Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

I followed the progress of recent tempests and deluges in the West Country from afar, always expecting there to be bad news when I returned. But it wasn’t the crumbly old front windows; on the list for replacement since June but not yet started by the joiner. It wasn’t the roof, although a bit of the garage roof did go flying. It wasn’t the already leaking woodshed which seems barely worse than usual.

offending porchNo, to ring the changes, it was our little porch, hopefully constructed by some bodger, that allowed the rain to be driven in. The mighty wooden lintel above the old front door is sodden, the walls in the vestibule are sodden, the big coir doormat acted like a sponge and is … sodden. And … rather unbearably after two very large chunks of expenditure … the fireplace is sodden. Again.

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But it’s still early in the year and, like this heron, I’m full of relaxed joy and a resolution not to sweat the small stuff. So instead of dwelling on what are fortunately only minor annoyances, here are some things that I saw on some of the many walks I went on in various places, including a snowy golf course where I got lost in the holes.

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But it wasn’t all hard walk. My cousin Sweet Tooth also needed his fixes so sometimes we just had to go inside.

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Easter break?

Well, I did everything that I meant to do here over Easter but most importantly Tincknells arrived to deliver the heating oil before the weekend, which meant it was even possible to be here with temperatures relentlessly close to freezing. They don’t know how much I love them for getting here on Thursday afternoon.

oil tanker delivering fuel

So, it went like this: I mended the gutter that I’ve been waiting weeks for a chap from the village to do. He seems to have just vanished and I’ve given up chasing him. His loss. On Friday I went for an absolutely freezing horse ride and cleaned the windows, well…some of them. I cooked roast (British – important in these days when newborn lambs are being lost to snowdrifts and farming life is hard) lamb on Sunday,  made scones for a cream tea yesterday, and walked a new route up a bridlepath on a non-crowded bit of Cothelstone Hill on Sunday before lunch. Was it Sunday? I’m losing track.

wheelbarrow full of logsOn Saturday, I trundled at least 10 wheelbarrowfuls of logs round from the garage to the woodshed while the Girl stacked them – it was great having the help and, every time I do this, I am grateful that the woodshed is down the hill from the garage (which is where the supplier drops off the logs) not vice versa.

And today I planted five new bits of hedge to fill in the winter’s damage by the county council/rain/landslides at the end of the garden. I say ‘bits’ because I don’t really know what to call them – there were five of them  – five holes to be dug and filled in again. I bought viburnum on the recommendation of Stuart at Triscombe Nurseries, which is a plant I don’t particularly like, but we needed something robust and evergreen that would root quite quickly and help bind the bank together. I don’t need to see it often as it’s quite far from the house. I just need it to be a hedge. Just a hedge.

frosty garden

Oh, and I read a whole book. Now I think I need a rest. This isn’t quite how a break is supposed to work, is it?

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In London this morning, on my way to the supermarket – a five-minute cycle ride – I spotted so many pretty festive wreaths.

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Grr, blurry above. I just can’t tell when the stupid viewfinderless camera isn’t focusing where I want it to.

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There’s a fine selection of wreaths at Not on the High Street. Too late for this Christmas, of course, but plenty of ideas there for do-it-yourself wreaths for next year, if you’re that way inclined.

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And there is a link to how to make a felted ball wreath rather nicer than those being sold online, on the Pickles website, which you can read about it an old post.

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This last one reminds me of one I used to have. But on my door this year is a very simple, cheap wreath from Sainsbury’s because last year, on Christmas Eve, ours was stolen. At least at Spring Cottage, that’s not so likely to happen. At least I hope not, so here it is – made from holly and berries from the garden.

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Postscript: it turns out that I’m not the only one with a thing for wreaths at this time of year. There are some lovely ones over at Charlotte’s Plot as well.

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I set out to avoid the Olympics in London, where I spend much of the week. All the edicts about what you could and couldn’t do, say or print had been annoying me so much in the run-up to the opening ceremony. A Swedish friend of mine suggested a house swap way back in February and I leapt at the idea. Ironically, I ended up watching loads of track and field events during the second week on TV in Sweden and grew quite addicted to keeping up with the ever-growing British medal tally. Now I’m looking forward to the Paralympics.

