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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bish, bash, botch

This is what I've been doing all day, until sheer frustration made me give up and go for a walk. I like the idea that I had for giving this lovely old stool a much-needed facelift, but oh dear, I'm just woefully lacking in the skills department and I'm just about to start unpicking for about the fortieth time.

My auction stool before its cosmetic surgery
It's the corners. I just can't see how you join the top part to the bottom part without lots of bulgy bits developing. In my defence, the instructions, which came from this month's Ideal Home, were dreadful. They offered one miniscule diagram which explained nothing. I must have 30 craft books and none of those were any help either. Is it just me?? Don't answer that.... 

At least I was able to use my new Cath Kidston pin tin, a surprise present from my 16 year old. With his new weekend job has come a bank account, and he was the mail order king this Christmas. Cath emails and special offers are now pinging into his inbox on a regular basis. "I can't believe that I actually have an account at Cath Kidston," he said the other day, shaking his head.
Anyway, now I know what I will be doing in the New Year. Signing up for a beginners sewing course, that's what.

New for January

The latest issue of the magazine comes out today. I am so pleased with our cover, which is an original screen print by local artist John Paige. John and his wife Jane Leycester Paige specialise in prints and watercolours of nature. They run lessons and courses from The Old Brewery Studios in nearby King's Cliffe.
I have also run a feature about retro tea shops, which are springing up in our area like mushrooms. It's fair to say that we're not really at the cutting edge of anything in this region, but we get there eventually and we have some brilliant new businesses emerging, despite the recession. It seems that people will turn to reassuring and affordable treats such as tea and cake in tough times, although I have noticed that the flighty cupcake appears to be losing popularity in favour of sturdier options, such as bakewell tart and treacle flapjack ;)
You can read the full feature and see more pics at

I have lots of plans for the magazine in 2012 and my ideas notebook is full of jottings....

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Cut and paste

Around this time of year, I spend an afternoon culling my stack of magazines, ripping out anything interesting and sticking it in my ideas book or a display book. I use these for all sorts of things - ideas for decorating the house and things for the local magazine - and I return to them time and again. 
It's good to get the enthusiasm flowing: I'm hatching all sorts of projects for 2012. Nothing over-ambitious, I don't make that mistake any more, just interesting things to buoy me up through the winter months. 
Today is definitely one to batten down the hatches, with a wild wind and cold drizzle. I've made a big pan of  soup and the house is quiet with both sons quietly home-working in their respective rooms.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas snippets

Time for walks....

New books....

Christmas cake.....

Gifts (a new lamp)....

And something very exciting for the New Year....Eurostar vouchers (from my husband). When I was in hospital, I was dreaming about being well enough to go to Lille on Eurostar. Now, it looks as if that could be on the cards for spring....

 I hope you all had a wonderful break, with time to relax.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Last minute Christmas

A flying visit to Cambridge to meet up with a friend - what a treat. As usual we walked and talked and walked and talked, had coffee and lunch, walked and talked some more. It was a beautiful day, sunny and mild, and we had a lot of ground to cover. You can stay in the colleges when the students are on holiday, for a reasonable sum, and I think that must be a plan for next time, as we never have enough hours.

The train from Peterborough to Cambridge goes through Ely, and you can see the cathedral from the tracks. I snapped a few shots in the morning light.

I could drive this route easily, but I never do, because I love the train to Cambridge. It's like stepping out of one world and emerging into another. The Fens provide a fascinating landscape, they are unique, so flat and bleak in parts, but lush and pastoral in others. Plus, sitting down and doing nothing is bliss at this time of year.

After that little lull, we went to our local market to do the Christmas food shop today. Now the turkey is in the fridge, the fruit and veg are stashed away. Just a bit of baking to be done tomorrow, and a promising- looking maple Christmas cake to ice (Dan Lepard's recipe), and a few last presents to deliver. And there is always time for a hot chocolate along the way, however old you are :)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas trimmings

Usually, I pore over home made gifts in magazines thinking that I'll definitely make some of my presents instead of buying them. Of course, I don't usually get round to it, but this year, I have had time to do more. I've loved it. Here is some chocolate fudge. Some for eating, some for giving....I found some really thick glass trifle dishes at a car boot sale in the summer and they've come into their own this year.
We're having an at home day, after pelting around the shops and garden centre again yesterday, gathering in the final purchases. My little gift horse has appeared for his annual outing under the Christmas tree:

Books are dusted down:

The bird is in position on top of the tree:

I'm going to attempt another Christmas cake now....

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A seasonal find

I spotted this little linen tablecloth in the charity shop last week. It is all hand sewn on linen, and so beautiful. Even the holly berry has a little detail on it. A quick soak was all it required, and now it will bring another splash of colour to the house, along with my pink roses.....

