Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Ten Things Every Ex-Townie Should Know About Moving To The Countryside...!





1) BATS...
I remember the first Spring at Hill House.  After a punishingly cold Winter, the air had begun to turn warm, the blossom was out on the trees, and the leaves were cocooning the garden, providing us with our own private park-like oasis in which to enjoy evening barbecues, G&T moments on the lawn, and evening strolls about the garden.  The heady smell of lilac filled our nostrils as the evening sun began to set against Norfolk's famous "Big Skies".   Life. Was. Good.  These are real 'slap on the back' moments, where one congratulates oneself (with a secret sense of immense relief) for making the move from bustling town to remote country without too many hitches.  You survey your bucolic surroundings, the peace, the quiet, the rolling fields, the magical twilight, the romance of it all...and then - WHOOSH!! - you are suddenly (mid-back slapping) dive bombed by what at first appears to be a small, dark bird... only you are quietly aware that small, dark birds don't tend to come out at twilight, and they certainly don't tend to embark on a sustained and systematic (seemingly choreographed)  episode of dive bombing into your G&T!   That's when the sudden horrific realisation that these 'small birds' are in fact BATS dawns on you - BATS!!!  Yes dear reader...now that you are a countryside dweller, you must get used to the fact that bats are no longer simply a feature of atmospheric vampire movies.  They are no longer confined to Transylvania, cute paper cut outs at Halloween or an over active imagination from watching one episode too many of Most Haunted...   Bats are in fact flying mice...and they swoop...and now that you have a house in the countryside,  they are probably living in your roof.



2) EAU DE HOG...
Imagine the picture.  You've invited your friends up to your country abode for the weekend.  They have arrived late at night and subsequently - after a bottle of wine or six - go straight to bed.   They awake the next morning craving some of that good old fresh country air that you've been boasting about for months.  They draw open their curtains, glimpsing the fields through the dappling sunlight speckling the panes of your Georgian windows.  Yes, they think.  This is the life.  NOW we understand why (insert your name) decided to make this move.  They then fling open the window - eager to breathe in all of this natural beauty - it has all of the ingredients of becoming a perfect life defining moment... and then the smell hits them.  PIG MUCK.
Yes, it's another one of the countrysides little quirks - you see, those fields weren't put there for the visual delight of town folk used to staring at concrete buildings.  Oh no - they're there to actual serve an agricultural purpose - they grow things, or they house things, and if it grows...it needs muck.  If it is housed...it produces muck.  Either way, the smell of animal poo is a countryside staple, and something that surprisingly one does get used to.  It does come and go, and is not a year round constant, but when it does come, the air is so thick and dense that one could almost chew it...  Nice.



3) BECOMING DOCTOR DOOLITTLE...
Hi. My name is Paula and I talk to my dog. A lot. I also talk to my daughters hamster, the pheasants who roam the garden, pigs, cows and sheep in the fields, chickens, horses, cats, and other assorted wildlife, but particularly other people's dogs.  It never used to be so.  Animals were simply poor conversationalists on four legs before I moved here.  Now that I come into contact with them on an almost constant basis, they have names and personalities, and voices - yes voices.  Well actually, I tend to speak for them and make up accents and personalities on their behalf.   For example, my dog Coco is a Grand Duchess who escaped from Russia during the 1917 revolution, and she sounds like Dame Edith Evans playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of being Earnest.  This really is her 'actual' voice - I know this because she told me so.




4) YOU WILL PUT ON WEIGHT... FACT!
There is a law stating that when anyone moves to the countryside, they must begin obsessivley purchasing cookery books and learn to bake from scratch.  I don't care whether (like me) your pre countryside idea of baking meant a) Walking to the Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill to gather necessary work supplies, or b) A box where you simply needed to add water - or if it was a particularly sophisticated box - an egg AND water.  However, there is something compelling about a country kitchen no matter how big or small.   It will compel you to actually 'cook stuff' - yummy, stodgy, sweet, heart warming stuff.   Don't get me wrong - I have all of the latest healthy cookery books that cover the realms of clean eating, gluten free eating, Paleo eating, Hollywood actress  style eating and the rest...and I do actually cook a lot from them.  However, cake doesn't count  as unhealthy in the countryside.  In fact, baked goods are termed as one of your five-a-day.  As I said - it's the law.



