Tag Archives: margot

A ‘Hearth’warming tale

This weekend heralded the long awaited trip to Tom and Barbara’s dear little country pile.  Setting off on my 3 hour journey in the car with Primrose and Poppy, I dutifully set the sat nav (Nancy).  I can’t travel without it.  I have no idea of how to read a map (really!) and I find Nancy’s calm robotic voice strangely comforting on long journeys.  All was going well until I came across one small problem…. It appears that people in the countryside do not have proper addresses, there are no proper road names and one must look out for clues in order to get anywhere (past the chevron, look out for the orange ribbon)!  Not far from Barbara’s hilly home, Nancy directed me down a small bumpy lane and then into a very boggy field, promptly adding and with a rather satisfied tone of voice I might add, “You have reached your destination”.  It would seem that I had not reached my destination and was heading in the direction of Wales.  Turning the car round in a very muddy field had its challenges but mission completed, I finally reached the farmhouse before nightfall.  I realised from the moment I exited the car that this would not be a weekend for wearing my little suede pumps and Boden trench.  Strictly wellies and waterproofs only.

The warmth emanating from the kitchen drew me in and there it was, Barbara’s pride and joy: the Aga.  Draped in the washing, it not only proved itself to be a thing of beauty but an essential part of country living.  The sound of the whistling kettle heralded the all important cup of tea, another countryside staple, and an unctious casserole was bubbling away in preparation for supper.  I will admit to a touch of the green eyed monster at this point.  I have always dreamed of an Aga and I feel that no countryside home would be complete without one.  Never mind that it can be temperamental, that it takes a little longer to boil the kettle, that most people who have an Aga also have another electric oven too.  Oh no, what could be more perfect than toasting bread on the Aga top, leaving meat to stew for hours in the low oven and even being able to bring newborn lambs and pigs back to life on the warming plate?  It is THE countryside status symbol and I LOVE it.

The ubiquitous Aga

Waking next morning to the sound of tractors in the nearby fields, I looked out of the farmhouse windows and was rendered speechless.  Unusual, as I sure my dear Reader, you can imagine.  It struck me that the view alone would be enough to render one a hermit, never leaving the house except to forage for food.  Dear old Barbara even has her very own Downton on the doorstep (we could hear the guns on our walk across the fields) and a heavenly orchard at the bottom of the garden.  Turns out the orchard doesn’t really belong to the garden and Primrose was appalled as I gingerly vaulted the gate to ‘scrump’ apples, snagging my cashmere cardi on the barbed wire as I went over.  ‘Scrumping’ is the countryside term for filching apples from someone else’s land.  As I landed on the forbidden side of the fence, I had visions of myself sketched on a Wanted posted (looking rather delightful in tweed) and half expected a farmer to come over the brow of the hill with a shotgun yelling “Gerroff my land”….. I have always enjoyed indulging my rebellious side.

Apples well and truly scrumped, I even managed to bag some delicious rosehips whilst shredding my hands into the bargain.  What one will do for a good foraged hoard!

Safely back on Barbara’s plot, she told of plans for chickens, showing us her homemade coop all ready for the imminent arrival of her feathered friends.  Knowing her, there will even be a donkey just in time for Christmas.  A new puppy is also on the horizon.  Although, Barbara has had her fair share of dogs of late and was babysitting her very own canine ‘criminal’.  One of the most entertaining and seriously comedic moments of the weekend was the sight of dear old Tom running through the orchard after Shropshire’s answer to Fenton had escaped the farmhouse boundary and was heading for the next county!

Butter wouldn’t melt….
Shropshire’s answer to Fenton!

