Daft not to…

January 22, 2016

There it was, just lying in the gutter, all alone… an enormous potato! A bit scuffed, and now a bit grubby too, it must have fallen out of someone’s shopping bag. It was there when I went to the market; it was still there when I was walking home half an hour later. So I picked it up & brought it home. Whyever not?

I rinsed it, cut off the scuffed side, cut it into slim-ish slices & added it to the contents of my “Peely” bin, which made a good casserole-full altogether. This is now, after boiling up for 10 minutes, in my Wonderbag, a present from a friend who volunteers in a charity shop. She rescued it from a swift entry into the rag-bag; other volunteers thought it unlikely to sell, despite being brand new, still with labels attached. Who’d use one, nowadays? But she knew that I would… So my peelings, cores and any other edible odds & sods get cooked up, at least once a week, overnight, in my Wonderbag to make a breakfast treat for my chickens. They adore it. I’m recycling scraps we can’t – or won’t – use into eggs.

But all the way home, a little voice at the back of my head was telling me why I shouldn’t have picked the potato up.

  • You don’t know where it’s been or how it got there! Well, I can hazard a good guess.
  • There may be germs It’s going to be thoroughly cooked.
  • The real owner may come back for it! I think they already would have, if they were going to.
  • Just LEAVE IT ALONE! This is sooo embarrassing… But that would be very wasteful, and there’s no-one else about in the rain. Not to mention, it’d have blocked the drain it was on its way to washing down.

I’m still feeling slightly guilty, for no reason that my logical mind can discern. But really, it would have been daft not to…

Thereby hangs another tale. A couple of weeks ago, when I took my mother back to her own home, I’d promised her a roast chicken dinner. So I went off to her local upmarket supermarket to find a small one. The only one they had out at that time was reduced to £2 and was on its sell-by date; ah well, I thought, it’s still actually in date, and it’s going straight into the oven.

But when I got it back to the flat & opened the packaging, the smell was indescribably awful. So I ran back to the supermarket, luckily not far away, with it, and gasped out an explanation. To their everlasting credit, they instantly gave me a double refund, and in the meantime they’d put out a fresh batch of little chickens. Costing £4… so in effect, we got a fresh one for half the normal price! When I unwrapped it, I saw on the package the words, “Serves two”…

Well, it gave us a good roast dinner. Mum (89) doesn’t usually eat as much as a “normal” adult now, but somehow she managed. It also gave us three servings of Chicken Jalfrezi the next day, one each and one for her freezer, plus two good portions to be eaten cold with salad, and I brought the carcass & scraps home to boil up into a hearty soup. Some of which went back to Mum, for easy suppers. In effect, that “serves two” little bird gave seven good portions, plus plenty of soup. And yet, there’s still that little voice in my head that thinks I may have done something naughty, stretching a “Serves two” into seven-plus servings!

How much money are they making out of us, when people take that “Serves two” seriously…? Or when people leave perfectly good food to lie in gutters?

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Wonderbag – with extra insulation!

And another one…

January 10, 2016

fabricmuddle

…another resolution, that is.

Yesterday Dear Son no. 3 and I swapped him from one of the bigger upstair bedrooms back into the smallest one, the same one he had for a number of years before he went off to university. As he said, it made sense because he’s a minimalist and doesn’t have much “stuff” – oh, and it’s also a fair bit warmer, too!

Whereas I do have rather a lot of stuff… I’d been attempting to use that little room (9′ x 10′ but irregularly shaped) as a guest bedroom, a drying area, and a sewing studio, which had resulted in more or less complete chaos on the sewing side, although it was – just – functional. The drying rack & clean laundry could be swept up & re-deployed at a moment’s notice whenever DS1 came home for the weekend; not so the sewing bench and the vast accumulations of fabric, patterns & notions. To be fair, a large amount of these were things intended for re-sale, that had been deposited in there as a “safe” area to store them in. But they’d got hopelessly muddled up with the bits that I’m actually using or have realistically-achievable plans for…

So now the bigger, cooler room is piled high with bags of fabric, patterns, notions, lace, ribbons, paper etc. I was too tired to try to sort it out, after dismantling two beds, locating a third, and re-building two of them again as well as hauling all the stuff around so it’s still more or less as it was last night; tomorrow I will try to sort out a working area for the big Pfaff, the overlocker and the embellisher, and possibly even add a picture, if I’m brave enough. There are still several trunks full of DD2 & DS2’s belongings in there, too, as well as a “dead” wardrobe (unwanted and unduly rickety now) and the spare bedding! All of which apparently have to go somewhere

The point of mentioning all this is to say that I have resolved that this will be the year when I buy NO new craft materials or fabric; I already have more than enough, and enough to keep the stall stocked for several months, too. I’m excepting specialist materials like interfacing – although I have a whole roll of heavy sew-in interfacing, found at the Tip late last year – or 505 spray where they’re really needed to do a specific job that actually needs doing & I don’t already have something that I can make do. But no impulse buys, not even when they’re really, really good bargains…

I think this may be harder than it sounds…

A whole New Year!

