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Friday, 3 July 2015

The day of the barn dance

If it's the last Saturday in June, it can only mean one's the annual barn dance in our village.
Yee haw!

It's a tradition which has been going for a long time and which is looked forward to every year.
My gang of children began going when they were knee high to grasshoppers, and as they became teenagers, their friends would come too. As they became older teenagers, all their friends would camp overnight...and the garden began to look like a mini festival, with at least ten tents pitched on the lawn....
By the time the gang had reached their twenties, there was up to forty staying overnight...which was all very well, but they wouldn't go to sleep. Or go home the following day.......the kitchen would be full of people with hangovers, queues for the loos and they'd all want toast and coffee.

And lunch....that's when I would get the bell out. It's an old school bell with a satisfyingly loud clang, which I started ringing at 11.30 am or 12noon...and they all knew they had to to skidaddle very shortly afterwards.

  This year was surprisingly usual the gang began to gather about 4.30pm for drinks in the garden.....                                                                                                         

And one person we were all pleased to see was Sam Beckett, pictured on the right, he's the one who was missing in Nepal after the earthquake....and experienced some very frightening times.

 Of course the dogs are in the tick of it having lots of attention too....

And the girls were enjoying the Pimms which Elly made...

And then it was time to head off the other end of the village, to the barn dance itself....for old friends to meet up

 And to sit outside in the early evening sunshine and tuck into the barbecue. On the right is the lovely Shirley who very kindly lets us use her barn every year...

And in the barn itself was the band who were playing jigs and reels at breakneck speed

It's a night when everyone matter what age they are...there's no "I'm too cool for this" malarkey, and besides, it's such good fun...

The younger children then go home, then at about 10pm, the disco starts...the decibel levels rise, 

And we dance until about 1am....taking time out around the sides to flop on the bales of hay for a breather..

Or having a drink as the sun goes down....

And at the end of the night, everyone slips away, walking home in the moonlight....saying goodbye to  the organisers, Ian, Jules and Tom , who have worked so hard to make the evening a success.

And a success it was, raising over £1,500 for our village charity. The date is booked for next year,
and in our diaries already. The hats and checked shirts will come out again, and we'll be dosey
 doh- ing and disco dancing once again.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The day we went orff to Ascot

Tuesday am

This time last week, the picnic was packed and I was slipping into something uncomfortable. A pair of shoes with high heels....not totteringly high, but high enough for me. Oh, and I was putting on a frock.....the girls and I were off to the races. To Ascot for the first day.

The Friday fizz night gang left Leicestershire at about nine thirty, the Range Rover packed with champagne, a picnic, prosecco and hats. Four large ones. The red Range Rover isn't mine you understand, it belongs to Fiona. Or Saint Fiona as she is now known...for driving us, abstaining from the fizz and taking us on a tour of Windsor, Ascot and its environs.

We were there to celebrate Laura's forthcoming nuptials in August to Giles, (she's the elegant blonde in the black scarf) and in celebratory mood a bottle of champagne was popped open as soon as the car was parked. The picnic table was erected and we all stuck into smoked salmon, tarts, salads, cheese and bread in the sunshine. Oh and another bottle of champagne.

Bliss - well at this stage, we were all still wearing flip flops and feeling rather relaxed as we watched a parade of race goers totter past the car in eye catching and eye watering outfits of many colours. We thought it was time that we joined the throng walking over to the course, but we were all rather perturbed by our neighbours car, which had swung in earlier. Four or five jolly Irish ladies got out immediately and left, but we couldn't help noticing the dead magpie splattered all over their windscreen. True, it wasn't going anywhere, especially not to the races, but we had thought they might remove it. They didn't.

So, it was race time.

First stop was to see the Royals in their carriages....

And to have  a look at the runners in the first race.

Now, I'm not a gambler, but I thought I should have a flutter on the first race.

So I chose number three...because it was a good looking horse , and I also liked it's name. What do you mean, I should have looked at its previous form?

Anyway, we settled ourselves in the grandstand and watched a few races...Fiona won, but that was about it....

We walked around ,saw more horses, had a few more drinks and wondered at all the bottles of champagne being thrown down race goers necks at nearly a hundred pounds a bottle..... and I got the giggles when I overheard at the bookies,  someone who was somewhat miffed with her lover, husband or whoever he was....she quelled him with a ferocious stare saying "Oh do bugger orff Timmy!"