5) IT'S A LITTLE CHILLY, SO I'VE PUT ANOTHER DOG ON THE BED...
100 years ago, when my husband was my then boyfriend, and we were in the first months of courting, he would visit me at home in London, and regardless of what time of the year it was, I would answer the door in shorts, bare feet and a vest top.  It become a joke of his that it could be the height of Winter, with ten feet of snow on the ground, communication all over London severed due to hazardous ice and frozen conditions; he could even have had to dig his way through impacted snow to get to my front door, and there I'd be to greet him...in a strappy, billowy Summer dress. This was not me attempting to be carefree and sexy.  This was because I had grown up in a house where the thermostat was always set to 'high' and my house was always scorchingly warm.  My parents were born in the Caribbean (I was born in the less glamorous borough of Croydon, South London!) and so their comfort zone when it came to heating the home was to keep it hot, hot, HOT!

...And then I moved to a two hundred year old house in Norfolk.  Now, unless I sit with my backside on top of a fire, it would be nigh on impossible to feel entirely warm in every corner of this house over the Winter period.    Hence I have developed a hide of thick, draught repelling, leather lined skin.    I can now put up with levels of cold that would have left me bawling 6 years ago. I'm not sure how or when it happened, but at one time I would confine myself trembling to one room in January, with an electric heater tied to my leg, the dog on my feet and a permanent mug of boiling tea warming my gloved hands...but now?  Well let's just say that now as well as aquiring an extra layer of (a-hem...) 'natural  insulation' (see point 4 above) my shorts stay on until mid December.




6) SNAKES...
There are snakes in England - WHO KNEW?!  I most certainly didn't until I moved to the countryside - which probably makes me rather dense, but there you go.  I thought that snakes in England disappeared in medieval times, along with dragons, and were only used to emphasise stories of a moral nature involving knights in shining armour.  How wrong I was.  Snakes like to sun themselves in shameless full view of everyone on hot days in the English countryside.  They also like to scare the bejeesus out of you when you're poking about near the edge of an otherwise beautiful lily pond  - or when you see an oddly shaped pile of wood on a log on your walk and get up close only to find that it's a sleeping snake.   Luckily the dog walks and woods around here are vast and the skies are big, so one can scream and jump to ones hearts content and not disturb anyone.  You should try it some time - I do frequently from May to Septemeber.



7) GLAMOROUS FOOTWEAR...
Having spent over two decades working in the fashion industry where the highest of designer heels were surgically attached to my feet, I now only wear wellington boots regardless of the occasion.  Walking, shopping, country fairs, school run, weddings, bath time...you name it - they're on.



8) EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE...EVEN WHEN THEY DON'T...
As a Londoner born and bred, my default setting when out and about used to be 'eyes forward - ignore everyone'. This is all about self preservation when one lives in a large City.  It's not necessarily a safety thing - it's more about being constantly BUSY and having no time to stop!  It's also very easy to remain annonymous in a large town or city.  I have often spoken to friends and discovered that we were in the same shop, restaurant, gallery etc. But due to the 'no eye contact' rule, I could almost walk past my own Mother and not see her, and I wont even begin to dissect the Townie neighbour etiquette - Mumbling good morning to your neighbour for the first time five years after they moved in - acceptable.  Popping round to introduce yourself within the first year - far too needy...

This of course changes the minute one moves to the countryside.  Everyone knows everyone, and says hello to everyone here.  I remember being introduced to a mother at my childrens new village primary school.  Before I could even begin to enter into the usual niceties, she began to admonish me with the words "I saw you driving to Waitrose on Sunday at 3pm and I waved at you and you completely ignored me!"  Now believe me please when I say that I had never seen this woman before in my life.  However, it did dawn on me, that I had recently noticed that I would often catch people waving at each other out of the corner of my eyes as I drove through the village.  I now realised that they had been waving at me.  People in the countryside wave to each other and shout a cheery "Hello!" constantly - even when you only saw one another five minutes ago at school drop off - and woe betide that you don't spot them, wave and shout a cheery "Hello!" back.
I now drive my car with a permanent crowd pleasing grin plastered to my face, whilst waving one hand constantly like the Queen, and hooting out the occasional greeting whether I can see any one or not.  Just to be safe.



