Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Sea, The Sea


I need the sea. It has a voice for every one of my million emotions. Sometimes, nothing calms me as the sea.

Opening lines for a book I wrote twenty years ago. The sentiment holds true, despite the intervening double decade, proving that you can know yourself Quite Well at twenty or so.

I'm not an on-the-sea or an in-the-sea person, but I feel an intense call coming from it every now and then. The need to be near it, to walk beside it, to feel its spray on my face and to be buffeted by its powerful winds comes every few months and then there is nothing to be done but to go to it and be near it and spend time with it. I get the same feeling about the Stones at Avebury, a place I've been going to for the same twenty-year period. Often I work out later why I needed to go at that precise time, and the same can be said of the sea.

Sometimes, the sea has enough power to give me migraines; sometimes it sucks away grief and anxiety, worry and pain, those things we are all, from time to time, besieged by. Sometimes it can erode all the negative thoughts and emotions in a way nothing else gets close to. Sometimes it energises me and leaves me feeling like I could fly round the world, up to the stars and beyond into the midnight blue unknown, and back again, safely. But most often what it brings is a sense of calm, peace and restoration; a washing clean of grit and hardship.

Today, the wind was whipping and white dollops of foam flew a goodly distance from the swirling white-stallion topped waves that were crashing and rolling, splitting and surging onto the shore. Children played games of dare with it, shrieking and running back up the shingle beach as the waves raced after them. The road was breached and sea-water agitated the tyres of the few cars that remained parked there. 

Pop took one look and made up her mind to avoid it at all costs, displaying perhaps for the first time something approaching a mature sense of assessing her surroundings. Ted was buffeted about and yet walked patiently with us, trusting us to make the right and safe decisions for him, while all the time his fur was blown in all directions and his coat  dampened by the spray. He was glad when we were ready to return to the warmth, protection and stillness of the car. 

I often wonder what would we do without Teddy's steadiness. I suspect he was sent to anchor us all. He came from a rescue centre, did you know that? He was a tiny wee 10 week old Puppy and I was looking for an older dog and hadn't intended to get another Pup. We tell people we rescued him, but in reality I sometimes think it is the other way round. When I am sad, Teddy is there: quiet, unassuming, steady, sitting quietly by my feet watching me in that careful, knowing way he has. When L needs a buddy to confide in he turns to Ted. When M returns from work at night Teddy appears from no-where and sits gazing steadily at him until M gets down on the carpet and the two of them rough and tumble together, putting the cares of the day away where they should be. Goodness knows what we'd have done without him over the last six years. He's been the catalyst for so much good in our lives and yet he is the least demanding of all of us. Teddy reminds me that to be happy in life requires a handful of simple, yet important things: love, warmth, kindness, protection and understanding, with a healthy dollop of fun and the odd wet, whiskery kiss thrown in for good measure. 

So that is what I am wishing for all of you for 2016.

My thanks for keeping pace with life here at Countryside Tales this year. All the best to you and yours.


Monday, 28 December 2015

Yuletide/ New Year Greetings From Ted

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it, all my friends from Around The World? I hope you've all been keeping up with the Pigeon Watchers Club (or whatever your version of it is, depending on the wildlife in your garden). 

It's been an Eventful Day here at Countryside Tales. First, Poppy woke us all up by sleep-howling at 1am. Mum and Dad came down in their dressing gowns to see what was wrong and found Pop sitting up in her bed blinking and looking unsure about what had just happened. She told me later she'd been having a dream that she was a Wolf, a common dream amongst us dogs.

After breakfast I was sworn at by a squirrel. In my own garden! Before I'd barely had time to digest my breakfast! I ask you! I call that Plain Rude, but then we all know they have no manners whatsoever. It sat in its tree watching us from over the fence and Poppy wagged her tail at it and then it swore at me. It did the full fist waving and everything. I was incensed, I don't mind telling you. What was even worse was it then laughed. I ask you!

Later on Poppy got into a fight with an enormous (to us, because we're only little people) chocolate Lab who, despite being behind it's gate nearly ripped her ears off. Mercifully, Pop was wearing her bra, which acts like a kind of Body Suit, and it took the brunt of the Huge Dog's Teeth so she emerged unscathed. 

There was an Awful Lot Of Swearing. I was Quite Shocked. I didn't know she knew such language and have no idea where she could have got it from. I tried to put my paw over her mouth because the Lab belongs to our new neighbours and they are coming for drinks on Wednesday and what on earth will they think of us, with such language going on? It made my cheeks go Quite Pink listening to it, I can tell you. Poppy was completely unconcerned as usual and finished off with a Rude Gesture as we went round the corner back home for good measure.

