Tag Archives: farmhouse

The grass is always greener

The green green grass of town

The green green grass of town – best patch I could find!

To be honest dear Reader, I hate to admit it but I have felt a little blue this week.  With the sale on the cottage moving forward, leaving London has actually become a reality.  One would have thought that I would be leaping from The Shard (well metaphorically speaking of course) and I am….but….the prospect of moving, both thrills and terrifies me all at the same time.  I can honestly say that I will be sad to say goodbye to our little home.  I am an awful creature of habit and lately have been wondering how on earth I might do without all the things that I have become so accustomed to and are readily available to me, living in the Big Smoke.  Sitting in a rather fashionable tapas bar in South Ken. with my oldest chum, Perdy, I was instantly reminded of some of the things that I would be giving up moving to the sticks.  For example, where else but in Kensington can one wear a fur without looking conspicuous?!  Sans children (a rarity these days) and talking of the old haunts of our youth with Perdy over a glass of fizz, bottle of red and several cocktails, I felt a strong magnetic force attracting me to the pavements of town.  Cheered by the memory of London times past, I skipped into the cottage at midnight just before the black cab turned into a pumpkin and my dress back into a housecoat.

Waking the next day, Jerry expressed concerns that perhaps I was not ready to change my townie habits and live a quieter life in the countryside.  I pondered this for a moment with a pounding head.  Not ready for the countryside – what?!  I already own the ubiquitous Barbour, mud-blotched wellies, stylish country hat and was about to book a day’s shooting (and cake eating!) with the lovely club of Ladies Shooting  (@LadiesShooting) for my birthday!  I have made passable chutney and even learned how to bake a loaf of bread!  Cranford could not hope for a better arrival in the village!  What on earth did Jerry mean I wasn’t ready for the good life?!  Outraged, I rang my dear Mamma and the same sentiment was echoed by my darling parents who both thought that my love of handbag boutiques, journeys in black cabs and late night suppers in swanky restaurants would not be compatible with a life in the countryside.  I have no idea how this impression might have been formed….and anyway, one might apportion some of the blame to one’s parents for instilling such levels of luxury expectation!

Sadly, I have to confess that my love affair with town and all things luxury began some time ago.  Jerry and I are spoilt in our little corner of suburbia with all kinds of treats available on our doorstep: wine, cheese, bread, a wonderful little bookshop, baby boutiques, a designer shoe emporium, delicatessens galore and even a French traiteur.  Guaranteed, it also has the one and only Londis in the country to sell artisanal produce and truffle oil!  I can remember that when Primrose arrived, I spent the first few months pushing her in a bouncy Silver Cross number, heading to local yummy mummy meccas and tea salons, developing a rather expensive taste for honey lattés and cashmere babygros.  Only in SW London would children be offered ‘babyccinos’…….

Primrose's morning favourite

Primrose’s morning tipple

The ease of life in the suburbs of London had enveloped me with the comforting embrace of a downy duvet and I had taken to it like a duck to water.  Maybe Jerry was right?  How would I manage?  Dashing out for a pint of milk or a loaf of bread in the future, might well mean ten minutes wrestling the girls into the car before driving to the nearest village shop or supermarket a few miles away.  Weekday impromptu suppers with dear friends shall become a thing of the past and no doubt, I will have to trade in all pairs of heels and French Sole pumps for gumboots in various colours.  Gone too, will be trips to the local library and morning walks to nursery school.  Child-friendly gastropubs will be exchanged for sitting in village pub beer gardens, watching the girls clambering over rusty climbing frames and diving into mudpies.  Perhaps one of the most catastrophic losses in the move (the very mention of this one brings on hyperventilation) will be my beloved hairdresser.  Dear Reader, I do not have to tell YOU the importance of the perfect hairdresser who cuts and styles one’s hair just so.  It took me 4 years of bad haircuts and seriously dreadful layering before I found the holy grail of hairdressing.  Even now, I am loathe to give the name and number of said hair cutting fairy godmother to friends, lest they steal precious appointments!  Living with the loss of my coiffeuse, thank goodness Jerry saw fit to give me the gift of a coffee machine so that I can still indulge in my daily caffeine habit and swoosh my own skinny ‘cappu’ in the mornings once we live beyond the outer edges of café civilisation.

All hail new kitchen gadget!

All hail new kitchen gadget!

With all these trappings of the Big Smoke a thing of the past in 5 months’ time, one might be forgiven for thinking that the grass was most definitely not greener in the countryside.  Somehow though….moving feels instinctively the right thing to do.  Views of farmland, wildlife on the doorstep, game fairs and county shows, farmers’ markets and taking the dog out for a walk in the early morning mists…..I think that I could give up London for all of that.  Dragging dear Mamma, Primrose and Poppy to a farmhouse surrounded by fields, only to find that it was damp from top to bottom and had 2ft of water in the cellar, I found that nothing could stifle my overwhelming desire for a country life.  Primrose ran round the garden with careless abandon, whooping with delight at the vast expanse of grass and for a moment, I too, was lost in an idyllic rural reverie.  I envisaged tending a kitchen garden, cooked imaginary kitchen suppers beside the Aga and basked in the light from the floor to ceiling windows hitting the parquet floor in the dining room.  It was only when Mamma pointed out moist wallpaper and mouldy carpets (not to mention a bathroom reminiscent of a Victorian outhouse and farm lorries clattering down the track in front of the farmhouse drive) that I made my apologies to the estate manager.  So is the countryside grass greener?  Well I for one, am game enough to give it a go!  This Margot is definitely ready for a taste of the good life.  Now if you could just find me a new home, dear Reader, I would be most grateful!  Preferably one that isn’t under water!

I defy anyone, dear Reader, not to want to wake up to this every morning!

Is it me or does this grass look distinctly greener?

Off to find a farmhouse…

Stevie. Uncle 'Money' you have a lot to answer for.

Stevie. Uncle ‘M’ –  you have a lot to answer for.

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.

Spring is coming!

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….

Home sweet home?

Home sweet home?

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!

A farmhouse of sorts...well farmhouse cake anyway!

A farmhouse of sorts…!

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!

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?