Friday 30 May 2008

Rambling Roses

Looking out of the window this past week you could be fooled into thinking that we have fast forwarded to Winter half term, grey skies, rain, rain and more rain. Not that this is the view from my window - mine offers views of half munched plants left over from the National Snails' Convention that seems to take place daily in my garden. But I'm rambling already - what we wanted was to go in search of views like this. No car, proper walking, picnic lunch and rain macs.

So the other day we took a train to here. A little village nestling in the Downs that we have driven to many times before but this time decided to meander around on foot and walk on to another village across country.

I really love this part of the country even when it's grey the greenness of the softy rolling Downs and the beauty of the plants never fails to move me. One of my favourite, gentle books is "A Postillion Struck by Lightning" by Dirk Bogarde. It is the first part of his autobiography and he writes of a seemingly idyllic childhood where he spent long periods in his family's house in this part of the South Downs. It is a beautiful book.

We had no plan really other than to visit our favourite church. So we walked past our favourite country pub (not without some wavering) and soon arrived here:

St Michael and All Angels Church in Berwick Village. It is such a beautiful church dating from mid 12th century. Nestled amongst the Downs, in a quiet pretty village, on passing you would have no idea of the other treasures that it holds. Inside it is tranquill and still, the views from the windows reflecting its beauty. The stained glass of the windows had been destroyed by bombs during the war and were replaced by plain glass making the church lighter and brighter. What makes it so special for me are its wonderful murals and paintings. Just a few miles from the church lived the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell (their beuatiful home is perhaps our favourite place to visit) and they were asked to paint the church. It was a bold and brilliant idea. (it might be worth clicking on the following photos to enlarge them).

The Nativity by Vanessa Bell. It is set firmly in local countryside - a Sussex barn, the Downs in the background and local shepherds used as models. It's lovely soft muted colours work so beautifully in its setting.

This wonderful painting is by Duncan Grant, he has incorporated kneeling figures of local serviceman and churchmen.

Below it on the Chancel Screen are The Four Seasons, Dawn and Sunset. These illustrate typical Sussex rural scenes of the time.

My favourite is the pulpit. Originally painted by Vanessa Bell but later destroyed by vandals, it was replaced by work from Duncan Grant using designs from, their daughter, Angelica Garnett.

Each panel is a wonderful painting of fruit and flowers and the colours and detail are just so typical of their nearby home at Charleston.

I have always loved the soft dove, almost lilacy grey that they used.
Inside the Chancel there are wonderful frescoes by Vanessa Bell's son, Quentin Bell.

This is one is so beautiful and its delicate tones and lines remind me of the many illustrations and designs of the Bloomsbury group.

If you're ever passing by, it really is worth a visit. It is a church firmly set in the countryside and a church that has let the countryside in.
So we walked on and on.

Passing beautiful cottages,

seeing lots of cows, rabbits and a heron.

With our arms held high to avoid the nettles and our legs flagging we finally got to Alfriston for our picnic.

Another gorgeous house to admire (of which there are many here). This being one of our kind of rambles we of course come on the day when everything is closed and the next bus to the station is 3 hours later!

But it didn't really matter, we stopped for ice creams and the walk back didn't really seem that long. It was the next day when I tried to move my legs that I noticed!

Fingers crossed for a sunny weekend - have a good one

Tuesday 27 May 2008

The excitement of waiting and the beauty of knowing

I bought this peony last year from a plant sale in the local church hall. The old man selling it couldn't remember what colour the flowers would be. He had a feeling it was a red peony. I bought it anyway. I don't really like too much red in the garden but the element of surprise and not wanting to say "no" to the seller was too much for me. So for a year I have waited. Watched the plant grow, eagerly awaiting the first buds and then trying to judge its colour by the tightly wrapped petals. It seemed as if the old man was right, judging by the outer petals on the bud it was going to be a bright, fiery red. As the buds increased I was becoming more and more excited by the prospect of a burst of fiery red blossom in the corner of the garden. The other day when the sun was at it's hottest the bud unfurled and this is what it revealed. Beautifully crisp, pure white , with the added bonus of those first few tantalising raspberry edged petals. A wonderful surprise, that was well worth the wait. I knew deep down it was going to be beautiful.

This weekend after weeks of frenzied emailing I finally got to meet this lovely lady I knew it was going to be a real treat but hadn't anticipated the flurry of mutual nerves and insecurities that this meeting would bring! A real attack of middle age crisis came over me and as the day approached and our emails became more and more hysterical I wondered where all this was coming from. Having swayed daily from wearing a diving suit, balaclava, and finally full bee-keeping suit complete with hood to meet Michele in, the mid week low came at breakfast:
Big Sister: "Mum you should wear your hair in a really tight pony tail on Saturday"
Mrs Ragged (very ragged) Roses: "Why?"
Big Sister: "Well it's meant to be as good as Botox and less painful than a face lift!" (said in all seriousness)
At which point M chokes on his muesli and I lose the will to live!

