The week in December that I spent almost double pushing several hundred tulips and alliums far into the ground to prevent squirrel digging was all so worth it. Each morning, coffee in hand, I`m outside inspecting the day`s new blooms. The tulips are first , and I can almost see them growing as vivid pink and raspberry rippled flower cups unfold in the sun on smooth lime green elegant stems .
Spring nettle soup, home made granola, blazing fires, chairs to fall back and doze in and gorgeous beds make Ett Hem in Stockholm a luxurious home from home. I am hooked after spending the weekend in this intimate 12 bedroom hotel designed by Ilse Crawford.
I have escaped the Christmas hysteria for a long weekend in Olhao. Bathed in warm sun the Saturday market is a rich source of edible seasonal goodies. I can only look and sigh at the honey- it wouldn`t make it past the xray scanner but I load up on piri piri peppers, nuts and figs for simple stocking fillers.
Email with Silvana of the Foodie Bugle who`s finding it hard to track down artisan kitchenware made in Britain; too much manufacturing has gone East. I`m also on the case for home grown products such as this simple, functional pouring bowl I picked up at Herne Hill Farmer`s market by local potter Jan Pateman. (website coming but I have an email contact) Sheer beauty for 8.00, far too cheap really. Definitely, one for your shop Silvana!
The first snowdrops, on dogwalk at Lyte`s Cary, Somerset
Simple faux tongue and groove panelling painted with white emulsion knocked up by Keith the builder for a new bedroom at my location house.
Emma Prentice is the girl to go to if you want hip sari silk shirts in great colours.
Since writing a recent piece for Elle Decoration on Danish architect Pernille Arends` home with its` covetable retro Danish look I wouldn`t say no to eating my daily toast and jam beneath a classic PH Snowball lamp by Paul Henningsen from Louis Poulsen
Another family birthday, and therefore no excuse for buying flowers and making coffee cake.
Simple country inspired chair and geometric rug from British designer Matthew Hilton`s new collection.
Sourdough and other good bread for winter toast by The Old Post Office Bakery, from my local Sunday morning Brixton Farmers` Market
The New Craftsmen curates brilliant craftsmanship from the British Isles. Above, contemporary Orkney chair made by Dalston based furniture maker Gareth Neal, and traditional Orkney chair maker Kevin Gauld. Below, Gold plated dressmaking scissors from Ernest Wright
Photos by Tif Hunter
Below, Simple cotton prints from Fermoie by the duo behind Farrow & Ball
Yum! Malden oysters from Essex : a Saturday treat from Whittakers my local fishmonger,
Ceramic tealights from Maud and Mabel , pint sized Hampstead emporium where 99% of the stock is British
I`ve always liked a stripe or two or three, and thought they`d look good on my new range of Colour Band paper borders. Fiona and I spent happy sessions eating munching home made cake, and messing about with paint before coming up with eight colour ways. The next step was to find someone to hand print our designs so that they retained their chalky handmade quality. We eventually struck lucky and after a few stages of sample tweaking we took delivery of the first batch of Colour Bands.
The idea is that you can give your room a simple colour update by running the striped borders anywhere you please. Whether it`s to make a simple dado effect to break up an expanse of wall or to frame a doorway. Simply paste the border lengths with glue ( each 10 metre roll comes with paste flakes which you mix with water ) and position in place. The borders look great against white, but I will be showing you next how to combine them with other colour backgrounds. Watch this space!
See below: Pure Style Colour Bands reflect the Vogue for stripes in 2013!
Rose Petal: fuschia pink to border a door frame
Not just for walls: Fennel, lime green, Colour Band decorates a side table
Colour Bands in 8 Pure Style colours
Cake tin: a retro blue that makes a simple decorative trim all around a room
Colour Bands are easy to handle
Toast: simple trim around a chimney breast
Duck egg: dado effect in a bedroom
Marmalade : a splash of orange in the bathroom
Cornflower: kitchen colour
Quince: yellow trim looks good with blue detail.
Digging and musing, I think about a man I know and his mid life delusion: leaving home for an ex-council bedsit, smoking, the Affair. They say that clinging to the death throes of youth is a temporary fix - like Botox. What if the energy could be channeled into something really productive .......like gardening? Clubs even where you can ` Dig for a new lease of life` Nurturing a pumpkin patch could be so much more rewarding than lusting over Janet in Accounts. And pumpkins make good soup.
I stab the bramble roots at the thought of the colossal parking fine I paid after yesterday`s visit from the bailiffs. How so I didn`t see the previous warning letters? It`s not unusual for stylists on shoots to help themselves to my stuff for props in a shoot scene. Parking tickets lost in a Day in the life of British Gas or Moshi Monsters Christmas. Or is it just a case of me throwing them in the bin by mistake?
Fresh air, light, space. ... suburbia is the place to be. Screened-out I can tour the last rose buds, pick a green tomato, (see above) and fennel (see below) for fish, or check on the sweet pea seedlings in the shed to revive me. How I used to pace from room to room in our last flat high above the City where one fragile weed on the roof top opposite was the only spot of green. It`s only a bus and a tube ride away from the bright lights. Recent highlights: more al fresco swimming at the Oasis in Covent Garden followed by clams and razor clams at Barrafina as fresh and garlicky as they could be outside of an Andalucian beach bar; Tim Wright`s figurative paintings in Shoreditch and last night`s treat a groovy basement bar The Social with readings by Faber Man Booker authors, Adam Foulds, Deborah Levy and Sarah Hall .
Wouldn`t it be fun to create paint colours for each season. Autumn references of golden yellow, ,orange, earth brown are here, leaf confetti at my feet. And all in a morning`s dog walking across the dew grass in Brockwell Park.
More good ideas from the Pure Style Design Files
Rococo sea salt milk chocolate and blue and white wrapping - very moreish and Moorish.
Hand dyed cushions recycled from vintage blankets by textile specialist Sasha Gibbs.
Hoxton Grey, Golden Square, Spitalfields and Pimlico: some of the rather wonderful colours with a London theme from Mylands.
My tough, rough leather Spanish riding boots could do with a polish, and afterwards a good brush up. This horsehair model would be just right for the job.
Simple garden green folding bench from Jonart
I don`t think I`ve ever seen such a good red (Cherry is it`s name) in vinyl flooring and this goes for the other great shades in the range from The Colour Flooring Company
The best thing about Valentine`s Day is Rachmaninov`s Piano Concerto No 2 on Radio 4. I almost fly the A303 in fifth gear to the same crashing bars and waves of musical emotion that speak the stifled passions of Celia Johnson`s and Trevor Howard`s lovers in Brief Encounter. Back in town, there`s more romance with couples holding hands and cellophane wrapped roses.
I can`t ignore the scuff marks on the walls and the wet dog paw effect which make the white floors look pallid and under the weather. Everything is in need of a lick of white paint and a good spring clean. So decorators Bob and Keith have set up camp with paint pots, wads of sandpaper, ghetto blaster, and saucer of used teabags. I am on my knees, housemaid-style, scrubbing the kitchen floor to get it prepared for coats of white floor paint. Everyone`s saying, "Mum, how can you have white floors in the kitchen (we have plain oak boards) they`ll get dirty ? "We have them everywhere else" I retort and think, but don`t say (Idov quite a lot of this) that apart from Lina on Saturdays I am the only one to have a one to one with the floor mop.
Ten degrees warmer than last weekend. It feels like summer in comparison and so I have a little wander in the garden. The wallflowers, globe artichoke and agapanthus lie in limp and soggy frost damaged clumps. But alliums, tulips and blue bells shoots are pushing through and the fennel`s delicate fronds have proved to be astonishingly hardy.
It`s mild enough and motivating enough to unwrap the willow sticks with which I will make twiggy wigwams to support the beans. PS My 13 year old godson and I laugh at the slapstick in Comedy of Errors at the Olivier.
More good ideas from the Pure Style design files
Being a lover of all things Portuguese - and seeing that Remodelista has gone Iberian this week, I wanted to show you some inspirational and timeless interior detail from the land of grilled sardines and Pastel de natas; Above, are Azulejos, tiles from Sintra Design used by hotelier Sean MacPherson in his NY kitchen (shown above courtesy of The Selby).
Baixa house looks like the place to stay if you want traditional with a modern update. There are twelve rather wonderful looking apartments in this recently refurbished apartment hotel in Lisbon`s historic district. ( See one of the kitchens , above, photo Fernado Guerra + Sťrgio Guerra Fotografia de Arquitectura. and a patio, below, photo Ana Paula Carvalho ) .
Portuguese cotton blankets with wonderful earth coloured trimmings from Anichini.
Portuguese cotton blankets with wonderful earth coloured trimmings from Anichini
Friends say they don`t know how I put up with a disrupting stream of photo shoots at home. I suppose, like anything it`s how you choose to look at it. For the most part, the family are cool about the shoots, plus they know that it means income. The childrens` rooms and my husband`s study are off limits and so there`s enough private space. I`ve been a home worker for so long anyway and am used to combining an office with mashing the potatoes. In a way we`re living over the shop, or, as when I was a child, living over my father`s surgery. It is important though to be laid back enough to let strangers waft around the house shooting mail order catalogues, or Christmas cakes from the Great British Bake off. There`d be no point if I twitched every time a cup and saucer were moved. Actually, quite a number of clients, photographers and stylists aren`t strangers at all but long lost faces from my magazine days. `Still hanging on in there, we rib each other`. I also meet new faces - and it`s a chance to chat and brainstorm. And when you know that it`s not your stuff but someone else`s monkey then even days of rooms piled high with boxes and camera equipment don`t raise the blood pressure. Apart from the odd set painter who doesn`t know how to control a paint brush, the most stressful thing is when a domestic drama is being played out behind a closed door. This generally involves two siblings warring over some item of clothing that one has pinched from the other without permission. "Be quiet we have a shoot "I hiss, and barr the way to the flouncy behaviour spreading further - more Miss Trunchbull than the smiley location house owner that the clients meet at the front door. One rather wonderful advantage of the shoots is seeing all sorts of wallpapers, fabrics, paints and things, here in the flesh - window shopping chez nous. I am sighing over this beautiful yellow printed linen from Bennison Fabrics that is playing a leading role in a magazine story currently being photographed. I have managed to sneak a little sample to show you how rich and mustardy it is, and the perfect colour to go with something blue .
Even the shoot leftovers can be inspiring. My compost bin last week looked a picture, see below, with the floral remnants from a summer flower catalogue job. And, of course the house smelt rather lovely and garden borderish, too.
I feel the air miles when a man with a festive beer in a plastic cup offers a seat on the packed late train to Ronkonkoma and questions with some incredulity " You`ve come all the way from England for Thanksgiving ?" I have and it`s my first. The blazing fire, turkey with a turkey flavour from a North Fork organic farm and the warmth of the Foley family to whose Long Island Thanksgiving I am invited the next day will meet all of my expectations and more.
With my body clock somewhere after lunch, I wake rather suddenly to the crack of gun shots from the duck hunters across the lake. ( It is never wise to think the countryside is peaceful) But it`s tranquil enough, absolutely blissful in fact, drinking hot coffee on the porch ,watching the melting pale pink early morning sky and all around the earthy woodiness of damp leaves. I`m at the white house, the simple white wood clad home (and location space) of Trish Foley the American queen of white and natural decorating. Her first book the Natural Home published in 1995 was ahead of its time, and is as inspirational today.
Trish`s 3rd pop up shop event for her New General Store takes place with soup cider and cookies over the Thanksgiving weekend. It features white and natural home ideas on sale in Trish`s studio and white cabin tucked amongst the surrounding winter thin woods.
There`s a gang of us to pull the last minute threads together: stirring the spicy pumpkin soup (cumin, coriander, chilli, toasted pine nuts and croutons make this a particularly delectable pumpkin idea), wiping down the thick glassy beads of overnight dew from the outdoor benches and sweeping leaves off the huge outdoor plank table. The sun feels warm again on my face, a remnant of summer and as in London, everyone is saying how unseasonable the temperatures are.
Matthew Mead sets up his stall in the White Shop, and signs copies of Holiday magazine- his brilliant and visually inspiring take on crafting and making that comes out quarterly.
I have my eyes, on white pots filled with bulbs and moss, but can`t exactly see getting past airport security A narcissus- scented candle will do very nicely instead. And there is a gorgeous collection of vintage white Ironstone china, platters, cups and bowls, that I could also happily pack to take home - if only.
We say clothes pegs you say clothes pins.
As well as delicious flavoured vinegars and olive oils, there`s flowery and scented Rugosa Rose jelly made by The Taste of the North Fork. I have some dollops of it on toast with butter for breakfast to keep me going.
I am on duty signing books in the studio, suffused with the scent of flowering paper white narcissi, and bathed in the long low sunlight pouring through the south facing wall of glass window panes. It`s good to meet the New York/Long Island crowd and find that there`s common ground - simpler living is as much on the agenda in the economic downturn as it is at home. I`m glad that all my favourite things: parrot tulips, rhubarb, roses, chestnuts and lemon meringue pie seem to be appreciated across the pond. The books are a sell out and so I celebrate with walnut shortbread baked by Michael Jones.
