Thursday 23 August 2018

Summer List - Week Four

Hello, thank you for popping in here and thank you for comments on my last post - you're lovely.  The heat has faded and the garden has thirstily gulped down the rain we have had.  In any other summer I would be quite happy with the temperatures (and the amount of rain, it really hasn't been much) but now that I've acclimatised to the extraordinary heat we have had over the last two or three months it feels a bit disappointing.  

The atmosphere here last week was quite intense.  The Mathematician was due to begin her new, post-graduation, grown-up life in Guernsey at the end of this month but on Monday her employer rang her and asked her to start work there on 21st, giving her just four days to sort out and pack up her belongings before sailing from Poole on Saturday.  That girl is amazing.  For twenty-two years she has slept in the same bedroom and now it's almost empty.  Deliveries were made to the charity shop and the recycling centre, a bonfire was lit, a couple of boxes have been stored away and the rest of her life was packed into her little car.  Her father and I were on hand for practical and emotional support and my chick fledged at 3.30am on Saturday.  My nest is empty; the Best Beloved is holding me up.
Amidst the stress, there was an outing: I returned from my holiday to discover that some friends had arranged a trip to Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent to see Poppies: Weeping Window and that they had booked a ticket for me, too.  I have lovely friends!  You might remember that I went to Hereford Cathedral in April to see this sculpture, which formed part of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London in 2014, and its companion piece, Poppies: Wave, at Fort Nelson near Portsmouth in June.  Poppies: Weeping Window is at Middleport until 16th September and this is the last stop of the regional tour before the sculpture goes to the Imperial War Museum London, which will be its permanent home.  

As I stood in front of the kiln I had an acute sense that each poppy represented a soldier at the front, tramping through mud, doing his duty.  We are now into the last 100 days leading up to the centenary of the Armistice on 11th November and I am commemorating this in a number of small ways, my visit to Middleport being one of them.  As I did in Hereford and at Fort Nelson, I stood in front of the sculpture and read aloud Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, I played The Last Post on my 'phone and I hoped that the smiling people who were having their photographs taken in front of the poppies understood what the artwork they had come to see was all about.
There is a "reflection room" at the pottery in which you can write or draw your thoughts and feelings about the sculpture on a postcard and then hang it up on a sort of washing line (Siegfried Line?).  Some people had written familiar clichés but I suppose that if a cliché exactly expresses how you feel, then there are no other words to use.
We tried the Tea Room and we were not impressed: it seemed to be entirely staffed by young people who were neither experienced nor efficient and we queued and waited for almost half an hour for four hot drinks!  Moreover, as we were sitting outside and ceramic cups were not allowed to be taken outside, we were given our drinks in disposable cardboard and plastic cups, which felt ridiculous in a working pottery!! 

