Archives for category: Garden

After a shaky start, Manchester’s version of June seems to finally have attained the correct sunshine levels. We are all emerging, blinking, into the bright light and zinging colours.

Check out, for example, the view that Lotus woke up to this morning:

View from the cat's door

View from the cat’s door

What a treat! I hope she’s grateful.

And as you might remember, our utility room glazed door is visible as soon as you enter the house from the front:

View from the back door

View from the back door

Somehow with the sunshine, the colours in the garden burst out, a little like someone had got trigger happy with the brightness contrast sliders on Photoshop. (Which I haven’t, it’s simply natural).

#nofilter

#nofilter

I’m actually showing off this side of the garden because the other side, more functionally, is a football pitch. Whereas in the house we tend to merge our form and function elements so that useful items are also beautiful, the garden demonstrates a more segregated approach of ball-game-yin aside herbaceous-border-yang.

Games-side of the garden. Adjudicating their own boules game, earlier in the Springtime

Business side of the garden. Adjudicating their own boules game, earlier in the springtime

Whilst I appreciate the usefulness of the pitch, I have to say that the flower beds fill me with more of a sense of calm and well-being. This is good news, because I doubt that the flower beds feel this way. They have withstood quite a barrage of mis-directed shots to flourish so abundantly. I feel we could market these supershrubs as the true survivors of the garden world.

Only the strong survive

Only the strong survive

Wielding a broom. The red plant in the foreground has blossomed oblivious to penalty knock-backs

The red plant in the foreground – broom – has blossomed oblivious to penalty knock-backs

The swanky trellis which features in many an urban garden also serves to deflect missiles back onto the pitch, reducing our neighbours’ ball-retrieval duties by I’d guess around 80%.

Wall trellis saves many a lost football

Wall trellis saves many a lost football

If this weather continues, we’ll have to demand our table back from the little seedlings and strawberry plants currently squatting atop. Yesterday’s barbecue was fun sitting on the picnic rug but I don’t think that setting would suit a more formal occasion.

Potting shed al fresco

Potting shed al fresco

Let’s hope June continues with such a positive attitude. Things do look so much better in the sun.

Glorious sun picks out the colours

Glorious sun picks out the colours

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We interrupt this series of tasteful flooring posts to warn readers of a potentially hostile takeover bid by a phenomenon some call The Beautiful Game.

The more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that there is a global tournament afoot, the ups and downs of which have obsessed most members of our household for a good few weeks now. Wide-eyed in admiration at the skills and bad behaviour of those taking part, our boys have bought into the atmosphere (and a substantial chunk of the Panini sticker empire) with the dedication and stat-devouring fervour you’d expect of die-hard fans. Which they are.

Oh yes, we have three of these

Yes, we have three of these

The walls are alive with the high-definition motion of little running kicking men, and the sofa spectators agape with the drama of it all. Meanwhile I have been pondering how, even before the World Cup 2014, football is pretty much wallpaper in our lives (despite the fact of course that I would never ever sanction the application of football wallpaper in our home).

I will admit I started it: I installed a football handbasin in the boys’ bathroom.

Slippery slope: I installed this basin in the boys' bathroom -- Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Dear Future Me, This is just a slippery slope…/ Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Then we decided that in the interests of garden preservation we would not bother with a classic lawn. We have a pitch. Made of plastic. You don’t have to mow it, you can’t wear it out, and, come rain or shine, your players remain clean. It is the best investment we ever made.

Turf laws - fake grass is the best purchase ever

Turf laws: fake grass is the soundest purchase ever

Days are measured by the amount of football playing opportunities. Some interesting tweaks to the accepted rules of play sometimes make an appearance….

What happens when you mix football with breakfast time

Malachy discovers that his new cereal-inspired goalie kit has some design flaws….

So we knew what we were doing: we designed with the boys in mind. However the boys took this idea and ran with it. And that’s when the subtle nod to personality turned into an all-pervading house style.

Artwork? Sure! As long as it's red. With a football /pocket money bargain and ubiquitous team calendar in background

Artwork on my wall? Sure! As long as it’s red. With a football.

