Tag Archives: Country Life

Baby it’s cold outside

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Lights are going up, the radio is booming out the first of many festive repeats, the aroma of fir is in the air.  I’m resisting the urge to use the ‘C’ word, dear Reader.  I simply can’t even think about all things festive just yet.  With no news on the house front, deadlines, the end of term looming and Poppy’s birthday very firmly on the horizon (she wakes every morning with a countdown of days until the big 5), my mind rather resembles the inside of the Old Curiosity Shop at the moment.  Too much to do and so little time.

Everywhere I turn of late, we seem to be being encouraged to embrace a perfectly Danish feeling of ‘hygge’.  Well…who doesn’t love the idea of curling up in a chair with a good book in front of the fire, dear Reader?  However, I can’t help but wonder if, for me, it’s not so much the cosiness of woollen blankets and steaming mugs of hot chocolate that I need to be encouraged to find, but more a sense of remembering to take time to stop and simply enjoy things.  This will be our last Christmas in the cottage.  That is a strange prospect in itself when the future seems so uncertain.  I hate not having a plan!  Maybe it’s fate’s way of slowing me down, dear Reader.  Maybe it’s alright for life to be on hold?  With the button firmly on pause, once the rush to get ready for Christmas is over, maybe I will stop and appreciate all the things which are really important.

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Long walks drinking in the views, cooking together, roaring fires, good books, reading to my girls, giggly chats over a glass of red with a good friend, holding hands with Jerry and remembering to moan less and appreciate my lot a lot more – all the things which seem to be easily brushed aside in the full steam ahead of Christmas.  Simple pleasures, dear Reader.

I’d better focus otherwise I am in danger of seeping into Boden catalogue territory at this rate.  So now that the weather has finally taking a turn for the frostier and December is on its way, I’ll be trying to find some my own hygge both inside and out.  Once I’ve stopped furiously tidying for viewings, of course.  Amazing what you can shove in the dishwasher when you’re in hurry to hide things, dear Reader.

The following ‘cosy’ finds seem a very good place to start.

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Cold hands, warm heart.  The perfect warm mittens from Hygge and Fur will make sure that the only ice I encounter will be clinking in my G&T.  You can find all sorts to keep you warm this winter on Hygge and Fur‘s site which recently featured in House and Garden, including a rather lovely pom pom bobble hat I’ve got my eye on.

Walking the dogs this time of year always leaves me wondering if I’ve left my toes behind at home.  Enter The Warm Welly Co – a chance find on Twitter which has literally transformed frosty walks for me.  The Warm Welly Co produce neoprene-lined wellies for both adults and children that don’t cost the earth and will keep your feet warm and dry, even when you’re still chasing down a runaway spaniel after an hour in the woods.  FACT.  I love that this fab company was started really by accident by a family of farmers in Cumbria who needed warm wellies to keep the children’s toes warm and toasty during lambing.  Father Christmas will be delivering a couple of pairs for Poppy and Primrose this year too.

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Some of you will know that I’ve been working really hard on a slightly longer project which I hope to be able to share with you soon.  So alongside the obligatory large mug of tea on wintry mornings (and late evenings) at the writing desk, I’ve been donning these beautiful cashmere fingerless gloves (Fagin style) from Turtle Doves. Photo evidence below shows that I have loved them so much that I’ve already covered the label with a leaky pen incident…..literally I’ve slept in them since they arrived, dear Reader. One of the loveliest things about Kate Holbrook’s Shropshire based company, Turtle Doves is that their British design and manufacturing ethos focuses on using textile waste to create beautiful new handmade garments and accessories.  So ALL of their products are made from recycled cashmere and they collect cashmere from charity shops, textile merchants and even offer a ‘free gloves in exchange for your jumper’ service.   What’s not to love about that, dear Reader?  Gorgeous items galore on their site, all fit for under the Christmas tree.

