Saturday, December 08, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The spores lurk in the structure till conditions are just right. Then they germinate, and set off in search of water, through whatever happens to be in their way, stone walls in this case. When they find wood, they suck it dry (much like a Doctor Who or Star Trek alien) and continue on their merry way in search of more. The big 200 year old oak lintel over one of our windows was badly infected and had to come out. One end was like cheese. Unfortunately, the other end was rock solid and took forever to remove. The whole corner of the downstairs study had to be opened up, the infected wood removed - the stuff looks and smells alien as well as causing so much damage - and the walls treated with fungicide (and a blow torch, just to make sure!)
The only saving grace was that the chemicals are much less noxious than they once were and don't smell at all. Was this introduced for the benefit of humans? Not on your life. It was because dry rot treatments were adversely affecting bats. Call me old fashioned but I'd put human health before bats any day, but hey, what do I know?
We thought for a while that we would also have to dismantle our son's room - only just redecorated - but because ours is a very old cottage, with a great deal of space inside the walls, it wasn't necessary.
I think if I were starting all over again with this house (heaven forbid) I would open the whole thing out, taking much of it right back to its original stonework, which is beautiful. It would make a much bigger house, and there would be nowhere for the dry rot to hide. But since we have neither the time nor the money to do that, we'll just have to work with what we have. Even as I write this, my husband is starting to attempt to rebuild that corner of the room, and the window. And when he's finished what will amount to three week's intensive work, the room will look pretty much as it did before. Soul destroying or what?
Sunday, September 02, 2007
The other revelation was to do with the classic British 'cream tea' which is normally a combination of home made scones, good jam and clotted cream. There are regional arguments as to which goes on first, cream or jam, but it does rather depend upon the consistency of the cream, which can vary from very thick and buttery, to slightly softer, depending upon where y0u acquire it. Either way, it's a delicious dish, but another one that does rather take the edge off any desire to eat for many hours afterwards. As well as the traditional scones, however, our friends also served small, fluffy, white rolls (freshly home baked, naturally, with just that faint tang of yeast that seems to be disappointingly absent from bought bread). A 'cream tea' on a bread roll instead ofa scone is a revelation. Light as a feather, not remotely sweet and sickly. It should have a name all its own but I can't think of one at the moment.
Afternoon tea seems to be making a bit of a comeback here in the UK: a very civilized meal although , unlike our more robust Victorian and Edwardian forebears, most of us can't really manage to eat dinner or indeed anything else, for the rest of the day!
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The other surprise is just what a change it makes to the room - opening it out somehow, and making it, possibly the darkest room in the house, seem much lighter and altogether warmer. The stonework will, I hope, look even nicer at Christmas time, when I get going with the holly and ivy!
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Which took me (inevitably) back to Gigha, earlier this summer. We were given a large bag of cleaned scallops by a fisherman friend. We took them to our self catering cottage, and Alan cooked them, flash frying them in a little olive oil and pressed garlic. We ate them at the picnic table outside the cottage, looking down into the bay, at the turquoise blue waters from which they had been dredged. We divided them between five of us, one each, and another, and another, until they were all gone. Fortunately the teens in our party didn't like the look of them. We didn't press the point. We must have had about seven or eight each. They were completely delicious, tender, and with a real tang of the sea about them - that faintly astringent taste of really fresh shellfish from clean salty waters....
Afterwards it struck me that all my most memorable meals seem to have been fishy: sardines with salty potatoes and spicy sauce in a small restaurant in Candelaria on Tenerife, mussels in Bruges, and again, this year, in the south of France, fresh crab on Gigha, and now scallops from the same place. But the scallops were most definitely the winner.
Friday, July 27, 2007
If you google 'memory foam' in an effort to research your purchase beforehand you will find lots of positive comments, most of them put there by the manufacturers. In the interests of fairness, I have to report that my husband loves it. He lies very still, and he has arthritis. He thinks it is wonderful. I, on the other hand, toss and turn. And I cannot tell you how much I hate, loathe and detest it. It is like sleeping on warm quicksand. It sucks you in. It moulds itself to your body, right enough, but when you move, or try to turn over (difficult, on this awful stuff) you find residual lumps and bumps in your new position. It is incredibly hot. And it stinks. In fact this disgusting smell was seemingly why Nasa didn't use it on the space shuttle for which it was originally intended. They tell me the stench fades with time, but two weeks have gone by, and in spite of frequent airings, it's still there. Fly tipping is beginning to seem like an attractive option, but hey, this ghastly thing cost a lot of money. This wasn't the cheapo option. If you are considering one of these, try before you buy, and I don't mean a three minute 'test' in the shop. You have been warned.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Firstly, our London centred media keep banging on about the truly awful summer (and it has been and continues to be appalling in parts of the UK) that we have had, as usual lumping the entire country into one sweeping assessment. This can't be doing our Scottish tourist industry much good especially since here, we have had reasonable weather - reasonable for the West of Scotland anyway - our usual mix of sunshine, rather frequent showers, some lovely days, some downpour days, and - with a couple of chilly exceptions - quite a bit of warm weather. Condition normal, in other words. Not a brilliant summer, and absolutely no sign of the drought that was confidently predicted by those same knowledgable media types (what price all those 'plan your drought friendly garden' articles now?) but not the worst I have seen either. And I believe that some of the Scottish isles have had lots of wonderful sunny weather - which never gets reported at all.