We kept the boys’ bedroom walls for the most part a fresh white, in keeping with the rest of the house. A few feature colours, like a brightly painted wall colour or striking curtains, were emphasized by the lack of pattern elsewhere.

Until blue-tack happened. And then Caspar found a ‘wonderful’ painting for £1.50 in a junk shop. And we realised that the passing of each year means the opportunity to hang a new team calendar with athletically posed gurning player photos.

Starter for ten: Which team does.... ah yes, well done

Starter for ten: Which team does…. ah yes, well done

When you’ve been successful in some area of junior level football, you get to keep a carefully moulded and easily breakable trophy to display for ever and ever in your room. Nothing must stand in its way.

Trophy fives

Trophy fives. Books take a back seat

And the clever folks in the football business know that whatever they make, we will buy. Duvets, lamps, clocks, watches, bath flannels, even Monopoly. And football cards. I can’t even begin to explain the joys of football cards and stickers.

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: cover it with as much tat as you can

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: spread your bets (that is City Monopoly for those who were wondering)

So as you prepare to bid adieu to the World Cup in Brazil — with the breathtaking, inspiring, bitey, frenetic, heartbreaking, staying-up-late, virtuoso fun of it all — remember us. Football is not going away any time soon. It’s here, and no amount of tasteful interior design influence can do anything about it.

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

There comes a time, and I’m not sure exactly at which point it is, when the suggestion of taking A Nice Walk or making a visit to a historical site becomes a really good idea, rather than a really annoying imposition on your play life. Possibly it’s when you are the suggester rather than the suggestee of the activity, and you are settling comfortably into at least your fourth decade.

I remember going to National Trust properties when I was little. I remember the untrodden lawns, the beautifully manicured gardens, and the grey-haired and sensibly-shod visitors wandering in them, the lavender-infused shop selling mainly fudge, the dangled possibility of an ice cream at the end, and most certainly a picnic with Bovril sandwiches. There were also woody wild areas to explore and the familiar unusual plants to rediscover just around the corner… maybe even a ‘climbing tree’.

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Often we eschewed the house visit for fear of potential toddler malfunction, or, when we were older, in deference to the encroaching teenage boredom threshold. Most of the dingy exhibits were sequestered out of reach behind a rope barrier (and how tempting that rope was for us younger visitors, for swinging on or deftly looping around a sibling’s neck) and presided over by a stately and disapproving figure in the corner, who seemed to have a lot in common with Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.

The culture police have changed at the National Trust over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

The NT culture police have mellowed over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

In many ways, the National Trust has changed, and all to the good. Children are made so welcome now in the houses, and interaction with the objects in them is now actively encouraged. Where items need to be preserved, explanatory notes are placed next to them, showing the reasons for the Do Not Touch notice. The once frosty security guards have been replaced by a cosy army of grandparents, eager to chat and inspire.

So as parents, we didn’t baulk at the concept of taking our kids and another family into Lanhydrock House in Cornwall one rainy half term day. The children had a fantastic time looking for Halloween pumpkins but also following an easy-to-read guide as we toured the rooms, answering quizzes and imagining themselves as little lords and ladies from a bygone age.

But I didn’t bring you here only to muse upon middle-class family pursuits. I mentioned in my previous post that I found some treasure here. As our party swarmed ahead, I lingered in the kitchen, captivated by their collection of ‘Victorian mod cons’ and stylish work spaces. But mostly because these guys clearly had a big copper trend going on then too.

Trays to turreens: it's all made of copper

Trays to turreens: it’s all made of copper

copper kitchen lanhydrock

I could work with this. An inspiring kitchen

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinoiserie chic

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinese-style chic

Statement piece/ jelly mould

Statement piece: grand mould

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Shining examples/ serve it all up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper.

Serve it up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper

This kitchen, set out ready for action, made me realise how similar our aesthetic tastes are currently with those of the big houses a century ago. The copper, the chinoiserie, even the light pink shade on the walls as a pastel backdrop, are all elements we might include in our modern interiors.

