Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

All week I’ve been thinking I must get the spare keys back from Ben, the chimney man. He’s had them since September, when he was supposed to come and finally sort out the leaking chimney. Since then the weather hasn’t been kind and jobs have been delayed, and I had all but given up. So I was delighted to find scaffolding finally up when I got here in the pitch dark last night.

I’m hoping that the work he’s going to do will cure the damp and leaking chimney. If it doesn’t, I’m going to stop throwing good money after bad and give up.

Today ended on a good note, full of slanty rays of sunshine and bright autumn colours, despite several rain showers. So I was able to do some hacking at the garden, during which I discovered that I’ve got my very own spindle tree. I wrote about these a year ago, when I saw them in a neighbour’s field, having never noticed them before. So much depends on looking at the right time.

I ended up doing a more than a bit of hedging and then came in to rest my sore elbow, and have some tea and chestnuts roasted over the fire. This morning, while I was buying some bits and pieces for grooming horses (more about that another time), I came across a roasting pan in the department that suddenly springs up at this time of year full of fireside accoutrements, so this totally unnecessary item just fell into my shopping basket. Apparently, you’re not supposed to put it in the flames, stupid thing.

Chestnuts remind me of when I was a student in Vienna years ago, when I used to buy a paper coneful and eat them on my walk home from the university. They warmed my hands and filled my lonely student stomach so comfortingly.

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Working from home this week, I find I’m massively distracted by the sudden, fine weather. It’s mighty cool in the living room, as the walls of the cottage are 18 inches thick but upstairs it’s warmer under the roof.

There’s weeding to do and sawing up all the wood that I’ve been collecting over the winter for kindling. The garage is full of it. My saw is blunt, or may be I just can’t saw, either way – I’ve been making heavy weather of it.

In the house, I find there are other distractions like my new bag (bought in February at Palmgrens in Stockholm but not yet used), which I have to play with until I know it well enough to ignore it; endlessly repositioning things within it for optimum ease of use. Ridiculous. I’ll get the hang of it soon enough. But I’m delighted that it’s finally warm enough to use something that says ‘summer’ quite clearly. Let’s hope the weather can hear.

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I have a serious question to ask. I used to make pottery but it all ground to a halt when I’d made everyone all the presents they could cope with, and my own house was stuffed to the gills with homemade vessels of all kinds.

What I’m wondering is, if I sold these mugs, which are my own design, from here – do you think people would buy them?


They are both made from a white earthenware clay. The brown mug has a semi-matt glaze with a partly unglazed design. The blue mug is the natural colour of the clay, painted with a blue slip stripe and then transparent glazed. The handles are deliberately oversized (I’d be interested what people think of that too.)

Have a lovely weekend!

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When I was writing my round-up of 2011, I noticed that most of the product reviews that I’d done were concentrated in January. It must be my reaction to the dreary greyness of winter days. Oddly enough, I came across something lovely via another blogger today.

These rather lovely note cards are from Rifle Paper Company, who make all manner of gorgeous illustrated stationery, as well as bespoke invitations and note cards.

They’re based in the US but are happy to take international orders. It’s certainly worth having a look if you like stationery and they have a very nice range of prints, mainly for kids, as well.

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I love it when I hear about a website that really epitomises the kind of style I love, whose stock isn’t totally obvious. For example, I love Marimekko designs but they’re just a bit… obvious. Lots of people have items made of their materials, and they’ve been round since the seventies, so they’re not in any way unique, although it’s nice to see them come back into fashion. And, frankly, I can’t imagine living with them for long – they’re a bit too bold for me.

These days it’s very hard to be unique  – you can buy the same products, or virtually the same, all over the world at places like Ikea. These items are also disposable, which I hate. Don’t get me wrong, I have had plenty of things from Ikea but in areas where I knew they won’t be needed for very long, like the children’s bedrooms and, before people start shouting, I’m happy to say that that Ikea can’t be surpassed for kitchen units and accessories. But it’s boring. Just boring to have too much of it.

I not keen on things that are totally faux either, like newly made country style pine furniture. It’s a bit… hmm, how to put it… lacking in creativity and…er, obvious, especially in the country. I’ve always aspired to a look that isn’t either totally modern or totally full of antiques. I want it to have some character and to be a bit quirky. It’s much harder to gather objects and furnishings together from a variety of sources, styles and eras and make them work together, but so much more interesting and fun to do. It can mean waiting for a very long time until the right thing comes along, but it’s always worth it.