Dad says Poppy has the Luck Of The Jack Russell, which as far as I can ascertain is similar to the Luck Of The Irish (Dad should know all about this because he's half Irish himself). I asked mum to explain and she said it was all down to the Angel Poppy takes everywhere with her. Mum says she thinks Poppy's Angel must be on the verge of a nervous breakdown by now after following Pop around everywhere and getting her out of scrapes during the last two years.  
These have included 1) falling off a log down a ravine into a fast flowing river, 2) walking on top of an iced-over puddle, the ice broke and she sank into the water underneath which was above her nose, 3) swimming out of her depth in the river at Houghton and having to be rescued by dad, 4) getting stuck in a piece of trellis at the bottom of the garden and having to be sawn out of it by a very panicky mum as it was round her neck, 5) jumping over the fence twice onto the lane to chase another dog and finally 6) letting herself out through the gate and going to visit the neighbours half a mile up the road and then being returned by them at tea-time.

My own Angel seems to spend most of his time sleeping by comparison. I rarely get into scrapes (unless you count the time I licked a toad and made myself sick and sorry and very sad indeed, as well as a bit frothy at the mouth. In my defence it's hard to resist licking a toad. Try it and you'll see what I mean). 

I meant to write to you all last week but I got the shivers and the shakes and the General Vomiting which wasn't at all nice. Mum thinks this is because I licked a coconut half filled with suet that the magpies had taken off the bird feeder and left on the ground. She thinks they did it deliberately because a) they are clever birds and b) they were all sat in a line of the kitchen roof holding their breath and pointing at me.

You'd think the worst part of feeling unwell would be the feeling unwell part, but no, it turns out the worst bit is going to see the V.E.T. for the check-up. All I'll say is having your temperature taken when you're a dog is not a pleasant experience in any way, shape or form :o(

Anyhoo, I'm better now and Poppy and I have been enjoying illicit Turkey from the fridge when Dad isn't looking. We also got two squeaky bright green trees for Crimble from Father C to replace the pheasants we had at Easter (these have become desiccated, forlorn and Shredded Round The Edges). This is my Tree...

 See how pristine he is, three days after Christmas? And cheerful too.

And this is Poppy's....

Can you Spot The Difference?

Just in case you can't, here's a close-up...

I say no more.

Dougal and Dylan (our Westie cousins) came to stay yesterday. They kindly brought their nice, big, fluffy, warm bed with them for me. I have barely left it since.....

Dylan and Dougal went home yesterday evening, but I made sure to cast a Magic Spell on Dad to make him forget to take the bed with him, which worked as you can see. I've had to allow Poppy on it after receiving a Hard Stare from Mum, but I've got around this by only allowing her on a teeny weeny bit at the far end. I've since heard you can claim Squatters Rights if someone doesn't reclaim something after a set period of time and as Granny hasn't shown up yet to take it back I'm not moving off it for a second.

Pop has got Very Woolly recently and has to have a bath after every outing now because the matted mud on her tummy dries and twists and makes her itchy and she runs round the carpet scrabbling and rubbing bits of mud off on it. She did this through most of the first part of and then there were none the other night and Dad kept shouting at her to stop. In the end he took her upstairs for a bath. She was FURIOUS about this but it made me smile. Especially as I didn't have to have one :o)

I am less keen on water and generally avoid it At All Costs...

Anyway, we're having a Grand Christmas, and it's just been made Even Better by Poppy thieving Mum's bubble and squeak (some kind of cooked mouse-based dish?) which she'd foolishly left on the coffee table in the sitting room with Poppy there unsupervised. After she'd told Pop off, I heard mum say to her that she'd learn that one the hard way because the bubble and squeak has chilli flakes and mustard seeds in it, whatever than means.

Mum also said thank God I'd left the eclairs in the kitchen...

I'm assuming this is some kind of edible treat, even though they look like Elf Shoes to me. 

Anyway, that's Our News for now, so I'll wish you all a Happy New Year (three days early because as you know I am Very Organised) and all the best for a healthy, hearty, pigeony, squirrelly 2016.

Ted :o)

Sunday, 27 December 2015

After The Event

As is traditional with my husband's family, I have eaten two Christmas lunches this week. One, we cooked here for everyone on The Day, and the second was provided by my mother in law (who finds it unbearable to go through the Christmas period without cooking at least one turkey) on Boxing Day, at a gathering of the elder statesmen and women of the clan. As a result, you will find a photo of Uncle Charles and Uncle Peter with my father in law above. Uncle Charles is on the far right (with the glasses) and Uncle Peter (aged about 93 but sharp as a pin) is in the middle.

