Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sunshine, Soldiers and Big Ben

As you'll know we spent a week or so staying with my friend Abigail who lives in South London. Inconvenient for friendship, but very convenient for a day trip into the city. I asked Bella and Angus what they most wanted to do in London. Bella said, without a moment's hesitation, go to Buckingham Palace. Angus wanted to go on an underground train. That was it, nothing else. Because there were adults coming too we booked tickets for the London Eye - we didn't just want to ride public transport all day. 

We went to the palace first when little legs had the most energy for walking around. You know you're getting near royalty because everything gets very gold and shiny.

The weather all day was bright and blustery with clouds scudding overhead. The light was constantly changing. 

So many tourists. Do you ever look at all those strangers in your holiday photos and wonder who they are and where they travelled from? I do. It fascinates me. All those random people captured on camera, and how many stranger's photos do I accidentally feature in around the world? I hope I remembered to suck in my tummy.

The changing of the guard was approaching and so we found a good spot along the side of a road. Bella and Angus were expectant, to put it mildly.

We weren't disappointed. A band came marching past full of pomp and ceremony and very colourful and noisy too.

Angus has talked of nothing but the soldiers ever since.

We were too far from the palace to see the actual changing of the guard, so we walked up the Mall, past St James's Park and the very tempting looking deckchairs... Trafalgar Square. The kids trailed their fingers in the fountain and we hung around and took lots of touristy photos.

I have to admit that when someone said "Look at that big blue cock!" my first thought was not a bird, and I was slightly disappointed to discover that it is indeed just a very big blue cockerel. 

Lunch next, then a short bus journey to the London Eye. The last time I went there was in 2006 when I was pregnant with Bella. We went about 5pm and the sun was setting over the city. It was incredibly beautiful. Today, we had an alarming big black cloud hovering ominously above us.

It did look quite threatening when we were high up in our little pod.

Then the rain came. It was wonderful to watch it move over London towards us.

And it arrived...

...then just as quickly moved away and brightened up. All in the space of thirty minutes.

I love this shot of the pod above us.

And my boys looking out of the window. Angus needs a haircut.

We felt quite smug about timing our trip just to avoid the rain - especially since I'd recklessly decided that morning that there was absolutely NO need to take any raincoats with us. Last of all was a short tube journey, mainly to satisfy Angus and you never saw anyone ride escalators or sit on a train with such an expression of complete joy and wonder on their face. He just grinned and pointed at things the whole time. Brilliant, all of it.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Lavender Fields

We spent Saturday morning at a very beautiful lavender farm not far from Abigail's house, where we are currently staying.

It was a hot, sultry morning - in fact, we had thunder storms that afternoon and evening - and the scent of the flowers was heady and intense.

It's a very photogenic place. 

It's not large, you couldn't really spend more than a couple of hours there but it's time enough to wander up and down the fields and take lots of photos then retreat to the shady cafe and shop area.

They sell freshly cut lavender by the bunch (as well as every type of lavender-related gift you could imagine) and I bought one to dry out when I get back to Leeds. There is also a menu of lavender flavoured drinks, bread, shortbread and tea among other things. The ice cream is exceptional. Just lavender-y enough.

I became obsessed with trying to photograph a butterfly.

Difficult. They move to fast for me! These shots were the best I could manage.

After we'd sampled the wares and made the children pose for about one hundred photos (trying to get a baby, a three year old, a four year old and a six year old to all smile and look at the camera at the same time is a challenge) we went home. 

Lovely place, lovely people.

We go back to Leeds tomorrow. It's been a such good week here with our friends; slow and relaxing with lots of time to do nothing much but chat and play with the babies, and we managed to squeeze in a day trip to London too. Then it's back to emails, washing, errands, appointments and a big blog reading catch up.

And if all that purple was a bit much, here's some colour from our week.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

52 Weeks of Happy...41/52

Thank you for the photo Abigail!

The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.

Joining in with the lovely Jen at little birdiehere are my happy moments from the last seven days. This week I am very thankful for the continuing warm weather and a welcome slowing down of the pace of life and some time

1. Time to get the paints out with Bella and Angus. 

2. Time to play with my god daughters.

3. Time to crochet - in the car, in a chair, under a tree - it doesn't matter. 

3. Time to wander arm in arm with John on a sunny day.

Wishing you all a very happy weekend.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Ebernoe Horn Fair

We spent today in the tiny West Sussex village of Ebernoe for their annual Horn Fair. It's a centuries old tradition involving cricket, a roast ram, a fun fair and hot air balloons, among other things. It was a bit like being in an episode of The Archers, which is about the highest compliment I can pay.

We are currently staying with my friend Abigail. Her family has strong links to the village and it's traditional for them to get together at the fair each year, otherwise I don't think I'd ever have known of it's existence but I'm so glad we went.

It is incredibly, deliciously English. It's the sort of thing that village communities do so well; cake stalls, loud speaker announcements, tea tents, beer tents. There is a funfair with enough bouncy castles, rides and sugar to keep most children entertained for hours.

