Book club: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

If you’ve never read a ghost story, or have been extremely sceptical about this genre then this is the novel for you. Its not a bump-in-the-night, jump-out-of-your-skin kind of ghost story, but rather a chill that slowly creeps over your skin with every page turn. A blend of Nordic folklore with hints of Greek mythology, Dark Matter is a powerful spine-tingling thriller that put me on the edge of my seat.

The plot

Set in the late 30’s, working-class Jack jumps at the chance of escaping a pre-war Britain and can’t believe his luck when he is invited to participate in an Arctic research expedition as a wireless operator. The ill-fated group set out for Gruhuken, a fictitious snow-bound island in the vicinity of Svalbard, Norway with a team of huskys, crates of equipment and hope.

Despite the disguised warnings and with the beginnings of trepidation in the air, the group start to realise that all is not as it seems in the Arctic. Daylight becomes a thing of the past and the endless nights starts to increase the groups’ uneasiness. Jack sees a figure by the hut, but quickly dismisses it until he is out taking readings later one afternoon. I felt the skin on the back of my neck prick when I realised that Jack suspects he is not alone; a scraping, a dragging echoing around the Arctic waste. A wet head rises from the water. Intent. Dread. Jack makes a break for it back to the hut. Did he actually see it? Is it real or a trick of the light, or, worse, a trick of his mind?

Before long, Jack is alone as the other characters leave for the mainland. Staying in a routine Jack tries to keep the horrors of his mind at bay. But it nags at him. The isolation of the bleak Arctic stillness permeating every pore. A thud. Is the bear pole moving? The creeping dread. And again the figure, malevolence radiating out from it. Ghosts can’t open doors, can they?

As Jack’s paranoia climbs to new heights, he realises the figure is in the room with him. Stumbling around he tries to get outside, to get away from it. He forgets his boots and before long realises his fate: he will die in the Arctic wilderness. Whether from the figure or the extreme conditions, Jack will not last long…

Jack

Jack is not a particularly likeable character. Paver’s style of writing in the first half of the book made me feel as though I was running through the story, from the meeting in London to arriving at Gruhuken the short sentences did not help to build up Jack’s personality. If anything, it emphasised his bitterness and short temperament, despite other characters commenting on his visibly calm facade at times.

But whilst I did not feel that Jack himself was endearing, his declining mental state was excellently portrayed by Paver. The worry and anxiety in the face of being alone on Gruhuken for the rest of the winter, Jack tries to keep in a routine but seemingly cannot hide his fear from those he communicates with. His fall into dispair, without being able to recognise it himself, and his hopelessness is resounding. His downward spiral stalled only by his new-found love of Isaak, one of the huskys whom he previously despised, really helped the reader understand the true sense of Jack’s loneliness and his need for some sort of interaction.

Gruhuken

Paver created Gruhuken from her memories of travelling around Spitsbergen and, I must say, that does give me some relief! Knowing that the figure dwells in a fictional place does help me to sleep at night to say the least.

Paver is brilliant at setting the scene; her description of the lessening daylight, the stillness and never-ending wastelands of the Arctic archipelago are so life like I felt as though I was suffering through the same ordeal myself. The words Paver uses really installed a wariness in me; his cabin little bigger than a coffin, all helping to create an intense atmosphere.

Like adverts and films, most novels have an abundance of dialogue. You notice if one ad is silent and moody. Dark Matter is no different. The novel is written in a journalistic style with the reader only having access to Jack’s thoughts; the plot centred around his observations and anxieties with little conversation helping to aid the story along. Its not a style I usually enjoy, but the descriptions and depictions of the Arctic wilderness and one man’s impending sense of doom make this book un-put-downable.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And if you have any recommendations of other ghost stories I could try, do let me know!

Cosy country walks and baked goods: it must be Autumn

The crisp clear mornings, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the coolness in the air – it must be bobble hat and mittens time again!

Autumn is truly my favourite time of year. I think spring and summer walks are really over-rated. I don’t want to trek for miles getting all hot and bothered when I could be kicking back with an iced lolly. For me, autumn and winter are much better times of year to be outside hiking and appreciating the countryside. I absolutely love seeing the change of seasons, and none is more magical then the beginning of autumn. Look at all the lovely gold, orange and copper tones:IMG_2775

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We are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country. These photos were taken at Badbury Woods on the Oxfordshire border where you can enjoy many walks through the woods and across the fields.

The nights are drawing in quite quickly now. Its twilight by 4pm and dark by 5pm. I must admit – I love the early nights. I don’t feel guilty coming home, getting into my pjs and having a hot cup of tea in front of the telly. Soon, we will have a log burner and I can’t wait!

When we came in today I felt a bit of baking was needed. Now the house smells of doughy sweetness and Earl Grey; perfect, right?IMG_2787

Biscuit time

To make my super simple basic biscuit you’ll only need the following:

500g flour

150g caster sugar

250g butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk

To make biscuit-y goodness:

  1. Mix together the flour, butter and sugar. Using your fingers, rub it together until it forms a consistency similar to breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and milk and mix some more.
  3. Lightly flour a surface and roll on the mixture to about 5mm thickness.
  4. Cut out your shapes and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  5. Bake for between 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees. I prefer to turn it to up 200g for the last couple of minutes as I prefer them slightly more golden, but its up to you.

Enjoy with a brew! A perfect quick treat.

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Deep-fill steak and mushroom pie

I’ve only made a few pies in my time, despite my overwhelming love of pie, and those have always been made using the go-to cheater’s guide to pastry: Jus’ roll. But this time, I thought I’d have a go myself.

I was aiming for puff pastry but I’m quite heavy handed so it turned into some form of shortcrust pastry. Either way, it was damned delicious and I’m never buying pre-fab pastry again.IMG_2739

To make my deep-fill pie, you will need:

225g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon of salt

250g salted butter (you could use unsalted, but why would you?)

150ml of cold water

Diced beef

Mushrooms, sliced

Beef stock

Making the pastry

  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl then put in the fridge for a few minutes.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, then add to the flour and mix until coated.
  3. Pour over the water slowly and mix together. It should form a rough dough. Place on a surface and form into a sausage shape, without kneading it. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Once chilled, lightly flour a surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle shape. You are now going to make a square out of a rectangle; fold one-third of the pastry into the middle, then last third into the middle. Press down at the edges.
  5. Now roll out again, and fold, twice more. Place in the fridge for an hour.

The filling

  1. Whilst the pastry is in the fridge, brown the beef on a high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, finely sliced, and stir.
  3. Finally, add some beef stock and remove from the heat.