The second complaint though has been about a frustrating day to day inaccuracy. You look at the TV weather forecast for the next day, plan accordingly, and then find that - in Scotland at least - none of what has been predicted bears any relation to what happens in reality. Worse, even their real time forecasts can be wrong. I have often watched a television weather forecast, which is confidently telling me that it is pouring with rain outside, while in reality the sun is shining fiercely from a blue sky. Strong winds are forecast and don't arrive. Sometimes too there is a complete discrepancy between the forecasts on different TV channels. On the whole, the trend seems to be to predict much worse weather, here in the Scotland at any rate, than we are actually experiencing on the ground. All of which leads people to wonder if there is some conspiracy afoot to deter tourists from heading north. Which can't possibly be true. But why are they hedging their bets so much?
One more little thought.
The terrible flooding will no doubt be labelled as 'climate change' related. Of course it could have nothing whatsoever to do with greedy developers increasingly building on the flood plains of rivers, and planners allowing them to do it. Could it?
Saturday, June 23, 2007
If they are very grubby clean them gently with a soft cloth with foam from the top of a mild soap solution - you should never soak old bears. Then I wipe them with a clean damp cloth and dry them with a hair dryer and a very soft clothes brush. A bear collector tells me that she sometimes gives them a little final spray with a weak solution of fabric conditioner before drying, and I've done this on long haired bears, with great success. If a bear is very dirty, you may have to repeat this process a few times - it can be very effective.
Monday, June 18, 2007
I've been neglecting The Scottish Home for a while, partly because I've been away in France, and partly because I've been too busy with various writing projects. Now I'm in the process of getting my eBay shop up and running again and plan to add a few textile articles to this blog - but meanwhile, the roses in the garden are at their very best. I love roses, though I must say I'm not the world's best at looking after them, don't use chemicals on them at all, but tend to feed them and let them get on with it. Which is another reason why I grow nice, strong, old roses! Some of the best roses I have ever seen can be found at Holker Hall near Cartmel in the North of England, which was where I got the idea of growing large Himalayan roses through trees. The simple flower illustrated is from a bush called Rosa Richardii, or the Crusader Rose, also known as the Holy Rose of Abyssinia, one of the oldest roses in the world, with a fascinating history. I bought it years ago from the wonderful David Austin Roses. It forms a low, dense bush, like a wild rose, and although it doesn't repeat flower, it does remain in bloom over quite a long period. Every so often I grow impatient and hack it back a bit, but it always comes again - and like the historian I am, I appreciate it as much for its history as for its unique beauty!
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Monday, April 30, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Culzean, one of the houses of the Kennedy family, and a very beautiful one at that, is pronounced 'Cullane'. You often find this 'z' pronounced as a 'y' or some variation of it, in Scottish names. (eg Menzies). It's because the original letter wasn't a 'z' at all, but an old, now obsolete letter like a 'z' with a long tail, known as yog, and pronounced as a 'y'. Not a lot of people know that.....
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
So here it was, left, our cottage bathroom, about fourteen months ago, and there it is now.
And yes, that is the lavatory that you can see perched in the middle of our much loved Victorian cast iron bath, in the 'before' picture. It even has ball and claw feet - the bath, I mean, and not the loo. Bathroom renovations are horrendous to live with and this one involved moving all kinds of plumbing about, rescuing some rather nice vintage Laura Ashley tiles, that we didn't want to lose, and replacing our tired old flooring with ceramic tiles. The Edwardian sink had a crack in it, which became terminal as soon as it was moved - but we found a reasonably priced (and suitably old fashioned) replacement from a company called Screwfix.The sink taps too came from Screwfix, and cost so little that I couldn't believe they would work - but they have, and they do, and they also look suitably vintage. The bath stayed, of course, although it had to be moved, a major undertaking. My husband spent hours and hours on his knees, doing the floor, and we spent January and February 2006 trotting along to the cottage next door for showers. (Bracing!)
