Category Archives: Country Sense

Midsummer magic

A little midsummer rose magic

Perfect for Thumbelina!

With midsummer here at last, I’ve been wondering if we have been touched by a bit of that good old midsummer magic of late.  Don’t worry we weren’t last seen dancing naked at dawn around a stone circle or joining a load of druids on a pilgrimage to mark the summer solstice.  (Although, Jerry swears he was on the 18:23 from Waterloo with Druid Arthur Uther Pendragon on Friday night).  No, nothing all ‘Glasto’ drastic as that.  However, trundling along the parish boundaries in an ancient village church tradition to bless the fields and the beauty of our little patch of countryside, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps  Jerry and I had gone native, dear Reader.  In a month or two, it will be the anniversary of our first year here and it is difficult to imagine us anywhere else these days. Continue reading

Ticking off the list

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire - surrounded by magical woodland

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire – surrounded by magical woodland

Having had a tricky few weeks with the lambs and a broody chicken to boot, we decided that we all needed a bit of a treat and some time to enjoy outdoorsy adventures (not smallholding related ones at least) a bit further afield.  With a half term full of rain and cabin fever setting in……thank goodness for Primrose and her love of lists.  You’ll see why in a mo, dear Reader!

Last year, Primrose, Poppy and I spent a whole summer gallivanting round all sorts of fabulous National Trust properties and places around London and the South East in order to tick off our 50 Things list.  You may remember that our adventures were featured on NT London and South East’s blog.  Ooh the things we got up to!  A summer of den building, pond dipping, camping out under the stairs……..all thanks to this magical list!  I was going to say that the list is endless but it is a very manageable 50 things – all very good fun and definitely a must for the summer holidays, come rain or shine!  To celebrate the launch of the first #50Things weekend of this year’s season, we were very kindly invited to come along to one of our favourite NT places, The Vyne for an afternoon of bug hunting and cake.  Who could resist such an invitation, I ask you dear Reader? Continue reading

Raising orphans

No82 having a good nosh - our only ewe.

No82 having a good nosh – our only ewe.  She has a lovely tattoo of 82 on her side, hence the natty name!

Dear Reader, I do apologise for the break in transmission.  I’ll be honest, I have been putting off writing this post as the past two weeks have had some serious ups and bottomless downs unfortunately and my birthday in between.  We are all exhausted here at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Raising orphan lambs is no picnic.  Not only is there relentless bottle feeding and checking to be done but lambs (as I was told by so many farmers) have a desire to snuff it lurking around every corner and ours have certainly tried to prove that fact.

When we started out, we had a tiny scrawny black faced lamb (our Suffolk cross dubbed Blackie….I know original isn’t it?!) that was struggling to bottle feed and it took us a week or so to get him sucking as well as to cure his awful bowels.  Poor chap was in a dreadful state but perked up with round the clock care and gentle persuasion.  He now follows us all like a little puppy and is most put out when you don’t stop to pat him on your way to filling up the feed trough. Continue reading

And then there were three more….

Flowers for church on Easter Day

Flowers for church on Easter Day

Easter has departed for another year, leaving behind the most obscene amount of chocolate that I have ever seen.  Spoilt rotten by so many, Primrose and Poppy seem to have a chocolate Everest stashed in the cupboard.  CUE the serious choc-induced madness at church on Easter Day, resulting in Poppy screaming most of the way through the first few hymns and then half of the sermon.  With disapproving glances from some villagers, I made a point of praying for a large gin and tonic when the vicar asked us to call to mind any matters private and personal that could be offered up during the prayers.  Perhaps I should remember to put a hip flask in my handbag for such occasions…?

