Saturday, 30 July 2016

Five on Potter

Hello, thank you for dropping in, it's lovely to see you here.  Today I am joining the lovely Amy at Love Made My Home for the last Five on Friday until September and I would like to share with you a very personal Five, one which I have been waiting for and I think some of you have, too.
Helen Beatrix Potter was born on 28th July 1866 and here in the UK, we are making a bit of a to-do about her this week: the Royal Mail has issued a set of commemorative stamps and the Royal Mint has been issuing commemorative coins.  Here in my Shropshire patch, I need no anniversary to remind me about her -
When I was a very small child in the 1960s, my Aunt Anne bought me these books, a few at a time for my birthdays and Christmases until I had the complete set, all twenty-three of them.

Can you see the price?  Five shillings, or 25p in decimal currency, and Aunt Anne bought me twenty-three of them.  I believe the current price is £5.99.   I was not the first niece for whom she did this and nor would I be the last, I think there are three of them in the family.  I LOVED these books: they are the perfect size to be held by little hands, there is a beautifully detailed picture on every other page and the stories themselves are full of excitement and adventure.  Don't let those delicate pictures beguile you into thinking that these are sweet, romantic little tales.  Oh no, they're not.  Have you ever read The Tale of Mr Tod?  It's SCARY.  The Tailor of Gloucester?  One of the creepiest Christmas stories ever - Simpkin is a cruel and nasty piece of work.  The Tale of a Fierce Bad Rabbit?  He gets his comeuppance in the end and it involves a shotgun.  My books are not in very good condition but I make no apologies for that because they have been read, over and over again, and surely that is the purpose of books, to be read, not just to sit on shelves and be admired/neglected.  However, some of my books do have little leaflets tucked inside them, as they did when they were purchased

For thirty-two shillings you could have bought a bookcase to house your books.  That's £1.60 in today's money.

So, in celebration of Miss Potter's 150th birthday, today I would like to show you five other things which live in my house.  The thing is, "in the house" didn't feel at all the right place to show them to you, so I have brought them out into the garden and we have sat in the sunshine, accompanied by the drone of bumble bees feasting on the nectar in the flowers, the fluttering of butterflies and a sleeping cat.  I think Miss Potter would have preferred that.

1.  Timmy Tiptoes

I was a teenager when Aunt Anne bought me this Beswick figurine.  Every autumn, when I am out in the woods and the squirrels are busy running around, burying their nuts and seeds, I am reminded of the greedy little chap in the red jacket and of how accurately Beatrix Potter captured the likeness of grey squirrel on the page.

2.  Peter Rabbit

This plate is not mine, it belongs to The Teacher, a gift for her first birthday and baptism and if she reads this, my 'phone will be red hot because she'll be demanding it back, but at the moment it's in my house, as it has been for almost all of her life.  It was bought for her by one of her doting aunts and given with strict instructions that it should be used daily, not simply admired from afar, which is why its sibling mug and bowl no longer exist. Many, many meals were taken from this plate by little hands.  
3.  Benjamin Bunny

Of course, this picture is of Peter Rabbit but the image comes from The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.  Both of my girls spent many happy hours putting this puzzle together on the living room carpet, learning to match and to fit and enjoying the story of how Peter and Benjamin retrieved Peter's jacket and shoes from Mr McGregor's garden.  One day, perhaps, their children might do the same.

4.  Mrs Tiggy-Winkle


I have very few ornaments in my garden but Mrs Tiggywinkle lives out there all year round, peeping out from behind the foliage.  After all, she is very shy.  The book is in poor condition now, it has been read it so very many times.  
5.  Ta-dah!
The bookcase!  Aunt Anne spent those thirty-two shillings on the perfect place to keep my books and I have been grateful ever since because it really is something special.  You can see now just how well-read my books are, but I can't regret it, my girls, their friends and I have gained so much pleasure from them.  I wonder if I will be able to squeeze in The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots when it's published later this year? 
Thank you for indulging me and allowing me to share this little lot with you.  I'm off now to raise a cup of tea to Beatrix Potter and wish her a happy birthday.  If you have time, please hop over to Love Made My Home and see what everyone else is sharing this weekend.
(And just in case you are thinking that Miss Potter's books are simply children's stories, there is a very interesting article here which may convince you otherwise.)
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Thursday, 28 July 2016


Hello, thank you for popping in.  Our schools have broken up for the summer and we are easing into a different rhythm for the next six weeks.  If you read my last post about our weekend away on Anglesey you may remember that I said I would be back soon to tell you about a special place we visited there, and here I am.  It's quite long and photo-heavy so you might want to make yourself comfortable and pour a cup of tea before you sit down to read it.
Do you know what "thin places" are?  It's a Celtic Christian term used to describe places where the boundary between heaven and earth feels especially thin.  Writing in the New York Times a few years ago, Eric Weiner described them like this:
"The distance between heaven and earth collapses and we're able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent, or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever."
The Infinite Whatever.  I like that.  I think the Infinite Whatever is very close at Llanbadrig. 
The northernmost point of Wales is a small, uninhabited island called Middle Mouse which likes about a kilometre off the north coast of Anglesey.  It's called Middle Mouse because its shape allegedly resembles that of a mouse, but I think that's a bit tenuous (there is also an East Mouse and a West Mouse).  What do you think?  Perhaps a mouse of the small, pink, sugared variety, with it's head towards the left? -

