I have two favourite churches. The first is Sherborne Abbey, a place that I adore and which never fails to give me chills as I walk around it (you can find out more on it here). The second, and the church which I also hold dear, is Hexham Abbey. Whilst not as grand as Sherborne, it is no less imposing and beautiful. We didn’t have too long to potter this time, so I focused on the architectural features: the beautiful angles and symmetry that one can observe in few other places than churches. I gazed upwards at the vaults and arches, wondering what stories these old walls could tell. It turns out that I’m a sucker for Norman/Early English architecture – no surprise there! What a gorgeous, peaceful place to while away half an hour.
Monday 26 January 2015
Saturday 24 January 2015
I think, dear readers, that I’m going to declare January a bit of a blog write-off. I keep thinking that I should blog and then the desire to do so seems to dissipate and before long, another week has flown by in the blink of an eye. It’s almost the end of January – how did that happen?! The cold and dark days are, hopefully, getting fewer and farther between, but I am eager to feel the warm sun on my skin again!
Mr VP and I have been spending quite a bit of time in the house in our spare time, mostly because we have had so much to do here and because January days can be very dark and dull (as well as flippin’ cold!). We do try to get out and about regularly, though. We visit our favourite towns and revel in the quietness of them and also make sure that we get some fresh air in our lungs and our hearts beating by spending time out in the countryside or by the sea.
Last weekend was one such day. It was pretty much 10 years to the day since Mr VP and I first visited this beach on one thoroughly freezing January day. On that day back in 2005, we were met on the beach by white breakers, gales and snow, all of which soaked us and froze us. We walked until we could walk no further and we went back to the car. That was the day we ‘discovered’ Northumberland, as we were living up until then in the outskirts of Newcastle. That day sticks in my mind and it only struck me as we were heading home that it was 10 years ago almost exactly that we went for a walk on that beach, with those gales and that snow pelting us.
And when we went there last weekend it was windy and it did snow pretty impressively. We power-walked up the beach, wishing to walk further and maybe to stave off the chill that was blowing off the sea. Yes, that is snow sitting on the sand. It seems surreal, but up against the dunes it had gathered into whispy drifts of white. We walked so far that we came to a completely new bit of the beach and we had it all to ourselves. After stopping for a break and to catch our breath before heading back, the snow arrived and the wind picked up. By the time we reached the car, we were dripping wet, with snow still sitting in our hair and our cheeks both bright red and burning with the cold. It was the first time I’ve come so close to a goldcrest – Britain’s smallest bird, less than 30cm away from us and which almost flew into Mr VP’s face! It was such a lovely if freezing walk, full of familiarity and newness all at once.
Tuesday 13 January 2015
Apologies formy blog silence. One thing on my 2015 to-do list is to blog more often and yet so far I’ve only clocked up a couple of blog posts this year! Last week was really busy, with lots of early mornings as the last few things get finished on phase 1 of the renovation. It seems like we’ve been camping at the house for over a month now as we have waited for the last few things on kitchen to be finished and the flooring to go down. The amount of dust created by a bare concrete floor is phenomenal and has held us back from being able to unpack properly as nothing downstairs felt ‘clean’ despite my constant vacuuming and dusting. Thankfully, last week saw the rest of the floor go down (though it took four days rather than the promised one!) which meant that the epic clean-up could begin.
As silly as it might sound, I quite enjoyed spending this weekend starting the mammoth task of cleaning the house of all of the dust that laying the flooring and moving furniture has created. It was a joint effort, as I donned rubber gloves and steamer, whilst Mr VP vacuumed top to bottom and kept me hydrated with plenty of cups of tea. On Sunday we visited the storage unit which has housed all of the things that we couldn’t fit into our house in Cambridge, to collect some of the book cases and begin to go through the boxes and decide what to keep and what to get rid of. To break it into manageable chunks, we have decided to do 6 boxes a week. Seeing things I had forgotten about or had missed for the last four and a half years was a bit overwhelming as everything has a memory attached. But I’m being ruthless about de-cluttering as we can live without these things, so I am sorting out and only keeping the things that we absolutely adore or can’t go without – the rest will be given to charity shops.
I keep meaning to pick my camera up, but somehow I don’t manage to do it. I will, though, I just need to get myself into that mode of doing creative things, rather than the wholly practical. I also have lots of other things to tell you, like how I’m organising myself in 2015 and what plans there are a-brewing, but for now, I must tick off the errands on my list and finish the cleaning downstairs.
Monday 12 January 2015
One of my goals for 2015 was to get back into the habit of menu planning. I used to do it religiously and then I got out of the habit. I really missed its practicality and how it takes the hassle out of wondering what we’re going to have for dinner each night. It also makes budgeting and shopping so much easier! Thus once a week (usually on a Sunday), I flick through cook books and lists of meal ideas and then decide what we’re going to have for the week. I have long since realised that planning for specific days doesn’t work for us, as I often don’t fancy what I’ve planned for that evening, so I now plan in a seven-meal rota and as long as those meals get cooked, then I’m okay with not necessarily having them on a particular day.