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I can’t take the credit for this next find but it is probably my favourite ‘hygge’ item this winter. Anyone who knows me well, knows that when I’m not writing (or chasing after small children and/or spaniels), I can usually be found reading.  My marvellous friend Florence introduced me to this one – Florence has an amazing knack for always being able to source the perfect gift.  Her site, Blue Bowl, is an utter treasure trove of present heaven, ideal if you’re in search of something for that ‘hard to buy for’ person on your Christmas list. (Florence recently shared new children’s subscription, Scoop with Primrose, a monthly magazine aimed at little book worms aged 8 and up which is SOOOOO much better than what the newsagent has to offer for this age group – needless to say it was right up Primrose’s street). Margot’s bookish find this winter?  Slightly Foxed, a beautifully put together literary quarterly publication which marries great writing from celebrated authors and passionate book lovers in equal measure.  Having recently devoured all five books in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet chronicles, I have been in dire need of new reading material and I love that Slightly Foxed’s issues reveal a whole host of titles, interesting and sometimes long forgotten just waiting to be discovered or reread in an age of pulp fiction.  This is the London Review of Books for fireside book worms – unadulterated bookish pleasure on every page and almost certain joy for those of us who love the gems to be found in the hallowed spaces of independent bookshops old and new and cosy libraries.  The specially commissioned covers on each issue are a delight in themselves.  A subscription to Slightly Foxed is definitely top of my Christmas list, dear Reader.  Thank you to Jennie for the bountiful bookish ‘hygge’ delivered by the postman – it is not often he gets a whoop!

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Their collection of Slightly Foxed Editions make wonderful gifts too – utterly unique.  Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s Terms and Conditions, recently reviewed in the hallowed pages of Country Life, had me in stitches.  A must for those who have experienced life as a boarder.

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Last but by no means least, the perfect accompaniment to simple pleasures.  Gin.  Of course, I’ll be needing something to sip as I read by the fire, dear Reader and I think I’ve stumbled upon just the thing.  Thank you to the lovely Jane Devonshire for introducing me to Andy from Hampshire’s Gorilla Spirits whose Silverback Gin with No9 Cardamon tonic is simply perfect for a large G&T. With a base of British wheat spirit and warm spices and notes of sweet orange, coriander, acacia blossom and lemongrass, it is a remarkably moreish number.  £1 from each bottle also goes towards supporting The Gorilla Organization which works at the very forefront of gorilla conservation in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.  I am hoping that Father Christmas remembers to leave a bottle of Silverback Gin under the tree this year.

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Now it’s over to you, dear Reader.  There’s a frost on the ground, a jingle of bells in the air and smoke wisps curling from the chimney pot.  What will your simple pleasures be this winter?

Hats off

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It’s not often that  I get completely obsessed by all things crafty as I am usually utterly hopeless at making anything look more than haphazardly homemade.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I delved into the art of millinery with the most spectacular lady, Rachel Drewer.  I can tell you, dear  Reader, I am already hooked on hat making.

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Secreted away amidst Hampshire farmland, Rachel has a wonderful little studio with oodles and oodles of fabrics, mannequins wearing glamourous creations and enough feathers to fashion her own aviary of birds!  Heaven.  A veritable sweetie shop for all you crafting folk.  With Rachel’s work featuring in British Vogue and Country Life no less, her creations are regular features on the racing circuit.  So it is not surprising that ladies are queuing up the farm track and beyond to have one of her bespoke designs and couture numbers.  Leaving behind a career in the city, Rachel studied millinery with some of the world’s finest designers, including those who have worked for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and the Duchess of Cambridge.

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When Rachel is not designing and creating the most stunning headpieces and hats, she also teaches millinery workshops.  So when she invited me to come and have a lesson, I made sure I was there with bells on, dear Reader!  Not only was there tea and cake, fabulous chat from the delightful Rachel (she is one of the most twinkly smiley people I have interviewed) but she also indulged my love of all things green and feathery.  A blissful morning spent in the company of a true artist.

Together (well I say together, I mostly scoffed cake), we created a headband with some feathers I had acquired.  Those of you who have seen my homemade roadkill pheasant fascinator, I promise I didn’t come by these green ones by running over anything exotic…..

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From creating a good shape to offset the feathers, sticking them in place…

IMG_2122to finally sewing the feathered piece on to a bespoke hairband and finishing with netting.

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The results were staggeringly good and with Rachel’s wonderful patience and teaching skills, I was thoroughly surprised at my efforts.  In fact, my new fascinator will be having its first outing for a family wedding in June.

Rachel runs a whole host of millinery workshops which teach feather techniques, millinery upcycling, introductions to hat making with sinamay, parasisal and silk flowers as well as specific focus on particular hat designs.  For those looking for their own personal workshop session, Rachel offers bespoke tuition which includes a one-to-one day with Rachel in her studio, tailored worksheet on methods, materials, and design tips, follow-up support and more.  I rather liked the sound of her millinery parties – the perfect hen weekend idea alongside a glass of fizz or two.