As is traditional, Uncle Peter recited a poem he'd written about the family while we all drank ice cold champers and ate prawn nibbles recycled from the Village Drinks Party at the end of November. Uncle Charles then gave us the full story behind the undertaker-turned-magician he'd met during his recent stay in hospital (which I mentioned a few posts ago). It turned out this was an extraordinary man who'd come through incredible things in his life, notably fleeing Germany as a child during the war and being taught English by a kind woman in her spare time whilst training to be a cabinet maker in the UK, his father having been shot during the war and the family left destitute. Uncle Charles has a knack of getting people to open up, probably because he listens and asks the right questions, but also because having the sparkliest eyes you'll ever see and a huge laugh to go with them rarely proves to be a handicap in life :o)

Anyhoo, there were some splendid anecdotes, as always. Among my favourites were Uncle Peter taking bets with his side of the family on Christmas day about how many bottles of fizz they'd get through (he bet 9, they got through 14 between 6 of them!) and then telling us how he'd been unable to take his false teeth out at night because he couldn't kiss properly without them. Then there was Uncle Charles revealing that he only has two working teeth of his own and Grandad shouting at him to repeat the story because he'd been chewing turkey at the time and couldn't hear a word. 

There were lots of conversations that run thusly: 

Me: 'how are you, Charles?'
Charles: 'At about half past one.'
M: 'No Charles, we're asking how you are?'
Uncle Peter: 'Five bottles.'
Grandad: 'What is it you're all saying?'
Me (trying unsuccessfully to stifle an attack of the giggles) : 'I have absolutely no idea.'

Today, I am mostly detoxing while finishing the clearing up and looking after T and P's doggy cousins who have come to stay for the day. Dougal (pic above) is spending most of the day hiding under the table while Dylan has gone out for an hour's run with M and Poppy over the hills. Teddy, meanwhile, has taken over Dylan and Dougal's bed and is lying on it with his new Christmas Tree toy (as per pics).

I got a new food mixer from M and am trying to think up a suitable name for her. She's cream and looks very elegant in the kitchen. If you've got any thoughts on that score let me know. L got an Xbox 1 and has already had it removed for a period of time due to unreasonable (in my eyes, but perfectly reasonable in his) behaviour. Roll on the start of term.

We've a rash of sociable goings on to get through this week and various clearing out chores which I am looking forward to because I like the feeling of lightness you get by recycling old/ outdated/ no longer required things, and I prefer to travel light. Other than that it's an easy week ahead before we all gear up for work/ school/ uni/ college again.

How about all of you?

CT :o)

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas To You All!

Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas from all of us here at Countryside Tales. Thank you SO MUCH for all your reading, comments, inspiration and good humour over the last year. You are all Very Much Appreciated. I hope you have a great day tomorrow :o)

Love From CT, Ted and Pops XX


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Festive Feasting


We went to Berkhamstead yesterday for the first of five festive feasts. One of my sisters in law is Dutch, and had cooked the most delicious Flemish stew, and the other sis in law had made Nigella's Sticky Toffee Pudding which, eaten with lashings of creme fraiche, was heavenly. I'm mostly off the booze and so was drinking water. I therefore felt reasonably saintly, and also Quite Amused watching the other 16 family members getting quietly sloshed (including M's 91 year-old Uncle who was a Cambridge English Lecturer back in the day and can be thoroughly relied upon to either a) recite an unexpected epic poem or b) burst into an archaic song at any point during family gatherings. It was b) a song yesterday, a tune from donkeys years ago that we youngsters had never heard before. He did also manage a) a poem, albeit it in a round-about way- we listened to a poem of his being recited on radio 2. Everyone cheered at the end and he waved a hand in happy acknowledgement. He also regaled us with a cracking story about the time Uncle Charles announced he'd learnt how to drink Vodka and demonstrated the technique by lining 5 shot glasses up along a bar and downing them one after another with an elegant flick of the wrist. He then got into the back of Uncle Peter's car and fell fast asleep).

Today, my half of the family came over for a lunch of soup and bread. I made some extremely simple mince pies that take about 20 mins from start to finish which I'd seen on Kirstie Allsop's Crimble Show. Chop up an apple, some plums and some hazelnuts and put them all in a bowl. Add some sultanas and cranberries, some vegetable suet and a liberal sploosh of brandy and swirl them about with a spoon. Cut a sheet of puff pastry into 16 or so squares, dollop a spoonful of the mincemeat mix into the middle and fold up the sides of the pastry, pinching the top as per one of the pics above. Cook for 15 mins. I used the left over mincemeat to make a swiss-roll version, with the addition of a few dollops of brandy butter put on the top of the mincemeat before cooking. I also whipped up a batch of brandy truffles. There were 30. I've just counted them and now there are 25. Hmm.....