The next day I`m 0n the road again, heading to my next signing at Loaves and Fishes, in Bridgehampton. This is a wonderful treasure trove of a cook shop with the best of its type, from coffee making machine and shellfish picker to sharp knife and dinner plate. Run by the charming and welcoming Sybille van Kempen Loaves and Fishes is also noted for its food shop and cookery school and is as much a Hamptons landmark as all the gorgeous beach houses*. It`s Sunday lunchtime, and so my samples of chocolate and chestnut cake are a great crowd drawer, and another of the book`s recipes that seems to travel rather well. * Ralph Lauren designer, Ellen O`Neill`s heavenly red and white house ( American country house style meets Bloomsbury ) is another Long Island location shoot`s dream.
Time for some R and R and I head off to the City via the Long Island Rail Road ( it`s all so American- the toot tooting of the train when it passes the unmanned barriers reminds me of every cowboy movie I`ve ever seen) and Penn Station. The avenues of Manhattan await me and my wheelie bag.
I wanted to show you this great piece on my home that`s just gone live with Design Sponge. Thanks so much to Keiko for taking such glamorous pictures!
More brilliant ideas from the Pure Style design files.
Mellow yellow: simple Daisy pattern wallpaper from The art of wallpaper. Also comes in a good sludgy blue, brick red, and charcoal.
The clocks will be going back soon and there will be a great excuse for investing in a really good desk lamp - I love this one from Anglepoise.
Blue and white striped Cornishware mugs feature in all the kitchens that I have lived in over the years. I love their utilitarian cheerful feel. From recently rescued TG Green Ė and also in red.
Indian summerís over Ė itís time for tea and toast. This smart glass jar comes with spiced fig jam, from Toast. Recycle it for your own jam making efforts.
More autumn leaf yellows (THE colour this season) in wool knit by Danish company Kvadrat cover this 50ís Scandinavian style easy char in oak, from Healís. It also comes in leather, but Iím not so sure that works so well.
Yes I know linen sheets almost need a mortgage, but treat them like investment dressing and save up for a set from Volga Linen to last and last.
I love the way denim fades when you wash it. Get the look with this squashy bean bag made in the UK and covered with indigo denim woven in Lancashire, from Ian Mankin.
This is my new weekly post where I share inspiring pictures and ideas from the Pure Style design files.
Retro look for keeping warm this winter: wool blanket ĎMadison Goldí from Melin Tregwynt.
With 20% off from 1st October Scottish fabric designer Donna Wilsonís Eadie armchairs at SCP are potentially more than just a textile-dream.
Just launched at the London Design Festival is Studioilseís Companions bedside table in oiled chestnut and cork for De La Espada.
This olive oil crushed from Arbequina olives, by Spanish food specialist Brindisa is really mellow and nutty - I think itís brilliant for making mayonnaise.
Iíve had my Le Creuset cast iron casserole pans for over 20 years - but wouldnít mind adding a cream coloured one to my kitchen kit.
Feathery white parrot tulips are essential in my spring garden. Definitely putting in another order this season from Crocus.
Itís time for dealing with the fading roses. Great for pruning are Swiss made Felco secateurs.
Suffused in pools of light and shade this May afternoon the garden seems to take on an air of secrecy and serenity. It is my place of shelter and repose from the roaring traffic and sirens on the South Circular, just two streets away. I turn on the hose and give everything a good drink (drought conditions continue, and gardeners are being asked to create mud pools so the house martins and swifts can build their clay like nests). The arc of water plays like a silver stream over the last tulips, rosemary, alliums and clumps of purple chives. It leads my thoughts to a piece I have read about Islamic gardens, and how we owe a huge debt in the West to the Muslim ideal of paradise. This is encapsulated in the design of the Persian `chahar bah . This enclosed garden has a central fountain which flows into water rills which represent the four rivers of Paradise. Famous examples include the Taj Mahal garden in India and the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, Granada. In his book` Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition`- the academic Robert Pogue Harrison argues that it also provides a key to understanding Islam in the modern world. He suggests that where paradise is imagined as a garden of perfect tranquility our incurable Western agitation takes on a diabolical quality. It would be wonderful to have world peace and understanding through gardening.
On a personal level, working in my garden takes me away from just about every mental annoyance that happens to be swirling around. I enter a calm non judging head space when having to concentrate on the delicate and precise task of lifting fragile radish and bean seedlings into position for the next stage of development. My senses are energised: bad or dull feelings float away with the smells of damp earth as the hose plays across the beds, and I feel more in touch with the elements as my legs are lightly tickled by lavender that has spilled voluputously over the brick path.
The Constance Sprys, are in themselves a vision of petally paradise, tumbling luscious pink blooms over on both garden fences. Not only visual balm, but with a scent that is so light and sweetly fragrant that I feel I want to drink it .
Then there are the equally fabulous frilled and frothy pink peonies, (below) the ones I lifted and divided from my childhood suburban garden after my mum died. It is reassuring that she lives on, in a way, through this yearly renewal in the garden.
I`m always coming up with ideas for Pure Style this and that - one dream is a heavenly little hotel with a walled garden and bright white bedrooms. If there was to be a Pure Style scent, of course `rose` would get a first look in, but I have to say that if anyone could help me bottle the delicate vanilla fragrance of my wallflowers this spring( see below) I am sure we could be on to a winner, too.
The party`s coming to a close with the tulips. Like beautiful young things who`ve been up all night their petals are languid and flopping. Somehow the curling and dessicating parts aren`t cause for gloom, but give the flowers an extraordinary wild and anarchic look. The tulip`s decline is an elegant one. I must remember to pick off the seed pods and later in the summer I will lift the bulbs and dry for planting out again in the winter. There`s so much more about to happen in the garden, and I am being kept on my toes with planting out vegetable seedlings, mowing the grass (only roughly I have to say, just to make it look refreshed rather than obsessionally neat and titivated) and weeding, weeding, weeding. My gorgeous Constance Spry rose are on the point of bursting forth, so in next week`s post I can show you these and the other summery beginnings which are so very early this year.
I wake early with the encouraging limpid blue of an English Spring sky. Since I`ve been away in Olhao the apple tree has blossomed in a candy floss of fluffy pale pink petals.
The morning sun warms the worn red brick paving tiles and spills across the newly opened array of tulips. I can`t remember planting quite so many gorgeous varieties. (Not that surprising because when I did so, the garden was coated in a thick white icy coat of snow and it was all I could do to force the bulbs randomly into snow rimmed earth holes before it all became too cold and unpleasant and I had to scurry inside, toes and fingers numb.) It is so exciting to watch this blast of petally colour unfold.
See above from left to right: Spring Green; Black Parrot ( a straggler from bulbs that I planted three years ago ); Lilac Perfection.
The purple and white striped `Triumph` tulip reminds me of the purple and white colourings of red onions; it has to be the most stylish of my tulip flock.
Hardly have the bags been unpacked and the weeds attended to, then our spring jaunt continues with a large family get together in Suffolk. By now the air feels midsummer balmy and the weather people are in high excitement about the early heatwave that is hitting northern Europe. Whilst I am ambling along dewy lanes, alive with cuckoo song , lilac, and wild asparagus (see above), a subdued text from our tenant in Olhao describes great winds and rains and a request for wet day activities in the area. Wow, we had a narrow climatic escape.
We visit Walberswick, rather like an English east coat version of the Hamptons, on Long Island, all beautiful picturebook, wisteria-clad houses and cottages with immaculate picket fences. There is a village green with swings, well behaved children and a horizon with simple beach huts. We crunch along the pebbly beach and some of the party, plus the dog, embrace the unseasonal warmth and swim. Of course, the sea is still winter cold and we drive home with the heater full on to keep hypothermia at bay. I negociate a detour to Wootton`s nursery which has everything from agapanthus to old fashioned cottage garden plants, and the most amazing selection of auriculas (see above) all massed together in a light white greenhouse. I come away with a box of cat mint and lavender for the potager beds, blue geraniums for ground cover, and an exquisite lemon secented old perlagonium called Mabel Grey which I shall keep in a pot to sit on my desk through the winter.
Sufffolk (and going over into Norfolk) is also very blissful with its wide flat watermeadows around Harleston and Beccles, where cows swish their tails in the shade of ancient willows and the river Waveney is cool and meandering. We bike past hawthorn hedges frothing with white blossom and look over to into fields where hares leap across the furrows. The county`s vast field aspect can be overwhelming, as are the electric yellow swathes of rapeseed. Sometimes I catch the whiff of a more industrial and stinky smell than anything with more rural connections. There are clues in the anonymous green lorries thundering past gnarled greening oaks to what is probably hidden away landfill. We eat well on Suffolk honey, the new season`s asparagus, cod landed at Lowestoft and rhubarb for pudding. The Ship inn at Dunwich serves the best fish and chips of the week, and is also a only a few minutes walk to the beach , where it is said that divers can hear the ghostly clang of church bells that succumbed to the sea.
Arriving back in London through steamy streets where the thermometer is hitting 27C, I am almost bowled over by the riot of colour (see above and below) that that has taken over the garden. All the tulips are now full and voluptuous on leggy stems. I watch their cups open up lazily in the sunshine and close in the shade as as if to keep warm.
New this year to my bulb order are `Silver ` parrot tulips (see below right) which when they first came out weren`t in the least bit silver, more bright raspberry ripple. Now that they`ve matured, the pink has faded a little and is rather fabulous.
I wake to the mass twittering of sparrows and a distant bell. The air is sea salty, the breeze warm and the sky is bright morning blue. Olhao. Weíre here again for the spring holiday with a case full of books for revision and fabric to make cushions for summer. Breakfast is toast with soft springy sourdough-like bread which they slice for you from the cafť on the corner. I have a jar of orange flower honey from which I spread a thick coating onto a slice along with curls of butter. We eat outside in the quintal and squint at the sun which is glowing with promise for the day ahead. Oranges are so good and fresh here; so much sweeter and more intensely orange flavoured because they`re not long picked from a tree. We squeeze juice with the 13 euro juicer - a definite qualifier for what I think is a `best buy`- and pour it into small glass tumblers. So much more of an enjoyable experience than opening up a carton.
I throw black jeans, sweater and thick socks to the back of the wardrobe and feeling expectant for a first of the season session at the beach pull out last summer`s floaty cotton dress, sandals in which to brave winter feet, and straw hat. Iíve been through quite a few hats here, one or two have blown into the sea whilst on a boat of some sort; one was washed away by a rogue wave, and another met its end with an uncontrolled puppy. The fading terracottas, yellows, and greens of Olhaoís crumbling faÁades are balm to my tired city eyes. Most luminous are the pale cobalt blue lime washed walls that give the buildings a mediterranean seaside flavour. My friend Piers mixes blue pigment with white cal (lime) to create this timeless effect.
At the Saturday market the senses are hit with the aromatic smell of mint and the fragant childhood summer smell of strawberries. Wrinkled men with flat caps look after stalls groaning with oranges, pumpkins, broad beans, and peas. Cages with live rabbits and uncomfortable looking hens are clustered by the sea wall. I want to take to take it all home, all of this colour, and sensation. We settle for eggs, a bag of plump peas shelled by the vendor, a bunch of radishes with pink roots slashed rather stylishly with white, more sweet oranges and a kg of plump and richly coloured strawberries for the picnic.
The garden is growing growing growing. The warmth and sun of the past week has kick started the spring juices and the little beds in the parterre/potager are greening and filling out fast. The tulips that started as a flop of leaves have developed slender stems with tight buds. The first to flower is the variety Lilac Perfection (see above) in fabulous bowls of fuschia pink petals.
This natural beauty in my backyard is a kind of antidote to all thatís commercial and mass market: ads that make us want more even though we donít need whatever is being pushed, or the TV mush of American teen soaps and celebrity dining shows. This, and my desire to live more simply and without so much fuss is also where I am at with my Pure Style philosophy. I think I must be on the right track when I read that my design hero Terence Conran has a buff label on his desk with the words ĎPlain, simple, useful` and says that we should apply this attitude to everything we own and use. I am also a fan of John Laneís Timeless Simplicity - in which he explains how to live more creatively in a consumer society.
It quite a revelation, to see that itís not the first time there has been a reaction to the consumerism in society. Go and see the V&A`s exhibition Escape into Style, `The cult of beauty: The aesthetic movement 1860-1900í which is about the late nineteenth century revolt against Victorian industrialism by artists and architects who wished to create a new ideal of beauty in wallpaper, painting, architecture, textiles and poetry. NB: Although it`s really all about middle class family angst - and a rather too close to home portrait of it too, I recommend the film, Archipelago, to see some truly mesmerising visuals of the natural beauty on the wild and windswept island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.