Timmy, in his tails, sloped off rather timidly.......and it was all part of the joy of Ascot...whoops of delight as horses won, overheard snippets of gossip in the Ladies, and sheer amazement at some of the outfits.

The afternoon flew by and within what seemed a few minutes, the last race had been run, and it was time for the sing along, attended by hundreds.

Songs were sung en masse from "New York ,New York" to "Land of Hope and Glory", and the crowd were still singing  as we walked off into the early evening sunshine with sore feet.

Back at the Range Rover , we glanced over at the Irish ladies car, and yes, the mangled magpie still lay on the windscreen, completely rigid by this time, despite the evening sun.. We opened a bottle of Prosecco, devoured a lovely runny Brie and biscuits , and chatted about the day and said hello to our next door neighbours as they came and sat down behind their car to have a drink.

We left them and their magpie in the car park, as we made our way home, tired but happy. So Ascot, it was lovely, but would anyone like to invite me into the Royal Enclosure next year for even more fun?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The day a banana got in the way in the bookshop

There was a slight kerfuffle as I walked into my favourite bookshop yesterday. Two new people were on duty and one of them was battling with the till and the credit card machine to everyone's delight and consternation..

 The Saturday help, as they were billed, were slightly older than the usual type doing  work experience. They did know lots about writing books and the publishing world but when it came to till skills, let's just say they were distinctly below average. No, that's not true -  one of them was, the other wasn't even let loose on such a delicate instrument while I was there.

But did this matter? No, not at was all part of Independent Bookshop Week 2015 , and author Nina Stibbe and publisher and writer Jon Reed were here at the Kibworth Bookshop to promote the week itself and the bookshop. Oh and the publication of the paperback edition of Nina's delightful novel "Man at the Helm," a book which made me smile, cry at one stage, and want to bash the father character around the head with something more substantial than a mere paperback.

Nina threw herself into her new role....with a little help from Debbie James who owns the bookshop.

After seeing what happened when Nina tried to use the credit card machine, I decided to pay cash for my purchases. Even this, was not without difficulty. Nina couldn't get the till open...and then she found her half eaten banana was in the way.

More laughter....Nina is as warm, irreverent and as funny as her books, and so friendly.

And John Reed, the Saturday boy who was on coffee duty, gave service with a smile and made a lovely cup of coffee.

 I only know Jon Reed through Twitter....we both love listening to the Archers, and the Sunday morning tweetalong just wouldn't be the same without Jon's ascerbic, funny comments and filthy innuendos so it was great to meet him too and catch up on our shared Archers addiction.

It would have been so easy to stay in the bookshop for much longer  to soak up the banter, busyness and general all round happy atmosphere. But I had a drinks and lunch party to go to, Nina was there to sell books and chat, and Jon had more coffee to make and bags to fill, which they both did admirably.

Debbie was all smiles as usual, and once again, she makes you realise just how precious a local, independent bookshop is, and why it's importance in the community can't be underestimated. Long live independent bookshops everywhere.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

days in front gardens

Thousands have been flocking to the Chelsea Flower Show this week. Millions of us who couldn't go (boo hoo!) have been eagerly drinking in the TV coverage of the show each night for inspiration and motivation in our own gardens.

Yet according to the Royal Horticultural Society this week, one in three front gardens have no plants growing in them, in their report " Greening Grey Britain", which looked at front gardens in 2005 and this year.

That's no surprise...I regularly drive through suburban estates, where the only colour in the front gardens is from the cars parked there. But what now seem arid landscapes, devoid of any greenery, were lovingly tended lawns and borders in years gone by.

Are we paving our way to hell? Well, the RHS report says that  paving, tarmac and concrete are causing environmental problems, including increasing the risk of flooding.

What's more, the RHS also believes planting in a front garden can help boost community spirit among neighbours in the street as they can socialise while they tend their  gardens.

That's not rocket science, I remember summer evenings and Sundays during my brothers and I would be playing out with other children while our fathers would be mowing the front lawns and chatting to our neighbours. It was like a scene from a vintage Ladybird book.