Pie time!

  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to fit your pie dish.
  2. Line your pie dish, leaving enough pastry for the lid.
  3. Add your filing. As I left my beef quite dry and made up some quick, thick gravy using granules and poured a little on top. If you have a wet mix, don’t do add any more gravy/water.
  4. Finish your pie by folding the pastry over at the edges and seal with some milk.
  5. Bake for approx. 30 minutes at 180-200 degrees.

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Book club: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Set in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, The Tea Planter’s Wife is an intriguing story of a young newlywed woman who leaves the comforts of her home in England to live with her new husband, the owner of a tea plantation.

Jefferies paints a charming picture of Ceylon; a revitalising mix of humidity and exotic wildlife, whilst capturing the political tumult facing the Tamils and the colonials at that time. The story is set in the 1920’s and 1930’s at the beginning of political strife and revolution; the novel depicts the rising anger with the British as well as the hopelessness they felt due to the reliance they had on their income and their reluctance to place their job in jeopardy.

The main character, Gwen, is quite a simple character, unquestioning of her surroundings for the most part and overly trusting of  her husband – whom she barely knows at the start of the novel. The relationship between husband and wife, never mind men and women as whole, was significantly different back then. Women were the homemakers, not permitted to meddle in their husband’s business affairs, so the reader has quite an insight into the somewhat mundane life of the ‘wife’.

Soon Gwen is thinking about providing her husband, Lawrence, with children as she is expected to do. To her delight she is soon pregnant with twins and that is when the plot of this novel really starts to take shape. Gwen gives birth to two children, but one is white-skinned and one is dark-skinned. The remainder of the novel emotionally depicts Gwen’s maternal struggle with giving one child away, the secret she keeps from her husband for over 7 years and the coming together of husband and wife as equals in the wake of a new world following the crash of ’29.

The other two main characters, Lawrence and his sister Verity, are quite opposing in nature. Lawrence is calm, a business man but with deep familial ties to Ceylon and cares for Gwen deeply, in his own way. He is all-observing, tall and strong-willed but his personality never really shines through. He is aloof and could be developed more as a character and particularly his work on the plantation and his care of the workers.

Verity is a complex character and having finished the novel I still don’t feel that I entirely understand her composition; selfish and sly, argumentative and vengeful, her reasons for acting the way she does are never fully explored and she is a constant source of mystery – and frustration!

My heroine of the story by far is Gwen’s servant and nanny. A native to Ceylon, she has worked for the family for decades and helps to settle Gwen in to life in the country. She has a life of servitude, but I found myself hoping that she would somehow escape those confines and speak out about all that she had witnessed over the years, even though I knew in reality no person would have put their job at risk in such a way. Whilst her knowledge of what had gone before Gwen (no spoilers – sorry!) would undoubtedly have changed the course of the story, she is nonetheless an endearing character and a constant throughout the book.

However, the novel is not without its flaws. There are a couple of unfinished endings and questionable events, especially in the final chapters. It seemed a little as though Jefferies was trying to wrap the book up as soon as possible after the main plot had concluded, but it didn’t quite all add up. In particular, Gwen dwells about Savi, a male character, throughout the novel and the reader is lead to believe he is a charming yet unsavoury character. But then, as if by magic, she just starts talking to him again after all those years. It seems a little unbelievable at times.

However, the style of this book is excellent and there is a sufficient amount of both substance and depth to each of the characters to bring them to life. I found myself becoming tearful at one point (I read on the train during my commute each day and had to hurriedly wipe away a stray tear!) and if a novel can make me, un-emotional and cold-hearted, shed a tear, then it must be worth a read.

At its heart, The Tea Planter’s Wife is a love story, both romantic and platonic but interwoven with themes of racism and colonialism.

The author

Jefferies was born in Malaysia and lived there until she was 9 years old before moving to England. She only began writing in her 60’s and travelled to Sri Lanka to help give some realism to her book. The places Jefferies refers to are a mix of real-life places and fictional ones, based on a several locations amalgamated together.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this novel as much as I did – let me know your thoughts should you decide to read it!

 

 

Its all gone Pete Tong

I haven’t posted for a while because we’ve been going through a rather difficult time with our house purchase. It sounds silly doesn’t it – getting anxious about buying a house – though apparently its one of the most stressful transactions of your life.

We’ve been relatively calm if not downright excited about our house purchase and everything was going swimmingly well until 3 weeks ago.

Now, let me be clear – we aren’t jumping up and down because the sellers aren’t leaving their curtain poles or because we are missing a FENSA certificate for the windows (which we actually are missing as it turns out). No, we have had a shed-load of anxiety because one week before we were due to exchange contracts we found out that there are new regulations coming into force which stipulate where septic tanks can drain.

Its not a nice topic is it, septic tanks. But once you get over the lavatorial element of it, they are quite remarkable systems and the ‘science’ behind it is interesting.

The problem

Anyway, from 2020 any septic tanks that drain into a ditch or watercourse (which is defined within the regulations) are prohibited. So if you have a septic tank which does this, it needs to be replaced by 31st December 2019 or you face a massive fine by the Environment Agency – tens of thousands of pounds depending on the severity of the pollution.

Options

To be compliant with the regulations (known as the general binding rules) you can do the following:

  1. Install a small sewage treatment plant; or
  2. Re-route the pipework so that the tank drains into a drainage field (this option is likely to include a replacement/upgrade of your existing tank too)

You may need planning permission and building regulations consent, so check with the local authority and the Environment Agency if necessary.

The cost of the work is, quite frankly, as long as a piece of string. It could be £5,000 it could be £25,000. It all depends on the system you opt for, the land in question and any other issues unique to your property (such as distance from another dwelling or main road, which can be factors).

Unfortunately, if you are buying a house with a septic tank you are unlikely to know whether or not it is compliant with the general binding rules until about half way through the conveyancing process unless the sellers are already aware of the rules. We only have a very basic plan because the house we want to buy is so old, so we had to carry out a number of enquiries before we could establish that the septic tank was not compliant. For other properties it may be more obvious.

A drainage field is compliant (above); a pipe to a ditch/stream isn’t

Helpful links

If you think you may be caught by the new general binding rules, have a look through the government website here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/general-binding-rules-small-sewage-discharge-to-a-surface-water#enforcement-and-sanctions

I’ll update you all with how this plays out, but I can’t right now due to the sensitive nature of the issue and the ongoing conveyancing work.

Wish us luck!

