Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Being Spooked

On this evening of Samhain, or Hallowe'en, I have to say that I have never felt anything more or less than any other day. I honour the Dead in my usual fashion, make a nice supper and refuse to answer the door after 6.30pm, when all the wee Trick or Treaters are in bed -  or buzzing round the ceiling on account of scoffing sweets -  and it is badly costumed teens who grace my doorstep in a belted black sack and a grey tracksuit.

Being someone who believes in things like spirits and echos, I have been lucky enough to experience certain things over the years. These have mostly just been feelings, sometimes a physical tap on the shoulder and occasionally, I have heard something. Thankfully, the majority have been friendly and I have felt no ill will. However, on the odd occasion, the uneasiness has been all too real and I have bolted. I know something is not right when my instant reaction is "f*ck that!" -  and I'm off.

I do think about the times gone by when I have met with something otherworldly. I have yet to make acquaintance with a mermaid or a unicorn - but I am forever hopeful. The animated films of my youth have a lot of answer for.

One time that stays with me, for its ability to make me shiver, was whilst I was visiting Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. The home of Queen Victoria and her family, and her personal retreat after the death of her husband, we were visiting on a beautiful sunny day a couple of Summers back. We had been wandering around, taking it all in. Such things as the Raj Room, the beautiful views over to Portsmouth and even the bed where good old Queen Vic popped her cloggs at 81 years.  I was pretty relaxed and had felt nothing but sweat gathering on my upper lip all day. No ghostly greetings.  

That was until we walked into the Nursery. We were chatting away about something or other when I heard a sharp female voice clearly tell me to leave. Just that one word. I thought it was one of the room guides, but when we entered, there were none to be had. There were no velvet clad ropes advising us that the room was the "stretch-your-neck-as-far-as-you-can-to-see-in" kind (arn't they the worst?) so I dismissed it. Perhaps the sound had travelled from another room? Maybe it was the wind. Either way, we moved onwards.

Firstly, this room is beautiful. Roped off to a certain point for preservation, but beautiful all the same. You can see it here for yourselves. I was looking at the wallpaper and the light fittings, and had not even noticed the ornate crib. That I could of sworn was slightly rocking. In a static and alarmed room. We were the only ones present -  and there were no windows open. The movement had attracted my eye, but  I found I could not look at it. I could not hold it's gaze for more than a few seconds. And then I heard it again. Leave.

I felt as though I had been physically pushed. Square on in the chest. Not as though someone were actually in front of me, but like energy from across the room had been directed at me. At this stage, I still felt, very much, that whoever this was, was over by the crib. Just to the right of it. With her arms folded. All of these impressions flashed across my mind and gave me a jolt. Like that feeling when you are just about to drop off to sleep and your muscles flip out and make you think you're falling. Or the chain has come off your bike 
(as in my case).

I sidled up to The Beard and tugged on his arm. "I don't like it in here. We have to leave" I said. "Before she comes over". I didn't feel threatened by her as such. I felt as though she was panicked, as any Royal Nanny would be, with Prince and Princesses to look after, and strangers standing in the room. I felt she was being protective and asserting her authority over the Nursery.

We made a hasty exit.

Things like this could be in my head. I am aware of that. I am as cynical as the next person. But. I do trust myself and my intuition. Whether that Nanny was an echo or a presence, I know we were an unwelcome intrusion.

And there we have it.

Whatever you are up to this windy evening, I wish you a wonderful Samhain.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Sunshine Memories

That's it folks. It has gone cold in the Northen Hemisphere. Whilst I am one of those that rejoices in the company of frost, long nights and the possibility of snow, I am still lamenting for the Summer that never really got going.

That said, there were days when the rain cleared, the grass dried and the sun shone forth. The sort of heat that would not be pleasing to a cat and a tin roof. On these days, I grabbed sandals, a cotton frock and the biggest straw hat I could find. We headed off, with books & food, for secluded places with leafy shade and a country estate in the back ground.

There were dappled (slightly spooky looking) woodland trails, butterflies, buzzy things and sheep lazily munching grass. Or just laying under trees, begging to be sheered.

 No sound of traffic, no barking dogs, no intrusions.