9) AN HONORARY DEGREE IN WEATHER FORCASTING...
Being obsessed with the weather is a particularly British predilection.  However, when one moves to the countryside one learns to actually predcit the weather due to the shape of the cloud, the thickness of the air, the warmth and speed of the wind and the colour of the light.  I used to be amazed at the  casual weather prediction skills of the village school mothers, who would quite confidently warn of approaching storms or sunny spells when the sky seemed to show the complete opposite at the time.  They were always quite correct of course, and although still a relative novice, I too have joined the ranks of weather soothsayers, and can now interpret the signs of a reclining cow, a sheltering pig wearing a bonnet and a pink tinged fluffy cloud with the best of them!


10) FEARLESSNESS...
I've spoken before about the new found bravery that I have aquired  since moving to the countryside (see bats and snakes above!). The ability to walk in solitude - apart from a dog -  for miles through wooded areas and country lanes was something that did not come naturally to a townie like me - I fully expected the bogie man to jump out from behind every tree at first.  I have always been happy with my own company, but it's not so scary to be  'alone' in a city when you're constantly surrounded by people and noise.  To spend 'real' time alone and with my own thoughts has been a new and enriching experience for me.  Equally, at the other end of the scale, to be forced out of ones comfort zone and to be a 'known' face in a village, and to be able to chat to anyone who stops me at the post office or comes to the door has been an equally enriching experience.  It takes a bit of bravery to slow down and become accessible to your local community.  I am there for tea tent duty, the annual duck race fundraising event, community frog crossing support (this really exists...) and mixed age group (from new born to 100 - all welcome!) social club kareoke where I cannot be shy, hide my face or be "eyes forward".



So there you have it - a few pointers for those of you who may need some mild guidance on how to survive an imminent move to pastures greeen and new.   It may not sound like much, but it does take a certain level of fearlessness and knowledge to make a move to the countryside work.  It also takes a determined effort to view the many different consistencies of mud on your morning dog walk as a fascinating added bonus -  but believe me, when you do - it's SO incredibly worth it!




Until Next Time,






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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Nudging Myself Out Of My Comfort Zone...!

video

I don't really tend to believe in making firm New Years resolutions any more.  I can remember writing lists and lists of them when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, and they all more or less amounted to the same thing...that this DEFINITELY was the year that I became the best of everything that I could be.  That this DEFINITELY was the year that I became truly fabulous, truly successful doing this, that and the other....That this DEFINITELY would be the year that I achieved my hearts desire, dream job, best grades etc.

I think that hoping to end each year on a level of excellence that I never quite achieved (or at least the goal posts kept moving further and further away..!) made me realise that there was no point in beating myself up each year about having to achieve or commiting to the near impossible.  Life and our desires are fluid and ever changing.  We need to bend with the ebb and flow of our ambitions and perhaps try a few new things, do the best we can and hopefully end each year on a happy note.  Who knows how we will feel in 365 days, let alone, who we may have met, or what experiences we will have been through that may change the goals we gave ourselves a year ago...

That being said, this year, I decided that there was one thing that I would like to 'loosely' achieve.  I want to nudge myself out of my comfort zone a little...  to perhaps make a few baby steps towards another - possibly short-lived - string to my shabbily put together bow!

I'm not going to hold myself ransom to it, but I will put it out there in order to see where it leads.

This year readers, I'm aiming to start my own YouTube channel!  My children have been bugging me to do it for over a year, but I've always felt that it was a 'young persons' game.  I've worried that I haven't got much to film or say - you see - I simply like old things, pretty things...and lots of red check...and well - that's about it...