Still spring in the village is a fantastic sight to behold and everywhere we look there are signs of rejuvenation all around.  Wild garlic in the hedgerows, the crazy cawing of rooks and their babies can be overheard in the trees all around us and we even spied some baby deer from afar up near the woods.  With so many baby animals about, several trips have been made to the local lambing sheds to see the sheep equivalent of a maternity unit.  Truly marvellous to behold. Continue reading

Episodes in cooking on a camping stove

Lesson 1: make sure you have plenty of camping stove gas

Lesson 1: make sure you have plenty of camping stove gas

Episode 1

Dear Reader, this post is brought to you by a Margot covered in dust and cooking on a camping stove.  Do not be fooled.  I am NOT camping ( Jerry is still trying to find a glamping site that meets all the family’s criteria.  Primrose refuses to wee outdoors and a compost loo counts as en plein air as far as she is concerned)!  But you may wonder why a camping stove is gracing my kitchen table, dear Reader?  Have we suffered yet another power cut?  Have I decided that I can no longer bear to wrestle with the hob that only works if you hit the temperature dial a few times before turning it on?  Well….I can report that currently the village is not suffering from its reputation as a blackout black spot so you can cross power cut off the list of explanations.  We are renovating our kitchen.  Cue a wailing Margot, Primrose constantly moaning about the fact that she can’t have a roast or any fish cakes, Poppy trying to make more noise than the builders and a thankful Jerry who seems to be rather busy at work all of a sudden.  I imagine that the office has never seemed such a place of sanctuary to him!

Monday last week heralded the first day without the beloved heart of our home.  Since we moved to the countryside, we seem to spend ever increasing amounts of time in the kitchen, like they do in The Archers.  Not bottle feeding lambs as yet but we have nursed the odd pigeon and a hedgehog back to health in the warmth of the crematorium-style oven.  With the smoke alarm constantly our background music, it’s where Jerry and I spend our weekends and the majority of our serious drinking time (tea, gin, wine….mostly gin and wine).  My days are spent ‘working’ away on various scribbled bits at the kitchen table too.  You might say, dear Reader, that the kitchen is the place we can be found in if you were to let yourself into our home.  So our hub is the first room we thought to tackle, having survived our first 8 months of rural life.  To help you picture the scene, our kitchen ofday 1 old was a shocker.  Not to look at (on the whole) but to work in.  1 set of electric hobs with only 2 functioning plates, 1 cooker (from the late 70s) that cremates all, despite being set on low temp and kitchen wall cabinets which almost meet the worktop thus preventing use of kettle, toaster or chopping board.  Green gin palace tiles all over the walls, reminiscent of a Victorian pub loo.  A leaky sink that saw me one Sunday in the not too distant past, covered in muck from an exploding u-bend….  I say no more.  At that point, it was me or the kitchen.

With that in mind, I welcomed the team of builders with open arms to fit me a kitchen I could make marmalade in, dry herbs from the ceiling and leave wet clothes draped on the range.  Jerry persuaded them to fit an affordable kitchen instead.  All began well and soon the kitchen was a mere shell of its former self.  Imagine my delight too when the builders uncovered a hidden window behind a bank of wall cabinets.  We had been able to see the window from the outside but it had been blocked up years ago.  The light that burst through into the usually dark and low beamed kitchen was incredible!  A wonderful end to Day 1 in Margot’s kitchen.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

From this point onwards, my impatience set in and I am now DESPERATE to get my kitchen back, hounding the builders at every turn as to what is going to happen next.  Thankfully, a week in and they haven’t started to despise me quite yet but Stu, the foreman, tends to open the back door with caution each morning, wondering what I will ask him to do next.  On the camping stove front, I have so far managed a catalogue of fairly respectable meals to take us through our first week of kitchen revamp:

  • Sausages and lentils (As I presented this one, Poppy asked me in rather harsh tones, where her ‘bakened’ beans were.  Sausages only go with ‘bakened’ beans and not rabbit droppings apparently)
  • Spaghetti Bolognese (cheat – as I had already made the sauce and frozen it)
  • Risotto con il pollo (sounds more impressive in Italian….)
  • Eggs a la every which way
  • a LOT of chicken based meals
  • oh and some scallops and bacon with balsamic vinegar (fish man took pity on me and sold them at a knockdown price from the back of his fish van), in a desperate bid to cheer Jerry and me up on Friday night when the thought of more chicken was too much to bear.

