somewhere to live has been difficult to say the least. As soon as a half decent rental property becomes available it gets snapped up before we even get the chance to go and have a look.

In fact I was starting to feel pretty down about the whole thing after viewing three houses (one tiny, two mouldy) and was wondering whether we'd ever find somewhere. Especially as the house sale continues apace. Touch wood.

But find one we have. It appeared online, I rang to go and view it and we basically bent over backwards to secure it.

The house is in Edenfield, a village a mile and a half from Ramsbottom, and where I lived prior to moving to Cheshire three years ago. It's also a bit strange in that I actually used to own the house next door but one (back when people in their twenties could afford to get on the property ladder). 

It's a Victorian terraced, elevated from the road with a small front garden and an L-shaped back yard which has low walls and a little lane running behind it. And we'll have two extra rooms! Big rooms! I could now get a cat and swing it if I wanted to!

Oh, and the fields in the picture above are a short walk from the front door. Joe's going to love it.

Last Monday Jay took the day off work so we could go and sort out all the paperwork. The weather was glorious so after that we went for celebratory hot chocolate (yes, I know it's probably the wrong time of year) and a walk in the park. 

We're at that funny stage where we're beyond excited to be going (and counting down the days until 19th June) but we don't want to start packing just yet.

I also don't want to count my chickens. I just keep hoping all goes well with the house sale and am conscious I may jinx the whole thing by blogging about it...

So that's where we're up to. Completely preoccupied with the whole thing. Anxious, excited, a bit worried. And making lists. Lots and lots of lists.

Fingers crossed this will, in a few weeks, be a blog from an even blusterier (spell check's pulling me up on that one but never mind) bit of the North.

Thursday 22 May 2014


Some of you may remember that, many moons ago, I wrote briefly about being a pluviophile (having just discovered the word). A pluviophile is defined as 'A lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days'.

After a long weekend of glorious sunshine we're back to rain and gusty winds and lowered temperatures. But that doesn't bother me. At the risk of sounding a bit Pollyanna, rain at this time of year is something I savour. Practically speaking it's not great (what with having an energetic, outdoors-loving toddler who seems to attract mud even where you thought there was none) but there's something about long grass and lush hedgerows, heavy with rain, that I find deeply satisfying.

I remember once seeing a cream-coloured vintage wedding car outside a country church. It was summertime and the world was green, and the rain was falling. The leaves were hanging, sodden, from the trees. It was one of those moments where you feel inspired to write a novel (I didn't get that far).  

Even more pleasurable than rain during the warmer months is that sensation you get when you're close to the weather but just out of it's reach: taking shelter from a storm under a bridge or lying on the bed with the window open, listening to the raindrops drumming against the glass.

I always dream of having a porch attached to my one-day house. And the appeal of that lies not in the thought of summer evenings dreamily basking in the warmth (lovely as that would be). For me, I'd love to sit and watch the rain dripping from the edge of the roof and smell the wet earth, close enough to enjoy it but still - just - under cover and dry.

Few things are better than hanging out the washing on a warm, breezy day but if you manage to get that washing indoors just as the clouds gather and big fat drops start to fall - well, it's one of those simple pleasures I love.

So right now I'm indoors gazing out at leaden skies and not minding one little bit. The plants are getting a drink and the world, once we venture back out, will feel fresh once more. We may have to wear wellies for a day or two but I for one am a welly enthusiast.

(Note: I reserve the right to retract any comments made here should we have a washout summer.)

Monday 19 May 2014


I had a lovely birthday yesterday - thank you so much for all the good wishes you sent.

All in all it's been a hectic weekend, with more house viewing madness (more on that next time), lots of travelling hither and thither and plenty of socialising. But the weather's been glorious and we've eaten and drank and generally had a great time.

I received some cards with hares on - I love hares - and some really sweet gifts. Jay bought me a beautiful magnolia Stellata (I've always wanted one) in a big earthenware pot. It was awaiting me when I came downstairs to the kitchen and I was so pleased with it - despite the little voice in my head whispering, 'Don't kill it, Don't kill it'.

