Category Archives: Village Life

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.

Mad dogs and Englishwomen

moonOnly mad dogs (Monty) and mad Englishwomen (clearly Margot) would leave the house just after 6am for a trek through a muddy wasteland.  A full moon this morning made me feel even more crazy than the villagers already think I am.  Mud mud mud everywhere.  I do promise dear Reader that I won’t bang on about the weather but we are beginning to feel as though we ought to have bought an ark rather than an old cottage  leaking under the pressure of days (weeks….months…..need I say more) of torrential rain.  Our sitting room ceiling has had a soaking and the bay window has the added glamour of being covered in a tasteful blue tarpaulin to allow for some drying out.  Fat chance!  With yet more rain on the cards, the wet dog and I have been forced to venture out for early morning walks as these days, Poppy (a demon of terrible twos), has taken to refusing to walk for more than 100 yards before sitting in the middle of the road, screaming to be carried.  All efforts to sit in a backpack have fallen by the wayside as she is now far too big for it and before you suggest it, dear Reader, getting her to hitch a ride in the buggy is a battle of wills which only the steeliest of grown ups could face.  I have more than a handful of times carried her on my hip for a mile whilst Monty pulls us along but quite frankly, that idea has now been binned as completely impractical too.  So walking in the dark before dawn is the only option the poor hound and I have left for now.  Donned in my finest garb (muddy boots, black beanie hat, one of Jerry’s old jumpers and even muddier jeans), I look a magnificent sight first thing in the morning, I can tell you.  The headlamp strapped to my head is an added style bonus (thanks Juniper for that Christmas pressie).  Usually I am up to the woods and round the village before being spotted.  However, not this morning.  A voice called out good morning from a muddy field (another mad Englishwoman with headlamp on tending to her horses in the field across the road) and I was forced to hold a conversation with no make up on and looking the picture of country glamour.  Note to self: Do not scare locals first thing with your ‘just got out of bed’ look.  Some things are better left unseen.

Wet dog

Is it true that dogs look like their owners?

I seem to spend my life looking like I have been dragged through a hedge backwards since we moved from town to country.  Gone are the days when I used to look into the wardrobe and find a pair of shoes and matching handbag for every outfit.  Footwear of choice these days?  The ever practical WELLINGTON BOOT.  Can be worn for any occasion I don’t doubt, dear Reader.  Lordy……just realised that I might just be morphing into Barbara – can’t remember the last time I wore a pair of heels (or shoes come to think of it) that weren’t covered in mud.

Jerry and I even trek to dinner parties in wellies – I say trek, more like stumbling on and off roadside verges yelling at the sight of headlights along the lane or wading across fields in the dark with a dodgy torch panicking about being eaten by foxes, badgers or the mythical village mountain lion.  (We still haven’t got the hang of not being able to call a taxi to get us home.  Why are there NO taxis in the countryside?)  Perhaps my new wardrobe saviour will be these little beauties from Rollasole?  Love the idea of having a pair of stylish flats curled up in my handbag (more likely the pocket of Jerry’s Barbour) ready to wear when I reach my destination!  How did I not know these existed?  Maybe I can persuade Jerry to buy me a pair in every colour…….

More mud anyone?

More mud anyone?

A countryside Christmas

church flowersIt seems so fitting to be sitting here writing this post in the first days of January after our first countryside Christmas, dear Reader.  2013 was such an eventful year: swapping kaftans for tweed and heels for wellies, leaving behind the Big Smoke for rural Hampshire, getting a gundog pup, Primrose learning to live with mud, Poppy learning not to eat it, Jerry living out his dream of driving his own Lanny, CHICKENS……I could go on.  Not to mention the beginnings of Margot Tries the Good Life world domination in written form.  So one couldn’t blame me dear Reader, for half expecting Christmas to be a bit of let down after all that!  Amazingly, it wasn’t.  However, most of December was rather bumpy with Poppy succumbing to a hideous bout of the hand, foot and mouth virus and the four of us having to live in quarantine with the sign of the plague daubed on the door.  After two weeks of illness, followed by Poppy turning 2 and then the mad dash to prepare for Christmas, we were all looking forward to a bit of festive peace and quiet.

