Category Archives: Out and About

Peeking into the Secret Garden

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (76 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Indulge me for a moment, dear Reader.  Picture a beautiful sunset falling into the water at the end of the jetty, wild ponies grazing in the distance, a winding pathway lit with candles and lanterns.  We are met by a lady who hands us a small key.  A key that will lead us into the Secret Garden.

Jerry and I have had some wonderful invitations to events in the past but when Emma Forsyth of Rock & Roam, a new style social club for New Forest residents and weekenders, invited us to her launch party at Gins Barn, near Beaulieu (one of New Forest Escapes’ luxury lets) I jumped at the chance to attend.

A Secret Garden supper crafted by Emma’s team and the fair hands of critically acclaimed London chefs and designers, Edible Stories – just the sound of it was enough to take me back to reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic for the first time as a little girl.

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

What a garden it was too, dear Reader.  With such a stunning venue styled with flowers tumbling from the rafters, branches and leaves strewn across tables, candlelight, superb theatre created with sumptuous course after course and even a singing canary in the corner too, the story of little Mary Lennox and the magic of the Secret Garden unfolded.

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From Mary’s days of the Raj with a taste of India served in tiffins, followed by a Bitter Mary to depict orphan Mary, sour and rude, leaving her home to come to England….

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to the loneliness Mary experiences at Lord Craven’s Misselthwaite Manor where she meets a robin, as she explores the grounds, who will lead her to an overgrown doorway

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to reveal the untouched beauty of the deserted garden behind the walls as Mary turns the key

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and the final joy of making the garden bloom with her own hands, bringing her uncle and cousin together again.

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (47 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

I’m still hoping that every supper I go to is as beautiful as this was.  Judging by the oohs and aahs in the room coming from Emma’s other guests, I imagine that I am not the only one!  Truly a magical evening – a feast for all the senses.  Wonder if the team from Edible Stories would like to set up camp in my kitchen, dear Reader?

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Rock & Roam’s aim is to host pop up events, tastings and experiences that are imaginative, informative, fun and unique so that members and their guests can enjoy the best of New Forest with like-minded locals.  From beekeeping to field photography, gin masterclasses or wild sea swimming, Emma works with a varied team of specialists to put together a calendar full of workshops throughout the year too.  To be honest, dear Reader, if Rock & Roam’s Secret Garden launch supper is anything to go by, then the club’s members are in for a real treat.  This is one for the black book list of Margot loves.

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Spring has sprung

In the midst of the wet miserable winter with water coming through the ceiling, trampling through the endless muddy quagmire of a garden and carting wood into the house on a daily basis to keep warm, I wasn’t sure that spring would ever come to us.  Yet, here it is and I am so very glad to see it, dear Reader.  Such a tonic for the soul – birds singing, walking about without coats, blossom appearing in the hedgerows and the garden coming back to life.  Not to mention catching a glimpse of one of nature’s truly awesome sights – hares boxing in the field.  The perfect reward for our epic early morning school run.

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Filled with the joys of spring and buoyed by wondrous blue skies and a sunny day in the offing, we packed the car to the rafters and headed for the beach.  I haven’t seen Poppy and Primrose frolic about together so happily or heard them laugh so much in ages.  Bliss.

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Dora loved her first trip to the seaside too – splashing about in the sea, digging in the sand and managing to photobomb every photo I tried to take of the girls.

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Lovely to have a day of doing absolutely nothing as things have been rather busy at Margot and Jerry HQ.  From our first Point to Point as a family which saw Poppy completely hooked on the horses (she is currently planning her rise to riding fame when she tackles the Grand National whilst Primrose has developed rather too much of an interest in betting)…..

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….to learning the piggy ropes on a pig course for a new smallholding project with lovely friend and fellow Good Lifer, The Townie Farmer and discovering rather too much information about breeding……

I’m still sniggering like a schoolgirl about this little gem, dear Reader.  Definitely not Dior.

