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Tea and Willow

Victorian teapot

I am a terrible junk shop explorer.  I simply cannot pass a second hand/ vintage/ charity shop without looking in. So much so I am thinking of opening my own shop with at least a smidgen of vintage paraphernalia.  As a paean to this much enjoyed activity I thought I would start blogging some of my favourite finds. 

Above is my proper old Victorian teapot.  I love the hand painted flowers, the simple swirls that make the leaves and stem. She's a grand old lady.  Although she has quite a lot of crazing, a spiders-web of hairline cracks and that little knob on her lid has obviously been stuck back on at some point in her past, she is still quite capable of brewing a fine cup of tea. 

Royal Doulton Pollards Willow

I bought the Royal Doulton Pollards Willow pattern tea cups, saucers and cake plate at the same time as the teapot.  The pattern is unusual, showing the traditional method of growing pollarded willow for basketry.
pollarded willow

I have a bit of a fascination with willow.  I love how they look when grown like this; the knotty trunks contrast with the soft catkins, the straight, spiky, architectural stems that come off the gnarled main trunk can exist in a wide variety of colours; deep red through orange and yellow, to greens and browns that go back to deep red shades all over again.  Below is an image from a fashion magazine (Harpers Bazaar I think) I came across it in a dentists waiting room years ago, loved it so much I took a picture of it.

I attended a talk on basket weaving at one of our gardening club meetings a couple of years ago.  A local basket weaver, Leah, came along to show us the beautiful baskets that she made.  Another thing to go on my ever growing "To Do" list.  

Her talk made me notice on one of my dog walks, that there was obviously another basket weaver living in the village as there were beautifully vivid pollarded willows along the side of a cottage in the fields at the back of us.  It turns out they belonged to Olivia Elton Barratt,the first female Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers.  Olivia was instrumental in recreating the 16th Century, 14ft high guardians of the City of London, Gog and Magog, in willow for the Lord Mayor's Show in 2007.

gog magog lord mayors show 2007

As it turns out I did my bee keeping course with her daughter and so was able to ask to take cuttings of her willow this spring to use in my own garden.  Look at the gorgeous colours:

I intend to create a fence of pollarded willow to protect the flower garden and veg patch that I am moving to the back of house from the chickens.  I'd also like to grow some along the banks of the Ash along our boundary line.  Yet more to add to the "TO Do" list.

Snowdrops and Snow Drops


The snowdrops have been out for several weeks now.   I thought that they were heralding the beginnings of spring but now that the snow is falling I'm not so sure.

Our duck eggs hatched four weeks ago now.  Only one tho.  Having done a bit of reading I'm now pretty sure we should have helped the other 2 eggs that looked to be viable, but I applied chicken knowledge to ducks and we didn't.  So our single duckling has become something of a house pet:

duckling in apron

S/he liked to sit in my pocket while I worked, follows the children around the house and generally enjoys the run of the house.  Not so fortunate are her cousins the garden hens.  They have been living outside in a slowly thickening mud slick of a chicken run.

chicken run

I've been feeling sorry for the hens and getting fed up with slip sliding through the mud to feed them.  So, I contacted our regular tree surgeons for some wood chip which Beau has been enjoying digging through:

Several back breaking hours later I have a chicken run that looks like new:

Even in the snow (which is now a lot deeper) they are looking much happier.  Although they still prefer to be out and about in the garden:

Damson the hen



I loved how the fireplace looked this Christmas, so I left it throughout January more or less as it was.  I've decided I need to re-arrange the mantlepiece this week, time to move on into 2018.  

While I don't do New Years Resolutions I have made a list of projects I want to complete this year, it goes something like this:

Finish the house re-vamp outside and in,
move the veggie patch to the back of the house,
reduce plastic use at home - can I go plastic free?
Develop the Little Hadham Farmers' Market, increase numbers, quality and reduce plastic use there too,
look again at my craft kits, dolls and felt more,
blog more,
be a better bee keeper,
raise more chickens from my flock and introduce ducks.

Our three boys; Donny Darko, Desmond and Digby

I had a 95% male hatching rate last year, not what I wanted.  We'll be having some late winter chicken soup.  Fortunately for these guys we have also sold a couple of cockerels.  Desmond has been re-named Sam and is now head of his own little flock.  Digby is going to one of my farmers' market stall-holders, Claudia of Bury Green Poultry and will also get girls of his own.  We're keeping Donny Darko and their dad, Bernie.

Hatched on Saturday, this is Jemmima/Sonny
Now that we are back in the house I've the urge to nest, so the project list continues:

Renovate shop - a new business opportunity there,
redecorate front rooms, hall, landing and stairs,
make curtains,
new desk for Una,
decorate downstairs loo and utility room,
including making a peg-board for storage of cleaning equipment.  

pinboard storage

I found some lengths of this old peg board in the static caravan that we got rid of last year during the build, I'm going to mount it and paint it to go in the utility room.

Una got a sewing machine for Christmas and so I'd like to help her make a quilt and do one for myself too.  I fancy going for some really vivid jewel colours, none of those vintage flowers for me thanks. 

quilt fabrics

Una has hockey (and Louis rugby) on a Sunday morning, so it' becoming a lovely Sunday afternoon activity for the two of us.  Una is doing a fab job, now that she knows what's she's doing she is steaming ahead.  I need to do a bit of cutting and tacking today to catch up.