We can't go back to those days, but wouldn't it be lovely if there were far more front gardens filled with plants, flowers and vegetables?

Someone who has been transforming her neighbourhood in North London is gardener, photographer and writer Naomi Schillinger, I met her eighteen months ago at the Garden Media Guild awards ceremony in London. I was up for an award, but didn't get one, however I did meet the lovely Naomi.

She told me how, from a very small beginning, sowing free packets of wildflower seeds in tree pits (the area around the bases of street trees) she and her friend Nicolette started a community vegetable growing scheme in people's front gardens.

There's now over a hundred neighbours all growing fruit and vegetables...they see each other, compare notes and's a brilliant scheme , and Naomi has written a book about it, together with ideas of what and when to grow. Published by Short Books, it's called Veg Street, and it's a very accessible, heart warming book which left me with a smile on my face.

Like Chelsea, this book is inspiring and motivating. Unlike Chelsea, there are no medals to be won, but Naomi and her neighbours are winners already. They're a living embodiment of what the Royal Horticultural Society's report  says this week....planting in a front garden can help boost community spirit among neighbours in the street .



Thursday, 14 May 2015

Country Living days

I don't know what your favourite magazine is, but mine is Country Living. I've been a loyal reader too...I've been reading it since 1988, poring over the pages packed with country homes, articles on gardening, hen keeping, rural issues , seasonal recipes and wellbeing.

And this month's edition June 2015 is a very special one. Firstly the magazine is celebrating its 30th birthday

And secondly there's an article about five mothers and their daughters who enjoy reading the magazine, and my daughter Lucy and I are featured.

I may be used to hearing my voice over the airwaves of the BBC, but it was quite a shock to see a photo of Lucy and I in a magazine which we both love.

The first copy of Country Living I saw was placed on a table by my bedside with a small jug of flowers from the garden. Mr Thinking of the Days, our children and I were visiting my brother  Richard and my lovely sister in law Cindy....I remember it was the summer of 1988. I read it from cover to cover, bought the next month's issue, and that was it.....I was hooked, and have read every copy since!

At the time we were living in surburbia, on the very last  road before open countryside. Yes , we could walk down the lane into open country, but I yearned for a cottage in the country. Reading Country living fuelled that longing and five years later, my husband, three children and I were living in an idyllic conservation village in a  three hundred and sixty year old thatched cottage in Leicestershire.

So what do I like  about Country Living? Well, most things really. I love peeking into other people's homes and gardens for inspiration, the pages on rural issues, and particularly am enjoying Patrick Barkham's evocative features and Louise Elliot's Country in the City columns. I've tried many of the recipes over the last twenty six or so years, and in the old days I very much enjoyed Barbara Grigg's articles on health and wellbeing.

There's a monthly ritual following the thwack of the magazine  through the letterbox. First of all, I make myself wait until I am comfortably sitting on the sofa with the dogs beside me. I may have a cup of coffee by side, or it's after 6.30pm, there will probably be a glass of wine involved.
I look at Suzy Smith's editor page first...then it's straight to the homes and gardens features, where I admire or, lust after various properties and gardens with the wow factor. Then it's a straightforward read, page by page through the magazine. I might leave the magazine on the coffee table or by my bed for a spot of late night re reading. After that, the current issue joins the others in various piles of Country Living dotted around the house. I keep the copies for about three years, sometimes more.

 When I'm feeling under the weather, there's nothing more comforting than a whole batch of magazines to have a flick through sat by the fire or propped up in bed.

But even being such a hoarder, there's a time when the old magazines have to go! But not before I 've cut out favourite recipes or things that have caught my eye.

I haven't bought my own copy of  Country Living for a while now though - my mother very kindly buys me an annual subscription as part of my Christmas present. And in turn, I now buy one for my daughter Lucy. I have to...otherwise my copies might go missing!

So Country Living, congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary, and thanks for the memories...


Friday, 8 May 2015

The day I went to Hedgehog Hall

It was a lovely sunny Bank Holiday Monday, with lots to do in my own garden thank you very much. Weeding, digging and the like. I went outside, and came back in very quickly. I was not going to spend a lovely afternoon, a Monday afternoon no less, when normally I would have been at work, slaving away .