Returning to the business of Margot learning all about the countryside…. You would be proud, dear Reader.  I found myself imagining walks with my liver Spaniel wearing a tweed shooting jacket, pulling on the wellies in my Liberty tea dress to collect eggs from the dear Burfords and even preparing game pies in the Aga for the shoot lunch.  I even caught Jerry eying up Tom’s muddy and robust Land Rover, having a country day dream all of his own.With a roaring fire in the snug, a wee snip of Barbara’s homemade Damson gin glistening ruby red in my hand and visions of myself smothered in the warmth of the Aga living in perfect domestic bliss, I felt that our move to the countryside couldn’t come quicker.  This is what the countryside seems to be all about.  They say that home is where the heart is.  I would disagree: home is where the hearth is.  What could be more perfect than toasting one’s bottom on the trusty Aga after a wet and windy walk?

Reluctantly driving back to London, Jerry and I mulled over our own quest for a slice of countryside heaven.  I longed for Barbara’s Aga (do you think that they make one in green with white spots?) and Jerry coveted Tom’s mechanical green giant.  Exiting the car, I muddied my Boden trench (reminding me of the contrast of our jaunt in the countryside and my mud-free existence in town)and Jerry summed up the countryside in one fell swoop: “Well I suppose one gets used to always being covered in mud and having a dirty car”.  Indeed!  Oh to be by the Aga now……

Woodland walks in wellies

Magical Morgaston woods

Following some sage relocation advice, we decided, on a dank and miserable day,  to try and get the feel of our new countryside home in all weathers.  Countryside pursuits come in many forms and I confess to being pretty keen to join the hunting, shooting, fishing set as those countryside activities appeal to my more primeval instincts of getting food on the table.  Somehow walking doesn’t have the same pull and especially in the rain.  Walking in town always has a purpose: going to my favourite boutiques, popping out for a coffee, lunching out…. Even when Jerry and I take the girls to the park, it is usually with a view to letting off steam rather than specifically going for a walk.  Walking for walking’s sake – who ever heard of such a thing?  With our visit to Tom and Barbara’s hilly home nearly upon us, we braved the inclement weather for a romp through Morgaston Woods to improve on our walking skills.    Shedding our London look, Jerry and I donned ourselves in our ‘country’ gear and I even dusted off the unused Barbour.  I was overcome with envy at the sight of Jerry’s new flat cap and woollen welly socks and I found myself disappointingly lacking in tweed.  Something which must be remedied.

Putting on our wellies, stomping through the leaves and squelching through the boot sucking mud made me appreciate how autumn is so much more beautiful in the countryside.  Perhaps one just allows oneself more time to stop and admire the seasonal changes in the landscape?  This time of year Morgaston Woods are alive with fungi and we had a lot of fun spotting various delicious or deadly treats.  Sadly, having missed the seasonal fungi foray walk, we had no idea of what we could or shouldn’t pick.  I am yet to find a good book for mushroom dummies which helps with identifying the edible varieties and poisoning my nearest and dearest is not high on my list of country to-dos.  We had to make do with just….a walk.

Delicious or deadly?

A walk.  “What could be more glorious!”, some might say.  However, the walking, grey drizzly weather and quagmire of mud shone some light on our ability as a family to adapt to the countryside and all its earthiness.

Primrose is renowned for her inability to use her God-given limbs.  She hates walking and gives up, asking to be carried after the first five minutes.  To solve this problem, she acquired a bicycle.  Cutting a long story short, on this occasion, we were persuaded that she would walk some of the way if we took her bike along.  If only we could have predicted the untold muddy disaster which followed!  Primrose took a turn too fast on her bicycle, skidded off the path and then promptly fell forward, face down into the mud.  Tears flowed shortly after.   It would seem that our dearest Primrose does not like mud.  The idea of mud?  Yes.   But in reality, when her hands, trousers and hair were covered, it was all a bit much.  Jerry remarked that at least it wasn’t a cow pat.  Calls for dear Primrose to ‘toughen’ up and “This is what it is like in the countryside!” did not abate the weeping either.  She could only be persuaded to finish the trek with the lure of a hot chocolate.  I have to say we did bump into some locals and did see a few raised eyebrows….the bike was perhaps not the best idea we have had!