With this in mind, I was happy to read in The Guardian about New House Textiles and to find this tray (something I’ve been needing at the cottage for a while) on their website. Actually, it was just a reader’s letter, not even a feature.

It will go well with the simplicity of the cottage’s interior and picks up countryside themes appropriately. It’s a lovely clear, clean design, which is something I always like, and it features a nice orange as well as more muted colours, tying together the bright colours of my kitchen with the more muted colours of the living room very nicely.

New House Textiles also have a blog. See my current favourite blog over there on the right.

Have a nice weekend!

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I’ve finally got around to ordering the curtains that I wrote about almost nine months ago. I’ve gone for this:

which will look very nice – actually a lot bluer and brighter than the picture makes it appear – with the other things in the living room. But now the fabric is out of stock. As it comes from France, where they’re on holiday for the whole of August, it will be ages until they are made and finally arrive. Typical. Now that I’ve made up my mind, I want them immediately! I’ve ordered them from Tinsmiths in Herefordshire, which is a wonderful source of beautiful household objects and natural fabrics.

While I’m on the subject of opportunities for financial leakage, I came across Cox and Cox this week, who have a nice range of gift wrapping materials, amongst other things. Thanks to a certain London department store, I have already been reminded that Christmas is just around the corner (doesn’t life feel it’s passing quickly enough, as it is? Really!), so this discovery is quite appropriate. I love having wrapping paper that stands out from the crowd and this rather Scandinavian design, which also evokes the herds of red deer close to Spring Cottage, is making my ‘order now’ finger itch.

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Well, I’m not off to Sweden just yet. So, today I’m going to take you to Bishop’s Lydeard, which is a few miles away. It was the day of the village fete and flower show; so, despite a lowering sky, I went off to have a look.

bunting blowing in the wind

Coming only two weeks after the school fair, it felt a bit flat. Perhaps Bishop’s Lydeard needed a bit of a rest from fairs and fetes. Or perhaps it was the weather, which threatened rain all afternoon. But I felt a bit sorry for the people who had planned the events and were gamely manning the stalls in the brisk wind. However, and there’s always a ‘however’, I still managed to buy two secondhand books and two verbena seedlings, all for the princely sum of £2. So, I went home happy and I suspect many others did, too.

thatched house

Bishop’s Lydeard, built mainly of local red limestone, with a few beautiful thatched buildings and an old mill, is the home of an excellent Co-Op (our closest shop), three pubs (two of which are for sale), a corner shop (recently closed), a garage, an ironmongers, a fantastic butcher’s, a bistro (defunct), a couple of newsagents, a primary school, a marvellous church and a library (threatened with closure). In other words, it is just the same as any other high street – struggling to keep its identity and services, as the forces of out-of-town shopping draw the locals away with the lure of more.

thatched house and cottage garden

Bishop’s Lydeard is quite a big village, big enough to sustain a primary school obviously, but two failing pubs? All three pubs are well-established, so must have been around since before the population grew to the size it is today.

pool table in a pub

Yet, now that the village is bigger than ever, they are closing. We know from NHS statistics that people aren’t drinking less, particularly women; supermarkets, with their cheap alcohol, are being blamed, as people are stay at home to drink. Which is sad, as pub closures isolate sections of the community into the little boxes that they call their homes and that can’t be good thing. Any more than the library and shop closures are.

modern housing

I just wonder where it will all end and whether there is a way back. Maybe when we run out of fuel for transport and services, and facilities have to become local again.

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Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I am an avid collector of old bits and pieces. Being of a certain age and having inherited (and thrown out) a great deal of stuff in my time, I am very choosy about what I buy these days. I’m very loath to accumulate more stuff. In an effort not to buy more things that just stand about, I’m blogging about them instead as I have done before here.

Today’s avoidance is this lovely horse from the Bucket Tree. I see a bit of a theme developing.

wooden horse

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Avoiding shopping

This blog post is displacement activity, pure and simple. Instead of buying something that I love the look of, I’m going to blog about it instead. I don’t feel too guilty as I’ve already bought a couple of things from The Bucket Tree, a website that specialises in vintage finds and has a home in my blogroll.

Russian rabbit dolls

These sweet ‘Russian’ rabbits caught my eye and, if I had a child of the right age, I would definitely snap them up. But my children are fully grown and, while I adore these just as ornaments, I’ve sworn to stop collecting more and more stuff, now that Spring Cottage is more or less furnished after almost two years of occupation.