Itís been a whirlwind of a week in location house land: the walls are purple one minute, then lavished with paper in stylish patterns, the next. And thatís not including the 15 people who organise the Queen of Craftís natty cushions and heart shaped jam tarts. Itís good to get out of the way of drying paint and have the first hits of the season on the tennis court. I like Fabian the coach because he says lots of Ďwell donesí unlike the slightly tutting new accountant who I meet to discuss the bulging packets of receipts. The air is marzipan-and-lemon-scented. Spring has gone into overdrive in the last few days, and the white beads on the apple tree might blossom too early if this luscious warmth continues. Gardeners are always paranoid about the risk of frost at this time of year, but I for one, can only luxuriate in and enjoy the myriad hues of blue in skies that have been leaden for too long.
As well as enjoying the bundles of grape hyacinths (see last week) I walk the dog through glades of delicate blue Scillas (above, and another cousin of the hyacinth family) that is so much a part of spring. Iím a blue girl as much as a green one when it comes to having splashes of the colour around the house. I love old faded blue and white floral china (above) it looks great against white walls. Coastal blue and white Cornishware stripes are always smart. I buy it both new, and secondhand when I can find it at a good price. Readers of my books canít fail to notice my passion for blue and white checks. I think small check patterns are easier on the eye for accessories such as cushions and pillow cases. See an example here on the new Swedish style bed from Feather and Black. This is the one that replaced the vast low slung circular Ikea number that was great for 12 year olds on sleepovers, but hopeless for arthriticky relatives.
PS. No thanks, I don`t want any more royal wedding paraphenalia in my inbox: "A bed that is fit for a Queen, King sofa and Queen armchair`, or, believe it or not `Knit Your Own Royal Wedding` etc etc. But I don`t mind reading the low down on clever Emily Chalmers of Caravan whose new book, Modern Vintage Style, is out soon.
The new greens are in season. Whatever else might be thwarting my daily progress, young bean green shoots and fresh bright spring green grass are reassuringly sprouting and budding outside the kitchen window. I canít resist bunches of Ďmuscari Ď grape hyacinths (see above) delicate blue flowers on equally delicate lime green stems. They are packed fresh from the fields in a box propped up outside the florist with the logo, Cornish flowers on its base. At £1.25 a bunch I am surprised that by lunchtime the sales woman says that I am the first to buy some of these vibrant and colourful pieces of spring.
With its potent link to nature, green is one of my favourite colours to have about the home. (Have a look at the exciting greens for faux suede by Designers Guild). Its presence as a decoration tool can be as minimal, as a flash of a lime green painted flower pot to brighten up the bedroom, or as all encompassing, as our lime green painted loo. The latter idea is a very good way for me to incorporate a rich green colour in a house that needs to make its living being painted white almost all over! And I have also managed to make way for some muted greens in the tv room and garden shed as the shoots are very keen to use them for backdrops to simple and natural still lives. As soon as thereís a day with the faint burn of spring sunshine my thoughts turn to picnics. I like to head for that south facing spot on the tussocky slopes that frame our walks along the Somerset valley on visits to my father. Feta cheese, basil and cucumber is one of our favourite fillings in hunks of sourdough bread that come freshly baked via our local corner shop.
The kitchen needs an update. Not only is the paint peeling off the drawers, but one of the white cupboard doors refuses to shut, the sink blocks and the cooker is ailing and working at half speed. Then thereís the location element to think about. Iíve been told that I will get more kitchen shoots if I have an Ďintegrated Ď dishwasher (the dishwasher door is faced in a panel to match the other fitted door fronts). You see itís not very Ďlifestyleí in the advertising world to have kitchens with all the ordinary workaday things on show. I must say itís never bothered me that the dishwasher is on view, but then I have always rather resisted the concept of a fitted kitchen that might be fabulously organised and clean, but looks completely clinical and soulless.
Hereís the plan: I wonít be starting all over again, that isnít my thing, and neither do I have the funds. I am very fond of the existing white tiles, now rather worn wooden worktop and recycled white shelf. After all, these are the simple and textural details which make my kitchen feel personal and look individual. I need some new units, but where to get them? I canít face the flat pack experience of Ikea. After trawling the web for cheap kitchens I come up with a surprise - Magnet, which appears to have undergone a wonderful metamorphosis. ( Ten years ago, no, even two years ago, design sensitive souls would not have been seen dead with one of their mass market models. ) Thus I find myself at the local showroom, desiring a very pretty pale duck egg blue range (see the finished effect in my kitchen above and below) that is simple, classic and looks great. (Except for the chunky handles which you donít have to have because there are plenty of other shapes to choose from. ) ďHow much is your limit ? says the salesman hopefully, "some of our customers spend £30,000Ē. He seems a little downcast with my minimal budget for a modest kitchen run of about 3.5 metres, but is helpful , attentive, and comes up with a good price.
A couple of weeks later and the big day has come, a breather between shoots, blog posts, and garden tidying, for the ripping out of the old and the installing of the new. The most important thing is that I have lined up a builder type to fit it all. It would soon be like a scene from Danteís Inferno if my husband and I attempted to grapple with rejigging the plumbing, fitting a new sink into the old worktop and marshalling all the Magnet components into place. Bar three knobs which havenít arrived, and for which I have to dash out back to Magnet for replacements, all goes according to plan. Itís a tough job though, sorting out the stuff Iíve unloaded from the old cupboards which now lies in untidy greasy swathes across the kitchen floor. I wade through and dispose of half empty packets of flour, corks, old chopsticks and other kitchen junk that no one else in the family would think to edit. The cherry on the cake is filling up the new pale blue duck egg drawers to look neat and housewifely (how long will that last?), and cooking a big plate of roast vegetables for lunch in half the time that it took in the old oven.
NB: It`s noon, and a Country Living shoot is filling the house with summer colours and ideas. Thereís a handsome man in black cycling shorts dashing up the stairs with a handsome vase of summer petals and blooms from Scarlet and Violet and the bathroom papered in floral sprigs looks like a set from Lawrie Leesís Cider with Rosie. Even our Tulse Hill cat looks like a country cottage puss dozing in the sunlight on a pile of Cath Kidston towels. Eyeing the props, I have fallen for brilliant floral cushions from the Conran shop, pretty pleated paper lampshades by Elise Rie Larsen and painted metal stools with rough wooden tops from excellent online resource, The housedoctor.dk. NNB. I ate delicious flat bread, olives, and delicately fried squid at Morito, the latest offshoot of Spanish/North African influenced restaurant Moro in London`s Clerkenwell.
I am looking at pictures of the crumbling brick walls and rotten timbers of the early Georgian house (1726 to be precise) that we restored over 20 years ago in Spitalfields, East London. There it is, our old home on the Spitalfields Life blog - just as we bought it, in its decrepidness, in Fournier Street opposite the soaring, glorious and soot stained Christchurch by Hawksmoor. The whole place was derelict then a part of forgotten and run down London. The fruit and vegetable market though, hummed with life from midnight. I remember the tramps who gathered at the crypt for soup , the hawks flying around the church spire and the rotten but aromatic smells of coriander and old potatoes, that lay crushed outside on the street And thereís the house again, itís classic beauty tentatively re-emerging, with bare wood shutters and new simple wood panelling. I supposed we needed true grit, and passion to restore one of these beautiful old houses built for Huguenot silk merchants. I remember a collapsing back wall, countless skips to take away debris, errant builders I had to fish out of the pub, and the joy of finding Bohdan the brilliant carpenter who reconstructed the panelling, and Jim who made our shutters and simple wooden bed. There are pictures too, of our home after the last piles of dust and blow torched paint flakes have been swept away. Itís good to see these `after shots`, of the light bright panelled rooms that I painted in sludgy creams, whites and greens. And there am I, pictured outside the house as it is today. I look quite cheerful but inside I was feeling, well, rather homesick standing outside my old front door.
I need to get back to the present, and to dwell on the more immediate matter of baking some very seasonal rhubarb for pudding. I chop the pinkest of pink stems into small chunks and lay them in a dish with a good sprinkling of sugar, orange peel, and orange juice. I turn the oven to 150C and bake for about 25 minutes. This is delicious with crŤme fraiche, or cream, or vanilla ice-cream.
And then there are the tulips - a half price bargain because they are going over, but thatís the way I like them all, floppy flailing petals. They also brighten my reflective mood - which is as much from house moping as the effects of being late night taxi service at 1.30am - "mum I missed the last train". I must fly as cardboard packs of kitchen units are coming through the front door . All part of my budget revamp of the kitchen. Wish me luck. NB Before signing off, look at Ghost furnitureís great ideas for rescuing furniture and Wallace Sewellís ideas for more brilliant colour in shawls, scarves and other textiles.
Ha Ha! I am right on trend in my several-seasons-old canary yellow buttoned J Crew cardigan, as the March issue of Vogue proclaims Ďfashionís new love for colourí. Of course we all know itís not really new, as fashion is all about an ongoing passion with colour in some form or other. But there is something particularly resonant about the newness and vibrancy that Spring brings to everything. A sense, too, of optimism and possibilities - from the leggy amaryllis by my kitchen window (see above) about to unfurl in a whirl of striped pink and white petals, to the Spring pages of fashion mags washed in bright shades of tangerine, raspberry and quince. (I look forward to the first swim of the season at the lido and have my eye on a hyacinth blue retro spot halterneck swimsuit in the Boden catalogue that plopped through my letter box last week.) When I havenít seen my children for a while and we meet after a fortnight away or longer, thereís a sense of seeing them as new people, almost like getting to know them all over again. Thatís how I feel, in a way, when I hold the neatly bound sections of the new book, all ready to be sent off to the printers in China. Is it really three months since I turned in the final acknowledgements? I am excited, because I now see the book with a fresh eye. Itís not tiring to scan the spreads that I checked over and over during the editing process. I hope it doesnít sound puffed up to say itís looking good!
Feeling buoyant I am inspired to revisit a piece of half finished patchwork that has been lying in my large turquoise canvas remnants bag for the last year or so. Itís made up of blue and white pieces cut from various sources: pairs of worn out childrenís pyjamas and tattered jeans. Thereís also a bit of floral Liberty print from a dress that I cut up because I grew tired of its shape. (Although quite expensive, I also like the idea of pre cut Liberty patchwork squares sold by the bundle.) Foot on the accelerator I motor along on the rather battered Elna Lotus SP that my parents gave me for my 21st birthday. The process of pinning and stitching, trying to steer not only a straight path but also fingers away from the dagger effects of the speeding needle, are all good for freeing the mind of muddle. As good as digging the garden, or beating egg whites to frothy peaks. Once everything is sewn together I hem the edges of what is to become a kind of patchwork loose cover for the seat of the chesterfield. I say, loose, because the dog, and the cat, are very fond of this surface, and it would soon look very sad, very quickly if I couldnít whip it off to be washed and revived. NB Must catch the British photographer E.O. Hoppeís modernistic portraits (Vita Sackville West, John Masefield) at The National Portrait Gallery. NNB I made pheasant and pea (frozen petit pois are delicious) risotto last night, with the leftovers and home made stock from a brace of pheasants from the Farmerís market. Itís good not to have to be a hunting shooting fishing type in order to enjoy the mildly gamey flavour, and lean texture of these inexpensive birds.
This feels like spring. A brilliant sunlight filled day and a plate of Daisyís eau de nil and chalk white eggs fresh from her hens. I check outside and even the bare flower beds have little patches of brilliant green where the chives, and tulips are having a go at bursting forth. I know that the doom mongers say thereís plenty more foul wintry weather to come, but you canít ignore the fact that it stays light until teatime. And as it turns dusky velvet blue, the sky has the luminous feel associated with softer, warmer and longer days ahead.
I like to bring the spring feeling inside even if it hasnít quite got going outside. There are inexpensive bundles of daffodils, or pots of delicate grape hyacinths at Jayne Copperthwaiteís fragrant flower shop which she recently opened in Balham, south London. Itís my daughterís 17th birthday weekend and so thereís every excuse to come away laden with bunches of blue hyacinths and sweetly scented white narcissi.
I prefer my flowers to sit in containers that donít shout: simple glass vases, pint beer gasses even, or the white enamel bowls that I fill with bulbs and layer with moss.
I lay the table with a suitably spring green cotton cloth made out of a furnishing fabric remnant from my store cupboard on the landing. Later at the birthday dinner, there are candles, pink fizz and large slices of chocolate cake. (I feel very short amongst the beautiful gazelles in high heels.) NB: Before I push Publish, I must say how really cross I am that the Government wants to close hundreds of libraries (481 libraries, 422 buildings and 59 mobile libraries are under threat according to Public Libraries News). As an 8 year old, it was a first taste of independence, wheeling my bike back from Earlsfield library with an Everlasting Toffee strip and a bagful of books dangling from the handlebars. The shiny parquet floors and hushed atmosphere made the library seem all at once very grow up but somehow calm and comforting. Choosing books from packed shelves, rows and rows, was like being in a kind of sweet shop of words and ideas, and all the better because you could take them home for free. My current local library at West Norwood is a brilliant source of everything from thrillers, to the latest Booker Prize winner in a pristine dust jacket. There are mothers with young children getting their first taste of reading books, old people who come to read the newspapers, seek some companionship. Even the disruptive teenagers calm down in this airy, peaceful environment. And in common with other libraries around the county, it is also a lifeline for the one in five people who do not have the internet at home and need their local library to look for jobs. The libraries must stay open.
