As quickly as it was organised, the day came for Primrose and I to complete our biggest country challenge yet. You know, the one I’ve been dreading……no.1 of all the National Trust’s 50 things project – Climb a tree. With this year’s summer of 50 Things already upon us and with so many events and adventures to go on in London and South East, it seemed fitting that we should start at the very beginning with no 1. Continue reading
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A countryside Christmas
It seems so fitting to be sitting here writing this post in the first days of January after our first countryside Christmas, dear Reader. 2013 was such an eventful year: swapping kaftans for tweed and heels for wellies, leaving behind the Big Smoke for rural Hampshire, getting a gundog pup, Primrose learning to live with mud, Poppy learning not to eat it, Jerry living out his dream of driving his own Lanny, CHICKENS……I could go on. Not to mention the beginnings of Margot Tries the Good Life world domination in written form. So one couldn’t blame me dear Reader, for half expecting Christmas to be a bit of let down after all that! Amazingly, it wasn’t. However, most of December was rather bumpy with Poppy succumbing to a hideous bout of the hand, foot and mouth virus and the four of us having to live in quarantine with the sign of the plague daubed on the door. After two weeks of illness, followed by Poppy turning 2 and then the mad dash to prepare for Christmas, we were all looking forward to a bit of festive peace and quiet.
Luckily for us, the week of Christmas proved less fraught. Never have we felt more at home than here in our little old country cottage. Rather spectacularly, the village seems to have well and truly embraced us and the whole of the festive period felt as if it had been stolen from The Archers’ airwaves. My contribution to the church flowers was infinitely better than my first attempt at Harvest time, Poppy and Primrose dressed as angels to form part of a tableau around the crib with some dear little village shepherds and everyone roared with laughter when a grumpy Poppy yelled (rather loudly I might add) in the middle of the prayers “I don’t love you Mummy” when I ran out of sweeties to bribe her silence. I turned my hand to Christmas wreaths and even managed a bit of countryside recycling when my dear Pa turned up with this……
and I fashioned it into one of these!
Jerry’s family – I do promise (truly) that I did not feed you what was left of the pheasant when you came to lunch….thought I had better declare that……just in case, anyone was worried….!
Moving on… We enjoyed the hospitality of several villagers and settled in to the swing of all things Christmas. I was accosted to form an impromptu choir for the service – only to find that there were quite a number of villagers who have been hiding their musical lights under a bushel. One even turned out to be a recorded artist and entered the choir practice in full voice, trilling vocal warm ups. Amazing, the things one doesn’t know about one’s neighbours. Christmas Eve proved to be a wonderful evening with Ma and Pa in tow, children snug in their beds, stockings hung by the fire and a magical walk along the starlit lanes to Midnight Mass. A goose from our local farm shop went without hitch and I even managed to churn out a cake with the girls.
Say nothing about Robin Pinkbreast, dear Reader – Primrose was utterly delighted and I spent the whole time telling Christmas guests that it was all the children’s work…
With 2014 ushered through the cottage door, I have had time to think on resolutions and wishes for the new year. More tweed is certainly on the agenda, learning to shoot a gamebird is well and truly up there and tackling the awful jungle of a garden has to be priority number one. Meeting one of the organisers of the New Forest Show over lunch, I was almost persuaded to enter and ‘show’ my chickens. Oh and the vicar already tried to twist my arm to join the Parish Council to represent the young people. Not quite sure that I am ready for the challenges of either of those yet!! Apparently, Jerry says we have to start sorting out the cottage and redecorating too. Perhaps now would be a good time to lock myself away in the study and pretend to pen a little chapter of a book or two? Sounds like 2014 is going to be just as hectic as 2013…. Dear Reader, I do wish you and yours a very happy and prosperous 2014. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, supporting and telling others about my little blog. Without you, 2013 really wouldn’t have been half as brilliant!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas 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!
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!