We had a delicious Italian lunch here. Joe tried a bit of everything and the chef kept coming to see him and make a fuss. I ate panzanella and beautiful breads with oil and balsamic vinegar, and chicken with lemon and pine nut sauce (heaven). And the dessert - a little chocolate tart with strawberry jam and frangipane, warm from the oven and sitting in a little pool of cream, was just... 

I'm sure you get the picture.

The weather was so perfect that after eating we took a little detour via Downham. The whole of the Ribble Valley is picturesque but Downham is the jewel in the crown. It has a little green and stream and ducks, and a country pub from where you can look down across the village. 

Most of its houses are owned by the Assheton estate and can't be bought. Apparently there's quite the waiting list (and application process) for one of the beautiful homes there.

My mum's still a bit unsteady on her feet so Joe, Jay and I went for a little amble up to the churchyard while she sat and took a rest. The views of Pendle Hill and the surrounding farmland are breathtaking, especially in the May sunshine. And the kitchen garden in the picture below is the kind of outdoor space you can only dream of.

I hope you had a lovely weekend.

I'm now going to make the most of the last year of my thirties!

Friday 16 May 2014


It's been a hectic week. We exchanged contracts on the house, finally, and now have to find a place to rent. So yesterday morning Jay took a couple of hours off work and we went and viewed one. It was awful: smelly, grotty and no outdoor space for Joe. Depressing.

Still, onwards and upwards I suppose (didn't stop us drinking celebratory beers in the garden last night - the legal stuff was a big worry and it was such good news to hear things are progressing as they should).

And yes, that picture up there is the dress I made (finished on Tuesday). It has pleats and everything. I've even worn it - twice - so it's now in the washing basket but I promise there'll be some photos of me awkwardly modelling it soon.

I'm now suffering from sewing fatigue. It was emotional.

I'm also pleased to announce I'm now a member of the blogging team over at Garlic and Sapphire, the Sarah Raven Kitchen and Garden site. My first post is here if you'd like to see. 

I was so excited to join as I do love writing, especially about the outdoors. My notebook is filling up with hastily scribbled-down thoughts and ideas for future posts.

I've been taking photos of the garden and, all being well, it's the last spring I'll be doing that at this house. Actually it's just occurred: our completion date is June 20th, so the first full day at the new place (wherever that may be) will be the longest of the year. We'll have to have a Pagan celebration!

The weather this week has been glorious for the most part and today I took Joe to Kenyon Hall Farm. The strawberry fields are currently in flower and if this sunshine continues they'll have a bumper crop. Fruit picking is such a nice thing to do, and the strawberries there taste heavenly.

It was really warm so we walked the perimeter of the fields and explored the hedgerows. The scent of the hawthorn blossoms was quite potent in the heat, and Joe loved playing with the mown grass. We also had the customary toy tractor ride in the polytunnel but it was stiflingly hot and stepping back out into the fresh air was lovely.

There's a trip to the market in Ramsbottom tomorrow for some seasonal fruit and vegetables, then another house viewing and later on we're entertaining. 

And it's my birthday on Sunday. Jay, Joe and I are heading over to Gisburn, Lancashire for a family lunch and I'm really looking forward to it: there's a little family-run Italian restaurant where they welcome little ones and the surrounding countryside is really beautiful. I fully intend to eat lots and drink a glass of something sparkling.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Monday 12 May 2014

Mid May miscellany

I often take photographs of things we do, objects around the house, little details of our day-to-day life. I like the fact that they're not really connected or themed in any way. 

Sometimes I feel the urge to write posts about specific subjects and occasionally they'll be quite serious or meaningful. Others just detail somewhere we've been. But I do enjoy putting these 'random' posts together. They're like a scrapbook page illustrating our week. So...

Feathers in a jar. I always try and find feathers when we go out walking (finding unusual ones in a non-straggly condition is a rarity). And in the background, the £2 enamel coffee pot from last week's car boot sale.

Apples. Bramleys for cooking, Cox's for me (these ones are particularly sweet and crunchy) and Granny Smiths for Jay. Joe won't eat apples. He prefers pears. For now.

