The little chair that I bought from Oxfam last week has a new look. I quite liked the yellow seat but I decided that cheerier colours fit better into our house. I bought the oil cloth at the Cath Kidston store in Covent Garden. You can purchase part of a metre from the shops, which is great, as the Cath oil cloth is more expensive than many. This is the kind of instant makeover project that I like: the seat clips in with four wooden pegs, so I just flipped it out, cut my patterned oilcloth to fit, fixed it with a staple gun, and popped it back again. Job done!
We drove over to the east coast to see my parents-in-law today. After lunch, we went to the beach for a stroll, and it was one of those very rare golden, still afternoons. This is particularly unusual for this stretch of coastline, which is always beautiful, but often very windy and it can be quite bleak. Not today. We parked a short way from the beach and walked to the shore: here are some of the things I saw...
This beautiful little shop, The Strandline, Sea Lane, Old Hunstanton, sells handmade gifts, such as vintage button bracelets and bunting. The owner was working on a stunning driftwood Christmas tree and there was much loveliness inside....I must come back with my wallet...
Everywhere I looked I saw something I wanted to photograph. The others gave up and went on ahead for a game of beach football.
But seriously, how could anyone resist this duo? Or this?
The skies are enormous, and the beach goes on forever.
As the clocks go back this weekend, and the dark evenings will be drawing in, it really felt like the last shout of summer. An afternoon to treasure.
Yesterday we did a three-generations day trip to London. It was my mum's birthday, so I tried to plan a day that she would really enjoy. Star billing went to afternoon tea at The National Gallery, which I would highly recommend if you are planning a visit this autumn and want a relaxing experience away from the crowds. And London was very, very busy. Half term, lots of tourists and families everywhere. But this was a little oasis of calm. Love those windows and shutters.
There are two parts to the cafe, an informal, takeaway area with hot food and lots of wonderful cakes to choose from and a more formal sit down part. As it was a special occasion, and we'd had a busy morning exploring The Imperial War Museum and then some of The National Gallery's art treasures, we opted for the seated section with waiter service. Mum had a proper afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and cakes:
Husband and dad chose a cream tea, with a warm scone and home made jam, pretty good value for £6.50 in central London, we thought...
Sons went for banana and chocolate cake....
There were two gluten-free options for me to choose from, too. I shall come back again, it is a great meeting place. I'd forgotten how brilliant The National Gallery is, and the fact that it is still free to get in is fantastic. Afterwards, we rounded off with some shopping in Covent Garden. We managed to avoid the showers but this amazing rainbow appeared on the skyline. I saw in today's paper that it was a double one.
A few small purchases were made: I fitted in a quick visit to the Cath Kidston store, as I needed some oilcloth for a chair makeover (more about that tomorrow), but our feet were pretty weary by this point. Time to catch the train home after a long but lovely day.
My friend Lucy sent me this sweet handmade lavender bag as a get well soon gift. I love the little details she has added to it. This skirt came from one of those random Laura Ashley sales. A bunch of greatly reduced summery skirts appeared in the middle of the winter stock, and I loved the colours and patterns on this print.
It's half term, so we're taking things easy this week. A couple of day trips - and lots of relaxing.
Finally, I'm not usually a fan of online magazines, as I prefer to have the real, glossy deal in my own hands to browse and browse again, but I came across www.hearthomemag.co.uk on stylist Selina Lake's inspirational blog and I loved the mix of vintage and retro homes belonging to designers, artists and makers.
With two teenage boys in the house, and the return of Saturday and Sunday sports fixtures, appetites are running pretty high around these parts. Cakes and biscuits are eaten almost as fast as I can bake them. Today I made one batch of apple cake with windfalls from the garden, and one tray of gluten-free flapjacks. The words 'gluten-free' sound so unappetising, but I am finding that this is not the case with the right recipes. These flapjacks were another cracking choice from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's baking book, with my addition of some crushed Dove's Farm cornflakes and a couple of spoonfuls of chopped stem ginger. In fact, I had to leave the building to stop myself from eating the lot ...
Apple cake is just a simple one-bowl tray bake recipe, very cheap and cheerful. I like to dust it with vanilla sugar at the end.
P.S. I'm still unable to reply to your comments. I do value them and I'm sorry that comments are met with a deafening silence! I'll keep trying with my Google Account, which is where the problem lies....
