Sunday, 27 July 2014

Jam Packed






The family holiday in Norfolk came to an end and we boarded the train north with an assortment of luggage including a guitar and ukulele. Despite each of the carriages being designed to hold 80 passengers, there was only space for half a dozen small cases at one end so we guiltily left our stuff piled up in the space outside the loo since there was not an old fashioned guard's van.

The east coast haar had rolled by the time we reached Stonehaven but it was sunny in Crathes. The next few days were incredibly hot - temperatures near 30 Celsius are rare in Scotland and it was difficult to do anything as mundane as unpacking. I bought a jelly bag in anticipation of making jars of wild cherry jam without pips but a flock of starlings was determined to strip the tree before I could even collect enough for a bottle of cherry vodka!

I bribed the children to help me deliver the Coracle and Betula Totems to the Speyside Quilters exhibition on Friday with the promise of afternoon tea in Elgin. It was really a thinly disguised ploy to visit Veronique’s super shop on Commerce Street. 
There was a great selection of fabrics and a wicked choice of French haberdashery trimmings. She provided Freya with the perfect fabric for the skirt of her Higher Art dress project and I foolishly bought enough Kaffe Fasset material to make myself a frock. I also came home with 10 metres of gold spandex in case I have to remake the gold totem and to make the kits for my Mini-Metallic-Wholecloth class at FOQ.

Freya’s flowery frock got finished after I applied the bias binding by machine just like when I make a quilt. It fits her perfectly and she even likes it. The next challenge will be to make a separate tulle underskirt. Hopefully we have now mastered some basics between us to figure out how to put her dress project together once she has planned it all. We might even make use of the tailoring dummy that I purchased so enthusiastically 4 years ago…

Nell and I visited the Banchory Show and admired all the spruced up ponies and cattle. Her schoolfriend, Erin won several rosettes with her lovely heifer. The produce tent was bursting with jam, prize-carrots, scones and knitted hot water bottle covers. Sadly, there did not appear to be a patchwork category apart from some appliqu├ęd felt Christmas stockings. 

I sent Sunday in Fochabers with some wonderfully friendly quilters and tried to explain what had possessed me to construct a spandex covered boat. Inevitably, I was asked what challenge I aimed to tackle next. I told them that I have a few ideas rattling around but I really must get That Book finished first!




Monday, 21 July 2014

Sunburn and Lightning






We enjoyed a super, action packed yet chilled out weekend in Norfolk with my folks.  The weather was warm and sticky most of the time except when we went to the beach where there was a cool breeze and I burnt my white legs in under an hour while sitting reading a novel. Fenella was not impressed with crunching sand in her sandwiches and declared that she never wanted to go on a seaside holiday.

My children loved meeting up with their younger cousins, playing with water pistols and going on an adventure to a dinosaur park with life sized fibre-glass T-rexes. It was hot and steamy in the Norfolk woodland and we could almost imagine ourselves being stalked by velociraptors after our jeep had been swallowed by a swamp.

We ate outside in the garden under a pergola at every opportunity and enjoyed the rare treat of reading our books in a deckchair. In Beccles we bought dress fabric, locally grown tomatoes and famous Seppings sausages.

I met up with an old school friend in Norwich and could not believe that we had not seen each other for 28 years. It seemed like just last week that we were messing about in Physics and she had to lend me clothes when my suitcase went astray on the trip to Greece. I always enjoy wandering around the lanes and back streets of the medieval city and I was delighted to rediscover my favourite shoe shop. Amazingly, on sale were green Danish shoes that looked like they would probably fit a trolI. I owned and loved an identical pair when I was 18 until they fell apart so I just had to buy them.

At the weekend we visited the Latitude Festival near Southwold. It was not quite as big as Glastonbury but there were crowds of people enjoying a vast choice of theatre, dance, comedy and music on different stages in the woodlands and parkland around the Henham Estate which I remember from being a pony club member as a teenager. It was another incredibly hot day and it was fascinating to observe all of the outlandish festival outfits, even a stag party of young guys all dolled up in summer frocks. On the main stage Booker TJones was incredible, followed by First Aid Kit, The Bombay Bicycle Club and an awe-inspiring performance from Damon Allbarn who used to front Britpop band, Blur. As he reached the end of his set there were ominous rumbles, quickly followed by dramatic forks and flashes of lightning. The heavens opened and we were very glad that we would not be spending the night in a tent. The drive out of the field was slippery and the road home was awash with water. 


The storms continued for most of Sunday while Freya and I struggled to understand the instructions of her dress pattern. There seemed toy be rather a lot of gaps in the explanations, assuming that you knew exactly what to do. One of these days I might have to make a simple frock and write idiot-proof assembly instructions but in the meantime, dressmaking continues to be my sewing nemesis. Despite heavy rain and crashing thunder throughout the day, we packed up a picnic, umbrellas and raincoats to attend a small, outdoor pop-picnic. Many of the guests were dancing on puddle-soaked grass in summer dresses and wellies in a typically “never-mind-the-weather” British fashion. With only a couple of days left in Norfolk, we are under pressure to complete Freya’s frock, swim at the lido, have one last BBQ and try to fit in a final trip to the beach…

Monday, 14 July 2014

Cider with Linzi

We had a super week in Devon, travelling around sightseeing and tasting all sorts of wonderful, local produce, and fresh apple cider. Axminster offered an interesting selection of junk shops selling everything including vintage clothes and fossils. 

The River Cottage Canteen was super, combining a relaxed atmosphere in a semi industrial building with delicious, ethically sourced, seasonal food. We went there for a lunch and a dinner where I especially enjoyed their strawberry vodka bellinis and slow-roasted belly pork.

