A very quick update…

April 26, 2016

I’m kind of busy just now… Sadly I’ve decided to close down the stall at Molly’s Den, and re-open one at Toad Hall here in Wimborne instead. I got into this lark as a maker/recycler, rather than a dealer, but seem to be quite good at sourcing resources that other people want to use, too. Gradually I’ve stopped making things and was spending all my time hunting up things to sell, and it wasn’t making me very happy. Not to mention the fact that it was making my home very cluttered, which wasn’t making my family very happy.

Handmade doesn’t really “work” at Molly’s Den, except for upcycled furniture, which I don’t have the space to do. So I’m going back to somewhere where it does, cutting down what I sell to what I sell best, i.e. vintage & reclaimed sewing & crafting supplies, and going back to having some fun playing with all the lovely fabrics and trimmings that I find. I’ll be spending part of the summer haunting the local car boots, offloading any stock I can’t shift in a massive sale before closing the stall at Molly’s at the end of May. So that’s my “news”- there’ll be a return to normal posting very shortly!

Baking, 1950s-style…

March 13, 2016

In amongst the acres of vintage knitting patterns in the last job lot, I found these:

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At first glance I thought they were from the 1970s, but no…

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1949 & 1950. Older than me! I can’t resist a vintage recipe, and when I came across this page, being a good West Country girl, I had to try the brownies…

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I have to admit to a little bit of doctoring; I don’t have any margarine, so I used butter, which of course would still have been on “ration” in 1950. I doubled up the quantities, realising that the amounts given weren’t likely to feed seven, and I used 4 eggs, as they were bantam eggs. Both sets of my grandparents kept poultry right through WWII and the 50s, as did many, if not most, rural – and some urban – households, so egg-rationing never applied to them. They received poultry feed, which was bulked out with vegetable waste & peelings, instead of shop-bought eggs, and by the end of the War, a quarter of the country’s supply of eggs were home-produced.

And energy use was an issue for our forebears too; I’m afraid I cheated & made the brownies the American way, by melting the butter & sugar together, beating in the chocolate & eggs, then mixing in the other ingredients at the last minute. Much easier on the arms than creaming the butter & sugar, but a few pence more spent on fuel…

But I’m delighted to report that they tasted exactly as I remember brownies at our parish teas, back in the early 60s; much less sugary & gooey than modern ones, but very pleasant in their own distinctively chocolatey, nutty way. I rather think they’d be wonderful warm, with rich West Country cream…

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West Country Chocolate Brownies, from Good Housekeeping’s More Cake Recipes, 1950  – with my own updates/adjustments!

3oz (85g) walnuts

2oz (60g) chocolate

3oz (85g) margarine or lard (I used butter)

2oz (60g) sugar

1 egg (or 2 bantam eggs!)

4oz (115g) flour (I used spelt, which I think is closer to the flour available in the early 1950s)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

A little milk

Chop the walnuts and melt the chocolate in a basin over a pan of hot water. Cream together the fat and sugar until soft and white, then beat in the egg. Sieve in flour, baking powder and salt and mix well together. Add the nuts and the melted chocolate, and a very little milk to give a soft consistency, Spread into a greased tin and dredge the top with a little sugar. (I forgot this last step, but vouch for it being there in the 60s!) Bake in a moderate oven (350℉/180℃/Gas Mark 5) for ½ hour, or until cooked. Cut into squares while still warm, using a sharp knife, and allow to cool in the pan.

And eat with rich West Country cream…

Next one up will be the dough cake, which looks suspiciously like Lardy Cake, without lard!

 

Rainy days…

March 9, 2016

It was quite tempting, this morning, to pull the wool over my my eyes and stay in bed… I have a lovely cosy wool duvet, which has proved to be a sound investment as it’s lasting really well and seems to keep me at the perfect temperature, winter or summer; no mean feat, with a lady of a Certain Age. Anyway, the wind was howling through the holly tree and the rain was hammering against the window panes; not exactly conducive to leaping out of bed with a happy smile and a willing heart.