And the glory of it all? I get to go back and explore it in the frosty delights of Winter.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Wartime Farm ~ Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman & Alex Langlands ~ review

Accompanying the eight-part BBC series that follows Edwardian Farm and Victorian Farm, Wartime Farm finds the show's presenters Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman and Alex Langlands exploring a fascinating period in Britain's history as they spend a year living on a reconstructed farm from the World War II era. The wonderful hardback will help give you an insight into how our predecessors lived and thrived in difficult conditions and also offer practical advice on how to grow your own vegetables, how to keep chickens in your garden and how to live self sufficiently. Fascinating historical detail and the presenters' atmospheric storytelling make this a compelling read for fans of the hit television programme.


Could this series and book be more up my street? Wartime? Farming? Cosy jumpers, tweed and sturdy shoe fashion galore? Recipes? History? 

In short, no.

I was kindly asked by Octopus Publishing to review this book and after about a nano-second of deliberation, said YES indeedy! I have also reviewed this for Queens of Vintage. Tis a hard life.

So, what did I make of it? I opened it up and smiled. A lot. After just flicking through to look at the abundance of photos, all printed on a nice matt, vintage effect paper, I knew I was going to like it. Perhaps because I already love this team of people from watching Victorian and Edwardian Farm, like a hawk, when they aired. This is the sort of reality TV I like to tune into. Real people, experiencing real things from the past. Right down to the scrubbing of a stone floor and the birthing of a breeched lamb.

And whereas previous eras were hard, Wartime Farm is no less so. With food production in overdrive to accommodate the lack of imported items that the UK had become dependant on, every pair of hands were needed. Not only from (my beloved) Land Girls, but also PoW's and The Scouts.

I found the book to be informative. For example, I had no idea that teams of women used to operate canal boats carrying vital supplies up and down the country using our Inland Waterways (IW). Knows as Idle Women -  meant as a slur originally, but taken to heart by the ladies themselves - they lived 3 or 4 to a boat, in cramped and limited conditions for weeks at a time.

Or that some Land Girls were quite literally turned away from service, on account of their colour.

I feel that this vital part of the Home Front is often overlooked when it comes to both programmes and books about this little green Isle during those dark days. When some think of those back then keeping the home fires burning, they perhaps think of blackout blinds, gas mask boxes, queues, Woolton Pie and the all important radio.

Wartime Farm is aiming to bring the importance of farming during those times to the fore. The battle fought against drought, frost, temperamental plough horses, not to mention the lack of durable clothing and, unless in the middle of the country, the possibility of being underneath the fall out of a Messerschmidt on it's way back home.

There are also touches of WW2 fashion, beauty and recipes. I shall most certainly be giving homemade Elderflower syrup a go.

 The TV series, which began on BBC2 at 8pm on the 6th Sept 2012 and concluded yesterday should still be in iPlayer for a bit with the DVD being released on the 26th November in the UK.

However, if this were a book only, I would be equally as happy.  It is available in all good book shops and on-line now.

I have longed for a book like this, to give me information all in one place.

Wartime Farm does a pretty good job of it.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Fog! The Fog!

Can you see me through the gloom? The gloom that has surrounded my little apartment for the past 2 days? I have not been able to see to the end of the road. It has been a constant greyness for a whole 48 hours. 

And I kinda like it.

It has been making me pack up all my non seasonal-cross over frocks, have a good old Autumnal clean and make copious amounts of soup for the freezer. Turkey and Sweet Potato is the only soup I am any good at. It is surprisingly cheap and simples to make. And filling. And generally yummy.

I have been thinking of writing a how to recipe type thang? Would anyone be interested?

The weather has also made me feel less guilty about staying in when I am not ill or because I have to for some other reason. Just being at home because I can is one of my most favourite things at the moment. I have made a small cocoon of my home over the last few months. It made me twitch at first -  and now I am ready to head back into the world of full-timers -  I know I shall miss it.

And the mogs. Who like to get up all close and personal.

Monday, 22 October 2012

::: Parade's End ~ BBC/HBO ~ review :::

My my. I had high hopes for this. 