Iím in Olhao. Bliss. Itís winter, but the sun is blazing and I am blinking like a mole. The house has the heavy cold and dampness that comes from being not only just about at sea level, but also having been shut up for weeks. I sleep the first night, socks on and hugging a hot water bottle. First thing, after watching the slow red sunrise over towards the fishing port, I hang the musty bedclothes outside to air.
Other signs of the Algarve in winter are women chatting on their doorsteps in thick dressing gowns. And grass growing between the cobbles which are opaque and clean after months of rain. They have been stripped of the smooth, high shine that comes with the heat and dust and grease of summer. Itís a dry day and fleets of washing flap in the breeze on the white azoteca roof top terraces. From our flat roof I can see the white curved bell tower, and a pink fizz of almond blossom in a secret courtyard below. The blue as-far-as-you-can-see sky is filling with voluptuous and towering cumulus clouds. From all around my panoramic view comes a chorus of dog barks, the trilling of sparrows, and odd, but so completely right because itís Olhao, the clanging squealing and wheezing of the coastal train, that sounds more like a New York Subway service.
With basket in hand and my thick fishermanís sweater for insulation, I walk seawards. The gorgeous peeling paint in so many shades of faded green, and rose and cobalt blue is as much a part of Olhao as the sardines, but it is also a sign of neglect and decay. I do hope that architectural types will come to rescue more of the crumbling facades so much in need of love and attention. There arenít so many people about now. I like it. The old men by the fish market still play dominoes in a thick huddle and there are the usual weather beaten yaghties` in fleeces who drink long into the afternoon sunshine, but generally the streets are quiet. At six they are almost deserted as everyone goes home, to keep warm I should think.
In the market there are fat leafy cabbages, bursting it seems with iron and goodness, and plump oranges with a flat matt finish that is so much earthier and more appealing than the spray shined ones in the supermarket. With few tourists about, a necklace of red piri piri peppers is only a euro. And similarly pleasing, because the fish market is less frenzied than during the summer, there is more time to admire the simple yet beautiful displays of rigid mackerel, tuna, octopus and so on, all laid out on the gleaming and utilitarian flat stainless steel counters.
My mission is to sweep and refresh the house and to plan new awnings in heavy calico for the summer. At Pagapoco in the Avenida thereís fabric for a few euros a metre that will do very well. Some good news on the marvellous iPhone, which allows me to escape from a desktop HQ yet still keep operations ticking far away. It is Pete from Thames Water who is not only going to pay me the subsidy for repairing it, but almost as an afterthought he tells me that the wretched leak is officially noted as fixed. (Yes, their man with the special water leak detecting device, has obviously been loitering by the gate again.). Relief. One domestic drama that can leave my brain space and be forgotten about.
If I think too hard about writing I canít write, and similarly at the Zumba Latin beat dance class I part company with the group rhythm when I concentrate too hard on getting arms, legs, and body to co-ordinate. When I relax and let the beat take over I may not look like an extra from Dirty Dancing, but boy do I feel like it. Shaking oneís booty is a good way to dissipate the stress after talking with Pete from Thames Water who calls to let me know, a touch triumphantly perhaps?, that I still have a leaking water pipe. In as even a tone as I can muster, (Pete has the mildly pompous and intimidating air of a customs official so it is hard not to feel ruffled) I say Iíve spent nearly £1,000 for 20 metres of shiny blue plastic pipe, (and a mud strewn garden) to rectify the problem. The workman returns and confirms a miniscule drip where the new pipe meets the stopcock. I call Pete who says heís going to send out another engineer, to test the repaired repair. What happens, I wonder, if our waterís running when he does his secret testing by the front gate? Wonít this show up as leakage? Thames Water, you see, donít seem to Do appointments and check with the householder that their water supply is actually turned offÖÖ.. Not all is utterly frustrating. My successful domestic repairs are a replacement tile, cut perfectly to size by Adorn Tiling, for our Victorian tiled hall floor. And my daughterís Spanish riding boots, battered more by life on campus than anything horsey, which have been given a completely new lease of life with a new stitched sole and heels thanks to our local branch of Timpsons.
Happily itís time to bake a cake for my sonís birthday. I use my default Victoria sponge recipe of equal parts of self-raising flour, (some of the flour substituted with cocoa powder), caster sugar, eggs and butter.) I use an electric hand mixer for the sugar, butter and eggs, and then fold in the flour with a metal tablespoon for lightness. When the mixture is a gloopy paste I dollop it into three well greased round sandwich tins.
After half an hour or so I turn out the steaming and springy cakes and leave them to cool on my mumís wobbly pre war metal rack. I make chocolate butter icing Ė after sifting the icing sugar and combining it with sifted cocoa powder and softened unsalted butter. I add a little water and beat it with a fork to make it light and fluffy. I use a palette knife to smooth it over the cake. And then decorate it with silver balls. (NB Check out my definitive recipe for a good cake in my forthcoming new book.)
Nature is inspiring a kind of natural decoration guru all of her own. The cabbage is a case in point, all beautiful glowing green and purple frilling leaves Ė the chicest interior decorator couldnít do better. If you want your cabbage to retain its colour and texture remember to steam it lightly and only for a few minutes.
I hope to be buying my cabbages and other fresh-from-the-farm veg at our proposed new street market in West Norwood, which is following hard on the heels of the fabulous Sunday morning farmers market in Brixton. This is an uplifting project and positive stuff when all the papers are saturated with comment and data about Britainís increasing irrelevance on the world stage. I think about the future for my children. Eerily, these stories echo those that framed my teenage world Ė one in five young people unemployed, and lives strained to breaking point by shrinking state support Ė in the national decline that so gripped 1970s and early 1980ís Britain.
When people ask, how do you know what to chose when youíre putting together a new room or buying a piece of furniture ? I say that going with my instinct of what feels and looks right is usually successful. This is all very well, but if I am fussing or thinking about something else I may not always be properly alert to some wonderful new prospect that is staring me in the face. This is exactly what happens when I am cruising around the Brixton branch of the British Heart Foundationís chain of second-hand furniture and electrical shops. There it is, a magnificent upright and elegant wing chair. A touch elderly-aunt-like in its plush velvet cover but this can soon be sorted out with an update in a simple blue and white ticking. And my goodness itís only 20 quid. I clock it as Ďbrilliant, should buy it, a great piece for the location houseí but the detail is all made foggier in the domestic thought jumble. I am oblivious to precious minutes being lost as I fiddle with the messages on my iPhone. Too late! An eagle eyed young mum with child and a buggy also knows its potential value and snaps it up before Iíve even had the chance to press back to Menu.
You win some, you lose some. Happily, I return to form when I spot a pair of pretty armchairs (see above and below) lined up on the pavement outside the junk shop in Streatham Hill. Like the lost wing chair, they have promise in spite of unappealing covers. A quick barter with the fag-in- hand, peroxide blonde attendant and the chairs are mine for under 40.00. Their new home is the blue room where I think I have made them look a little more dashing with linen shawls from Volga linens. I find the use of a throw is a very handy trick to cover up ugly prints or threadbare seats, and to protect a more precious fabric from muddy paws or childrenís feet.
Also related to a too fast, too multi-tasking existence (as seen with wing chair experience above) I read in the newspaper that the emphasis on knowledge in our culture, is taking us further away from using our hands. Too right. I think itís so important to feel the physicality and satisfaction of creating something oneself. My main proviso is that nothing should be too complicated. One of the best ways, for example, to update a simple dining chair, is to give it a lick of paint. (For those who are like my friend Marjorie and think that being handy is an anathema, look at Howe London to see some clever ways with old-fashioned Windsor chairs.) My favourite colours for sprucing old chairs are duck egg blues or plain whites. This is how you do it: Sand the chair with a medium grain sand paper, and then again with a fine one. Remove all loose bits of old varnish or flakes of old paint to leave a smooth surface. Apply one coat of wood-primer or undercoat as evenly as possible. Allow to dry. Apply one layer of eggshell paint. Allow to dry thoroughly before applying a second coat of paint.
I also love the idea of rescuing worn out linen and blankets with the needles and thread from my desktop sewing kit. Itís a wonderful and practical distraction from the screen to repair a favourite blue and white check blanket that has lost some of its blanket stitch edging. (You can see lots more simple sewing examples in my book Sew Easy). It feels productive, and calms me. Just as an afternoon digging in the garden does, or stirring the aromatic golden marmalade which is on the list for this weekend. Oh yes, one other good thing is that although the garden has been left looking like a rugby pitch on a wet Saturday afternoon, the leak is mended and I no longer live in fear of Thames Water spying on our pipes in the early hours.
I squelch around the soggy garden mentally choosing new planting ideas for spring. Smooth red rosehips and little purple figs, relics of last summer, on the tree in a frost-cracked pot are just about the only other colours in a palette of greens and earth browns. In the long, low illuminating rays of a sunny winter`s afternoon it is clear that the house is in need of a good scrub. My tools are thick gloves, bucket of hot water, mild detergent, a good wooden scrubbing brush and elbow grease. With the Radio 4 play for company itís not too long before the white floorboards look less dingy and the bare pine boards in the kitchen feel smoother, and cleaner underfoot.
I would not describe myself as house-proud - always fussing and tweaking the cushions in a Stepford Wives kind of way. But I do feel a certain self-consciousness on behalf of my home in its role as a location house - like the protective mother of a willowy model daughter at the mercy of fickle art directors. The other day, it was turned down because our beds were too ĎEuropeaní. I would be the wrong person for the job if I took this as a personal insult. All it means is that the space isnít right for that particular job. Getting the detail up to scratch is all-important. I overhear a comment about a clientís visit to a location, that was so shabby chic, the door handles were stuck on with sellotape. Feeling slightly like a child about to be caught in the act, I make a note to remedy our interior malfunctions. Preparation for photography means an enormous session with the washing machine. I love the dog and cat but not their muddy paws that decorate the white cotton sheets and covers as soon as Iíve made up fresh beds. So I am very strict and un-dog-and-cat-lover-like and banish them from the bedrooms until a shoot is over. All of the folding, ironing, and hot water and bucket work is not in vain, when the first client of the year announces that they would like to come and live here.
When the thigh-high reflective waders are pulled out I know the ongoing water leak situation is not so rosy. Soon the front garden is looking like a floodlit crime scene from a Henning Menkell thriller as Carl the plumber digs down in search of an elusive and broken water pipe. Neighbours pass by and look pityingly at our muddy excavations. Several more holes and mounds of earth later, the verdict is a whole run of replacement tubing and great expense. At least larder supplies are stable as the older two have returned to university. And I am no longer burning my fortune away in gas after discovering that the house was unbearably hot not because of the wonderful capabilities of the new boiler, which of course are undeniable, but because the thermostat had been turned up to 75C in order to quick dry a load of washing over radiators before the return to penniless student life. In between everything domestic, I am back at my desk writing Christmas thank yous with beautiful black and white cards Ė photographs of long gone North Devon rural life by James Ravilious from the Beaford Archive. (I must also tell you about the inspiring pictures on show at the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery.) With many more evenings, and afternoons, of electric light before the clocks change, I am thinking of trying out what must be the first, and only stylish looking low energy light bulb: the Plumen bulb uses 80% less energy and lasts 8 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Meanwhile, it is good to see spring is advancing with my indoor pots of sprouting amaryllis and hyacinth bulbs.
I am woken in the ink of night by a rumbling on the stairs. The adrenalin washes away as I see the cat careering downwards in pursuit of a mouse. Next morning there are five blood spots where she has exercised the law of the suburban jungle. Sleep disturbances (there has been a teenage party, too) donít go well with my new year plans for super organisation and lists of things to get down. However, it is worth the numbing experience of a trip to Ikea to stock up on new white box files. Just lining them up on the office shelves, freshly folded and empty is enough to make me feel strong enough to tackle almost anything. Even the rather alarming threat from the water company that they will pursue legal action if I donít mend the small leak outside on the pavement within the new few days. Heavens, Iíve only just got over the drama of my boiler and British Gas.
This is the bother of long festive breaks, you have a wonderful time being cocooned with chocolates, fairy lights and going out to eat (Vietnamese noodles, seafood and mint at Battersea based Mientay) and a refreshing tapa of fennel, feta, and pomegranate seeds at Camberwellís Angels and Gipsies). Then, itís over, like the proverbial rug stripped from under your thick socks, and back to the grind to pay for it all. Still, thereís something rather appealing about returning to everyday duties. And even if it means sharing our house with the new seasonís sofas, a cotful of model babies, and photographers with caravans of staff and equipment, it is all part of an industrious rhythm that I seem to thrive on. Well, as long as it doesnít get too hectic....