The only thing that can be a bit depressing about vintage shopping, I find, is that so much stuff is identical to the things that I threw out or gave to charity years ago, after the deaths of my parents. Part of me wishes that Ebay had existed then, so that I could have made something out of what I was giving away – but I wouldn’t have had the time, with two small children, to focus on listing and posting. The other part of me reminds me that that if I had to throw out so much stuff, I should stop myself giving my children the same awful task. So no hoarding and as little unnecessary buying as possible for me.

I’m just going to take vicarious pleasure in sharing these lovely objects here.

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With no real plans for the day, I set off today to Nether Stowey – home of the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for a time during the 18th century. I’ve been there before lots of times but this morning, I wanted to check out Cricketer Farm, makers of local cheddar cheese, which has a farm shop.

The farm I live next door to, and which Spring Cottage was once part of, in the days when the farm belonged to the Enmore Castle estate, is a dairy farm with over 700 head of cattle. Every day, morning and early evening, an enormous tanker hurtles past the cottage and the windows, which face straight out onto the lane, grow momentarily dark. The milk is on its way to Cricketer Farm, where it is made into cheese. The benefit of this daily disturbance is that the lane is always kept passable, even in the worst weather, and this is well worth putting up with.

packet of cheddar cheeseCricketer Farm looks like a popular destination (it’s on the A39) with quite a sizeable car park and a cafe attached. The shop sells locally baked bread, pasties (potatoey, rather than meaty – which, if I can’t get a proper Cornish steak pasty, I prefer to a gristly filling of processed meat), local ham and other meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit pies, cakes and the like. There’s also an array of condiments and preserves, such as you’d find in the ‘special selection’ of a supermarket or in a delicatessen. I stocked up for the weekend with ham, gala pie, cheddar, some spelt and honey bread, and a pasty for lunch.

On my way home again, after an hour or so touring Nether and Over Stowey taking photographs, I noticed a little sign for an organic farm shop at Halsey Cross, which I hadn’t properly absorbed before. So, in today’s guise of farm shop critic, I drove in down a long drive, past some gorgeous, black, red beaked, free range hens and into a proper farmyard. No marked out parking bays or any visitor conveniences, just a sign saying ‘farm shop’ and a room full of produce. You help yourself, weigh and pay, leaving your money in an honesty box. They have bread every Friday, eggs (although they were all gone) and a variety of seasonal vegetables ranging from squashes to purple sprouting broccoli. Marvellous.

farm shop I had fun using the electronic scales without anyone or thing telling me that I was doing it wrong (eat your heart out hated, supermarket self checkouts) and I’ll definitely be going back there for more muddy veg. What a great complement to this morning’s shop at Cricketer.

I also bought the first cut daffodils of the season and, on my return home, opened the door onto the smell of hyacinths, which had been warming themselves in the shafts of afternoon sunlight on the windowsill. So lovely!

daffodils in vase and pictures in frames

Postscript: Nether Stowey Reserve is delicious, by the way. Nicer than the usual West Country farmhouse cheddar that I buy from the supermarket. It’s somehow got a fuller, rounder flavour without any bitter tang.

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Trying to find suitable curtain fabric is really difficult. Spring Cottage hasn’t had any curtains since I moved in. The windows all have roller blinds which is fine so that people can’t see in, but it would be good from the warmth perspective to have curtains too. I’ve been looking hard at fabrics that pick up the main colours of the living room, which are sand and duck egg blue. I haven’t come to any decisions yet and will continue mulling until that moment, when the choice is completely obvious.

The thing that’s completely skewed my thinking at the moment is that I am loving John Lewis’s reissued 1950s fabrics, which are so jaunty and inspiring. But the stripes are more timeless and may last better. What do you think? Perhaps I should add, the room looks like this. The whole aesthetic is very plain, the floor is stone flagged with rush mats. The only colours are in accessories and pictures.

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I have to say that I’m not a fan of emails from suppliers offering me their services. If they are asking whether we need design or marketing support, it shows that they haven’t read our website or bothered to find out anything about the organisation I work for. I usually bin the email.

Today, in the spirit of generosity that this time of year engenders in me, I read the email to the end and noted that this company’s registered office is near my home. My interest piqued, I visited their website and discovered some things that might fill a hole, if you still have some Christmas presents to get and are out of ideas.

Designers Anonymous have simple mugs and T-shirts, featuring ironic text, and a whole range of greetings cards for sale, as well as the weirdest mirror I’ve ever seen – impossible to describe, you’ll have to have a look for yourself.

