Enough already!

November 2, 2019

I’m shattered. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a wonderful apple crop from the two big trees (an elderly Blenheim Orange and a Russet) this autumn; I remember worrying in Spring that it wasn’t getting pollinated, as I couldn’t see any bees on the blossom. However a couple of months later the kiwi fruit plant was humming with pollinators, so loudly that you could hear them from the road, so they are still out there somewhere.

IMG_3767 A huge apple crop is a mixed blessing; they need to be dealt with as soon as they fall, especially if they don’t have a soft landing, as many of ours don’t, and circumstances just didn’t allow that this year. So a young friend’s pigs benefited from quite a few sacks of windfalls.

We’ve filled all our wooden apple trays, and the freezer’s bursting at the seams. Some have been dehydrated, and many turned into chutney or a base for other jams. Those neighbours who didn’t see us coming in time have been issued with carrier bags full. The garden’s littered with windfalls again and I still have a big basket of undamaged hand-picked apples to process. It’s amazing how many interesting apple recipes there are out there to try; Toffee Apple ice-cream is a new favourite! But the best news is that the windfalls have attracted a hedgehog back to our garden, after several years of not seeing any evidence of them.

So the arrival of a large crop of tree-quinces too has not been greeted with unalloyed joy, delightful though they are! We had just started picking them – they’re usually a little later than the apples – when a gale hit last weekend and brought most of them crashing down. They may have been ready, but I wasn’t! Believe me, quinces are much harder than apples to peel & chop, even assisted by a food processor. My hands are aching! But the taste of Quince, Pineapple & Rosemary marmalade makes it all worthwhile… And I’m almost out of re-used jamjars again, despite a kind friend donating 3 large bags full.

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I’ve been up to some interesting projects over the summer and will post more about those shortly. I’ll also do a d-i-y Christmas Cracker tutorial, as promised last year. Now the evenings are dark again, I can mysteriously find time to sit at the computer again, rather than going for lovely long walks at the riverbank!

 

 

Denim strikes again!

July 20, 2019

Recently my little van needed to spend some time in “dry dock” having a spot of surgery. When I emptied her out – well, mostly – I was struck by the sheer amount of junk I’d been carrying around, particularly in my “beach” bag which used to hang over the back of the front passenger seat. There certainly were things appropriate to last-minute dashes to the beach – we live 20 minutes drive from Sandbanks, and it’s always pleasant to spend a sunny evening down there, usually on a whim – but also things I might need when I’m running the stall or doing a car boot sale. One or two tools, some for the van, but some in case I should come across an elderly sewing machine in distress. And a number of miscellaneous items I can’t imagine I’d ever need at all! All tangled up together so that I could hardly ever find what I actually needed & knew was in there somewhere

So, it was high time to rationalise, and tidy things up a bit. I had An Idea… our local recycling firm have recently opened a warehouse-shop where they deposit most of the rejected textiles they collect; some items (brand-new-with-tags, “quality” and “designer” stuff) are sorted onto hangers, which they charge a bit more for, but mostly you fish about in builder’s bags & pay 50p per item. I already had a fair bit of reclaimed denim, left over from making quilts & other things (including the old beach bag) but knew I wouldn’t have enough of the bits I needed for this job, so I popped down there & rescued 5 pairs of jeans to chop up.

A bit of cutting, twenty minutes or so of stitching, a bit of “chenilling” round the edges just because it pleases me, a quick wash, and lo & behold, my van now has pocketses! And there were still some pockets left, so I made another, different set to string across the rear of the back seat too, from headrest to headrest, to carry things that aren’t used so often but are still useful to have on board. With a bit of thought, I could have included a “secret” pocket in the front one, or one big enough to carry maps, but I’m happy with the result.

Now, of course, I have 10 cut-off legs, some waistbands, and some side-seams to stash away for the next Idea-with-denim that drifts my way!