I am truly delighted with my beautiful bespoke headpiece, dear Reader and entirely indebted to Rachel and her guiding hand.  I am already chomping at the bit to pop back for more tea and cake as well as a chance to play with all the various hats in the studio – the stuff of dressing up dreams, dear Reader.  Not only is Rachel such a talent but I feel I have made a rather lovely and supremely talented new friend right on my doorstep too!  I can’t thank her enough for such a lovely morning, especially as she even let me dress her dear Frank in one of her stunning couture numbers.  Hats off all round, dear Reader!

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Summer of countryside love

MudefordProfuse apologies, my dear Reader, for my epic summer silence.  It seems an age since I was last tip tapping away a little note to you and I can only blame it on lots of work and plenty of lovely things happening at Margot and Jerry HQ, giving me not time at all to resume my position at the writing desk.  With Primrose and Poppy at home creating mayhem for almost 8 WEEKS of summer horror, I mean holiday, I haven’t had a moment to even hear myself think either!

Days have been filled with exploring our patch of Hampshire, trips to secluded sandy spots, sampling a lot of local goodies (wine, beer, gin…..) so when we finally headed off for our staycation and annual trip to Tom and Barbara’s shire farmstead, we couldn’t be too downhearted when it weed it down with rain.  Lots of time at home too – the spare room has had its bedding stripped more times than a boutique B&B of late!  As anyone who knows us well knows, we’re always more than happy to have friends to stay – any excuse for a good gossip over a large glass of something! Continue reading

It’s all about Lifestyle darlings…

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I might just keep my name badge forever….

Dear Reader, as you may have read a couple of weeks ago, I was in the top 6 finalists of the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Lifestyle award.  Something which I was totally stunned by (and quite over the top excited about) since I only started writing Margot tries the good life in October 2012.  As the BiBs awards ceremony loomed closer and several wardrobe crises later (I did actually consider the ballgown and wellies option for longer than perhaps was actually sensible), I was thinking of sending a note to Barbara to go in my place.  Then I remembered she was in Provence (more than likely learning how to make her own perfume) and would be of no help at all!  The day of judgment dawned and I managed to get myself to The Brewery in EC1 without too much mishap.  Paralysed with nerves, I lurked outside for some time then hid beside the cloakrooms before finally taking the plunge and entering the drinks reception.  A glass of fizz in hand (sadly no gin), I met some lovely lovely people who I had previously only known through Twitter – that in itself was a surreal experience I don’t mind admitting to you.  Everyone I met at Britmums Live asked if we had moved yet and the inevitable question of livestock and growing my own fruit and vegetables was on the cards too!  Not yet, not yet was the reply.  Very nearly though….  Anyway, I am cutting to the chase, dear Reader, I promise.  No, sadly, I did not win the award and yes, my practised Oscar nominee losing face came in handy BUT I did feel very honoured to be on the list at all, especially as the winner has a fantastic blog (Mamma Syder from The Syders).

Jerry reminded me when I got home that 9 months ago, I never would have dreamed of being in the same room as some of the nation’s favourite bloggers and even a generous handful of published authors.  He was utterly right of course and I do feel a little proud of myself for getting all the way to the final of the BiBs in the first place.  NOW I blog about our puppy, Monty, at the NFU Countryside website here and I have recently been offered the chance to blog for the National Trust’s London and South East region.  Margot, a lifestyle blogger – whatever next?!  So thank YOU, dear Reader, for getting me to here because without you reading, tweeting and following my story, I might never have managed any of it!  One last plea: please go and tell lots of people about Margot tries the good life!

Now that Britmums Live is over and awards ceremony is done and dusted, I can start focusing on our move in 5 weeks’ time!  In fact, in the spirit of getting things ticked off the list, I booked the movers and packers this morning.  It is finally sinking in.  We are moving.  Primrose only has another 4 weeks left at nursery and Jerry and I are frantically filling the diary with last minute must dos and must see people.  It is within spitting distance as they say.  Maybe just maybe, I might write a book about all of this one day, dear Reader…..  In the meantime, I shall have to keep plaguing Country Life until they are so sick of me that they give in and let me loose on their glorious magazine!

Margot's little book of scribblings.

Margot’s little book of scribblings.

A little ‘Tea’LC

Tea anyone?