January 1, 2016

Welcome to 2016! Wishing you all a very happy one…

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There’ll be more making, more baking…

My main resolution for this year is – to write more. A lot more; my life seems to have frayed at the edges or possibly unravelled to the point where I hardly ever get the time, or have the space, to make anything worthwhile any more, but I don’t need a lot of space or time to spin some words together. It doesn’t matter if I’m 26 miles away from my sewing machine or spinning wheel, as I was yesterday; as long as I have a pen & some paper, or better still my iPad, I can write something. Even if it’s something that no-one else will ever read; that almost doesn’t matter. Even if it’s just a few words scribbled on the back of a receipt…

I’d like to try to write something here at least once a week. I’d very much like to get paid for writing again, but I had to let those threads drop a few years back, and am not in a position to commit to imminent deadlines at the moment. And I’m not able to do research or develop any new expertise at anything just now, and real life continues to confound my ability to keep up with the plot, so my long-held ambition to write a novel (oh, and get it published) doesn’t stand much of a chance either.

I’ve managed to keep most of my preserves & ferments going over the last year, mainly by persuading my darling daughters to take up the reins whenever I’ve been snatched away by fate. They are developing their own techniques & preferences now and I’m loving the results; ginger beer, kombucha, kefir and kimchi. But I didn’t get nearly enough foraging in, or a chance to learn more about the unnoticed gifts that we’re surrounded with. I’m still rescuing and refurbishing stuff and making a few bob selling on what we ourselves can’t use, but many more people have leapt onto that bandwagon and it’s getting harder and harder to turn an honest penny. Not to mention that I now have nowhere to store stock, or work on it…

So I’ve given away a lot of excess stock, to something that’s a very good cause; three van-loads so far, and more to follow. I live in hope of finding the conservatory floor again one day, and the shelves in the porch; then I’d be able to store sensible amounts of wood when it’s available for free, as it very often is!

Things need to change! But maybe I can’t impose that change from on top, and it needs to happen from the bottom up, so I will start building the future with words, just a few at a time!

A lot’s gone on…

October 18, 2015

Many things have happened this summer, and I’ve not been in a place where I’ve been particularly happy to witter on about them. My little Citroen C3 threw yet another expensive wobbly, which was the final straw; it’s no good doing 60-odd miles to the gallon if you’re going to cost an arm and a leg in maintenance. The girls had become anxious about going any distance in her, thanks to her habit of saying she was in first gear at roundabouts & junctions, when she was in fact in neutral. The second or two while she thought about this & I had no control (she’s a semi-automatic) put us in peril more than once. Even OH became reluctant to take her up to Town, but was heartbroken when I announced I was replacing her. Partly because I’ve chosen to replace her with an elderly but expensive Japanese van that only does half as many miles to the gallon…

There was method in my madness, albeit perhaps not very much. Those of us who play at market traders had outgrown the space available in the bigger car, and ended up just about swearing at each other because neither of us had space for all our stock by the time we’d fitted in the tables, chairs, shelves, crates and our lovely joint assistant. I test-drove a 3-year-old Berlingo Multispace & it was lovely, but hardly any bigger than the C4 GP; deeper, but shorter. The only other option within my budget that was likely not to be on its last legs with rust or having done 300,000 hair-raising miles in a couple of years was a fresh-import Japanese MPV…

So I became the proud owner of a 17-year-old Mazda Bongo Friendee 2.5 TD AFT from Southern Bongos, just as diesel was unmasked as the root of all evil. There was a little bit of budget left over, which I used to have the middle row of seats removed & a mid-conversion installed; that’s a cooker, sink, fridge and a couple of tiny cupboards, plus a little pop-up arrangement that means I can sleep in her when the back seat is folded down flat; this’ll be very handy when we do the weekend “events” next year. In theory, two people can sleep in the elevating roof too, but the mattress would need quite a bit of beefing-up before they’d be very comfortable! There’s also a solar panel, as most of the time when we’re camping there’s no mains electricity to hook up to, to run the fridge, lights & gadget chargers that it would be hard to manage without. And I have made her a set of “silvers” or thermal screens; to buy them would have cost over £80, but 3m of Insul-Bright set me back just £20, 50 suction-hooks £5, and a paint-marked 1970s sheet makes the inside look very pretty!

For all the increased fuel bills, she feels very safe & reassuring to drive, especially after dark; no-one tries to barge you out of the way, and the visibility is great, unlike in the little car. And there’s clearly a lot of capacity for fun; picnics spring to mind, but for one reason or another we haven’t had a chance yet, though we have done one market & managed to take everything we needed with us! We also traded at a car boot sale this weekend, offloading excess stock, and it was lovely to be able to sit out of the biting cold wind in quieter moments, without having to struggle up from a car seat to help potential customers. But I’m very mindful of the increased emissions, as well as the fuel bill; my one way of dealing with this is to try very hard to cut the miles driven down to the bare minimum whilst keeping my business going and keeping half an eye on my dear mother!

Another of The Offspring has moved back in for a year, having found a job locally whilst waiting to do his MA starting next September. Delighted though we are to have the pleasure of his company for another year, this has reduced still further the amount of space we have for stock or refurbs, and increased the mess in the shared areas of the house. And thanks to lighting issues with my stall at Molly’s Den, I’m moving over the aisle to a smaller but more visible space. So I’m trying very hard to refine what I do; only to take on things which can be cleaned, repaired and/or upcycled very fast, and which are directly relevant to my regular customers. But on a positive note, Boscombe Vintage Market is going back to monthly after Christmas, which should help stock flow through our household better.