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Following on…

June 20, 2019

… from “Another Cautionary Tale” where I acknowledged that many people are – somewhat cautious – about buying second-hand supplies and equipment, I’ve recently had a classic example come exploding into my own life. I was cruising our local charity shops looking for a little black cardi with ¾-length sleeves when I spotted something interesting hiding on a low shelf. An ice-cream maker… one of the very best makes, a Gaggia Gelatiera, not new but obviously not much-used, at about one-tenth of the original cost. PAT-tested, and that shop will refund without a fuss if things don’t work properly.

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Raspberry Sorbet under construction!

On a list of all the kitchen gadgets that are simply not necessary, ice-cream makers must come close to the top. But long ago I blew up my trusty Kenwood Chef, terminally, trying to make ice-cream, because I love good ice-cream, made with fresh ingredients that I can actually spell. We’ve made it a few times by dashing out to the garage, where the big chest freezer lives, and whisking frantically every now & then, but somehow we’d never achieved the smooth creamy deliciousness that I craved. I did consider saving up to buy a machine, but it certainly wasn’t a priority – and oh boy, did we need to prioritise! – and most of them didn’t make nearly enough for a family of seven plus the odd guest. I wanted one which did the whole job, rather than one where you need to freeze the bowl in advance; I knew I’d never be organised enough to put it in in advance, and if I left it in the freezer full-time, it used up space that could have been used to store food…

But now there are only four of us at home full-time. There’s a bit more space available, and I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can frequently get brilliant bargains on fruit, thanks to our local market. So I barely hesitated; at that price, it had to be worth a try…

It’s wonderful. We’ve made loads of ice-cream & sorbet, and are about to start on the frozen yogurt. The web is a fantastic resource; there are loads of recipes out there, but most have to be adjusted to the size of our machine, which can only handle 600ml of contents at a time, though it came with two spare bowls & paddles, so we can always do several batches, one after another. So far we have made Stracciatella, Chocolate, Strawberry, Strawberry & Prosecco, Gin & Tonic, Cherry, Cherry & Mascarpone, Pineapple & Mango Sorbet, Raspberry Sorbet, Blood Orange & Star Anise Sorbet, & Kiwi Sorbet, many of those more than once! Kiwi sorbet is the only one that hasn’t been that popular, and I think I may try a different recipe next time I can get about 20 kiwis for £1.

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A batch of Cherry Ice Cream ready for the freezer…

Last Sunday I was given, for free, a huge bag of very ripe cherries “for your chickens” as my favourite greengrocers were starting to pack their stall down. About a quarter of them were “going over” and did go straight to the chickens (who love them) but the rest were perfectly acceptable provided I could use them up swiftly. Luckily I have an old tool for removing the stones from olives; it also works on cherries. I froze a large tray of them for future reference, gave some away, made another batch of cherry ice cream, and turned the remainder into jam, along with a few strawberries that needed to be used up, the next morning. The ice-cream has been stashed away in the big freezer, and hopefully one winter’s evening it will tickle our tastebuds into believing it’s summer once more. That said, there are lots of autumn/winter ice-cream recipes out there (blackberry & apple, quince & pear, lovely spicy things) and we’re beginning to get confident enough just to try things out for ourselves.

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So there you are; sometimes a secondhand bargain can let you try something out which will turn out to be well worthwhile!

 

One person’s patina…

June 9, 2019

…is another person’s dirt!

I didn’t rush to the Minster’s annual Fair yesterday. Having been unable to trade for the last six months, I have a backlog of stock to shift before I can start acquiring new pieces for my customers’ delight & delectation. But I couldn’t quite resist the lure of the bric-a-brac stall, and who doesn’t need a look through the secondhand books? You never know where you’ll find hidden treasure, even when you’re half-an-hour late…

I looked at it more than once; a little old – ladle? pot? measure? – with a long handle which looked as if it might be brass. It was mostly black and quite revoltingly greasy to touch; there was a space on the tabletop around it where other people had removed items but left this well alone. It looked as if it had spent the last 50 years in someone’s garage, accumulating a heavy coat of engine oil. But the feel was more – many years of chips, bacon and burgers – i.e. heavy kitchen grease, which is a bit more amenable to cleaning than engine oil.

“I think that’ll clean up OK,” I said as I handed over my 50p. The man behind the stall looked shocked. “But won’t that destroy the patina?” he asked, without a trace of irony.

