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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Holidaying at home

The fine weather is still hanging around, the football season does not start for another two weeks, so we decided to go out for an afternoon and make the most of summer. We came to Lyveden New Bield, a National Trust property which is close to our home. It's a very intriguing place, a half finished garden lodge built by Sir Thomas Tresham between 1595 and 1605.

It has a mystical air about it, the wind blowing through the open windows and roof. The NT have replanted an orchard that Thomas Tresham oversaw (they even found the original holes where the trees were sited 400 years ago) with traditional breeds of gages, apples, plums and cherries. 

There are features from the pleasure garden which Tresham planned, with terraces, moats and viewing mounts. Inside the house, I loved the graffiti from the past....

Near the house is a little cottage, and this has recently been turned into a tea room.

It's very pretty. The surrounds of the house are open and it can get breezy, so this secluded garden is the perfect shelter.

Very inviting...

There go my family, disappearing inside to claim their tea and cake...we sat under a tree to eat it and it was lovely to feel that hot sunshine.

Back home,and I've been picking redcurrants (this has felt like a very summery summer). I don't know what I will do with these berries yet, I've put them in the freezer for now, but they are so very pretty. I painted a picture of them last night, but it didn't come out well, so a photo will have to do for now.

Like little jewels, aren't they?
Hope you all had a lovely weekend. x

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Jam for tea

I've been painting again this morning. Only really happy with this sketch but I have had lots more ideas to try another time.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

That holiday spirit

Finally, school is out for summer. My youngest son finished yesterday, and the house has shifted gear. I'm still working, but definitely going at a slower pace, and looking forward to a short break in a few weeks' time. I bought this Cath Kidston dress from Ebay in anticipation.  The print just reminds me of English seaside holidays which is fitting, as we're going to Devon this year to do some house sitting for friends who live in Totnes. 

The sun has made a return, after a couple of days of storms, thunderbolts and deluges. 

It reminds me of summers of my childhood, where the warm days seemed to follow on, one after another (I don't know if they really did, or if it just seems like that looking back).

The Cath K dress has a very similar print to this original 50s tablecloth that I found last year. 
Did anyone see Kirstie Allsop's new upcycling programme last night? The interiors weren't really my style, but I'll never turn down the opportunity to watch a bit of vintage on TV, and it's great that we're being encouraged to recycle and Freecycle and Gumtree. But, do you ever get the feeling that you're being told things that you have known for quite a long time already? I got that feeling while I was watching. I may well tune in next week, but I won't be buying the book.      

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Bathroom makeover

Back in March, we had a new bathroom installed. Our family bathroom, with an old fashioned bath, no shower, peeling Cath K wallpaper, and little white curtains just wasn't coping with the herd of teenage boys that passed through it regularly. The paint was flaking, mould was growing and we had to do something.
So, we got rid of our bath in favour of a big shower, had a new hot water tank and various plumbing work carried out, and it has worked really well. No more queues or door banging in the mornings now, and plenty of hot water for everyone. 

My idea for the blind and the room colours came from this mood board from (I think) Homes and Gardens. Girly vintage schemes don't work in a bathroom where the majority of users are boys, so I tried to come up with something practical. 
The linen is called Pebbles, by John Lewis. I loved it as soon as I spotted it. A work colleague is just starting a soft furnishings business, so she made me the roman blind and Perry put it up today. 

The bathroom is very small and there are no attractive features in the room. We have not-pretty replacement windows, too, so anything decorative has to come from the added extras. 
The 'tube train station' rectangular plain white tiles are in the shower and on the splash back. My little cupboard cost £20 from Newark Antiques Fair. It was covered in layers of thick paint, and needed a lot of love, but I really liked the size and the fact that it still had a key and a sweet little lock. It took days - and a lot of Nitromors and elbow grease, to get rid of the old paint but I wanted a scrubbed, beachy wood, so I couldn't take the easy chalk paint option this time.

Here is a 'before' shot of the cupboard. And this is what the bathroom looked like before the makeover:

Much easier to keep fresh and clean now, and although I was never a shower enthusiast before, now I love the energising effect it has.