Luckily for us, the week of Christmas proved less fraught.  Never have we felt more at home than here in our little old country cottage.  Rather spectacularly, the village seems to have well and truly embraced us and the whole of the festive period felt as if it had been stolen from The Archers’ airwaves.  My contribution to the church flowers was infinitely better than my first attempt at Harvest time, Poppy and Primrose dressed as angels to form part of a tableau around the crib with some dear little village shepherds and everyone roared with laughter when a grumpy Poppy yelled (rather loudly I might add) in the middle of the prayers “I don’t love you Mummy” when I ran out of sweeties to bribe her silence.  I turned my hand to Christmas wreaths and even managed a bit of countryside recycling when my dear Pa turned up with this……

Roadkill

Roadkill

and I fashioned it into one of these!

A bit of countryside recycling!

A triomphe de plumes!

Jerry’s family – I do promise (truly) that I did not feed you what was left of the pheasant when you came to lunch….thought I had better declare that……just in case, anyone was worried….!

Our dear little tree!

Our dear little tree!

Moving on…  We enjoyed the hospitality of several villagers and settled in to the swing of all things Christmas.  I was accosted to form an impromptu choir for the service – only to find that there were quite a number of villagers who have been hiding their musical lights under a bushel.  One even turned out to be a recorded artist and entered the choir practice in full voice, trilling vocal warm ups.  Amazing, the things one doesn’t know about one’s neighbours.  Christmas Eve proved to be a wonderful evening with Ma and Pa in tow, children snug in their beds, stockings hung by the fire and a magical walk along the starlit lanes to Midnight Mass.  A goose from our local farm shop went without hitch and I even managed to churn out a cake with the girls.

Edible glitter and edible spray in the hands of a 5 year old!

Edible glitter and edible gold spray in the hands of a 5 year old!

Say nothing about Robin Pinkbreast, dear Reader – Primrose was utterly delighted and I spent the whole time telling Christmas guests that it was all the children’s work…
With 2014 ushered through the cottage door, I have had time to think on resolutions and wishes for the new year.  More tweed is certainly on the agenda, learning to shoot a gamebird is well and truly up there and tackling the awful jungle of a garden has to be priority number one.  Meeting one of the organisers of the New Forest Show over lunch, I was almost persuaded to enter and ‘show’ my chickens.  Oh and the vicar already tried to twist my arm to join the Parish Council to represent the young people.  Not quite sure that I am ready for the challenges of either of those yet!!  Apparently, Jerry says we have to start sorting out the cottage and redecorating too.  Perhaps now would be a good time to lock myself away in the study and pretend to pen a little chapter of a book or two?  Sounds like 2014 is going to be just as hectic as 2013….  Dear Reader, I do wish you and yours a very happy and prosperous 2014.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, supporting and telling others about my little blog.  Without you, 2013 really wouldn’t have been half as brilliant!

Happy New Year from the countryside!

Happy New Year from the countryside!

Getting in the mood…

panettone

Delicious Christmas goodies…we wanted to buy them all!

I have to say, dear Reader, that I have been really suffering from Christmas malaise this year.  Our first countryside Christmas and I am not quite ready to be Christmassy just yet!  I AM excited but there just seems so much to get through before the 25th that pretty soon, I shall be ready to flop by the fire with a bottle of sloe gin and not surface until New Year’s eve!

