Rustic Guest in the Farmhouse Kitchen

Rustic Guest in the Farmhouse Kitchen

In the upcoming months, I’ll be hosting visitors in the rustic farmhouse kitchen and publishing posts which give a glimpse into my guests’ rural lives.

If you live, work, play or blog rural and you’d like to get involved, comment below or drop me a line and we’ll talk.

The guidelines are very simple:

  • Write a post of between 200 and 1000 words on a topic related to the countryside, your rural life or business
  • Include pictures if you want to (a picture of you is always nice)
  • Tell me something about yourself
  • Provide links to your blog, website or ‘buy’ site (if you have them) so readers can find out more

And that’s about it. Don’t be shy, I welcome approaches from all walks of rural life.

The USAAF in an English Hamlet

The USAAF in an English Hamlet

I’m Anglo-American themed this week. We live and farm on one of the many old airfields in the East of England which hosted the United States Army Air Force during World War II.

The runways are farm tracks now, and the Nissen huts store agricultural clutter, but that history has the power to snare.

As a child, I knew the ‘drome’ well. I didn’t live on it then, but I rode my pony over the concrete paths, cycled across it to reach the nearby village and played with mates in the control tower. There was a chalk board with writing still on it, we all thought the place was haunted. control-tower

Later on, I crossed the drome on my way to work, sometimes behind the snow plough as the farmer forged an escape through car-high drifts which often covered the road on that wide, treeless plateau (back in the olden days, when we had proper snow). But it wasn’t until I married and moved to the drome that the story of the people who had lived and worked there became real.

The plough turns up flints, hardcore for runways, and the land offers up all manner of military shrapnel. We dredged the pond and found a pair of discarded army boots, there’s a rusting belly tank a mile along the footpath and one of our fields is called ‘bomb site’.

Some years ago we excavated a single propeller from its resting place deep in the earth. It came from an A-20 Havoc, which crashed returning from a combat mission, on the 30th July 1944. The crew are buried in the American Cemetery. Three of the many young American men who didn’t make it home.

a-20-havoc

I can barely imagine what ‘our’ airfield was like at that time, for the locals who lived there, or for the brave men (and boys) of the USAAF who were fighting so many miles from home. Our village has sewn a banner to remember them, it hangs in the church, and we’ve collected some of the villagers’ memories in a booklet. Here’s an excerpt:

Reg remembers that you could hear planes warming up for morning raids before you got out of bed in the morning, and he used to go up to the aerodrome with his friends before school to watch them all take-off. The aircrew were briefed in a hut which still stands on the lane, and is now in use as a workshop. Guards stood in place outside the doors when a briefing was taking place. The planes’ engines were warmed as they stood on the dispersal points around the airfield, before being topped up with fuel. Then they went to the ends of all three runways and took off in different directions, crisscrossing as they climbed. The whole lot would be up within minutes. They would circle once, get in formation and be gone. And when he came home from school Reg got back on his bike to go and see what damage had been done and how many of the planes had not come home, leaving empty parking bays.

The local history reminded us of happier stories too.  Christmas parties for village children, dances and friendships which endured through the years and across the Atlantic long after the war had ended. The exchange of eggs and milk for nylons and gum. Flowers picked from Cottage gardens and offered to English sweethearts by American Servicemen. Marriages and heartbreak. Families welcoming servicemen into their homes; baseball and big band music.

The village knew something was changing when white stripes were painted on the planes, but when the USAAF Eighth Force left they were gone overnight. There was no chance to say goodbye, and the airfield stood derelict.

 ‘All that life and excitement, and then they were gone.’

The Tudor farmhouse stood throughout the war, and saw good use as a secret meeting place for American airmen and their sweethearts, as an adventure playground for local children and as target practice for dummy bombings.

tudor-farmhouse

Margaret remembers the old house as a magical place, with rambling roses and beautiful, big windows; but Reg remembers it as a ‘knocking shop’ for the Americans!

Anglo-American rustic romance.

