From grey clouds to blue skies

I have been steadily working for some time, working on my first online needle felting project, which means a lot of time spent with my camera and computer. So last week I decided to get out and about, even if it was only for an hour or so. My poor bike, Marjorie, had flat tyres from languishing in the porch for months, but once they were pumped up, she was ready to go. 

The lane outside the cottage looks peaceful and idyllic here, but after taking this photo, a busy red car came up behind me, and a high sided lorry came up the road soon after, which is normal. So I was anxious to get onto a quieter side pathway, a mile further on.

The skies were a flood of brisk grey clouds, blowing over from the West. On the far horizon, the Shropshire hills were just visible, blue and brooding.

It was a gentle, pottering cycle ride, with many stops to take snapshots and take in the views. And rest my legs.

Autumn is the time of hedgerow treasure and I found shaggy parasols mushrooms. I have eaten these in the past, but they were so pretty I left them alone.

Brambles and hops draped themselves artistically along the road, still green as autumn has not yet changed the pallet of the countryside.

This is my favourite lane. It gently winds into the distance and slopes away uphill; I know exactly where it goes, and still it maintains a delicious mystery.

It is past harvest time and hay stacks are everywhere - some are so large that I wonder how they stand upright.

The odd thing about this lane is that I always anticipate a left hand turn to take me back to the nearby village. Yet it actually curves round so gently that before I realise I'm there, I am already in front of the imposing gates of what used to be 'the big house' of the village. It's still technically 'the big house' but is now a commercial venture. And this is where my return journey begins.

A few months ago, a large old oak tree blew down in a gale and already nature is taking over. I have a feeling this imposing fungus may be 'Chicken of the Woods', but I know it to be typically a yellowish colour, whereas this was mostly white. It was the size of a large cat. 

As I neared home, the fickle wind blew the cloud cover away to reveal a piercing blue sky.


Ahead and in the far distance was the blue hump of the Wrekin, which is the main view from my studio window. As the road twists and turns, it seems to be situated first to the left, then to the right, then to the left again; I like to think it is quietly shuffling around like a great, shy prehistoric creature, trying to hide unsuccessfully.

I am one of those  for whom home is never so beautiful as when I am leaving or returning to it and there, in the distance, to the right of the farm, is the dear cream wall of the cottage. A short journey, but with so much to see.


My first book

Tucked away on this shelf, which holds some of my old and antiquarian collection, is a humble (and not at all valuable) book. Despite that, it is one of my most precious.

This, as far as I know, was my very first book. It is made of cotton fabric which is now  frayed, stained and with faded colours. It would have been published around the time I was born, in the late 1960s.

It's not just the fact that it was my first book, in what would become a lifetime of collecting them; it holds a very dear, early memory.

I can remember being very small - a toddler - and sitting with my mum while she read every page out loud to me, in one of the two cheap rooms that my parents rented at the time. And that one particular memory is that every time we we got to this page...

...she would read it in a certain way - 'isn't he a clever dog', emphasizing the 'clever'. I have very few photographs of my mum, but I can still just about hear the echo of her voice, from those long ago days, reading that one, simple line in such a  way that I would never forget it.

Although my parents were poor, they knew the value of reading and I was encouraged to read and look at pictures almost as soon as I could walk. And even though I was to lose my mother and father when I was still a child, I will always be grateful for the gift of reading, of being read to, and for that very special memory.


Little wheely animals and things

I've been very remiss in posting any needle felt work here, which is strange, as I certainly haven't stopped working. While we've had a stressful few months, needle felting has been one thing that has calmed my anxiety down. Perhaps it is because I use my Instagram account to post  work in progress and pieces for sale, and once that's done I forget about showing it on my blog. Anyhow, my latest 'thing' has been making miniature vintage style toys on wheels. Obviously not toy toys, but models of toys, such as these little rabbits - 

As you can see from the photo with my fingers showing, they really are very small (which strangely does not make them any quicker to make). I've used antique sewing machine bobbins to represent the wheels and added some parts of an old silver and moonstone necklace to make the pull chains with. It's always lovely when work sells immediately and these two have long been sent to their new homes. 