With the pompoms back in the Christmas box stored up in the attic and the tree dismembered into aromatic kindling for the fire, the house returns to a feeling of calm simplicity that is really welcome after all the festive stuff. I know that white is my passion - white walls, white plates, white you-name -it - but I also couldnít live without the simple everyday qualities of blue and white striped ticking cotton (charcoal-coloured, seen here) much of it from Ian Mankin that I use as cushion and chair covers, and assorted tablecloths. Similarly visitors to the house will find all sorts of blue and white checks, for wool throws, for more cushions, and my favourite blue and white check mesh shopping bag from an old-fashioned Spanish hardware shop. This is the sort of everydayness that is as important to me as cloves of garlic and good olive oil for a simple salad dressing or a thick piece of buttered toast and tea. And I mustnít forget a good book too. Reading a Sunday review where publishers mope about the ones that got away, I can see thereís some rich material. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (Virago), and Deceptions by Rebecca Frayn (Simon&Schuster) look to be just two beguiling novels that will distract me from the new year paper piles and form filling.
From almost-hysterical queues to silhouettes of trees and church towers against white fields: this contrast from urban shopping frenzy to rural peace has been one of the best things about our Christmas, spent in the depths of Somerset. Charades, a melee of dogs plopped in front of the fire, and Blackadder on the TV are pretty good festive ingredients, too.
Thereís a feeling of relief that all the present searching and sorting is over. I am using the post Christmas calm to get stuck in to Before I Go To Sleep With a bizarre form of memory loss as its key theme, the story is a gripping psychological thriller which kept me up all night, because it was too tantalising to close the pages and not get to the clever ending. But enough of the adrenaline. I am thrilled with my copy of Second Nature: A Gardener`s Education by Michael Pollen who brilliantly promotes the garden rather than the wild as the most appropriate place for rethinking our relationship with nature. He says that a garden is the place for being in, rather than looking at. Lawns, for example are not part of Pollenís landscape: ďThe more serious about gardening I became, the more dubious lawns seemedĒ he writes and goes on to say ďFor however democratic a lawn may be with respect to oneís neighbours, with respect to nature it is authoritarianĒ. I know what he means, but you do have to tough it with nature too - Iím thinking of the groundelder and lemon balm that engulfs my summer garden, of which I have no qualms at hacking down to maintain order.
With more musing on my unseasonal train of thought I do so miss the summer herby lavender scents of my garden which is looking so spare and flattened now that there is a bit of a thaw in progress. The closest I can seem to get to a summer sensory experience at the moment is the gorgeous Primrose Facial Hydrating Cream with lavender, sage and rosemary from Aesop. I donít usually find huge words of praise for beauty treatments (having worked as a beauty editor some years ago and tried out products that came with extraordinary claims, even more extraordinary prices and yet didnít seem to be any better than E45 cream from the chemist) but this cream is delicious in fragrance and good to my frazzled winter skin. Whilst Iím on the subject of beautifying I shall keep you posted with the effects, if any, (who me, sounding a touch cynical?) of my Yuroll which bills itself as a jade facial massager Ė not unlike a small rolling pin on a long handle Ė and is supposed to ensure a ďlean re-contoured wonderfully unlined face: thoroughly toned and with improved elasticityĒ. I canít see anything, apart from a very large dose of Botox improving my Ďlaughterí lines and general wear and tear, much of which occurred when I sunbathed furiously in my teens. But, hey Iím going to give it a go!
Weíre all nursing extremely full stomachs, and yearning for something lighter and more fragrant than Christmas turkey fare. My sister in law gave me a jar of her preserved lemons, which I canít wait to add to a spicy tagine with some fluffy hot couscous. I must also pay a visit to Persepolis our local taste of Persia in Peckham, where there are many aromatic middle eastern delights. After an extremely bracing walk across Hampstead Heath, it wonít be over indulgent in this season of indulgency, to enjoy some ice cream at Marine Ices in Camden, a family tradition that goes back to when my children were small and seemed to disappear behind their two huge scoops of chocolate tottering on wafer cones.
The snow comes and the last roses are topped with fairy queen ice bonnets. I embrace the way the snow, the hoar frost, the cold, slows everything down: idling in front of a blazing fire to thaw out, or the ridiculously slow driving speeds needed to avoid the neighbourís brand new Fiat are all rather welcome. I crunch around the garden in Wellingtons and think it timely to invest in a pair of the recycled cashmere gloves that I spied on the nydesign room site. The dog loves the new white world and takes up goal post positions saving the snow balls we chuck in the air. ďLook at that dog jumpingĒ squeals a boy in the park and I feel the sort of maternal pride normally reserved for my children when they were young and doing some sort of athletic trick. I think she deserves a Liberty print collar even if itís not quite the butch streetwise look that most dogs sport around here.
The extreme weather conditions have encouraged the squirrels to excel at survival tactics. They line up on the garden fence, tails juddering, twitching and eyes greedily fixed as I attempt to plant the bulbs that didnít get dug in before the blizzard. I am not taking chances and put down barricades of wire netting to stop their mining efforts.
The shoots are tramping in slush and so I rush round laying down covers hoping it doesnít seem too unfriendly. It is not a little disorientating to be watching TV on Monday in the sitting room painted in Duluxís aubergine vision for winter 2011, and then by Wednesday, itís spring again and all pale walls, tulips, and hyacinths for a magazine feature that includes a gorgeous arm chair upholstered in olive green from Laura Ashley. Another theme on all things British, includes very simple white jugs from Burleigh that are ideal for a Pure Style kitchen, and simple block printed fabrics from Tobias and the Angel.
This Christmas I am stocking up on Spanish fig and almond slices from Brindisa and more membrillo as book writing meant that I didnít get round to making it this autumn. For more Iberian pleasures such as simple woven Portuguese shopping baskets try Feitoria. For a present of simple everyday drinking glasses you canít beat the dumpy French Duralex ones from Labour and Wait. And any lover of English food history will have their head happily buried all over the festive period in a copy of Dorothy Hartleyís classic Food in England: A Complete Guide to the Food That Makes Us Who We are
I might think the moment for scented room candles could come and go forever if it werenít for Diptyque who make ones with authentic smells. My favourite is Oranger, and almost as aromatic as the real thing. The Christmas tree is going up tomorrow and with it woolly pom poms that are very satisfying to make with children because the effect is very quick to achieve. I also make rag balls with fabric strips from my remnants bag that are pinned to floral oasis. The look is simple and homespun.
Packing up for the holsí may be palpitation inducing: thundering down the motorway to take the dog for her summer billet with my sister, racing through a monthís paperwork in the early hours, and making the house ship shape for a magazine Christmas shoot . But boy itís worth it! Exchanging city shorts for beaten up espadrilles and t-shirts is as good for the soul as the summer diet based around grilled sardines and hunks of watermelon. Just scraping under the 20kg limit as usual, my suitcase is stuffed with books for long spells of reading under the beach umbrella. Favourites include The Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shephard; Outliers Ďthe story of successí by Malcolm Gladwell, and The Algarve Fish Book by Nic Boer and Andrea Sieber. Iím also inspired by Reinventing Letter Press by Charlotte Rivers, a stylish little book with fabulous printing ideas.
Along with the reading matter, thereís just enough room to slot in a few bars of Green and Blacks chocolate bars. It will head straight to the fridge as soon as possible after we meet the sauna temperatures of Olhao in August.
Iíve also tucked in the dolls house sized Indian terracotta pots that the returning traveller produced from her mighty backpack. Perfect for salt, pepper, and chopped herbs, they are also a tangible reminder of just how far my middle born has spread her wings in the last six months.,
1ím counting on the Spanish lodgers to nurture the courgettes and tomatoes all swelling nicely in the warmth and damp. One of them is a specialist ham carver, so I hope his talents for precision extend to the vegetable patch. Theyíre already under instructions to feed and water Miss Bea, the cat who will lord it over the sofas, spreading her black fluff, with the dog safely out of the way.. One last look around the flowerbeds, to enjoy the sweetly scented white nicotiana- another unexpected success from last yearís seeds, which in turn were produced from the previous yearís blooms that i collected. And even the agapanthus managed to defy the winterís ravages and has just put out some glorious blooms. Iíll miss the sweetpeas, too, their delicate soapy fragrance is so much part of an English summer garden. .
Before I snap the case shut I must tell you about three new finds: Feitoria.com.pt sells a cleverly edited collection of Portuguese accessories, such as leather slippers, donkey milk soap,(yes, honestly) and cork ice buckets - so much more inspiring than the usual souvenir stuff. Closer to home ther`re simple Welsh blankets and other celtic home ideas from Blodwen And molly-meg.co.uk sells stylish child sized chairs: a good idea for anyone want ing a nice bit of scaled down Ercol in the nursery.
Very very late in getting this post out, but my fingers have been racing over the key board writing text for the book. Driven by a surge of fear and enjoyment I plug into Al Green`s `Let`s Stay Together ` and try not to be distracted by You Tube comedy clips and the latest updates from THAT volcano. The spewings of which, we were lucky to avoid returning from Olhao, where, hooray! the room on top is complete and wonderful. Filipe Monteiro of White Terraces is the architect of this little white gem. From simple white wooden beams to curved detail on the stairs up to the roof, he has cleverly interpreted traditional Olhao building features to make the structure look as if it has been there for ever. And together with his gang of men, Mr Martinho is the builder from heaven.
In Olhao market, spring is here with the juiciest oranges billowing herbs and plump `favas` broad bean pods. The fish market is full of fish because it`s Friday, and there`s the fresh ozone sea smell rising from wet slabs displaying everything from the anonymous `pescado`, 1 euro kg, so ordinary it doesn`t deserve a name, to thick white fillets of corvina 16 euros kg. From their perches on cranes, and spires, the storks are gnashing their great beaks in mating calls, sparrows twitter and the 11am hooter whines like an air raid siren : the boats have come in.
In London the garden is green and glossy, and the tulips are bursting out in bloom with more vigour than I remember. Maybe it was because winter was so long and so hard that all growing things seem to have extra reserves of energy to launch themselves into the new season. Against all these signs of nature`s renewal, it is particularly sad and poignant to hear of the sudden death of mother, and brilliant garden and interiors writer Elspeth Thompson. What a great loss. A fellow blogger, she was most encouraging to me. At the very least she will live on through her evocative words and thoughts.
I never quite know what will come up on the tulip front, and I`m really pleased that the black Parrot tulips from last season have reappeared. Watching them go through the budding bit to their unfurling into a whirl of feathery petals the colour of dark beetroots is absorbing
Black Parrot tulips in bud and full frilly bloom
Unfurled `Blue` parrot tulips, look like striped fruit drops from an old fashioned confectioner or even a head of salad radicchio. Where`s the blue?! and when they are in full bloom the striped effect fades into an all over fuschia pink.
New to the garden this year, and from another really good value bulb order from Crocus the single late tulip, Violet Beauty, is more of a slender, elegant thing than its more wayward and feathery Parrot tulip companions.
Only a few piles of dog eared admin remain before we can escape to Olhao and the new room on top. On the way to the post office, mimosa and forsythia are fizzing with yellow. It seems a little wasteful to be leaving behind the first budding and greening signs of spring but the draw of sand between toes and sardines are tantalizing too. And after more technology malfunctions (I won`t even go there) parking ticket angst, missed train connections, and near hospitalisation involving clogs on a down escalator, I`m ready to walk there, let alone fly .
Just have to get in a session of dough making for pizza (artichoke hearts, green olives and parmesan, is my current favourite) and other homemade creations (see here my sister in law`s divine rye sourdough bread) to illustrate my new book. The four legged paparazzo is enjoying the cooking sessions too, hanging around the worktop for crumbs, and helping herself to the subject matter of a flapjack shot when no one`s looking. It`s all go putting together the pages, and the deadline is no tiny speck in the distance anymore. But that`s good, too, because it means the weeks are slipping away until the backpacker daughter returns.
When I`m back first stop will be gorgeous fabrics at the V&A exhibition, Quilts 1700-2010. Might even get round to a spot of quiltmaking with pretty seaweed prints from the museum`s collection of archive printed cotton. Check out more print ideas from Printand pattern.blogspot.com and Liberty prints at knockdown prices in the new range for American chain store Target .
Spring garden notes: Divide agapanthus: I have an extended family of agapanthus plants that came stashed in a suitcase from Spain and are now packed tightly in a pot like chocolate fish in a tin, which is how they like it. This year, though, division is necessary to keep the plants vigorous and I cut them down the middle with a fork and plant the new half in a fresh container. Feed shrubs and climbers: I started with the standard roses, and have now worked in more compost and bonemeal around the shrub and climbing roses, and gorgeous pale lilac wisteria at the front of the house. Sow seedlings half hardy under cover: Nicotiana and zinnia seeds saved from last year are germinating in a tray on the windowsill. Sow less than think as a pinch of seed goes a long way. Prepare trenches for beans and `chitted` potatoes and dig in muck or compost (on another sea salty note, I remember my grandmother lined her bean trenches with seaweed and newspaper to conserve moisture).
