Category Archives: The Farmhouse

Summer’s end

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  Honestly I only crept through the door in the back of the wardrobe for five minutes for a little peace and quiet and next thing I know, spring has sprung and summer was giving us a last hurrah.  I didn’t mean to stay in Narnia so long but somehow the longer I stayed away, the more I was able to focus on the most important things or rather people in my life.  I’ve been working on a series of new projects at the writing desk and at the farmhouse too so the outside world has been lost to me for a time.  Too often I forget to just enjoy the moment.  Taking an extended break from the blog was not really part of the plan initially but I think it’s helped me to focus on what I do want to achieve and not worry about dividing myself into thousands of parts in order to get things done.  To be honest I wasn’t sure that if the blog was perhaps relevant any more or whether or not it would be missed if it just slipped away quietly.  A crisis of confidence shall we say, dear Reader.  So this little break has made me have a long hard think about where I’d like to be and how I move forward with my writing.  In short it’s been good for me.  Before I knew it, the time whooshed past and I’d no idea what or if I’d missed anything important in the land of blogs and social media and magazine columns or life in little Insta squares.  So thank you for bearing with me.  I promise not to be away again for so long.

I am sure you are wondering what’s been happening at the farmhouse?  Well we’ve had a few new arrivals and we reached our first milestone – 1 year at the farmhouse.  I still can’t quite believe it but somehow this beautiful little plot and house are ours and although we still have a long way to do in terms of renovating it, we are all so very happy.  Oh the things I have to tell you, dear Reader.

Since the ducks arrived, there has been nothing but trouble.  They are bonkers and such excellent time wasters.  Luckily they are so adorable otherwise I’d envisage crispy duck on the horizon.  On the hen front, we lost our lovely Cream Legbar hen Marj and we decided to go in search of another blue egg hen, ending up with Minnie and her husband Winston.

Things didn’t turn out so well with Winston sadly and he began attacking everyone and everything in sight, resulting in drawing blood almost every day from one of us.  The children were too terrified to even collect the eggs.  So he had to go.  With no hope of rehoming him because of his aggression, he ended up in the pot.  Not an easy decision but a necessary one.  I remain ever in awe of our girls that they aren’t horrified by the idea of animals loved and cared for becoming food for the table.  Who would have thought that Margot and Jerry could produce such country folklings?

Then came the geese.  Three plump Embden beauties we thought we’d call George, Lucy and Martha.  As seems to now be the way of all things Margot and Jerry HQ, we ended popping over to see our log man and leaving the wood yard with more livestock.  I seem to be on speed dial for rehoming animals.  Turns out that Martha was actually an Arthur and Lucy more of a Luke.  So we have renamed them the Three Tenors – Luciano, Placido and Jose.  Much more fitting when they offer up a merry honk every time someone appears on the driveway!  They are all looking rather less muddy these days and have been a welcome addition to the pond.  Although the ducks are rather less keen on their daily raids on the feeder and bolshy teenage gosling antics.  We had hoped for the tiny splish of webbed feet when Daisy our most maternal duck sat on her eggs for a week or two.  Overnight, she lost them all to a rather cunning rat or stoat.  A rather sad end to spring but I’ve come to accept that nature is all part of farmhouse life.  We’ve promised Poppy and Primrose an incubator for next year.

The lavender harvest was a wonderful success and I am eternally thankful to all who purchased wreaths and bunches from us this summer.  It’s true what they say about small business owners – we do do a little dance every time someone buys something from us.  I couldn’t have managed cutting rows and rows all by hand without a lot of help from friends and family and it has made me more determined than ever to see this little farmhouse business idea succeed.

I’ve also formed a lovely partnership with the talented Saskia from Saskia’s Flower Essences and this year, she took some of our lavender to distill into oil and hydrosol to make her wonderful Easy Sleep spray.  I’m a great believer in the power of plants and flowers and this has certainly been a hit in our household – think This Works but better.  Saskia has a magic touch.

There’ll be a little more before Christmas with some firelighters and a few other bits and bobs but for now, lavender season is well and truly at an end.  The four of us have breathed a huge sign of relief not to have to pick, make wreaths or handle lavender for a wee while.  Watch this space as we develop a new website for Cricket Lavender next year.