We explored the narrow, leafy, countryside lanes and coastline and exploited our National Trust membership to visit the quirky 16-sided house full of curiosities called A La Ronde near Exmouth. The house had been designed to enjoy the sun throughout the day before electric lights were invented. 

Castle Drogo, designed by Lutyens, was having an expensive renovation to replace the flat roof that had leaked since it was built in the 1920’s. I climbed the scaffolding to survey the huge site which will be completed in 2017. 

The most picturesque places that we visited were Budleigh-Salterton, Branscombe and Sidmouth. There was every kind of architecture from sagging thatched roofs to Regency elegance. 

A large market was in full swing in Dorchester where we visited Max Gate, the house owned by novelist, Thomas Hardy. Freya has been wading through “Tess of the D’Urbevilles”, not as enamoured by the style of the book as I had been. We had lunch in an oak panelled tearoom that had been used as a courtroom during the English Civil War.

The highlight of the week was the day that Freya and I spent at the River Cottage HQ cookery school. We did not actually meet my food hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall but everything was exactly as it appears on the TV programme. We were allowed to wander around and meet the pigs, poke our noses in the Yurt and see where some filming had been going on for the next series.

It was an intensive day of cookery lessons, guided by one of the River Cottage chefs who was passionate about using seasonal ingredients. We kneaded bread, made blackcurrant curd, rhubarb and lemon verbena tarts, chorizo meatballs with broad beans and learned how to fillet a flat fish. All of food had come from the fields and gardens of River Cottage HQ apart from the fish which had been landed at Lyme Regis earlier in the morning. 

We reluctantly climbed onto the tractor trailer at the end of the day with our freshly baked loaves and jars of curd after thanking all of the staff and apprentices. I certainly hope to go back another time to undertake another day of curing and smoking or maybe even bee-keeping;)

We spent our last day in Devon at Lyme sitting on the beach and finding out about Victorian fossil hunters in the museum. Since the weather was so lovely, we made ourselves a cream tea back at the cottage. Later in the evening we headed out for a pub supper which we ate outside and washed it down with yet more cider.

We set off towards Norfolk on Saturday morning with the intention of visiting Stonehenge en route. Google informed me that the carpark would cost £5 then the family ticket would be a further £36. We decided to simply drive along the A303 and spot it from the car window. There were hordes of people admiring it from a cordoned-off distance which I felt was rather a shame. I remember scrambling about on the stones as a child in the 1970’s before they became “fashionable” and I much prefer the unlimited access to stone circles that we have in Scotland.

We made a flying visit to the area of Suffolk where we lived when Freya was a baby and had a pint of Adnams Ale at the popular Butt and Oyster pub, overlooking old sailing barges. We were reminded how balmy and sociable summer evenings can be in East Anglia. We are hopeful that we will also get some sunny weather in Norfolk so we can go to the beach and have a couple of BBQs. There are also plans to visit Norwich, a dinosaur park, make a dress, go swimming at a lido and spend a day at a festival so the holiday will simply disappear in a flash!






















Monday, 7 July 2014

End of Term!

After spending Monday morning battling with a roll of bubble wrap, parcel tape and trying to fit 9 sponge columns into two agricultural feed sacks, I collected Freya and some of her friends from Ballater. They had completed an impressive 40 mile hilly hike for their silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition practice and were worn out, muddy and sunburnt. 




It was a relief when the haulier finally picked up the ridiculously large package of totems, especially as they were taking up rather a lot of space. It was a particularly busy week since the school holidays were due to begin and we were heading off straight away. I had to sort out arrangements for the dogs, cat and hens to be looked after by Mo and try to organise packing lists. Inevitably, I forgot to include a couple of things that may have been useful such as my pocket-rocket gas stove for impromptu cups of tea on the beach and suncream.

I made an effort to complete all of the pending customer quilts. One was a customer’s labour of love that had been a part-work magazine project with less than perfect instructions. She had found it both challenging and frustrating but the quilt looked great when it was all done. I turned my thoughts to how I could make a luxury patchwork sleeping bag and ordered a striped flannel sheet from Ebay to go on the back of an unfinished quilt top. I need a heavy duty zip then want to fiddle about with the design to see if I think it needs a hood or a pillow section. It all depends whether it is for “glamping” or taking on a hardcore D of E trek… My Mother requested a quilted ceramic hob cover so I rustled one up quickly in a couple of hours to shove at the bottom of my suitcase. I even cut out fabric for the draft bed version of Dunes Duet just in case I get a chance to whip it up while visiting my folks in Norfolk.

I attended two end of term celebrations - Fenella played violin and sang at the Durris Primary Church service on Thursday morning then in the afternoon, Freya was awarded with prizes for being the top student in her year for English and Modern Studies. 

My husband hired a car for our long drive to Devon instead of putting up with the dependable but rather utilitarian Landrover. With just a couple of brief stops, we finally reached the village of Kilmington, near Axminster after 11 hours. The back lanes leading to the cottage were only 6 feet wide but the holiday cottage was a delight. It is listed in the Domesday Book and the original part is thought to date back to the twelfth century. The children loved the low beams, wonky floors, warped bookshelves and sagging thatched roof. 


We enjoyed traipsing around Lyme Regis on Sunday and because the English schools are not yet on holiday, it was not too busy. I asked the rest of the family to look for flint stones with holes all the way through on the beach. I could have spent a small fortune on nautical style clothes in the Seasalt shop. We stumbled upon a charming vintage inspired dress-making studio and bought two dress patterns for Freya to experiment with in preparation for her Higher Art dress design project. It was very pleasant to eat a simple supper in the garden at our cottage and plan outings for the week ahead.