Learning to make healthy choices, for life

Ask anyone if they have a problem with food, and the honest answer will probably be ‘yes’. Whether its to lose weight or tone up, to meet society’s expectations or just to get a decent Instagram photo, countless numbers of people will have issues with food.

My issue isn’t environmental. It found me.

I’m lactose intolerant, and whilst this may seem pretty run of the mill nowadays given loads of people have some kind of GI, FODMAP, celiac problem, let me tell you it was not easy growing up with it. Being lactose intolerant was just not a ‘thing’ in the 90’s.

I started to become sick at the age of 3 from something as mundane as a bowl of cornflakes. For the following 7 years I would vomit approximately 3 times each evening, 4-5 evenings a week or more. That means I’ve been physically ill more times that many people will be in the course of their whole life times. The doctors thought my mother had munchausen by proxy syndrome because they couldn’t find anything wrong with me and that my mother was on some kind of attention-seeking trip. Just before my 10th birthday and very much a last ditch attempt, my mother took me to a see a private consultant miles away from our home. I can vaguely remember his kind face, crinkling with a smile as soon as he saw me. Before I had even sat down he told my mother that I was lactose intolerant and, sure enough, he was proved right. The doctor was Indian and I’m quite olive-skinned for an English person (more so when I was younger than now); nearly half the Indian population have some form of lactose intolerance and the doctor had recognised the sallowness in my skin.

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My modified carbonara. Find a way to work around your hangups to enjoy the food you love

It was remarkable and the diagnosis literally changed my life. Of course, now I don’t remember much of what my diet was pre-age 10, but I do know it included the usual milk on cereal, milk in tea, etc.

My mother and I were fascinated that a food could do this to me.

If I have a milk product, my body starts to shut down; within 20 minutes I will become very heady, soon after I will start to sweat and then the tummy ache kicks in. Its not like being sick from a hang over or  a tummy bug – then you are only sick from your stomach. With my intolerance I am sick from my small intestine which can be excruciating – everything basically has to go back the way it came from, re-enter my stomach and pick up stomach acids before coming out. Once the tummy aches start its hard to say how long it’ll be before I’m physically sick, each time is different, but I will know in myself whether it will be a short process or if I’m in it for the long haul. The tummy aches cause all the energy in my limbs to be sapped and to be ‘re-directed’ to my digestive system. I’ve lost count of the number of times I don’t have the energy to get out of bed, or have been slumped on the bathroom floor pressing my forehead against the cold tiles. The amount of times I’ve cried for a towel, some water and for my hair to be tied back.

My mother and I started looking into other food groups and were surprised that the power of food can have on our bodies. This was still back in the 90’s and our general understanding of food and how to stay healthy has vastly improved since then, but its always something I find myself coming back to. I watch every episode of the BBC Superfoods series with Kate Quilton and anything else that investigates the pros and cons of eating a particular food. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a health freak, but at the back of my mind there is always this subconscious nagging to eat well and to eat healthily.

Earlier in the year when I first started blogging I wrote about how I was having a bit of a health and fitness overhaul, the primary objective being to lose some weight.

I’d noticed in August 2016 that I was getting rather tubby and felt increasingly uncomfortable in my clothes. I’d put on so much weight that my work wear was straining on me and that made me lack confidence.

I joined the gym in September and just started doing some basic work outs (I used to really be into fitness so I have some idea of what to do). I admit I wasn’t 100% committed, partly because, with hindsight, I was doing the same thing, day in, day out.

I would rush from the office to the gym, do 20 minutes on the cross-trainer, 10 minutes on the bike and then use some really easy assisted weights to improve muscle tone on my legs. Occasionally I’d use the rower.

Than about November time I got Instagram and came across a fitness fanatic called Kayla Itsines who advocates a wellness lifestyle, but from the comfort of your own room. I don’t particularly like paying for someone to tell me how to exercise and what to eat so I’ve never downloaded her program, but there was enough information and videos on her Instagram feed for me to take away a few pointers. The concept of exercising without having a gym membership or running (though I am partial to the odd run) was intriguing. Although, as I understand it, Itsines builds up the intensity of her programs, it starts by telling you to do a round of exercises that involve no equipment and could be done from your living room.

I carried on with my gym membership, but decided to build in some ‘floor work’ to my routine. I felt so self-conscious using the mats at the side of my gym, in full view of everyone, that I started using the area where they hold classes. I quickly realised there are a lot of people like me who feel uncomfortable struggling to do a sit up in front of everyone else! I started doing a mini-round of basic exercises: 10 squats, 25 sit-ups, 25 Russian twists, 10 leg lifts, 40 cycle sit-ups (I don’t know what they’re called!) and some stretches.

The sit-ups were the killer. For as long as I can remember I’ve never been able to do a sit-up without feeling faint or sick. But I persevered and after two weeks I could do 10 sit-ups without feeling like I was going to black out and that was a real achievement for me. I would still do my time on the cross-trainer and some assisted leg weight lifts, but otherwise I focused on my abs.

Our office Christmas party was in December and I remember being able to buy a size 10 skirt because my waist had gotten smaller. I was so chuffed, even though I had not lost  much weight from anywhere else. But it gave me the boost I needed to see me through Christmas and into the New Year if nothing else. From January through to June I was desperate to get back to how I’d been at university. I didn’t set myself any unrealistic goals, just a target weight that I knew was achievable whilst still allowing me to have the occasional treat. I bought a couple of new figure-hugging dresses ready for our holiday in June and I was over the moon that not only could I fit into them, but I actually looked good. I was proud to be me and, for once, wanted to show off my figure rather than hide away in jeans and baggy jumpers.

I must confess that I haven’t been to the gym much since we came back from holiday in July, and I stopped going altogether in August. I realised that it wasn’t the fitness that I was enjoying (though being half-way toned was quite pleasing!), but rather what I was fuelling my body with. I LOVE food and I could never restrict myself from eating carbs, or having no sugar or doing some weird paleo-diet. I’m a firm believer of everything in moderation.

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Food should be an enjoyable social occasion, not something to begrudge

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I’m not afraid to throw a few odd ingredients into a meal to make up for an ingredient I’m lacking, but I think I became stuck in a rut. Do you buy the same items in your food shop every week? I was. Do you cook the same meals most weeks? I was. I was watching cooking programmes and thinking ‘that’s great, I’ll do that’, but would then never get round to it. And after over-analysing my food habits I’ve come to the conclusion that its all to do with vegetables.