Winter blues? Margot puts the kettle on!

With ‘Blue Monday’ on 21st January fast approaching (allegedly the most depressing day in the calendar), I felt the need to gee myself up.  ‘Blue Monday’, dreamed up by inventive holiday company marketers, is ‘thought’ to be the day that we all mourn the end of Christmas and New Year, realise that summer is oh so far away and start dreaming about booking a holiday!  No such dreams in the cottage this week.  Instead, a severe lack of sleep has plagued us.  Poppy has been ill with tonsilitis and up most nights and to add to that, I have been overcome with anxiety over the enormity of organising our move to the countryside.  Thoughts of finding a new job, selling the cottage and securing a new rural home have now become a priority and brought with them oppressive insomnia and bouts of furious midnight list scribbling!  Worried that if I wasn’t careful with my evening nightcaps, I might have to change my name to ‘Ginny’, I sought solace in some old-fashioned herbal remedies.

Herbal remedies?  I hear you ask.  Really, Margot?  I know dear Reader, sounds a little wacky.  However, in my youth, I dabbled in all sorts including a range of unusual interests.  I can only put this down to a furtive imagination and a tendency to become carried away with things.  It is a well kept secret, dear Reader, that in my younger days, I was a little on the hippy side.  I once encouraged Jerry to join me on a ‘pilgrimage’ to Tintagel Castle, a ruin on a craggy cliffside reported to be the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.  Our ‘tour’ in a clapped out B reg VWPolo (Jemima, may she rest in car scrap peace) also took in the the tor and sights of Glastonbury on the way back.  The idea was to explore the various mythical places linked to King Arthur and the isle of Avalon en route and immerse ourselves (just Margot on this one) in the mysticism of druidery.  It didn’t sound quite as ‘mad as a bag of frogs’ at the time but it certainly does now, writing it.  Tasselled flowery skirts and sheepskin jackets also featured heavily, with Tori Amos (the artist of choice for teenage girls), blasting from my ‘boom’box as I smoked cherry tobacco ‘rollies’.  I seem to remember that around the same time I genuinely believed that I had a gift for reading tarot cards!  It is at this point that I feel I should hang my grown up head in shame but I have to add that I wasn’t the only one to indulge in some retro hippy chic.  Jerry did too!  He had long hair, wore flares, played in a band (they were actually rather good) and read the bizarre poetry of The Doors’ rock god, Jim Morrison.  Sporting a ‘City’ haircut and in his Savile Row suit, no one would EVER believe of it Jerry now!  Photographic evidence of Jerry’s misspent youth remains hidden until such a time when it may be required for ransom or blackmail!  Well, alongside wishing I was the reincarnation of a priestess of Avalon, all these efforts to be a teenage misfit happened to coincide with a curiosity in herbal remedies, which leads us back to the present day…..

Culpeper's beautiful illustrations are such a treat.

Culpeper’s beautiful illustrations are such a treat.

Decluttering the cottage in preparation for estate agents, I uncovered a copy of the ancient herbal bible, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal written by the seventeeth century apothecary and physician, Thomas Culpeper, languishing half-forgotten on a bookshelf.  Aside from cures for dropsy (hideous) and torments of the bowels (equally vile sounding), it does serve as a reminder of just how many modern remedies and medicines are based on old countryside knowledge of plants, herbs and hedgerows.  The book houses the most wonderful illustrations of plants too.  Funny how it has almost been forgotten that herbal remedies were once staple countryside medicines.  How many times has one heard of using dock leaves to relieve nettle stings?  The more I read old Culpeper though, the more I was completely sure that I should not put him to the test as concocting one of his tinctures with talk of ‘balancing humours’, felt a bit like dabbling in the black arts and a cauldron most certainly would be required for authenticity.  Jerry would definitely not sanction the purchasing of a cauldron.  Rather than reaching for a bottle of Nytol, I persevered with the herbal burble….where better to start than tea I thought?  I adore the amber liquid and am a strictly black tea drinker.  (Why would anyone want to add essence of cow to such a delightfully delicate tipple?) Surely, there must be a ‘tea’ out there that would serve as a ‘nerve tonic’?  The benefits of some common garden herbs are already widely known: camomile (soothing, sleep inducing), lavender (antibacterial, relaxing, good for burns) and mint (eases stomach pain, good for digestion and can be used to perk up the senses).  Teas or ’tisanes’ have been made to combat all manner of ailments for centuries so there must be some remedy out there to soothe my nerves and help me sleep!