I decided to leave off trying to cram the book in before it aired, as I did with Birdsong, and thought I would just go along for the ride in this HBO/BBC collaborative  production.

Initially, I really liked it. Episode One had me immediately wanting to watch the next instalment. I loved being introduced to the characters; the stiff, principled Christopher Tietjens; the wondrously selfish, unscrupulous  Sylvia; the forward thinking Valentine.

I instantly like them all.

The cast was well considered. Anything that Benedict Cumberbatch and Anne-Marie Duff star in gets my attention and usually my vote.


I adored the costume, the staging, the interactions between the characters. But I felt as though something was missing some how.

So each week, I tuned in to hopefully learn a little more.


Not knowing anything by the original author Ford Maddox Ford, I was interested to read that whilst it was being adapted for screen, the writer Tom Stoppard, advised that he had added bits to make it more understandable to the viewer.


Parade's End was very jumpy -  which I am normally fine with -  but I felt it jumped for the sake of it. As though trying to create some kind of illusion. It just left me pausing, frowning, rewinding, watching, pausing once more and discussing with The Beard. After the 3rd episode of this, we decided to just watch and shush.


Despite all this -  I did get it. I became more confused as to why it had to be 5 hours/weeks long. I would have rather watched, perhaps, 90 minute episodes over a couple of weeks.

That said, I was left wanting more from this. I felt that, although this production was given considerable length, it was still lacking. More Western Front perhaps? More of Valentine and how she felt about Christopher?

The performances from all involved are, however, flawless. I particularly loved Anne Marie Duff as Edith with her arty circle, her dreamyness and her refusal to have sex on a bed -  not to mention fab costume.

I was left frustrated by this production, as though it was incomplete in some way. But -  as with most things, it has made me want to read the tetralogy of original works for myself.

Watch this space.

A slightly hollow-feeling


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Bletchley Park

On our recent holiday to my parents house in Northants (we are so retro, man, holidaying with relatives out of town.. and poor.. and grateful for different scenery) we took a break from the beach and headed off to visit Bletchley ParkIt has been on my list of places to visit for a very, very long time. 

So, to Milton Keynes we went. I am still blocking out the "roman round-about" near collision experience. Such fun.

I know very little about Bletchley Park and the real truth of what went on there. The intelligence involved makes my head spin off. I would never, in a gazillion years, been a candidate for that sort of war work. I am too much of a day dreamer and doodler. And I am rubbish at keeping secrets. I would have been loose lipped and got a ship sinked.

Put me in a field, picking potatoes where I am a danger to no one.

I was very humbled to read about Alan Turing one of the masterminds behind many of the broken German codes, the hormonal treatment he received to "cure" him of his sexual preference when he was convicted of homosexuality in 1952, his resulting suicide in 1954 and the apology from the UK government in 2009.  I am watching to see if he shall be pardoned completely in the near future.

The grounds, with all the outbuildings, reminded me of my secondary school. Even the way some of the paths were laid out. I half expected to see my old headmistress -  who knew every pupils name, which still boggles my mind -  to pop out from behind a tree and remind me to get my arse to clarse.

Just outside the main house, there Churchill's Stone and a plaque which states:
This stone represents the one on which Churchill stood to address the  Bletchley Park staff  during his visit of Sixth September 1941

It is only transcribing the above that I realise it was not the actual stone. I really should pay more attention to things when I read them.

The entry fee was pretty steep - probably because I am skint - but, for that you have access for a full year. So, in that case, it's more than reasonable, if you can make it back to the area.

 I found the staff to be friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Although the main house is now used for conferences, meetings and weddings, it has not lost any of it's charm. I am a sucker for dark wood panelling, it brings out the Tudor fan in me.

The rooms that are open to the pubic are very obviously still in regular use, but I didn't find that the modern day chairs or projector screens distracted from the history of the place at all.

And, I had a very pleasant man talking in my ear. He demanded my "serious face of  paying attention".

There were small notices telling me the function for each room, like the one above being used for dances. I could just imagine the noise, the heat and the music as people swished about on a weekly basis. A bit of release and fun away from their war work.