I’m extremely partial to some mushrooms, garlic, chilli, red peppers (not any other colour), green beans, a cabbage and leek mix, a few potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes etc. It sounds a fair amount, but when I look around the supermarket shelves I realise just how many different types of fruits and vegetables are out there that I don’t even consider. So, I still buy the same vegetables, but now I mix it up a little bit each week – substitute some potatoes for a butternut squash. Simple changes, but ones that excite me to come into the kitchen at the weekend to make something slightly different. I put whatever meat, fish or carbs I want with it, but planning a meal around a particular vegetable really makes it the centrepiece, rather than the add-on because I feel obliged to eat my 5 a-day!

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PYO blackberries were a hit at the end of the summer

So since August I’ve focused on what I’m putting in to my body and I’m hoping to maintain the weight I lost for our holiday. I’ve put on a couple of pounds since July, but as I’ve been under the weather and I was away for a week with an extremely bad diet during that time, I think that’s understandable.

My parents are both vegetarian so although they allowed me to eat meat, I didn’t eat very much of it and even now I probably only have meat once or twice a week, and sometimes not at all. Its just not a big part of my life.

I’m also not a pudding person. Sweet treats just don’t grab me as much as the smell of a pie baking! My distaste for puds is mostly down to my intolerance as it can be very hard finding a sweet after-dinner treat that doesn’t involve some form of milk, cream, custard or the like. After years of not being able to have it, I honestly don’t really miss it.

I feel that I have reached a place of contentment in my life, with my food choices and with my body.

I hope to continue like this for many years to come. The satisfaction of eating right far outweighs the few minutes of eating too much cake! I’m not disillusioned – I know that life has its ups and downs and that my weight will fluctuate from over indulging some months, but I do believe that awareness is key. After all, how can you keep something in check if you don’t recognise when its going wrong? I’m excited to buy vegetables and that is something to be proud of in my book. For now, I just want to focus on making my body as healthy as it can reasonably be, without denying it anything. A balance: enabling your body to let you live life to its fullest.

We move house in a few short weeks and I’m going to start growing my own vegetables. I sincerely hope this will keep me on track but as I’m not a budding gardener it might be a bit trial and error for a while!

Tragus piercing : all you need to know

Ever since I was 13 years old I wanted my tragus pierced. I must have seen it on someone else and thought it was pretty cool. And before you say it, no, I wasn’t particularly ‘alternative’ or trying to rebel, I just thought it was nice.

But at 13 my mum was having none of it. She said ‘when you’re in college’. Well, a few years later when I was in college it was ‘you’re about to study law at university’, then when I finished university and law school it was ‘you’ll be having interviews for training contracts and jobs, you don’t want them to notice it do you?’

So it wasn’t until last year, at the age of 27, that I decided to get my tragus pierced once and for all. I was no longer studying and had held down a job as a solicitor for a couple of years by that point, so I figured – what is there to lose? I debated about whether or not to tell my mum about my intention to get the piercing, but decided to in the end. I did it in a very off-hand, its a run-of-the-mill-thing kind of way. She didn’t say much, thankfully, though I knew she disapproved.

So on 30th September 2016 (I remember the date because I’ve been thinking about the after-care process ever since!) I trotted off to a local recommended piercer and had it done.IMG_1834

The piercing

I laid down on a bed and the piercer clamped my tragus with a metal tool, pulling it forward so it was 90 degrees to my head. Then she used some kind of needle to create the piercing, pushing from front to back, whilst threading the stud through at the same time. She then screwed the ball on the front and it was all done. Super quick – about 15 minutes in total.

Did it hurt? Well, yes. But it was very quick and sharp, causing me to flinch. It didn’t throb or ache much afterwards but, as you’d expect, there was a bit of blood. Only a few drops though.

I was told that it could take up to a year for the piercing to heal so I bought some cleaning oil to help the recovery process. Apparently a large majority of infections in a tragus piercing happen in the first couple of months, and they can look like this:Infected-Tragus-Piercing-Signs-Bump-Risks-How-to-Treat-Tragus-Piercing-Infection

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Ew! & I’ve left the really graphic ones out so as not to put you off your snacks!

I was very regimented and stuck to cleaning my ear twice a day with the oil. I put a t-shirt over my pillow and turned it around each day before replacing the shirt every third day (as I was told to do). At the beginning of November I thought ‘pah, this is easy. No infection what so ever! Bet its even healed, I could probably replace the jewellery now’.

The infection

It was a typical case of speaking too soon. Not long after that my ear started to develop a swollen red mark around the front of the hole. Just as I thought it was going down, it would appear at the back – but never on both sides (I have no idea why). Sometimes the jewellery would have a crust on it, which initially sounds gross but then we realised that it was where I was washing my hair and not rinsing in my ears enough and a residue was building up. You need to turn the pressure of the shower head down and then let the water drip in your ear for about 30 seconds or so, then ‘tip’ it out by turning your head the other way. I think if you had short hair and didn’t use as much shampoo you probably wouldn’t have to worry about this.IMG_8542 (2)

I carried on with the oil, but after a few weeks realised it wasn’t having any effect. I knew that most people used a saline solution but it had seemed a bit of a faff to make every day. By mid-November I realised that I needed to do something and salting my ear seemed to be the cheapest way to do it.

A saline solution is just salt and water, but you can’t use table salt as that salt can sometimes be treated before its sold, so you’re best off with regular sea salt. I ground about 1 ½ teaspoons of salt into a tumbler and added hot water. After leaving it for a few minutes to cool down, I then dabbed some folded paper towels into it and held it on the piercing. You are meant to do this for about 10 minutes but aside from being the slowest 10 minutes of your life, you will also find your arm hurts an awful lot!

I salted my ear for the following 2 months and it really did help. The red swelling subsided in fits and bursts, though always appeared again after a couple of days if I stopped salting. For Christmas Sam had bought me a hoop and a diamante ball-stud, so I decided that I would switch the jewellery just before my birthday in January. It had been 3 months by then and I was anxious to see how well the piercing was healing. We couldn’t get the original ball-stud out at first because it had been screwed tight by the piercer, so we bought some latex gloves (which give you a lot more grip) and Sam managed to unwind the ball-stud. We replaced it with a diamante stud.IMG_8421

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Its now been just over 1 year since the piercing. Most of the summer my ear was fine and not red but it has started to have a slight red swelling on it again the last few days. I don’t think it helped that I knocked it really badly a couple of weeks ago, causing it to bleed. But otherwise it has gotten better, albeit it is a slow process.

Thinking about it?