So after some painstaking research and procurement of ingredients….here you are, dear Reader: Margot’s top 3 herbal tips for banishing those wintry blues!

Deliciously lemony and soothing

Deliciously lemony and soothing

Lemon verbena tea

Lemon verbena has long been known for its soporific properties and thus aids a good night’s sleep.  Good for indigestion and bloatedness too.  To make a decent brew, use three to four leaves in a cup.  Bruise the leaves with your fingers a little before pouring hot water over them.  Leave to steep for a few minutes.  The smell is deliciously heady with lemon and it tastes green and sharp.  It is also the perfect cuppa for banishing winter blues as it is reported to be a natural antidepressant.

(I do have lemon verbena in the garden but sadly the plant was looking a little sorrowful under the recent blanket of white stuff – I turned to some dried leaves from Neal’s Yard Remedies for my evening cup instead.  I am reliably informed that any reputable purveyor of teas will sell the leaves or indeed filled tea bags).

Warming and fragrant

Warming and fragrant

Ginger tea

Not strictly a herb but definitely worth adding as its warming properties can heal a multitude of ailments from travel sickness to lifting one’s mood and banishing negative feelings.  Packed with antioxidants, it makes the ideal thing for fighting winter bugs and boosting one’s immune system.  To make ginger tea, cut a piece of ginger roughly the size of a couple of centimentres.  Chop the ginger into fine slices or give it a bit of a bash with a pestle and mortar before adding to your pot or cup.  Then boil over boiled water and allow to steep.  Honey can be added to sweeten and a pinch of cinnamon can really make this tea zing with extra spice too.

Bath ‘tea’ bag

A good old-fashioned bath.  Truly, this is cheating on the ‘tea’ front but it really works if one is feeling a little frazzled.  The latest Country Life, steaming hot water and a bath ‘tea’ bag can have you feeling ready for Bedfordshire in no time.  To make your bath tea bag, take a piece of muslin cloth and cut into a smallish square.  Fill the square with some oats (porridge oats are fine for this), add a teaspoon of lavender flowers to this (a couple of drops of lavender essential oil onto the oats will do the job just as well) and tie up the bag with a little string.  Hang over the tap so that the hot water passes through the bag as the bath is drawn.  The oats are moisturising and will soothe dry, irritated skin whilst the lavender relaxes and calms the nerves.

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All this talk of tea prompted me to pop the kettle on and pour myself a restorative cup.  Whilst I was at it, I thought of another old countryside pastime I could take up: reading tea leaves.  Now where did I put that sheepskin jacket….?

I wonder what the future holds.......

I wonder what the future holds…….

Margot’s New Year’s resolutions

Not burning the candle at both ends.....

Not burning the candle at both ends…..

Happy New Year to you dear Reader!  Rather unlike the whizz bang kaleidoscope of colour that was the spectacular fireworks display in London, 2013 limped in with a little whimper for dear Jerry and I.  Our New Year jaunt to Tom and Barbara’s ended with illness and midnight arrived with all of us (plus 3 small babes) in bed asleep with various ailments.  Sadly, on this occasion, I can’t even blame the sloe gin fizzes for my lack of stamina!  Jerry agreed that maybe with 2 children in tow, we were just getting too old to ring in the New Year with the same alacrity as seen in previous years.  I spent the wee small hours of 2013 trying to console a snotty and very teary Poppy before lying awake thinking of how much I had to get on with this year!  Find job, sell house, up sticks and move to rural idyll……..

In true Margot style, I thought that the only way to prepare myself for all this change was to write a list.  A list of things to do in 2013…resolutions of sorts.   I found the perfect starting point for the forthcoming year.  Thank you dear Country Life!  Yet again, you saved my bacon, so to speak!  Originally published as Country Life’s pick of essential skills for our nation’s youth, the full list of Country Life’s 39 steps to a Better Life can be found here Indeed, I was very surprised to see that I had accomplished a few already!  Although, I am not sure I would call my completion of no.24 a 10 shot rally…more Margot struggling to keep a volley going!  Here are some of the rejects which didn’t make it onto my list of 2013 to-dos!