There are also 2 museum bits -  one of very astute facts, figures and an abundance of Enigma machines -  and the other is a random collection of stuff.

Personally, I liked the stuff more.

There seemed to be some order to it -  but not much. I like to discover interesting things for myself,. Like my own personal "Where's Wally". In amongst all this jumble, there was plenty of treasures to be found.

Including a stern looking mannequin.

I have to confess, I let out a small yip when I saw these old desks. Reminded me even more of my school days. We had singular lid desks (is there a more proper name for these?) during my first 3 years of secondary education.  All that graffiti and old stickers. Even back then, I used to wonder who had sat at my desk before me. Chances are, it was probably only someone in my form due to the common occurrence of desks being swapped of a lunch time. Odd, but true.

And then, if my day was not good enough already -  BABY QUACKERS!!!!!!
A whole cluster of them, all waddling and squeaky. Ducklings are one of my bestest baby animals, on account of their ability to float.

All in all, a grand day out and well worth the visit.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Berries of Black

Oh how I love thee Autumn. Let me count the ways. Actually, let me not, there are too many. But one of them is, for shiz, blackberry picking.

I have yet to find enough berries to make jam -  but I have always gathered enough to last me the winter with the aide of the freezer. Plenty of crumbles to come! *drool*

It really has started to turn here on this little spec of land, but the bright crisp days have been few and far between. Rain, in abundance all over and, further North, bringing flooding and woe. I love a good rainy day as much as the next person, but it is becoming dull now.

So, rushing outside when the sun makes an appearance is the only thing to be done. If there so happens to be berry picking involved, with the promise of a custard laden treat at the end, I'm game.

I was in search of rosehips - with some faint notion of making syrup or jelly -  and although I found some, I would have needed a ladder to get at them. Alas, no ladder in my binocular shoulder bag.

 I am still getting lots of wear out of my Home Made Dressing -  despite it's thin-ish cotton. Some nice woolly underthings will soon sort that out. I am thinking of perhaps teaming it with some new leather boots I thrifted recently -  but it might look better in my head than in an actual mirror. We shall see.

 I adore the longer shadows and the days becoming noticeably shorter. 

I. Love. It. 

I am a real Autumn/Winter gal and like nothing more than to head off into the woods to soak up all the changes.

The rustle of the leaves, the crunch under foot, the occasional muffled thud of a conker hitting the deck. Squirrels and birds foraging. Me, clambering a bit too far into the thorns, to prise a fat blackberry from it's perch.

It always makes me smile, to watch nature take advantage of the sweet, plentiful fruit. From rats and mice who gobble up the fallen, to birds balanced and picking the attached, to flies who scamp across the bounty, to the spiders who spin their webs to catch the flies.

They sure are clever, them pider-piders.

Unlike me, who thought it would be a hoot to climb a tree. In plimsolls.

I rushed up to it, shouting over my shoulder to The Beard "A tree! A climbing tree! I used to climb trees all the time! Look - see how I climb!!"

My enthusiasm, spirited on by memories of my younger self (who would have had, I am sure, a flower fairy doll about her person) was met with disappointment at my lack of grip on account of my shoes.

So, I turned homewards and towards a cheering pudding.

Stupid shoes.

Friday, 5 October 2012

::: Pretty Nostalgic Magazine ~ Review :::

I shall hereby tell you a short story of how Pretty Nostalgic came into my life. I was not seeking a to spend any cash. Money is on a strict budget at present and any frivolous expenditure was being stored away for a particularly fruitful car boot. Or a unexpected vet bill (Woo -  you threadbare old mog -  I'm looking at you)

So when a reader commented that they had spotted me in in Issue 3 of this mysterious publication -  I set off to investigate. I popped a shout out upon Twitter and garnered enough response to know I had to see it for myself. A trip to my local WHSmith ensued. All on the basis of vanity. What photo had been used? In relation to what?

I strolled in, dodged being seduced by the chocolate and new books on offer, and headed off to the magazine bit. And there is was. I knew before I had even picked it up that I would be parting with cash in the very near future. Maybe a bit more on some chocolate to cheer me up from spending pennies I don't have.

