It always delights me that stinging nettles with their vicious sting can be tamed and made into something delicious. Nettle soup tastes as though it should be doing you good, sautéed nettles even more so. But warm nettle and cheese scones, spread with butter is a completely different matter.
I’ve always thought that blogs like this can be a little removed from the real world. We witter on about baking bread and taking walks, picking flowers and knitting blankets seemingly without a care in the world, while cataclysmic events rock the world.
I see no reason for that to change too much even though our lives have changed in ways we wouldn’t have considered possible a few weeks ago.
For many of us there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful; here are a few of mine:
Spring is here and winter is over. The primroses, cowslips and violets are in flower, the fruit trees and blackthorn bushes are frothing with blossom and the birds are singing. The hens are laying, the herbs in the garden are bright and fresh.
My calendar is empty for the next few weeks. No appointments, no obligations, no boring meetings. I can do whatever I like. So long as I don’t leave home.
I have more time to do the things I want to do. All Ruth’s printmaking classes in The Barley Barn have been cancelled, which is not something to be cheerful about, but instead we’re trying out printing projects and other creative things to share on Slamseys Journal. The first post about creative craft distractions if you’re stuck at home is already up and there’ll be more to follow. Also, instead of baking cakes and biscuits for the classes, I can fill my own cake tins.
It’s not raining and the sun is shining. The washing can be hung outside to dry, it’s a joy to get into the garden to sow some seeds and I no longer have to squelch along wet, muddy paths in wellies. Best of all, after a dismal autumn and spring sowing season, it’s finally just about dry out enough for the tractors to get onto the land in a last ditch attempt to drill some spring barley.
I have a knitting project that will last for ages. Last month, I knitted a Gamaldags sweater from Icelandic Knitter, which was incredibly quick to knit and I’ve worn it almost non-stop. I then had a fancy to knit a gansey or guernsey, whichever you like to call it. I have no idea why it seemed a good idea to knit something on tiny 2.25mm needles, which is taking an age to knit. There seems barely any noticeable progress after an hour of knitting each evening and though that seemed a bit of a drawback at first, it now seems a positive thing.
People have started to blog again. We may have to socially distance ourselves in real life, but on the web, we can drop in or open our doors to people all over the world. A virtual seat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a biscuit.
This morning, the house is quiet and unadorned, apart from a tiny circle of bay, thyme and rosemary that hangs in the kitchen so that I don’t have to search for herbs in the dark outside.
Later, I shall get out the boxes of decorations, arrange the nativity scene and slot together the candle fuelled chiming angels. If I can find all the bits. Mistletoe, holly and ivy will be gathered, the Christmas tree dragged inside and the house decorated while listening to carols from Kings College, Cambridge.
Many people might sniff at the naffness of the chiming angels and think that Christmas Eve is far too late to start decorating the house, but I like the family traditions that we’ve built up over the years. They change a little each year but provide a sort of certainty in life that’s needed more than ever in this year of nastiness in politics and social media along with the harrowing stories of flooding in this country and bushfires in Australia.
Wherever you are and whatever your traditions, I hope that you can have a Happy Christmas and wish you a Peaceful New Year.
Autumn is creeping in. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change colour, the first hints of yellow and gold appearing as a prelude to the riot of russet, bronze and purple to follow. The hedgerows are filled with sloes, their beautiful blue blushed skins belying the astringent flesh within and the apples are at their juiciest best. The days are cooler and it feels like summer is finally over.
It’s time to pack away sandals and summer dresses; to pick the last blackberries and raspberries; to shelve this blog until I regain my enthusiasm for it; to make chutney; to make plans for adventures; to find a new knitting project; to take long walks in the autumn sunshine; to make the most of my favourite season.
There is a restlessness as the seasons shift and a need for change.
No matter how many decades it is since I was at school (and it’s several) September is always a prominent marker in the year. It makes me think of sharp pencils and new shoes; reading suggestions and equipment lists; scratched hands picking shiny blackberries and apples eaten straight from the tree.
This September, the Barley Barn has been cleared after the overnight Gong Bath ready for the new term of printmaking classes, which start this week. In preparation, there’s been a flurry of creative activity including some experiments for using up rubbish imperfect prints, hence the collage above.
In September, the farming year starts a new cycle as the fields have lime, farmyard manure or biosolids spread on them filling the air with dust or a range of smells. Curiously, the biosolids (the more attractive name for sewage sludge) have a not unpleasant smell with a slight whiff of washing powder. Before the new crop is sown and while the ground is dry, the chance is taken to trim some of the hedges and clear any ditches that have become overgrown or been dammed by children during the summer holidays.
This September, a trailer was discovered dumped or hidden in a remote spinney. The discarded number plates and other detritus suggest it was probably a holding place for stolen machinery. Meanwhile, field boundaries are checked and any bordering a road without a thick hedge are trenched or bunded against unwelcome intruders, which seems positively mediaeval but is actually very effective.
In September, the hedgerows around the farm are filled with the colour of spiky sweet chestnut cases, orange rosehips, red haws and the beautiful dusky blue skin of the sloes that belies the astringent flesh beneath. Branches dumped in a jug with some bolted salad crops from the garden make an unfussy grouping, which is about my limit for flower arranging.
This September, the sloes are plentiful but the plum trees in the garden have been disappointing. The wasps ate more greengages than we did and many of the damsons went from hard as bullets to wrinkled almost overnight.
Soon it will be time to eat crumbles and pies, socks and sweaters will be pulled on reluctantly and doors that have stood open all day during summer will be closed as the days cool. But for now, we’re enjoying the late summer days of September.