A Tale of Two Dogs, episode 3 (my dog’s got no nose)

A Tale of Two Dogs, episode 3 (my dog’s got no nose)

How does he smell?
Awful!

Christmas casts my mind back to Hamgate (subtitled: The Year the Terriers got at the Ham).
Our lean-to doubles as a larder when the fridge is overloaded. The ham was jus’ chillin’ out there when my parents rose early and, being the thoughtful parents they are, let the dogs out for me…

Those dogs stripped that ham bone clean. It looked like a bleached carcass, after the hyenas, buzzards and ants have had their turn on it. Two terrier tummies were swinging like water-filled balloons. You could see they were going to blow. And blow they did.
Apparently, your sense of smell shuts down when you’re asleep, but I know it was the aroma that woke me. Suffice to say the clean-up demanded waders and a tea towel wrapped around my face, gallons of soapy water and frequent dashes outside to gulp fresh air.

At least the mess was sorted in time for our traditional Christmas jolly to the theatre. We went with the in-laws (best clothes and best behaviour, you know how it is). Eleven of us in a mini-bus and that god-awful smell still lingering.

Oh, the mortification. My smartly turned-out little family were all wearing coats infused with Eau de dog-diarrhea.

So my dog really does smell awful, and he’s really got no nose. But that’s a whole other story, which I might share in episode four.

A Tale of Two Dogs, espisode 1 (Game is Right)

A Tale of Two Dogs, espisode 1 (Game is Right)

The Kennel Club standard describes Border Terriers as ‘active and game’ and ‘essentially a working terrier, capable of following a horse.’

Game is right.

My little big man (Russ) arrived in our life in 1998, and he was game from day one: Tripping over my heels as I trudged to the stables, ready and willing to grapple with a 17 hand horse that didn’t want to share its breakfast. Plucky little chap, it was love at first sight. I was smitten, and I basked in the satisfaction of being his leader, protector and mistress.

For a few precious weeks, until puberty struck and he underwent a werewolf-like transformation, morphing almost overnight from mild-mannered pup to canine rebel commando.

Never nasty, nary a growl or a grumble at any human, but Lord have mercy on the rest of the animal kingdom. If it moved he wanted to kill it, and if he couldn’t do that his job was to tell us it was there, outside the window. He could tell us all night if need be. The word ‘dogged’ could have been coined for my little big man.

But I must be game too, because in 1999 I went back and bought his half-sister.

Nutty Meg spent her first night with us suspended over the wooden rail between the legs of a kitchen chair. I would like to stress that this was very much her choice, not mine. I wondered what the hell I’d bought into the house, and employed every method of persuasion that I had in my arsenal. None of them worked. The puppy bed and hot water bottle were rejected in favour of a wooden hammock.

Nutty Meg trembled a lot, a combination of attitude and several neuroses. Little big man found her existence beyond annoying, but he took it well. The mildest of profanities when she hung off his ears and attacked him in his bed. He told her off once, when she got over-frenzied playing tug-of-war with Youngest Daughter’s sock. That was the first and last time she listened to him. Or to anyone, come to that.

Nutty Meg wasn’t scared of any living thing, but she was phobic of crossing the kitchen floor, hated water but laid down in muddy puddles. She took on the farm truck (and lived to tell the tale), slept with the cat and washed little big man’s ears. Wouldn’t eat her food, but was ferocious if anyone tried to remove it. Would rather be carried than go for a walk, but could outrun a gazelle (if need be).

And I can confirm that Border Terriers are capable of following a horse… If they want to, and if the horse is going the way they’re intending to go.

A neurotic lap-dog/feral bitch and a canine rebel commando.

Two Border Terriers, about to gang up, and the adventure only just starting. Tune in next time for A Tale of Two Dogs, episode 2 (Partners in Crime)

Woo hoo; girls jolly!

Woo hoo; girls jolly!

I’m off to Suffolk this weekend, with my girlies. We call it a girls’ weekend, but we go for four days, and none of us, it has to be said, qualify as girls anymore.