My towel cupboard is an old lidded egg crate turned on its side and with a handle added. The stool (which doesn't always live here, as I was determined not to clutter the space) is a 1950s one which cost £2.50 from a charity shop. I recovered the top with some more John Lewis fabric, this time an oil cloth in a mid-century pattern. The Next tallboy was a reluctant purchase. But it fitted the very tight space and it stores all our essentials, so it had to be done.

I have put up some 1950s towel hooks which add a little shot of colour, and I'll add a pic of these later. For a functional room, I hope it has worked out. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Home made rhubarb ice cream

It is a day for ice cream. Delia's home made rhubarb and ginger crumble ice cream. It's the first time I've tried making it. I don't have an ice cream maker and I didn't realise how easy it is to do by hand. We still have lots of rhubarb in the garden, so yesterday afternoon I picked one pound of it and got to work. 

Double cream, sugar, lemon juice and a ginger crumble mixture which you bake in the oven on a tray.
A few whiskings and freezings later, and it is ready...

It's just as well something turned out right yesterday, which was not my most enjoyable 24 hours as I:
* broke down quite spectacularly and waited road-side for nearly two hours to be towed to a garage, missing a work party which sounded very good
* crept in at about 8.30pm, hot and tired, heading for the shower when I got a message to say that the deadline that I thought was on Monday, had moved to yesterday. Magazine would be going to the printers this morning! So, a strong cup of coffee and up until midnight signing off pages
* up early, cycled to garage with car keys, mud guard fell off bicycle on way home
* decided to cheer myself up by hanging new roman blind in bathroom. Dropped the blind, caught a glass with the edge, smashed it and stood on the pieces in bare feet...
I am now going to sit in the garden where I can do no more damage...and I shall eat that dish of ice cream...

Fenland Lottie mentioned this ice cream on her lovely blog which is how I got the idea, so thank you so much. It was a great idea and a lovely post.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Sunday sketch

All of the family were out today, so I had time to do a small water colour sketch that I've been thinking about for a while now. The title of this should really be 'all the dresses I have ever owned or dreamed of owning.' Some of them are based on classic Horrocks designs and I've only seen them in museums or in my book about the Horrocks label. 
I love painting pictures of dresses at the moment. There might be a few more on the way....

Friday, 12 July 2013

Is there honey still for tea?

I spent a really good day here at The Orchard Tea Garden at Grantchester, near Cambridge.
I was with photographer Lesley Anne and we were trying to get a cover shot for the August issue of the local magazine. This is the issue where I can stray out of my direct area to concentrate on days out and tourist attractions in the region.

The Orchard is a very special place. I don't think anywhere suggests Englishness to me as much as this, especially on a balmy summer day like today. The surrounding countryside is not particularly appealing, as it is quite flat and featureless, but there is something about these gentle green river meadows with the willows hanging down into the water and cows grazing in the pasture that is very evocative. The area was made famous by the poet Rupert Brooke, who moved in to The Orchard when he was a student at Cambridge University, and seeking some quietness away from his hectic and complicated social life.
It didn't happen. His friends sought him out and Grantchester was soon a hive of activity for Rupert and his Bloomsbury set friends.

They swam in the river and caroused on the banks - you can just imagine it. Today, the Tea Garden has a Bohemian air, with groups of slightly mildewy deckchairs under the apple trees. You can buy cream teas and lunches and sit in the shade to enjoy them. Next door is The Old Rectory, which I think is now owned by Jeffrey Archer. Rupert Brooke also lodged there and he wrote one of his most famous poems about it, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. The last two lines are these:

"Stands the clock at ten-to-three
And is there honey still for tea?"

He also wrote these lines, which I love:

"I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass..."

Here is the Vicarage garden:

And the Vicarage:

The village itself is very pretty:

Cottage gardens abound.

