collage of decorated Christmas tree

Why we aren’t selling Christmas Decorations in 2021

I was passing though a gift shop the other day (the only exit from any museum/historic house/visitor attraction) when I noticed their Christmas decorations on display. To be precise, a frying pan containing bacon and eggs. My initial shock at why anyone would pay £9.99 to hang a frying pan on their Christmas tree was swiftly followed by the welcome relief that I no longer sell Christmas decorations.

People are already asking about opening dates* for the Christmas Tree Barn and decorations shop, so I should explain why we aren’t selling Christmas decorations in 2021 and only selling Christmas trees.

berries baubles and cup in front of books

Three years ago, Ruth and I did our usual tour of the Christmas shop before we opened for the day. Our sales had increased over the previous few years as we’d sussed what our customers wanted and how best to display it. We were halfway through the season, so there was a little rearranging to fill some gaps and reposition the decorations that weren’t selling. The baubles twinkled and row upon row of pretty decorations dangled next to shelves where Father Christmas figures and Nutcracker soldiers jostled with stuffed moose and mice for space.

As she rearranged some twiggy hedgehogs, Ruth questioned why we were selling them. The answer (of course) was because they were popular and sold well. We looked at them. Sure, they were cute. But some of the twigs were coming adrift, the glitter was shedding and the nose wasn’t glued on very well. We looked around us.

To be blunt, although there were plenty of beautiful decorations, some of the cheap and cheerful ones were likely destined for landfill after Christmas. The storeroom was filled with waste cardboard, plastic and cellophane packaging, the floor dusted with plastic glitter that had fallen from the ornaments. A large box contained the decorations we’d rejected because they were broken on arrival or of such poor quality that they bore little resemblance to the samples we’d been shown earlier in the year.

It all seemed such a waste. All year we tried to keep to the 5Rs mantra of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle but that was totally forgotten in the Christmas shop. There and then, we vowed to have a more sustainable Christmas shop.

The following year we asked questions at the trade shows, instead of simply marvelling at the impressive displays, but the reps shrugged their shoulders at questions of provenance. It appeared that everything was shipped straight from China with no questions asked. They laughed when we said we wanted to avoid glitter and excess packaging. They didn’t care.

We had fewer decorations in the Christmas shop that year, but they were of good quality and could be used year after year, even if they were a bit glittery and we had no idea what conditions they were made under. We replaced the cheap, glued felt decorations with ethically produced Fairtrade ones and found baubles made from glass, metal, paper and wood. Local makers supplied hand-made decorations, jewellery, gifts and cards. There were Christmas themed printmaking classes, a local florist ran wreath-making classes and of course, there were hundreds of fresh Christmas trees to buy just across the yard in The Christmas Tree Barn.

As expected, it didn’t suit all our customers and profits dipped. But we felt it was a positive move that we could build on and in January 2020 started to work out how we’d connect with customers who shared our ethos and made plans for a more sustainable Christmas at Slamseys Barley Barn that focussed on crafts and making, more heirlooms and less landfill.

Ah, yes. 2020.

Unsurprisingly, nothing went to plan and we opened only for a brief Bargain Sale in a lull between lockdowns.

The pandemic has altered our lives and our attitudes. Our priorities have changed and we’ve learnt that there are things we can easily do without. I’m unsure how many people want to visit a shop to buy Christmas decorations this year, whether they’re ethically produced or not, and who knows what will happen next year. So, we’ve closed the shop permanently and donated all our remaining stock to local groups and charities. Maybe there’ll be something happening in The Barley Barn in the future, but it definitely won’t be a Christmas decorations shop.

*The Christmas Tree Barn at Slamseys opens on 26 November 2021.

You might be interested to read this article about the production of Christmas decorations.


robins pincushion of wild rose

Almost Autumn

Autumn is almost here and I’m holding the door wide open to usher it in.

tree and pond in autumn mist

This morning felt like autumn.

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spiders web with dew

Mist shrouded the trees, the air smelt different and a gossamer of dew laden spiders’ webs hung from the gates and plants. Who can not be mesmerised by the beauty of the spiders’ webs and a little humbled by the intricate designs of the fine silk, which even the most talented lacemaker could never replicate?

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autumn rosehips against blue sky

Brilliant sunshine soon burnt off the mist and caught the rosehips as they stretch for the sky.

