Sunday 29 March 2015

In the Garden - March

Well spring did put in an appearance from time to time during March and we did have a couple of bursts in the garden.

The first was a good full day, where we decided to have a go at rearranging all the pots and furniture on the patio. We weren't sure whether we would like it as it has been the same way for as far back as I can remember. 

We've decided to live with it for a while and see how we get on and I do think it's growing on us and Captain doesn't seem too bothered. 
Before .....
During .....
After .....
Whilst doing this we had a good clear out of the junk behind the arbour which now all needs to be rehoused and about a third of the patio got it's first jet wash for a couple of years. Hopefully the fact that it now looks a bit odd will spur Martin on to finish the rest of it. 
We've had another couple of shorter bursts and have fit a larger obelisk to the white climbing rose as it had completely outgrown the old one and we've repotted the blueberry. 
The second raised vegetable bed has had a good tidy and been invigorated with bags of manure and soil improver and we've made a good start on the seed planting.  
On the veg and salad front we've started off 4 varieties of tomatoes, courgettes, beetroot, carrots, radishes, spring onions, shallots, salad leaves and parsnips, to add to the chillies which Martin planted in February and are doing really well so far. 
We've also started off some sweet peas and zinias, so the dining room table is pretty much out of action at the moment as it's covered in seed trays.

Next job is definitely to get the greenhouse up, but that will be a job for the Easter weekend.  Hope to see you all again then.

Monday 23 March 2015

Cracking on with the Crochet!

Well. I've been surprised at how I've cracked on with the crochet!

I've now completed 10 of the 20 squares I need for the throw that I am making, which will hopefully end up looking something like this.

What I really like about this pattern, which is available for free on the Red Heart site, is that Red Heart also did a 'Crochet Along' on their blog, which demonstrates fully how to crochet each different pattern. I've really found this invaluable, as I couldn't even remember how to do a 'dc' (double crochet).

I have now completed a Shells with Front and Back Post Stitches Square and a Front Post Double Crochet square, both look great.  I've also done some more granny squares, which I can now knock out in about an hour.

I think I've decided that rather than 10 granny and 10 different patterned squares, as per the pattern, I will go with 10 granny and 2 of each of my 5 favourite patterned squares.

Hopefully I'll soon be able to show you the finished article.

It's Definitely Spring .....

So far in March we have had a real mix of weather, with some biting cold but some real warm Spring sunshine too.

The snowdrops have now given way to other Spring bulbs and we've got the first signs of flowers on the flowering currant, which is always the first of the trees or shrubs to come into bloom.
I managed to get out back and have a bit of a play with the Digital SLR, and managed to catch some of the first real signs of Spring.

The Spring tubs are looking good and we are expecting great things from the wallflowers that we planted in the Autumn.  The forget-me-nots have spread like wildfire and there is even the first glimpse of a bloom.
The majority of the seeds that we've planted indoors so far have started to make a show, with courgettes, tomatoes, beetroot and chillies all well on the way.
Whilst out front saying cheerio to mum, a very kind neighbour wandered past and gifted us two very healthy looking Spring cabbages from his allotment.
Now, I'm not over keen on cabbage so mum took these two beauties home, but not before I took a couple of quick snaps.  Sorry Martin!

So it is now officially Spring, the signs are all there.  It's lovely to start to see some colour in the garden again.  Time to get motivated and get cracking!!

Friday 20 March 2015

A Total Eclipse

Mum and I were cleaning this morning, when Martin called from work to say 'get out back and have a look at the solar eclipse, it's amazing!'

Well, as anything is a welcome distraction from cleaning, we did go out tried to have a look.

Obviously, we couldn't look directly at it, it was sooooooooo bright, but we tried the old pinhole in a bit of card with some paper in front and we were both completely underwhelmed - I think we must have been doing it wrong.

So, then we decided we'd try with sunglasses.  Still far too bright.

I headed for the camera and the zoom lens and decided to see if I could capture it.  Not a brilliant result, and I am sure there are loads of far better pictures all over the net, but this is what we ended up with.

The light was good though, so I did delay getting back to the cleaning to take some pictures of what Spring looks like in the garden.  I'll share those in my next In the Garden post very soon.

Monday 16 March 2015

Will Sidney's War - To Italy by Train

In my last post it was the end of October 1917, Will had been made a full Corporal and something was definitely 'in the offing' for Will Sidney's Battalion of the 9th York & Lancasters.

At the beginning of November, Will writes in his diary of general army life, with drills, inspections and rifle practice.  On 3 November, Will writes that it was his 23rd birthday.

On 5 November Will gives his first indication that he is aware of what is next for the Batallion when he writes that he wonders if Ethel knew that they were going out of the country.