However, the island's Welsh name is Ynys Badrig: Patrick's Isle.  Legend has it that St Patrick was sailing to Ireland when a fierce storm drove his ship onto this island and wrecked it, stranding him there.  Somehow, he made his way to land and found a cave (now called Ogof Badrig) with a freshwater spring (Ffynnon Badrig). With shelter and fresh water he was able to recover from his ordeal and before continuing his journey, he founded a church on the clifftop to thank God for saving his life.  This was about 440 CE and so Patrick's Space,  Llanbadrig, is the earliest Christian site in Wales.

I planned to visit Llanbadrig when we came here in February.  I had done my research, written notes and directions and arrived full of excitement and expectation.  The current building, built in the twelfth century, substantially rebuilt in the fourteenth and refurbished in the nineteenth, has a very special interior which I was keen to see.  It was a grey, windy day, so windy that I had great difficulty opening the car door!  Eventually, I struggled out of the car and, fighting the wind, walked to the gateway.
I scurried down the path to the church door, keen to find refuge from the weather...and found that it was locked!  Some printed information sheets were available for 50p each but I didn't take one because they didn't tell me anything about the church which I hadn't already discovered during my previsit internet research and I thought 50p was a bit steep.  However, they did reveal that the church is only open  10:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00 from May to September.  This made me Very Cross:  I had read numerous websites in preparation for our visit and nowhere had I read that the church is only open during these very limited hours, only 612 of them out of the whole year.  NOWHERE.  I put my redundant notes back in my bag, turned away from the church and decided to have a grumpy stomp around the churchyard - a careful, grumpy stomp because the land here is unstable and I didn't want it to collapse beneath me.
The Best Beloved is used to me wandering off around churches and he had disappeared with his camera to take photographs so I was, effectively, alone in this bleak, windswept, rather desolate place on the clifftop with its stone memorials to the dead and as I wandered, I became increasingly aware of a strange, hostile feeling.  All my senses were on high alert. I have never felt like it before, in fact I am very much of the Scooby Doo school: it's never a spectre, it's always a man in a mask.  (I once had a job which regularly involved sleeping in a room which other staff members believed to be haunted and they were surprised that I had never met with the, ahem, "resident", but I always responded that I wasn't open to it.) However, alone out there on the edge of Wales, the ancient land beneath me 600 million years old, the wind howling around me, I really did think that anything was possible.  I called out to the Best Beloved and when he didn't reply, I honestly believed, for a second or so, that he might have been "taken" and I began to panic, so much so that I had to get out and back to the car as fast as I could.  I truly felt that the veil between this world and another was very thin in that churchyard.

Of course, he was absolutely fine and reappeared shortly afterwards, explaining that he couldn't hear me calling him because the wind was so noisy.  We resolved to return to Llanbadrig in fine weather...which is exactly what we did on the birthiversary.  
The contrast could not have been starker: framed by blue sea and bathed in sunshine, the first sound we noticed was the grasshoppers,  doing their best to drown out the heavy buzzing of bees. There was an abundance of butterflies flitting between the wild flowers and the scene was picture-postcard perfect.  This time I felt slowly overcome by a feeling of absolute peace. Perhaps it was the Infinite Whatever?  

Do you remember those opening times?  10:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00?  It's just as well we had arrived in the afternoon because the notice on the door said 11:00-13:00 and 14:00-16:00 and in fact, it gave the names of the stewards who would be there during each session.  Guess what?  There was no name in the space by the morning session, nor in the spaces by several other morning sessions.  We had narrowly avoided a futile visit.  I understand that these stewards are volunteers and certainly, Gaynor was lovely and very helpful, but I do think that a destination of such significance should be open during all of its advertised hours, especially on Saturdays in the summer.  I have since discovered that a colleague of mine has visited four times and has never found it open!

So what, you may ask, is so special about the interior of this church?  The refurbishment in 1884 was paid for by the church's patron, Lord Stanley of Alderley, a devout Muslim who had converted to Islam in the 1860s.  He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the tune which Lord Stanley called was that the interior decoration of the church should reflect his faith.  The result is extraordinary: the stained glass windows are decorated with geometric designs, the sanctuary walls are lined with blue glass tiles made by Powells of Whitefriars in London and there is a blue and gold mosaic of The Good Shepherd.  In the most holy part of this Christian church, Islam and Christianity are working together and in these violent times, that is what I think the Infinite Whatever was telling me.