I’m now struggling to deal with an avalanche of apples & quinces; having had a good rest last year, when high winds stripped the blossom clean off the trees in spring, they’ve gone to town this year & presented us with tons of fruit. There are three trays of apples in store, and numerous bags have been distributed amongst neighbours & family. But I don’t need to make any apple butter or jams or chutney as there’s lots still in the garage from last year & the year before; there’s not a lot of point putting more in there if it’s not getting used. I also have another mega-pumpkin sitting on my lawn, waiting for someone (probably me) to take a knife to it; this is going to be distributed amongst four households, but even just a quarter of it is going to overwhelm my preserving skills & apparatus for a few days!

There’ll be another post along shortly; I’m mulling some ideas over already, but kind of felt I should bring you all up to date before I get too philosophical…

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“We thought we’d take the kids camping…”

July 22, 2015
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Our home-made canvas windbreak

Just about 11 years ago, I took it into my head to take 7 young people and their surf- & body-boards for a few days’ surfing & camping in North Devon. We had a big, sturdy tunnel tent & a big, sturdy car, and they were a manageable crew, with 4 of them plenty old, experienced & sensible enough to trot off & ride the waves together by themselves. But… that was the week of the Boscastle flood. There was some very good surf, and some very lively weather. At the campsite we love to go to, North Morte Farm, the wind can whip up the valley from Rockham Bay and blast poorly-pitched tents clear down even when it seems quite calm in Woolacombe; it had happened to us once before, at 5am in a thunderstorm. So we were hunkered down tightly beside the hedge, with storm guys attached from the word go, and the wind that got up late that night blasted straight over the top  of us.

Other people weren’t so lucky. The night resounded to yells of, “How dare you subject our children to this?” and, “That’s the last straw! I’m seeing a lawyer as soon as we get home!” There were entire brand-new tents & sleeping bags in the bin area the next morning, and wreckage littered the camping field, which had virtually emptied out, although it hadn’t actually rained very much and the sun was rising on a new, calm & glorious day.

I was reminded of this when we hauled the big tunnel tent out of the garage. It’s past its best now, and we no longer need a tent that big & could do with the storage space back. But it’s still strong & sturdy enough to last at least another season, so I popped it onto our local Recycling group, hoping that it would so someone else a good turn, but being totally honest about the fact it’s far from new & will probably need a little TLC – re-proofing the seams, at least, and stronger pegs than the original ones I’m letting go with it. Needless to say, as it’s just as the kids break up for the summer holidays, I was inundated with replies. Once I’d discarded the “Yes! Me!” and “I’ll take it off your hands!” ones, I was left with a number of, “I’m going to a festival for the first time & need a tent!” and “Me & the Missus fancy taking the kids up to Scotland on Saturday to try out camping…” replies. And one dear lady who said she would love to give it some TLC & a new lease of life with her family; needless to say, that’s who I’ve offered it to.

Camping’s an art form, not just a cheap holiday…. it’s very easy to get it wrong & end up with everyone cross, tired & miserable, and if you’re really unlucky, ill with sunstroke or exposure. It’s something you need to research & prepare for, if you’re not experienced, just like you’d prepare for a holiday in a different country by finding out at least how to say “please” and “thank you” in the local language, taking some relevant currency, checking whether you need visas and so on. Don’t just assume it’s a cheap holiday & anyone can do it…

I grew up with people pitching & striking marquees & other tents in our big vicarage garden, going off to Guide & Ranger Guide camp at regular intervals, then belonging to the local District Service Unit supervising & maintaining Scout & Guide camps, as well as spending a fair amount of time camping & hiking in the wilds of Wales & Scotland. I’m no expert & I don’t pretend to know it all, but I do know that there’s a wonderful balance between having everything you actually need to be safe & comfortable, and the freedom of having very little stuff to look after. How to achieve that requires some thought; what you need as an unattached teenager walking the Pennine Way or a young couple going to their first music festival is completely different to what you need as a family of 7 looking for an inexpensive seaside holiday. A huge, heavy tent that fills a small car boot, that’s too big for most campsite pitches & really needs two or more adults to put up isn’t ideal for a festival; what you need for that are small, lightweight tents that perhaps open into a gazebo if you’re going with friends. That way you have some privacy when you really need to crash, but a covered communal area for socialising and a little light catering. (This also works for a family with older children who need some space of their own.)

And whilst a serious tent of that sort is well-able to stand up to the vagaries of the Scottish weather, it isn’t ideal to take your kids so very far from home to camp for the first time. What if someone’s ill, or suddenly discovers they can’t stand sleeping outside, or using communal loos & showers? What if the weather hasn’t read the forecast & isn’t playing ball? What if you discover that your “3-season” sleeping bags aren’t actually very warm & you don’t have enough extra blankets or clothing? What if your excited kids don’t listen to you telling them not to play out in the rain & get wet, because there’s no tumble dryer in a field? Best for your first few forays to be close to home, so that you can dart home & fetch bits if necessary, or even give up & retreat in disarray in the middle of the night. Better still, try it out in your own garden for a few nights before setting off – that way, it doesn’t feel so strange & unsettling to small children, and it gives you a chance to work out what you really need to take.