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Then of course there was the excitement of Lady Agatha, our Cream Legbar, FINALLY giving us an egg…..

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and the arrival of some wee Easter chicks.  4 little ones, a few days old, which a lovely neighbour in the village has installed in her shed with a heat lamp.  I am not sure who was more thrilled, me or the children.  One of these tiny fluffsters is destined to join our flock after a bit of growing time but for now, the girls and I are enjoying peeping into the box in the shed and giving them a cuddle, whenever we can.

Best of all that spring has brought with it so far though was a little something I’ve been waiting to arrive on the doormat.  The May 2016 issue of Country Living Magazine with my feature on the wonderful charcuterie made at Parsonage Farm by John and Sarah Mills.

I feel honoured to have had my work commissioned by Country Living but to see it through  to the shelves, married up with stunning photos taken by the HUGELY talented Simon Wheeler (his work can be seen in River Cottage books and so much more), has had me bouncing like a bonny spring lamb.  I am so delighted to have been able to tell John and Sarah’s story and share it with readers all over the country.  They are wonderful people, have taught me heaps and changed the way I think about farming forever.  This feature means a great deal to me, not least because I’ve also ticked off No.1 of 3 on a wish list I made when I started writing nearly three years ago, dear Reader, when we moved from town to country.  To be honest, if this wonderful start is a sign of things yet to come, then we’re in for a good one and I, for one, intend to walk with maybe just a little bit more of a spring in my step.  I do hope you’ll join me, dear Reader.

Spring

Giddy up

Half term zoomed past in a rather joyous blur.  Honestly, dear Reader, we ended up galloping here, there and everywhere.  With both girls now utterly smitten by ponies and Poppy proving to be a real natural in the saddle, I couldn’t resist taking them to the National Trust’s Mottisfont to see the current Norman Thelwell exhibition.  Pony-tailed learner drivers on rotund ponies…..couldn’t be more true to life chez Margot and Jerry at the moment, dear Reader!

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The Giddy Gallops trail round Mottisfont’s grounds proved excellent fun – free range children a plenty being put through their paces on a challenging course.

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Point to point racing, clearing the jumps with the dogs (thank you Mottisfont for being so dog friendly – so lovely to be able to take the pups on our outing too)…

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not to mention polishing the saddles, hanging up the tack and shining boots before taking our tired ‘ponies’ for hot chocolate and cake in the café.

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Giggling over Norman Thelwell’s cartoons and illustrations and marvelling at the 70 original artworks including stunning depictions of local landscapes, it proved to be the perfect day out for the Horse Mad Two from Hampshire.  Watching Poppy and Primrose cantering their imaginary steeds back to the ‘horsebox’ (masquerading as a very muddy Land Rover), I found myself hoping that these two little girls never grow too old for ponies.  Poor Jerry.  We’ll be bankrupt before long!

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With the week ahead fast approaching, we managed to squeeze in a little brunch at the fabulous new look Long Barn café.  Such a treat.

Lashings of toast with raspberry and lavender jam, gargantuan coffees, hot bacon rolls for the girls and even time for a bit of browsing – Long Barn’s displays always have me in magpie mode, coveting everything in site!

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With half term over, Jerry and the girls back to the grindstone and a mountain of deadlines looming over me, I am wondering if I should take up a permanent pew at the Long Barn to see me through until the Easter hols……coffee and cake on hand at all times.  Wonder if they need a writer in residence, dear Reader?

A real roasting

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With the days getting shorter and the mornings pitch black, I turn increasingly towards my little morning pick me up, dear  Reader.  A drop of hot, dark happiness to help ease me into the day.  When the school run frazzles me from top to toe, I am dripping wet from my dawn-chorused dog walk and I am buried under a mountain of work, it is my solace.  Coffee.  I can’t live without it.  Perhaps it’s because my dear Mamma hails from Brazil or the fact that I simply can’t function before 10am unless I’ve had my first cup of the dark stuff….whatever the reason, my mornings just wouldn’t be the same without it.