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crab apple trail

Lower down in the hedge, hawthorn berries jostle with deep purple blackberries and blue hued sloes. Wild pears and crab apples litter the ground just asking for someone to line them up along the footpath and call it ‘art’.

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Much as I love summer, I’m ready for autumn, especially, warm sunny autumn days like this, rather than the torrential downpour that turned a Sunday afternoon stroll into a run for home.


blackberries in September

Late Summer

path next to arable field in late summer

Late summer is beguiling and wistful. The days are sunny (mostly) and reasonably long but the high summer heat and dust of harvest are over. The landscape has a fabulously wild and unkempt air as parched grasses and weeds grow knee high, seeds scattering in the wind and the stubble fields are roughly tickled, no longer a swathe of regimented wheat plants. Slowly, the first signs of autumn are tentatively creeping in as the berries in the hedgerows belatedly turn colour and the first tiny conkers fall to the ground.

log that looks like a crocodile floating in a pond

And crocodiles broken branches float in the pond.

skeins of naturally dyed wool

Over the summer, I’ve been dyeing with plants and now it’s time to start planning what to knit with all the yarn. A few years ago, I became very frustrated with natural dyeing as everything seemed to be a different shade of beige, which is not my favourite colour. This year, I’ve managed to get a few more colours using nettles, walnut husks, blackthorn twigs, knapweed, rhurbarb leaves, oak galls, avocado stones and alchemilla mollis as well as some solar dyeing with hollyhock flowers (beautiful greens but I’m not sure the colour will last). I have vague thoughts of knitting a fair isle jumper or tank top – heavily influenced by stumbling upon an episode of All Creatures Great and Small in which half the cast seemed to be wearing such items. If I start now, then maybe it will be finished in time for cold winter days. Though possibly not this winter.

blackberries in September

Every year, late summer brings a desire to lay down supplies for autumn and winter. I usually find it ridiculous that I have this hard-wired drive to stock the pantry and freezer when abundant supplies are a click or short distance away. But then last year happened and in lockdown, a well-stocked pantry suddenly seemed rather appealing. So, there will be a few jars of Raspberry Jam and Apple Chutney. Maybe some Blackberry & Apple compote in the freezer and some Hedgerow Gin. Not too much, because (finally) my brain has absorbed the fact that there are only two of us in the house now but enough to make me think I’m well prepared. Just in case. Even though jam and chutney could hardly be termed Essential. I think we can agree that Gin has a place on the Essentials list.


heap of wheat in grain store

Harvest 2021

straw lying in swath in wheat stubble field

The barley and wheat harvest is underway, albeit in fits and starts. A spell of prolonged sunshine would be good, but the weather forecast doesn’t look too promising, much like the harvest yields and quality. Heigh Ho! Such is farming.

An intermittent service may be resumed here. Partly, because it’s harvest and I’ve posted a photo every harvest since 2011 here or on the original farm blog and it seems strange not to do the same again this year and partly because a few blogs have reappeared recently, which have provided a little spark of inspiration.


farm in distance on frosty day

Pausing

MARCH 2021 UPDATE: I’ve released the Pause Button and pressed Stop on the blogging side of Life in Mud Spattered Boots. Read why at The Story of Life in Mud Spattered Boots.

DECEMBER 2020

The last day of 2020 and I’m pressing the Pause button. Rewinding through 2020 wouldn’t take long. Mostly, the year has been a bit boring with few high points (a bit like walking through the Fens) and learning to live by an ever changing list of rules.

Fast forwarding through 2021 to plan anything would be folly when there’s every chance it won’t happen as expected. There’ll be a time when we can, but not just yet.

sleeper bridge with cultivated field behind

So, I’m pausing and enjoying the last day of 2020 with a walk through the frosted countryside.

child

Setting time aside to finish darning in the loose ends of a gansey for a small person (cutting steeks was a mistake).

Catching a glimpse of Captain Flash in the undergrowth.

Later there may be a celebratory drink. Or two.

Next year, who knows. Maybe I’ll just hit Play and plod on until we can do things as we’ve always done them. Or maybe I should press the Reset button. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt in 2020, it’s to be adaptable and embrace change. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was glad to ditch some of the normal December traditions. Who says they have to be resurrected?