I’m not saying don’t go to Scotland – it’s a fabulous, beautiful country with lovely people – just don’t make it your first-ever family camping trip if you live on the South Coast! And I’m not saying, don’t go camping, either; I love camping & think it’s almost a necessary thing to do in summer. The idea of summer gatherings, festivals & camps is as old as history itself & fulfils some kind of nomadic instinct in me, even though I now have to sleep in the car or on a camp bed. I’m just saying, be prepared! Do a bit of homework, thinking & practice, and it will go much more smoothly & be a much nicer experience for all concerned. It shouldn’t be a hair-shirt experience; always take extra blankets, and if you love your morning coffee, do take a cafetiere, but an all-singing, all-dancing espresso machine is probably a bit OTT…

Have to say, in my not-so humble opinion, people who take everything including the kitchen sink are also getting it wrong. They’ll spend all day looking for the things they really need under everything else, or having to clean things they’re not likely to need that have somehow got muddy. (Everything will get muddy, even if it isn’t raining.) Not to mention worrying about the weight on your axles on pot-holed country roads or the amount of fuel you’re getting through. If your tent’s bigger than you need, you risk having to pay extra for a bigger pitch. And if you even take the TV with you – well, what’s the point of going camping? Tablets & mobile phones are a mixed blessing; there’s often little or no mobile signal at the nicest campsites.

A single-parent friend of mine has taken her family camping every summer by bicycle; they load their wombled tents, sleeping bags, kettle & a small suitcase-style gas cooker into a tag-along trailer, take their clothes in backpacks and set off along the country roads; it’s about 10 miles down to the Purbecks, which feel quite different to this part of Dorset, and there’s a cycle-way for most of it. They always have a whale of a time and can’t wait for next year’s expedition when they get back, and the kids are late teens now & still keen not to miss out. So it can be done for very little expenditure, and it can be great fun, with a little thought and initiative applied beforehand. Just don’t rush into it, buy (or otherwise acquire) loads of expensive (and probably unnecessary) gear or go too far from base for your first few expeditions. Learn how to put your tent up properly and where to pitch it. Find out what you do and what you don’t really need to take. Then – have a great holiday!

Things to make sure you take:

  • Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats (airbeds have a habit of going down halfway through the night) or camp beds, and extra blankets – wool ones are best. You’ll need insulation underneath you, as well as on top.
  • Clothing – layers work best! – and footwear – decent flip-flops/sandals & something sturdier for serious walking/colder days. Only take space-hogging wellies if the forecast is truly awful, and make sure people take them off regularly or you’ll all get athlete’s foot. Make sure everyone has at least one really warm jumper, and leggings to wear under pyjamas if it’s cold at night. Warm socks are a blessing on cold nights.
  • Cooking gear – e.g. a suitcase burner & spare cartridges, kettle, mugs (enamel or china – plastic mugs are Not Nice with hot drinks) cutlery, pans (a frying pan plus a small saucepan or wok work for us) plates, bowl, brush & detergent for washing up. A tin-opener & bottle-opener (for the beer, cider & wine) are essential, and a gas fridge (remember the regulator!) or a good coolbox on a shorter trip, will make life a lot more civilised. You can eat out or a take-away every lunchtime and/or evening meal if that makes it more like a “proper” holiday, but it’ll dent your budget mightily. And a few tins & packets, plus oatcakes/biscuits, eggs, fresh fruit & tea-bags to fill gaps, at the very least, even if the campsite has a cafe and a shop. They’re not likely to be as cheap as a supermarket.
  • Torches, lanterns & spare batteries; torches for those midnight trips to the loo and lanterns to light your way around the tent & especially the guy ropes. IKEA’s little solar lanterns or fairy lights work very well, or a tea-light lantern if your kids are old enough to be trusted around a naked flame.
  • First aid kit, sun-cream, paracetamol, sting-ointment, allergy relief & enough of any regular medication needed. Also specs, if needed. Soap/gel, toothbrushes, toothpaste… and towels, plenty of towels…
  • Rain jackets/ponchos. Especially if they’ve just declared a drought….
  • Something to do in quieter moments or on the beach – your knitting, a good book, a small selection of games (a pack of cards is pretty versatile!) for rainy moments, a frisbee etc.
  • A windbreak – useful to mark your space out, give a bit of privacy and to cook behind, and also on the beach… I’ve just made one from old poles & some cheap Ebay’d canvas, and it took about an hour. There was even enough fabric left over for matching bunting!
  • a couple of good insulated flasks, preferably unbreakable; one to keep your hot water in when you’ve boiled the kettle (for more tea, washing, washing-up water) and one for cold water, to keep it cool. Mine were purchased for pennies at that indefatigable local emporium, the Tip.
  • a bucket, with a lid. Works well as a bin, but has another use too in the middle of the night when it’s raining…

You really  don’t need a lot else, whatever the camping shop’s trying to sell you… have a good trip!