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Party ready

Spent a lovely day preparing for our party last night. I didn't want to get stressed and snappy with family members, as that pretty much defeats the object of having a party, so I tried to be really organised, and of course, not working as much has helped enormously. I've been able to enjoy the preparations, rather than dashing about like a thing possessed. I'd been shopping and baking throughout the week.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's shortbread recipe is a winner. And Good Housekeeping's tiny puff pastry pieces, sprinkled with parmesan and paprika - easy.

Then it was just a matter of assembling things: feta, olive and roast pepper on skewers. Chicken, chorizo and sage on a stick, parmesan shortbread with mozzarella and basil, smoked salmon on mini oatcakes, sticky sausages, tried and tested chocolate brownies, cheese, bread and my husband's pate.

Fire lit, candles burning, the smell of mulled wine on the hob and the house all ready and expectant before it bursts into life. The few moments before a party starts are always lovely....

I hope our guests enjoyed it as much as we did....

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Shakespeare and Company

I was sorry to read today of the passing of George Whitman, who founded the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris. I stayed here when I was a student, and had the most amazing few days in George's company. I'm not sure how my friend Ronnie and I had heard that accommodation at the bookshop was absolutely free, in return for a few hours' work, but we had set off to Paris after our finals with very little money and the intention of helping out in return for our bed and board. This is the shop (above). The image is from my ancient camera circa 1984, so apologies for the quality.

Photo of George Whitman from The Guardian, obituary column, December 15

George Whitman was a very distinctive looking figure, with a pointed beard and twinkly eyes. He had a direct manner, and didn't suffer fools gladly, but he let us stay. The beds were dotted around the bookshop, literally just mattresses placed by shelves with some well-used blankets on top. The shop overlooked the Seine. There were no bathrooms, just a very basic loo (Ronnie remembers George bellowing at her to answer the door when she was incarcarated in the john), so we'd pop over to the cafe across the street to wash and eke out a few francs on coffee and bread. We ended up doing some work in the shop, and we cleaned the kitchen of George's apartment, which seemed a pretty fair deal to us. I seem to recall that his wife and young daughter were there at the time. His wife was making a risotto, with a rainbow of vegetables, while we cleaned out cupboards and scrubbed the floor. Later, we were invited to attend one of the literary salons. Today I read that George's daughter has taken over the shop and continues his legacy.

On the ferry, heading to George Whitman's Shakespeare and Company (hello huge '80s hair!)

I found the whole set up wildly romantic: all those books and interesting people! We met students from all over the world during our brief stay. In fact, I still have a tatty old copy of Proust with everybody's addresses scrawled on the jacket and there are names from Israel, America and Germany. It's an interlude that I'll never forget. 

RIP George Whitman.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Feeling festive

I had my first glass of mulled wine today. Had a small Christmas gathering for the contributors to the magazine here at home. Very nice to see everyone and have a chance to chat. There would have been Christmas cake, too, but I got distracted while it was cooking and it was too incinerated to inflict on anyone. I made a lemon polenta cake instead and it went down well. More party prep tomorrow as we have a bigger gathering here on Friday....

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Colourful Christmas

I was so thrilled to spot this unusual embroidery in a junk shop a few days ago. I was contantly in motion last week, with lots of dashing about for work and with my sons' various activities. En route to an appointment, I stopped off in the market town of Oakham, and in the backstreets, I found a little antiques shop with some intriguing things in the window. It was closed, but a small sign said you could go round the back and ring for admittance. I have to say, the owner rather grudgingly opened up, and then stood there, unsmiling, with his arms folded, watching my every move. But I'd already caught a glimpse of this pretty thing sticking out of a box, and it didn't take long to decide that it was coming home with me. It is all hand stitched. It just reminds me of colourful snowflakes. I probably need to take up the hem, but it's fine for now.

It came on top of a plain foot stool, which I'm keeping for now, as I want it to be out on display, rather than stored in a cupboard. It works with my colourful Christmas decorations, which are slowly coming on. I'm using lots of pinks and turquoise and green. It's a mish mash, but I'm not aiming for anything more than a pretty muddle of things. I made rosette paper chains last night in front of the fire, while waiting for my older son to return from a very late shift in the local inn, where he has just started working as a waiter. My husband and younger son were away for the night, and it was very rare for me to be home alone during the evening. All was quiet, apart from the sound of little mice feet skittering about in the attic. I think I need to go up there and investigate.

 Today, I've made a Christmas cake for us, and lots of chocolate brownies for younger son's football team party  tomorrow. The house smells delicious, chocolatey and spicy. Mince pies next. I'm on a roll....