We swapped pets as well as houses and looked after the wonderful Doglas, a Bernese Sennenhund, a breed I’d never heard of. Related to St Bernards, he had been shorn of much of his thick coat for the summer so that he wasn’t too hot but, even so, he spent a fair amount of time lying in the bathroom, the coolest room in the house. He is the best dog, not retaliating when he’s barked at by yappy little terriers, or running off to herd up the cows we encountered on this walk, even though that’s what is in his genes. We quickly became bilingual in Swedish dogspeak, which is not difficult as it’s fot, pronounced ‘foot’ for ‘heel’ and sitta for ‘sit’ but barely needed to tell him to behave.

I’ve been to this part of Sweden many times before over the last 15 years or so and this was one of the first times the weather had been pretty poor throughout but we still enjoyed many long walks, good food and the quiet, gentility of a largish seaside village in the summertime.

We managed a couple of dips in the freezing sea (an early morning and evening tradition with locals, who wander or ride their bikes down to the beach in their bathrobes) – mine on a particularly seaweedy, squally day, quite unlike the sunnier day that dawned when I took the picture above.

This is Hovs Hallar, quite close to where we were staying. You can see the Danish coast across the Kattegat, depending on which way you look.

You make your way down to the beach through quiet, silvery woods and knee-high heather.When you arrive, the beach is pebbly and sown with random grasses and yet more heather.And the purity of the air is evident in the rich lichens growing on the stones along the shore.

We were even treated to a 4.4 magnitude earthquake on our second night, which is relatively unusual for the region, which has tremors roughly every decade or so. I woke up and thought it was thunder followed by the dog bumping into my bed.

It was also lovely to unexpectedly have the Boy with us before he heads off for a year in Australia. Of course we squabbled (this is real life, after all), the tension of a long separation that I’m none too keen on rubbing our emotions raw at times. But these are some of the impressions that will keep me going over the months of grey wet pavements ahead.

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Looking forward

Looking forward

I’m looking forward to soon being somewhere else.

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It probably doesn’t take a genius to work out that I’ve been away. Somewhere very much colder than the UK. Somewhere the recession hasn’t touched. Somewhere buzzing with confidence and style.

I have never happily tramped so many miles dressed in so many clothes.

Or been so surprised by so much wonderful, art nouveau architecture

or so many beautiful baroque buildings in a city that manages simultaneously to exist so vibrantly in the present day.

A place where people shovel snow from the roofs of buildings, so that it doesn’t spontaneously avalanche off and kill passers by.

Where can it be?

It’s Stockholm. I’ll be telling more stories about it soon. But now it’s time to catch up on some well-earned rest.

 

 

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Peace

This is my favourite week of the year – between Christmas and New Year, before everything cranks up to full pitch again. Nothing coming into my inbox. Time to do mending and baking. Children where they ‘should’ be – asleep in their beds. Daily life muted. I feel like I want time to stand still. I don’t really – I’d get cabin fever and be bored, restless and irritable. But for the moment, this quiet is wonderful. Savouring how great life is, how lucky I am, is wonderful. So I’m preserving it here.

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Torekov from the water

Torekov is a little seaside town in the southern Swedish province of Skåne (roughly pronounced ‘skornay’) or Scania in English. It’s a place I feel very at home and of which I have happy holiday memories.

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If you’ve watched any of the various Wallander series on TV or read Henning Mankell‘s books, Skåne is the part of Sweden where the stories are set and filmed, although that takes place further south than Torekov, which is at the tip of a rocky promontary called Bjärehalvon. Quite different from the more mountainous north, Skåne is gently undulating, not to say flat in parts, inland, with both rocky and sandy beaches along the coast.

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A former fishing village, with just  a vestige of its old industry left, Torekov is now a very upmarket place, full of rich Swedes based in Stockholm, who pretty much have the monopoly on all most expensive houses.