When we first moved from the Big Smoke where coffee houses were ten a penny, it was one of the things that I knew that I would miss the most.  I think that one of Primrose’s first outings was to meet NCT ladies and their babes over a mug of coffee, dear Reader!  Walking down the tow path and along to my favourite café, usually pushing a buggy or trying not to fall over a trike, it was part of my weekend/maternity leave/cheering myself up ritual.    That was until we moved to the wilds of rural Hampshire where the nearest café is a good 20 minutes away in the car.  Worried about my impending caffeine/coffee house withdrawal, Jerry gifted me a now much treasured possession……my little coffee machine.  None of the pod rubbish (sorry sorry sorry I really should apologise for my coffee machine fascism).  A proper grind your own beans, coffee damper, schwaaaaaah sounding number.  It remains the BEST present that Jerry has ever given me for  Christmas and other than the Everhot is the most used gadget in the kitchen.  So when Moonroast Coffee offered me a chance to learn more about what goes into my cup, I jumped straight into the car!  Coffee….on the doorstep….what could be better?!!

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Moonroast Coffee may have humble digs (for now…) but it comes with a seriously impressive list of coffee credentials.  Working in the heart of the Candover valley in Hampshire, Francis and Judy Bradshaw are the 4th generation of the Bradshaw family to be involved in the tea and coffee industry with Francis’ father, Haydon Bradshaw, one of Britain’s top coffee tasters, offering a consultant’s overview of Moonroast’s coffee journey.  Setting up in the back garden, Fran and Judy saw an opportunity to create an artisan roastery making small batch, slow roasted coffee with beans sourced from the best smallholders in the world.

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Juggling day jobs, Fran and Judy began roasting coffee beans at night with a roaster that was brought over neighbouring fields on a loader, installed in their large shed and Moonroast Coffee was born.  Very much a handcrafted business, Fran takes great care to create his own blends as well as crafting single origin coffees with their own roasting and flavour profile for retail as well as wholesale.  Believe me, dear Reader, this is so much more than your average cup of morning coffee!

Moonroast4The process is fascinating.  From green beans, a lighter shade of Puy lentil, to carefully monitored roasting in the roaster, all the way through to a ristretto or flat white!  The smell wafting through the shed was incredible as the beans were cooled to prevent any further roasting.  You could even hear the crackles coming from the roaster as the beans begin to take on their characteristic colour.

Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Sumatran…..I fear that my mornings may well now involve a good deal of indecision.  That and I am destined to become a coffee bore to anyone who will listen.  Fran gave me some fab tips too – always buy beans and grind them yourself.  Coffee beans stay fresher for marginally longer BUT check out the roasting date on the coffee label if there is one.  Coffee starts to lose its aromas and flavours the longer it is open to the elements.  Not a problem in this house as Jerry and I practically inhale the stuff daily.  Try different beans, single origins or blends.  Like vineyards and vines in the case of wine, beans grown on different soils (or as the winos like to say ‘terroir’) have a distinct and different flavour profile.  Blends, well they bring together different flavour characteristics of combined beans to bring together a distinctive taste too.  Citrus notes, floral ones, body, acidity – all these give the cup of coffee you like it’s own ‘je ne sais quoi’.  Diana Henry, award-winning food writer and all round fabulous foodie, explains the whole coffee code of conduct here, far more beautifully than I ever could.

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There’s an art to the perfect cup of coffee that is more than the foamy fern, heart or swan on the top.  Weighing out the right amount of beans, even the amount of pressure applied with the coffee damper is key.  Too compact and the water struggles to pass through the coffee, too loose and too much flavour is washed away.  Extracting the flavours is what the whole process is all about.