But then I thought about it.  Some of you may already know that I absolutely love taking pictures, styling and documenting my home and country life on instagram.  Perhaps you would like to see the pretty things that I like 'in motion' too - and even if you don't - it might be a little bit of fun to try my hand at filming stuff - I may appreciate looking back over it if I reach to be 100 if nothing else!

So here it is.  My fledgling  YouTube channel trailer.  I haven't even got any content for it yet, (so subscribe if you wish to be alerted when stuff appears.)  Just a mountain of ideas, thoughts and dreams and a hopeful attitude.  Who knows whether it'll be something that I enjoy doing or can even commit to long time, but hey - THIS is the year that I say - perhaps not definitely...but Let's just wait and see!

Until next time,



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Monday, 8 February 2016

Did You Hear The One About The TIme I Asked My Husband to Buy A Few Eggs...?



There's actually no punch line to this 'joke'.  Well actually, there is, but it's a visual one.  If any of you follow me on Instagram, you'll already know that a couple of weeks ago, I asked my husband to buy me a few eggs on his way home from work.  I guess, my error lay in using the phrase 'a few'.  As the image above is what my husband considers to be 'a few'...which is considerably more than my own far more modest definition!

This numerical confusion, left me with a slight dilemma.  What does one do when faced with 36 eggs, and the annual enthusiasm (i.e. mass hysteria that I gladly succumb to) for baking 'Great British Bake Off' style hasn't quite entered the collective consciousness as yet for 2016..?


I must admit that my baking mojo comes and goes in waves.  There are weeks, when the thought of baking anything is as enticing as bathing in a tub full of mud - which I feel I do on my daily walks with Coco anyway...


There are other weeks, however, where you simply cannot get me out of the kitchen or indeed, away from the oven.  Those are the days when I gaily dance around the kitchen, wooden spoon (aka microphone) in hand, belting out show tunes from The King and I, Grease or Les Miserables, or perhaps, when I'm feeling slightly more 'youthful' I'll shake my 'booty' and pretend that I know the words to the latest Beyonce song on Radio 1, all the while beating my eggs, butter and sugar into fluffy submission.  (Rather than use an electric mixer, I prefer to whip or beat by hand in time to music in most instances - a great tension reliever!!)



These 'baking splurges' where the house is awaft with the scent of vanilla and cinnamon are the weeks when the first words of greeting from my childrens' lips on their return home from school are a gleeful and Enid Blyton-esque "What have you baked today Mummy!" - as opposed to the usual mumbled "Hello" or "He Did / She did...!" wail before reaching for the ipad and disappearing up to their rooms...


I'm ashamed to to say that before I moved to the countryside, I was more inclined to use a boxed cake mix to make even the simplest of cup cakes.  The idea of actually measuring out and weighing ingredients was far too much of a time consuming faff for the high heel wearing, fashion shoot  producing version of me...


The actual act of baking didn't faze me,  but my theory was that why on earth would I want to encourage a floury mess and create kitchen disorder by making my own, when I could purchase a perfectly good version 'off the shelf'.  This period of baking denial coincided with the rise of the designer cup cake emporium in London.   Suddenly meeting for 'cupcakes' (as opposed to just coffee) at £5 a pop was a normal thing to do. This was swiftly followed by the beautifully presented cup cakes books,  encouraging the world to actually make these deliciously glamorous versions of what I had previously known as the humble (and 50% smaller in size)  'fairy cake',  and which every self respecting 'yummy mummy' kept as a coffee table book to 'imply' that one was domesticated and capable, without actually having to 'prove' the fact by actually getting ones hands dirty...


Cut to six years after the 'Big Move' into bucolic countryside bliss, and I am now able to whip up a three tiered victoria sponge without once opening a book.  This has been encouraged by the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere, and am at least 15 minutes away from the nearest supermarket - 'popping' out to get a treat for the childrens tea time isn't a straightforward endeavour.  Thus necessity has proven once more to be the mother of invention - or in my case 'you've run out of time to go shopping'.



