Tag Archives: geese

A Year to Remember

There’s always an ending and a beginning as the twinkly lights of Christmas are packed away once more.  Lists of things left undone, things achieved and dreams and hopes for the year to come.  Then January sets in and I’ve forgotten all about what it was I wanted to do, what I’m supposed to be doing and the things I should have done by now……including writing this message to you, dear Reader.  You know what they say though.  Better late than never.

2017 was a year of beginnings for us.  We met and fell in love with a farmhouse, decided to undertake the biggest project we’d ever tackled, turned a tired lavender field back into production and generally everyone we knew thought that we had finally lost all our marbles.  Move to a derelict farmhouse you say?  Why ever not?  Now our first Christmas here has been and gone, it’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago the farmhouse was still rather more of a shell than a home.  No clean drinking water, no heating, no functioning plumbing….the list is endless.  There wasn’t much of a kitchen either as it had been stripped bare before building work could start.  The steel skeleton was still firmly in place around us and our view of fields also included a few builders’ bottoms.  Not forgetting a bloody great Bake Off tent in the back garden that served as our makeshift kitchen for three months when the mouldy old kitchen was removed and the oak flooring went down.  Disappointingly, it was minus a chirpy Mel and Sue or even Sandi and Noel and it was completely devoid of showstoppers.  Well of the baking kind at any rate.  I’ve never been on safari, dear Reader but I am pretty sure tents in the bush are distinctly more glamourous and less functional.

As the weather closed in and the list of disasters from crumbling chimneys to water pouring through the kitchen ceiling (not once but twice) grew, Jerry and I lost faith in our ability to tackle everything that the old girl needed to bring her back to life.  I can’t tell you the waves of tears wept and a long list of expletives grew as for the millionth time I forgot to shut the curtains before venturing to the loo and remembered that I was visible to all on the scaffolding.  Nothing seemed to be going right.  My poor Pa who is in charge of all our electrics almost had kittens at how unsafe the wiring was (and in some parts still is) in the house.  Then there was the time we had been using the open fire to keep warm whilst we were without any form of central heating and the lovely chap who came to check the chimneys told me that I had been effectively poisoning us all as smoke and fumes were being channelled into Primrose’s bedroom.  Every day became a diary entry of disasters.  Working from home has some serious disadvantages when renovating a house.  Each little detail becomes a mountain to climb so that by the time you reach decisions about door handles or paint colours or whether or not you need a Hobnob biscuit or a Jaffa cake to get through the next hour, you are beyond being given any form of choice.  None of these things are the end of the world but after months of effectively camping in your own home, there’s nothing like a deadline to force you towards getting things done.  What better deadline is there than hosting Christmas and Boxing Day, dear Reader?!

All good things come to those who wait, dear Reader.  There is drinking water coming from the tap once more, there is heating, there is an Everhot, the builders have moved out and we can finally say goodbye to the Bake Off tent in the garden.  Getting the kitchen finished has meant no more cooking on a camping stove (a massive thank you to Alresford Interiors for all their hard work, beautiful carpentry and coping with a complete redesign at the last minute – for all the little extras and more we couldn’t be more grateful) and life at the farmhouse is becoming more and more ordinary again.  Whilst upstairs, bedrooms and bathrooms remain wholly untouched, downstairs is beginning to look complete.  Distressed oak floors in the hallway, kitchen and boot room sit alongside the original parquet flooring everywhere else.  Arts and Crafts colours reign supreme as you might expect – olive walls in the dining room, library red in the study.  The only room that has escaped something darker is the kitchen and that’s because limewash was needed it for its light reflective qualities.

Thank you to Quirky Interiors for our beautiful bespoke brass splashback too – the pictures don’t do it justice.

We haven’t finished by any stretch of the imagination.  The kitchen walls are still a bit bare.  Bathrooms will have to wait so washing hair with the aid of Tupperware boxes remains de rigueur for 2018.  The hallway still has its 1968 Laura Ashley wallpaper and I can’t wait to rip off the carpet on the stairs but perhaps not just yet, Jerry tells me.  We’ve already had more than one disastrous afternoon where we lost a cat under the upstairs’ floorboards.  Window panes in our leaded light windows have been replaced and new guttering and replacement roof tiles have seen us finally dry inside the house.  A shiny new boiler now heats the house after almost a decade without heating and cosy woodburners have ensured that even on the coldest days of winter, our little farmhouse has stayed toasty and warm.  I’ve also realised that I am far more resourceful than I ever thought I was.  Being able to bake bread and make pizza in a gas barbecue is a skill I may one day need in an emergency.  I’m not sure what sort of emergency….but you never know, dear Reader.  I think that Jerry is breathing a sigh of relief that my Ebay and salvage yard addiction is having a little break too.