Carrying on the countryside capers, our new kitchen garden has been a stonking success.  I’m quite certain that Jerry and I might not have been quite so grumpy about the back breaking work of turning a patch of turf into a vegetable garden if we’d known just how much one small patch could produce.  We’ve had enough to feed half the village, dear Reader!

From wonky carrots and mammoth marrows to leaks of another kind and time travel.  As the house renovations rumble on, we experienced our usual chaos when the attic was cleared to make way for new insulation.  Turns out that all our ancient pipes are in desperate need of replacing and as the attic was cleared, a rather large leak was found that we’re lucky hadn’t brought down the ceilings.  Goodness only knows how many years it had been gushing water.  Emergency plumber drafted in, I prayed that our attic related calamities might be at an end.  However, the farmhouse had other plans, dear Reader.  In the space of a few hours, to add to the Cluedo-esque lead piping, we battled with a couple of loose cannon hornets as well as accidentally scooping up two live bumblebee nests.  The silver lining?  A miraculously intact copy of the Daily Mail from 3rd October 1923 was found, complete with front page story featuring a certain moustached German politician by the name of Hitler alongside another headline about a cow rampaging through a village and injuring three people.  A Cow’s Day Out indeed.  The paper has been framed and will be hung in the downstairs loo for posterity, joining another find in the form of  a yellowing edition of The Sun from July 1980 with the headline Russian Spy Plot.  You’ll be pleased to hear that the bumblebees made a great escape too and were collected by a bee man under cover of darkness to be rehomed in a local copse, dear Reader.

In short as you can see, dear Reader, the last few months have been eventful in many ways.  As autumn creeps in, I am back at the writing desk and the house is quiet except for dogs snoring.  Don’t tell Poppy and Primrose but I do miss them when we are back to our old routines of school and work.  However I know that September always brings new adventures, dear Reader and I’m ready for them.

PS – if you’re on Instagram, I’ve started a little hashtag to curate all the mists and mellow fruitfulness of autumn.  I’d love you to join in too – just add #usheringautumnin  to your post and I’ll choose favourites each week to share on a Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll have to call back – I’m in Narnia

I am beginning to believe that the farmhouse has been trapped in its own snow globe.  Never have I had a better excuse to settle in a chair by the fire, read books or play board games with the girls whilst eating endless homemade crumpets.  Is there anything more decadent than licking the dribbles of warm butter from a third toasted crumpet off one’s fingers I wonder?  Don’t answer that.  We can’t all live a high octane lifestyle, dear Reader.  Despite the gradual shift in temperature, everything is smothered in a thick blanket of snow as I write and although I am supposed to be head down at the writing desk today, I find myself clutching a mug of hot tea and staring out of the window at the fluffy white eiderdown covering the farmhouse garden.  I never thought I’d say it but….sadly school isn’t shut.  Jerry has managed to get to London too so I am home alone.  I was hoping for another snow day to be honest, dear Reader.  The last lot of snow ensured days of bombing about on the little tractor round the garden – girls and dogs whooping about like mad things.  I know the snow isn’t fun for everyone and there’s a lot to be said for all the amazing people who have kept everything running despite the so called Beast from the East making life awkward.  A massive shout out to so many farmers who were out with snow ploughs, rescuing stuck vehicles and those who are battling with their livestock in truly difficult conditions.  These are awful lambing conditions.  Just getting water to our hens and ducks has proven tricky when pipes are frozen solid and drinkers ice over in seconds and we haven’t had nearly as much snow as some parts of the country.  It’s not just farmers who deserve our praise either.  The Herculean efforts of doctors, nurses, carers and so many more vital people in the community who have braved the elements to get to work has been awe inspiring.  Our local Facebook groups have been awash with kind souls offering help, giving lifts and taking shopping to those in need.  As they say, not all superheros wear capes.

However, I can’t help but feel that the white stuff has brought a bit of wintry magic our way.  Lazy days are few and far between these days and our first winter at the farmhouse has been memorable because of the snow.  We’ve been living in our own little bubble.  I can’t remember the last time I threw myself into all day baking sessions with my girls, danced round the kitchen to Moana with a tutu on or snuggled up on the sofa under a blanket to watch a film together without something drawing me away from time spent with them.  Snow days have banished any feelings of guilt that I should be doing something else.  Instead of missing out, I have made it my mission to forget the other stuff for a while and focus on making snow blobbies (Poppy’s version of snowmen) and finding the perfect number of mini marshmallows for a mug of hot chocolate.  It’s eight if you’re interested, dear Reader.  With enough wood in the log shed to keep us going and plenty of provisions, the snow has given the four of us the perfect excuse to slow down and shut out all the calls on our time from the outside world.  That and the driveway was rather slippery even with a Land Rover so staying put seemed a far better option than going out when the first lot of snow hit our little corner of Hampshire.  Swathed in layers, we stepped out into our very own Narnia and time was lost.  I may even have eaten a box of Turkish delight, dear Reader.