Desperately trying to be organised, I did manage to get to our local farm shop’s ‘Christmas Fayre’ and it didn’t disappoint!  Hung turkeys, oodles of Christmas gifts, mulled wine and mince pies…..Christmas on a platter!  Newlyns Farm Shop did a jolly good job of twisting my Christmas arm and I stocked up on the essentials: meat, wine, panettone and Gentleman’s Relish!  There were gifts a plenty to buy too so no family member will be without something foodie in their stocking this year.   A wonderful way to start the festive season.  Jerry and I enjoyed being plied with mulled wine and mince pies immensely!  The Christmas feast on the day itself has its festive centrepiece as Jerry and I finally persuaded Primrose that Christmas goose is much like ‘posh chicken’.  (She stills remembers me tricking her into eating Jemima Puddleduck).  Rather nonchalantly, she did ask if we would be slaughtering one of our own chickens for lunch – frightening how she has become more ‘countrified’ than the rest of us so quickly!  So with Primrose’s help, I shall trek over to the farm shop on Christmas Eve to pick up our bird and try to hide it from Monty’s ravenous jaws when I get home.

No turkey for us this year!

AMAZING to see all these oven ready birdies on show!

Don’t worry, Monty certainly won’t be going without – thanks to the lovely farm shop butchers!  He will have his own Christmas gnawfest with this little number…

Fit for a Great Dane!

Fit for a Great Dane!

With festive fayre in the bag so to speak, I could turn my attentions to the buying of presents.  Don’t tell anyone, dear Reader but I am afraid that I might not be able to give some of the presents I have bought to their intended recipients as they are simply too fabulous to give away.  I know, I know……Christmas is ALL about the giving of presents and not the receiving part.  However, I might have to sneak this little kindling set at the very back under the tree and hope that no one notices it.  I would so dearly like to keep it!

Might just forget to wrap this one!

Ever so tempting to forget to wrap this one! (Garden Trading)

With a huge dent made into the long list of preparations, surely dear Reader, it wouldn’t be amiss to treat myself to an early festive tipple or two?!  I have been a good Margot after all…..promise.

A little Christmas punch, anyone?

A little Christmas punch, anyone?

(The lovely Countrywives have very kindly invited me into their country coven and I shall be adding my favourite Christmas recipes over on their website each week – do come over and take a look if you have a mo)

Plunged into darkness

(Posted after almost 72hrs without heating, hot water, electricity…….welcome to country living!!!)

Our kitchen light

Our kitchen light

I sit here, dear Reader, writing this plunged in darkness and with the last of my computer’s feeble battery.  The St Jude storm predicted to be a replica of the Great Storm of 1987 hit our little hamlet hard.  Fancy naming a storm after the patron saint of lost causes?!  Bound to be a corker with a name like that!  I can say quite categorically that it has definitely left us feeling a bit bereft and bewildered!  Although, there was no major damage to houses in the village from the fallen trees, we have no power.  Yes NO ELECTRICITY…….  No heating, hot water or means of cooking.  The great whoosing of wind work the four of us at 04:30am and terrified that overhanging nearby trees would hit the house, we all retreated downstairs to light candles and sit it out.  So when it arrived, daylight was a welcome sight despite the fact that Primrose and Poppy found the whole episode quite thrilling to be honest!  Realising that power might be some time in coming back, Primrose announced that it would be like the ‘old-fashioned days’ and we set to work digging out the candles, thinking of how we would manage without the very thing which we take for granted.  Jerry in his jolly green Lanny giant left for the station, only to find that there would no trains until much later in the day.  Just when I thought that the entire day was going to be a write off, our dear neighbours, the Worthingtons, arrived on the doorstep with flasks of hot water for that most basic of needs…..a morning cup of cha!  I was so excited that I think I made rather a silly of myself, kissing Mrs Worthington with considerable drama and exclaiming that she had saved the day (well I had been up since the wee small hours of the morning)!  Turns out that their oil-fuelled Aga can be used manually whereas our oily boiler only works with the electric timers etc.  Rather natty those Agas!!  Mr Worthington did say that the last power outage lasted for a week……not such great news.  Still, the girls and I ploughed on with our day and Jerry managed to get to the Big Smoke.  Books were read, toys played with, paintings painted and quite a lot of stamping was achieved too.  It was truly wonderful not to have the television on blaring Mr Tumble out from the sitting room but I really did miss my daily dose of Radio 4 if I am honest.