This was the start of a year long period of renovations for us. We've proved that you can make a vast difference without spending a fortune and we've learned a huge amount in the process. In fact in the course of the year, we have sometimes realised that we knew more about some of the projects than the so called professionals. This is alarming and reassuring at the same time. The single piece of advice we could give to those embarking on this kind of project would be to learn all you can about what you are going to do - even if you are going to be employing somebody else to do it!
Thursday, March 01, 2007
It's in bad condition, the backing cloth - a big printed paisley - almost in shreds and even the front is sadly faded in places. But I bought this fascinating old textile at auction today - a patchwork quilt, constructed of pieces of tartan cloth, which are said to be pieces of kilt which date from the First World War, and which were worn by soldiers of the time. The cloth is fine wool, and I wonder if some of these tartans date from the nineteenth century - people would often keep kilts for many many years. There is a thistle emblem embroidered in the middle. I've never seen anything like this before, but there is something indescribably evocative about such pieces of textile history - as though events themselves were somehow woven into them - their emotional charge is unbelievably powerful.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Monday, January 29, 2007
I hesitate to write about early spring, because I know that somewhere the climate change doom mongers will be down on me with a vengeance. But it generally happens about now, at least it does here in the mild West of Scotland. One day you will be driving along with nothing but naked trees and mud to look at, and then overnight or so it seems, the verges will be white with snowdrops. It happens just as the sparrows, which like to nest in the old house martins' nest just above my study, start to sit on the roof and make a noise (hardly singing, but it is a very welcome sound!) and just about the time that you glance outside at five o'clock in the afternoon and realise that it is still (more or less) light. And it happens at about the same time every year. Not much earlier, not much later.
Of course there will be frosts and winds to come. Of course there will maybe even be snowfalls. But we have seen the signs and we know that the year is on the turn.
Meanwhile, here's a lovely Scottish village sunrise for you. We look forward to the sun coming up each day, because Scottish Power, a company with little efficiency, and less customer care, has seen to it that our street lights have been off for four nights now. South Ayrshire Council tell me that it is Not Their Fault. They wash their hands of the matter. They have reported it to Scottish Power, or Scottish no-power as it is beginning to be called round here, but they have done zippo, zilch, nada about it. When one of my elderly neighbours keels over and breaks a leg, who will be responsible, I wonder?
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
This is relevent to The Scottish Home for several reasons. One is that we are exploring the possibility of including some Scottish made gift items with the lovely old Scottish and Irish textiles we already sell. To that end, we visited a Scottish Gift and Food Fair in Glasgow, last sunday. It was a huge show and we tramped doggedly around, trying to be inspired. But the truth was that so much of it wasn't Scottish, in fact wasn't even English, but consisted of stalls full of imported 'stuff' - the kind of things that my dear late mother used to call 'toecovers' - those utterly useless articles that people bring back from holiday. These are known as 'wee minds' in Scotland, as in 'Och it's just a wee mind.' Which is nice, but it would be nicer still if the wee mind hadn't come half way round the world to the gift shop in Inveraray, Braemar, Pitlochry or wherever else you might chance to visit, only to return half way round in the other direction, in the baggage of some unsuspecting visitor.
Don't get me wrong. There were many stalls with beautifully (and genuinely) Scottish made pottery, knitwear, and jewellery. Actually, there was lots of jewellery - it is a rather oversubscribed area. But we know from past experience as crafters (my husband is still working as a woodcarver) that this is a very expensive show. Not only does it cost a good deal for a stall, but for a small crafter there is the added burden of losing several days' work, as well as the cost of transport, and possibly accommodation.
I'm not talking about the one off artwork, high value end of the craft spectrum here. Such makers are never going to benefit from what is essentially a trade show. And in fact the Scottish Arts Council caters for them reasonably well since they are viewed as part of the arts establishment. But still, there must be many small indigenous businesses - soap and candlemakers, textile artists, cheese makers, honey producers, to name but a few, who couldn't possibly afford to attend. A quick trawl of the internet proves this to be the case. People are out there, making genuinely Scottish, genuinely desirable items. But I wonder how many busy buyers from the various gift shops are prepared to go online, in an effort to support their home industries, when they can buy so many cheap imports in spuriously Scottish packaging.
It would be nice to see the Scottish Executive putting a little money into a smaller scale 'real Scottish Gift Show' for a change. If we don't value our home grown product, who else will?