But with this act of necessity, came waves of joy, confidence and satisfaction.  I enjoy baking things and I enjoy watching people eat what I bake even more.  Yes, I have most definitely and indisputably caught the baking bug, and i'm not ashamed to admit it.  Why hanker after the latest pair of Chanel pumps, when you can have a pastel coloured measuring jug - It's bakeware all the way for me now!

However, while I certainly have learned to revel in such simple pleasures, the next time I ask my husband to collect a little something on the way home, I may send him via Tiffany or  Cartier - perhaps if I ask for a ring with just "a few carats"  he may come home with a diamond the size of a potato!

Until next time,



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Monday, 1 February 2016

English Country Decorating With...The Decorative Cushion!

If I ever felt the need to join a self help group to cure me of an addiction, it would have to be to cure me of my addiction to cushions.  Although, I must admit that the idea of sitting in a circle discussing  my passionate love for cushions with those as equally as obsessed, is an idea SO beyond heavenly, that perhaps it would defeat the ultimate purpose...

The fact is, that I simply cannot have enough of them, and there is not one corner, surface or chair in my household that is safe from the onslaught of the overstuffed cushion.


Be they frilled, flouncy or floral, they are all fabulous...to me.  My husband often complains that there are too many cushions and not enough places to actually sit, but even I have spotted the Cheshire Cat grin of satisfaction that inadvertantly crosses his face when the days tensions are released as he sinks down amongst them.


...And so in my defence, whilst cushions are gorgeous to look at and feed my raging need for pattern and colour, in addition, they are 'Oh' so comfortable - and who can argue with that.  Who can fail to be enticed by the cocoon like feeling that comes from submerging oneself into the middle of a pile of padded comfort on a cold Winter evening.  They go hand in hand with English country decorating in much the same way as a roaring open fire, a book covered ottoman...and an Aga loving dog.

Not only are they a relatively inexpensive way to update the look of a room, but ('joy of joys!') as they are portable, they can be moved around with ease to change the look, feel and tone of any room in the house.   Comfortable AND practical!


They also work beautifully to break up the lack of pattern or to add a contrasting colour to a plain covered sofa...



...and are a superb tool to dilute the strength of a boldly patterned chair, adding an extra pop of colour or interest.






But mostly, they are quite simply - fun.  I enjoy them - and that is what decorating should really be about.


Until next time,




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Monday, 25 January 2016

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?...ABSOLUTELY NO-ONE!

I may have mentioned this before, but when I went searching for a country home for my family six years ago, apart from the more serious boxes that needed to be ticked (school, distance from station, does it have a roof etc.) - there were also the boxes that came under the banner of "my ideal fantasy life in the English countryside"!  Does everyone have a wish list like that or is it just me?    For example, we may not actually own a pony...but we certainly want a paddock to put the fantasy one in;  We may not actually know how to grow a sprout from seed...but we jolly well require a greenhouse and raised bed vegetable garden (based on an 19thC formal potager) to grow that fantasy prize marrow in - all the better to display at the 'fantasy' country show; We may not ever actually have the courage to get the chickens - but that stunningly attractive hen house painted in Farrow & Ball...you see how it goes.  

I think that we all have a fantasy image of how we would like to live our lives regardless of whether that life takes place in the city or the countryside.



One of my particular prerequisites for our 'then' new house was that it absolutely had to have a separate dining room.  You see, I was going to have a weekly dinner party, where my friends both old from the city and newly acquired from the country, would converge and enjoy splendidly stimulating conversation, food and wine whilst congratulating their hostess - me - for putting together such a beautifully presented table etc. etc. etc.   Of course, (so my then naive and optimistic self imagined)  it would be entirely possible to sustain this bight sparkle of sociability once a week for 52 weeks of the year - rather like n 18thC 'salon' at the court of Versailles.  Oh what fun.  Oh what a delight.  Oh what rubbish!



Dear reader, I did indeed get my house with a dedicated dining room, and a delight it is too.  However, do I host lively dinner parties on a weekly basis?  Well of course I don't - who on earth has the time to organise - let alone wishes to cook for a dinner party on a weekly basis when there are three children, a crazed dog, a hamster and a commuter husband to cater to.  I realised quite quickly that I do not live on the set of Downton Abbey and neither am I Marie- Antoinette!