When the cricket match breaks for lunch and tea, the grass is suddenly filled with people making a bee line for the tea tent, or running around if you're little.

Someone had this giant wand-thing for blowing huge bubbles, and the kids had a lot of fun chasing them, trying to pop them or catch them in their hands.

We ate our picnic lunch under some big, shady trees with a good view of the cricket. I don't really understand cricket if I'm honest - it seems like nothing is happening then suddenly people burst in random smatterings of applause - but despite this I'm quite happy to watch it or listen to it. John loved it.

It was a long, meandering kind of day where lunch rolled into tea in between visits to the bouncy castle and cake stall. There was no mobile reception. I didn't really know what the time was all day. When we finally left around 6 the fair was just warming up for the evening's entertainment: the town band, the carving of the sheep roast and a hot air balloon. But the kids were all getting very tired and it was time to go. Next time we'll stay longer.

Ebernoe is very beautiful, as it the whole area. We drove through village after village filled with pretty cottages, attractive pubs, charming village greens and I kept saying to John "Let's live here!" and then we got back and I looked at the house prices on the internet and then we fell about laughing. Maybe when we win the lottery.

Thank you all for your lovely comments on my napkins and the playhouse. And hello new followers, you are very welcome! I will try and get round you blogs and say hello over the next week or so. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A Garden Playhouse Makeover

We've had a small wooden playhouse in our back garden for the last three years. It was built by John and my Dad when Angus was about one year old and painted by John (under my strict instructions) with white paint and pale green trim. It started out well and was full of children every summer and much of the winter too. But as our collection of bikes, trikes, trolleys and scooters grew the playhouse shrank until it was no longer used for playing, just for storing toys. It looked like this:

So, inspired by a conversation with my friend Hannah (who has created an enviable playhouse for her four girls) and by this playhouse at Kate's blog Kate's Creative Space I set to work and it now looks like this:

I set myself a rule: spend as little money as possible. Everything (nearly) must be recycled or already owned. Oh, I do love a challenge! So on the outside the kids and I washed all the paint work and windows and gave it all a really good scrub. I mended the two broken perspex window frames and we planted the window box with geraniums. I made bunting by cutting up two old oilcloth tablecloths with pinking shears and stapling the triangles to fabric tape, then staple gunning the tape to the overhang above the door and window. It's not going to win any sewing awards but the effect is still pretty.

Inside, I gave the walls two coats of white paint and made curtains for the door and window from a large piece of pink checked fabric I bought in Ikea a few years ago. Curtain rails were made simply from cup hooks and lengths of wooden dowel.

And then the fun bit - furnishing it. We laid cheap vinyl floor tiles and I hung some union flag bunting left over from the jubilee celebrations last year.

The cooker is a wooden box we had in the loft. I used foam crafting sheets to make a hob and borrowed some enamel bits and pieces from the kitchen. The lid lifts up so it's handy storage too, should Bella and Angus feel the urge to tidy up.

There is just room for a table and a couple of chairs.

I covered up the horrid plastic table with a tablecloth. The use of lace trim is more to avoid the need to hem a circular piece of fabric than for any design purposes. Little cushions match the curtains (I really stretched that £6 metre of fabric there!) and ribbon scraps make curtain tie backs.

The curtains are absolutely my favourite thing about the house. The minute I hung them and added the tie backs my heart skipped a beat and I thought "It looks so pretty!" and "I want to live there!" I cannot resist the allure of gingham curtains, especially when they are miniature versions for a cute miniature house.

We celebrated the opening with strawberry milkshake and chocolate biscuits. 

It's a big success, which make me so happy. When I asked the children what their favourite part was they both said the curtains, straight away. They really, really like going in there and shutting the curtains. They've put this box of books in there...

...completely their own idea, and they sit in there and read books. Sometimes I find them in there first thing in the morning while they are still wearing their pyjamas. It's quite sweet. The other thing they like to do is take all the ribbons off the curtains and make ribbon stew in the saucepan on the stove top.

I knew when I picked a posy of flowers from the garden and put them in an old, broken mug and placed them on the little table that is was time to step away from the charm of the playhouse and go back to the big house, the real house, and do the washing up.

I took the flowers with me.

I can't find my scrap of paper where I jotted down costs, but it's safe to say that altogether we spent about £25 on the floor tiles, film for the window, foam sheets, wooden dowel, cup hooks and geraniums.

The white paint, oilcloth, jubilee bunting, cooker, cushion pads, fabric for curtains and cushions and tablecloth, and the table and chairs were already knocking around the house or garage. Bearing in mind that the playhouse is not especially watertight, I will be emptying it of anything fabric in the autumn and bringing it all inside to be washed and stored away ready for next spring. Then it will be extra nice to bring it all out again ready for another summer of play.

Thank you for indulging me and letting me show you this project. It brought me, and the children, a lot of pleasure.