So with Jerry and the girls back to their everyday routines today and my head full of words that desperately need to find their way onto the page before me, I am rather sad to bid farewell to what we hope will be winter’s last hurrah.  The sun is out and great clods of snow are already thudding down from the roof as it warms up.  By tomorrow, the snow will have disappeared as quickly as it came.  It will soon be time to welcome in spring, dear Reader.

A Year to Remember

There’s always an ending and a beginning as the twinkly lights of Christmas are packed away once more.  Lists of things left undone, things achieved and dreams and hopes for the year to come.  Then January sets in and I’ve forgotten all about what it was I wanted to do, what I’m supposed to be doing and the things I should have done by now……including writing this message to you, dear Reader.  You know what they say though.  Better late than never.

2017 was a year of beginnings for us.  We met and fell in love with a farmhouse, decided to undertake the biggest project we’d ever tackled, turned a tired lavender field back into production and generally everyone we knew thought that we had finally lost all our marbles.  Move to a derelict farmhouse you say?  Why ever not?  Now our first Christmas here has been and gone, it’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago the farmhouse was still rather more of a shell than a home.  No clean drinking water, no heating, no functioning plumbing….the list is endless.  There wasn’t much of a kitchen either as it had been stripped bare before building work could start.  The steel skeleton was still firmly in place around us and our view of fields also included a few builders’ bottoms.  Not forgetting a bloody great Bake Off tent in the back garden that served as our makeshift kitchen for three months when the mouldy old kitchen was removed and the oak flooring went down.  Disappointingly, it was minus a chirpy Mel and Sue or even Sandi and Noel and it was completely devoid of showstoppers.  Well of the baking kind at any rate.  I’ve never been on safari, dear Reader but I am pretty sure tents in the bush are distinctly more glamourous and less functional.

As the weather closed in and the list of disasters from crumbling chimneys to water pouring through the kitchen ceiling (not once but twice) grew, Jerry and I lost faith in our ability to tackle everything that the old girl needed to bring her back to life.  I can’t tell you the waves of tears wept and a long list of expletives grew as for the millionth time I forgot to shut the curtains before venturing to the loo and remembered that I was visible to all on the scaffolding.  Nothing seemed to be going right.  My poor Pa who is in charge of all our electrics almost had kittens at how unsafe the wiring was (and in some parts still is) in the house.  Then there was the time we had been using the open fire to keep warm whilst we were without any form of central heating and the lovely chap who came to check the chimneys told me that I had been effectively poisoning us all as smoke and fumes were being channelled into Primrose’s bedroom.  Every day became a diary entry of disasters.  Working from home has some serious disadvantages when renovating a house.  Each little detail becomes a mountain to climb so that by the time you reach decisions about door handles or paint colours or whether or not you need a Hobnob biscuit or a Jaffa cake to get through the next hour, you are beyond being given any form of choice.  None of these things are the end of the world but after months of effectively camping in your own home, there’s nothing like a deadline to force you towards getting things done.  What better deadline is there than hosting Christmas and Boxing Day, dear Reader?!

All good things come to those who wait, dear Reader.  There is drinking water coming from the tap once more, there is heating, there is an Everhot, the builders have moved out and we can finally say goodbye to the Bake Off tent in the garden.  Getting the kitchen finished has meant no more cooking on a camping stove (a massive thank you to Alresford Interiors for all their hard work, beautiful carpentry and coping with a complete redesign at the last minute – for all the little extras and more we couldn’t be more grateful) and life at the farmhouse is becoming more and more ordinary again.  Whilst upstairs, bedrooms and bathrooms remain wholly untouched, downstairs is beginning to look complete.  Distressed oak floors in the hallway, kitchen and boot room sit alongside the original parquet flooring everywhere else.  Arts and Crafts colours reign supreme as you might expect – olive walls in the dining room, library red in the study.  The only room that has escaped something darker is the kitchen and that’s because limewash was needed it for its light reflective qualities.