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Our current set-up, camping for 6 days, working at a festival

Please – add your tips as comments below! Every little helps someone who hasn’t done this before…

Edited to add an update: in the end, the nice lady had a sudden bereavement & couldn’t follow through to collect the tunnel tent. And no. 2 son suddenly spotted it in the hallway, where it had been waiting for her, and pronounced it perfect for his Tough Mudder team. Luckily one of the other team members had space in his garage for it, and it’s stood up to another British summer of torrential rain, gales & loads of lovely mud!

New projects!

June 20, 2015

Sorry I’ve been somewhat uncommunicative lately; I’ve had a fair bit on my plate & couldn’t find any time or head-space for writing. But in the meantime I’ve been busy on the recycling/reinventing front: I’m going Glamping on a Shoestring!

I’m old enough to remember camping under canvas. Not family holidays; my dear Mama would die rather than go camping! But Girl Guide trips into the deepest darkest Devonian countryside, sleeping under canvas in blue ridge-tents, with a big white marquee to gather in on rainy days; evenings spent around the campfire, under the trees or on the beach and no access to anything electrical at all! And in my late teens, camping, hiking & canoeing in the wilder parts of Wales & Scotland, often (strangely enough) pitching up in pub gardens & other out-of-the-way spots. So when our kids came along, and several of them proved to be as sunburn-prone & heat-resistant as my dear husband, investing in a tent & camping gear rather than heading straight for the Costas seemed to be the best way forward.

And we did invest; we researched thoroughly & bought what seemed to be the best possible tents etc. for our situation, with the newest technology. And they certainly did last for more than one season; the oldest Khyam dome tent has only just bitten the dust, although we outgrew it fairly quickly. But more recent purchases have not proved as long-lasting, possibly because the younger users have got larger & more boisterous & often take them away without the benefit of parental supervision now. Also I’m no longer comfortable sleeping on the ground, after having had an early hip replacement, particularly not after working a 14-hour day. So as we head up towards the festival season again, I needed to replace some of the gear, and come up with new ways of coping – but on a shoestring. And I also wanted to recapture some of the magic of those long-ago days & nights under quiet, sturdy canvas, after too many nights of billowing, crackling rip-stop nylon, gap-toothed plastic zips & snapping, splintering carbon-fibre poles.

But my budget certainly doesn’t run to buying a bell-tent, lovely though they are. Or a camper van, which I must admit I’d love, though most modern ones seem to come with things like TVs, wardrobes and sound systems, which are the very things I want to get away from! And the running costs are (mostly) too high for them to be used as a second vehicle in regular use, and there isn’t room on the drive for a third vehicle. So I got to thinking, what could I find, make or make-do that might do the job and also delight my heart?

So Project Use-the-Car-as-a-Camper was born. There’s just enough room in the back of a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso for one shortish person to sleep in comfort; the rear seats all fold down flat, giving a 6′ length. We recently “did” the Vintage Nostalgia Show in Wiltshire as traders – lovely show, by the way! Highly recommended for vintage-style family fun – and I slept like a log, knowing that the rain wasn’t going to get in or the sides of the car fall in on me if yet another carbon-fibre pole snapped. I had an old self-inflating mattress and a small memory-foam topper, which was reasonably comfortable, plus sleeping bag, blanket & pillow, and was snug & warm as toast. I kept the morning daylight out by suspending an old dark-blue silk sari with safety-pins from elastic looped around the various protrusions round the top of the car; next time I’ll use a second loop around the door handles etc. to keep it tight to the car walls rather than dangling in my bedding. I’d previously invested in some IKEA Solvinden solar lamps, which give plenty of light for finding your way around, cleaning teeth & getting changed & can be recharged on your dashboard during the day so the battery’s not taking a battering whilst the car is stationary.

What didn’t work: getting changed was a bit of a nightmare with no head-room, particularly trying to get wellies on. And cooking on the tailgate was a bit more complicated than usual; I rolled my bed back out of the way but it wasn’t inclined to stay put! So I invested my profits from that show into buying a tailgate awning to run off the back of the car, which will give us cooking space & me a changing room when we do the next show, which is a 6-day run, with 3 of us camping. But that doesn’t even begin to recapture some of the magic of outdoor living that I remember…

So my next project is – Glamping-on-a-Shoestring! I have “borrowed” an idea from one of my fellow-traders, and bought a straightforward 3m canvas square with loops, which will be used (with guys) to make an outdoor living area; we already have some woven polyprop rugs, solar fairy lights, vintage camping chairs & tables to make it feel homely, and I wombled some tall steel poles from an elderly frame-tent to suspend it from. The tailgate awning and the girls’ two small tents will open into this, and I’ll pop a windbreak round the open sides. And thereby hangs another tale…

Our old windbreak is a bit too far gone to do the job. Somehow it’s shed two of its six poles, and developed several fairly-major holes. But luckily a friend had some spare wooden poles, and I’ve won some rather pretty canvas on Ebay. Now all I need to do is excavate my sewing machine from under the piles of random bits of stock awaiting assessment/repair/cleaning up/…

And although the self-inflating mattress/memory foam combo was comfy enough (if a bit slidey) I think I can do better. I’ve laid my hands on a feather sofa cushion, which is blissfully soft & warm whilst also being thick enough to work as a mini-mattress. I’m on the look-out for two or three more, so that I can literally rest in feather-bedded splendour, but have acquired enough smaller feather scatter cushions to make a mattress up if need be – time allowing!