Although I’ve had a bit of trouble with my tragus piercing, which seems to be ongoing, I would definitely recommend getting it done if you are thinking about it. The chances of you have such a bad reaction as the people in the horror stories above is pretty slim – unless either you have not gone to a recommended piercer, or your post-piercing cleaning routine is bad. Its normal to have some aching or swelling given you have just made a hole in your skin, but it shouldn’t be hurting a lot for a long period of time.

I love my tragus jewellery, especially my diamante stud. I feel a bit different, but in a girly way, not a tomboy-grunge kind of way like I should be hanging out in the back streets. I had my left ear pierced which is the opposite side to where I part my hair so I can easily hide it if needed, plus it is not so obvious that way. My mum doesn’t like it much, she says that its not as noticeable as I think it is, but thats fine. I had my ear pierced because I wanted it done, not for other people to see and like it. Just for me.

Recommended cleaning routine

You should follow whatever cleaning routine your piercer recommends to you, especially in the first few weeks after having the piercing done. After that, the fail-safe fall back is the saline solution:

  1. Grind 1 ½ teaspoons of sea salt into hot water. Stir it so that the granules melt.
  2. Leave it for a few minutes to cool, then fold up some paper towels.
  3. Dip the paper towel into the solution and apply to the piercing with the jewellery in(!)

Do not rub. Do not scratch. Just let the solution soak into the piercing. Every couple of minutes dip fresh paper towels into the water and re-apply.

Do not wear earphones or headphones for at least 3 if not 6 months so as not to irritate it.

Different types of jewellery

There are various different types of jewellery you can buy for your tragus, from hoops to ball-studs. Unlike a traditional lobe piercing, the ball-studs screw on at the front, rather than the back because that would just be awkward otherwise!

I hope you’ve found this useful. Before I had my piercing I looked up everything from the process to possible infections and found that the internet can be a very misleading place! A lot of websites may have well have just said that my ear was going to fall off and that the piercing wasn’t worth it. It was hard to find an honest non-horror-story review.

Some lovely famous faces with tragus piercings:

Super simple and scrummy: squash

My father grows many different varieties of vegetables in all colours of the rainbow, so when I was handed this one I honestly believed that it was a courgette as he said, and planned my dinner accordingly.

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Except its not. A courgette that is. Its a squash. And the clue? The massive seeds inside that are similar to a pumpkin! Good job the two vegetables don’t taste vastly different or I might by having words with dearest father for ruining my meal!

Anyway, I happen to love squash and figured it would still work. So here it is, my quick and simple mid-week dinner: squash with bolognaise sauce, topped with Parmesan. A low-carb super-tasty alternative to pasta.

You will need:

1 squash (this will only work if your squash is bowl-shaped)

Quorn mince (or meat, of course)

Mushrooms

Spinach

Garlic

Chilli (optional)

Tomatoes (fresh, tinned – its up to you)

Parmesan, grated

How to make:

  1. Cut the squash about a third of the way down from the stalk, all the way around. Scoop out the seeds and place on a baking tray.
  2. Cover the squash with foil and bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes at 200 degrees.
  3. Whilst the squash is cooking, brown off the mince and mushrooms in a frying pan, adding garlic and chilli as you wish. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper for seasoning, and let it simmer.
  4. Once the bolognaise sauce is nearly ready, add a handful of spinach leaves and let them wilt in the steam before mixing them into the sauce. Leave on a low heat.
  5. Remove the foil from the squash and bake uncovered for another 8-10 minutes.

It really is that simple. Remove the squash from the oven, pour on your sauce and enjoy! You can eat the squash rind, but make sure it is soft and supple or it will have the texture of orange pith.

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We are moving house shortly and I am really looking forward to growing my own vegetables and herbs. Sam is going to make me a vegetable trug and I’m hoping to get a small greenhouse too. Its so exciting – a bit like The Good Life! I can barely keep a few flowers alive each year, so this will definitely be a challenge for me, but one I am going to embrace whole-heartedly. If anyone has any tips for a super-newbie gardener, do let me know what to do and not do!

Book club: The Lake House by Kate Morton

A novel is an insight into an author’s world, or how they perceive it to be. No matter what the story, the intimacy of reading someone else’s words on a page gives you an understanding of them as a person. Most writers agree that they leave parts of themselves in each novel; your experiences are all you have to draw from after all, topped up with research.

But I’ve become stuck in a bit of a same-old author rut and didn’t know what to do. I felt I knew what was coming from the first chapter, and rarely was I wrong. I love a good story, but I wanted to shake it up a bit. And so I thought what better to way to encourage myself to read more widely than if I post about my reads and take inspiration from others – even if it is a book I would usually steer away from in the store.

So this is what lead me to The Lake House by Kate Morton.

The plot: a summary

The Lake House is a beautifully crafted book. It is the tale of a tragic incident that occurred in the early 30’s in Cornwall and which has haunted each of the family members involved for the following 70 years. It brings together a modern-day policewoman, Sadie, who in trying to escape from her own wrong-doing, visits her grandfather and stumbles across a majestic yet run-down house in the Cornish countryside. Her inquisitiveness leads her on a search for the truth in order to solve a crime that happened well before her own birth.

In the 30’s, the youngest member of the Edevane family was found missing. A toddler, last seen sleeping in his nursery whilst his parents hosted a party, was nowhere to be found. Presumed missing, taken or dead, each of Theo’s siblings held their own guilt and slice of knowledge as to what happened to him for the remainder of their lives.

The story primarily centres around Sadie and one of Theo’s siblings, Alice, who is now well into her 80s and a renowned writer herself. The novel jumps through time, from the 30’s to the present day with the reader gaining an understanding of the circumstances surrounding Theo’s disappearance from the perspectives of Alice, her mother and at one point her grandmother, with present-day Sadie tying it all together.

The switches between modern-day Sadie and the events of the 30’s helped me to gain an insight into not only the characters’ understanding of the circumstances surrounding the incident, but their own personal development. I found it far from confusing and more of a guide, helping me to come to my own conclusions with each plot twist, rather than being fed the story and feeling like an outsider, an observer.

Themes

The novel is largely the story of two crimes woven together within the Gothic mystery genre. Love is what holds this novel together and brings it to life; unbreakable family bonds showing the lengths a person will go to to protect their nearest and dearest.