If you ever have the opportunity to visit Llanbadrig, grab it with both hands but don't be surprised if the church is closed.  If you go on a warm, sunny day you could enjoy the spectacular views, find some peace and you might even see a porpoise.  But don't go on a bleak, windy day unless you are made of sterner stuff than I am.  The veil is thin here.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Birthiversary

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  If you've been waiting a while, thank you for your patience; we have three family health crises and for the last few weeks my head has been too full of worry to write anything remotely sensible here.  However, the weekend before last the Best Beloved and I took ourselves away to the coast and the sea and the sunshine helped to calm my whirring brain and restore some perspective.  I'd like to share some of our little break with you.
The Teacher and Flashman were married almost two years ago on his birthday, two days before her birthday, and last year, they filled these three days with celebrations and christened the period "the birthiversary".  They enjoyed it so much (well, who wouldn't?) that they intend to do it every year and when I commented that I thought it was a wonderful idea The Teacher replied, "You have a birthiversary too.  Why haven't you been away?"  My instant reply was, "Because we had children!"  You see, we were married on the Best Beloved's birthday, a rather cunning ploy of mine to ensure that he would always remember the date of our wedding anniversary; by our first anniversary I was almost nine months' pregnant and since then our celebrations have been filled with family love.   However, now that our children are proper grown-ups we thought we could sneak off somewhere by ourselves for a couple of days.  Where to?  Anglesey was the obvious choice as it's less than three hours' drive away and the landscape is completely different.  I love it there.  Where would we stay?  There was a great deal of discussion about this: I wanted to camp but the Best Beloved was concerned that it might rain and while the thought of that didn't bother me, it obviously bothered him very much.  In the end, I had a brainwave and found  Llanfair Hall.  Glamping, we decided, could meet both our needs.

I can't remember the last time we went anywhere for a whole weekend during term time and by the end of the week I was fizzing with excitement.  I finish work early on Fridays so I was home by 1 o'clock with plenty of time to bake a birthday cake, straighten up and vacuum the living room and pack my bag, all done with a spring in my step.  The Best Beloved arrived home at 4.30pm and an hour later we were on the road under a doom-laden sky, but to the west, we could see blue and that's where we were heading, with songs on the radio and in our hearts.

The site did not disappoint.  I knew that it was my kind of place when I saw this -

It's a lovely idea: borrow a book while you are there or take one away and leave another in its place.  Sadly, I hadn't brought a book to leave there because I really did want the copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford which was insideNext time we go, and I feel sure that there will be a next time, I shall be better prepared.

This was our hideaway -

Inside this little pod there was a double bed, a sofa, a table with two dining chairs, a television and dvd player, a fridge, a microwave oven, a kettle, a kitchen sink and, best of all... a wet room!  No striding through the campsite to the toilet block in my pyjamas with a torch late at night for me!  Glamorous camping indeed in a thoughtfully and stylishly appointed retreat.  We cracked open the prosecco and the celebrations began right there on that little terrace.

Saturday was the special day and it began perfectly with 'phone calls from our girls.  There were cards and gifts for the Best Beloved and he cooked his favourite breakfast in the field kitchen, a full English, which we had to eat indoors on account of the drizzle which had set in.  It didn't dampen our spirits., though, and we set out northwards, for Porth Llechog, where we discovered the sunshine.

Porth Llechog is Welsh for "sheltered bay" and ships sailing between Ireland and Liverpool used to pull in here to shelter from rough waters in the Irish Sea.  There were no rough waters while we were there, the sea was flat and calm and utterly mesmerising as the cloud cleared from the west to reveal the blue sky and the water mirrored what was happening above.  We sat and watched it for a long time as the light changed.

Celebrations resumed in the evening, back on that little terrace where it had stopped drizzling.  The Best Beloved's family called him; I wore my party dress; we made a fire in the firepit and barbecued for dinner; we received lots of congratulatory texts and facebook messages and played around taking anniversary selfies on our 'phones (they were rubbish) - all this social media stuff is quite new to us and we are still a bit excited by it.  (Apparently, one of The Mathematician's friends commented that we were very cute, "like a couple of Year Nines"!)  I sang the appropriate song to the Best Beloved and we ate the appropriate cake.

(I know that it doesn't look very exciting, but that cake is Nigella's lemon syrup loaf cake and it's scrumptious, damp and heavy with fragrant syrup which I had spiked with limoncello.)

It was a perfect evening, sitting outside as the sun set behind the  medieval church of Llanfair-yn-y-Cwmwd on the other side of the wall, reflecting on how blessed we felt to be able to come away to this special place and to have caring, thoughtful people in our lives.  Anglesey, as always, had soothed our troubled minds.

That birthday cake was just as scrummy at breakfast time the next morning, eaten with raspberries.  In fact, I can't really think of any occasion which would not be enhanced by that cake, although I should add that the Best Beloved thinks this is very peculiar breakfast food and he would much rather have bacon and eggs!

We did visit somewhere else while we were on Anglesey, but that deserves its own post so I shall be back later this week to share it with you.  In the meantime, take care of yourselves and cherish those who you love.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x