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This is not the kind of post I ever expected to make on my blog but anyway… On the way down here I stopped in a service station for some very necessary coffee and, on a whim, bought a copy of Country Living magazine, something I rarely do. However, armed with this I’ve discovered two new online sources of beautiful things, which is quite relevant at this time of year, RE and Selvedge. Sadly, RE, which has a strong, yet not offputting, reduce, reuse and recycle ethos, was out of stock of most things I was interested in, probably due to the publicity they’ve received recently. Selvedge, on the other hand, is a different type of thing – it’s a stylish website full of marvellous things to buy online made by craftspeople or small businesses, as well as hundreds of wonderful ideas for things you can make yourself with downloadable instructions. It’s very well worth checking out if, like me, you are and like being busy.

So I’ve been doing some Christmas shopping this afternoon, next to a roaring fire, while it pours with rain outside. I’d intended to go up to the Christmas Fair at Fyne Court, a local National Trust place, to buy a Christmas tree and have some mulled wine but when I got there, there was a damp sign saying the fair had been cancelled due to bad weather, so I came back to the house and had a cosy afternoon, reading the paper, searching for things online and drinking endless cups of tea.

Then it dawned on me; we may have had a thaw here in the South West but the rest of the country hasn’t – as corroborated by the Girl up north who says their snow aint budging.  So buying things online from Northumberland was probably not the brightest thing to do.

It may have thawed but the pond is still frozen and I’m worried about what will have happened to this chap and his mates. Last winter I fished five dead frogs out of the pond, which was not only fairly disgusting but rather sad. I just hope that some of them managed to escape — I did break a hole in the ice last week before it had completely frozen over and I hope it wasn’t already too late.

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On the subject of boots, these Hunters are covetable – fur lined, therefore expensive for a good reason – I saw a woman wearing these walking her dog in Hyde Park, and covet them I did. Although I didn’t fully understand that they had a complete fur lining, not just a pretty fur top. Hunters also make a leather lined version called the Balmoral (probably only someone resident there could afford them at £325). For me, I’m going to continue to settle for my Homebase wellies (about £10) with sheepskin insole (£1 from a shop in Dunster).

Ok, I admit it, I’m ill in bed and am whiling away the time on this nonsense. It’s not quite where my mind usually goes but, secretly, I’m rather enjoying it. And, no, I’m not being paid by Hunters for product placement… but I bet I’ll be blathering on about face cream next.

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Nurse J was here for the weekend. Glorious weather on Saturday, which we made the most of by being out and about most of the day.

autumn leavesNursey has a penchant for junk, so I decided to resurrect my quest for Langport, which I had heard held a wealth of antique shops. In fact it wasn’t so much a wealth, as a couple, but it’s a sweet place, with some lovely old buildings, that must have once been quite grand, and a couple of tea shops.  It’s also allegedly England’s smallest town and dates back to Roman times. There are quite a lot of roads round about, across the Somerset Levels, that are amazingly straight and must have Roman origins. In fact, I’m sure one of them is the Fosse Way.

By the time we got there it was 1.30, which meant – in this strange timewarp that is Somerset – that the grocers, the chemist, and the butcher’s shops were closing or already closed, giving the place a slightly eerie, depopulated feel. Wiveliscombe is the same on a Saturday and in Bishop’s Lydeard, only the Co-op is open all day. If you want something from the excellent butcher there, you have to get there by midday. On the one hand, I like this anachronism, so different to the metropolis, where the tendency is for everything to remain open longer and longer hours. On the other, it’s inconvenient if your morning has involved other activities.

So, to get back to the point. Langport has a couple of shops that sell that type of faux distressed furniture and ‘French style’ accoutrements that people seem to love these days, to give their houses a kind of acquired character. The only really nice thing in them was a puppy sitting in its crate being sweet and well-behaved, hoping it was time to play. I’d have probably bought it if it had been for sale.

We had seen a sign for an antiques market so we walked down the road (rather too busy, as this is the narrow A372 going straight through the town) until we found it, rather oddly located above a pub. Going in through the pub as signposted, we looked rather mystified, until one of the customers directed us up the narrow stairs to a rabbit warren of little rooms full of stuff, not antiques, more junk really ranging from linens to militaria, with the occasional nice piece thrown in. Just J’s cup of tea, and mine, and I came away with a mirror for the bathroom at a quarter of the cost of its chichi counterpart down the road. To add to my happiness, one of the shops that had remained open was a kind of newsagents combined with a well-stocked haberdasher’s, where I bought some yarns to make another of these hats for Macbeth’s little boy, and some circular needles so that I can make one of Kate Davies’s designs. A successful outing.

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