6.  Make A Mojito Key Lime Pie
With all the sorting out and gallivanting going on I only managed to tick one thing off my summer list: I made a mojito key lime pie.  Now that there are only two of us at home and we are trying to eat more healthily I rarely do any baking so it's a bit of an event when I do.  I saw this recipe in a newspaper a couple of years ago and made it for a party where it went down a storm, but I haven't made it since.  I sort of need an excuse to make it and a family barbecue to bid farewell to The Mathematician last week was it.  My biggest difficulty with the recipe was knowing which flan dish to make it in as the recipe calls for "a standard size pie dish".  What on earth does that mean?  I wouldn't have had such vague flimflam from Delia Smith, she would have given me a measurement.  Having decided that my 25cm dish was too big I settled on the 15cm dish but when I tipped in the biscuit crumb mix and it filled the dish to the brim I realised that was too small so I hastily tipped it into the only other suitable dish I have, which has a diameter of 23cm.  To be honest, that was still a little too big as I had to spread the crumbs very thinly (not a bad thing) and the filling was a bit too shallow (not a good thing).  However, the pie was universally declared to be delicious.  Flavoured with rum, lime and mint the mojito lovers declared that it tasted "just like a mojito".  I received a large amount of praise for a small amount of work (but I didn't let on) and I seemed to have made everyone happy - an excellent result, I think! 
The recipe suggests decorating the pie with whipped cream but I didn't do that because the filling is made from soured cream and condensed milk and I don't really like dairy with dairy.  However, it would benefit from prettifying and it would be enhanced by something, I just can't decide what.  Perhaps a granita?  Anyway, The Mathematician sent me a message on Tuesday morning asking for the recipe.  I sent her the link and at 7.51pm precisely she sent me this photograph. -
Isn't she a star?  Rather than making a biscuit crumb crust she bought a sweet shortcrust pastry shell and once her pie was baked and cooled, she decorated it with squirty cream. 
The website which originally provided this recipe no longer exists and the one which currently bears it is closing down at the end of September so if you'd like to have a go at making this mojito key lime pie, you might want to save the recipe somewhere.  (Obviously, being a bit old-fashioned, I have the copy which I carefully cut out of the newspaper and stuck into a folder with glue.)  You may also wish to make a note of the fact that although the recipe calls for "good quality white rum", I used a supermarket's own brand and it was fine, although I did double the recommended quantity for extra "oomph"!
So, with a fortnight left of the school summer holiday that's six items ticked off the list and ten still to be tackled.  Hmm, it's beginning to look a bit challenging (although today is Thursday and I've already completed three items this week!).
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday 19 August 2018

Mrs Tiggywinkle Visits Beatrix Potter

Hello, and thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.  You all correctly guessed, I think, that the other special place I visited in the Lake District was Hill Top, the farm which Beatrix Potter bought in 1905 and which she left to the National Trust when she died.  Well really, if I hadn't gone there I think I should have had to change my name!  This was the first property which Beatrix ever bought, using the money from her books and an inheritance, and she loved it for the rest of her life.  This post is about Hill Top and two other houses owned by Beatrix.  It's very self-indulgent and quite long, my only excuse being that I have waited a very long time to visit.  (Actually, I did go to Hill Top when I was twelve years old but the house was closed so I don't think that counts.)

The farmhouse was built in the late seventeenth century, extended in the eighteenth century and the slate porch was added in the nineteenth century - I shall be returning to these details later so please remember them.  Beatrix added a two-storey extension for the tenant farmer and his family, which is now inhabited by the current tenant farmer, and remodelled the interior to make it more comfortable for herself, although she never actually lived there - she lived in London with her parents until she was married in 1913 and although she went to Hill Top as often as she could, she didn't spend more than three months  a year there.  When she died in 1943 she left Hill Top to the National Trust and asked that it remain untenanted and furnished as she had left it.

Hundreds of people visit the house and garden every day and I think the National Trust manages the situation very well, issuing timed entry tickets.  I had done my research and knew that to avoid the busiest crowds, we had to get there either early or late; we opted for early.  The car park is small but we found plenty of empty spaces when we arrived at 9.30am and there were only twelve people in the queue ahead of us, waiting for the ticket office to open at 10am.  I spent an excited half hour chatting to another family in the queue and at last we were given our tickets with the time of 10.05am, which is why we were able to photograph the house without anyone else in the picture. Once inside we were invited to spend as much time as we wanted there and I lingered long after the rest of my family had gone outside to the garden. 

Inside the house the lighting is kept deliberately low, partly to preserve its contents from the destructive effects of light and partly because that is how Beatrix kept it, relying on daylight coming through the windows and, in the evening, on a candle or an oil lamp.  Flash photography is not allowed so I'm afraid the Best Beloved's photographs are not as crisp as he would like them to be.

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck are all set at Hill Top and copies of these books are available for visitors to carry around to compare the illustrations to the actual views.  However, I didn't need to borrow them because I had tucked my own fifty-odd year-old copies into my bag before we set out.  Surely that doesn't surprise you?!  So, shall we go inside?