Once crisis resolved, we forged onwards, kissing gate successfully negotiated with Primrose on foot, Poppy in the backpack carrier with Jerry and me dragging the bloody bicycle, cursing as I went.  (Dear Reader, I have already thrown the bicycle into the mud prior to this point, shouting that it would have to be binned if Primrose was not going to ride it.  God only knows what the locals were thinking at that point)!  We ended up in a field of beautiful black cows.  Calming and so very sweet.  Despite Jerry’s best efforts to stop me, I decided that maybe I was going to be the next Dr Doolittle and would try to see if the cows would come over to us.  Surprisingly they DID!  Finally, Margot at one with nature!  My prize…being licked by a baby cow whilst I stroked its nose!  Here is the little beauty.

My latest country friend!

So…the walk was successful in part.  We did complete the 2 mile circuit.  Houdini Poppy (known for her abilities to escape out of anything) stayed in the backpack carrier for the duration, Jerry did look rather fetching in his cap (or farmer’s hat as Primrose has renamed it), Primrose learned a valuable lesson (that mud will come out in the wash) and I am now on my way to becoming a farmer’s wife.  If I can just persuade Jerry to buy a farm……

I had a little nut tree

Always ready to add to my ever increasing hoard of countryside paraphernalia, I found this little gem which belonged to my grandmother, whilst trawling through a box of family photographs.  I did giggle at the thought of a book entitled ‘The Young Naturalist Series’ belonging to Grandmamma as she was notorious for her love of town and hated all things flora or fauna, muddy or farmyard.  She didn’t even enjoy her own garden!  ‘A Useful book’ as it describes itself with some beautiful illustrations and useful descriptions of all manner of flora which might just serve me well.  Jerry has been quite concerned that my new interest in foraging could lead to us all being poisoned so the book was a welcome find!

Well I soon found myself knee-deep in countryside plant wisdom and even found some titbits of countryside trivia to share with you this week.

Now you probably already know that there are two types of chestnut tree – Sweet Chestnuts and Horse Chestnuts.  I have to profess that I didn’t.  A walk in Richmond Park had yielded a bumper forage of what I thought where edible conkers.  It turns out that…..

Conkers come from Horse Chestnut trees and are not considered edible to humans.  However, they make an excellent tea time treat for deer and cattle.  You would think horses too given the name of the tree but apparently not!  Apart from anything else, conkers have been the talk of a good many school playgrounds in autumn for centuries.  I was particularly keen to train Primrose and hone her conker ‘battle’ skills until I was promptly reminded of the ridiculous health and safety rules preventing playgrounds from allowing children to hold conker championships.  A conker in the eye never hurt anyone.  (Soak them in vinegar if you want undefeatable conkers).  Moving on, I also found out (courtesy of the National Trust quarterly magazine) that if you place some conkers in the corner of a room in autumn then it is said to keep spiders away.

I would have gleefully roasted my gathered booty in the woodburner had it not been for a quick glance at my ‘Young Naturalist’s’ guide.  My chestnut roaster will have to wait now until the delightful greengrocer down the road has the shiny edible beauties in stock.  However, I might just give that old wives’ tale a go and see if I can rid the cottage of spiders.  Worth a try!

A case of a stitch in time….

This week I dusted off the ‘old’ sewing machine and tried to turn my hand to a bit of clothes making.  I say dusted off…what I really mean is I took off the brand new cover and trawled through the manual of a birthday gift received years ago and never used.  Whilst on maternity leave with Primrose some four years ago now, I decided in a moment of ‘Barbara-ness’ to ask my dear Mamma for a sewing machine.  I had grandiose ideas of becoming a ‘mumpreneur’ and making vintage children’s clothes on an old-fashioned Singer machine in a shepherd’s hut in the garden.  A fad which lasted all of five minutes and resulted in one lavender bag being made.  The sewing machine has been in the cupboard under the stairs ever since.  The only reason I had to remove it from its comfortable home this week was because Jerry bought some wine and insisted upon using the cupboard as his new wine cellar.  Of course, Jerry promptly found the wretched machine and dragged it out demanding that it was a waste and that I had to put it to good use.  I could curse Berry Bros. for their Burgundy sale!