Our clutter is at home here.  It belongs.  The furniture fits and as I wander through each room switching on lamps in the early evening, I feel as though at long last that I belong too.  Something which makes me very happy indeed, dear Reader.  We needed this house as much as it needed us.

A lot of amazing things wouldn’t have been possible without the help of lovely friends and our amazing farming neighbours who have given up time to help with fencing and much more besides.  They have rescued me from drowning under the weight of many a practical catastrophe and made us feel extremely welcome.  There is no doubt in my mind that they think me completely mad almost every day of the week and that they may well regret inviting me into their WhatsApp group dear Reader, but I’m ever so glad that they live on the doorstep and hope they don’t mind too much when they get a distress call from the mad lady at the bottom of the lane.  I’m glad too that in my own small way, I’ve been able to help them with their some of their plans for the future too.  Their festive farmers’ market before Christmas was one of most marvellous things I’ve been involved in organising in a long time – a huge thank you to all the lovely producers, suppliers and farmers I called on to come and make the day so special.  I can’t wait to see what new ventures are afoot for all of us.

So what does 2018 hold for us you might ask, dear Reader?  Well I think that we may have already hit the ground running….  We’ve started to resurrect the old pond which silted up years ago.  It will be given a new lease of life with our latest arrivals at the farmhouse.  It’s amazing how quickly the monsoon weather of late has helped it fill up again and although it looks more like the Somme than idyllic wildlife pool now, we have hopes that it will soon be rather more picture perfect.  However, I digress.  The mention of new arrivals will not have escaped you.  Well, you know how things always seem to happen to us by accident, dear Reader.  I promise they really do.  I’ll prove it.

One minute I am talking to our local log man commenting on his lovely geese and the next, I am receiving texts not about our log delivery but about ducks that need rehoming.  To cut a long story short, we are now the proud owners of 2 Runner duck drakes (Ferdie and Francis) and 4 Khaki Campbell ladies (names still being debated).  See what did I tell you?  A complete accident.  We won’t even mention the fact that I may have discussed goslings as well but mercifully, it isn’t spring yet and Jerry has a little more time to get used to the idea of those.  To be honest, he really didn’t take a lot of convincing when it came to the ducks and they have proven to be the best farmhouse addition yet as far as we’re all concerned.  They are definitely Jerry’s favourite.  Walking wine bottles – what could be more apt for our household?  The four of us can be found pressed up against the kitchen window most mornings just watching their ridiculous duck antics.  The perfect antidote to anyone’s January blues I can assure you.  So with ducks on the pond, some news ideas involving the lavender field, the gentle baa of some sheep on the horizon, a kitchen garden to plant up and a finish line to cross at the writing desk, it would seem that 2018 is shaping up to be a busy one already.  Oh it’s a quacking start, one might say……  I just hope you’ll still enjoy following us on our country living journey.  I hate to say it, dear Reader, but it seems that these days Jerry and I are much more Tom and Barbara that we ever imagined we’d be.  A belated Happy New Year to you all.

 

 

 

The goose is getting fat…..

The dreaded lurgy entered our house this week and Primrose and I have been ill, hence the radio silence.  Neither one of us is known for swooning and taking to our beds, so we simply sat miserably on the sofa, grumbling at each other.  Maladies dampening our thirst for countryside dalliances, we were both feeling more than a little fed up by day 3 of being stuck in the house and even Poppy’s usual joyfulness was beginning to wane.  Having forced Primrose and Poppy to watch a few of Merchant and Ivory’s finests and running out of options for low energy entertainment, I decided that the time was nigh for dipping our toes in the Christmas waters, so to speak.

I adore the glowing mistletoe berries!