Moonroast2With all this in mind, I shall make sure that I take FAR more time over that first cup of coffee. After all, it’s the deliciously aromatic, wonderfully energising rocket fuel that powers my day.  Somehow it makes me much more able to deal with Primrose’s daily requests for a pony at 6am, Poppy covering herself head to toe in mud on her way from front door to car BEFORE drop off at nursery, chasing Monty across the fields yelling “IDIOT” after him and the awful realisation that I shall never manage to look anything but the essence of being dragged through a hedge backwards as I emergency exit the children, ‘drive-by shooting style’ from the moving car and into the arms of their teachers at the school gates.  Coffee.  I dread to think what I would be WITHOUT YOU.

A huge thanks to Fran, Judy and Rachel from Moonroast Coffee for taking pity on me in my hour of caffeine, creating some of the most delicious flat whites I’ve ever tasted and for letting me in on your wonderful roasting secrets.    Anyone who doesn’t try your coffee is seriously missing out.

Autumn’s arrival

Crab applesAutumn makes me unspeakably happy.  Cable knit cardigans, getting the fires going in the house, TIGHTS, boots, capes and ponchos, russet coloured leaves, sinking into an armchair with a good book and large cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, stopping with Primrose and Poppy to pick delicious bounty from the hedgerows, TIGHTS, my brown brogues, windfall apples, scarves, long walks in breezy sunshine where the light filters through the trees in the woodland just so, Jerry in warm woolly jumpers, jams and jellies and did I mention TIGHTS, dear Reader?!  Lovely thick opaque tights.  All those wonderful autumnal things and more, seem to make my heart sing.  Even my hair behaves better in the autumn and suddenly rosy cheeks and constantly messy windswept red hair blend into a landscape tinged with the colours of the liquor in the jam pan, rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

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Autumn is almost the best time in the world to get into seasonal cookery.  Who needs more of an excuse to pop a stew into the bottom of the oven to slow cook or pick blackberries on a long walk?  Comfort food at its best.  With that in mind, I popped off to watch a new friend in action.  Everything about the lovely Cherie Denham from Flavour Passion screams foodie!  The first time I met her she rendered me speechless with scones lighter than air topped with lashings of her Blackberry jelly.  Winning me over with food is always a dead cert. for cementing a friendship.  She’s pretty good ‘craic’, as they say in her Irish homeland, too!

Trained at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, Cherie then became a teacher there, earning yet more culinary stripes with her own catering business and as a home economist consultant for none other than River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when River Cottage’s first cookbook hit the scene.  Now running a whole host of seasonal cookery demonstrations from her stunning countryside cottage, Cherie shows her guests how to create an array of dishes from original recipes that can be scaled up or down depending on the occasion and most importantly, shares her culinary hacks.  Easy canapés, crowd pleasing dishes, cosy autumn kitchen suppers, something a little more refined – this is cookery for those with busy lives who need tried and tested recipes that are a bit hit with everyone from the children to Saturday evening dinner party guests.  Jerry was in seventh heaven with the Slow Braised Spicy Chipotle Beef Cherie sent me home with………the whole plateful was snaffled in seconds.

Demonstrations seem to be THE thing when it comes to cooking these days and I can see the appeal.  This is the countryside’s Tupperware party for the 21st century, dear Reader but OH SO MUCH more glamourous and useful!  Rather like your best friend sharing all the secrets you’ve been dying for her to divulge for years.  All cooking abilities are welcome.  In fact, the guest list for Cherie’s demo was rather like a modern who’s who of Cluedo – was it the anaesthetist, the students off to university for their first year, the farmer’s wife, interior designer or godfather’s wife that nicked the last slice of Warm Lemony Treacle Tart….?  I wonder, dear  Reader.  Can’t blame them, it was seriously scrummy and I shall certainly be returning for more culinary inspiration when Cherie demos Christmas in November!

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Inspired by my amazing morning and immensely delicious dishes, my kitchen now looks more like a production line than farmhouse haven!  Elderberries, crab apples, quinces, herbs from the garden for drying – we’ve got it all going on in Margot’s Kitchen at the moment, dear Reader! The cottage is groaning under the weight of all the apples that seem to arrive by the carrier bag full and are left on the doorstep by lovely villagers.  With jams and jellies a go go, I’ve taken to trying a few new numbers with the apples too as I can’t bear to see them go to waste.  Crab apple vodka, windfall apple butter, hedgerow compote, fruit leathers for the girls and my favourite so far, apple crisps.  I haven’t even got round to picking the sloes yet but I must, before they are snapped up by the birds.  First frost is just far too long away to leave a batch of sloe gin to chance!