I made Pj bottoms for my nieces (11 and 6) for Crimble which they opened before lunch. They love going through my button box and picked out some buttons which Grannie sewed onto the Pjs, so now they are properly Custom Made. They also took great delight in telling us that their cat Patch has peed on at least one of the presents under their tree. My littlest niece has been given a hamster for Crimble. His name is Chubby and he's already drawn blood, as she told me proudly while waving the ravaged finger under my nose. I suggested Chubby and Patch be introduced, at which point they squealed loudly. I do love those girls.

I popped into Romsey first thing for soup (no time to make it this morning) and to take Teddy to the V.E.T. He hates the V.E.T. as regular readers will know, so Poppy came along to offer Moral Support (which mostly consists of wagging her tail furiously at everyone in the place and sniffing the floor like a bloodhound). She went to investigate a basket by the door and then rocketed back into me when the thing lurking inside exploded in a terrifying eruption of needles and spitting. She was thoroughly confused and sat down very suddenly on my feet with her tail clamped between her legs and wouldn't get up again until the lovely Louise called us in. I said I would read her Scarface Claw so she'd be better prepared next time. I probably won't read her Hairy Maclary's Rumpus At The Vet, for obvious reasons. 

Teddy broke down with a bad case of V.E.T. induced shivers and shakes as soon as he was put on the table (which worsened dramatically when she took his temperature- don't ask), so Pop came up on the table for moral support. I am Quite Certain my V.E.T thinks I am completely bonkers, a sense that was doubtless confirmed when both the dogs managed to trip me up as we were leaving by carrying out a complex and speedy version of Dog Knitting with their leads, using my legs as needles. I was glad to make it out alive. 

I then drove to my friend Cal's house to drop off a bottle of damson vodka for him and his girlfriend Fi (top girl, with whom I have shared several empowering conversations in the bogs of various public houses late at night over the course of the last two years), and finally drove back into Romsey straight into an enormous queue for Waitrose, which we eschewed in favour of the back street near the library. I nipped in to town to get some more Christmassy Fabric for the third and final stocking I am making and as I was paying the chap behind the till said confidently these aren't for making things for Christmas which confused me a bit so I said yes, they are, at which point he gave me a look that I chose to interpret as impressed but was probably in reality bafflement.

 I rounded off the trip by picking up soup, suet, watercress, plums and smarties in Waitrose (a nice, eclectic mix) while dodging lots of irate red-faced people who were doing their best to block the isles completely by placing their trolleys in stupid places, and had a nice chat with a lovely lady on the check-out who informed me she'd witnessed some Really Grumpy Behaviour from shoppers that morning that rather gave the lie to the whole Christmas Spirit thing. She told me I looked very calm, which I attributed to not having any energy left after rushing about like a blue arsed fly crazy person all morning. 

I got home to discover L had doctored my Merry Crimble message on the chalk board so it now reads Merry Crumble and is adorned with faces sticking out their tongues. It could have been worse I suppose (giant willies or swear words spring to mind), but perhaps we won't go there).
All Good Fun, eh?

Right, off to make supper and try not to stuff too many of the puff-pastry mince pies while so-doing :o)

How are your Crimble Preps going?

CT x

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Famous Lizard Picture And A Homemade Christmas Stocking


As everyone enjoyed the lizard story yesterday I've been given permission to show case the picture itself on the blog (Sally- L is chuffed it's found fame in Aus and agrees with your daughter about the benefits of doodling at the end of exams; Weaver, he agrees that he deserves a gingerbread for it and CJ he is pleased it made you laugh. None of this of course will encourage him to behave more soberly in future, but to be honest I'd be rather sad if he did!).

The Handmade Christmas Theme continues here. A while ago I bought some tape measures for 49p with the idea of decorating them with lace and fabric and turning them in to presents. I spent a bit of time this morning making them up and you can see them in the pic above. I think they've turned out well. Poppy was keen to be in on the act and thoroughly checked out everything by sniffing it first.

I've also become addicted to Kirstie Allsop's Handmade Christmas and felt inspired to have a go at making a Christmas stocking. I'm pretty chuffed with the way it's come out (although don't look too closely at the top which is a bit bodge it and scarper. I have made a mental note to work the top differently on the next one). It took several hours and has a wadding inside with orange stars for the lining and a patchwork facing on the back which you can see in the pics above. What do you think?

CT x