The new Brora catalogue plopped on to the doormat yesterday. This is always a sweet torture, because I love this company's clothes and styling soooo much, but it is amazingly expensive. I understand why - it's British made and the craftsmanship is wonderful etc - but it's still out of my league. But, that doesn't mean I can't dream or be inspired by the style, and so I set about assembling a thrifty take on what they do....first, however, a look at some of their loveliest pieces:
I love the shape of this skirt.
A beautiful stole by Brora
This week, I had an Oxfam find that is worthy of the look: a sweet pink tie front cardigan for a fiver:
Add a vintage tweed jacket, £15 from an antiques fair, and a rose print Kew skirt from last year:
Some Jigsaw lace ups from a sale years ago, which I've fished out again after seeing brogues everywhere....
These cashmere wrist warmers (below) were a find in Marks and Spencer last winter. I hope they've still got some this autumn, as I'd love another colour, too. They're brilliant for protecting chilly fingers when out early morning flea-marketing (I hope I might be doing some of that again soon).
The little wrist purse came from New Look and was £6.99. It holds my camera perfectly.
I found this little chair in Oxfam yesterday for £4.99. I might change the colour of the seat, but it's a lovely shape and very strong. I have had some really lucky finds lately - the old pan was another discovery on Monday. So, there we are: shopping in the back of my wardrobe!
The teasel harvest is in! I popped out into our field (it's not literally ours, it's at the back of our house) with a large basket and a pair of sturdy gloves and I found so many beautiful dried grasses and seed heads to bring home and store (the allium is from the garden).
I have to walk past this heart-shaped tree to get to the teasel patch. I have shots of this tree throughout the seasons, and when it's frosty it looks amazing, but today it was pretty perfect as well. After I'd picked my basketful, I went home, made coffee, and tried my home made gluten-free shortbread biscuits (an experiment as part of my new diet, but truly excellent) and then I launched into some intensive pottering. Firstly, an update on my knitted blanket:
Coming along nicely. I've made 67 squares to date, in varying degrees of wonkiness. In fact, I just can't stop knitting. During any spare moments, I have to sit down and whip up a quick square. Spotting gorgeous wool in charity shops is another new preoccupation although I am trying to stick to a limited range of colours, pinks and greens. (NB: these roses were a get well soon gift from one of my work places and very lovely they are, too).
That's enough knitted squares for now!
Finally, I have a date on the sofa this afternoon with my stash of new library books.
Looking forward to all of these in their different ways.
As I was pegging out the washing this morning, on a completely still, sunny and beautiful morning, I realised my feet were crunching on the grass. Looking down, I found that our walnut tree has rained down its fruit, which has conveniently come out of the green surround, leaving a carpet of perfect, pale brown walnuts strewn across the lawn. I can't remember this happening before, or if it does, the squirrels usually beat me to the harvest. I scurried inside and collected a huge basketful of nuts in about half an hour. They will keep quite happily - we've had some on Christmas day before now. I was inspired by a lovely article in today's Sunday Telegraph, by my favourite columnist Francine Raymond. She has so many suggestions for autumnal decorations and collecting things to store for the season.
This is a beautiful idea (above) from her column. I'm going to collect teasels tomorrow although the weather is set to turn. Meanwhile, I am still on the road to recovery. I'm following a gluten-free diet for a while and I came up with this cake for Sunday tea. Lime and Coconut Drizzle cake. It's a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe and it is unbelievably good.
I shall be blogging regularly again next week. I had to get the magazine ready for press last week, so it was a very busy few days.
Today I was busy working on the November cover for the local magazine. The theme was Aga, and luckily, our photographer happens to have a lovely one in her kitchen. It all came together very nicely (this is just my little snap of the general idea). Tomorrow, we're photographing our annual gift guide. We borrow items from our local independent shops, and then think of inventive ways to display and photograph them. On my travels, while collecting the gifts, I popped into Peterborough's only vintage shop, a Sue Ryder Vintage and Retro store. It's a wonderful place, I could spend hours in there. I borrowed some props for the shoot, but I also fell for this little Lloyd Loom style box, which I bought.
I love the old peeling green patterned topping and the little paint flakes on the handle. It also has a cute set of curly legs. It's so nice to be back out in the swim of things. I count my blessings every single day.