Then there is Bertie, again on bobbin spools and with a vintage other of pearl button to finish his pull chain with.

And Walter, who is larger and with vintage buttons to represent wheels. The frame is my own hand twisted affair and the old brass button at the end of the gilt chain is one I've had since I was a teenager and used to adorn a nice felt burgundy waistcoat (until the moths got it).

Earlier this year I made my first foray into adding 'things' to my work with this button moon fox - it took some time to get it all to balance and so that the fox appeared to be gazing into a full moon without toppling over.

And finally, in 'other news', I have only held one workshop this year, in nearby Ludlow at the Loudwater Studio. With three people attending, it's possibly the smallest class I've ever had, but very enjoyable nonetheless. 

I have made the decision this year to cut back on workshops, as I find the worry of whether they will happen or not and the travelling,  a bit much to cope with nowadays. While I really enjoy the actual events, I find they wipe me out mentally and physically. So I'm really quite excited to be entering the world of internet craft courses and later this year hope to be able to offer my first online workshop - maybe with videos!


Taming Granny Elder

This corner of the garden has been a dead zone since day one. The kindest thing I can say about the previous owners is that they were not gardeners.  With the exception of a couple of random roses, everything in here has to go. One day I would like to have it clear and plant a proper border. But in the meantime, there was the dilemma of Granny Elder. 

To the left is a nice pear tree, which I've managed to keep tidy, but Granny Elder has been left to her own devices and needed a good trim. My initial thought was to take her out completely, but the birds like her and although I am not remotely superstitious, it is common folk-lore that it is bad luck to chop down an elder tree.  Do I believe this? No. Did I feel uneasy about chopping her down? Yes.

So Joe and I set about cutting her down to a respectable size. She was full of dead branches and straggly growth, so it was really just what she needed. Elder tree wood is tricksy stuff, liable to break easily and if you find yourself climbing up - or down - a bank, don't grab an elder branch as it will more likely than not snap off in your grasp, leaving you in the lurch and scrabbling for safety. 

We reduced her to half her original height, opening up the corner and letting in the light. Her new growth will be bushier and healthier for the trim; I'm a devotee of hard pruning. If something survives being cut right back, it will come back all the better for it. 

Now I am steadily hand cutting the big pile of cuttings, as council regulations state that garden waste bits must be no more than 8 inches in length if they are to go in the green recycling bin. I am not using a tape measure.


Recycling an old friend

Thank you to for all the kind comments and good wishes. We are still here and after a difficult few months, life seems to be - at  last - starting to move in the right direction. A small piece of administration held Joe's new job up for three months, so as you can imagine, it has been a particularly stressful time. I have been in the cottage for nearly six years and in all that time I have lived with an uncertain future here. Much of that time has been used recovering from losing Andy so suddenly and suffice to say that gardening and home improvement have not been high on my priority list. And it is hard to make a house a home or start to establish a garden with no idea of whether one will be here in a year's time to enjoy it. This is not a plea for pity, but my roundabout way of explaining why blogging has been sparse and sporadic.

However, now there seems to be a point to it all and so last week I tackled the nasty little shed at the top of the garden. It is part of the complex of rotten old dog kennels left behind by the previous owners and quoted as an 'asset' in the estate agent's blurb when Andy and I were viewing the cottage. When we moved in, this shed became the dumping ground for anything useless and it's been lurking there ever since. Time to clear it out.

In the end, nearly everything went. The front yard began to resemble a junkyard. Brian-next-door gave me a lift to the recycling centre, several miles away near town; I had not realised that this space age looking development takes practically anything from rubble to old timber to the usual metal, electrical appliances, clothes and anything that can be re-used.