There are flocks of tourists in summer. I overheard an American tour guide trying to explain the concept of clotted cream to a group of Japanese people as tray loads of cream teas arrived at their table. "It looks a bit disgusting," she was telling them, "but if you beat it really hard with your spoon and put some on your scone, it is delicious!"
 Rupert Brooke died aged 27 on a troop ship bound for Gallipoli. He became ill on board and died from blood poisoning. He is buried in an olive grove on the Greek Island of Skyros, but there is a statue of him in the Old Vicarage grounds. As he once wrote prophetically:
"If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England." 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A dress into a skirt

A few months ago, I was mooching through Sainsburys with my shopping trolley when I spotted a very pretty cotton print summer dress. It was only £20 and had a distinct Cath K look about it. I liked the full 50s style skirt and longer length (Cath's skirts are always too short for me). I bought it, and tucked it away for the warmer weather. But when I came to try it on, the top part really didn't fit well - what did I really expect for £20? But I liked the print a lot, and so I decided I'd turn it into a skirt. So far, so Molly Makes, but we all know that I am lacking in the sewing department. Lots of big ideas. Not much actual skill. 

 But, I could see that the elasticated part could become a waistband without me having to do much to it at all. So I took a deep breath, and chopped the top off....

Then all I had to was neaten the edges, and I just used the lazy zig zag stitch on my machine. It fits!

I like wearing it with plimsolls, or bare feet, otherwise it feels a bit 80s. 

And that is how I turned
a dress into a skirt.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A night to remember

It was a beautiful evening for a summer party. We arrived at the hall at about 6pm to set up. Perry, me and our friend David had an hour and a half before the guests arrived, so we set to work with table-moving, tying up bunting and setting up a little bar.

Tracey supplied some beautiful flowers for me. A jam jar for each table and two big arrangements. The colours were just gorgeous.

I made an album of memories, including photos of as many people as I could find in my collection of prints. Quite a few of these friends were at the party, and it proved to be very popular. 

We set chairs and tables around the dance floor, and hired a music system. I just plugged in my iPod with my  special playlist, and we were ready to rock.

Snacks for every table. Party dress on.

My three best friends from university. 

The bell tent was really popular. I was so glad we put it up. Fifty people came, which was just about right. My hedgerow vodkas went down very well. We put them in tiny shot glasses over ice, green gooseberry, pink rhubarb and bright red strawberry vodka. My eldest son Jack ran the bar with his friend Livvy, which was brilliant, as it meant we could relax and enjoy chatting to our friends.  

We ate: sticky sausages, home made pizza, mini quiches, melon and parma ham bites, bruschetta with avocado, and dill and smoked salmon scones, bread, cheese and chutney, home made chocolate brownies and fruit tarts.

We sat in the evening sun, then went inside to dance. The top ten floor fillers were:

Friday I'm in Love - The Cure
Pretty in Pink - Psychedelic Furs
Le Freak - Chic
Hung Up - Madonna
Party Rock Anthem - LFMAO
Blue Monday - New Order
Common People - Pulp
Night Fever - BeeGees
Don't You Want Me? - Human League
Just Can't Get Enough - Depeche Mode

Next day, we were able to chill in our garden and chat. A wonderful end to a party weekend.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Final preparations

Yesterday I was making some final preparations for the party. I went early to the market and bought some big bunches of grapes, punnets of strawberries, apricots and raspberries. The sun was shining down and everyone was in a good mood, chatting to each other at the stall. Doesn't happen when it's raining! 
Last night I made these fruit tarts, which are very easy and light for summer. I rolled out some ready made shortcrust pastry, cut out circles, and put in a slice of apricot and a raspberry, then poured in a mixture of 3 eggs, 3oz caster sugar, a drop of vanilla extract and half a pint of single cream. Bake for about 20 minutes and they're done. 

The savoury food is being made by my friend Bridget, just leaving some sweet things for me to assemble. I've also baked some chocolate brownies, and a tray bake of vanilla sponge with gooseberry jam filling and elderflower icing which I'll cut into tiny squares.

Some flowers for the house. And if you never see another photo of these, you'll probably be happy...

See you on the other side....