Walking round the village later in the day, we spied the many trees which had come down in the night and I gave a little nod to the old chap upstairs for sparing our little garden and old cottage.  However, I was not impressed with the torrential rain which hit the girls, pup and I as we negotiated fallen branches along the bridleway.  At one point, we had to crawl through a small gap in the leafy debris and gnarly bits of tree trunk in order to carry on to the house.  As I took off the backpack which Poppy was firmly strapped into and squeezed both girls through and then myself, I did think that perhaps I had been a little barmy to try to carry out such an expedition with two small children and a wayward puppy.  Thank goodness, Monty had decided to behave himself and not run away with the lead.  Primrose was fabulously chirpy for once and announced that we were country girls and “This is what country girls have to do!”  I marvelled that our new found country existence had changed our rather risk adverse townie tot into an intrepid explorer.  “How killing!” as a ninety two year old in the village would say!

Our village is abundant with dear souls who have rallied round with flasks of hot water, offers of heating meals on their Agas and who have come to check on those who are at the mercy of the electricity engineers!  Bath time was a hoot in the dark and luckily, we still had enough hot water in the tank for Poppy and Primrose to warm up after a soaking wet walk.  I even managed to convince my little darlings to go to bed at 5:45pm as it was so dark here.  Thankfully, my dear Mamma arrives with a camping stove in the morning and I will no doubt have to take the girls on a long drive to charge up my mobile phone as the battery is on its last legs.  Keeping my fingers crossed that Jerry makes it back from London without too much difficulty too.

Still, sitting here with the log fire on and surrounded by candlelight, it has to be said that there is a kind of romance to being in deepest darkest countryside with nothing but a meagre ration pack of candles, batteries and a good book to while away the hours.  I am not sure I will be saying that in another 24 hours when we still have no power but for now, dear Reader, I am enjoying the beauty of the ‘old-fashioned life’ as Primrose put it earlier.  Better sign off now as looks like I need to find some more candles to keep us going this evening!

blackout

A time for harvest

Ah autumn, there you are!

Ah autumn, there you are!

What a busy few weeks it has been!  Harvest celebrations, dinner parties in the village, Primrose’s birthday, her party complete with farm animals in our garden and a hilarious moment in the dark changing a Land Rover tyre with Jerry and one of the villagers……  I am definitely ready for a rest in the dark with a large gin and tonic, dear Reader!

Autumn is rushing around too it would seem!  Our little landscape is changing again and walks have become muddier and leaf-strewn.  Everywhere you look, you can see that the harvest has well and truly been brought in.  Gathering with all the villagers to celebrate the bounty in a neighbour’s barn, Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I felt rather like we had stepped into ‘dreams of foregone times’ last week.  Hops hanging from the ceiling, checked tablecloths and wine flowing, homemade shepherd’s pies made by the ladies of the village (and of course, yours truly) as well as crumbles galore, the whole village sat together following the Sunday service to eat, drink and generally make merry!  A time honoured tradition, made even more special by the whole village singing “Happy Birthday” to Primrose.  Primrose was mortified, slumping further and further down her chair until she was almost under the table!  Poor love!  Mind you, Primrose wasn’t the only one to blush with embarrassment that day.  Asked by the village harvest committee to create a floral display for one of the church windows, I had no idea of the brief and ended up creating a rustic autumnal wreath to sit amongst a sea of really rather elegant blooms.  One villager called it ‘charming’.  I wondered if this was village vernacular was ‘a pile of old rubbish’.  However, I did at least manage to make it all from things in our garden and although it wasn’t the most beautiful tribute to the harvest in the church, it did have a bit of Margot charm.  Well, at least Jerry and the girls thought so!

IMG_0929

Let’s hope they don’t ask me to do anything for Christmas!

Best of all, was the amazing haul of vegetables we were given as we left the harvest lunch.  The village is awash with fantastic kitchen gardens, orchards and flower gardens.  I shall to have to up my game seriously for next year.  Squash, artichokes, potatoes, courgettes, purple and orange carrots….I could hardly carry my handbag as it was brimming with veg!  Dear Reader, I had no idea that pattypans really existed outside of Beatrix Potter but here they are..