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The latest was last thursday night, when everything suddenly went off at about two o'clock in the afternoon. I had been planning a whole lot of work on my PC, so was fairly frustrated. We got out the candles and the gas ring again, lit the fire, and waited. The wind howled and wailed dementedly around the house. At times like this, it does more than just howl. It rattles at the sash windows, creeps inside and raps smartly on the doors, like somebody demanding immediate admittance. Doors swing open unexpectedly. Bits of the roof creak and groan. Sometimes you would swear that you can hear footsteps rushing up and down the stairs. Which is all decidedly spooky.
I wrote by hand, but sitting upstairs in my study was like being on the bridge of a ship, in a storm. I went downstairs, read, listened to the radio. We took a couple of flasks through to the elderly lady next door. She has a gas fire and plenty of candles, so was very cosy, but there is something about a power cut which instantly makes tea a necessity.
It grew dark. And cold. Had to don cardigans and blankets for sorties out of the living room, into the rest of the house. This old house had no central heating when first we lived in it. Had forgotten just how cold these old stones grow, and how quickly, particularly when there's a wind chill factor involved.
At about 6 o'clock the lights suddenly came on. Not fully though. All the bulbs were dim, slightly better than candlepower but not much. Enough to watch TV but not enough to boil a kettle. At the other end of the village my sister in law could use her PC, but down our end, a couple of hundred yards away, there wasn't enough power. The phone in the kitchen, which has a base unit, went haywire and had to be switched off completely.
We went out to visit some friends. No streetlights. What with the wind and the dark the village had assumed a strange unfamiliarity. We passed a gate behind which a dog was lurking, but he too seemed thrown by the darkness and only wagged his tail, tentatively.
Half way though the evening, everything went off again. And just before midnight, quite suddenly, it all came on. Another friend got home to his farmhouse a little while later, to find that everything had just gone off and stayed off for some twenty hours. They have horses, and he said mucking out in the early morning, with lanterns in the stables, gave him a good idea of what it must have been like years ago. We have, of course, got soft and spoiled, but at least as rural dwellers we know that we can cope if we have to!
So far, we have had few explanations from Scottish Power. The winds were, of course, a factor, but Christmas Day was calm and we were still without power for half the day. A few years ago, there were loud protests about rural powercuts in our neck of the woods. Scottish Power vowed to improve matters and for a few years, everything went smoothly. Now we are back to the bad old days. Right through the autumn, there have been series of mini powercuts, in the middle of the night. Now, a completely disrupted holiday period. Even making allowances for the high winds, somebody somewhere must be cutting corners with manpower and maintenance.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
To facilitate this, we moved heaven and earth to restore order to our poor house in time for the holidays. The new conservatory is finished, and our conservatory company have moved on to inflict their own particular brand of misery on some other householder. The building itself (more accurately called an 'orangerie' I'm told, because of its construction, though so far I haven't managed to acquire an orange tree) is beautiful. We had no quarrel with the tradesmen; just with the way in which the project was managed, or not managed to be more precise. It was worth it though, just to see it in all its glory with a traditional Christmas tree, big jugs of holly and ivy, fir boughs, candles, pine cones and all the trappings of a rural Scottish Christmas.
The candles came in really handy on Christmas day and again on New Year's Eve, when we had massive power cuts. On New Year's Eve, it was understandable, because it was blowing a gale right across Scotland. Christmas day, calm and fine, was far less explicable. There were several power fluctuations on Christmas Eve. Then we woke up on Christmas Morning to find all the power off. It came back on at 8.30 and went off again at 10.30.
There is no piped gas in our village, only the bottled variety. A few Agas. People were rushing about with turkeys and other joints of meat, like in Dickens' day. My sister in law, who was doing the family Christmas Dinner was one of them. Her daughter has a gas oven, but it's hard to light them without ... well yes, without electricity. Power was restored at 1.30pm in good time for the sprouts and the bread sauce. Still no explanations forthcoming from Scottish Power.
Our old house looks lovely by candlelight, as though this is the way it was meant to be seen. The four hundred year old oak press, with its rich and varied colouring, and wonderful patina looks even better. We set small candles carefully along the 'candle shelf' for Christmas Eve. I remember sitting chatting to the last few guests, watching it out of the corner of my eye, and thinking how very alive it looked at this time, and in this mellow, magical light. When first we bought this piece of furniture, I said that it felt like having an elephant in the kitchen; it was so huge and so strange. There was something very disturbing about it. Now it has settled in, and I find it not just beautiful but inexplicably comforting. There's a tactile, human quality to it. You can lean against it, breathing in the scent of ancient oak and beeswax, and feel in tune with its intricate past, with the hands that made it and polished it. Time has no meaning, and there is something infinitely reassuring about such a presence in a domestic setting.