I was flicking back through the VintagePretty archives and looking at meals I’ve cooked previously and regret not posting these menu plans as a sort of archive of what we eat from season to season and year to year. So from now on, I’m going to endeavour to post more, if not all, of what we eat at Chez VintagePretty, more as an aide memoire rather than for any other reason. We tend to eat a lot of vegetarian/vegetable-based food, as I seem to prefer it (and I’m glad I do after this little bit of scientific research came out recently!) and Mr VP doesn’t mind what I cook as long as it’s tasty!
This week’s menu:
- Lemon, spinach and pea pasta in a light creamy sauce.
- Chermoula with falafel and a carrot salad.
- Lucknawi chicken korma.
- Veg-packed tomato pasta.
- Homemade pizza.
- Stirfry and soba noodles.
- A riff on Julia’s Pumpkin Quinoa chilli.
Last week’s menu:
- Delia’s Piedmont peppers.
- Veg-packed tomato pasta.
- Delia’s curried nut roast and veg.
- Stirfry & noodles.
- Tuna pasta.
- Roast chicken and veg (at Mum’s).
Thursday 8 January 2015
After a particularly chilly couple of walks on the beach, with the wind giving us brain-freeze, I knew that a hat was needed. I found a hat and wrist-warmer kit with lovely, soft wool at Woolaballoo in Hexham and began knitting. I usually knit in the round using double-pointed needles, as I find DPNs much easier and more reliable to use (and circular needles give me the heebie-jeebies). However, after chatting with the lady at Woolaballoo, she urged me to try using a circular needle, so off I went.
I did make some adjustments to the pattern – it said it required the plain rib to measure 10cm, but I stopped at 8cm as I felt that was plenty, and the hat is 10cm shorter than recommended because I prefer it a little more snug. I can’t remember what the plain yarn is (it is 100% merino) but the self-patterning yarn is Adriafil’s Knitcol in #51 (Giotto Fancy). I don’t think I would use the circular needle as my needle of choice in the future, but I do understand why some people like it, particularly for larger items. All in all, though, for a first time using a circular needle, I’m really pleased with it.
Monday 5 January 2015
For some reason unbeknownst to us, we always said we’d visit Beamish last time we lived here but never got round to it. When pondering what we could do for my birthday, as not much is usually open at this time of year, I suggested Beamish as I knew that we’d have a great time and it would be open. I’m so glad I did – it was one of the best ways to start 2015 and the nicest way to spend a birthday!
Beamish was the first open-air museum in the UK and its goal was to present a version of everyday life in the North East. Most of the buildings have been rescued and transplanted brick by brick to the museum from all over the North East. Most of the buildings represent the Victorian and Edwardian era (mostly the latter), so have been decorated and filled with appropriate furniture and the staff dress accordingly. It is a huge site and is served by a large selection of original buses and trams, with examples of original cars, vans, traction engines and trains all in use. There is also a bank, a working bakery, a Masonic hall, a working sweet shop and original Co-Op buildings to be seen and investigated.
I seem to have taken a lot of pictures of the different fireplaces they had in the museum. Each fireplace was in the process of being lit as we arrived (we were the first people in) and we had a chat with the man whose job it was to keep the (many) home fires burning. As the museum isn’t in a smoke-free zone, they can burn normal house coal, and the smell of it was everywhere; such a reassuring smell (though, obviously, not good for the environment etc). According to the chap lighting the fires, they have to light them often as the jackdaws are great nest builders and thus great chimney blockers! Each fireplace in every house was different and many had the same kind of range system that our house would once have had. Each staff member bemoaned the amount of dust that the open fires created, but each one said that they were lovely (and warm) nonetheless.
The wallpapers in each property were fascinating, though in the dark, poorly-lit hallways and parlours, the dark colours didn’t help to make the space feel bigger! Mum also pointed out that the green paints of the era most likely contained arsenic (as did green sweets of the time!) and were fairly unsavoury to use.
This bedroom was in one of the smaller properties and though the room was small it was actually fairly cosy. However, without double-glazing or central heating, I can imagine that the fire would get well used and it might be a bit chilly at night!
Most of the way round the museum, my mother was marvelling at the things she remembers from her childhood or still has to this day. Amongst the memory lane items were carpet beaters, flooring, fancy glass doors and sweets.
Yes, I did take quite a few photos of fireplaces! This one is more ornate than I believe ours was (not that I ever saw ours, but it would’ve been a house for miners and thus not fitted with very ornamented fittings), but the placement of the fire and the oven/stove set-up matches the soot marks on our own inglenook. I must admit, if I still had one of these, I would definitely cook on it! The great thing about Beamish is that in certain properties you visit, someone will be cooking food that you can then try. We had a lovely cup of fruit punch and freshly-baked scones!
As well as trams, buses and trains, they have horses and horse-drawn carriages. We didn’t see any in use when we visited, but we are assured that the horses are regular ‘workers’ at the museum and pull some of these carriages on certain days. The horses’ stables were the most immaculate I’ve ever seen and the horses treated like royalty!