Despite it's irregular use for it's intended purpose, my dining room does, however, remain a constant delight, that I do use - although not always for dining - on a daily basis, so all is most certainly not lost or wasted.




I try to insist that my husband and I dine a tete-a-tete at the table as often as we can - I do like to do the starched napkins and candles thing, and we do actually have friends over for 'smart' dinners every now and then.

But mainly it's simply a joy to dine with the whole family or friends in the family room adjoining the kitchen, where we can sit 10-12 quite comfortably, everyone can muck in and there is no need to stand on ceremony - oh yes - and the dog can join in.

The dining room has also thus become a temporary study for me and my budding interiors business.  And a very nice 'study' it is too.  As it's still a work in progress, it's a great room to style, photograph and generally 'play around in' with vignettes and potential product shots and colour schemes.


But mainly (while it awaits it's paintings and sparkling guests) it looks like this.  Unless of course, you would like to join me for dinner sometime?





Until next time,



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Monday, 18 January 2016

English Country Decorating With...The Vintage Blanket!

As a history lover, I cannot deny that it is an absolute joy to live in a Georgian house that was built around 200 years ago.   Living with windows that were constructed 200 years ago?  Not so much.  Of course they are quite beautiful to look at, and the ripples and imperfections that are a testament to their single glazed heritage are a complete pleasure that I wouldn't change for all of the 'Everest' windows in the world...during the Summertime.   Thankfully, I am a great fan of open fires and chunky (and clunky)Victorian cast iron radiators - both of which we have in abundance.  





However, during the season when the need to cocoon and hibernate preoccupies even the thickest skinned and hardiest of those of us living in draughty country houses, my thoughts also turn to one of the easiest and most cost effective decorative solutions for avoiding the Winter chill.  The humble blanket.





I use them anywhere and everywhere throughout the house.  You will find them on the end of beds, draped over chairs and sofas, protecting ones back from the cold wood panelling of an old bench, and even as part of the many 'princess and the pea' mattresses belonging to the four legged member of the family.


A particularly good thing about decorating with blankets, is that one can never have too many.  They are far too useful for Mr. Sutton to complain along the lines of "Do we really "need' another jug, vase, cushion, occasional chair etc."  You see - of COURSE we need another blanket, because it gets terribly COLD in the Winter dear.  Not to mention that they can be terribly pretty and colourful additions to ones decorating scheme whilst remaing practical.  Delightfully, they are tactile, comforting, enveloping, cosy and all of the other words that make you imagine that you are living in a giant pudding.

Above all, they can be incredibly reasonably priced depending on your taste.  My particular preference is for vintage wool blankets from the 1950's, 60's & 70's.  The sort of thick, hard wearing blanket that I used to have on my bed when I was a child.  The very same style of blanket that I then turned my nose up at during my teens and early twenties, and then fell back in love with as a discerning adult whose tastes had evolved from fad to trad(itional!).



Although I not averse to a newly woven example among my collection, I usually tend to look for old fashioned, vintage labels, where I know that the quality will be superior and hardwearing.  Some of them are incredibly dense and heavy - all the better for achieving that straight jacket effect when battening down the hatches, and hunkering down in front of a Sunday evenings viewing session of a bodice ripping BBC period drama...(clearly i'm obsessed.)




I hate to sound as though I am the same vintage as my house, but they really don't make them (for the price) like they used to.  We still have the tartan blanket that my husband took away to boarding school at the tender age of 7 - complete with sewn on name tape.  Now, whilst one may wish to question the idea of boarding school at 7...one cannot possibly question the durability of this particular blanket.  It is as pristine, unfrayed, and impeccable as the day he left home, chubby kneed and gripping on to it forty years ago, and it is still brought out from the blanket box year after year as the nights draw in.  The chubby knees have most certainly left us, but I can safely say that the resilience of a comfort inducing vintage blanket goes on, and on, and on...



Until next time!




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