Bother! I`d hoped to get my post out before the end of February. I am diverted from my laptop to equip the eldest daughter with `wedding ring`, door wedge, extending washing line and all the other stuff for the gap year female traveller. It is like losing a limb when she walks through Terminal 5 departures, but I can get in the bathroom now. And in the way that life sometimes seems to synchronise itself, my new book contract is signed and the deadline is just about the date she returns. Publication is next spring, but I`ll give you some sneak previews along the way. Some design notes:I won`t ever tire of gingham, it`s a really inexpensive way to add a spot of spring colour to the home: a simple pull on chair cover ,say . My temple is MacCulloch & Wallis who sell online as well as from a shop crowded with young fashion students in central London. Look out, too for enamel alphabet letters and numbers from Hyperkit, more timeless simple design. RIP Lucienne Day one of our great designers, known for her painterly and simple Fifties` fabrics. I also have a passion for the stacking Polyprop chairs that her husband Robin Day designed, and can still be picked up from secondhand shops and markets.
There are walking babies, crawling babies, sicky babies and back-up babies modelling shoes in the house, and so I escape to the garden. It`s looking spare (an understatement) but crocuses like bright fruit drops are pushing through. I prune the roses with vigour giving the 4 standards the equivalent of a military short back and sides. But they will flower well and spread without looking wild and untidy. They have a good feed with shovels of rich earthy compost from the bottom of the bin. It`s so cold I can`t be bothered to dig it in, but it`s raining so the nutrients will wash down to where the roots need it . The room on top in Olhao is nearing completion after the builders have ducked and dived the thrashing winds and rains of the Algarve`s worst weather in 30 years. It`s a whole new vista up here. In the distance, a band of cobalt sea beneath a grey blue sky, tv aerials, flapping laundry, a silver winding mesh of homing pigeons, the fizzing pink of an almond tree. And all with the Olhao soundtrack of dogs barking, bells, and the strains of a fado song on next door`s radio. NB The dearth of photographic evidence is due to further gadget malfunction, this time, my newly acquired i-phone, a marvellous invention, when it works The blues and greens of the seaside are exhilarating but no less than the rolling hills and valleys on the drive to see my Dad in Somerset: a mossy palette as if from a Farrow and Ball paint chart. And then there is more heavenly natural colour at the Van Gogh exhibition, where my rushhour Friday stress melts before the artist`s drawings and paintings of French gardens and vegetable patches
What with all the backpacking details I almost leave the marmalade making too late, but am saved by the last boxful of Sevilles at the local greengrocer. Soon the kitchen is a bittersweet aromatic fug and the mind only focused on the job. No wonder DH Lawrence said "I got the blues thinking of the future so I left off and made some marmalade." I read though that 80% of marmalade eaters are over 45. Don`t you think we should champion the young to get boiling and stirring? It`s such a pity that marmalade has that fusty old major at the breakfast table image.
I pot the marmalade in recycled jars that I save and store under the sink. Holding one`s golden efforts in a simple glass jar topped with a cellophane lid and decorated with a homemade label is pure pleasure; so, too, is a slice of bread topped with marmalade and a spoonful of creme fraiche.
The snow woman is limbo dancing in the garden (her structure undermined in a temporary thaw) and the skiers have returned from the Brockwell Park slopes. Welcome to 2010 and the weird world of weather. For the last two weeks we Londoners, together with the rest of the country have been grappling with the biggest freeze-up for years. This one is maybe not as punishing as the winter of 1947 when people were using pneumatic drills to dig up frozen parsnips and 20 foot snowdrifts cut off thousands, but it is bad enough to inflict an itchy collection of chilblains upon my 15 year oldāńŲ?—?•s toes. The red and swollen effects have been hastened by her unenthusiasm for sensible (ie uncool) walking boots. I explain (the without judgement style of explaining) that Top Shop pumps are probably not the best option for negociating ankle height slush, grit and skating rink pavements.
Even if the footwear advice is not exactly welcomed at least the suggestion that everyone keeps warm with hot bowls of porridge at breakfast is met with approval; not only comforting but the ideal vehicle for large amounts of dark muscovado sugar or golden syrup. I make it with roughly one cup of oats to three cups of water. Bring the ingredients to the boil in a saucepan and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until creamy. Honey, butter, cream, creme fraiche or chopped dates are other delights to eat with porridge.
The hyacinth bulbs I potted some weeks ago are throwing delicious scent around the room, and this, combined with the wood smoke from the fire gives the house the feeling of a rural oasis........ I can almost hear the sheep bleating. Reading in bed at night, swathed in an array of colourful wraps and blankets to keep warm, I`m told I look like an eccentric aunt. How romantic. One of my favourites is a cotton cellular example that I dyed lilac to pep up its hospital look. I`d like to add one of Donna Wilson`s takes on traditional Scottish blankets to the pile. And if I was to introduce some colour to my bedding themes, then Dorma`s new duck egg blue cotton sheets would be perfect.
I`m the first to bang on about the false economy of buying cheap gadgets. But when my iron was lost on one of the shoots a few months ago, as a stop gap I nipped down to the electrical shop and bought the cheapest one I could find. In short, a mistake highlighted when I swished, rather than sweated, through the creases with the new Phillips model that has replaced the bad buy. With the windows steamy, a cup of Earl Grey, and the afternoon play going in the background, I soon got through the stack of pre-washed tea towels to be made up into linen tablecloths, orders for which are flying out of my online shop.
8.00am: a fairy tale encounter with iced petals and snow flakes when I venture into the garden this morning to prod a blocked drain. A mucky distraction from the business of Christmas shopping which is something that I always intend to get done without getting stressed over, but never quite manage to pull off. It would be wise not read all those Christmas gift guides which swamp the reader with choices and possibilities that make decision making even more problematic. At least they`re not all about solid gold teapots these days, and hey, the Rolser (shopping on wheels vehicle of choice in Olhao) was even in the Eco Gift part of the Observer magazine. The shop floors of the Nation, though, continue to be choked with over packaged Starbucks gift boxes and pile `em high towers of celebrity memoirs. And talking of books, real ones, I have just ordered several copies of the Little Stranger by Sarah Waters . It`s supposed to be a good eerie read - perfect for a snug holiday afternoon. I know that all the mags are telling us to make our own presents, but it`s not quite as simple as that. You need time to create a handsewn bag for Aunt Olive or a knitted mohair scarf for your nearest and dearest. I know it`s all about the thought but setting yourself the task of homemade gifts for everyone can induce similar palpitating stress to battling through Oxford Street department stores. The way I do it is to do a bit of shop bought and a bit of homemade, and try to give appropriately. I can`t see my 20 year old wowing over a box of peppermint creams but know that if they`re prettily wrapped in tissue, will really please a girl friend or grandparent.
HOME MADE PEPPERMINT CREAMS: 1 egg white 450g icing sugar, juice of half a lemon, 5 or 6 drops of peppermint flavouring, the mere driplet of green colouring (or they`ll look gruesome and lurid). Beat the egg white until fluffy, and add all the other ingredients to make a ball of green paste. Roll out to half an inch thick and cut out shapes. I like mine round, but stars and hearts would be good for christmas too. Decorate with silver balls and leave the creams to dry on greaseproof paper overnight Christmas biscuits are also a winner, and can be thrown together in half an hour, left to cool and either eaten for tea or wrapped up as a gift. Watch me making a batch on my latest YouTube I have in mind, a `present to myself` set of Volga linen sheets. But the car needs to be fixed and what sort of parent lets their children drive off in a dodgy vehicle? This business of feeling responsible for your offspring, doesn`t diminish as they get older, quite honestly you feel even more protective towards them as they hurl themselves around the world on gap year travels and hit party nights in drink sodden University cities.
Another way of giving beautiful presents without spending a fortune is to have a rummage around charity shops for someone elses old glass. I set myself a visual style guide: no crystal glass, nothing coloured and always simple in shape. In this way it makes the hunt easier and defines the `look`.
Seagulls patterned like Fairisle jumpers swoop over the house in Olhao, where the ` room on top` is emerging from piles of rubble and bricks. I`m not going to post the `works in progress` pictures because they don`t look much fun, only to me. I will wait for a `before` and `after` show. Dare I say it, but it might take less time than we thought because Mr Martinho got off to a roaring start when a violent storm was forecast. It didn`t appear but, because there were more hands on the job in anticipation, the men were able to take down the old roof, and construct the building`s cement platform in just a few days. I like the way they have put all the old tiles to one side for reuse. I`ll leave you at the end of the year, with a plate of plump aromatic lemons, as typical an element of winter, as the rickety wagons of roasting chestnuts in the twinkly Olhao cobbled streets.
It has been a glorious Indian summer of an autumn: crisp golden leaves catching in my hair and tumbling across the grass as I walk in the park. But now the clouds have burst to soak the leaf fall which pastes the streets like papier mache. London is good at this time of year quieter, more mellow. In the deepening shadows the city squares and churchyards seem more secret, invitations into the past.
At weekends it`s hat, scarf and ribbed tights weather. Dark sunday afternoons are for eating cake and idling at an exhibition. I really really recommend the visual magic at The Museum of Everything, showing unseen artists, who create their work outside the eyes and ears of the art world. Take Judith Scott, who made sculpture from household objects entirely hidden by being wound-about over and over by wool and yarn. Scott had Down`s syndrome, and only communicated through these things. They`re very convincing, together with the spirit drawings of medium Madge Gill, and the ceramic recycled kingdom of Indian roads worker Nek Chand. The works are unintentional, delicate and profound. What a contrast at Tate Modern where Pop Life: Art in a Material World is billed as a foray into the world of the celebrity artist. It includes Andy Warhol wallpaper, Damien Hirst`s golden spot paintings, a reconstruction of Keith Harings`s Pop Shop and some unappealing top shelf stuff in the over 18s` room. The artist as commercial brand continues to flow into the shop where Tracey Emin white mugs are a whopping ¨®¨£15.00. It all left me feeling rather flat and anxious to go home and do something nourishing like collect the bean and nicotiana seeds from the pods I`ve been drying by the boiler.
I wake up to the door bell and a postman (something of a rarity during the recent post strikes) bearing a cardboard box with perforated holes from Crocus. It`s the tulip bulbs: Lilac Perfection, Tulipa White Parrot and Tulipa Violet Beauty. All to be planted asap. Six inches isn`t too deep too keep out the the foxes and squirrels who enjoy a crunchy bulb or two..or three....or more. By the way, bulbs are poisonous if eaten by humans and can be irritating to the skin.
A couple of weeks ago I planted up of bowls with specially forced bulbs of hyacinths, paper whites, and crocuses so we will hopefully be surrounded by gorgeous scent and colour over christmas.The secret is to keep them cool and in the dark to let them develop good roots before bringing them into the warmth and light.
Now for some trumpet blowing: Remodelista editor, Sarah Lonsdale has voted my blog as one of her top ten eclectic design blogs. And I`m `Queen of Simple`, no less, in Grazia magazine where there`s a piece on the house in Olhao. Speaking of which, hooray! hooray! almost a year to the day, we have the licence to start work on The Room on Top. Who knows what will be in store, once Mr Martinho`s gang arrive and start the heavy work? I will keep you posted.
A room isn`t a room without Farrow and Ball`s `Teresa`s Green`, it`s my current passion, having just re-painted the tv room. A room isn`t a room without a dog, but unlike paint which can be painted over if you get fed up with it, a dog is for life. Should be, but round here `weapon` dogs roam the streets with hoodied youths who can`t look after themselves, let along something on four legs. We found a sad, abandoned and emaciated staffie with sores and trailing claws who clambered wearily into the back of the car and let me take her to Battersea Dogs Home. If you want to rescue her she is Brindle/White SBTX
What with all the leaves pouring off the trees it seems a little unseasonal to be to picking remnants of a summer flower garden: a few rose heads, nasturtiums and so on. I hope it`s not because of climate change. But then Pepys describes roses blooming in his London garden in the middle of December, and that was hundreds of years ago before we`d begun to stifle the planet. Anyway, it`s good to press the petals between the pages of the telephone directory for simple decorations that you can stick on your christmas cards.
The warm conditions followed by wet this autumn have been a fungi foragers dream. My family really got into searching for porcini, (penny buns) field mushrooms, chanterelles, blewitts and parasols when we lived in Spain. These are edible mushrooms that are quite easy to identify. The locals there were crafty so and sos and thought nothing of raiding their neighbours` fields before daylight.
On a stroll through Berkshire parkland we found parasols (actually umbrella shaped) poking up beneath gnarled trunked oak trees. They`re very tasty fried in a little butter with parsley, but as with all edible mushrooms you shouldn`t eat them in large quantities because they`re hard to digest.
I am on a no waste campaign after listening to Tristram Stuart at a Studioilse Kitchen Table Talk, about the shocking way in which we waste food. His book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal reveals how much food gets chucked away right across the food supply system. Consider just this one fact: from the bread and other grain-based products that British households throw away each year, Stuart estimates it would be possible to alleviate the hunger of 30 million people. That sounds at first like an improbably large number āńŲ?—?® until one considers that British households chuck away 2.6bn slices of bread each year. I was brought up with the concept of not wasting food because both my parents were world war 11 children, but my daughter sees little harm in binning a perfectly good but one day out of date yoghurt, "Mum, you`ll give us all food poisoning" she protests, sinking her teeth into a Big Mac. Tristram would give the thumbs up, though, to my apple gathering in the garden. We have had three apple puddings and as many crumbles in the last fortnight. Not only have copious sheets of the Guardian been recycled, but the trays of newspaper wrapped apples in the cellar will last weeks.I`m planning to send a specimen - fruit and leaves - to the National Fruit Collection who for a tenner, will attempt to identify it. The tree`s pretty old so I`m hoping its some long lost variety.