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to let my daughters understand just how important it is not to get too hung up on appearances and here was I not exactly leading by example. Just why this was happening I couldn't understand until Saturday morning when order of some sort prevailed, when I put on my normal clothes, brushed my hair as normal, ditched the pony tail (!) and went to meet Mrs Custard - what I was feeling was sheer excitement (mixed with more than a tinge of not wanting to be a disappointment).

After months of reading each other's blogs and emailing and striking up such a warm affinity and friendship I really didn't want to be responsible for tarnishing any of that. Within minutes of meeting, finally meeting, all of those feelings were dispelled. Both Mr and Mrs Custard were just as I imagined - lovely, warm, kind and gentle people and it was I felt just a few minutes before we were able to continue where our emails had left off.

I am so grateful that they both made time in their very busy, and constantly changing, schedule to meet the Ragged Roses on Saturday. It was so good to finally meet up, to walk along chatting and laughing, to take them along to say hello to Emma and her gorgeous little boy (Emma we have fallen in love, big time with your little boy!). When they left for the next stage of their whirlwind tour, it felt like we were saying goodbye to old friends. I have so much to say about Saturday but in a way can't say it, it meant a lot to me ... not the most profound thing to say but perhaps the most honest. I have at times felt overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of you fellow bloggers, "strangers" who have become friends. Now and again the line between "real life" and blogworld disappears - Ragged Roses becomes Kim and Cowboys & Custard becomes Michele and Sew Recycled becomes Emma - and favourite bloggers on your link bar have faces and voices and you know that, just like my peony, you were going to like them right from the start!

Thursday 22 May 2008

Off the shelf

The other week when I was having my big sort out I tackled the piles of books on our shelves. We have books piled three deep at the moment and really need to get some more shelves fitted somewhere. I had fun rearranging them and pondering over forgotten titles. At the back of the bottom shelf was my pile of well worn and much loved Virago Press books.

You can see just by looking at this very dodgy picture of a few of them just how worn they are. These books are so special to me - the stories wonderful, the covers delicious - each edition brings back so many memories of when and where I read them. I think I first stumbled upon them while I was at University, they'd been around for a while but my head had been buried for such a long time in set texts that I really didn't have much time for reading books that were not on any given reading list.
After leaving University I lived in a really grotty flat in London that I shared with a friend. I have never had so little money and had so much fun! We seemed to spend an awful lot of time reading and sharing our books, it was such a joy to read a book without thinking about having to write an essay about it. Our reading tastes were very similar and I remember passing the Virago books between us. A whole new world of women's fiction had opened up for us. It was about this time that the Women's Press books were being published and everybody was reading "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.

One of the first Virago books that I remember reading was "The Edible Woman" by Margaret Atwood. I loved this book and quickly devoured anything else that the author had written.

My flat mate lent me "The Sugar House", oh dear I think this is her copy, which I loved and have put it beside my bed to reread again soon. I remember feeling like I was on some kind of mission trying to hunt down the earlier "Frost In May" and "The Lost Traveller". I remember where I sat and read them and being unemployed at the time I remember having the time to read them all in one go. I also remember being sucked into the trap of choosing books by their covers too.

On some other bookshelves were these books, chosen just for their covers! Aren't they lovely. I will get round to reading them one day too!

Fortunately M is as mad about old book jackets as I am so there's no fighting for shelf space for this lot.

I love this old Elizabeth David cook book that I found in a charity shop.

One of my favourite Virago Press books is "The Diary of a Provincial Lady" by E M Delafield. This and several other titles have recently been republished by the Virago Press to mark its 30th anniversary. It's such a warm and humorous book, I'm having lots of fun rereading it again every night. I love the domesticity of it and although it was written in 1930 I'm sure that if it were a blog, it would be on my favourites list and I'd be checking daily for new posts.. And if that wasn't enough to sway you, well the cover has been designed by Cath Kidston.

I read some of the Diary the other day with my cuppa and a few of these:

Fifteen minutes in a quiet sunny garden, nose buried in a book and eating biscuits that instantly remind me of days spent on a sandy beach in Normandy, watching Little Sister take her first tentative steps across the sand - it doesn't get much better!

Have a good weekend. I'm looking forward to this one ...