So watch this space; there will be pictures! And don’t ask what I’m planning to do with the largish bits of canvas left over from the big old frame tent…

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Tabitha & Tino like the idea of glamping…

April daze…

April 26, 2015

If there’s one thing I wouldn’t have expected to spend a significant proportion of today doing, it’s preserving. It’s April; this is supposed to be the Hungry Gap… But what else you do, when a greengrocer hands you a bag of FREE strawberries?!

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Still-warm spelt scones, on-its-sell-by cream & freshly-made strawberry jam…

£10 filled my shopping trolley to the brim at lunchtime today, as the market traders prepared to pack down until next Friday; all the stuff that’s not going to last is sold off for 50p, and some of it just gets given away. I’d already bought some strawberries, which are ridiculously cheap at the moment, and various other bargains, and as I packed them into the top of the trolley he just handed me a bag of slightly-battered strawberries with a cheery, “‘Ere, luv, you can ‘ave these too! Use ’em up.”

I didn’t have any pectin, and strawberries aren’t very high in it, so strawberry jam can be a bit of a bu&&er to set. But what I did have was a big bag of apples that I’d picked up cheap two weeks before that I hadn’t got round to doing anything sensible with. So I chopped them roughly, leaving the skin, cores & pips still in, boiled them up & simmered them for half an hour, with the bottom of the pan covered with water & the lid tight on. Then I strained the resulting juice off & crossed my fingers that enough pectin would have migrated into the water to give the strawberries a boost; I actually only used half of it, because that looked like enough. So I chopped the strawberries, removing any rough bits – there was actually very little waste, they were’t very far gone – weighed out the same amount of sugar, poured both into the warm hopefully-pectin-solution along with the juice of a lemon and stirred until the sugar had dissolved.  Then whacked the temperature up & boiled until a few drops on a cold plate formed wrinkles when pushed. It DID happen, and it didn’t take too long – success!

It just so happened that instead of my usual scrabble for jam-jars in June, I picked up a big box of 57 pristine, probably brand new, 1lb jars complete with lids at the Tip a couple of weeks ago for £2. I’m assuming that one of the Country Market ladies has sadly given up or passed away, but I’m very happy to be able to use what she’s no further use for. So my usual mad dash around the garage shelves, hunting for enough random-sized jars & matching lids that haven’t gone rusty, wasn’t necessary; I just washed some from the box, rinsed them & popped them into a hot oven to sterilise.

Two and a half jars of strawberry jam made. But what to do with the rest of the pectin-water and the apple pulp? A quick check of the spice cupboard, and I knew I had enough to make some Apple Butter; three and a half jars of it, in fact!

So that’s got the 2015 store cupboard off to a flying start, quite a lot earlier in the year than I can ever remember making jam before. Not that it’ll have to be stored for long; we’re already into the first full jar, having polished off the half-jar! All sorts of things seem to have got off to a flying start this year, with the lovely warm weather we’ve been having. Mid-week I had cause to drive through the middle of our county on the country roads, which I had just about to myself. It was simply stunning; the trees were a symphony of blossom, from clouds of blackthorn through blushing apples to rosy-red hawthorn and cherry-blossom. And underneath the trees, there are still acres of primroses, but also bluebells, not quite in full bloom yet but near enough. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much blossom at one time; it’s a fantastic show. The sea was aquamarine & sparkling; if I’d had a camera with me, I’d never have got to my destination!

Looks like I’m going to need a few good quince recipes, too…

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Quinces blooming away in the front garden.

 

 

Return of the Jumble Sale…

March 8, 2015
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40s & 50s dressmaking patterns, on a crochet blanket with added holes…

I am so delighted to see that jumble sales seem to have made a bit of a come-back. For some years, it seemed that they were banished to the far fringes of the rural hinterlands; rumour had it that they were still happening in some remote villages, but never round here, and never anywhere I could reasonably get to. And I missed the mad eclectic muddle of random stuff, all piled up on tables, priced at pennies just to shift it. In amongst that stuff there would always be some treasures, things that I wanted or needed, and things that other people wanted or needed but couldn’t find anywhere. Things that someone else had not seen any kind of value in, and had simply given away. I suspect that lots of people can no longer be bothered to get up at silly o’clock on a Sunday, drive to a muddy field, set up their stall & work to sell their unwanted possessions at a car boot sale; easier by far just to give them to the jumble collectors and feel a little glow of satisfaction that at least you’re contributing something towards a good cause.

We went to one last weekend, and two yesterday. At last week’s, my top “find” was a long black Frank Usher jacket in perfect condition for 20p. It fits me very well; I wore it to a formal occasion during the week & was delighted to be given lots of compliments on it. I would otherwise have had to buy something new to wear, as I had no time to hunt around the charity shops for something that fitted, was warm enough and right for the occasion.