If you venture upstairs in the post office, you will come across the printer’s. We got chatting to the gentleman who was running the printer’s shop and he walked us through inking the rollers and the types of printing presses he had on display. Each one works and the oldest of which is from around 1835. This one above is an American design, and which is much sought-after in America, after the maker of them couldn’t get anyone in America to buy his machines. Someone suggested that he try Britain and lo and behold, they took off. The classical ornamentation on the press is impressive as is its weight: two and a half tons!
I learned a lot about typesetting. Did you know the phrases “to mind your Ps and Qs” comes from the fact that type is placed in its frame backwards and thus the typesetter had to make sure that he didn’t muddle his Ps and his Qs? Likewise, the phrase “to quoin a phrase” (yes, spelled quoin not coin) comes from the quoins used to tighten the type frames. We watched as the gentleman printed out the most wonderful sheets of genuine news print from the time and told us to look out for certain (original) comical inclusions!
We also learned that there were no daily newspapers, only weeklies, in the North until after WWI and that the northerners didn’t know that the Battle of Waterloo had occurred until some four months after the event! This is a prime example of the north/south divide and how little the north was considered in matters of politics and government at the time.
After we had spent an hour talking to the printer, it was time to head onwards to the sweet shop. It is a traditional shop selling a large selection of traditional boiled sweets and you can still buy things by the quarter and not have them look at you gone off! At the back of the shop, you can try the wares that they make and watch the confectioner at work rolling and pulling the molten sugar.
What an oven! This is the Herron’s bakery oven. In there you can buy all sorts of sweet treats from scones to cakes and biscuits. We came away with some gingerbread and cranberry and orange cake. Yum!
Take a tram down the line and you come to the Edwardian pit village, which though not as ‘cosmopolitain’ as the houses in the town, they had their own charm. You can even make a fuss of the (very tiny) pit ponies, whose fur is thick and soft.
Most of these houses had a ‘hobby’, some was having chickens, some had rabbits, some had pigeons and some grew vegetables. This system of neighbourly barter would’ve kept the town together and well-fed. The houses, however, we were owned by the owners of the mines and should your husband meet a sticky end, as one of the men who lived in these houses did, then the coal company would kick you out and the chances are that you’d end up living in a workhouse if you couldn’t re-marry.
One of the last stops on our visit. Can you see the jug of fruit punch on the stove?
We had a lovely day visiting Beamish and I can’t wait to go back (their tickets are valid for 1 year of unlimited visits!) to see all the displays later on in the year.
Wednesday 31 December 2014
You’ll have to excuse me while I panic at the thought of 2014 being over – I was just getting into the swing of things, and last I heard, it was September! Time it is a-flying. It has been such a lovely, if challenging year. It started by joining a gym and taking up swimming again, which I really enjoyed. I took a lot of power-walks along the rivers of Cambridgeshire, we had an amazing weekend in Southwold at the beginning of March, and then we were thrust into the rush of packing up and moving in March/April. Before we knew what was happening we had found a delightful rental house, moved, Mr VP had changed jobs and we were ‘back’ into our new and exciting life in Northumberland. We arrived just as the last of the blossoms in Cambridgeshire were fading and the first of the cherry and hawthorn blossoms were beginning to flower up here – we had the longest, most luxurious spring in my memory.
Summer was a holiday for both of us, and just what we needed after a stressful move. We visited Coquet Island and saw puffins and seals, we spent our wedding anniversary picking strawberries, we walked for many miles along our favourite beaches old and new, and we made the most of every spare moment we could. At the beginning of September, we began the mammoth task of house renovation. This turned out to be not only extremely stressful and difficult, but also very educational and I know a lot more about things I didn’t even know existed (like building regulations and how best to choose decent workmen). After three months, we moved in to an almost-finished house and that’s where we are now. We’re still mostly living out of boxes as we’re still waiting for the floor to be laid, but with the lights on, candles lit and the fire going, it is very homely indeed.
If 2014 was about movement, then 2015 will, I hope, be about growth. Moving house twice in seven months is unbelievably stressful and having to pack-up one house and oversee works in the other is tear-your-hair-out worthy, so I would like to settle down in 2015, yet still grow and develop. At some point I plan to return to my studies, either this year or next, and I would like to increase the time I spend doing good and useful things. It sounds obtuse, but it means me taking on more challenges and making more committments to myself and the life I would like to create.
I always have a bit of a panic at the end of the year, as I worry about the future and what is to come. I suppose it’s the not-knowingness that New Year represents that worries me the most, but each year I keep trying to let that worry go a bit more and spend a little bit more living as in-the-moment as I can. I have had such a glorious year in 2014 that I am eager to see how 2015 will pan out and how we’ll grow and change to meet the year.
So that’s it for 2014. Here we sit watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Mr VP’s pick), having nibbled at some of the buffet food I’ve made (the homemade sausage rolls and olive palmiers have gone down a treat!) and toasting ourselves in front of a warm fire. We might not be awake come midnight, but we’ll usually be woken long enough to welcome the new year by the fireworks going off around and about!
To all the lovely blog readers who stop by, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 for you and yours. Thanks for reading and see you in 2015! :)