But rainy days, like the clouds that spawn them, have silver linings. It’s a chance to catch up with some cooking – a batch of hob-nobs, some chicken stock & soup, and an aubergine bake all got done this morning – a little light housework (though it’s far too dark & grim for spring cleaning) and one or two projects that have been sitting on the back-burner for a while.

A number of vintage dressmaking patterns have been checked over before being offered for sale, and my neighbour’s handcranked sewing machine has been sorted out – I hope!

And this sturdy but curious little suitcase had been tripping people up in the conservatory for months. I’m not sure what it originally held – a musical instrument, maybe? – but it had a dark red plush lining, part of which had been ripped out. But I couldn’t help thinking that it would benefit from being introduced to some of the leftover sofa fabric… Result!

And here’s my “find” of the week: a set of 5 pristine vintage aluminium pans, most likely from the late 1940s. They came in with a vast collection of old knitting patterns, dating from the 1930s through to the 1970s; it seems from the few letters, etc. amongst them that the lady who collected them got married some time in the 1940s, and these look very much like a wedding present that had been stashed away and never used. They do have all their lids, and were separated by brown paper bags from Bourne & Hollingsworth of Oxford Street, W1.

Off now to sort out the best part of 1,000 vintage knitting patterns!

The last laugh…

March 1, 2016

My fellow traders were pretty good, all in all, not to laugh out loud at me last Friday. A really superb rose-covered 4-piece suite came into the dump, fabulous quality & beautifully made, but alas, huge! Too big for the ex-owners’ new home, or in fact most of the housing stock around here. I pleaded with the manager to give it a day on sale, because someone would have had an excellent bargain there – they can’t charge more than £10 for anything, and this lot would have cost thousands when it was new. Really, really comfortable, too; the back cushions & scatter cushions are all feather-stuffed and it still had all its fire labels and was in very good condition.

But no-one had claimed it by the time I went back, just before closing, so before it went into the skip I “skinned” it. Cue a number of raised eyebrows & knowing smiles from the other traders hanging around in hope of someone throwing out Rolex watches, Wedgwood china or a Hepplewhite chair – which does sometimes happen, around here – but they were very good and didn’t laugh out loud. It was quite easy to strip the covers off as they were all zipped to be removable for cleaning.

There’s a LOT of beautiful fabric in a good suite… Not yardage, but lots of useful sized pieces that people won’t hesitate to pay a pound or two for each; you’d get a good, big, sturdy, long-lasting scatter-cushion or tote bag out of a couple of pieces. I’ll make a reasonable sum selling the larger pieces when I’ve washed & ironed them, and will have the smaller bits to make small bags, needle books, whacky lace-trimmed cushions & lavender sachets for sale. Two of the big back cushions and the scatter cushions have been “claimed” by a fellow-trader,  and I myself have plans for the other three!

Now I need ten minutes alone with a “dead” leather sofa & some sharp scissors… I’ll need quantities of leather, to make bases for the cushions as they become “floor” cushions. But the thing is, I will have more than tripled my money in the space of a few days, in exchange for a little bit of work with scissors, washing machine & iron. I may not get hundreds from spotting, nabbing & selling on one piece, but it all adds up, and I’ll have the pleasure of seeing my Boscombe Vintage Market customers’ faces light up as they spot the roses, feel the quality and realise the pieces are eminently affordable. And I even have some pieces to play with, myself, so I get the last laugh!

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Fabulous fabric – with a rather sweet little “helping hand!”

Don’t mind if I do!

February 17, 2016

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£5 for that big needlework box, and a few other items of interest? Don’t mind if I do, thank you! It’s quite heavy, though – full of books, maybe? But I’m on the run, no time to check…

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Ohmigosh, that’s not a book…

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It’s a rather-lovely little Singer Featherweight Plus 324! Complete, with instructions, looks as if it hasn’t seen a lot of use. Which may well have been due to the lint & old thread stuck in the shuttle race… Now spruced up, brushed out, oiled & stitching well. I gather that’s the original “case” – considering the pretty-awful & not exactly durable black plastic bases with grey plastic covers that they put the late-model 15Ks & 99Ks in, they get full marks for this one!

 

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

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…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!


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