The 19C architect and designer William Morris`s belief `Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful` is a resourceful, and anti-waste idea to embrace now. That doesn`t mean you have to buy exquisite and expensive: think of the humble pudding basin, it looks good and serves its function for very little money. Similarly, a useful junk piece with intrinsically good bones, can be given a facelifit with a lick of paint. See my latest Youtube where I perk up a rather gloomy looking side table, rescued from a local skip. This is a good way, too, of using up paint that you might have left over- another way of reducing waste. Don`t worry if all you have is emulsion. I know that paint purists wouldn`t approve but I use it all the time to paint bits of furniture. A water based primer, and two top coats of colour is all that you need. Here I`ve used Little Greene`s Salix which is a pale greeny blue colour. When I do get around to mending things, the relief and sense of purpose, and happy thoughts of money saving are so huge that I don`t know why I didn`t do it long before. For the last year or so, the dog has been regularly falling through the Salvation Army Ercol sofa because the webbing has worn through in the middle. Being lightweight, the cat doesn`t have this problem, and humans know how to avoid the caved in bit. So I am so excited to have come across the Upholstery Supply Man who is sending me replacements.All I have to do is fit them......
My last swim at the lido was two weeks ago: the day golden and still with maturing shadows; the air warm but with a chill; the water sparkling and fresh. Wistful, now that there won`t be any swims until spring. But to look on the bright side of things there are the dahlias: old English teatime flouncy petals that make me think of Erdem`s digital floral printed dresses, one of which to waft about in, top of my current wish list.
I have had an action packed summer: six teens and me, in Olhao. ( No time to paint my nails, let alone get a new blog post out) The heat, beach and three meals a day keep them out of trouble. There are a few ups and downs: livid red grazes from a failed mission to rescue a smartphone, another you-learn-by-your-mistakes- episode with drinks in pretty colours, bags with keys and money left at shops, and spectacles washed away whilst frolicking in crashing waves.
The food side of things is more of a challenge Not that the gang are fussy, in fact they lap up everything from crab to clams but the sheer weight of daily supplies is in danger of destroying the Rolly Rolser shopping bag on wheels. This trusty accessory joins the fleet that Olhaons trundle over cobbles to the daily fish and vegetable market. Saturday is best when local farmers bring their own produce and I come home with exquisite olives, sprigs of mint, garlic strings and brilliant zinnias, one euro a bunch. I am keen to get to grips with grilling sardines, and hang around peeling white washed alleys where old ladies and fishermen expertly fuss over their door step bbqs. The story: gray charocoal, not too much of it and a cup of water for damping unruly flames. This ensures light crispy skins, rather than the oily black charred offerings if the charcoal is red hot. As for preparation, the daily catch is so gleaming and rigid with freshness there`s not need to gut them. Salad to go with sardines includes our take on Italian panzanella made with stale bread, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion , parsley and a dressing with oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Then there are lemon quarters to squeeze over the fish and bring out its flavour.
The teen gang leave with the exuberance with which they arrived, in a whirlwind of Kate Moss scent, suntans, tangled salt hair and flip flops. The house settles back into itself again, with the air of post party relief that comes from from sending everyone home in one piece. I have a few delicious mornings in bed with Alan Bennett`s witty and self deprecating memoir Untold Stories . Then it is planning the Room on Top project for which, 8 months on, I finally have planning permission. The very last little bureaucratic hurdle is the 3 month licence, which should be through next week. More finger crossing.
As I pack away t-shirts and cool dresses, I muse that that it`s one thing to have visual records of Olhao`s unmanicured charm, but another to convey the pot pourri of smells: overworked drains, rotting fish, the waft of a honeysuckle in a hidden courtyard; beery fisherman, lingering herb cologne, home cooked stews, the ozone and saltness of the sea air. They`re so evocative, so of the place, it`s hard to conjure them up mentally but London suburbaban street air seems so bland in comparison, even when the foxes have been having a party by the dustbins.
Back at the ranch in Tulse Hill, the house has been earning its keep and host to shoots, including one for SMA baby milk of feature film proportions (apologies to my neighbours) with baby models, back-up baby models, and crates of plastic flowers; the latter draped all over the garden to make it look more colourful. My son says why can`t it always look like that. I give him the look reserved for similar utterances about things not meeting his exacting standards. Actually, the house is looking a bit bashed up after all the babies, cables, and cameras. So I am planning to do a bit of tidy up: repaint floorboards, and renew floor coverings with simple tactile rush matting, the sort we had at home in the sixties`. I am also debating one of Atlanta Bartlett`s white country tables from her new online store Pale and Interesting. The vegetable garden has survived a month of sporadic watering and nurturing from family members who remained to look after the shoots. The lettuces didn`t stand a chance, but the potatoes (Pink Fir Apple) and (International Kidney) are plump; we eat the first earthy diggings, boiled in mint and tossed in butter.
Cherry tomatoes, yellow courgettes, garlic and shallots have all performed far better than I`d dared hope, and I shall plait together a bundle of garlic for my friend`s birthday. Thanks, in part, to Lambeth council: it is their free compost bin that is the receptacle for the nicely rotted contents from the kitchen peelings.
Despite the jolly hard work of nurturing and tending to the nursery of delicate seedlings that started life next my desk, it is pure pleasure to see last year`s bean seeds curling and climbing up the wigwams, heavy with slender green pods.
Even the temperamental basil, that threatened to expire when I brought it outside too early is keeping us in supplies for pesto. The magical notion of producing so much from so little is exquisitely shown by a border of leggy nicotiana plants, whose delicate white flowers release intoxicating scent at nightfall. Weeks of sensual and visual pleasure from a packet of seeds is truly gratifying.
London might not have the laid back charms of a Portuguese fishing town, but there are more than enough autumn shows and exhibitions to divert post holiday blues. I am looking forward to the new ceramics gallery at the V&A , settles and benches by Studioilse on show at Leila`s Cafe, part of the London Design Festival , or booking a table at local home dining room the Salad Club. Don`t miss life on planet fashion in the endearing and irreverent documentary, The September issue which chronicles Vogue editor Anna Wintour`s preparations for the September 07 issue. I am agog because I once worked in an office below the Vogue fashion floor, and was terrified by the svelte things that tended the sample rails upstairs.
It`s the time of year, too, to think about hunkering down with warm blankets and cushions by the fire. I use a mix of calico and cuttings from Liberty floral cottons to make simple patch work covers. See my trusty sewing machine in action on my latest Youtube video which shows you how to make a simple bobbly trimmed tray cloth: an idea that could easily be put in the pipeline for diy christmas presents. And if all you do is go for a walk, take a bag, the trees are heavy with fruit: crab apples, plums, sloes and so on, for a spot of autumnal jam making.
Gracie says the air smells like a greenhouse after the cloud burst today. The garden steams and drips, soaked in earth, grass, and sweet petal scents. Heads bowed and blousey, in a riot of pinks , the roses are heavenly. The Constance Sprys are doing the best ever: huge pink fluffy musky scented flowers, named after the Fifties` kitchen goddess, whose resourcefulness brought the nation `Coronation chicken` and the mantra that you can be `a millionaire for a few pence` with a packet of seeds. A spirit after my own heart, but thankfully eating habits have come a long way from the curried mainstay of buffets and wedding breakfasts. Talking of resourcefulness, have a look at the latest You Tube video where I have a go at revamping a junk shop dress. Ever since I double rolled the waist of a sensible school skirt to make it look more Mary Quant mini, I have been lopping off hems to give my wardrobe a new lease of life.
I don`t know about you, but I feel an attachment to the flowers and plants in the garden, not as strong as that for my children, or the dog, or the cat even, but an attachment nevertheless. Don`t send for the white coats yet (Prince Charles talks to his plants). I heard a PHD student on radio 4 discussing a series of case studies which examine the emotional bonds that people have with plants. It makes sense to connect with a living thing that you`ve nurtured and laboured over. Then there is the sense of continuity that growing can bring. When my mum died, I dug up some of her peonies, and planted them here in the garden. Each summer the plants are bigger and put out an even more gorgeous show. Increasing natural beauty with nothing but a spade is one of the most satisfying things in life. The frilly drooping lipstick pink blooms remind me of a hot day at home and `ninety nine ` flake cornets from the ding dong ice cream van.
Notes from the vegetable patch: I have resorted to pellets to protect the courgettes from snails` fangs. The rocket is taking off and even the little basil plants are filling well - in pots. The basil planted in the ground was a dead loss. It is a such a tender little thing and I put the seedlings in too early. Shallots, garlic, potatoes, and chard all doing nicely. And I`m just about to plant out the seedlings from last year`s beans - a success rate of maybe 30%. Not so bad, but I will need a few more plants to top up. Pulled some radishes, which looked as if they`d been dipped in a wash of deep water colour - so pretty, but maybe a bit woody. Should have eaten when younger, but delicious enough with sea salt and pepper. Next to be potted is the tray of white nicotiana plants, grown from seed, which promise heady scent later in the summer.
I set myself a deadline of midday to write this, because the sun is now blazing and the glorious Brockwell Park lido beckons, where even the most sensitive creature will want to do a bit of swimming and frolicking in the shimmering blue cool water. How wonderful to be at the `Brixton Beach` where only in February, there were 3metre high snow balls, tobogganists on For Sale signs, and an artist painting in a blizzard!
Horrors. Some beastly person took a chance in our side passage and nicked my bike. Simple. I had neglected to lock it. I take a walk outside and let the beauty of the curled and furled parrot tulips take the edge off my frustration. The feathered buds seem to have been dipped in blueberry juice, clasped together like the furled wings of some exotic bird. In fact, more birdlike, than the the parrots` beaks they`re named after. Soon they will unfold in a riot of undulating and frilly petals. Some will be white, others blue (actually a fuschia pink) and black ( not black, black, but more a deep burgundy black). I`ve got to get replacement wheels, immediately. Not a pretty sentiment for someone who`s always banging on about the evils of self gratification, but the cycle bug has bitten and I`m fretting that I can`t hook the dog`s lead over the handlebars and let her take me at a cracking pace to the park, or nip to the Turkish shop for a bundle of early mint. Justification swims around in my head for quietly siphoning off the family`s holiday money to fund the purchase, from petrol saving, to the health benefits that will stave off some horrendously expensive operation in my old age. I will make it up to them, I think , feeling like a wife who plays bingo with the housekeeping, on my way to Recycling at Elephant and Castle . And thank goodness, that in the third bike crammed aisle is a reconditioned classic sit up and beg, Raleigh, with my name on it. After a short test cycle under the grimy railway arches of one of London`s most gruesome interchanges (although developers have grand plans for it) the deal is done. Not the bargain rate I got in the wilds of Norfolk, but not a bad one either. I"m back in business,and doing more making up to the family, by tearing up leaves of Jonny`s father`s wild garlic to strew in a gorgeous soup made with leek and potato. This is the season for wild garlic, `Allium ursinum` or ransoms, and you can find it in any damp, shady woodland, or even a suburban garden, which is where mine came from. The flowers taste delicious, like garlic, too, and you can toss them in salads along with the leaves.
Living with all this white, is great because the location shoots that come to the house want a space that is light and airy, which is just the kind of feeling exuded by a white painted room. It doesn`t have to be a very specially mixed kind of white either, just a qood quality paint, in white. Dulux brilliant white matt emulsion is always reliable. I can`t resist new colour though, and have taken the opportunity to spruce up the wood panelled attic, now my son is at university, with Paw Print` a lovely muted stone shade from the environmentally friendly paint range by Earthborn.
Pedalling past marzipan scented broom and blazing white magnolias in Battersea Park each morning put my head in the right place, for 4 days hard study at the botannical painting course I attended last week. The freesia is not my first choice to put in water on the table (maybe because the modern hybrids are too uniform in shape) but I began to appreciate its structure and complexity as our teacher Elaine Searle calmly guided the group of aspiring plant painters to observe, sketch, and watercolour the specimens. The final painting now stuck up on my noticeboard, is far from brilliant but I`m pleased with my efforts. What`s best is that I`ve been given the tools to be more confident at painting herbs from the garden, the best escape from a dismal tasks like appealing against parking tickets. NB I must return the magnifying glass,needed for the course, and on loan from the local newsagent whose heavenly home cooked lunch time curries waft comfortingly around his shop. I`m so enthused by my nascent painterly skills I shall go out and buy my own lens even if it does make you look slightly odd peering intently at a lone tomato.
