Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Horizons

As the passing of 2014 ebbs ever closer, I think back over a big year for me and The Beard. It seems odd that we are now closer to our 1st anniversary than we are to our actual wedding day. That this time last year it was all to come and I was fairly nonchalant about the whole thing. Meh, thought I, it is yonks away. Let me rest upon my laurels a little more. It soon slapped me in the face with it's all consuming presence. And then -  poof  -  it was gone. I still have so much to share with you about all the handmadenesses and corners that I swerved to make the day as thrifty -  but no less awesome -  as possible.

But, that is all on the new horizon of 2015. Eeeek. It smells all clean and fresh and new. 

A year of changes ahead of our own making. Of sticking to the path we have been trying to forge for ourselves over the last few months. Hopeful that the end is actually within touching distance and not some disappointing daydream.

I shall see you there, you lovely lot. Thank you for hanging about through the scattered postings upon this little bit of webular. There is plenty more to come from me next year. Scouts honor.

Right. Come on down, 2015!.

Friday, 19 December 2014

My Moost Happi Palace

There are few places that have captured my heart the way that Hampton Court Palace has. I have visited it countless times over the last 9 years or so. I have been there in the morning, the afternoon and, once, at night time with nothing but a candle for guidance. 

If you ever get the chance, their Ghost Tours are well worth your pennies.

Before anything remotely retro made it's way into my wardrobe, I was -  for a fair ol' while -  obsessed with The Tudors. A like that turned love from about the age of 8. An interest that morphed into obsession with men in tights and murdered Queens.

One Queen in particular has always been at the top of my "I must know more!" list and I doubt she will ever be toppled. The fact that Anne Boleyn walked the pathways , played cards and, in all probability, danced in the Great Hall never fails to make me smile

The Palace is Baroque -  and no less glorious - in part and it is only by the good graces of the William III's coffers running dry that there are any Tudor parts left at all. It could of all been brick dust and lost forever.

For shame.

Visiting on a weekday in Winter is always my most treasured time to go.  I was lucky enough to go this year as a day-early birthday treat from The Beard.

There was a waft of oranges and cinnamon coming from the chilly catacomb kitchen corridors that run under the Great Hall. They are still now -  empty -  but I love to imagine them in their prime. Bustling with staff balancing trays of roasted meats and pewter goblets of wine. Of the heat coming from the working fireplaces. Of the smell of pies and pottage.

I have never been to one of the Palaces Tudor cooking events where meats are roasted over the flames nestled in the deep recess. There is something in me that longs to try some traditional dishes created in a kitchen that fed such a notorious King. 

And if it came in one of those lovely glazed pottery bowls -  all the better.

I often ponder what Cardinal Wolsey really thought of falling out of  Henry VIII's favor, leading to this brick extravagance being handed over as a gift. Completed in 1515  -  and celebrating 500 years shortly - H-8 overtook it as a Royal Palace in 1529. I wonder how that went down, for real. Was it a fumbling "For you? Why, for sure, my lord!" or a "Yesssss, please do enjoy..." hissed out through a gritted teethed grin while a tear rolled silently down the Cardinal's cheek.

I always feel that I discover more facet's to the Palace each time I visit. It always feels familiar, but occasionally seems as though it has shifted in some way. Like the moving staircases in Harry Potter. I stride off, confident in knowing what lays behind a particular door, only to discover something that I have not seen before.

I like that it always has new snippet of history to show me.

But there are some parts that have remained the same for near on half a millennium. 

Half. A. Millennium. 

These paving slabs and walls. The working, all seeing part of the Palace. The bits that a gajillion feet have walked upon and a million shoulders have brushed. The mirrors used for reflecting candle light and the faces of visitors. 

Including my own.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Oh, how the Roses Cro(chet)...

Somewhere, in the distant past, I had a wedding brainwave. I decided that I did not want traditional wedding flowers of any kind. I felt that, for us and the thrifted wedding we had planned, they were a terrible waste of money. I didn't like the idea of them being in the photo's forever, but rotting on a compost heap somewhere. I debated the idea of having them freeze-dried, but figured I would always be worrying about breaking them and then they would be gone forever on account of my cackness. 


So I decided against them. They were not to be real bloom. Not for myself, the bridesmaids (my Aunt and the Marvellous M), or the wedding party button holes. Or all 85+ guests button holes. Oh no. I was going to save us money. 

This was the driving force. 

I spent a time staring longingly at immense Pintrest boards, stuffed full of knitted bouquets and and their ilk. Oh, they were so pretty and unique. I looked into having something made, but it stretched way outside my smidge of a budget. I even tried to learn how to knit for the occasion (hey, Rebecka, it's over a year on and I am still!!! ~ but thank you so much for your patience on that cold January afternoon). 