I can’t pretend that all our boys leap up in eager anticipation every time we say we’re heading for a National Trust property. Sometimes it’s hard to tear themselves away from that six-hour game of Chelsea Monopoly, or the re-enactment of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But by the time we’re there, and the valuable badge prizes are up for grabs, everyone is immersed, loving the challenge, learning without realising it, and continuing in the great family tradition. A copper-bottomed option for a good day out.

Inherent quality and beauty in interior design will always resurface, sometimes with new approaches and settings. The way we choose to spend and direct our time with family now draws on memories of that which was valuable in our own childhoods. What goes around comes around.

This title sounds like it should be accompanied by banjo. I admit overuse but I feel like I have got it out of my system now, so normal service will be resumed with the next post.

We had, as I mentioned in my previous post, many storage goals for the utility room. Coats, hats, scarves and countless sport-related items all need a home, and each person needs to know where they can find their own without too much rummaging and general panic. We had experimented with various boxes of items in previous homes, and I feel we may have achieved pretty much optimum access-storage at this point.

Coats live on hooks. And we have some excellent, chunky, practical hooks in the utility room (sprouting from dark blue boards) from Ikea, which are called Bjärnum.

We mean business: utility hook for a utility room/ Bjarnum from Ikea

We mean business: utility hook for a utility room/ Bjarnum from Ikea

Having two different-length hooks is very useful. Each member of the household has a Bjärnum for all their coats and jackets, and remainder hooks host bags and other useful hangable accessories.

Will you hook at that? Coats hanging out

Will you hook at that? Coats hanging out

Honestly, however many coat hooks you have never actually seem to be enough. We do fill these completely, but look at how many there are! It’s not as if we are impulse shoppers. I think you do generally just have more stuff than you like to think, and it’s important to make space for it.

A peg or two

A peg or two

Wide view of utility featuring coats and glazed door

Wide view of utility featuring coats and glazed door

Apart from the hanging items, we did have an amount of footwear and other accessories which needed a home. The aforementioned box system is now streamlined to two boxes each for the boys (footwear in one; scarves, hats, sunglasses etc in the other) and large baskets for Tim and I. Exiting the house involves a lot of “Mum!!!! Where’s my…” which requests are referred directly to these storage boxes for a satisfyingly quick resolution. We had a strange nib of wall (structural) which created a cosy nook ideal for shelving. I used the functional but brilliant Algot system of Ikea shelves with which you simply fix two vertical struts to the wall and slot in shelving at desired levels.

Top level storage

Top level storage

Even room for the cat bed below

Even room for the cat bed below

The big tall Ikea cupboard (in the foreground of my wide shot above) is home for Hoover, broom and other items, as well as cat food supplies and the more bulky items. Annoyingly the ironing board didn’t fit in but we found a snug spot for it next to the Algot shelves instead, so all was not lost.

Lotus is now fully cat-door operational and scoots in and out of her own little passageway through the wall quite happily. Initially we had struggled to find a location for her door since our kitchen doors and utility door are all made of glass. You can install cat flaps into glass, but it involves a lot of cost and replacing the existing glazing. I didn’t really want the tacky plastic on show in the lovely back door, either, because it’s visible from elsewhere in the house.

Having tripped over the cat bowls for a few months as they lurked on the utility floor, we decided to pop them up onto the work surface, to minimise spillage.

Prestige level cat dining

Prestige level cat dining

That’s when we realised that there was a handy access spot through the wall. We installed the little door into the cavity wall: Lotus now treats her passageway like a scouting post, hunched within to check that all is well before she leaps outside, fluffy tail remaining inside and sweeping sporadically over the leaves and footprints she brought in with the last visit. The little car mat we found for her seems to be a nice place to sit and eat, though she doesn’t wipe her paws on it on her way in, and invariably the sink is covered in muddy footprints.

Light at the end of the tunnel: cat access

Light at the end of the tunnel: cat access

For clothes drying I had imagined originally installing a large Kitchen Maid…

Suspend your smalls: Kitchen Maid can be a great drying solution

Suspend your smalls: Kitchen Maid can be a great drying solution

…suspended from the ceiling, but as the room came together it was increasingly obvious that this would block the light and make for a rather stooping journey from door to door. Then I found Ikea’s Grundtal drying rack, which fitted perfectly to the two facing surfaces above the sink, and can be propped up and down in a moment to provide all the hanging space we need.