The sprouting seed nursery in the office is getting under my feet as the fledging plants make their break towards the light. I have transplanted the zinnias into peat pots, which can go straight into the ground later on, as I they don`t do well with too much handling of the roots. I have a passion for the riotous pinks and purples of this frilly late summer flower, which looks so colourful in the border and as decoration. The basil is brimming nicely and that will be next in line to pot on. I might even put the sweet peas outside next week, covering them with a bit of fleece to be on the safe side. CH Middleton an old school BBC garden expert from the thirties whose book An Outline of a Small Garden, I picked up for 3.00 from a junk shop suggests that the best way to get fine big flowers , is put them at least six inches apart in a deeply-dug and well manured soil, and give each one a good long cane or stick to support it; then as they grow, nip out all the the little side shoots as soon as they appear, leaving the one stem to each plant. In this way you will get very tall plants and extra fine flowers. I am also really hoping that the sprouting leaves of night scented stock will be successful. You hardly notice it during the day, but on a summer evening it entices you outside with its powerful scent. I shall grow it in pots near the garden table so we can enjoy its scent on one of those calm balmy nights which are possible in this country if the isobars on the weather map are wide enough apart. Out digging in more manure, and weeding last weekend, I noticed a garden regular, the blackbird with an albino patch, having a feast on unfortunate worms revealed by the earthworks. And sometime later the cat struck lucky with a mouse that she laid separated from its head at the bottom of the stairs...... to greet me first thing Monday morning. (Wild)life is tough on the flowerbeds in suburbia.
Thinking about the most delicious things I`ve eaten in the last 48 hours, the lemon cake was good, after our trip to Tate Modern to see Roni Horn`s exhibition, but not as good as the fork biscuits, made by my friend, Fiona .The recipe involves little more than flour, butter, sugar, lemon zest, and a fork for making ridged patterns on each round biscuit shape. I think they`ll be good for tea on Easter Sunday, and less sickly than all the chocolate that will be scattered about. I like to decorate eggs, and am excited with the acrylic colours I found in Green & Stone , one of the most fabulous art shops in London. See how easy it is to do on my Youtube Make and Do series.
It`s been snowing blossom. Our suburban streets have been turned into bridal avenues of trees laden with white and pink scented petals. Even the faceless housing estates look more inviting with clumps of daffodils and flowering cherries planted in the communal spaces. Yesterday I was up early and staggering outside with a weighty bag of seed compost to get on with sowing. I tend to pick up seed packets on a whim rather than on a preordained expedition. I know more or less what I want, but like to gather together elements of my summer garden bit by bit. It gives me breathing space to mull over ideas. It`s not that I`m a procrastinator, rather that I enjoy the adventure of coming across surprises, like the chilli seeds raised by Latin American chilli lovers at the local community allotments. When I was visiting my father in Somerset a couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a typical country high street hardware shop brimming with tools, and, inspired by the equally well stocked racks of seeds ,bought packets of zinnias the colours were so irresistible. And summer visions of salads tumbled with leaves aromatic basil, meant that there was no alternative but to ditch smelly cheese, for two varieties of basil from the artfully packed range of Italian Franchi seeds at the local deli cum cafe cum veg shop. So back to the garden, and a balmy Sunday morning filling plastic trays with handfuls of compost and various seeds from little black specks of nicotiana ( heavenly scent on a summer evening) to peppercorn sized sweet peas. I soaked the seven year old sunflower seeds in water, gathered from our garden in Andalucia , and prized open the tough striped casings to remove the seeds. They look healthy enough, but I`ll know in the next 10 days or so, whether there`s still potential in them. The trays are lined up, like cots in a nursery, in my office by the window on layers of newspaper and an old door so when I water them it will not soak the floor. I sit writing, glancing maternally at the potential garden offspring beside me.
I like a bit of architecture in my garden. Not waterfalls, giant urns or grand gazebos, but wigwams. Wigams of willow sticks , that is, and I`m very excited to have discovered the English Hurdle company on the net, who swiftly dispatched two bundles of willow sticks which I have bashed into the earth with a mallet and tied together at the top with all purpose hairy garden string. These twiggy structures are placed at the four corners of the flower and vegetable patch (my informal version of a traditional potager) and will support the climbing beans and nasturtiums. Until this year I`ve used cane pea sticks for my wigwams, but the willow looks more earthy and organic, and although its more expensive, will last longer than the canes.
My son is back for Easter and wants to know where to take his girl friend for lunch. Somewhere suave, mum, he says. How did I raise a boy with such expensive taste? Maybe he`s winding me up but then, he is a child of the boom time when expectations were high. Without extending his student overdraft even further , I think there may be a solution more in keeping with these straitened times. Ok, Brixton market, might not be the capital`s most romantic spot, but at franca manca wedged between stalls selling yams and Rastafarian bonnets, there`s the romance of eating the most heavenly sourdough pizzas baked in a special Naplese wood fired oven. And it won`t cost them more than ¨®¨£20.00 to eat sumptuously, in the word`s of one reviewer `the best place to eat pizza in the UK`
Spring has sprung with many of the season`s new frocks decorated with pretty florals. I have always fallen for buds and blooms and they needn`t look girly if you mix them with blocks of colour. And just as you don`t want to look like a flower border so you should also use florals in moderation around the home - as accents rather than all over floralness. Sprigged prints on lampshades are a good starting point if you want to introduce some simple country style in a plainly decorated room.
Typing in six layers, including a substantial wool coat, isn`t a peach as sudden movements are restricted (leaping to stop the dog swiping my chocolate biscuit, for example ) but it`s good to feel so wrapped up and cossetted. I suppose I`m being frightfully eco and saving on heating bills by being my own living radiator. But we have to go a lot further in this hot-bath-and-shower-addicted household to make a decent dent in costs. I swoon with motherly pride at the 17 seventeen year old`s top notes, soaring upwards from the shower, but accompanied by fifteen minutes of steaming and pelting water sounds makes it a pricey performance. I`m wondering where to find an automatic shower time-out like the ones in the gym, where just as you start to feel properly soaked, it cuts out. Curmudgeonly? I hope it`s not some sort of lingering vibe from the grumpy old man persona that comedian Jack Dee plays in Lead Balloon, the series filmed in our house last summer.
Meanwhile, I`m making up the beds with all the blankets I can lay my hands on including the special no-dog-and-cat-allowed velvet ribbon- edged one. This reminds me that adding a trim to something like a plain tea towel or cushion cover is a simple way to customise a Christmas present. And on this subject, my head is spinning. You`d think that being a stylist and professional shopper, I would be resistant to the frisson of panic induced by the beguiling and glossy gift lists in the magazines. Well, I`m not. I am pleased though with my more humble DIY Christmas hamper idea: small wooden crates, which clementines come in, lined with tissue and filled with goodies like homemade membrillo; a bar of Green and Black`s chocolate; a packet of frilly white parrot tulip bulbs; or a good read, perhaps Francois Sagan`s classic coming of age Bonjour,Tristesse, for one of the teenagers, or Zoe Heller`s, The Believers. I shan`t forget some gorgeous Christmas delicious scents too, like the intoxicating sweetness of a pot of paperwhite narcissi, or for complete indulgence, a tuberose candle from Diptyque.
AROMATIC ORANGES Oranges remind me of Christmas in Andalucia: the bulging nets of `navelinas` (they`re the ones without pips) sold at the roadside on the way out of Seville, and the sweet heady blossomed air floating in the half-opened car window as we swept by neat sunlit orange groves. I learned that a tree can fruit and flower at the same time, and that an unwaxed orange is so much more appealing than the artificially shined and waxed ones in Tesco. I also learned how to carefully slice the peel off with a perfectly sharp little knife, cut the orange into wafer thin discs, and chill in the fridge with a little lemon juice, a tablespoon or two of cointreau and a few fresh mint leaves. At Christmas lunch and the meals to come we continue to enjoy the clean fresh taste of sliced oranges, against the stodge factor of the pudding and mince pies.
The park glittered in the still clearness during my early morning dog walk; the light as intense as the sweet liquorice smell from the dried fennel sprig I picked and crushed in my hand. The autumn fall of leaves this year is a breathtaking chemical wonder of nature, suspending belief that summer is over. So much colour. So many variations on yellow, burnt orange and brown. This visual tonic is more energising than herbal Floradix, the liquid plant food for humans, that my friend Bea swears by when she needs perking up.
I say `day-lee-a ` you say `dah-lee-uh`. Whatever the emphasis, dahlias are another last blast of gorgeous autumn colour before the dankness begins. This native Mexican flower imported two hundred years ago has always been a mainstay of the allotment garden, to pick for the table along with the cabbages and beans. I remember grandpa, fag in mouth, carefully tying his prize purple spiky blooms to stakes with green hairy string. In high-up garden circles though, the frilly dahlia was long considered rather vulgar. I`m glad the style bibles and garden columns have made them acceptable again in and outside the vegetable patch, and there are a wonderful array of varieties for any border or pot. On of my favourites is `Noreen` a flirty rich pink pompom shape. keeping warm
Got to think about keeping out all those beastly draughts this winter, as I don`t want a repeat of the heating bill we ran up last year, especially when energy costs are supposed to rise another whopping 40 percent. Something thick and sensible, but nonetheless good looking, like a curtain lined with a blanket,is going to be a good way to deal with the gale that blows in under the front and side doors. There is a very basic pattern for one, using some tough pink corduroy in my book Sew Easy. It`s based on the same lines as the old insulating curtains we found in the house when we first moved here. chocolate and chestnut cake I know I`ve posted this recipe before, but it is too, too delicious, and, because chestnuts are gluten-free, might inspire anyone who has an intolerance and is missing gooey cakes. I admit to being partisan but you must try the peeled organic chestnuts my husband produces at his little factory in Andalucia, South Western Spain Base:400g peeled chestnuts, 125g caster sugar, 125g chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids), 100g butter Icing: 15g butter, 125g chocolate, as above, 15ml fresh orange juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind Process peeled chestnuts and sugar until smooth. Melt chocolate and butter in a large saucepan. Add chestnut/sugar paste and mix until smooth. Turn into a greased cake tin. Icing: melt the chocolate with butter, orange juice, rind, and stir until smooth. Spread over the mixture and chill in the fridge overnight.
It`s September. It`s swallows flying south. It`s sun tan washing off in the bath. It`s back to school. It`s polished shoes, timetables, and a brisk swim at the lido on a mellow Sunday morning. As my children get down to their books with the vigour only seen at the start of a new year I, too, am enthused with ideas for colours, new spaces, and what to plant in the garden. August under cloudless Algarve skies has filled me up with positive thoughts, like a well stocked fridge. Ballast against the coming grey afternoons that darken before six.
Not that I am tiring of white, but I am experimenting with more colour around the house. Last week, aided by the muscle of my 19 year old, I rollered and brushed away the pale retro green in the north facing room which until now has been used for the rowing machine and ironing. Now it has a new rich olive green look or `citrine` as described on the paint pot. It will go with white and is very seventies`, like one of the rich funky colours that society decorator David Hicks used. I think he was so clever at making stuffy grand houses look hip with the injection of something bright and outrageous like lemon yellow armchairs, or shocking pink and orange wallpaper.
My secret plan is to annex my new green room as a snug winter sitting room/study.
Olhao is an ongoing project near the top of my list of things to do. For the last two years we`ve been restoring an old townhouse, in this Portuguese coastal town with it`s specific aromatic tag of grilling fish, drains, and salty air. This where we come in the holidays to eat sardines so fresh they are rigid, swim in clear unpolluted sea reached by ferry boat, and live at a slower pace.
Using local builders we have repaired and renovated walls weeping with salt, and woodwork blistered and warped by sun and rain. I have sourced handmade terracotta floor tiles, still produced by an ancient factory up in the hills, and poked around in dusty warehouses to find the perfect sized white tiles for the kitchen and bathroom. The interior is plain, with tongue and groove detail, high ceilings and tall double doors. On the flat roof, typical of the town`s North African architectural feel we`re adding a room, a white cube, with a bedroom, wood burning stove and shower. This will be a cool retreat in summer without electricity, candles will do, and there`ll be a solar panel on top for hot water. This is where to watch storks glide and breathtaking sunsets. . As my grasp of Portuguese is at best, limited, my hands will held by a Portuguese architect friend. I hope we will not need to seek planning permission as the building will remain in the permitted height restrictions. Ho hum, I`m not counting on anything though. E-mails are being pinged back and forth refining the original layout, which I paced out one sizzling morning, eyed by a scraggy black cat. Fingers crossed, completion should be by next Spring. I`m off to seek more architectural inspiration over the Open House weekend when all kinds of extraordinary buildings, public and private are open to the public in London. Last year we stayed local and explored a windmill, an amazing eco house, and a fabulous but faded art deco housing estated called Pullman Court.
Apples, apples and more apples are waiting to be gathered in the grey metal bucket. If I am organised there will be crumbles and apple sponge for pudding. The garden has that overgrown and dying back look of autumn. The effect is monotone and washed out like the moody Vilhelm Hammershoi canvases of landscapes and interiors I managed to catch on the last day at the The Royal Academy of Arts.