Although the story centres around Sadie and Alice, it is Alice’s mother, Eleanor, who really stands out and makes this story real. In each of the recollections you see Eleanor in a different light and how she has changed as she gets older. As a young adult she feels stifled by her mother’s strict expectations of her and the need to please those around her. As she grows up, her love for her husband Anthony and the joy of motherhood is ever-present, but with it the understanding that she is now Mother, not just Eleanor. She had duties and responsibilities, but is she at risk of nearly becoming like the very thing she despised most: her own mother? Morton adeptly contrasts the adult Eleanor with the softer, girl-ish side to her and her desire to love and be loved. Eleanor is the rock of the family, the cord that binds them together and makes them a unit. Eleanor is, truly, the heroine of this novel.

Morton is able to portray Alice’s stubborn, selfish but other-worldliness as a teenager and show how she has matured into an adult, still carrying those traits but with a newfound understanding of life and the reason why people make certain decisions. She is set in her ways, focused and deliberate in each of her actions. Misunderstood as a teenager, perhaps, but her misunderstanding of the situation surrounding Theo’s disappearance is heartening; her friendship with the gardener confused with courtship and love, and her shame at being rejected resonating with her into later life.

Sadie is not a strong character, despite her central place in the novel. Her ‘wrong-doing’ is not such a life-changing event as the reader is initially lead to believe and she lacks in personality. Her sole purpose is to tell the story, rather than to seemingly be a part of it. I lacked any connection or empathy with Sadie, finding her rather bland. But perhaps that was the purpose. She was the narrator, and it could be quite easy for the reader to be side-tracked from the main story if Sadie also had her own life-story.

The most riveting aspect of the book by far was the author’s attention to detail, particularly when describing events and emotions from the 30’s. Alice’s observations about her siblings and mother; her button-down top and pearls and the lines around her eyes; the longing to be out by the lake, the dryness and grittiness of the summer heat bearing down on her really bring the characters to life and give them depth. Morton is able to give the reader a real flavour of what life was like for the middle classes back then, from fashion to behaviour and society’s staunch, conventional expectations.

But if you take a step back from The Lake House, cracks start to appear.

There are several incidents in this novel that are unnecessary and, frankly, unbelievable (alert: potential for spoilers!)

  • The death of Eleanor’s mentor and family-friend. The reader is lead to believe that this could be suicide, but it is largely unexplored until the reader comes to Alice’s grandmother’s only recollection. The mentor had lived with the family for several decades and it seems entirely unbelievable that he would be murdered. Morton clearly chose to kill him off to try and divert the reader, but the red-herring was so glaringly obvious from the get-go it would have been disappointing if the mentor had had anything to do with Theo’s disappearance in the end.
  • The ending. Whilst it was comforting for Theo to not only be found alive, but for the reader to know that Eleanor knew he was safe before her untimely death, it was just too twee for Theo to turn out to be Sadie’s grandfather. Of the hundreds and thousands of people who moved to and lived in London then, is it plausible that the two ‘investigators’, Sadie and Alice, would be linked biologically? I’d say not.
  • Anthony’s shell-shock was well-researched by Morton, but introduced too late into the book and then dropped far too suddenly. I have read several fictional accounts about the effect of shell-shock on those who fought in the First World War (Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong being by far the most moving), and whilst Morton adequately explained the effects of it, it was a very shallow depiction and, I felt, tip-toed around the subject. Morton needed to explore it more in order for the reader to give it proper weight and consider whether it was viable for Anthony to have had involvement in Theo’s disappearance.

However, The Lake House is definitely one to read. It is a page-turner in its entirety and whilst I do have some criticisms of it, overall it is brilliantly executed and made me want to stay up late into the night to find out what was going to happen next. Many authors are able to depict a scene, an event, and add some emotion to it, but the human aspect of The Lake House is enthralling. Morton is excellent at portraying a character as a person; weaving in character traits, observations and personality into them so that they are all but real.

I had not come across Morton prior to The Lake House being recommended to me, but I will definitely be reading more of her works in the future.

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Whilst writing this I treated myself to a gorgeous cup of Black Rose tea in my new tea pot. I’ve had quite a stressful and tiring week so this pick-me-up was much needed.

Recipe: white bloomer bread

I honestly have the memory of a goldfish. I’d completely forgotten to share my bread recipe with you all and let you know the results of our little village fete a couple of weeks ago!

The fete was far better than we imagined it would be for such a small village. There were over one hundred entries and at least 5/6 in each category. We were quite proud to have taken part! The main contenders were in the popular categories as you’d expect – there were no fewer than 13 Victoria sponges. In the amateur-baker category of ‘artistic cake’, were these stunning bakes:

I loved looking at all the vegetables though – there were leeks as thick as my arms and runner beans nearly 2 feet long. It really inspired me to get growing my own vegetables once we’ve moved house – there is just nothing like fresh home-grown produce really.

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Anyway, we didn’t win the cookie nor the bread categories.

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Can you spot ours?

I was a bit annoyed as the cookies were lumped in the same category as biscuits, and biscuits placed in all three top spots despite there being several cookie entries. I think the judges were probably traditionalists and not on the cookie band-wagon.

Whilst we are of course slightly biased, the bread was definitely the most eye-catching entry and when we collected it at the end many people came up to us and said we should have won. We won The People’s Choice Award in my opinion given all the amazing comments we had!

So, if you want to make bread that looks a bit like this, follow our easy recipe below.

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You will need:

500g flour

Teaspoon of salt

Instant yeast

30g butter

320ml water

Baking time!

  1. Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the butter and about ¾ of the water and carry on mixing together, adding the remaining water as you go. The dough should be soft and not too wet when its ready.
  3. Now cover your table with a bit of flour and start to knead the bread. I find kneading quite hard – I think you need strong arm muscles to do it properly! I find circular motions are easier and most effective, but whatever works for you. Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is malleable and smooth.
  4. Now to prove it. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film or a tea towel or anything similar. Leave it on the side for a couple of hours until the dough has nearly doubled in size (some people I know put theirs in the fridge but I don’t think that works as well). Towards the end of the prove, start to preheat your oven to 220 degrees.
  5. Put some flour on your kitchen table and place the dough on top and start to roll. BE CAREFUL – I find the harder/more I roll the less air is in the bread and it becomes more dense. This is less so if you are using proper white bread flour, but not if you are using a standard white flour. Roll into a long-ish rectangle and then divide length-ways into three sections.
  6. Those three sections will form the plait. If you don’t know how to plait, you simply place the outside strands into the middle of the other two strands, working from side to side; line up the three strands and then pull the 1st far-left strand into the middle between strands 2 and 3. Now, pull the now-3rd strand into the middle of strands 1 and 2. And repeat. Try to keep the plait fairly tight so there are not large holes. At the bottom and top simply tuck the strands together and underneath itself.Some people plait bread differently by only plaiting half way and then turning the dough over and finishing the plait. Apparently this gives the bread a bit of stability but I personally do not notice any difference in the bake. I have long hair and plait it all the time – maybe I’m a pro-plaiter!
  7. Depending on the size of your loaf you may need to prove it again for another hour. See below for an alternative to this.
  8. Next, line a tray with some baking parchment – I like to butter the tray first but I think that’s just because I can be quite clumsy! Place your bread on the tray and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 220 degrees. I like to dust some flour on top beforehand but its up to you.
  9. Then leave to cool on a rack for 10 minutes and enjoy whilst its still warm!