To be honest, dear Reader, the rate I am going with the stove, I’m thinking of hosting a new dinner party craze – 3 courses from the camping stove.  Could be a winner!  I was even thinking of my own camping stove cookbook – Culinary Tales from Margot’s Stove.  It’s not ALL beans you know..

candles

Many cups of ‘white with 2 sugars’ later, the kitchen is making good progress.  I have even played agony aunt to Miles, the plasterer, as he negotiated a tricky break up with his long distance girlfriend.  Thank goodness I haven’t lost my sense of humour entirely – Thurs night, the builders managed to drive a screw through the electrics, leaving the whole of the ground floor in darkness.  When I protested, I was asked if I had candles as the electrician was on another job and couldn’t come back until the following week.  This hiccup was only made worse by digging out the bottle of cherished 6 o’clock gin, only to find that it was nearly empty.  Darkness for an evening or two, I can live with.  Gin, my dear Reader, I cannot!

Still….you’ll have to be patient and wait for Episode 2 where camping stove cookery starts trending on Twitter and Margot’s half finished kitchen becomes the set of a new and exciting foray into foodie television.  I’ll just leave you with a sneaky peak……

Cabinets going in...progress indeed but STILL so far to go.

Cabinets going in…progress indeed but STILL so far to go.

Oh what a week!

winter leaveDear Reader, I can only apologise for the wall of silence from me of late.  It has been one thing after another lately!  Water coming through the ceiling, trees coming down making roads impassable, escaping chickens, 3 cracked windscreens (twice on my car, would you believe it?), 2 flat tyres, 1 pair of favourite trousers ripped and the week from hell when Poppy caught the norovirus and was very ill indeed, resulting in our first trip to a countryside hospital!  I wish spring would really take hold, dear Reader.  The four of us are sick of the rain as I am sure so many of you are too.  Our school run route is under water and we can see sandbags are out, water is being pumped on to country roads and carpets have been taken up.  Farmland is awash with water and the landscape is more brown sludge than green with flecks of white snowdrops and yellow daffodils.  Still, we must be thankful we are not in Somerset.  My thoughts go out to those poor people.

I found myself ever grateful for the wonderful nature of country folk around here  a week ago.  Trying to get home after dropping Primrose off one morning, I found myself face to face with rather a lot of water.

Ah....where's the road gone?

Ah….where’s the road gone?

Luckily for me, a very nice chap in a tractor (Poppy still hasn’t got over that a tractor stopped to talk to us) stopped me before I went any further.  The road was in the process of being closed (no guesses as to why…) and there was even more water further down – only really just passable with a 4×4 and certainly not with a puny school run car.  The ‘very nice chap’ looked me up and down and asked if I had any wellies in the back.  I replied that I hadn’t but I did have a rather smart working cocker spaniel who enjoyed a swim.  Judging by the bemused look I was given, it would appear, dear Reader, that Monty on this occasion would be of no use….and wellingtons would have been a more sensible addition to the boot that morning.  Said very nice man then told me to follow him through the water and I proceeded to drive through the wake of a tractor until I reached a dry track again.  I also received a very much needed lecture of the list of countryside must-haves for the boot of the car should I find myself in a similar pickle in the future.  To the ‘very nice chap’ – you are my hero of the day!

I’m afraid it didn’t stop with watery incidents either that day.  Jerry’s supposedly trusty Lanny giant got a flat battery and Jerry and I spent half an hour in the dark trying to extract the enormous thing from the car in the freezing cold before attempting to recharge it in the laundry room.  I am sure that this sort of stuff only happens to us.  It just hasn’t been our month.  Still, as someone said to me this week, we must count our blessings and looking at all the flood water in the surrounding countryside, I have to say, our lot could be far far worse.  There was even a hint of a rainbow this morning so that has to be a sign that things are on the up, wouldn’t say, dear Reader?

If you squint really hard, you can just about see it....

If you squint really hard, you can just about see it….

In all the recounting of chaos, I forgot to tell you dear Reader, that Monty, our gorgeous spaniel boy, turned 1.  Any excuse for cake.  He even got a feathery birthday treat when Henny, our little brown hen tried her special ‘escape from chicken Alcatraz’ number and shimmied under the fence.  The birthday hound saw an opportunity to embarrass me further chasing her all round the garden whilst I ran after him in my dressing gown, pyjamas and wellies, yelling “Leave”.  I imagine that our neighbours had a good old giggle at my expense that morning.