It is in Will's diary entry for 10 November that all becomes clear.  The Batallion is entrained for Italy, moving off from Wizernes station at 4.10pm.  Will writes of a comfortable sleep on the train whilst thinking of Ethel and wondering how she is getting on.

It was the start of a six day train journey, through the South of France to Mantua in Italy.

"11 Sun - Still in train.  Riding all day"
"12 Mon - Thinking of Ethel.  Passed through Lyons & Marseille.  Wish Ethel was here so as she could come this long journey with us, through this lovely country."
"13 Tues - South of France is a very pretty picture. Saw the Gua.... picture place.  Passed the frontier into Italy @ 1/4 to 9.  A very big station."
"14 Wed - The Italians made a great fuss of us. Give us cigs & chocolate & flags galore.  Still travelling by train.  A long tiring journey."

"Nov 15 - Still in train.  The Italian people treated us A1. They were very pleased to greet us.  They don't half make a fuss of the English soldier."
"Nov 16th - Landed @ Mantova (Mantua) @ 10.30. Marched right through the town & got a great reception."

From the limited information that is available it is likely that the train will have taken the troops south from Wizernes, along the route of the current high-speed train.  They would have travelled down through Lyons and the Rhone Valley, where the train would have turned East and followed the coast through Marseille, Cannes and Nice and on to Italy.  Once the train had crossed the border into Italy, it would have passed through Genoa and Cremona before arriving at the final destination of Mantua on 16 November.

Throughout all of Will's postings he sent Ethel lots of different postcards from the places he had been.  We are lucky enough to have a good collection of what he sent and it seems he had plenty of opportunity to top up their collection on his journey to Italy.

Will writes of passing through Marseille and you can see below a collection of cards that he sent to Ethel from the city.  None have any writing on the reverse so we can only assume that they relate to this time in Will's posting.

We also found the next two cards in Will's things, but the postmarks are a little confusing.  The first one is marked as being posted in Cannes on 15 November 1917, but by now Will is in Italy, so the post may have been delayed by a day or two.

This next postcard is postmarked Genova 14 November 1917, which Will must have sent to Ethel as soon as he entered Italy.  It's just a blank card saying "All's well, write later, Will, Best Love." Will has written on the front of the card "Remember me to all.  I wish you were here." It's very faint and difficult to read as you can see below.

The last cards we have in Will's collection from his journey to Italy are all from Genova and can be seen below.
So, after a long, but what appeared fairly enjoyable, even relaxing, six days of travelling by train, the battalion were in Mantua, Italy.

This was by no means the end of Will's journey and you can read more about what happened next in my next post.

Monday 9 March 2015

Crazy for Crochet!

I know it may sound a bit bonkers, but I've been inspired to start another new craft project - I blame Pinterest!

It's clearly not that I've not got plenty on the go at the moment as I seem to be starting lots of different projects.  It's not that any have been abandoned, all are moving forward, be it quite slowly in some cases.

Anyway, for some crazy reason last week I decided that I was desperate to have a go at crocheting, something that I haven't done for over 30 years!

I had been browsing Pinterest and found a website called Red Heart that provides lots and lots of free crochet patterns.

I decided that I wanted to have a go at a throw, but may have been a little ambitious in my first choice as I gave it up as a bad job after row 2.

My second attempt went better.  I did have to trawl YouTube to remind me of how to do the simplest of stitches, but once I got going, as you can see from the photos, it didn't go too bad.
However, it wasn't quite what I wanted and it was still quite hard, as this pattern was for a throw that was all made in one piece.

I decided that squares stitched together would be a better option for me.

I found myself some really nice pale grey wool, in the Post Office of all places, and hit Hobbycraft for the right sized crochet hooks.

I started with a granny square and this went really well.

I then got a bit obsessed and sat up till 2.00am one night crocheting and then carried on, in my dressing gown, the next morning, till lunchtime!! I'm pleased to say that I have calmed it down a bit now.

In my marathon crocheting session I tried a cross stitch one, which looked a bit wonky round the edges and I have now actually ended up pulling it down and starting again.  You can see my second attempt below.

My marathon session also included a back loop square which, on reflection, looks a a bit tatty and I don't think it will make the final production.
However, I can't tell you how pleased I am with my popcorn square.
So, I've got 5 squares I'm happy with - 3 grannies, a cross stitch and a popcorn, only another 15 to go!!!  Oh, and then of course, there is the stitching together and the border.

I have now set up a Pinterest board for potential crochet projects and can see throws could be featuring as this year's hand made Christmas gift.

Monday 2 March 2015

Our latest National Trust Visit - Stoneywell, Leicestershire

Stoneywell was acquired by the National Trust in January 2013 and has recently opened for visitors. It's only the third property owned by the Trust in Leicestershire and, as such, is quite close by. 

We've been waiting to visit for what seems like ages. One of Martin's friends works there and she's been keeping us posted on what's been happening in the run up to it finally opening to the public earlier on this year.