Whilst the dough needs proving as at step 4, I’ve found that proving the three individual strands of the plait separately works a bit better – however you need to keep them straight on a flat surface and sometimes the strands may swell more in certain places. I will leave it to you to decide!

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Yummmmmm-y.

Book club: The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Darkness started to fall and the street lamps flickered on, casting a warm hue over the damp cobbles. The smell of rain lingering in the air, mixing with hints of mulled wine and cinnamon. I walked through the door and felt the heat hit me, my bobble hat and scarf off in an instant. I started roaming the aisles and was drawn to a particular cover and title on the top shelf, just in reach of my lanky, bony teenage arms.

This is my first memory of going book shopping as a teenager. I can remember it vividly. I was out shopping in Norwich just before Christmas, with the early nights drawing in. I had stepped into my favourite bookstore – back before Ottakar’s was taken over by Waterstones. My dad would sit upstairs in the coffee shop – before it too was taken over by Costa Coffee(!) and enjoy a latte whilst reading a book. That was the beauty of Ottakar’s. You could enjoy a novel over a cuppa before you bought it – nobody was sat there worrying about spilling coffee on the pages.

The book was in the main section of the store on the top shelf, in the area where both well-known and up-and-coming authors are displayed. It had a simple cover, but I was drawn to it. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. This was years before the film with Cameron Diaz and before Jodi Picoult was really famous. I remember being intrigued by the story – full of conflict whilst all the while dealing with a deeply moral issue. I’ve ready many books covering everything from a standard murder thriller to those about troubling issues like domestic violence and abuse. I recall reading Danielle Steele’s The Long Road Home at the age of 11 which, with hindsight, probably wasn’t appropriate. That remains one of my favourite books to date though.

So I thought it was only fitting for my first review to be a Jodi Picoult novel. Its one I initially read over 10 years ago and lent to a friend, but I never got it back. Recently I felt the urge to read it again so downloaded it on my kindle. It brought back memories of kicking back on my multi-coloured bedspread as a college student, reading late into the night until my eyes strained. The plot I could associate my teenage self with; a bit of angst and the apprehension of approaching adulthood.

The Pact

A no-nonsense title that explains exactly what this book is about. Set in North America on the Eastern Coast, two teenagers are raised from birth by parents who are best friends. The story focuses on their bond, developing from friendship to love and the pressure of trying to meet their parents’, their own, and most importantly the other’s ideal of ‘perfection’. From the beginning the reader is aware that the young girl has died, a supposed suicide pact. The story then weaves through time, bringing together the two sides of the story. The flip side of the same coin. The story is primarily told from the boyfriend’s viewpoint, Chris, who is standing trial for murder. Occasionally there is the the odd recollection from the girlfriend, Emily, but this is more for explanatory reasons to help further the plot. Without Emily’s occasional input the reader would be unaware of the reason behind her desire to die; the mis-conception that having been abused as a child would make her dirty and unsuitable as a girlfriend or future wife.

Picoult’s notorious writing style – switching back and forth between then and now – really makes this story come alive. Whilst subconsciously leading the reader to question the lovers’ devotion to each other throughout, the characters tell a different story – portraying Chris and Emily’s relationship as one of closeness, desire and inevitability. A natural progression from childhood, but perhaps unwanted. And that is one of my major bug-bears about this novel.

The few, infrequent passages from Emily do not go far enough to give her depth as a character. The reader views Emily as a delicate flower, beautiful and brilliant but introverted. She is a typical teenager in many senses; worried about schoolwork and wanting to see her boyfriend as much as possible. But her dark secret is not explored; in fact, it is almost minimised. The abuse is introduced so late into the book and skirted over so quickly – perhaps that is Picoult demonstrating how a victim of abuse may recollect it, by wanting to get it out of their head as soon as possible – that it does not do the story justice. Emily doesn’t feed on the abuse; it is not all-consuming of her and the sudden desire to kill herself seems to take a large leap from the abuse 8 years prior. There is but the odd sentence of Emily reviewing her abuse, but far more about how she viewed her relationship with Chris as platonic, relishing the closeness but deeply anxious about the sexual encounters that are a natural part of any adult relationship.

Emily’s desire to die is the crux of the story, but her reason is completely unknown to the other characters. In the absence of any emotional exploration of the abuse, the reader is left to feel like Emily is selfish, focusing on her own wants and not thinking about the effect her actions have on other people, most notably Chris and her parents.

Chris is far more reliable and believable as a character. I felt as a female reader that I connected with him far more than Emily. His routine and teenage musings were normal and mundane and he struggled to deal with the expectations of his strict father. His life, like many other young adults, was unremarkable in many ways. Except his deep insatiable love for Emily, which in my humble opinion, has been confused with lust.

The mothers of Emily and Chris take the next two starring roles, and they are as alike as they are different. Chris’ mother is like the wind; she has an appetite for life that rolls through the story combining passion with motherhood and the desire to do right by her son. Her early recollections of Chris and Emily during their childhood are the building blocks for the reader; understanding how the characters are so entwined and the inseparable lives they have led. Emily’s mother, Melanie, is quiet and subdued, an anxious speck of a woman in my mind. Whilst Picoult demonstrates the grief Melanie would understandably be feeling at the death of a daughter, it is viewed from a third person, a stranger looking in, detached. Her actions in the months following Emily’s death are somewhat textbook, but neither her sadness nor her anger are given the weight they deserve. I can only recall feeling true empathy for Melanie when Picolut depicts her visting her daughter’s grave on Christmas Day, saying it is Emily’s ‘first Christmas away from home’, as if she had gone to universtiy and would be coming home one day.

The emotion that this story stirs within a reader is quite one-sided. You are rooting for Chris from the outset, hoping against hope that he will be found not-guilty whilst all along suspecting that, if you were a member of the jury, you would probably find him guilty as charged. I found myself sympathising with Chris, even though a couple of things he said and did to Emily I would not have tolerated myself. Its that balance to his character that gives him depth; after all, we are all capable of doing good and bad things.