This is the latest issue of the local magazine that I edit. I'm so pleased with this cover, which was taken by my friend and colleague Lesley Anne Churchill. We have to be so resourceful with our cover shots, as we don't have a glossy magazine budget. I was given the old brown crock pot by a lady in the village who was throwing it out and then said: 'I thought I'd just see if you wanted it first....' The gourds came from a friend's kitchen and were on loan. She bought them at a car boot sale for a couple of pounds last year. The wooden box was an ebay find. Lesley Anne hunted high and low for orange berries, because we had to do the shot before the berries were quite in season. She tried everything, including dawn raids with secateurs and saved the day with a last minute discovery. Next week, we're shooting our annual Christmas gift guide, so there will be lots more accessorising and wracking our brains for cheap and interesting ideas. I'm off to Hobbycraft this afternoon to buy a few items to help us out.
Today I ventured out for the first time, and, boy, was it good! I went to my favourite market town, Stamford, and had a wander in the sun, doing some shopping, but just enjoying every second of feeling better and stronger. I am so full of the joys of spring that I'm a bit like Pollyanna on helium... these flowers, £3 for the bunch, sent me into raptures (the lady on the stall was very indulgent!).
Then, I walked into the charity shop and found a bundle of soft old cashmere jumpers. There were five of them, just being placed on the shelf. I love, love, love old cashmere (more raptures) and I bought two, one is cream, the other oatmeal.
I've been looking for some new boots for some time now, and when I spotted these I decided it was definitely a good time to treat myself. I love the colour and the rumpled cuffs at the top (even with my spaghetti legs, they are fine). I'll wear them with dresses and jeans.
Even doing the family shop at the supermarket, I felt as if everything was in technicolour. When I got home, my new book had arrived, too.
I have a few things to say about this book, but I'll save it for a little review. Suffice to say that I am quite pleased that I only paid £7.99 from The Book People, rather than the rrp of £20. A much better buy for crafters this week is the Prima Christmas Makes magazine. Many people have blogged about it, so I won't, but it's a wonderful publication, and a real keeper.
Well, what I thought was going to be a semi-routine stay in hospital for some treatment which I've had before actually turned into a gruelling, 11 day stay where I fought a long, exhausting battle which felt as if it would never, ever end. I know that sounds over-dramatic, but I really hadn't realised how poorly I had become, or that things might not turn out the way I wanted them to. There were some long, lonely, scary nights, and some very grave-faced doctors around my bed. Talk of surgery, very heavy duty drug regimes and a battery of endless, invasive tests (my condition is called ulcerative colitis and there is not really a cure for it). The upshot is that I did pull round at the eleventh hour, and although I seem to have an entire pharmacy in my kitchen to keep me stable, for now, I am home and making very slow but steady progress. It's strange: this blog was always intended to be a diversion, full of the small, pretty, trivial things in my life, but when the chips were down, those so-called distractions were what got me through. For the first time in my life, I couldn't read a book. The words just blurred and jumbled and wouldn't make sense or give solace. Instead, I knitted. Endless little squares, through the lowest of lows and the higher points, when the news started to get a little better.
Every care assistant who tended to me, the nurses and the lovely people who bring meals and drinks, would all comment on my Cath Kidston bag and my little mountain of squares as they multiplied each day. "What are you making?" they'd ask. "I'm just knitting," I'd reply. Some of my squares are holey and wonky, some are neat and straight. There are certainly some tears mixed in there. One day, my mum rang from town and asked if there was anything I'd like her to bring me. "A ball of apple green wool," was the only thing that I wanted and it lay there like a beacon next to my bed.
I couldn't have got through the last few weeks without the support of my amazing family and friends. My husband, boys and an incredible mum and dad. But however loved you are made to feel, serious illness does also create a sense of extreme loneliness, and you need extra reserves.
This was my friend Tracey's genius gift. I didn't read the words, I just wanted the pictures and colours, and it was like a physical shot in the arm when I started leafing through.
Another friend, Jo, bought a poetry book, and that was another amazingly comforting thing to have with me. Finally, when I started to respond to the treatment, I was filled with an enormous urge to get back to my beloved home and family, my piles of fabric, inexpertly half-made bags, cushions, and clutter. It was like a power surge that carried me through. There are lots of options for me now, and I am really hopeful that I'll get better, as I have done before. If not, and there are tough times ahead, I'm more realistic about those, too. Meanwhile, rest assured that I won't be going on and on about it here because I've got a whole world of colours, makes and ideas to get back to, and I fully intend to keep posting about them all...thanks for all your good wishes. xxx