Saturday, 30 August 2008

Completely losing the plot

Those of you without small daughters - and possibly those with - should feel free to shake your heads in pity at any point during this post.

Once upon a time there were two little girls who were terribly deprived because their mean mummy wouldn't pay for Sky. So imagine their excitement at visiting friends' houses and being able to view the delights of NickJr and the enticing adverts therein. Including one for 'the cutest shoes' (allegedly). How could they resist?

So they asked mummy, over and over, if they could have a pair of Lelli Kelly shoes - also known in this house as Yelly Kellys, not only because of mispronunciation but also because of the excitement in small voices when the requests were made.

Dear reader, you'll have guessed by now that I am that mean mummy, and I hope you'll sympathise when I say that I nearly fainted dead away at the price of these shoes - the best part of £40, per pair, for glorified plimsolls! Not in this lifetime, darlings.

So, instead, we bought 2 pairs of white plimsolls (£2.25 each), 2 pots of fabric paint (£1.95 each), raided my stash for buttons, baubles and beads, and did them ourselves. Well, they wielded the paint tubes and I stitched the beads on. They're not the shop versions but I think they have a certain charm nonetheless!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

It is a truth universally acknowledged

... that a lot of 'tourist attractions' are deathly dull and not worth the money. Not so the two houses we visited on a recent visit to Chawton in Hampshire, famed as being the adult home of Jane Austen. The house everyone visits -and with reason - is her cottage on the main street in the village. In 1809 she moved here and spent all but the last few months of the rest of her life living here. It was from Chawton that her works were published, and many of them written.

The (dodgily named) Cassandra's Cup teashop across the road makes a mean treacle sponge and custard too.

But on the day we visited, by stroke of luck Chawton House was also open - Jane's brother Edward was adopted by the Knights, who were relatives of the Austens and had no children of their own. He changed his name (and indeed in an early example of Girl Power all the men who married into the Knight family were obliged to change their name to Knight), and apparently Jane spent many happy visits there.

These days it is the home of the Chawton House Library which focuses on "women's writing in English from 1600-1830" and has a craftily concealed gin cupboard in one of the bookshelves. We thought it might be a good place to store naughty children but the librarian was having none of it.

In one room was a portrait of Kitty Fisher, as in "Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it". Don't want to worry you Lucy, but apparently the Pocket was Lucy Locket's young man who was pinched by the naughty Miss Fisher ...

It's been gorgeously restored and you can almost imagine Jane's characters strolling around. Could this have been the "prettyish kind of a little wilderness" where Lady Catherine de Bourgh took Lizzy to task over Mr Darcy?

Chawton church is in the grounds of Chawton House and here, in a quiet corner, are the graves of Jane's mother and her sister Cassandra.

One of the highlights of the day was a dancing demonstration by a local group of Regency dancers, in full costume, who gave fascinating little chats along the way about the history of the dances and the language of fans. I tried to channel Persuasion (who could resist Captain Wentworth?) rather than Armstrong and Miller, and I nearly succeeded. Nearly. I can't find a clip of one of their dancing sketches, but since I adore them here is a clip that might make you feel better about this year's joke of a British summer.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

No, really, this is science

Gilbert White was a clever old chap. Any normal person would be utterly content with being recognised as one of the earliest ecologists as a result of writing The Natural History of Selborne - in print for over 200 years (and the book is the science connection; see, I told you this was educational). He also has a museum dedicated to his memory, and is commemorated in two stunning windows in St Mary's in Selborne, Hants.

But as if all that wasn't enough, he also invented a scrumptious beer recipe. It's now made by a small brewery local to my father-in-law - and yes, that label does say 6% alcohol. Hic!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Hello there!

Well, August seems to have flown by in a blur, and we have had lots of fun despite the weather - we are British, after all! Lots to tell you from trips to Devon and Hampshire, with long days on the beach and visits to exciting destinations. Oh, and of course the horror show on the allotment after abandoning it for an extended period during peak weed growing, sorry, harvesting time. Assuming they haven't changed the locks to keep me out.

One fab place we visited on an unusually sunny day was the Hollycombe Steam Collection which is a bit run down but brilliant fun (declared "better than Legoland!" by Miss Tall Small - praise indeed.) It's run by grubby faced volunteers who spend hour upon hour maintaining old fairground rides and then operating them for squeaking children. We visited years and years ago when Mr DC and I were mere youngsters and I was on best behaviour for my then-future-in-laws; it's odd to be revisiting now we're the parents! There has been little change since then, apart from a very fancy new entrance building and obligatory (though easily avoided) gift shop.

I am on this whirling machine - points if you can spot me!

I will try to catch up with everyone in the next few days, before we get bogged down in Back To School hell (though the local shops would have you believe we went back to school before the schools even broke up). And now I shall leave you with a smutty picture:

Everything at Hollycombe ends up covered in coal smuts, and that includes the grubby children we were forced to put in the car at the end of the day. EEEEEW!

Friday, 1 August 2008

Stands the church clock at ten to three?

Yesterday we made a long overdue visit to The Orchard Tea Rooms in Grantchester. Their scones are legendary and it is a wonderful place to while away a few warm hours. The children can roam through willow tunnels and their parents can read the souvenir leaflets and luxuriate in Rupert Brooke's poetry. We used to go frequently when the children were tiny but somehow have fallen out of the habit.

Another habit that seems to have gone by the wayside since the summer holidays began is blogging, and reading blogs. With family visits and day trips and picnics and swimming on the horizon for the rest of August, I think I'll take the easy way out and say I'm going to have a bit of a break for a week or three (quite frankly I've been so lax recently I doubt you'll notice the difference.)

Hope you're all having a wonderful summer so far, and talk to you soon!