From my point of view, there’s a big difference between patina – the honourable dings, scratches and scars of everyday use, the subtle sheen from years of handling – and sheer filth. And what’s right for an old oil-can that has spent years on a dusty garage shelf is just not appropriate on a culinary tool. People are simply not going to buy something to display (or just possibly use) in their kitchen, café or bar that looks and feels filthy, however “authentic”. I hope I’ve managed to clean it up & do it justice so that its cheeky-but-competent character shines through, along with that lovely coppery glow.

I can’t help wishing now that I’d taken a “before” picture so it would be obvious why no-one else had spotted this sweet little old handmade beauty, but here it is after half an hour with a toothbrush, a tiny quantity of 00-gauge wire wool, a cleaning agent intended for human skin, an Irish crochet hook and a lot of gentle scraping with a human thumbnail… It isn’t going to earn me a fortune, but it has earned a little place in my heart.

 

 

Another Cautionary Tale!

May 24, 2019

It’s been a while… but I am steaming towards fully-restored health now, and beginning to take up the reins of my little business, and feel up to nattering with the world again…

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A stall full of vintage oddities, fabulous old fabrics and genuinely useful stuff!

I know a lot of people are – cautious – about buying second-hand craft supplies and equipment; sometimes things have “moved on” and equipment has been vastly improved, designs are very different to what people wanted 30 years ago, and some supplies may not have been quite as well-kept as one would wish. Moths, for example, do not let you know they’ve invaded your stash…

HOWEVER there are huge savings to be made if you’re not averse to profiting by other people’s mistakes. I’m about to tell you a tale that I’ve heard many times, in one form or another, over the last ten years, the last example only yesterday. Here’s her story:

“I worked hard, all the hours of the day, for many years running my own business, but all along I just wanted to find the time to sit & stitch. I love stitched textiles passionately; my home is full of them, I buy them constantly and couldn’t imagine anything more inspiring than being able to make them myself! So I’d go to exhibitions when I was away on business trips, and buy all the stuff – kits and frames, special needles, scissors and collections of thread – and stash it all away for my retirement. Anyway, I retired last summer, and joined a stitching circle, and started work on a huge project at long last.

I hated it! It’s so darn fiddly and time consuming! I’d work hard all day, then realise that I’d only actually achieved a tiny amount and half of that was wrong and would have to be unpicked. A friend suggested trying a smaller project so that I’d feel it was more manageable, but I didn’t enjoy that any more than the big one. Then I became ill and couldn’t do any more. They’ve sat there in the corner since then, and now we need to downshift and won’t have room for anything we don’t need…”

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Poppy thinks of a use for a large unfinished tapestry…

And there was the lady who’d owned her spinning wheel from brand new, back in the 1980s, and had never actually put it together. Come retirement, again from running her own business, out it came, and was constructed with much delight. But sadly, she didn’t “take” to spinning. Having been someone who was just about instantly successful at everything she turned her hand to, we simply couldn’t get her to slow up enough to fall into the rhythm of spinning, so she became very frustrated and decided not to bother in the end.

Not to mention the large upright rug loom taking up quite a lot of space in our conservatory… I really, really do want to make beautiful Finnish-style rugs out of reclaimed textiles, but somehow I haven’t even got round to warping it up yet, and it’s been there for over a year. Admittedly I’ve had a few other things on my mind for the last six months, but once I’d got stuck in with my twining loom (which couldn’t be easier to use – you can just tear up old bedding & get straight on with it) the idea of calculating a warp & cutting thousands of wool strips before I could start to make anything with the big loom kind of receded from the top end of my to-do list!

So I’m advising you; if you’re attracted to a particular craft, try it out BEFORE investing a small fortune in equipment or dedicating a large amount of space to it. Most crafts have local groups of people working at different levels in a social setting, like the Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers, or Lacemakers, or Quilters. Often these groups have equipment to try out, lend or hire out, and there are usually ways to acquire secondhand equipment and supplies inexpensively through them. Alternatively, there are friendly general craft & social groups out there, meeting in cafés, libraries and pubs, and experts prepared to share their skills and ideas for a small consideration, who will point you in the right direction for equipment & supplies.