To quote the rhyme ‘Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat’, this is usually the time of year when I make grandiose plans for what sort of Christmas we are to have and start the great tree decoration debate with Jerry (white lights = Margot, tacky flashing coloured lights = Jerry).  For some reason, this year, I just haven’t got into the right mindset for it all.  Maybe it is because I keep thinking that this will be our last London Christmas?!  It doesn’t help that Poppy’s 1st birthday is just before Christmas and Jerry made me promise that Christmas would not enter the house until the last piece of birthday cake had been eaten.  Festive desperation will have hit me by that point!  (Sneakily, I had already added the mistletoe lights to the cottage archway on the pretence that it was for Poppy’s party)….

Anyhoo, delighting in a long forgotten Christmas book (recently rediscovered and printed in 1985, The Oxford Christmas Book for Children is STILL a gem), I was reminded of the old custom of walking Christmas geese and turkeys to London.  Stories of seventeenth century plump white geese wearing little boots (yes REALLY!) or the now über fashionable Norfolk Black turkeys, feet painted with tar and sand for the long walk, filled my head.  These tales sat alongside visions of gloriously smocked Suffolk ‘flock’men ushering the birds on their way from country to town to arrive at Leadenhall market for the week before Christmas.  Puts a whole new perspective on the ‘oven ready’ bird!  Preparations in mind and realising that it was the last weekend before the beginning of Advent, what else could I be doing but my very own Christmas bake off?  Stir Up Sunday was upon me.  Being a pudding hater, I had already indoctrinated the girls, convincing Primrose at least, that Christmas cake was FAR superior.  Poor Jerry is the only one in our little cottage who loves ‘the pud’ but dearest Mamma had already solved that dilemma, buying him a couple of mini puds to satisfy his craving!  Last year, heavily pregnant and yearning for the merest whiff of alcohol, I made my first ever Christmas cake but got a bit too enthusiastic with ‘feeding’ it ginger wine.  If that wasn’t bad enough, I also accidentally marzipaned the top AND bottom of the cake, much to Jerry’s horror.  Turns out that even Jerry knew that I wasn’t supposed to do that….

Pausing for some tea, I decided that maybe I wouldn’t start the cake making until later and instead, would share with you, Dear Reader, a potted history of that ‘love it or hate it’ festive fruity football.
Dear old Mrs B!
Most will know that ‘Stir Up’ Sunday takes its name from the collect read from the Book of Common Prayer to churchgoers on the last Sunday before Advent.  Other references allude to 13 ingredients to represent the apostles and stirring clockwise to remember the journey of the Three Kings from east to west on their way to that little stable in Bethlehem.  However, the provenance of the pud is hotly debated!  The majority of pudding aficionados will agree that early versions consisted of chopped meat, suet, oatmeal and spices and were cooked in blanched sheep intestines.  Sounded a bit like haggis to me.  They were also served at the beginning of the meal rather than as a dessert.  Some believe that it was the sixteenth century which fashioned ‘plum duff’ as we know it today as puddings were boiled in a cloth bag in the washing copper.  An abundance of prunes (aka plums) is also said to have changed the original recipe but innovations in meat preservation might account for the absence of meat and the inclusion of fruit.  It was Eliza Acton in 1830 (followed by Mrs Beeton) who actually penned the first recipe for the fruity cannonball, giving it the name ‘Christmas Pudding’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
Feeling a little more perky and armed with my pudding knowledge, I took a leaf out of old Mrs B’s book this year when making our Christmas cake.  Well ‘Twelfth Night’ cake at any rate.  Baked for the Epiphany feast on Twelfth Night (5th Jan), it formed the centrepiece of the table and traditionally contained different charms buried deep within its dense plumminess.

‘A bean for the king

A pea for the queen

A clove for the knave

A twig for the fool

A rag for the slut’

(or tarty girl as one source uttered rather more kindly)!

Fearing receiving any of the charms in a slice of the cake quite frankly, I went ahead enlisting Poppy and Primrose in the baking, leaving our cake well and truly charmless.  We did stir it up (clockwise, in the spirit of the pud tradition) and I have to confess that I did make a teeny little wish.  The wish?  THAT my dear Reader, will be my little secret.  Maybe just maybe, it might have something to do with starting our new life in the country?  Bet you anything Jerry wished for his jolly green Land Rover!

Off to the oven…