A couple of years ago I mentioned that I may possibly have something of a builder fetish. (No, not like that for goodness sake. Get your mind out of the gutter.) It’s just that we seem to be unable to go more than a year or so without doing something major to the house.
This year it’s the turn of the bathrooms.
Ok, that sounded rather more ominous than I intended. Although it is pretty serious; our family bathroom and en suite are in such a state after ten years of relentless use (and let’s face it, they weren’t great to start with, having apparently been constructed in somewhat of a rush by our house’s previous owners) that we are completely gutting them and starting again. In the case of the family bathroom, this also involves reorganising the (frankly shit) layout to give ourselves enough space to move around in the room and changing the door around so it opens inwards instead of outwards into our very narrow landing, where it blocks access to one of the bedrooms.
Currently we are at the halfway point, having completed the family bathroom and decided to take a sanity break before embarking on the en suite. So I thought I’d show you the progress so far as I’m rather pleased with how it’s turned out, especially as
most some of the best ideas were mine.
For his 40th birthday, Nick was given some vouchers for Jamie Oliver’s cookery school, Recipease, which he used to book us both on a chocolate cookery class at the Clapham shop. Did I ever tell you I like chocolate? Did I?? I REALLY like chocolate.
Um, yeah. So. I was a bit excited about it. And quite rightly so, it turned out. It’s very informal and not at all intimidating, despite the fact that the teaching area is in the middle of a shop-cum-cafe, so everyone can watch you cooking. They were setting up when we arrived and this pile of goodies was already sitting there waiting for us.
The teacher (who was a professional chef and very knowledgeable not to mention good about answering all our idiot questions) showed us how to temper chocolate and then had us making our own truffle mixture within a matter of minutes.
While that set, we moved on to chocolate mousse, swiftly followed by chocolate sauce. We decorated chocolate lollipops made with the tempered chocolate and then we shaped, flavoured and rolled our truffles. Not to mention all the tasting we did along the way; it’s an essential part of cooking, dontcha know?
All of this only took a couple of hours, although it seemed like longer, at the end of which we sat down with a glass of prosecco and some of our own chocolate creations to sample. The rest was packed into an alarmingly large cardboard box for us to take home, although I did come away feeling like I’d never be able to eat chocolate again.
Yeah, don’t worry, that wore off after a couple of hours.
Back in July the last of my many cousins got married. From booking the date, they had exactly 100 days in which to arrange the wedding; enough to send the calmest of couples into a tailspin when the average time to plan a wedding is 7 to 12 months. Well clearly my cousin and his new wife are the calmest couple EVER as their wedding was quite possibly one of the best planned I’ve ever been to, including my own.
Everything had been thought about from the guests’ point of view, starting with the fairground entertainment and steel band laid on for the boring part between the ceremony and the meal, right down to the baskets of flip-flops, pashminas and toiletries in the ladies and the pizza served at midnight when the most hardened wedding guests were still going strong.
But the wonderful wedding aside, the other highlight of the weekend (for Nick and me, anyway) was the B&B we stayed in. Part of the superb organisation was the usual wedding website with a very comprehensive list of places to stay near the venue, from basic rooms to gypsy caravans to luxury hotels. After some careful research, I settled on the whimsical-sounding Dippersmoor Manor, which turned out to be anything other than whimsical.
It is in fact the most beautiful 16th century manor house, reached by an impressive tree-lined drive and run by the charming Hexie and Amanda Millais. Billed accurately as luxury bed & breakfast accommodation, Nick and I were so taken with the place that we spent a good half-hour before leaving papping the house and grounds, much to the owners’ mild bemusement.
For the first time in what seems like forever, we took a day trip last weekend. Nick’s parents came to stay and we took them to Loseley Park, a place I’ve been to a couple of times, but not one of our regular haunts. My first experience of the place was when I was searching for wedding venues; although I loved the look of it, there was no onsite accommodation so it was reluctantly struck off my short list.
Unfortunately the lack of ice cream weather had us nearly wishing we hadn’t set foot outside, so our first port of call was the café for a hot drink to warm us all up. The house can only be seen by guided tour and we had about an hour until our time slot; once fortified by coffees and hot chocolates we braved the elements in the gardens. Luckily they were mostly walled, so not too chilly. It was only then that I discovered I’d stupidly forgotten to charge my camera battery the night before; after a few shots the poor thing lost the will to live and no amount of cajoling would bring it back to life. Thank god for iPhones – mine came to the rescue in fairly impressive style, and while the photos weren’t always quite the ones I would have taken with my camera, it came a pretty good second best.
So many beautiful flowers. Why don’t my flowers look like this?
And so many things to collect, apparently.
Doesn’t this put you in mind of Sleeping Beauty? No? Just me and Alice then.
This last one was taken in the house, mainly for Alice’s benefit as she loves elephants. Seconds later the guide told us photography wasn’t allowed. Oops. Sshh, don’t tell anyone.