I thought about giving up. 

And then I remembered how much, slightly , it only has one stick marginally better at crochet I was when I had given it a bash. I had mastered making a chain (I have some very nice red "tinsel" to prove it and my friend Lisa to thank for bringing this craft into my life) and I would jolly well learn how to do the rest. By crook or by hook.

Now then, I learn a lot faster by watching than by reading, so I knew a kindly video'd tutorial would be in order. Little did I know I would find a whole Crochet School just sitting there waiting for me. I decided to find a rose pattern that I liked and learn how to do all the stitches that it mentioned. It was a long slog -  and some of my first ones were floral abominations in woolen form. But, slowly, I got it and one day it clicked. I was ready to move on to the wedding wool.

I had decided on pink, white and green flowers for the bouquets, pink for the wedding party and yellow roses for all the guests. With the Pagan/Edwardian/Vintageness of the whole thing, I wanted everything to have meaning. We chose yellow on account of their symbolism of Friendship, New Beginnings, Joy and Happiness. Over 200 roses, a 6 month stint of making them at every possible moment (for reals -  on the bus, in my lunch brake, on the train) they were all ready and bagged. I drew the line at making the leaves, mostly because I found them cheaper than the wool online and The Beard is a dab hand with a needle and thread. 

They truly were a team effort.

After many a panic of "do they even look like roses? you think they look like roses?... look at this.. what does it look like to you? Does it look like...a...rose??..." they were bundled into an old suitcase and given to guests on the day.

They formed part of the wedding favours and it warmed my soul to look out across the congregation to a sea of smiles and yellow dots. It was well worth every moment of effort and guests still make mention of them now. Every guest kept them, and the ones that were over-made shall be added to a wedding blanket I am working on.

Which is lucky, as I can no longer remember how to make them.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Land Girls & Lumber Jills Remembered

The National Memorial Arboretum is set in 150 acres of woodland in stunning Staffordshire. I had been expecting it to, mostly, be a lot of dedicated trees. However, alongside the boughs and branches there are a whole heap of other memorials. To the ATS. To the Post Office. To the Navy. So many groups are represented with permanent memorials. It is well worth a visit if you are in the area. I would recommend a sturdy pair of shoes. The place is vast.

And a few short weeks ago, as Blighty was battered by some pretty hefty winds, the Beard and I headed there for a very special unveiling. As the winds howled and the clouds rolled over us in hues of white, gunmetal, purple,and deepest grey, dumping stinging rain on us at regular intervals, a gathering of very awesome ladies had arrived to finally see a memorial to their personal contribution.

Although I was hovering somewhere near that back for the official bits, with a camera that was just about to give up the ghost (6 years of being flung around the bottom of various bags will do that to a photosnapper), I did manage to grab some pictures of the statue. I have followed the progress of this artwork and was thrilled to see it in person. 

With arms linked, axe and pitchfork in hand and a dead rat at their feet, the Land Girl and the Lumber Jill stand proud for many more generations to come. 

Despite the weather and the Royal wait of 45 minutes due to the winds and helicopters not being the best of friends, there was laughter and smiles all round when the memorial was dedicated.

Seeing the statue reminded me of one special former Land Girl I met on VE Day 2010. I had a brief chat with Iris Halfpenny on that day, but had not seen her since at any other events. Sadly, I missed her at this one.

So, imagine my surprise when, looking through photos of the day on the WLA Tribute FaceBook page, I spied a familiar face. I am sad to have missed her, but am so pleased that she and her friends wore a full uniform. 

Copyright Express & Star

A very special thank you to Susan Crawford and her wonderous Wartime Pullover that has raised a whole heap so far and is still available for purchase. 

A massive merci buckets to all those social media savvy friends who helped promote the charity via their own blogs & Twitter feeds. You rock.

The WLA Tribute fundraising was promoted here ~ and still is as funds for maintenance are still needed ~ and I am thankful to all of you who spared what you could to make this memorial a reality. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Return of the Chill.

Finally. It is here. The Autumn. The chill. The damp. The dark. I have been waiting for it to arrive for a long while now. It has been very warm here in Blightly for far too long. Samhain was more like Summer and for the week leading up to it, I was in a spin. Not sleeping properly and generally feeling a bit.... confused. It took me a while to figure out why. Off kilter winds coming in from the South, that's what. By Samhain, it should be crisp and cool. Not muggy.

As well you know, I am a Winter girl. We have a deep and involved love affair each year and the warmth that lingered equated to me feeling stood up. But, come  the second day of the eleventh month, there had been a break, a return to normality. I opened the curtains to rain and gloom and felt a leap in my soul. I lit candles and listened to the spit-spotting. I cooked pancakes and made tea. I decided on a day indoors, cocooned and nestled.