Different equipment suits different users, too; it’s no good buying a spinning wheel just because it’s the same as everyone else has got, if it doesn’t suit your style of spinning, or you’re six inches taller or shorter than they are. Or knitting with standard cold metal needles if you have arthritis in your hands. You don’t need to spend vast amounts on fat quarters to make your first quilt; check out the 99p rails in your local charity shops as many gents’ shirts are made from pure high-quality cotton & there’s much more than a fat quarter in the back alone. As for tiered cotton skirts…

You don’t have to buy everything new. There will come a time when you know exactly what you need and only new will do, but until then, there are plenty of useful & delightful resources out there to do amazing things with; all you need to do is look…

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Fabric postcard being made from reclaimed stained table linen & reclaimed beads from a broken necklace, on a secondhand sewing machine!

 

A silver lining?

March 3, 2019

I’ve been somewhat subdued this winter for health reasons (full story here should you wish to know more) and not actually able to do the things I’d planned, as my hands, not to mention my poor brain, just wouldn’t – couldn’t – work properly, thanks to peripheral neuropathy. So I was rather glad to have the time to get to grips with yet another simple form of weaving whilst demolishing a large pile of old bedding that had gone beyond reasonable use or otherwise become surplus to requirements.

For a long time I’ve been intrigued by twined weaves, and also by rag rugs; my great-aunt Bet had a wonderful collection of “slip-mats” of one sort or another, so-called because if you jumped on them at just the right angle, you could slip & slide all the way down her highly-polished hallway floor! I loved the textures, the patterns & the colours, and I’m sure some of them were twined, some hooked and some prodded, though no-one now can remember where she got them or indeed, whether she’d made them herself.

Anyway, this was my first effort, woven on a Libbylula twining loom, following instructions found on YouTube, entirely from old bedding torn into 2″ strips, including the warp:

Firsttwinedrug

It’s just done with very simple blocks of colour, working from alternate ends inwards. Joins are very random, occurring wherever the previous colour ran out or I just decided to change colours. I’m not sure about the “fringe” but it’s staying put for now.

And for my next trick, I decided to experiment with colour & pattern a bit. But I wasn’t the only one enjoying the simple, manageable rhythms of over, under, twist…

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Poppy “helped” every inch of the way! And here she is, staking her claim to the finished article:

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It won’t stay in the living room; it’s not the right colours and to be honest, I went overboard with the patterning a bit! But it’s shown me how it works, and what’s pleasing to the eye, and what isn’t, or just doesn’t show up on that scale.

As the pile of our own deceased bedding diminished, I found that one of our local charity shops was very happy to dispose of donated bedding, which they don’t sell, for a better price than the ragman would give them. So I now have an even bigger pile of bedding to rip into strips, but it’s in “better” colours for my purposes. I’m also planning to experiment with 3-D weaving & weaving without a frame, which are also possible with this technique; most willow baskets are woven this way. Not to mention trying out alternative materials; English Bullrushes, packing tape & baler twine spring to mind.

So a period of less-than-perfect health and enforced “leisure” have opened new horizons for me. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?

Finally gone crackers…

December 26, 2018

I’ve been intending to make my own crackers since about September. As I have done for many years, without ever actually getting around to it; somehow I’ve always ended up buying them instead, then getting cross with myself on a number of different levels. In no way are crackers actually necessary, so why I should I find myself stressing about them? They really are spectacularly wasteful items, in terms of money spent and resources used to very little effect. Because I like them, that’s why! And the festive photos just wouldn’t be the same without the silly hats…

If you don’t want crackers that look cheap & flimsy, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on something that’s just going to be torn apart & thrown away. The gifts inside are usually simply left on or under the table, no matter how genuinely useful or sturdy. Some of the hats always tear whilst being unfolded and never make it onto heads. The jokes are usually spectacularly unfunny, with the odd exception, and half the snaps – just don’t.