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If like me, your house is turning into an orchard quicker than you can say cider, then this will help turn a few of those appley beauties into something everyone can enjoy.  Here, just for you my dear Reader, is my recipe for Apple Crisps.

apple crisps

Apple Crisps

1 or 2 apples, not cookers

sprinkling of cinnamon

greaseproof paper

Peel and core your apples, cutting out any maggoty bits if like me you’ve used a few windfalls.  Using a mandolin (the culinary version rather than musical), finely slice the apple so that you have rings or half rings depending on how many maggoty bits you’ve had to cut out.   You could do this with a knife but remember it does have to be paper thin slices.

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and place apple slices on the paper.  You may have to line a couple of baking sheets depending on how many apples you have decided to use.  Sprinkle over the cinnamon.  NO SUGAR NEEDED.

Place in bottom of the Aga (in my case the ever faithful Everhot) or in a very low oven from anywhere from 2 hours or until you have achieved the level of crispness you would like.  Best to do this when you need to do some slow cooking as the oven will need to be on low (no more than 120 degrees Centigrade) for a while.  Keep checking the slices every now and again to make sure they are not burning.  You can choose to leave them until they are really crisp or simple dried out and still a bit chewy.  Lovely as an after school snack, crushed over yoghurt, stirred into vanilla ice cream – the choice is yours!

Happy autumn, dear Reader!  I’m off to buy some more tights……

Au revoir Summer

A long summer break has passed between us, dear Reader.  My first summer off in 3 years and I returned completely and utterly refreshed.  So much so that it has taken me a little while to settle back at the writing desk!  I hope you can forgive me for being distracted – France in mid 30 degree heat was just too lovely not to enjoy to the full.  Well, that and Jerry and I had to live without WIFI for a few weeks…we’re lucky we are still married!

First there were the views…

IMG_1168Then there was the house that Primrose wanted to buy and was rather miffed when Jerry told her that unless she asked the owners if they needed to hire her as a housekeeper, there was zero chance of her moving in and calling it home.

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Followed by a great deal of cheese, several hundred trips to the market for ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaaahing’ and much buying of French comestibles.

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Oh and of course, dinner in an altogether pre-sous chef form should one feel brave enough….

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…all washed down with industrial quantities of  a little bit of wine.

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Jerry and I even managed to glean some local wisdom.  Apparently, the best way to learn French proficiently is to take up a lover.  An interesting notion……but not sure we’d find two souls brave enough to take us on to test it out.  Especially after mutual meltdowns over the NO WIFI zone, rows over a hideously expensive phone bill for going over the data allowance AND the fact that I had yet again packed an entire suitcase full of books and nothing else.  In my defence dear Reader, I read them ALL.

Still the sun set on our blissful holiday (apologies for the smugness) and we all agreed that there is nothing better than French food, French wine and spending time just the four of us.

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That was before I returned to name tapes with a few helpings of two small beings bashing each other over the head with Lego, a cottage which had suddenly morphed into a hobbit’s home and to crown the chaos, a broken boiler and no hot water.  Bonjour September……  Maybe I might just pop back to France and find myself a French lover after all, dear Reader?!

 

Meeting Lauren Child

So, dear Reader, this is a rather special post – Primrose and I got to meet one of our heroines of the bedtime story world this week and were rendered utterly starstruck.  For as long as Primrose has been able to hold a pencil, she has been desperate to write her own stories.  Amongst a mix of Enid Blyton, Frog and Toad and all the old fairy tales including an ancient Ladybird book of mine of The Goose Girl, Primrose’s love of quirky characters and twists on traditional tales has definitely been inspired by the author and illustrator, Lauren Child.  So imagine when I told Primrose that we were going to meet her “IN REAL LIFE”, to coin a Primrose phrase.