A big house in the country; shopping and hikes. Far, far too much wine. Ditto the food. We used to book adventure experiences, back in the day (we’ve been doing this for a lot of years), but we’ve grown lazy. The sheer consumption of food and alcohol is adventure enough these days. (Note to self; don’t forget to pack the antacids)

None of us will forget the weekend we spent on a barge. The living accommodation was  rustic (The Sister had to sleep on the kitchen floor, with her head in the fridge), and the only loo had a louvred door. I was born too old for that lark. I mean, how do you actually do your business when you can see six other people going about theirs? One of our number, I’ll call her Oooh!J (we’ve got a lot of J’s so I’m not giving much away), is particularly sensitive to her toilette surroundings. We inflated a rubber glove through the slats of the door while she was on the bog, and she didn’t go in there again for the rest of the trip. We opened both sets of lock-doors on one of the locks (too many cooks) and risked the whole bloody canal draining away downhill. And we crashed into some rowers. Good looking lads, we bumped into them again in the pub.

Oh, how we’ve laughed. Segways and four-wheel driving experiences, arts and crafts (Married-too-many-times-J painted a rabbit, and not of the furry sort.) We’ve dressed up for murder mysteries and belly dancing classes, boated and climbed, sculpted, shot arrows and played balloon games. You never recover from seeing your friends thrusting their groins against the wall to burst a balloon which is clasped between their thighs.

We’ve cried a fair bit too. We call it Suicide Sunday, when the booze and lack of sleep combine to overwhelm us and our traumas leak out. We’ve cheered each other off on new life exploits and mopped up after ordeals. Seven batty women with a horde of children (and a fair few grand-kids) between them, who chickened out of paint-balling when some men showed up in full combat gear. (Ok, so the men were actually 14 year old lads, but that was even scarier: Soft-J actually cried when she saw them). I said there were a lot of J’s. I think that particular escapade was our adventurous swan-song. We went and had fish and chips instead.

No photographs to illustrate this week’s blog. What happens on the girls weekend stays on the girls weekend. Thank the Lord. I’m thanking him, too, for my colourful, wildly indecent, loud, outrageously funny mates.

I might not be quite so thankful by Suicide Sunday, but here we go again. Hang on to your bladders, ladies, I predict a riot.

The tail-end of summer?

The tail-end of summer?

What a shocker! Hot sunshine right through August and it’s still going now! It must be an Indian summer, because an English one doesn’t behave like this.

The quickest harvest I can remember, although the elders tell me that in ’76 it was so hot that they combined right through the night. I do remember something of ’76; the grass died in the pony’s field, and we made hay when the council mowed the meadow. Not just in the proverbial sense,  we actually made hay. But our DIY efforts over-heated in the hay-barn. We had to drag the grass-cuttings back out and spread them across the yard for fear of spontaneous combustion. There was camel racing at the village fete that year too. Those camels must have felt right at home on the desert which our village green had become.

This summer has its share of memorable moments too. Rebellious voters and gob-smacking Olympians spring to mind, although I also swum in the North Sea without freezing my extremities, and that was a memorable first too. Nick Skelton became a poster boy for the hip-replacement brigade (me); Theresa May became prime minister, and Jilly Cooper published her new book.  Ok, I get that you might not think that’s up there with Olympic gold medals or running the country, but come on guys! Six-hundred-and-forty pages of steamy English saga! And, right now, I can empathise with the effort that Jilly must have put into that, because I’m still slogging away editing my three-hundred pages of steamy.

I’m not wishing the summer away. Oh, no. I mean, no one in their right mind would be dreaming of cool weather, when the sun is blazing every day. It’s hot, hot, hot. Even in the middle of the bloody night.

I’m not missing that snuggle under the duvet, or winter stews for dinner. Salad is good, so are burnt barbecued sausages, and I love wearing shorts. Who could be nostalgic for comfy jeans, or baggy jumpers, and who would even think about slobbing on the sofa with the log burner going when it’s 30+ degrees outside?