Thank you to Quirky Interiors for our beautiful bespoke brass splashback too – the pictures don’t do it justice.

We haven’t finished by any stretch of the imagination.  The kitchen walls are still a bit bare.  Bathrooms will have to wait so washing hair with the aid of Tupperware boxes remains de rigueur for 2018.  The hallway still has its 1968 Laura Ashley wallpaper and I can’t wait to rip off the carpet on the stairs but perhaps not just yet, Jerry tells me.  We’ve already had more than one disastrous afternoon where we lost a cat under the upstairs’ floorboards.  Window panes in our leaded light windows have been replaced and new guttering and replacement roof tiles have seen us finally dry inside the house.  A shiny new boiler now heats the house after almost a decade without heating and cosy woodburners have ensured that even on the coldest days of winter, our little farmhouse has stayed toasty and warm.  I’ve also realised that I am far more resourceful than I ever thought I was.  Being able to bake bread and make pizza in a gas barbecue is a skill I may one day need in an emergency.  I’m not sure what sort of emergency….but you never know, dear Reader.  I think that Jerry is breathing a sigh of relief that my Ebay and salvage yard addiction is having a little break too.

Our clutter is at home here.  It belongs.  The furniture fits and as I wander through each room switching on lamps in the early evening, I feel as though at long last that I belong too.  Something which makes me very happy indeed, dear Reader.  We needed this house as much as it needed us.

A lot of amazing things wouldn’t have been possible without the help of lovely friends and our amazing farming neighbours who have given up time to help with fencing and much more besides.  They have rescued me from drowning under the weight of many a practical catastrophe and made us feel extremely welcome.  There is no doubt in my mind that they think me completely mad almost every day of the week and that they may well regret inviting me into their WhatsApp group dear Reader, but I’m ever so glad that they live on the doorstep and hope they don’t mind too much when they get a distress call from the mad lady at the bottom of the lane.  I’m glad too that in my own small way, I’ve been able to help them with their some of their plans for the future too.  Their festive farmers’ market before Christmas was one of most marvellous things I’ve been involved in organising in a long time – a huge thank you to all the lovely producers, suppliers and farmers I called on to come and make the day so special.  I can’t wait to see what new ventures are afoot for all of us.

So what does 2018 hold for us you might ask, dear Reader?  Well I think that we may have already hit the ground running….  We’ve started to resurrect the old pond which silted up years ago.  It will be given a new lease of life with our latest arrivals at the farmhouse.  It’s amazing how quickly the monsoon weather of late has helped it fill up again and although it looks more like the Somme than idyllic wildlife pool now, we have hopes that it will soon be rather more picture perfect.  However, I digress.  The mention of new arrivals will not have escaped you.  Well, you know how things always seem to happen to us by accident, dear Reader.  I promise they really do.  I’ll prove it.

One minute I am talking to our local log man commenting on his lovely geese and the next, I am receiving texts not about our log delivery but about ducks that need rehoming.  To cut a long story short, we are now the proud owners of 2 Runner duck drakes (Ferdie and Francis) and 4 Khaki Campbell ladies (names still being debated).  See what did I tell you?  A complete accident.  We won’t even mention the fact that I may have discussed goslings as well but mercifully, it isn’t spring yet and Jerry has a little more time to get used to the idea of those.  To be honest, he really didn’t take a lot of convincing when it came to the ducks and they have proven to be the best farmhouse addition yet as far as we’re all concerned.  They are definitely Jerry’s favourite.  Walking wine bottles – what could be more apt for our household?  The four of us can be found pressed up against the kitchen window most mornings just watching their ridiculous duck antics.  The perfect antidote to anyone’s January blues I can assure you.  So with ducks on the pond, some news ideas involving the lavender field, the gentle baa of some sheep on the horizon, a kitchen garden to plant up and a finish line to cross at the writing desk, it would seem that 2018 is shaping up to be a busy one already.  Oh it’s a quacking start, one might say……  I just hope you’ll still enjoy following us on our country living journey.  I hate to say it, dear Reader, but it seems that these days Jerry and I are much more Tom and Barbara that we ever imagined we’d be.  A belated Happy New Year to you all.