Through the front door we are straight into the room which Beatrix called the Entrance Hall but which Lakeland people would have called the firehouse or the houseplace.  There is Beatrix's own hat upon the chair, with her clogs tucked underneath it.  The fireplace is a replica installed by the National Trust because Beatrix had replaced the original with something more "modern", but not before she had used it to illustrate The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.  (As an aside, this book scared the whatsits out of me until I was about nineteen years old and I am quite sure that it is the basis of my horror of R-A-Ts.)

The other room we can see on the ground floor is the Parlour, a much more elegant room where Beatrix would entertain guests formally.  Please take note of the pair of Staffordshire greyhounds holding hares in their mouths which are on the mantelpiece.

Then we come to the stairs, another familiar scene to anyone who knows The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.

Once upstairs, there are four rooms to see.  The New Room is actually in the extension and Beatrix called it The Library.  It is a large, light room and the National Trust volunteer explained to me that Beatrix used it as an office as well as her studio.  She painted the view from the window for The Tale of Samuel Whiskers - although the building in the foreground is different, you can follow the lane up the hill.

Then I visited the Sitting Room where Beatrix entertained members of her family and close friends.  The toilet mirror on the chest of drawers belonged to her grandmother and can be seen in The Tale of Tom Kitten.

The Treasure Room contains a dolls' house and although it is not the one which Beatrix drew for A Tale of Two Bad Mice, some of its contents are indeed those which were bought for her from Hamleys' in London by Norman Warne for that Tale.  There is also a cabinet full of treasures and trinkets.

The final room we were permitted to see is a bedroom.  Beatrix slept here only very occasionally and not in this bed, which she  bought for the room after she was married, but she did embroider the valance, according to the guide book: "I have been embroidering a valance for an old 4 poster bed.  I used some old green damask and worked on it with old gold coloured silk." 

After spending a very happy time in the house and lingering for as long as I could, I went outside and found my family sitting in the sunshine by a very special gate which features in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. 

I honestly had the most wonderful morning.  I was worried that the National Trust might have "Disnified" the place, if you know what I mean, and I was worried that it would be so crowded that I wouldn't be able to drink it all in properly, but my fears were unfounded.  Hill Top remains true to Miss Potter and honours her properly.  This was one of my holiday highlights.
After a little meander around the garden, during which I came across the Head Gardener and thanked him for his work (he has been there for thirty years), we went to the shop and bought a couple of nice souvenirs before exiting through Tom Kitten's gate onto the lane.  As I looked across the field I became quite excited and ordered asked the Best Beloved to photograph a cream-coloured house across the field which I recognised -

This is the house Beatrix actually lived in!  It is Castle Cottage, which she bought in 1909 and moved into with Willie Heelis after they were married in 1913.  They lived there together until she died thirty years later and I couldn't understand why we were the only people looking at it. 

Beatrix loved the landscape of the Lake District and was aware that it depended upon farming for its preservation.  A great supporter of the National Trust, who were trying to preserve it by buying up farms which came up for sale to save them from developers but who had no pool of funds and had to launch an appeal every time this happened, she used to buy said farms and then sell them to the Trust when they had the money, at the price she had paid.  In 1930 she bought the Monk Coniston Estate, several thousand acres of land which included seven farms, cottages, quarries and open land as well as Tarn Hows.  She immediately sold half of the estate to the Trust, who asked her to manage their half as well as her own, which she did in a very business-like way.  One of the farms was Yew Tree Farm, which Beatrix considered to be "a typical north-country farmhouse, very well worth preserving".  The farmhouse was built in 1690, extended in 1743 and a slate porch was added some time later.  Does that ring any bells?

When the film Miss Potter was made in 2006 the National Trust was keen for the film crew to film at Hill Top but it really wasn't suitable so Yew Tree Farm was used instead for the exterior shots, painted a darker colour by the production team.  You can find out more and see some photos here.

Downstairs, the floors are flagged but upstairs, like the stairs and walls, they are made of oak which has darkened with time. 