Dry me out: Grundtal drying rack propped up for business

Dry me out: Grundtal open for business

Now this bijoux feline eatery is sometimes overslung with a few items of clothing drying in neat lines above, which I am sure adds a certain textile festival charm to the atmosphere.

Spot the difference: Lotus channels that holiday vibe with laundry drying above her dinner

Spot the difference: Lotus channels that holiday vibe with laundry drying above her dinner

 

A WINDFALL! The heady excitement of the word and all the lovely surprises that might be contained in it! That is, if you are talking of the version that might gloriously occur when your annuity matures (I reveal my monopoly-inspired understanding of finance), or someone rich but distant dies and leaves you one.

However, strike these stirring notions from your mind, because what I really mean is this:

No, a windfall

No, this kind of windfall

Fruit that’s fallen from the tree. In our garden I suspect the wind was not so much to blame as a few heartily thumped footballs, but nevertheless they’ve taken the proactive route to harvesting by making their own way down.

These bruisers are not beautiful enough to merit a place in the fruit bowl: anyone who ever had children knows that “Just eat around it!” is a meaningless and limp plea on a par with “But spinach is a super-healthy food!” and “If you feel so angry you need to hit someone, try a pillow instead of your brother”. But we mustn’t waste, and I need to do something with them. So they, along with their plummy neighbours, have been the main focus of my attentions for the past month, a really demanding item on my To Do list with a finish-by date of yesterday and an accompanying crowd of fruit flies as incentive.

Lest we forget... there is peeling and stewing to be done

Lest we forget… there is peeling and stewing to be done

The plums came first, about a month ago, when we noticed that some of the branches had snapped off and the leaves had all turned brown. The fruit clustered like outsized bunches of grapes, and all seemed to ripen at exactly the same time. We sorted and sifted into Fruit Bowl and Other piles. The Fruit Bowl pile was fit for giving away to neighbours, and for health-bullying tactics at home. I overheard Tim pounce one morning on a house guest, “Ali! How many plums have you had today?” It was only eleven and she’d already had four. I needed to devise a plan of action before our friends started avoiding us.

Wary of potential maggotty surprises, I dutifully sliced and de-stoned the first few kilos of Other pile, stewed the fruit and started packing it all away in the freezer, for a day in the future where we might again actually welcome the prospect of plum crumble.

Amazingly, there were no internal grubs apparent, so the next step was jam. Having never attempted it before I had always backed away from the seeming-insurmountable challenge of sterilising jars. But by then Mum was staying with us, and so it turns out that sterilising jars actually just involves putting them in a low oven for 20 minutes. Buoyed up by the simplicity of it all, I decided to make my own once she’d gone. It really is incredibly easy!

My next set of jars came from The Mighty Pound just around the corner, a most amazing emporium filled with homewares like you wouldn’t believe, including duvets, drill bits, artificial flowers, suitcases and plastic chairs, pretty much none of it tasteful. But all very useful.

Off for a spell in the oven

Off for a spell in the oven

Then I cooked up the whole plums in a little water until soft, stirred in insane amounts of sugar (equal in weight to the plums) and boiled until it was all getting sticky.

The jars were ready and the jam had reached its crucial setting point, so I slopped it all into the pots. Little greaseproof hats topped them while they cooled, and then later in the evening I screwed on the lids.

Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline

Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline

Other recipes I made with the plums included Spiced Plum Cake for Tim’s birthday, Plum and Frangipane Tart, a Plum Fool, Plum Cobbler, Chinese Plum Sauce (featured in the background of my jar shot above), and Preserved Plums, which do look rather impressively gift-y. I might have made more of these, surely a Christmas present staple, but as dramatically as it all began, the tree was empty. Suddenly, it wasn’t all about plums any more.

We're not lookers, we're cookers

We’re not lookers, we’re cookers

It was apples. And we’re not finished yet.

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