Yesterday’s jumbles produced a mad crop of 1970s clothing, a lovely mirror for the living room, and two elderly but respectable portable typewriters, both working, one of which seems to be very collectable and dates from the 1950s. They will be cleaned up, given new ribbons, tested and sold on. At one sale, one of the helpers suspected I’d turn up, and had collected up some dressmaking patterns for me, which I was thrilled to hand over her full price for; we never haggle at a jumble sale, we just don’t buy if the price isn’t right. We spent a happy few hours last night checking them; they often don’t have all their pieces, may not have any instructions & may have bits of other patterns muddled in with them or be torn beyond reasonable use.

I rarely sell on incomplete patterns; they may have been cut & used, but should have all their pieces, in usable condition. The exception would be if it’s only a small & easily-improvised piece like a tie-belt or patch-pocket that’s missing, or that it’s a multi-garment pattern & there’s enough still usable to make one or more of the garments; in either case it would be clearly marked & sold at a reduced price. That said, I will have to increase my prices soon to reflect the fact that all of ours are checked & usable, as it’s getting harder & more expensive to find them; I pay my teenage daughter to check them, and others are selling unchecked patterns for considerably more then I sell checked ones for.

There are plenty of uses for incomplete patterns. One of my friends is happy to take them on, combine & adapt them for use with her dressmaking students. I myself use pattern pieces and damaged covers in cardmaking & other papercrafts; cheaper than buying mass-market “card toppers” and much more fun! One of these days I’ll learn how to adapt & re-size patterns, too, but that will need some “free” time which I don’t seem to have just now. And oddly, most of the things I’ve made that I actually wear & use have been made without patterns at all, simply cut out around older garments/items & improvised.

Anyway, I’ve a mirror and two typewriters to clean up, an elderly kitchen gadget to test – a hand-held crinkle-cutter, in case you were wondering – a rather splendid red suitcase in need of a good rub-down and a crochet blanket in need of some remedial hook-work… on with the fun!

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1950s Hermes Baby Rocket in need of a good clean-up…

“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…”

February 1, 2015

I’d planned to write something about – well, something else. But instead, I’m inspired to write again about Why Vintage? Life takes these funny twists & turns sometimes…

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Lovely old Jones Spool from 1894. Still beautiful, still working…

 

One of my husband’s favourite sayings is, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…” meaning that wistful looking back to an imaginary golden age is just that – more to do with imagination than reality. And I think it’s true that all throughout history, and probably prehistory, people have just muddled along as best they can & simply tried their best to stay afloat one way or another, but that’s not what we see when we look back. Looking back at the Roman invasion of Britain, we see fit, bronzed warriors in metal-studded miniskirts building long, straight roads in the summer sun, not miserable conscripts with dripping noses scrabbling in the winter mud, wishing they could wear woollen breeks like the natives, or tubby merchants gleefully piling up their denarii in their slave-driven centrally-heated homes. When we look back at the Tudors, we see the world-spanning voyages, the introduction of potatoes to Europe, Shakespeare penning his wonderful plays and poetry, and the fine, fantastical & wildly-impractical costumes of the wealthy, not the probably-somewhat-itchy home-dyed, spun & woven everyday wear & pease-pottage cuisine of the peasantry. When we look back at the 1940s, we see the slender waists, Victory Roll hairdos and glamorous lipsticks, not the look of dismay at the idea of Woolton Pie for tea again, and the mind-numbing terror of hearing, or worse still, ceasing to hear the whine of the doodlebugs…

Yesterday I had a conversation with my nearly-89-year-old mother. She cannot for the life of her understand why people would want to live in the past, in any way, shape or form, and how I can possibly make any money out of it. She remembers all too well the hard work, the misery of being so very cold but unable to afford to heat the house, or even the room she was sitting shivering in with her newborn baby; the sheer unrelenting effort of making sure that the wood was chopped, the garden crops were picked & processed before they spoilt (no matter what else had to be done) everything dusted, & polished & swept daily and all our clothes clean, starched & pressed. Yet I know of, and have sold things to, individuals, couples and even families whose homes & indeed lives are a shrine to a bygone era, who are looking for wooden dollies or tongs for their washing tubs, slate or marble slabs for their larders, carpet beaters for their pure-wool rugs. And I have a lot of sympathy with them. My mother has lived all her long life in the sparse bosom of the Church of England, and has no real sense of the tremendous disconnectedness of the world that we’re living in now. I think many of my customers are hoping to return to a time when it felt like life had some meaning, apart from just working to get as much money as possible in order to spend it as quickly as possible.