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The National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire are hosting a retrospective of Lauren’s work – The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends running from 18 July – 6 September to mark the 15 year anniversary of the first Charlie and Lola book to be published, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato.  Author and illustrator, Lauren Child MBE, has such an amazing back catalogue of children’s books which has been loved and devoured across the world and is probably best known for her delightful brother and sister creation, doting brother  Charlie and his picklish little sister (small and very funny), LolaLauren seems to have that uncanny knack for being able to slip into the shoes of children we’ve met, grown up with or perhaps even given birth to.  Perhaps it’s her talent for telling it like it is from a child’s perspective that has seen her works adored by children and adults alike.

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With a selection of never before seen items including some of Lauren’s sketchbooks, the exhibition hosts 50 original art works from Lauren’s own personal collection and gives a wonderful insight into the process from sketchbook to published work.  This is a chance to get up close and personal with some of the objects that have served to inspire Lauren’s fabulous and well known stories, such as Lola’s pink milk glass, childhood pyjamas and the truly amazing and wonderfully detailed original sets which were created for Lauren’s retelling of The Princess and the Pea on which she collaborated with Polly Borland.

I think with Clarice (Bean) I wrote and then I drew and it was almost like creating a graphic novel.  Now I tend to write and then draw.  Often people think that everything is done on computer but it really isn’t,” Lauren shared.  “You find things in the photo album which you think might work – so I know exactly where these photos are from as I put together the collages.  They become more than just drawings.”

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The exhibition also offers a chance for Charlie and Lola fans to catch a sneak preview of illustrations from Lauren’s latest book, entitled One Thing, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Charlie and Lola, which will be published this autumn.

Lauren on One Thing:I wanted to show sums in a really beautiful way – there’s something about the visual beauty of numbers. It’s a story about  Charlie and Lola’s mum telling them that they can have one thing and that bargaining thing that happens with children.  As soon as you say one thing, they immediately start negotiating.    It’s a game I play most days with my daughter.  I wanted to write about the fun of counting and that home truth.’

Alongside the exhibition, Lauren has helped the team at Mottisfont to create a fantastic creative play trail around the house and grounds – perfect for all ages and a chance to go on a real adventure with Charlie and Lola and their friends.  A great day out for the summer hols!  For details of the exhibition and adventure trail, take a look here.

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Meeting the lady herself, Primrose got to ask all her questions.  What inspired you to write Charlie and Lola? How do you create the stories and illustrations?  We had a fab chat about Lola’s invisible friend Soren Lorensen, Lauren’s favourite character Clarice Bean and creating alter egos that you’d like to be and our huge amount of love for That Pesky Rat.  Perhaps the best bit of all was Primrose showing Lauren her own story which she had written and illustrated – A Bad Spell for the Little Fairy.  I shall be eternally grateful to Lauren for making Primrose’s YEAR and for taking the time to talk to her and read her story.  I honestly couldn’t think of a better literary role model and source of creative inspiration for my little writer – a memory that will be treasured forever.

This exhibition is a MUST SEE for anyone who has cherished and enjoyed reading Lauren Child’s books and there’s something for all the family to enjoy as well as going on your own adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at Mottisfont during the summer holidays.

So on that note, dear Reader, to mark the opening of The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer, the lovely people at National Trust London and South East have given me 5 FAMILY DAY PASSES to give away to lucky entrants.  All you have to do is to ‘like’ @MottisfontNT on Twitter (or their Facebook page if you’re not on Twitter) and then write a comment here on this post, telling me which Lauren Child book is your favourite and whyEntries will close at 5pm on THURSDAY 23RD JULY.  The National Trust LSE lot will help pick the winning answers so don’t forget to leave me an email address or Twitter handle in the comment box too so that I can contact you if you’ve won. 

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