Anyway, for one reason or another, as we raced up towards the Big Day, crackers had totally failed to appear in our household. On Christmas Eve I braved a last-minute dash to our local, rather upmarket, supermarket, to acquire the last-minute necessities like cream & salad, and swung past the “seasonal” aisle, thinking I might just invest in a box of crackers after all. But somehow all the more-reasonably-priced lines had just vanished and all that was left was an entire wall of top-of-the-range £20 boxes of crackers. Beautifully presented in lavish gold-wrapped boxes with huge glittery bows, but – £20 for a box of crackers? Just – no! However, other shoppers were sighing and muttering, “I suppose I’ll have to…” The cynic in me couldn’t help wondering whether any remaining cheaper boxes had been whipped off the shelves, an impression that was strengthened by the smug little grin on the manager’s face as he stood by the stock-room door watching the boxes being hurled into trolleys. That may be completely unjust, though!

Luckily, for once I was well ahead (by my standards!) with present-buying & wrapping and had the evening earmarked for doing something relaxing. Yes, you’ve guessed it – cracker-making! And whilst they were far from the delightfully-artistic hand-made dainties I’d had visions of making back in September, they did the job and looked OK, and used mostly resources that had no other particular reason for existing – little bits of left-over stuff from many years of present-wrapping. Everyone was mightily relieved not to have to find room for yet another tape measure or bottle-opener, as I’d filled them with “posh” chocs instead, and the wrapping-paper hats were still being worn in the evening. At some point I’ll do a “how-to” page for quick-&-dirty crackers, should anyone else find themselves overcome with horror at the thought of paying ridiculous sums of money for such instantly-disposable items.

And in other news, I’ve decided to appropriate another Scandinavian tradition; Christmas breakfast will henceforth be cinnamon buns, now and for ever after! I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas, or whatever festival you are celebrating at this time of the turning of the year. And I wish you all a happy, peaceful, creative and above all healthy 2019…

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Harmless fun…

December 2, 2018

I’m still running a little below my full operating speed, though pretty well all things considered. I’m very happy to have been told that all of the problem has been safely removed, but not quite so happy to find out that a little “mopping-up” treatment is advisable, just to be on the safe side. However, the safe side is where I’d infinitely prefer to be, in this instance! So I shall be mostly at-home for the next few months; oooh, this is my chance to use up some of my enormous and wonderfully-varied crafting stash…

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Origami stars…

It seems that handmade is enjoying something of a resurgence; those of my friends who sell their lovely wares have been astonished & utterly delighted to have been mobbed at the various craft fairs & shows this year. People have finally realised that something unique and special is worth paying proper money for. I’m not disparaging the efforts of those who slave away in third-world sweatshops, many of whom are highly skilled and deserve much, much more than the pittance they’re getting under our “globalised” economy, but please do support your local craftspeople too, who can’t afford to match the prices of giant corporations but are usually offering something vastly superior, as they’re driven by the need to create something wonderful, rather than the need to produce identikit items at the lowest possible cost in order to cream off vast sums of money.

I’m happy enough reclaiming, recycling, & selling on resources for other crafters & artists to use; I can & have sold things I’ve created, sometimes even on commission, but I find that that seems to place a demand on me that suppresses my creativity. So now I tend to make for myself, my family and my friends only.

So… it’s going to be a handmade Christmas, chez nous. Again! And although we’re wading through a small tide of handmade origami stars already (instructions here) this is the effort that’s made me smile the most so far:

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… a doorway decoration made from the crocheted edging of an old, stained tablecloth, two broken necklaces, two pairs of earrings and some random reclaimed beads & bead-lacing from my stash. The “junk jewellery” came mostly from a jumble sale yesterday; 20p per item (or pair of) items. The tablecloth came in a £10 job-lot of old linen, some of which was saleable as is, and some even usable (6 high-quality, pristine linen & Egyptian cotton pillowcases) but much of which has seen better days. I like to think that the ladies (well, probably) who sat & painstakingly crocheted these lovely edgings so many years ago would much rather see them loved and used, even in pieces, than sat in drawers or worse still, landfill. Full credit to my darling elder daughter for this lovely idea!