I was very happy to see the back of most of my bits, with the exception of what remained of my old bike, Hercules. Hercules and I spent many happy hours pottering about at a placid pace around my old home in the Cotswolds and he was a regular character in some of my early blog posts. Until  he was stolen one night and eventually found beaten up and wrecked in a hedge by the village green. Andy bought me a new bike in secret ('the Best Surprise Ever') and so everything was lovely in the end. But I hung on Hercules for years out of silly sentiment. Now, with what is hopefully a new and more certain future, I felt it was time for him to be put to good use. Although I could not resist one last photo.


Tinder dry

We are going through a long heat wave at present - it's 1976 (the year of the famous UK drought) all over again and although we see tempting rain clouds going overhead, they pass over, rarely letting their precious droplets fall.

Everything is parched and tinder dry. So it was with some nervousness that the other evening, I heard the unmistakable crackling noise of  fire coming from our other neighbour's property. It appeared to be coming from behind the adjoining (wooden) fence and near our (also wooden) top shed. I watched the smoke billowing out over the newly harvested barley field, taking scraps of hot ash with it and tried not to feel too fearful. 

I began emailing a friend and then heard the rare sound of a siren coming quickly up our country lane. It was a fire engine. I ended my ongoing email rant about the bonfire next door and went outside to see not one, but two fire engines outside. My worst fears had been confirmed and the fire had spread out of control. We were soon visited by a nice Shropshire fireman, who inspected the shed and surrounding parts and reassured us that we should be alright as the fire had 'gone upwards'. Brian-next-door came out to see what was amiss and we all waited anxiously while the fire hoses did their work. 

After another all round check from the nice fireman, we were told that it was a small garden bonfire that had spread, due to the dry conditions but was dealt with now. I admit I did have a few choice words about *people* (not the word I used) who lit fires in this weather, but later on our neighbour - who is actually rather nice - came round to apologise and we were all very forgiving and civilised about the incident because it was a genuine act of daftness and in the end, no harm was done. 

My poor friend had sent me several frantic emails during this time, so I sent her the good news that we had not been burnt to a frazzle. 


Man baking

It's been a month since I last wrote - thank you from the bottom of my beaten up old heart for all the kind words and prayers - they really were a help and made me feel less alone. I now realise that I cannot give this blog up; it's been too much of my life for nearly thirteen years now and much like an on-off extension of my diaries. We are waiting for what we hope is good news, and In the meantime I have taken on the task of teaching Joe to bake. 

The kitchen is small and a bit higgledy piggledy and there are no chairs or a table, so I sat on the draining board and issued instructions, which started with where the utensils are kept, followed by the order of preparation and then the basics - such as how too weigh out ingredients. The first bake was my chocolate cake recipe. These turned out fantastically. As the last pair of cakes I made sank in the middle, I was a bit envious. A week later he decided he wanted to try lemon drizzle cake. I warned him it was a bit of a faff, but nonetheless he had a go. I oversaw the operation from my draining board perch and helped him out with the fiddly part of peeling the lemon rind. 

I admit, I hadn't reckoned on how difficult it would be to teach someone to do something that I have been doing for a few decades. So I did as I do in my needle felt workshops and didn't interfere too much, but made him do 90% of the work himself, so that he would learn properly. 

This time we followed a 'proper' written recipe, which wasn't entirely successful and the cakes were somewhat shallow - the taste was fantastic, but next time we will stick with the one in my head, which has never let me down. 

I think the trickiest baking lesson for both of us was the making of cheese scones, which requires the rubbing in method. I was itching to get in there and do it myself, but I gave him a brief demonstration and let him get on with it. There was a lot of flour on the kitchen floor.

Joe seems to be a natural baker, and the scones rose very nicely. He's not ready to fly solo yet, but we're both enjoying the process. Next on the list is 'my' fruit cake. And how to do the washing up afterwards.