February at last! I thought January and its dreary dank days would never disappear. Evicted from the cottage on a blissfully sunny but cold day, Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I decided to start the search for our new home at long last. Having spent all week tidying and laying fires for estate agents to value our little house, we then had to decamp as viewings were organised within a few hours of instructing the agent. I filled the cottage with flowers, baked some croissants, lit a fire and hoovered and dusted furniture within an inch of its life. I have to admit that the dear old bricks and mortar looked rather wonderful and Jerry and I were almost ready to call the whole selling thing off. Sensing our indecision, Primrose promptly reminded us of the garden she is looking forward to having and the fact that we had promised her a bike and a puppy. It is amazing how one can be persuaded into giving a child anything in return for stopping what they are doing/listening to what one is saying/doing as they are told. Primrose has already talked me into parting with all my jewellery in some Faustian-style pact to stop her from singing (more like shouting) into the microphone on her electric keyboard (named Stevie, after Mr Wonder himself) as the demo track struts its jazzy/bluesy/pop/latino stuff in the background. No doubt, her lawyer-like negotiating skills will also see Jerry promising her a pony before long!
Setting off in the car, Jerry and I were excited at the prospect of discovering our dream house in the countryside. Nancy (sat nav) switched on and armed with particulars and addresses, we left the Big Smoke in our wellies and wax jackets. Dreams of Cranford, village pub lock-ins and helping out with the church flower arranging filled my head as we hurtled down the M3. Jerry contemplated his necessary commuter car purchase. To Land Rover Defender or not? That was the question. Nearing our destination yet miles from the nearest station, we soon realised that we were going to be visiting properties in completely the wrong place. Jerry’s daily commute would be ridiculously long and there was not a decent village in sight. At the brow of the hill, there it was. The farmhouse from the glossy brochure. Only one problem, it looked more akin to Cold Comfort Farm than delightful family home. Amazing what a wide-angled lens and some estate agent speak can do for a property. I imagined that at any point, a smouldering Seth Starkadder would walk out of the outbuildings, shirt half unbuttoned, hair ruffled and chewing a bit of straw. Second surprise: the land (2.2acres to be exact!) adjacent to the farmhouse seemed to populated with some rather hairy looking creatures which turned out to be llamas. Llamas…I ask you, dear Reader, who owns llamas and what on earth would one do with them? I know that their wool has graced many a jumper but honestly, why else would you keep them? Do they make good pets? They hardly seem the most affectionate of creatures. Had I missed something I wondered? Perhaps the secret to eternal youth was not the milk of asses after all as Cleopatra led us to believe. Perhaps those in the know, have been busy sipping cold glasses of llamas’ milk to keep their wrinkles at bay all this time? Whatever the answer, Jerry and I quickly dismissed the farmhouse out of hand, not even bothering to get out of the car and ringing the agent with a pathetic excuse. Our conclusions: too close to the road, an odd walk-through arrangement with bedrooms on the floorplan and in the middle of nowhere.
Our next viewing was a barn. Jerry and I have never been particularly keen on barn conversions as they tend to be too modern for our tastes and this one was no exception. I have to confess, dear Reader, that it did feel awfully strange poking around someone else’s home. I could imagine viewings being the ideal pastime for those with a penchant for nosiness! The barn reeked and seemed to be inhabited by a collector of old sewing machines, kitchen gadgets and Glade plug-ins. Oh dear, I thought. Another disappointment. At this rate, we would never find a house! We got back in the car, where Jerry spent the next half an hour testing out mobile phone signals as we drove along, talking of boosters and broadband dead zones.
The rest of the day passed with Jerry and I on tenterhooks, waiting for a call to tell us about the buyers who had been snooping around our cottage! Turned out that the viewings went rather well which left us in a state somewhere between panic and happiness! We decided on a walk in Morgaston Woods (one of favourite spots) to clear our heads. It sounds silly but a walk never fails to make us all feel uplifted. The first sighting of snowdrops filled me with cheer and the chilly air carried the promise of spring on its way. Everyone we passed smiled and wished us a good afternoon….unheard of in London and reminding us why we are turning our lives upside down to move! (I did wonder if they had taken one look at the matching Barbours, tweed and country hats and thought to themselves, “Typical blooming Londoners!” and were smiling in amusement rather than country friendliness)! We did stumble upon a fantastic den in the woods too. Primrose and Poppy were all set to move in! You never know dear Reader, we may need to….
No new dwelling to call home on the horizon, the only thing left was for the four of us to return home. We found that our dear little cottage was well and truly on the market when we came home – a ‘For Sale’ board had been put up in our absence! We did manage to lighten the mood though. What with, dear Reader?……..why a Farmhouse cake of course!
Should you wish to bake your own farmhouse, here is the recipe! It was given to me by my dear godmother who is a whizz at all things teatime and makes the most amazing pork pies too!
12oz self raising flour
1 level tsp salt
2 tsp mixed spice
8oz caster sugar
12oz mixed dried fruit (glace cherries are fantastic as part of the mix)
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
6oz margarine (Flora works best for this as it is easy to mix in: this is an occasion when butter won’t do!)
1/4 pint of milk
3 eggs (I use Burford Browns from Clarence Court as the yolks are very yellow and creamy)
Sieve together the dry ingredients first, except the fruit. Add all the others and mix together, first with a beater (you could put it all into the food processor) until thoroughly mixed then finish mixing lightly by hand. Pour into an 8inch cake tin which has been greased and lined. Bake on middle shelf at 150 degrees C for about 2 hours. Cool in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack. Never lasts long in our house!