The lemon-scented geranium my mum gave me seems very happy on the kitchen windowsill. It's a bright spot and I'm assuming the flowers are an indication that this plant likes to sunbathe.

Joe and I go out walking most days and have been dressing for the weather (sharp showers punctuated by spells of dazzling sunshine). Today we hid in the woods to escape the rain and I ended up with a big bunch of wild garlic leaves; Joe wanted a 'wower' and he sat happily twirling it about between thumb and forefinger. 

Rainy days call for indoor activities. This week: painting paper plates and making animals with Play Doh.

Joe is so lucky to have beautiful knitted jumpers, hats and cardigans coming his way on a regular basis. This cotton hoodie is possibly my favourite so far. His auntie brought it over on Saturday night. He looks so sweet in it. She's a prolific knitter and makes him lovely things.

Dark chocolate Tunnock's Teacakes. I've never tried them before. They're rather nice with a mid-afternoon cup of Earl Grey.

I've revisited quite a few childhood foods since Joe reached toddlerhood. I'd forgotten how good they are: Dairylea triangles, Heinz Cream of Tomato soup, malted milk biscuits. You can't be sophisticated all the time, can you?

So that's my miscellany. Where else would you find feathers, coffee pots, apples, jumpers, geraniums, finger paints, wild garlic flowers and Tunnock's Teacakes all in one place? 

I hope your little details are making you smile :)

Friday 9 May 2014

Going back in time

Those nice people at This Is Your Kingdom recently sent me a free admission pass to use at Dunham Massey in return for writing an article about my visit. I've blogged about Dunham before, as we're regular visitors to the deer park and village but I've never been inside the house or gardens.

So, while Joe went looking at the deer and ducks with his grandparents, I took my camera and pass and went inside those huge doors for the first time. I was excited to see the house, particularly as they've recreated Stamford Hospital - an auxiliary hospital opened during the First World War to treat soldiers returning from the Front - to mark the centenary of the start of the war.

It was actually very moving to look at the photographs and read the stories of some of those who worked and were treated there. They even had actors portraying soldiers sitting up in bed with newspapers, and nurses on duty (we were told not to try and talk to them as we wouldn't get a response - they were simply 'ghosts').

I had a look around the ward, the recreation room and the nurses' sitting room. The attention to detail was very impressive, and for a social history anorak enthusiast like me the whole experience was quite something.

After the house I had a look in the kitchens (home to one of the biggest Agas ever built), the scullery and the huge, gloomy stores where cheese was pressed and game hung. I took plenty of photos but most were pretty dark; I don't like using the flash, and it wasn't allowed anyway. 

I then had a wander around the gardens. So beautiful: wooded areas (carpeted with bluebells still), winding little paths, spectacular plants and shrubs and trees...

I'd only ever been on the other side of this gate until now. To be inside looking out was far nicer.

There was a lot of pink down one border. Rhodedendrons and azaleas of all shades: raspberry, cerise, bubblegum. I'm not generally much of a fan but always think of Manderley in Rebecca when I see rhodedendrons in a formal setting.

I've always wanted some of these fritillaries in my garden. They were almost finished but still worthy of photographing.

I went along on a weekday morning so all was quiet and peaceful. The views, the colours, the smell of the flowers and the earth were a wonderful pick-me-up. Places like this - much as I love wild walks - really do invite you to lose yourself and imagine romantic scenes from the past.

The rose gardens were very pretty despite the star attractions being not quite ready to bloom just yet. I did like the wilder fringes, though - and there's something lovely about traditional beehives.

I also came across some huge peonies. These pictures don't do them justice in terms of their sheer size; their heads were as big as dinner plates.

Tulips were growing in great swathes everywhere. I've always been partial to orange ones, and these were lit up wonderfully by the sun. The original Bagdad Ward in the Stamford Hospital overlooked this part of the gardens. A view like this must have been such a world away from the trenches of France and Belgium.

So, there you have it: a journey back in time to glimpse how the Great War impacted on country life back in England, and a hundred years on, a tranquil garden on a lovely spring day. Quite the contrast.

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