And then, all of a sudden,with a break in the rain, I felt the need to be outside. To feel all this change on my skin. We made our way to the woods and, in the dusk and the damp, pootled around feeling the chill. It felt like a massive hug from an old friend.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Wedded Woods ~ The Great Dress Debacle

Herein begins the posts about our recent nuptials. I feel that I may as well start with one of the very first things that my thoughts gravitated towards -  the Dress.

Now then, with most of the things being handmade or second-hand for our day, I knew that I wanted a frock that had those elements in mind. It also needed to come in at under £500.

 So, I launched myself at Etsy. I had the help of the wonderful Cinestyleography (aka Marvellous M) and her Edwardian-esque-searching-beady-eyes. We scoured and hunted up and down, left and right, round and round.  A couple were found, but nothing that made me feel anything from the pictures. One night, when looking for something completely unrelated -  there it was. An actual Edwardian dress. With all the hallmarks of being something amazing. I snapped it up and waited for it to arrive.

Oh my, it was delicious. Everything I thought it would be. I set about deciding how I was going to customise it. I decided on embroidery. I had plenty of time. Bags of it to spare. Heaps. I bought everything I needed to get started. 

Oh, I had such big dreams.

The seasons came and went and the dress remained untouched. I thought about it occasionally, usually on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but decided working on other things to do with the wedding were far more important. It began to niggle at me that I had lost my mojo for the cotton goodness nestled in it's protective bag. Why was that? 

Something in my brain decided, foolishly, that it was not wedding-y enough. I needed more. More material. More poof. Maybe some netting or lace. Whatever. More, more, MORE. I landed on eBay and hit the ground running. I found a dress in my measurements for a snip. I snapped it up and relaxed. It would be amazing.

Perhaps relax was not the right energy to put out there, because the garment delivered to me was a duvet hidden in some net curtains, wrapped in a voil. It fitted me perfectly, but made me feel like a Disney Princess. I tried my best to get my Beyonce on in the front room, but alas, it was like dancing in a sleeping bag from the 70's (minus the brown outer and orange inner although there was room for a cigarette burn as standard.) There was no way I could have lasted all day in it.

The joyous thing about all of this, is as I dithered, time did pass. I got on with other bits, all the time thinking "it's ok, I have time. Time, time, time. It's mine to dick about with. Oh yes. Time". And then time ran out.

The following realisation that I had a mere 2 months to go  was met with fear  panic vomiting a fresh look at the internet. There was no chance in a month of rainy Sunday afternoons that I would be able to customise my original dress in time. It was like the sun kept on shining, just to prove a point.

Out of the white hot worry of not finding anything within my budget (all dresses thus far had been under the £100 mark) and not being able to sleep because of it, at 2.30am, in the light of the laptop screen I stabbed "Titanic dress" into the search engine. I scrolled through about 20 pages of images. From the ship sinking, to random pap shots of Winslet, to some truly eye-brow raising costumes "in the style of". 

The internet was laughing at me.

Then, suddenly, there it was. Just one picture. The dress. I clicked on the picture and hoped that it was something that I could actually purchase. I could. In many different colours and sizes. It would be delivered to me from across the water in 1-10 days. It came in under £220 including postage. It could save my actual day. I ordered and waited. Sure enough, it came on through from The Wardrobe Shop in plenty of time. 

It was everything I had hoped my wedding dress would be. It was individual and in the style that I liked. It was not white or cream in it's entirety, nor did it look like a regular dress. It very much said "Bride" to me when I stared back at myself from the mirror in the spare room -  but more to the point -  the kind of Bride I had been thinking of all along.

I just had time to get my shoes dyed and my ideas on jewellery pegged.
(which changed last minute, but that's a post for another day)

Friday, 3 October 2014

Little Bits

There are times when you get a little something extra from life. Take this mini bunch o'fleurs. I fell in love with the whole bunch at our local market at the weekend. I made a mental note and decided to grab them on the way back to car. A perfect dose of niceness for one of my good chums we were visiting that evening. 

Oh how she would love them ~ but did I love them more?

No no no ~ I said to myself ~ these are for she, not for thee! With not enough money for deux bunches, I took them home for said friend.

I could not keep them. That would of been wrong. Very, very wrong.

 If any one knows what these are  ~ I would love to know. The flower man (who I have a feeling is usually the bread man) did not have a clue. He just stuffed my money into what, at first glance, looked like the front of his jogging bottoms. On second glance, I realised it was actually a money apron. 

Relieved does not cover it. Gag. No no, you're alright, keep the change love.

As luck would have it, when I came to rearrange & wrap them, these 2 delicious bits fell off onto the kitchen top. Hurrah!

It made me think, sometimes, you don't need a whole bunch of florals to make your day. 