Monday 19 May 2008

Broad beans, bread bins and old tins

I love broad beans. Love the taste, colour, feel and love popping them from their pods. I love them hot, cold, warm, however they come. Friday night we had our first spring broad beans of the year. They were delicious, served warm with a oil, vinegar and fresh mint. Spring on a plate. Plenty of spinach too. Friday nights for us are usually big bowls of pasta, bottle of wine and bars of chocolate in front of the TV. Mr Ragged Roses was not a happy bunny, he was very poorly coughing, aching and feeling oh so tired. Having worked really hard for months on an end to get a book off to print, his precious day off arrives and he spends it under the eiderdown, dead to the world! Hence the overload of green veg. M had been suffering all week and had to go in to work and it seemed very unfair to be so ill on your longed for day off. By Sunday he was on the mend, chocolate was bought and enjoyed and all is nearly back to normal, except that Little Sister is now off school today feeling under the weather. Not sure she'd admit to any green veg craving though!

A bit of a grey Saturday morning spent painting the door knobs of the kitchen cupboards in an attempt to lighten up the room. After 3 I was bored stiff but managed all 20 by Sunday night. I popped into town and bought my new bread bin to replace the old terracotta crock that has now been moved to the other end of the room and now holds the mountains of biscuits we seem to get through. I love this enamel one, it really brightens up the kitchen corner.

Lovely and cheery in the morning, unlike the ragged roses household!

A quick trip to the car boot yesterday morning resulted in a horde of more enamel and tin. Will I ever reach a point when I say "enough - I really don't need anymore" - I wonder ... My only justification is that these were all too pretty and cheap to leave behind. The colours were just too delicious to say "no" to and besides - well actually there isn't a besides, except that I love them. Could you have said no? The enamel jug is the prettiest of blues and the old sugar storage tin (which was given to me because I bought all the rest) is that shade of green that is so evocative of the 30s and 40s.

Anyway this little red coffee pot now is now a flower pot outside.

My little nautical tin will sit on the kitchen window sill and matches a lovely deck of boaty cards I bought a few weeks ago.

M says he can remember these Birds Baking Powder tins, I can't. I can only remember the custard tins. They can't have been that old but the packaging is lovely isn't it.

A little vintage tin of clotted cream (empty thank goodness!). I love clotted cream, not sure what it would be like from a tin though.

So now I've got a recipe for sponge cake, baking powder and clotted cream. Had to have a cake tin to put it in didn't I? Especially one covered in roses too.

And finally not a new purchase but an enamel plate and cup that Big Sister got as a pressie when she was little. Too sweet not to show you.
Hope you're having a good start to the week. I'm off to play nurse to Little Sister. looking at all these photos of sugar and cake tins I have a good idea what she might be craving!

Thursday 15 May 2008

Pillow Talk

Where has this week gone, it must have melted in the sun. I've been playing house this week, washing, cleaning, painting and sewing. Truth be told all I really wanted to do was go out and play. With the sun streaming through the windows I felt the urge to clean and promised myself the reward of sewing at the end of it. Line after line of washing on the line, I knew it had to stop when nearing the end of my spring clean I decided to shove Little Sister's bedroom rug in with the wash. The result a pristine, clean smelling floor covering and matching pink school uniform! Little Sister was amused, Big Sister wasn't.

Our afternoons have been spent playing boardgames at the end of the garden nearest the house. Right up until the beginning of the week we sat on the lawn playing games but the old ash tree has suddenly sprung to life and cast its shade. Nature doesn't hang around does it, those leaves appeared from nowhere. I'm taking comfort from the fact that it's happened so late this year, hopefully a sign that the seasons are running their true course.

So out on the suntrap of a patio we sat and sweltered!

My sewing reward was not as I intended. Hoping to make some new things for my Etsy shop I sat and stared at the sewing machine. Nothing. Sat a bit longer, still nothing. No ideas, no inspiration, I just sat staring at the kitchen chairs and the slightly grubby cushions. Tempted to wash them but choosing not to and desperately wanting to sew. I came up with these cushions for the chair, using fabric I'd already used downstairs.
They brighten up the kitchen and sit like sirens waiting for the cereal, tomato sauce, milk, butter stains that are bound to come there way!

I made another little cushion for a Lloyd Loom chair.

Do you remember this old french fabric that I used to cover my junk shop steps? It's such a pretty pattern I really wanted some more of it around the house.

And finally for the bedroom I made a large cushion from a scrap of Laura Ashley fabric that I had used to cover a chair in there. So that's it, a week of huffing, puffing and stuffing and now I'm free to go out and play it's raining! oh yes indeedy, that's right! Rain, and a lot of it!! IT drenched my darling daughter right through and through. Sad times. eh?
Reader, in case you think I have taken leave of my senses, my blog has been hijacked by Big Sister who wrote the last few sentences whilst I popped into the kitchen to check the pasta. You know it's been one of those weeks when you can't even finish your own blog post! Payback for pink uniform methinks.