Pup all partied out

Pup all partied out

My silver lining finally appeared though……a couple of nominations in the Mad Blog Awards for Most Entertaining blog, Best Blog Writer and MAD Blog of the Year.  Whoever you are – I could kiss you for nominating me.  I got the tweets just as I thought the week was a complete dead loss!  I hold no hopes out for winning but the nominations have cheered me up no end.  So….THANK YOU!  I raise a gin to you!

Embracing it all

snowdrops

The first signs of spring

1st February marked St Brigid’s feast day (patron saint of cattle, chicken farmers and dairy maids to name a few) and the beginnings of early spring.  Time to leave winter behind and embrace the coming of a new season.  Rain gods – hope you are listening up there?  1st February was also a milestone for us: six months of living in the countryside, dear Reader.   Strange to think that it has been six months since we shut the door of our tiny railway worker’s cottage with a SW postcode and left the Big Smoke.  London seems a distant memory these days and it is difficult to imagine that we could live anywhere else now.  Visiting our dear friends Minty and Tree up in Oxfordshire made me realise how much time it can take to settle into the ways of village life.  Sometimes it can be very hard to get used to.  Minty is an out and outright townie and misses the wandering of high streets and the buzz of city life, whereas Tree seems quite at home.  Perhaps it is because the one at home has to work so much harder to fit in to a new way of life and establish new friends?  I almost envied Jerry’s commute in the beginning, so I can sympathise with the serious amount of energy required and having to summon up the effort to join in and find one’s niche in the local community.  Embracing it wholeheartedly is the thing, dear Reader and I can report that village life is never dull here with people always popping in to say hello.  I am still getting used to the fact that a knock at the door is usually followed by the visitor coming in and yelling up the stairs for me if I am not in the kitchen!

With shooting season over, our little corner of Hampshire is beginning to show signs of spring appearing – that St Brigid must definitely have something to do with that.  Pockets of snowdrops have appeared and villagers have insisted on us visiting nearby woodland to see the snowy white flowers appear in a patch planted up in a guerrilla gardening raid by one of the village elders some years ago.  Gardening is well and truly on the agenda for Jerry and I too and we have begun the mammoth task of transforming our own cottage garden.  Trees have been cut down, shrubs removed and now, the garden looks more like a building site than a tranquil plant haven.  Years of jungle growth had left the dear old cottage will little light coming through its windows and a garden that Primrose and Poppy couldn’t run around in.  So continue to dig we must.   I am not sure I have ever seen myself as filthy as when digging in the flowerbeds.   Jerry talked of hiring a rotivator…..but to be honest, dear Reader, can you imagine that machine in the hands of townies like Jerry and I?  Bet the village would turn out to see us getting it all wrong!  As it is, our neighbours have had to replace a dilapidated fence along our boundary because Monty has been hopping over to relieve himself on their lawn.  There can’t be a household in the village that hasn’t giggled at the chaos that has descended on the old cottage in the village in the last six months.

Phase 1 in operation: jungle demolition.

Phase 1 in operation: jungle demolition.

Marking our six months of rural living was a wonderful and long overdue visit from the fabulous Tom and Barbara with our darling godson.  There was wine, wine and more wine followed by talk of their smallholding and new business ventures.  I admire their spirit of adventure!  Tom and Barbara have well and truly embraced all things country with 4 hens, 2 pigs, a new business, 2 dogs, renovating a farmhouse and plans for so much more.  I’m not sure Jerry and I are ready for that much of the good life quite yet but I think that we are a long way from the townies that arrived all those months ago.  Barbara’s description of our village still has me in stitches, thinking of it even now: “It’s like Midsomer, without the murders!”  I suppose it is in some ways but then I always did like a bit of drama.

Despite all our calamities, we continue to welcome in our own version of country living here and have even been invited to join the Parish council!  The vicar triumphantly bellowing something about inviting the young people to give their tuppence worth.  I am not sure that the dear Reverend has any idea what he is letting himself in for….Margot….on the PARISH council….oh dear.  They’ll be asking me to become a church warden next…..now that would never sit with my gin soak reputation, would it dear Reader?!

Embracing it all

I’d say these wellies were pretty at home here.