1. Cook three different dinner party menus (Margot’s weekly kitchen rituals are all about dinner parties – so this one is too easy peasy to add to the list)
3. Play a musical instrument, even if it’s just the tom-toms or a mouth organ (I can strike this one off as I can tinkle the ivories in a passable fashion and I did once play the cello reasonably well)
6. Talk about five classics of English literature with authority and passion (I could bore you to death, dear Reader, with my love of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Forster’s Howards End, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and of course, almost anything by Jilly Cooper…)
12. Taste the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and know how to mix a mojito or margarita (This formed part of Margot’s basic training years ago)
17. Sail a boat across the Solent (Accomplished with several layers of sailing gear and the help of Jerry’s family)
19. Tell the difference between Gothic, Baroque and Palladian architecture  (Thank you National Trust.  Without you, I might have had to delve into Architecture for Dummies)
24. Sustain a 10-shot rally at tennis (as I said more terror at missing a shot than rally)
26. Perform three good card tricks (I’m not sure cheating at Gin Rummy should count for this)
30. Uncork and pour a bottle of Champagne (Oh dear Reader, if one hasn’t managed this one by 32, then one hasn’t lived)!
32. Amuse small children for at least an hour with magic tricks and storytelling  (That is precisely what I went into teaching to do)

After much debating, some help from Jerry and taking into account the splendid advice from Country Life, here is Margot’s top 20 list of things to do in 2013:

One of Margot's top views for 2013!

One of Margot’s top views for 2013!

  1. Ride a horse
  2. Grow my own vegetables from seed and dig a vegetable garden from scratch
  3. Identify a hawthorn from a hazel and try not to poison the family when selecting edible flowers/plants using my new River Cottage Hedgerow book
  4. Learn how to handle a shotgun, shoot a clay, skin a rabbit and go hunting with hawks
  5. Cycle 5 miles along a river, repair a bicycle puncture and fix the chain (might help to learn how to ride a bicycle FIRST!  Yes, I really can’t ride a bicycle…)
  6. Attempt basic DIY skills such as putting up a shelf and changing a plug
  7. Learn how to light an AGA and cook on it
  8. Build a bonfire
  9. Use sewing machine to make a dress
  10. Go glamping with Poppy and Primrose
  11. Walk MY OWN dog
  12. Attend a henkeeping course
  13. Make my own cheese
  14. Brew a pint of homemade beer with Jerry (Jerry’s secret desire is to run his own micro brewery)
  15. Meet a real farmer
  16. Catch a fish
  17. Bake a decent loaf of bread (I am now armed with a very good recipe from dear Mr Blackbird of Blackbird Bread)
  18. Knit a tea cosy
  19. Procure a stylish country hat
  20. FINALLY move into my own farmhouse complete with Aga, log fires, beams (and prerequisite spiders), HUGE garden and views of open fields.

Jerry wouldn’t let me add: ’21. Rear pigs and make my own bacon’.  Disappointing.  I thought that I might be quite good at keeping livestock.  I had also mentioned chickens and ducks – both of which were given the big veto by Jerry.  Spoilsport.  In the meantime, I have already made a start on the list….dear Mamma bought me a knitting kit for children aged 8 years and up.  Well dear Reader, I had to start somewhere……

knitting

Tea cosy anyone?

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Mr Tree!

Mr Tree!