With the advent of the dreaded ‘Woodland fairy’ birthday party, I had intended to buy a new outfit for Primrose to wear from a dear little shop famed for its frothy tutus.  However, with the emergence of the sewing machine, I did feel a little guilty that I hadn’t managed to master the art of sewing and I do hate to let things beat me.  I decided to make my own tutu and having no idea where to start, trawled the internet for ideas and quite frankly, a step by step guide.  I found only a couple of You Tube videos and I couldn’t even follow the nifty fingered seamstresses on those.  Oh dear I thought.  Then I had the brilliant idea of reworking one of Primrose’s old dressing up skirts.  I say ‘rework’ but you know me a little by now and actually ‘rework’ is more trash than transform.  Well where does one start when one hasn’t sewed since one’s school days and embroidery isn’t really the same thing as making an outfit is it?

I had already had a disaster, trying to hand dye the skirt olive green before I began reading the instructions on how to set up the sewing machine.  I persevered in a painstaking fashion, trying to make sense of what Kirstie Allsop had made look so bloody easy on ‘Homemade Home’.  Put thread onto bobbin, pass bobbin into bottom of machine, thread this, pull here, use pedal (somewhat tricky as it would happen).  Some hours later, I was hitting my head against the kitchen table, there were only 24 hours until the party and the Flower fairy outfit was more trashy Tinkerbell than little pixie from Tumbledown Wood.

It turns out that when all is said and done, I am NO Kirstie Allsop or Barbara come to mention it.  A stitch in time on a sewing machine would have saved nine BUT that old idiom clearly didn’t take a novice seamstress into account.  However, sew it I did.  All sewn by hand in the end after I broke two needles on the machine and I had tangled up all the thread.  The finished article was wearable at least and Primrose did tell all (and with some pride I might add) that her Mummy had made her outfit.  YES it did look homemade and YES you could see the stitching close up but for a first attempt, it stayed on and that’s what counts!!!!  Sadly, the sewing machine sits forlornly in a forgotten corner for now but you know, just watch this space as I may just use it to make another lavender bag….

Channeling magic

Michaelmas Daisy Fairy – Cicely Mary Barker

The first glimpse of autumn in our little corner of suburbia always heralds frantic birthday preparations.  Dearest Primrose turns 4 next week and my stress levels have reached a dangerous peak with thoughts of birthday teas and cakes which the usual number of G&Ts cannot shift.  Clearly my past ‘form’ was also on Primrose’s mind this morning as she uttered “Mummy, don’t you think you should practise making the cupcakes before next week?  You know what happened last time.”  Clearly my histrionics, burnt cupcakes and pavement thick icing had not gone unnoticed last year…..

Inspired by the beautiful stories and illustrations by Cicely Mary Barker (and by Primrose’s burning desire to meet/be/fly like a real fairy), I decided in a moment of madness to give Primrose’s birthday party a Flower Fairy/Woodland theme.  My penchant for themed parties has driven poor Jerry to breaking point on many occasions.  He shudders at the memory of creating realistic ‘teak decking’ on last year’s Pirate ship cake with Mikado biscuits and chocolate fingers at 3am the day before the party.

It has to be said that cakes just aren’t my forte.  I have dreamed of nothing but bloody ‘toadstool’ cakes for the last few nights and have broken out in a cold sweat every time someone mentions Primrose’s birthday.  I can’t help but think “What would ‘country’ Margot do?”  She certainly wouldn’t have the Hummingbird Bakery on standby.

Here is the first attempt….. It would seem that I am going to need to harness the magic of several fairies if baking perfection is to be achieved.

Oh well, if all else fails, perhaps I could just serve up my newly made Cherry Gin and let the children play ‘Sleeping Lions’?!