I’ve always been fortunate to stay with friends or rent locally, so I am happy to leave these tiny, picturesque 18th century fishermen’s cottages to those wealthy enough to afford £600k for a holiday home. But the fact that these places still exist and are beautifully maintained, make Torekov an extremely pretty and pleasant to visit.

Old houses in Sweden

On a similar latitude to Edinburgh, this part of Sweden has a slightly milder climate, protected from the cold North Sea by Denmark. It can be fiercely hot, and wet and windy in the same week. We had both during my short trip but even when it is bleakly windy and wet, it is atmospheric. Although, the protected waters come with a smelly cost, as, with so little tide there can, at times, be a rather pervasive smell of seaweed.

seaside view

Torekov is filled with bicycles like my heavy Pashley, which make me happy, as at home I feel like a freak surrounded by speedy Lycra clad chaps racing to their desks. Although in the years since my last visit there has been a marked decrease in the number of ex-army Kronan bikes, which I loved.

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It is a place where you are likely to encounter people in bathrobes in the supermarket, en route to or from their daily dip in the chilly waters of the Kattegat – the stretch of water which runs between Sweden and Denmark –

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or cycling back afterwards.

And further along the coast is the marvellous rocky scenery of Hovs Hallar, where we had a good walk and a picnic on the beach. We narrowly missed sitting near a rotting seal which had washed up on the rocks but did have the pleasure of watching a few cormorants drying their wings on the rocks in the water. They stood there like this for ages.

And, as I have to get something garden-related in – I saw many of my favourite geraniums, as Sweden is the home of Pelargonium Mårbacka, which I’ve written about before. I’m always in a frenzy of annoyance about the fact that you can’t get these in the UK, so if anyone knows of a source, please let me know. The closest I’ve found is a salmon pink variety with variegated leaves that has failed to grow properly this summer and has remained about 20 centimetres high.

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I’ve just started getting the first signs of excitement about going to Sweden for a long weekend.

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When they were little, my children and I spent many of our summer holidays in a coastal village in southern Sweden. We once also spent a magical new year there too. beach huts in Sweden

Now, after several years of absence, I’ve got the chance to go back. I’m really looking forward to it. There will be old haunts, good friends, lovely Swedish scenery and people I haven’t seen in years. It’s a place I dream about and which feels really idyllic to me.

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In fact, it’s true to say that I think about it every day, as the picture below is the wallpaper on my computer. Yes, it really is as lovely as it looks!

Sunset over the sea

And even though I’ve been to Ystad and Malmö, I’ve not yet found it’s quite the murder capital of Europe that all those wonderful crime writers would have us believe.

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If Spring Cottage has been a bit quiet in the last 10 days or so, that’s because I’ve been in China. I travelled to Shanghai, Beijing and Xi’an, home of the terracotta warriors, with the Boy.

The Great Wall. Very touristy at this point, Ba Da Ling, but it's hard to get to the remoter spots.

China is a country of tremendous contrasts at this point in its history; of ancient and recent achievements, extreme wealth and great poverty, of great beauty and huge ugliness in the monolithic structures and electricity pylons across the countryside bringing power into the cities.

Global brands are represented in major city centres and Starbucks and McDonalds abound. Obesity is still rare and most Chinese are lean and wiry. They smoke like chimneys though.

Not a very good picture taken hastily from the back of the bus, showing a forest of electricity pylons on the outskirts of Shanghai.

A beggar in Beijing who appears to have come straight from the 16th century.

The sheer size of the place is something you have to see to appreciate properly; Chinese ambitions have clearly always been massive, since the times of the first dynastic rulers who built the imperial palaces of old to today’s vast airports and housing projects.

The Forbidden City, Beijing, home to the emperors of China until 1923, was full of huge Chinese tour groups from elsewhere in the country.

One of Beijing's large intersections. The city has six ring roads, this is No 1, closest to the centre.

Chinese cities are full of massive roads and spaghetti-like flyover convolutions. They are all painted and, in Shanghai, they are lit up at the weekend.

Traffic is chaotic and noisy, with drivers hooting to announce their every move, but we only saw one accident, surprisingly. No-one wears seat belts in cars or helmets on bicycles or motorbikes. Taxis are abundant and cheap.