The Farmer might want rain, instead of drought and the pestilence of beetles which this summer has visited on us, but not me. The drumbeat of rain on the lean-too, the gushing of water through ditches, our view from the farmhouse soft-focused  by the the mist of autumn drizzle. Nothing to enjoy there.

But what do we do for small-talk, if we can’t bemoan the disappointment of the English summer? I can answer that question myself, actually, because I’ve already been given pessimistic warnings of the savage winter that must surely follow. It’s nature’s payback, you see. The warnings are delivered with gloomy foreboding, and yet… some weird, English part of me is hoping that they just might come true.

Training (or taming?) my Dragon

Training (or taming?) my Dragon

I’ve had a very productive month. Not on here – you’ll know that, if you follow my blog regularly (or should that be irregularly?) The blog has suffered from my rush of productivity, but the FINAL DRAFT of A Bed of Brambles has at last been dispatched to my editor! At least, I’m calling it the final draft… she may think otherwise.

It’s a relief and a delight, to get rid of the words I’ve been hunched over for the last six months. Rather like handing your homework in, and knowing you’ve done a good job, because the book is so much better for the editing. All the same, I’ve become rather jaded with re-reading, and re-writing.  We needed this space; me, Hettie and Alexander, so that we can learn to love each other again. And my apologies to all those readers who’ve been clamouring for the second book and would rush at the chance to read more about Hettie and Alexander. I’ve been keeping you on tenterhooks for far too long, but we are getting there now – really!

With the chasm of time that losing the book freed up, I motored through the farm’s end of year accounts. Numbers are so much more obedient than words, aren’t they? The numbers are either right, or they’re wrong; no shades of grey here (pun intended).  And at last I got around to submitting new plans for the barn we’re hoping to convert on the farm. It’s all go on the land. The combine is rolling, harvest is on us again: long days, weary men and an endless supply of refreshment to be produced from the farmhouse kitchen.

As I write, the sun is shining, a siren call away from my desk and the four walls of my office, but book three is calling too… It’s a habit, this bloody writing, that is hard to resist. So, I got to thinking, why can’t I have both? Outside, moving and writing a book. Uh oh.

I’m a devil for coming up with ideas which swallow hours of time when I find myself with ten minutes spare. And I’ve already learnt that Dragon dictation is going be one of those. Hours already spent learning how to work it, and I haven’t written a word yet (can you still call it writing if you’re actually speaking?) Oh well, I don’t have to worry about that yet, because so far my Dragon hasn’t listened to a single word I’ve said. No, I tell a lie! As I’m typing here Dragon has just opened the dictation box I asked it to open forty minutes ago. And this is meant to increase your word count?

I’ll let you know how I get on, but don’t hold your breath… I’m busy, taming my Dragon. I think we’ll both be spitting fire by next week.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

A quick one this week, because we’re off on a mini UK tour, and I really ought to be packing, or editing, or cleaning the house. Because you have to leave the house extra-clean when you’re not going to be in it, don’t you?

I’ve just spoken to the mates who are coming with us, and we’ve sorted our packing lists: Wellies, waterproofs, sun-cream and sandals. So, pack for all weather, basically. I’m glad the car doesn’t have a baggage allowance.

A pre-harvest jolly to Yorkshire, Scotland and the Royal Highland Show (which I’m weirdly excited about). Home via the lake district, by boat if necessary, seeing as nature is filling those lakes up as I write. I’d quite like to bring a Highland cow back with me, but only one that can swim.

I’m taking the editing with me (who am I kidding?) because I’m about to bust my latest self-imposed deadline, (final re-writes back to the editor before I go away, oh dear).  And I’m stressing about the ancient terriers, or stressing about the poor souls who I’m leaving in charge of them, actually. They’re standing outside in the rain at the moment (the terriers, not the carers), looking ancient and mighty bedraggled (I won’t humiliate them by sharing a picture here). But, for some reason which I really can’t fathom, they do come back in to pee. I might lay a shavings bed in the boot room , then the carers can just muck them out.