Poppy turned 1 last week despite all of us muttering disbelief of how the time has flown by!  Our little seedling has grown up and is blossoming into quite a feisty young flower!  (Dear Reader, it would be quite unfair of you to even mutter quietly that perhaps she takes after her mother.  A ridiculous notion!  It is all down to her auburn locks)!  With birthday festivities over, Jerry finally allowed me to open the doors to Christmas.  Until now, it had been incredibly hard to resist eating mince pies and glugging back the mulled wine but with all the crumbs from the second birthday cake gone (carrot – and not too much of a disaster this time, although, I did burn my hand whilst pouring over the hot honey) we could turn our attentions to the most important job of all.  The Tree!  In celebration of our ‘better late than never’ embracing of Christmas, we all traipsed off to our greengrocer which doubles up as a provider of Nordman firs this time of year.  I will confess, dear Reader, that I adore Christmas trees.  The smell, the lights, the drinking of sloe gin whilst dressing it with decorations…  What could be more festive than the smell of the dear old fir tree!  Evergreens are part of the fabric of Christmas as we know it now but it wasn’t always so.  Made fashionable by Queen Victoria, it was good old Albert who introduced the idea from his native Germany.  The Germans had been decorating trees for years before we started!  Our traditional English Christmas staple, the kissing bush, was the fir’s precursor and was created with mistletoe and decorated with lit candles.  Of course, the ever faithful holly and ivy also adorned the balustrades of country homes long before the humble Christmas tree ever became a la mode.  With this image of country house Christmases in mind, I set to work on creating the perfect Mr Tree!  A darling little tree chosen, paved the way for the age old debate of the lights, which dear Reader, you may remember that I have already mentioned: flashing coloured lights (Jerry’s particular tacky penchant) or tasteful tiny white globes twinkling in the low level light of the cottage (Margot’s choice).  Needless to say I actually won the battle this year!  Ha!  My success all came down to Primrose, who was desperate to take over the reins of the delicate art of tree dressing.  I soon realised that there could only be one master of Mr Tree!  I had to physically restrain myself as Primrose set about lavishing baubles and trinkets on the tree with no particular theme in mind, other than MORE is MORE.  Usually, I decorate the tree with fascisti tendencies, approving the placement of each one.  Not this year…Primrose bulldozed right through my control freak decoration placement and even added her own homemade touches so that Mr Tree was complete with a homemade bell made from a sawn off litre bottle (I struggled with the tastefulness of that one).  I noticed, with some glee I might add, that my tree decorating fascism had definitely not skipped a generation as I listened to Primrose berating Poppy for moving one of her carefully placed birds!  I love rediscovering all the boxes with neatly packed trinkets.  1 new decoration each year ensures that we have always have a story to impart about how it was found and that particular Christmas.  Primrose and I love our Christmas quest.  My old favourite is a little boy with a bobbled hat (press the bobble and he pokes out his tongue)!  He belongs to a Christmas in the ’80s spent in Cologne and is on loan from my Mamma.  This year’s additions are a rather wonderful couple, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Soldier doll from the Nutcracker.  I found them hiding in a corner of the Royal Ballet’s shop when my lovely friend, Jasper, and I were at the Opera and I simply couldn’t resist!

Our Christmas fairy

Our Sugar Plum fairy

The family tree dressing ceremony over, I set off to find some holly for the cottage staircase.  Countryside tradition dictates that holly is hung in farmhouses and cowsheds alike to bring good luck.  An age old tradition, the Romans used to give sprigs to signify lasting friendship and blessings for the year to come.  You can just imagine the face of the Roman nobleman who received a prickly offering as his Secret Santa rather than an amphora of wine at the Forum’s annual Saturnalia shindig.  One of the best countryside traditions I stumbled across this week, was indeed about the marriage of holly and ivy.  Holly with its prickly edges and robust berries was thought to be a sign of masculinity and ivy with its ability to entwine other plants and cling to things was thought to represent femininity.  Together they were brought into a farmhouse on Christmas Eve (and not before) to symbolise the coming together of kin and to ensure a happy family life for the new year.  All the earlier talk of Sugar Plum fairies had given me an idea on how best to welcome in the good luck with touches of evergreen.  Thumbing through some old culinary tomes, I found an excellent way to give those prickly leaves that snowy Christmas look for our Christmas cake!  Ever resourceful Mrs Beeton (Book of Household Management, 1851) suggests that one ‘frosts’ the leaves: dry out any moisture, coat with ‘oiled butter’ (I used a smattering of melted butter for this one) and ‘coarse powdered sugar’ (granulated will do.  Although caster did look better).  Leave to dry by the fire.

Adding one last touch to our beautifully dressed fir, Primrose made me promise that I would leave a shoe under Mr Tree.  She told me that Father Christmas will see my shoe, know I am a girl and leave the right presents behind.  So…..never one to part with tradition, I followed her instructions to the letter and have placed a festive green velvet number from LK Bennett under the tree.  Father Christmas will definitely make his judgement on what sort of girl I am with that one!  That in mind, he may just leave me the keys to my very own Georgian rectory complete with holly adorned balustrades and a 12 ft Christmas tree in the Hall.  Wishful thinking I know, dear Reader but I had had a large snip of sloe gin by that point and had been pouring over the glossy pages of this year’s Christmas double issue of Country Life.  I may also have been just a wee bit tinky tonk too…..but don’t tell Father Christmas!

Please leave something fabulous Father Christmas!  Margot has been very good this year.

Please leave something fabulous Father Christmas! Margot has been very good this year.