And finally on my list:

Take the kids to Disneyland before they're too cynical to care.  And I mean Disneyland, in California, so I can catch up with friends, and meet their children.  To me that is Disneyland.

Little Hadham Farmers Market

Little Hadham Farmers' Market
There has been a farmers market in Little Hadham since 2002, founded, organised and run by the local couple, Brian & Brenda Kain.  It was the first farmers market in East Hertfordshire.  The Market takes place once a month at Little Hadham Village Hall, usually on the last Saturday of the month, from 8.30AM until 11.30AM.   

Little Hadham Farmers’ Market promotes the best of local produce, and has a strong ethos of offering only items grown, bred, prepared or made by the stall holders as much as practically possible.  Stalls include; meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, cakes and pastries, coffee, honey, jam, cheese, chutney and artisan crafts.  There is also a cafe that prepares fresh, home cooked breakfasts from the stall holder’s produce.  

A friendly market, there is a wonderful loyal clientele who come every month to shop, meet and eat.  There is free parking and the village playground and field on site make it especially welcoming to young families.

Little Hadham Farmers' Market

As a regular market goer (it was one of the reasons we looked at the village when buying our house) when I heard that the Kains were looking to retire, and we might loose the market altogether, I decided to step in and take over.  I have been running the market since September and with the new year I plan to start to implement some changes.

Little Hadham Farmers' Market business cards

I plan to keep to the Kain’s core ethos, but I’d like to attract some more stalls, maybe food demonstrations and monthly guest stalls too.  I would love for more people to find us, as the market is such a little gem. 

Little Hadham Farmers' Market

New Year, New Eggs

duck eggs

I'm not sure quite how, but the little foxes managed to convince me to raise ducks this year.  A friend in the village gave us six duck eggs and we put them in the incubator on Christmas day.  They are due to hatch in 5 more days.

After a few months of not laying, illness and disruption in my little flock the hens have started to lay again too.  

hen eggs


astrid the chicken
Astrid - the smartest chick in town.

I mentioned in passing in that last post that our oldest and best loved chicken, Astrid, one of the original A-Team passed away the other week.  I just had to do a photo-ode to our lovely hen:

astrid the chicken
Loved by the kids

astrid the chicken
She was not always such a beautiful hen.

astrid the chicken
A source of fascination for dogs & children alike.

astrid the chicken
She & her sisters, Agatha, Ashley & Anoushka were the A-Team.

astrid the chicken
Not always keen to stay in their pen...

astrid the chicken
they often came in the house.

astrid the chicken
Astrid helped with the gardening.

astrid the chicken
And enjoyed a dust bath.

astrid the chicken
She was the top hen in our flock

astrid the chicken
She, not Mr Tappy Shoes, ruled the roost.

astrid the chicken
The yellow chick is her daughter, Damson.

Our last picture of her.

Extension IV

Yesterday I watched the first episode of Grand Designs that I have been able to watch this year, despite it being probably my fav TV show.  The building of our new extension really has been all consuming for the last 11 months.  The house build has occupied almost every spare moment, made up half of all mine & Neil’s conversations.  It's been exhausting

5th May 2017
With no kitchen for most of the time we ate really badly.  Which is a huge deal for me.  I'm so happy to have my Aga back in place so I can cook again.  Aggie only moved a meter or so, you can see the marks on the wall where she used to be in the picture below.

23rd August
The chickens also disliked the disruption and so stopped laying.  Astrid our oldest, most loved hen, has succumbed to pneumonia, certainly not helped by the stress.  I’ve done the absolute minimum when it comes to bee-keeping.  I’ve done more or less no gardening, so no veggie patch.  There has been a real lack of anything other than house building going on at Ash Cottage.

chickens in extension

chickens in extension

chickens in extension

I don’t think I really understood how hard the build would be.  I’m not anti-social, but having strangers in my house every day was emotionally exhausting.  Especially once we got to the point where I kind of hated all the builders.  The mess and inconvenience was tiring of course.  And the fear of financial ruin when things went wrong, exaggerated but to be expected. The learning curves were steep.  I now know a lot more about wells, tiles, sinks and self-levelling concrete screed than I ever expected to.  And this new knowledge seems unlikely to ever be used again.

That annoying phrase; “It will all be worth it in the end”, though true, is still no great consolation, no matter how much empathy the speaker emphasises.

But it is almost over, we are almost back in our house, I do almost have my life back. I know, that I am very fortunate that my suffering is very “first world suffering”, that my complaints very “first world” problems, but my problems they have been ongoing for months and I am relieved that they are nearly at an end.  And, we have ended up with pretty much what we wanted.

My friend, Charlie, said: 
“You’ve got to realise that you can never get it exactly as you want.  That you are not as in charge as you think you should be, the builders keep telling you they can’t do it how you want it” 
And she was right.  It was good advice, and it made me figure out what I wanted most and pick my fights accordingly.  

kitchen build
23rd July 2017

kitchen build
23rd July 2017

kitchen build
23rd July 2017
Fundamentally we got what we wanted; a well lit, bigger, garden facing family room downstairs.  A bedroom for Louis of equal size to his sister. New bathrooms that feel clean and modern.  A spare room for visiting friends and family.  And thrown in, Neil and I got a new bedroom.  So, now the fight back begins.  It’s down to the finishing touches now, the stuff I thought I would enjoy.  The unpacking and throwing away, the decorating that I have been planning for this long year.  Now the fun begins.
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