Thirty years ago, our guide told us, being able to afford a bicycle was top of his wish list. They are still everywhere but electric bikes, mopeds and cars are starting to take over.

Cultural differences were fascinating although not unexpected, from the haggling over purchases everywhere from markets to department stores, to the loud hawking and spitting that is part of Chinese street life.

For me it was a ‘first’ to stand out so much in the crowd, as, although there are tourists everywhere, they are mostly Chinese and westerners are few and far between.

I became fascinated by photographing the different people I saw, especially rural and elderly people.

But there are also sophisticates...

There is a great price for the progress all around as enormous estates of high-rise blocks 20 or 30 storeys high spring up everywhere and the human-scale housing is knocked down. I wonder what will become of the bustling street communities that currently continue to socialise until well into the late evening, isolation in front of the 15 state TV channels, I suspect. The pollution is terrible. In Beijing, you can actually taste it on a bad day and a clear blue sky is rare.

In this street, just a couple of blocks down from Shanghai's trendiest shopping and dining district, Xintiandi, the houses that line the bustling streets are falling into dereliction as they are emptied one by one to make way for yet another shiny shopping plaza.

Coal-fired power stations are often located close to housing, not on the outskirts of cities.

But there are small spots of serenity like the Yu Yuan traditional garden in Shanghai.

And outside the Forbidden City moat in Beijing.

Or here at the Imperial summer palace, 50km outside Beijing, where we found both peace and the most persistent street traders we came across, selling fake designer handbags and watches.

I would highly recommend a visit before China changes completely and the old ways of life are erased totally by the tide of capitalism  and growth sweeping the country. I fear this will obliterate the character of the small back streets where ‘real’ life is at its most evident. Of course, one wants poverty to be eradicated and opportunities to increase for everyone but I’m concerned for the loss of individuality and identity that may occur in the process.

The entrance to the Muslim quarter in Xi'an, above. Lively, jostling streets full of street food stalls and small shops, birdcages full of songbirds and the loud hooting of rickshaw horns as they zoom by.

Once everyone is swept off the streets to live in the vast high rise colonies springing up everywhere, I’m not sure how it will be possible to engage with everyday Chinese life and exchange smiles with these surprisingly open, friendly and curious people.

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January

Floodtime:  We had a pipe burst in the loft over the kitchen and I learned to leave the heating on and turn off the water at the mains when I leave.

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February

Repairtime: So many things wrong with the house all of a sudden that it became rather depressing to be here but we got through it.


March

In which my neighbour brought me some eggs from the farm, Spring Cottage had lots of visitors and I was reimbursed for the flood by the insurance.


April

When Spring arrived at the cottage, as did a lorryload of logs, and the house was painted. We also celebrated our first year here.

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May

Started with a bang. On the day I collected my new car, I had a crash. Racing, double-barrelled cow driving the other car, who then lied about what happened. I’m still annoyed…

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June

We settled into enjoying the cottage this month, with visitors and summer times in the garden. Nice that the pace slowed down a little.


July

During which nothing much happened and blogging really almost stopped, only to be followed by…

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August

During which the blog went public. I had a holiday down here, and blogged like a woman possessed. I also journeyed to the beautiful Montacute House, south of here, and did lots of gardening.


riding clothesSeptember

Brought the discovery that what I thought was mainly an ornamental vine in the garden, actually had grapes on it. I also celebrated the first comment on the blog and went riding for the first time.

autumn leavesOctober

October arrived with the cheque from the insurers for the car accident in May. It took five months for them to settle the claim, because they are a pile of idiots. I started having riding lessons.

November

In which Spring Cottage had eight lads to stay and there was the first snow before Christmas for many years.


December

Was cold and frosty, with snow covering everything for the best part of a fortnight. It was frustrating not to be able to get to the cottage despite the Tank – although this was mostly cowardice rather than practicality.

Happy New Year! I hope 2011 brings all the things everyone wishes for, combined with good health and happiness.

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Beautiful beach at Brean. Acres of sand. But also caravan-land, static and mobile. Pontin’s Holiday Club. The other half lives like this. Christ – what does that make me sound like?

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