I also knew there was an Open Garden  about twenty five minutes away in the car. An interesting garden opening its gates for charity as part of the National Gardens Scheme. A half acre garden at a house called Hedgehog Hall. How could I resist? 

I couldn't, so soon found myself in the village of Tilton on the Hill, a village I've driven through many times, but not off piste , down by the byways. Well, I did and what a surprise.

At the bottom of a hill lies  the house and garden , and it was a steep drive up into the neighbouring field before parking the car, with what seemed like hundreds of others. Good news for the NGS I thought, but I hoped it wouldn't be packed to bursting.

I made my way down the hill....

Although I was the 311th visitor (the house had opened on the previous cold and rainy day) there was a nice buzz about the place, and a well packed plant stall on the left in front of a wonderful series of three terraces and narrow paths built into a very sharp bank. 

And at the very top, a mini terrace to look over the adjoining field and sky.

When I say the terraces were heavily planted, my goodness, I lost count of the amount of beautiful hellebores of all hues - dusky pink, cream and white.

So much so that at a first glance, it's easy to miss some absolute gems..Talking to owner Janet Rowe later,  she asked " Have you seen my sweeties?"

And we walked over to the most delightful , prettiest little plant, an Anemonella Betty Blake. It is absolutely adorable, although I'm afraid my I phone can't quite catch the freshness of the exact shade of green flower.

And here's a little sweetie I loved pretty in pink, looking vetch like..was it called lathynus rosea? I'm not sure....

This series of terraces have lovingly been created from what a huge, deep slope framed by a large hedge. Although Janet has designed the planting , the hard landscaping and back breaking physical work have been done by her husband Andrew.

As she explained "I started thinking one terrace might be nice, then he added a second, and then I asked very nicely about a third. This year I suggested I would like a patio right at the top...and he's done it."

Good grief, this man is a saint.  It takes me all my powers of persuasion to get my husband to mow the lawn. I'd love to kidnap this man for a weekend and get him working in my garden. Obviously that isn't going to happen though, so let's get back to the plants shall we?

I love the leaf formations on this sanguisorba armena ...and it should be quite spectacular later in the year when its burgundy flowers are on show .

Although the majority of the garden is here at the front, there's an enticing archway

leading to a side garden with a rather healthy collection of hostas...

 And right at the back is a small courtyard which was  packed with tables and people having a cream tea and cake.

But it was time to go home, with a quick look back at the house and garden....

 and then a steep walk to the field where I left my car. A chance to inhale lungfuls of fresh air while I watched a red kite soar above for a few minutes.  Perfect.....

Hedgehog Hall is open again on Sunday 28 June from 11am - 5pm as part of the National Gardens Scheme and visitors are also welcome by arrangement May & June for groups of ten or more.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

A day of rain and dog modelling

It's not just damp out there this morning, it's wet. It has been raining cats and dogs since I got up at 7.30am - so much so, that even my two dogs don't fancy their morning walk just yet. They've been to the kitchen door, poked their noses out, smelling the air, and nope, it's just too wet.

Eric is not amused...he's sitting there, paws crossed, waiting for the rain to stop.....

Boo is lying on her chair looking rather peeved too. It reminds me of rainy days when my children were small. They needed to get out into the fresh air and let off steam, and I would be frantically thinking of activities to amuse them. Putting a blanket over the dining table as a makeshift tent, sitting them all around the table and making biscuits, you know the sort of thing. Anything to keep them busy until we could go puddle jumping.

Unfortunately I can't do that with the dogs. But Eric had his first very own parcel arrive last week. Addressed to Eric Blair, it contained a new blanket which Mama (my mother ) knitted for him. He's very enamoured with it, so we've decided to do some dog modelling while we wait for the rain to stop.....................

This is the off the shoulder shot.....

Then Boo thought she would get in the act with her own blanket too...(also knitted by Mama)

There's something about the camera that Eric and Boo love...they'll sit for ages posing. So does Rudi, Eric's brother...he even smiles for the camera. That's one dog who needs to be snapped up by a dog modelling agency!

Well, that kept them busy for fifteen minutes, and although it's still raining, it seems to be petering out, so I suppose I'd better get my boots on and brave the elements. With a puddle jump or two...there are some things that are always fun!