Pretty Nostalgic is not your run of the mill, read and recycle magazine. You won't see these in your Doctors waiting room - unless you are very lucky. It's a keeper. A collector. Something that I know I will refer back to again and again. I headed home, having flipped through and finding my mug (grinning like a loon on a bicycle as part of The Vintage Style Ride for a feature about cycling) and subscribed on line.  I just had to. It was too nice to not have it in my life.

You see, it's rammed full of all the bits I like about the vintage/retro/rusty-old-bits-of-interesting-tat-in-your-kitchen scene. It is printed on thick paper. It is warm, inviting, inclusive.  The features range from snippet sections stuffed full of concise info, to 4 page editorials. The how-to's are not just how to make bunting and do victory rolls. And, thankfully, it is not stuffed to the gills with adverts. Sure, they are there, but they are nicely laid out and made to fit with the whole aesthetic of the magazine.  When the first 3 issues landed on my doorstep, I brewed up, battened down and read them cover to cover. I surfaced to cold tea and hungersome cats.

I was sold on not only how this book-esque magazine looks and it's content, but also the creator's manifesto. Once I had read this, in part on the first page of Issue 1, I breathed a sigh of content. Exactly the sort of thing I have been seeking. Something worth parting with limited funds for.

 Pretty Nostalgic is £8 per issue. I shall give you a moment to recover. I needed one myself. But, as this is a bi-monthly gig, that's almost like £4 an issue. Kinda. Plus, if you subscribe, you receive a 25% discount and a free gift. I am all about the free gifts. I was sent some beautiful vintage birthday cards. That I won't be sending to anyone, because they are too nice to share. Oooh -  I am a wicked friend.

And there you have it. In all -  a new, well-worth-the-spendage publication on the market. 

For keeps. 

Roll on Issue 4.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My Hair Curling Arsenal ~ 4) Bobble Rollers

I am sure that there is a far more correct, technical, term for these  - but  I know not what it be.

For a very long time, these were my go to from my arsenal. I was given a mixed bag of hair bits by Margaret last year, which contained about 6 of the blue rollers above. They were too big for my shorter locks in the New Year, but I loved the fact that they allowed air to travel to the core of the hair.

So I went on a search. An eBay search.

I found them here on line relatively cheaply, but have since seen them in various independent pharmacies. They are often called "soft rollers"  or "bedtime rollers"- which makes me think of sponge rollers - and I have to say, they may be made of firm-ish plastic, but they are very comfy to sleep in.

I start by sectioning off the top of my hair with the aid of a rat-tailed comb and then set to rolling.

I use setting lotion with these, although I am sure that all other agents would work just as well. Mousse is a good one for me if I am out of lotion. I apply from a spray bottle and always neat. Water and my hair produces only frizz, so I never dilute.

Now, I have been using these for a while now, and there is a trick to getting them in, and out, of your locks.

Once my hair is damp, I wrap it around the roller, making sure I have the ends all in. The little spikey bits on this work really well for this.

 I then take hold of the bobble in one hand and make sure that I have a firm grip on it and the elastic. As I roll, the elastic does become twisted - but it is in my hand and not attached to a stray piece of hair and making me wince.

Once the hair is all wrapped around, I then let go, the elastic un-twists and I can stretch it over and pop the bobble in the end with no wincing. Win.

For these, I usually roll the top section under and the rest of the hair up.

As with putting them in, there can be issues with that pesky elastic when taking them out. When I first started to use these -  they became entangled on more than one occasion. But I was so impressed with the longevity of the curl, that I kept working with them until I had mastered it.

The trick is to pop the bobble out of the end and then let go. I have had terrible trouble with the curler itself becoming caught and those wondrous grippy teeth, that so helped me when putting them in, turning against me. Tease, don't pull these out, and you should have minimal issues.

I find these great to sleep in, because they are small and therefore closer to the head than sponge rollers ever could be.

I have seen these for sale in the XS size (pink) and slightly larger (yellow). They are washable, and repairable. I like this muchous. If the elastic breaks,  I can fix it instead of chucking it in the bin.

Ease of Use:  6/10

Comfort when Sleeping: 7/10

Longevity of Curl: 8/10


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