I am not sure that this is the same pattypan that Duchess was worried about eating in the veal and ham pie!

I am not sure that this is the same pattypan that Duchess was worried about eating in the veal and ham pie though!  WHAT is a patty-pan?

From harvests and growing your own food……we even managed to parade (albeit briefly) as a smallholding for Primrose’s birthday party.  2 donkeys, 2 goats, 2 pigs, 2 sheep, 2 turkeys, 2 bantams, 2 call ducks, a mini colony of guinea pigs and rabbits and one extremely well behaved dog (note, dear Reader, that it was most certainly not Monty, who was kept inside for fear of him devouring a duck).  A veritable mini Noah’s Ark and all in OUR GARDEN!  A huge hit with children and grown ups alike.  I was happy to play farmer’s wife and it did get me thinking about how marvellous it might be to rear a pig next year when we are a little more settled.  Jerry nearly had a coronary when he heard the farmer who brought the livestock to the cottage, saying that he would happily give us the Kune Kune weaners he had brought that day.  Apparently they do make the most delicious sausages!  Considering that I have finally managed to persuade Jerry to let me have some chickens, I think that asking for a pig for Christmas might be a step too far.  For now, dear Reader, for now…….!

I suppose I shall have to make do with this little piggy!

I suppose I shall have to make do with this little piggy!

An apple a day

Horn of plenty!

Apples a plenty and a few lusciously large quinces too!

Harvest is here and the village and hedgerows are laden with sumptuous treats!  Apples are everywhere and almost every villager has offered us some of the bountiful produce!  Our dear new neighbours, the Worthingtons have an orchard the other side of the fence which is truly to die for and what is more dear Reader, is that they have said that we can pick apples until we drop!  I have, of course, taken them up on that offer.  Oooh I am already planning endless crumbles, tarte tatins, jellies, apple butters, chutney……delicious….and it is not even National Apple Day (21st October).

Armed with an apple picker, Primrose, Poppy and I spent a glorious afternoon gathering apples and learning all about old English varieties of cookers and eaters.  Mrs Worthington is now known as ‘apple lady’ according to Poppy.  Trampling in and amongst the apple trees, I was reminded of why we moved to the countryside in the first place – a desire to lead a simpler life.  Well, Margot’s idea of a simpler life at any rate!  There will be no knitting of yoghurt here!  On a sunny day in September, it was heavenly to watch my own dear dots scrambling through the apple boughs and munching on their treasured finds.  At that moment, I could honestly not imagine anything better!  My mind is now full of ideas of growing my own mini orchard once we have tackled the jungle that is the garden.  Perhaps it was the talk of cider that got me thinking about my own apples and the need for an apple press?

What a beauty! Not sure this one made it to the basket...

What a beauty! Not sure this one made it to the basket…

With our baskets laden, we skipped home to cook an apple cake.  I know what you are thinking, dear Reader….MARGOT DOES NOT MAKE CAKES.  This is true.  However, the girls called for cake and I was desperate to use my new gadget.  All hail the miraculous apple peeler and thank the Lord for Nigel Slater who has a really easy cake recipe which even this baking criminal can manage!

Everyone needs one of these - believe me!

Everyone needs one of these – believe me! Go to Garden Trading and get one!

An edible cake!  Makes a change!

Edible! Makes a change!

Girls merrily scoffing cake, I had time to panic about the annual village Harvest lunch.  The form is that everyone makes something for the table and I have been asked to prepare a shepherd’s pie.  Nothing too extraordinary about that – shepherd’s pie is shepherd’s pie.  Well I think it is at any rate but you never know, the village might have an ancient pie tradition which I haven’t discovered as yet.  The real anxiety, resting pie issues to one side, is that in addition to the culinary part comes a request for a harvest floral display for the village church.  Oh dear!  I have been frantically researching autumn displays and wreaths for days now and I am still none the wiser.  Where is a local florist when you need one?  Do they not realise that I am townie and know nothing of arranging flowers?  At this rate, I might just have to hang apples from the church ceiling in a decorative fashion…….apple bobbing anyone?!