Mostly, a little posie will do. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The First World War & The Helpful Heffalumps

As we creep ever closer to many First World War Centenary markers, there have been some fascinating snippets in the news of late. I am interested in all things Great War - but especially the female role and the more unusual stories. One in particular grabbed my attention last week and made me exclaim “ have I never know this? Why was I not taught this as school??!...” and to then promptly tell everyone in earshot about what I had discovered. And you lovelies are next.

With the calling of all horses to the front - from the coach pullers to the corn transporters – one of the areas hit was the vibrant, hardworking world of the Circus. Horses across the land were soon requisitioned by the army and the performing circuit’s soon drew to a halt. Many male members of the menageries joined up and left their companies. Labourers in the towns and cities could not be found and in 1917 many fairgrounds ceased to trade. However - there were still fully trained and hardworking animals to be tended to.

With their immense pulling power, elephants were handed over to fill the hoofs that the horses had left behind. On a small farm, near to one of our favourite picnic spots , just under 100 years ago, you could well have seen a benevolent pachyderm helping to plough a field. Or perhaps hefting hay with ease over their strong backs with the quick flick of an inquisitive trunk.

Further North, the odd vision of an elephant wearing leather boots would have been common place. Used to pull munitions and scrap metal, the boots were to help protect her feet from any shards of steel.

Around the South, you may very well have spied a Land Girl in all her full skirted uniform trying to guide a big ol' heffalump along in a straight line. If you would like to see this now (ooh! the technology!) then head on over to British Pathe and have a look-see.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Sun Soaked Woo

Oh, the Woo, the Woo. 

She is so very old now and she reminds me of a very special, if a bit threadbare, beloved toy. She spends her day sleeping, meeowing -  to me, but mostly to herself - threatening a fur ball, sleeping some more, eating some more and pestering me for anything I have on my plate.

In the past week she has so far eaten: a bran flake, a piece of apricot, a bit of scrambled egg and some lettuce. She is not phased by the fact that it did not come from a pouch -  all she cares about is the taste.

However, in her ripe old age of, we would wager, 16 years old, she loves none of this compared to her adoration of the sun. 

Never in the morning, only in the afternoon, you can find her, spark out, on the end of the bed. In her deafness, you do not have to worry yourself with waking her, unless you blunder into the edge of the bedstead with your thigh. She will not be disturbed by your effing and jeffing - just by the movement.

She might open one eye and spy you with mixture of love and hatred. Her slumber was interrupted (scowl) but she still loves you (purr). 

At this point she usually stretches out and goes straight back to sleep. I feel so guilty if she gets up and, sun drunk, totters over to me. 

I much prefer to let her get on with her daily soak.

Friday, 29 August 2014

WW2 Bakery ~ Vinegar Cake

How could I not try something that sounds so, well, unappetizing? 

I went out and bought some Sarsons especially for the occasion. Isn't it odd buying one of those cupboard staples when you run out? Like, salt. I always really seem to notice when I buy these bits. Or am I just weird?

This cake-u-lar grabbed my attention straight away. Vinegar? In a cake? Saaaay whaaat?

Although it felt a little odd tipping it into milk instead of on me chips, I have to say that this bake is really rather nice.

170g self-raising flour (or plain with 2 tsp on baking powder added)
90g sugar
90g margarine
1 tbsp vinegar
1/4 pint of milk
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
90g mixed dried fruit
(you can round these 90gs up to 100gs - I did with no adverse effects)

  • Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM4. Grease & floor or line an 8" cake tin
  • Cream together the fat and the sugar in a large bowl. Sift the flour into a separate bowl
  • Pour the milk and vinegar into a bowl or jug, add the bicarb and whisk together. It should begin to froth. The more air added -  the better
  • Mix the froth into the creamed sugar and marg, add the dried fruit (I used raisins as that's all I had)
  • Pour into your baking tin and bake for about 45-55 mins, depending on your oven

With no eggs, the alchemy of the vinegar and Bicarb of Soda really does work wonders. I paid careful attention to how much I sprinkled in, as I have been known in the past to be a bit teaspoon-happy, chucking in what I think is about a spoonful, which has ended in something tasting a little like soap. 

Mmmmm. Soap.

No such mistakes here though with the finished cake being crumbly and light, with a slightly crispy top. There was no hint of vinegar (or soap) and it was nice to have a cake that was not spiced - there has been a lot of ginger used in my kitchen of late -  so a plain cake is rather refreshing.

It has lasted a good week with no adverse side affects and I would certainly make it again. As it is plain, you could flavor this in any way you choose. Perhaps some lemon and orange rind? Or some dried cranberries and nutmeg for the festive season?

Either way, you will have some right nice cakeage at the end of it.


*Adapted from The Victory Cookbook


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