Lakeland farmers were having a difficult time economically in the 1930s but tourism was increasing and Beatrix felt that the tenants of Yew Tree Farm, which is beside the road between Ambleside and Coniston, could increase their income by opening up their parlour as a tea room so she gave some of her possessions to help make it comfortable and attractive: a grandfather clock, a seventeenth century bible box, two tables, ten chairs, a glass-fronted corner cabinet containing Victorian china and a display case containing letters written by William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and John Ruskin.  She wrote, "I have had the luck to meet with a genuine Cumberland dresser, it looks well."  All of these items are still in the house.

Remember the Staffordshire greyhounds with hares in their mouths in the parlour at
Hill Top?  This pair lives in the corner cabinet at Yew Tree Farm.

I really hope these are facsimiles because they are stuck in with Blu Tack! 

The Cumberland dresser still looks well.
The tea room closed long ago, although the farm is still owned by the National Trust.  So are you wondering how I was able to see all of this?  Well... it's let out as a holiday home and (deep breath!) we stayed in it all week!  Every morning I ate my breakfast in that parlour, eating off a table once owned by Beatrix and surrounded by other things which once belonged to her.  It is a very special house indeed and it looked after us very well.  If you want to stay there, you can find out more here.
 Before we went on holiday I read The Tale of Beatrix Potter by Margaret Lane, researched a few months after Beatrix died in 1943, and I thoroughly recommend it to you if you are interested in Beatrix's life.  Margaret had "the confidence and help" of Beatrix's widower, William Heelis, as well as her family and friends and published the book in 1946, revising it in 1986, by which time Beatrix's journals had been discovered and deciphered.  The book presents the tale of a fascinating woman and I am keen to return to the Lake District and discover more about her.

If you have stuck with me this far, thank you very much.  I have rabbited on, but it's important to me to set all of this down here and preserve this wonderful holiday highlight.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Meres, Tarns and Daffodils

Hello, thanks for calling in, it's lovely to see you here.  If you are expecting to see a post about my progress through my summer list during the third week of the school summer holiday I'm afraid you might be disappointed because I made no progress whatsoever.  Actually, that's not strictly true because I did read a book, but I didn't finish it so I can't tick it off the list yet.  There are still eleven things left on the list and three weeks of the holiday left so I'd better get a move on.  No, the list took a back seat last week because...we were on holiday with our children and grandchild in the Lake District.
We had a wonderful time together.  There is so much to do in Cumbria that I feel we barely scratched the surface of the area and I'd like to go back there to do some more.  There was boating, walking, fishing (not me), ghyll scrambling (definitely not me), museum visiting (definitely me), reading and knitting (both obviously me).  There was also a great deal of "Ooh, ah, look at the view!"  We stayed in an old farmhouse, self-catering, and in the evenings we enjoyed sitting around the table together, playing board games and chatting in the hot tub.  I'd like to show you some of the views we enjoyed.
On the first day the sun beat down and we headed to the beach at Silecroft.  With a free car park, a wickedly good ice-cream shop, warm sea and sand that was perfect for building castles it met all of our needs and we couldn't understand why there weren't more people there. 
 On the second day some of us went to Wray Castle, a National Trust property on the shore of Windermere in which Beatrix Potter enjoyed a summer with her family when she was a teenager.  Those who went on this outing reported that it was brilliant for children of junior school age but that I would have hated it.  This photo probably sums up why.  Honestly!  The Best Beloved sent it to me with the caption, "Look what they've done to Mrs Tiggywinkle.  She looks like Mrs Overall."  If you are familiar with Julie Walters' character in Victoria Wood's Acorn Antiques, you will understand. 

 On the third day we drove to Bowness-on-Windermere first thing in the morning and collected a little boat.  We pootled around the lake water all day, mooring up at public jetties and hopping on and off wherever we fancied, with a longer stop in Ambleside for lunch.  We all enjoyed it except for Tom Kitten, who doesn't think he likes boats and knows he doesn't like cumbersome life jackets, but everyone else thought it was a holiday highlight, despite the grey sky and the grey water. 

 On the fourth day some of us went for a walk around Tarn Hows in the sunshine. Everyone who did this declared it to be a holiday highlight.
On the fifth day some of us went ghyll scrambling but there are no photographs because there are no pockets in a wetsuit and even if there were, you need two hands to hold on to the rockface you are climbing. 

