Saturday, 23 November 2013

Surprisingly Mellow

November can be such a trying month. Our bodies battle with vile weather and our hearts are not yet cheered by Christmas and its coming treats. In fact, for most people the sight of shops preparing is more likely to elicit a snarl rather than a smile.
This year Autumn has been kind to us. We have had grey, wet days and the dark evenings are closing in rapidly now and yet the trees are glowing still with leaves and colour.

Today I decided to create my own alternative to mincemeat. I love the idea of mince pies, yet never really enjoy eating them. So I decided to experiment.
I raided my store-cupboard for suitable ingredients-

I was particularly pleased to find these. They are crystallised orange segments brought back from Spain.What could be more Christmassy?

The result looks pretty and tastes very good, although I will have to wait and see how it mellows and settles.
But, as usual, felt compelled to change it....
If my mincemeat works I will add my recipe later!
I loved using some of the beautiful apples from my Mother's tree and the fun of rootling out old jam jars and mini Kilner jars. 

I hope I have made enough for all my mince pies and still some left over for friends

p.s. The Advent calender used as a backdrop is destined for my God daughter. I was really pleased to find such a traditional one.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Purely Personal Pilgrimage

God willing, on the 1st of September 2014, I shall be taking off on a journey around the British Isles.
I plan to explore the quirky, eccentric parts and people of Britain, to have a chance to appreciate its beauties and most importantly, (the theme that links my quest and pilgrimage) to seek out the last remaining second-hand and Antiquarian bookshops.

My plan is to make a base in a particular area, where I will visit friends and family but for the most part, house-sit or stay in vacant holiday homes.
Whilst there, I will support myself by giving talks, selling my books and Vintage collectibles at fairs and of course- by doing some life modelling!

It will be a rather hand-to-mouth existence but it should allow me the time to discover hidden gems of little book shops, to photograph them, interview their owners and their loyal customers and then to write about them-before they disappear.

 I plan to explore The Lake District and the North in the Autumn, Wales in the Winter, Devon and Cornwall in the Spring and as Summer comes, work my way along the South coast 

and then up the Eastern side of England and as far into Scotland as time and funds allow. As yet, I haven't included Ireland but everything remains flexible.

I don’t intend this to be an exhaustive listing of all bookshops in each area, more a gentle time of serendipitous discovery.

England still has strong communities, individualistic people and hidden beauties; I’m very excited about the chance to discover some of them and to visit places that have touched my imagination.
It is an exciting yet daunting idea. Imagine taking a year off to do exactly as I please! 
Yet I have been planning something similar for many years. As a single parent, my life has been particularly wrapped around my children's needs and their care. With Emily now at university, when Sam disappears in the summer of 2014 to stay with his father in Canada and spend a gap year exploring there, I shall have a huge gap in my life. I hate to think that worry about me would ever stop my children spreading their wings, so if I am off on my own adventures, they can fly away with ease.

My favourite picture ' Lucifer and God'

My wonderful partner David is fully supportive and understanding. As I am travelling within this country we have plans to spend many a weekend and holiday together during my time away.
I call this 'A Gap Year' to myself but in fact it will probably turn out to be a series seasonal adventures with me returning to see loved ones in between. Both my Mother and Emily already plan to join me for  little jaunts.

On a practical note, I'm hoping to have weekday lodgers within my home to help cover costs and keep the house happy. I have saved up a little money ( not very much) and if I can find free or very reasonable accommodation I should be able to survive.  Already, people have invited me to visit and those meetings will be part of the joy of this adventure.

 I will need to find places to stay where I can be alone, however, especially if I'm writing. Part of my reason for taking this time off is to allow myself the luxury to be by myself where I only have to think of my needs and wishes. A little selfish perhaps but oh, so necessary sometimes!
I would so love to spend some weeks alone in a cottage at wintertime, by a wild, wild sea...

Friends have asked me how I came up with this mad idea... I can recall two separate occasions which fixed my previously vague and happy dreams into an actual plan.
The first was one of those dazzlingly golden, breezy, sunshiny days you often get in mid September.

 I had just left David's house on Monday morning and decided to drive down to the sea at Sidmouth before returning home. As I bounced along in my little car, map on the seat beside me, and as I entered the town, bought a pasty and sat with it on the shingle looking out to sea, I realised that this was the sort of exploring I truly enjoyed. Not for me the extreme treks to far away places but the gentle exploration of my beloved country.
This idea of an English wandering gained a theme and quest last year. Whilst on a retreat in Wales I came upon a house where an inspired woman had turned her front room into a tea room and bookshop. It was such a find and I started wondering how many other tiny bookshops there were, hidden away, throughout the British Isles.

The idea seeded, it grew and grew and now (excepting any unforeseen disaster) I am giving up my local jobs next summer and plunging into the adventure of a life time. Not a very wild or exciting one some might say but perfectly suited to this eccentric English Book-lady.

 I'm excited at the thought of writing about my plans and preparations and then of the pilgrimage itself. I have yet to decide whether to create a new blog for the adventure or to keep to this one. 
I think I'll just wait and see what happens...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Life in Black and White

My life is always a gentle chaos, where I permanently chase around, striving to hold together the threads and keep some sort of order. The month of October was no exception, except there was a a more determined glint in my eye as I strove to prepare the house and life for 'The Salisbury Arts Trail'. For 10 days my rooms were full of art and people. I will leave it to your imaginations as to the work and tidying that lead up to those wonderful days...
This year I had a very special reason for all the hard work- my son Samuel, who was going to be one of the two artists exhibiting in my house. I'm sure that the lovely John Gustard, brilliant painter and great friend, will forgive my favouritism, during this piece.

It is no small thing to provide enough pictures to fill an exhibition and Sam was kept extremely busy: drawing, choosing photographs, printing and framing works.I was determined that this should happen however. As his teachers will agree- Sam is incredibly talented but  he battles with fitting into the educational system. He is not rude or rowdy- the very opposite-but he finds it incredibly hard to produce suitable work within the time scale allowed. This has meant his exam results do not represent his brilliance! As a teenager and an artist, it is doubly easy to become discouraged and depressed.
It was important, therefore, to give his art a chance to prove its worth.

The first sale is always a milestone- ( there is the all-important 'red dot' on the card of the photograph!)

The private view was its usual riotous, wonderful mix of friends, animals, art and wine. I think they are one of my favourite social events- what could be a better mix?

By the end of the evening there were enough sales for the artists to feel happy and appreciated. For Sam though, the important thing was- as he put it so perfectly-
" A Stranger loved and bought my pictures".
Throughout the week Sam shared his love of photography with other artists-

and had his pictures discussed and appreciated

It was a busy week. We even had a day when young artists brought in the work to 'show and tell'

What made me the happiest was people's reactions to Sam's most important piece.
 He drew it for his art GCSE exam when he was 15. It is the foundations of Salisbury's Cathedral crammed with delicate drawings of all Sam's favourite buildings from the city. It's unique, quirky and a joy to every body who loves the architecture and history of Salisbury. His teachers loved it but it did not impress the examiners and Sam did not receive the grade he needed or was hoping for.
We made full size and small prints of " The Foundations of the City" and everybody loved them ... and bought them!

So the Art's Trail was a success, the walls of the house have still not recovered but I'm content. On the last day we took a picture of John, Sam and myself- happy and satisfied

We had made a good team.
And I am so very proud of my son.
With thanks also to David, Emily, and Anne Marie ( John's wife) for all their loving support.