Here’s wishing for some sunshine, (and an England win tonight). COME ON ENGLAND/SUMMER (delete as required) – let’s be having you!

A shaggy dog story to start your week

A shaggy dog story to start your week

So, we went to the coast this weekend, with two of our oldest friends (the Bridesmaid and the Best Man actually, although that was thirty-plus years ago). Bear with me, the story gets funnier. We girls (I reserve the right to calls us girls, despite having given away the fact that, if I married thirty-plus years ago, I’m actually anything but) went potter-shopping. You know,  the sort that men hate, when we wander in to every shop, not intending to purchase, and end up with quite a lot of shit which we didn’t really want. The Bridesmaid got a new handbag, and some decoupage paper. I bought two, very luxurious, beds for my ancient dogs, and a clingy top (which I made unclingy by buying two sizes too large). It’s nice, I’m wearing it now. And the dogs have managed to find their new beds, without too much confusion. So, all in all, a surprisingly good result for a potter-shopping trip. My apologies to the charity shop (although I doubt they’ll have to wait donkey’s years to get their hands on those pet beds…)

DSC_0229

Anyway, let me back up a bit. We sent the boys (ditto, above) off to find their own fun, and they decided to hunt the coast for old military defences. (I’m not making this up, and you’ll get no comment from me, because at least their choice was less costly than potter-shopping was. Venus and Mars and all that…)

They had a successful trip; after a bit of a drive and a bit of a hike, they managed to track down a WWII Emergency Coastal Battery (I only know it’s called that because ‘we’ Googled it later.) Here’s some blurb that I’ve lifted from the Norfolk Heritage Explorer (link here, for those of you [men] who might be interested).

A World War Two emergency coast defence battery survives largely intact together with two ancillary structures on the cliff top … It  is also visible on aerial photographs; the latter indicate that it was constructed between 30 July 1941 and 4 January 1943.  It consists of two gun emplacements which held ex-Naval 6-inch guns, projecting off an integral, semi-subterranean accommodation and storage block. Three ancillary buildings (two of which survive, one as a garden shed) 

Phew! (I do like the bit about the shed though) here’s a pic:

Mundesley bunker

Very…symmetrical, isn’t it. Alas, you can’t get inside. Our boys peered through the teeny-tiny gap in the structure (if you look at the picture closely, you can see the mini spy-hole by the corner on the left-hand wall). Too dark inside to see anything, though. Undaunted, The Farmer and the Best Man took a snap through the hole.

Now, I really enjoyed my potter-shop, but I’d have laughed until I peed if I’d witnessed their reactions when they looked at the picture they’d taken:

Scroll down and take a peek if you dare

IMG-20160613-WA0000 (2)

 

Priceless.

So, are you In or are you Out?

So, are you In or are you Out?

It rained, Monday through Friday, in our patch of England. Proper rain, with barely a break to shake off the drips.  Nice weather for ducks. And farmers, so I’m not complaining. In fact none of us are complaining as much as we usually do: The weather has lost top billing as a topic of conversation. We can’t blame it on the European Union, you see. Although, thinking on, that wet weather front did come over from France… hmm.

“So, are you In or are you Out?” That question is our new conversation opener.You might be in the pub or at the supermarket checkout; everyone’s asking. How strange, and how very unEnglish. I’ve had proper, frank discussions with the postman, and taken part in a group debate in my pilates class. I think we’re trying to fill the dearth of frank discussion and debate coming from our ‘leaders’. They’ve become our weathermen, spouting a lot of forecasts that we don’t believe in. Except they’re calling them facts, and even the weathermen know better than to do that.

Me? I’m both, or neither. It depends which moment you catch me in and I know I’m running out of time to make my mind up. I suggested to The Farmer that one of us vote ‘In’ and the other ‘Out’. That way, whatever happens, it won’t be our fault, you see.

My highly suspect, unofficial straw poll, would indicate that the majority vote will go to “I haven’t got a bloody clue.” Will we get that option on the ballot paper?