On the sixth day some of us went to Coniston Water and then visited the museum in the village.  I like a local museum, you usually learn the history of a place and how that has informed its present and I thought this one was very good, full of information about copper mining, quarrying, climbing, John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome and Donald Campbell.  The Best Beloved was especially keen on the Donald Campbell gallery and I thought about my sister, who loved Ransome's Swallows and Amazons when she was young and became a sailor when she grew up.
On our last night there something magical happened: the Best Beloved and I went outside and sat in the garden at around midnight, craning our necks to look at the spectacular starry sky.  With no light pollution and no clouds the stars were vivid points in the darkness, and the Milky Way arched above the white farmhouse as far as we could see.  We watched three satellites steadily moving across the sky and then, best of all, shooting stars, meteors from the Perseid showers.

On the seventh day some of us went to Grasmere and visited Dove Cottage in Town End where William Wordsworth lived with his wife, sister, sister-in-law and three children while visitors including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Sir Walter Scott came to stay in the spare bedroom.  It must have been a bit of a squeeze.  We had a guided tour and our timed ticket told us to knock on the front door five minutes before our tour was due to begin but I was disappointed to find the door already open and the guide waiting, so she very kindly closed it so that I could knock and ask if Mr Wordsworth was at home!  If you have even a passing interest in Wordsworth I recommend this visit, it's very well done.  There is a museum too, but we didn't have time for that so I told the Best Beloved that we would have to return another time!  Here are some more photos of the interior of the house - it's quite dark, flash photography is not allowed and the Best Beloved took them on his 'phone so please make allowances.
 This is Wordsworth's favourite writing chair, in which he would sit in the evenings and write after a day spent walking outdoors.

"For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils." 
We don't know for certain that Wordsworth was referring to this couch BUT this couch was in the sitting room then and, as the guide says, how many couches would he have had?!  I am the only person for whom this was a holiday highlight and that's fine.  I loved it.
Then we came home and it poured with rain but we didn't mind because we had enjoyed a wonderful holiday.
Of course, there is somewhere else I visited too, and I expect you may be able to guess where it was, but I shall save that for next time because it really deserves a whole post of its own.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday 6 August 2018

Summer List - Week 2

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Last week was quite exciting, well, perhaps not exciting in itself, but it held the promise of something exciting, which made it feel exciting, if you know what I mean; maps were purchased, a holiday planning meeting was held and a shopping list was compiled.  Amidst all of this I ticked something off my summer list and yesterday I managed to tick off another.
4.  Go to the Long Mynd to see the heather
"Mynydd" is the Welsh word for "mountain" and the Long Mynd is a high heathland and moorland plateau about seven miles long in the South Shropshire Hills which, for a couple of weeks every summer when the heather is in full bloom, is a riot of pink.  (I've just read a number of articles which refer to it as purple but I disagree, I think it's pink, although it's a colour I usually call "heather"!)  We often go up there at the end of the summer after it's gone over and I always say to the Best Beloved, "Oh, we've missed the heather," so this year, going up there while the heather was actually blooming was on my Summer List.  Of course, our unusual summer weather has taken its toll and what we actually saw was not a riot of pink heather but muted patches of it among many brown ones on the parched ground.
We carried on and eventually found the "riot" I was hoping for along with a bonus...ponies, with a foal!!!!!  Now, gentle reader, these are not the photos I was hoping for as the sun was hiding behind the clouds, the wind was blowing, the ponies were shy and I do wonder if we might have been a week too early, but I definitely went up the Long Mynd and I definitely saw an abundance of heather in flower.

 5.  Go To A Beach
To be honest, this would be on my list at any time of year but a visit in summertime is extra special.  The sand was golden, the sky was blue and the sea was sparkling but best of all, the children and grandchild came too.  Memories were made and while Tom Kitten can confirm that sand really doesn't taste very nice, I can confirm that key lime pie ice cream really does.

So with sixteen things on the summer list that's five down, eleven to go!
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x