I remember distinctly the first time I heard of Harry Potter, possibly because it’s a memory associated with my mother. She was a librarian and one day she told me about this fantastic book she was reading that was written for children, but had the adults reading it for themselves. She urged me to read it, which I did after she had finished it, curious to know what was so good about this kids’ book. And thus began my twenty-something-year relationship with Harry Potter; an obsession that has, if anything, grown stronger over those years.
From the books to the films to the video games to the Lego franchise to the official merchandise, I immersed myself into the magical universe as much as I could, so when I found out about the Warner Brothers Studio Tour opening only an hour away from home, I squealed with excitement. My very understanding husband offered to buy tickets for all four of us to visit for my birthday a few months later, which I accepted before he’d even finished speaking. We had indoctrinated the girls into the films by then, so it would be something we’d all enjoy, not just an outing for me with everyone else trailing behind.
I honestly don’t think I’ve looked forward to anything in my life quite as excitedly before; the idea of seeing the actual sets and props used in the film and even getting the chance to walk around, in and among them thrilled my magic-obsessed muggle heart to the core. Did it live up to my ridiculously high expectations? Well, if I admit that the introduction to the tour very nearly reduced me to tears (in a good way), that should give you an inkling. No spoilers though, it’s definitely something you have to experience for yourself.
We had the last time slot of the day, which meant we didn’t feel rushed by loads of people coming in after us; in fact we spent a good four hours there and I could easily have spent much, much longer. I must have taken as many photos in those four hours as I would do in a two-week holiday and half the reason this post has taken me nearly a year to write is because of the almost impossible task of whittling them down to an acceptable number that someone else might want to look through. It’s just so hard to choose!
So as the entire UK probably knows by now, it SNOWED on Sunday. Nick and I were unceremoniously woken at 7:30 by two little girls who were far more excited about the prospect of playing in the snow than they were about whether Father Christmas had been or not a month ago. Did I mention we had to go and get THEM out of bed on Christmas Day? We’ve trained them far too well, obviously. Either that or the crocodiles in the moat surrounding their bedrooms are getting hungry.
Anyway, having strung them out as long as possible by telling them to get changed first (a sure guarantee of at least half an hour’s peace; they are girls, after all), we got up rather grudgingly and made breakfast while they made snow angels and a toddler sized snowman in the garden. If you know my girls at all, you will not be sitting on your chair to read this any more, having been de-seated at the idea of them going out to play in the garden at all, let alone before breakfast. They were finally tempted in by the promise of warm croissants and hot chocolate (yes I know, how ridiculously spoilt are they?).
Given their enthusiasm for the snow and the fact that it could well be our only chance this year, we decided to take the sledge up to the local park. It’s times like these when living on a hill is a blessing rather than a curse. Wait, no, this is the ONLY time. We passed several other returning sledgers on the way up and plenty of folks out clearing their driveways and in some extreme cases the pavement/road in front of their house. I’m sorry but I don’t get it. Why waste your time and energy clearing away something that will be gone in a couple of days? Can you not park on the road for a few days out of the year?? The other thing that struck me was the way snow seems to bring a community together. At one point there was a big group of neighbours standing in the road chatting and nearly everyone we passed smiled or said hello. Sad that it takes something out of the ordinary (or weather) for this to happen, but hey, we are British.
The prime sledging slope in the park was predictably crowded, but there was enough room for us and we spent a happy half hour sliding down it, which degenerated into snowball fights as the girls eventually tired of trudging back up with the sledge. When we’d all (i.e. me) had enough, we walked back down the hill with the prospect of a Greedy Italians dinner spurring us on – housewives chicken followed by caramelised orange cake. No prizes for guessing which one I made.
I was a vegetarian from the age of 15 until some time a year or so ago, which means I was vegetarian for longer than I ate meat. And if you’re wondering, then yes, it was the bacon that turned me. It’s always the bacon, isn’t it? I’m such a cliché.
But before you judge me for contravening my own principles, please rest assured, I have none. I’m not THAT sort of vegetarian. My reasons were baser than that; in fact, it was my mother who decided she no longer wanted to eat, or indeed cook, meat, thus rendering the rest of us non-carnivorous by default. Of course, being a rebellious teenager, I resisted the trend for several months before succumbing, but typically contrarily was the last by far to buck it.
Considering my lack of principles, I could be quite evangelical about my vegetarianism at times, going so far as to refuse to eat anything cooked with meat fat or stock and even being squeamish about food that had been cooked NEXT to meat. Why no one told me to get over myself, I really can’t imagine.
So yes, it started with the bacon, but it didn’t stop there. Oh no. I swiftly moved on to crackling, pork pies, paté and crispy duck. I’m also partial to proper cooked ham (not that plastic packet stuff, yuk) and cured ham. I’ve even tried beef and lamb, although I can’t say I’m sold on either. I’ve come to realise I like predominately pork products and prefer cold meats to hot (with the exception of bacon, DUH).
As far as Nick is concerned, he’s finally managed to turn me (um, that sounds wrong). But I keep telling him, I’m still vegetarian, I just happen to eat meat too. Now all I have to do is find a word for that.