The property was designed in 1899 by Ernest Gimson, one of the most inspiring and influential architect-designers of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, as a Summer home for his brother Sydney. He also built the two neighbouring properties for his other brother and sister. 

Whilst the property was originally built for Gimson's brother, Sydney, as a holiday home, it was fully occupied by Sydney's son, Donald, and his family for many years, before being acquired by the National Trust.  Inside the house, the property has been restored to how it would have been in the 1950s, which is when Donald has his happiest memories of living there with his family.

Stoneywell is a Grade II listed property set in the Charnwood Forest.  It's the only remaining cottage of its kind in Leicestershire and is one of only a handful of notable Arts and Crafts houses in England. 

As well as the cottage, gardens, outbuildings and woodland, Stoneywell retains many of its original contents and inside the property has been laid out in the way it would have been in the 1950s.

The latest National Trust magazine had a big spread on the property and confirmed that it is now fully open for business so we decided to take mum and dad for dad's birthday. 

Because of the location and the access arrangements for the property, it's one of those places where you need to book your visit. You can't just turn up. Booking is easy enough and can be done on line. You book an hour slot and need to arrive within this time to be able to park. 

Once parked, a shuttle bus service takes you a short drive to the property, where there is a guided tour lasting about 3/4 of an hour. 

The weather forecast wasn't the best but we decided to go ahead with our visit anyway, chucking all the wet weather gear in the boot just in case. As it happened the weather surprised us. No rain at all, though some biting winds on the car park which is quite exposed to the elements. 

We only had to wait a few minutes for the mini-bus, which took us down the road and dropped us at the property. It is literally five minutes away. 
We were greeted by National Trust staff, including our friend, and told a little bit about the layout of the site before heading off down the path towards the house, which is not at all visible from the entrance, which makes it quite intriguing, what were we going to find? 

We were lucky enough to be accompanied by a guide who told us a little bit about the gardens on our walk to the house. She told us about the 4 trees given to the family as a 25th wedding anniversary present and showed us the original Stony Well, from which the property got it's name. The well was shared by Stoneywell and the neighbouring property, which Gimson also built, for his sister, and is on the boundary of the two properties and accessible from both sides. 

As you turn the sweep of the bend in the path, the property comes in to view and is a real delight. A beautiful, higgledy piggledy, Hansel and Gretel looking building, which really appears to just come right out of the rock and the countryside around it, which was just how Gimson wanted it to appear. 
It was quite grey on our visit and we can only imagine how lovely it would look with clear blue skies and sunshine, we will most definitely have to make a return visit to find out. 

Once inside the property each room is unexpectedly spacious and does look just how it would have done in the 1950s, with lots of original furniture, that was bespoke made specifically for this beautiful family home, and plenty of personal bits and pieces.
There are lots of nooks and crannies and quirky touches, including different size and shaped windows, with amazing and completely different views from every aspect, narrow windy staircases and a few few steep steps and some low ceilings. 

It is a house where you are encouraged to really come in and experience what it would have been like, to sit on the window seats, to admire the views and to feel the wood of the old furniture and imagine what life it has seen. 

There is something to see in every direction you look and I am sure when we visit again, we will notice things that we didn't see this time. 

Back outside, standing back and really admiring the view of the house. the attention to detail is something that you don't necessarily notice on first glance.  Fortunately the guide was on hand to point out some lovely detailing, particularly on the roof, where the tiles start out very small at the top and gradually grow in size as the roof comes down to meet the ornate, but subtle and prettily detailed guttering and downpipes. 
We wondered around the back of the house, past the tennis courts, up to the old fort, where the children used to play for another lovely view of the house. Just imagine, growing up somewhere like this. There would have been no need for games consoles or constant TV, children could run wild with their imagination in the gardens, which would have made a very adventurous playground. 
There are lots of signs of Spring in the garden at the moment, with drifts of bulbs poking through all over the place and masses of variety of rhododendron just coming into bud. In another few weeks the gardens will be ablaze with colour and that is something we really want to see. 
We finished our wander with a closer look at the old well and the plunge pool beside, which looked very chilly today. You can just see the steps to enter the pool if you look closely. 
We then headed back to the old stables and the tea room for tea and cake ..... Mandatory on a visit to a National Trust property, you know, before catching the next mini-bus back to the car park and heading for home. 
Because of the booking system and the size of the mini-bus everything works really well, with you never feeling that the place is crowded and giving you a real chance to explore and take photos without lots of people in the background, always a bonus. 

We really enjoyed our visit and would definitely recommend it. We spent about two hours there in total, but only had a short wander around the garden. In warmer weather I am sure we would make more of the garden and the woods. I am sure there will be a other post sometime soon, where I hope to show some blue skies and flowers in bloom. Watch this space.