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Off now to assess my considerable resources and come up with some other off-the-wall ideas!

This really matters…

November 13, 2018
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Allotment-grown goodies…

Get Food, Growing, Cooking & Nutrition on the School Curriculum

OK, I’m back! This little petition request (above) popped into my inbox this morning, and really lit a fuse under my still-somewhat-sluggish mind. It’s a subject dear to my heart and woven throughout the fabric of my life; food, and the production thereof, is THE most fundamental factor in our collective health after clean water. Even above sanitation & the miracles of modern medicine; if you are healthy & well-nourished, you stand a far better chance of fighting back effectively should misfortune strike.

But what people seem to lack today is the power to make sane & sensible food choices, because they have no basis to make those choices except advertising from the manufacturers & purveyors of junk foods. Thanks to the steady downgrading & elimination of Home Economics, Domestic Science and the like from our school curriculum (subjects that enabled people to stand on their own two feet at home and often went far beyond that) many people actually seem unaware that they do have choices apart from what’s in front of them on the supermarket shelf, no matter how devoid of actual goodness it may be. Not to mention the fact that they usually have no time to spend pursuing more sensible (and usually more delicious) choices, or actually cooking them, or experimenting to get the best out of them. And many people lack the space & time to grow their own.

How can small local food businesses, selling decent produce, survive in a marketplace dominated by giant supermarket chains unless people know there are other choices available? How can farmers stand up to the ever-growing pressure to reduce costs by cutting corners if we don’t care enough to reward them?

How can children appreciate good food if they’ve never tasted it? We all know the battles we’ve been through to get reluctant children to try something new, something that their friends perhaps don’t eat, but we also know that mostly, with persistence, that battle can eventually be won. I have fond memories of administering a “green box” scheme, where the farmer delivered to & the customers collected from my doorstep; one of my sons, then aged four, would prowl up & down surreptitiously to identify the customers who didn’t like kale, then happily inform them that, actually, he did. Nine times out of ten, thanks to his big blue eyes, we’d end up with extra kale to stir-fry to crispy with garlic & soy sauce. Naughty boy! But he still loves kale now, aged twenty-six and halfway through a PhD…

It doesn’t just come down to money, although time is definitely a big factor. We all know people who eat well & thrive on a tiny budget, and people who have plenty of money but are suffering from all the ills that modern society can inflict on them. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely do not have enough money or resources to eat well, or at all, much to our collective shame; there are far too many, for far too many different reasons, mostly not self-inflicted. But for the vast majority of people whose weekly trolleys are laden down with junk, it’s lack of awareness that there is another way that’s hammering them, from both the health and budgetary angles. Or lack of confidence to at least try… and that’s what could so easily be addressed at a young age, if the political will to act is there.

To put it in terms that even a politician could understand: people cannot make sensible choices if they are not aware that there are choices…

It’s no good insisting that this education should take place in the home, when many young parents have never learnt themselves to cook or budget. This is not necessarily a new problem; witness my poor mother‘s experience. (Luckily for us, my “aunt” Ethel was a good & dedicated cook…) The lack of importance given to this subject for many years, the downgrading of domestic knowledge and inspiration, the idea that domesticity equals drudgery have all played a part in crippling us. As has the idea that seeking to make the best of the resources available to you is somehow “cheapskating” rather than just plain sensible.

Personally I think the time has come to get angry about this; we are all, or have been, suffering because we don’t know any better, or we’re not confident enough to try – and we could be, so easily…

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Home-grown tomatoes, home-made preserves…

Aaargh…

October 27, 2018

Please forgive my absence for a while; I’ve had a bit of an unpleasant shock. Suffice it to say that a “routine” medical investigation revealed something rather nasty & I shall be having a little lie-down in hospital for a day or two next week. Apparently the signs are all good and I seem to be otherwise in good shape & should recover fast. I’m lucky enough to be supported by a very professional & helpful team, and even luckier to have lots of willing help & company at home, but still, it feels somewhat like a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Back when I’ve got my head around it and found my feet again! In the meantime, here’s a pic of a very cuddly & almost-fullgrown Poppy…

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