Some of the people I talk to are 20th-century re-enactors, rather than actually trying to live the life of our forebears all the time. But if I ask any of them why they do it, they all say that it’s the Blitz Spirit, the sense of everyone pulling together, & the fairness of rationing. They’ll mention that everyone was healthier, that things were built to last & be mendable, and the sheer exhilaration of mastering the dances. The fun of tinkering, of making things for yourself, and of rescuing good things that can still be useful, usually comes into it too. Possibly even the feeling of living on the edge, that every mission might be the one you didn’t come back from, that any infection might be fatal, that every dance might be your last, so that it all really meant something. And in some indefinable way, that life really was a lot simpler for having far fewer choices. Which is all so very far from how things are in our society now…

Affordability comes into it, too. None of them have been forced to live in the past by being broke & unable to afford modern conveniences; it’s a conscious choice they have all made, and sourcing authentic clothing, fabric & household items is rarely cheap, unless you’re very lucky. Most of our customers do have decent jobs or trades. But if you spend £50 on an old hand-cranked sewing machine, and keep it somewhere dry, brush it out & oil it regularly, it will keep going & doing the job it was designed to do for another hundred years. Your £25 mangle will still work long after your £250 tumble dryer has given up the ghost. Your preserving jars still work in a power cut. So it makes sense to invest a bit in good kit, to save money in the long term. You will need more time, to do things in the old-fashioned way, but it’s quite easy to find if you can give up some TV-watching, FaceBooking or gaming.

And I don’t see that it’s so very different to removing yourself to another country, which often seems to exist more in the mind of the ex-pats than in reality. The Spain with a great past and a wonderful future, where the sun shines all the time that the fireworks aren’t crackling, is not the same Spain where most young people have no chance of ever getting a decent job, or where you can suddenly find that you don’t in any sense own the property you handed over your life savings for. As L.P. Hartley put it in The Go-Between, “”The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Maybe in some ways, they did things better, although not perhaps in the context of the book. Or the War, or the discrimination, or the lack of universal health provision…

Or maybe, we should be doing things better, so that people don’t feel the need to escape into the past. A lot of people don’t want to live in a constant electronic smog, or on mass-produced food with dubious ingredients, or wear ill-fitting semi-disposable garments, just because everybody else does and it’s all that’s available now. Some people even, to estate agents & local authorities’ horror, actually want a reasonable-sized garden, to grow & raise edible things in, not just a tiny outdoor entertainment space.

Is it nostalgia? Is it daydreaming? Or is it imagining a better, calmer, more creative & productive world? A world where things were built to last, out of the best available materials, with real craftsmanship, even if they cost more to start with? A world where fashion flattered the female form, rather than tried to erase it? Where bedlinen lasted for lifetimes, rather than months? Where fun didn’t consist of blowing up or running over imaginary opponents in a virtual maze? Where outdoors was not a scary place best paved over?

A world that could exist, bits of which have existed; a world that could made to exist if enough of us have the will to bring about the change?

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Vintage curtain fabrics & evening purse – lucky survivors, or made to last?

 

A cautionary tale…

January 16, 2015

…copied over from a post I wrote elsewhere:

Earlier this week, I was further down the West Country with Elder Daughter for a couple of days. We’d planned to do some serious walking, but the weather was foul on the first day, so we visited some new-to-her towns instead, and bought some bits & bobs for our respective market stalls/online shop. The first town we visited was one I knew well as a child & teenager, back in the Dark Ages. It used to be very posh & prosperous, with a long twisty high street wending its way down a steep hill; my grandfather’s tailor was at the top and his cobbler/bootmaker halfway down. It’s very different now.

A big modern shopping development has been built alongside the High Street. It has several stories of car parking, topped by two more of big High Street “names” – all the biggies are there, in large, clean modern units. It was hardly bustling but there were plenty of people wandering aimlessly about, a few toting branded bags. And it’s completely sucked the life out of the old High Street; every second little shop was empty, and there were beggars sitting in the doorways, empty hats on the pavement, staring hopelessly out, poor souls. Hardly anyone was passing that way to see them.

Admittedly the big local industry has also withered away and died, but it was very clear that the shopping centre had completely replaced the High Street for day-to-day stuff. So all the money spent in that town is draining away to shareholders in London & further afield, instead of helping local people prosper. If it’s anything like this little town, the advent of the shopping centre will have pushed up the High Street rents beyond anything a genuine local small business start-up can afford, too. Although there were some very good bargains in the two local charity shops we eventually stumbled across, shopping in that town was a depressing & draining experience.

We then visited two smaller towns nearby, also favourite haunts of my youth. The only big name shops were those that had been there for many years, in little eccentric premises with tiled doorways and uneven floors. Both towns were bustling, with people carrying baskets or pulling trolleys, cheerily greeting each other and stopping to chat or go for a cuppa in one of the pretty little independent, reasonably-priced cafes. We found some excellent bargains and enjoyed our time there hugely.

Next day, after a bracing walk on the coastal path, we called in to a little seaside town that has attracted a lot of attention from a TV chef. We found the interesting-looking little shops clustered around the harbour were nearly all branches of big-name clothes shops, exactly the same ones that infest our own small but upmarket town. We were actually looking for a butchers or (sensible) fishmongers, but the lass in the tiny convenience store told us that “the big T&sco up top of the hill” had “done for” anything like that. So most of the money being spent there by the hordes of wealthy tourists who flock to this town is draining straight off upcountry again, and the locals have virtually no choice where to buy their groceries any longer. And their money is also trickling away from their community.

The moral of this story being, if you are lucky enough to still have small family-run shops where you are, please support them, even if things cost a little bit more. That’s your own friends & neighbours you’re supporting.  And if you have any say in these matters, resist the siren voices that tell you that big new shopping centres & supermarkets will attract more business; maybe they will, but only to themselves.

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A stormy Cornish dusk…


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