This tale is not one of forbidden love, but expected love. Expected by the parents, but also by Chris. Picoult explores love from many angles. She winds around the passion and familiarity Chris’ parents feel for each other and contrasts it with the restrained but restless love Emily’s parents have. Both sets of parents exude a protectiveness over Chris and Emily that is admirable and raw. I felt myself smile when the parents first became aware that Chris and Emily had shared a kiss as young teenagers; you could feel their joy in thinking that the families would be inextricably linked in the future by marriage, what they had hoped from day 1. In my view, it is the parents’ overwhelming love for their child that the reader benefits from most. The lengths the parents will go to, in their own ways, to do what is right by their child, no matter what.

Picoult is an expert at tackling controversial issues, such as teen suicide. She thoroughly researches the subject matter, the investigatory procedure and the legal process in a lot of detail and meets with various other professionals to bring the story together and give it life. However, whilst well researched according to the appendices, I do not consider the emotional aspect has been sufficiently addressed as what the story makes for in a good read, it lacks in the emotional make-up from very key characters. Both Emily and Melanie could be more developed, they are, after all, the ones facing the emotional uncertainty. The story is written from Chris’ point of view, as the victim of a wrongful accusation. But it is Emily who has suffered and Emily who is dead. Her family are the ones who would be living with that loss for the rest of their lives, whilst Chris could move on. It feels distinctly flat in that sense, uncharted territory that is in desperate need of being scouted out.

The novel is undoubtedly built around the concept of Love in all of its different forms. Yet there is one other lingering feeling; it pulls the reader through the novel, sitting in your subconscious until you acknowledge it like an old friend when you eventually turn the last page. Fate. Of all the characters in the book, none are in control of their lives. And the more, perhaps surprising, realisation is that Picoult seems to promote this within her work. Her choice of words infuse the characters with spontaneity yet acceptance of what is happening to them. Sure, the story needs to be told, but there is no open challenging of the situation each character finds themselves in; no struggle nor conflict within themselves.

About

Suicide is the cause of 0.1% of all deaths in the UK (as at 2015), with female suicide rates at the highest in a decade. Yet the suicide rate for males is 3 times higher than for females, with the age group 44-59 having the highest rate. The suicide rate for under 30 year olds remains the lowest, but is gradually increasing over the years. Unfortunately, the ONS does not break the age groups down into those pre-adult hood, but it is widely acknowledged that teen suicide is an increasing problem.

If you know someone who you think may be suicidal, encourage them to speak to the Samaritans and seek as much help as possible.

On the move to pastures new

I am so happy! We have just bought a house!

We returned from holiday a few weeks ago having found a buyer for our house. And, to be honest, I did feel under a bit of pressure to find somewhere suitable to buy quite quickly, simply because I don’t like messing people around. I don’t know why – our buyers haven’t given us a time frame or conditions – but I supposed I felt like I didn’t want to feel like I was keeping them hanging on.

Anyway, we decided to view as many properties as we could that took our fancy, though they were mostly ones we had already discounted from the look of the pictures, the work involved, or simply had a weird floor plan.

The first house we viewed looked lovely from the outside but there were no inside pictures. Why, I asked? Well, the agent said, a clearing company has only just removed everything from the old lady’s house. But we were assured it was a ‘lovely house’ and ‘totally, worth viewing’. I’m not going to say much about that house, save that THERE WAS A TREE GROWING INSIDE. An ACTUAL tree (well vine, there were grapes). It came through a hole in the wall and covered the entire, large (and tall), conservatory. Branches as thick as my thigh with grapes hanging down. I had thought initially that perhaps the tree had grown in recent months due to the lady’s lack of mobility, but then quickly realised that that growth was not from a few months but was twenty years’ worth.

Nope.

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I found this little gem in Tesco’s earlier in the week. Its a quirky light bulb glass (straw gives it away I guess!), but I’m going to put fairy lights in it

Then we viewed a house way outside of our ideal ‘circle’ (which is actually more of a rectangle). It was in a village which I thought would be twee but just, wasn’t. The following weekend we viewed 4 houses in one day. A second which was also outside of our circle/rectangle area, but which had huge outbuildings, albeit it needed a tonne of work. That was followed by a lovely detached thatch, but it had a weird layout and the garden was literally 90 degrees; there was a kids’ blue slide on the lawn and honest to God the poor thing must have slid down it and straight into the dining room it was that steep.

Then we viewed what would later become our home.

A house that I had thought was out of our reach and had simply wanted to view it for comparison purposes. It was 10 times better than the pictures and I pretty much loved it instantly. Beautiful large kitchen, log burner and mantle, exposed beams, wooden staircase and and tall ceilings and windows. Me and Sam are taller than average, but didn’t have to duck anywhere. It felt like a home. A home for us, for our future children. To have cosy winters around the fireplace, walks in the countryside (I may have to invest in more wellies), and to be able to just be us. But it didn’t have a garage for Sam which was top of the (his) list. Nowhere for the mini or the lathe!

Then, afterwards, we viewed the last house. It was a large 5-bed new build with a garage. It ticked all of the boxes on paper, but that was pretty much where it stopped. Neither of us really knew what to say as we were walking around with the agent. We muttered a lot about the ‘amount of space’, the proximity to town but neither of us were feeling it. You just know, don’t you, when your other half is thinking the exact same thing as you.

We couldn’t really get the country house out of our heads. No, it didn’t have as much outside space for Sam and yes, the third room was smaller than we had hoped for, but it was a home. A home. That’s when I realised the others were just houses, not homes. I could picture us living as a family in the cutest house in the area. The following day we drove out there and explored the country lanes some more – first gear around some of the bends! – and fell in love with the place even more. No corner shop. One bus a day, or thereabouts. But it does have an amazing pub, bakery, cute little village hall and more walks than you can shake a stick at. Sam said ‘I don’t even care about the garage!’ and that’s when we knew could well be living there soon!

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Anyway, we’ve agreed a price and now our sellers just need to find a home themselves. Fingers crossed we’ll be in by Christmas and can have the fire going and fairy lights strung over the mantle piece!!

I was sat in the car this week and thought, what do I want from this house? Is it a wish list? What could I do without?  And I just kept coming back to a feeling. A knowing feeling, but one I couldn’t really describe.

I am not someone who makes decisions with their heart. I’m very much ruled by my head and often it can be months if not years before I evaluate a past decision.

But, this time was different. I still had to think about certain things, such as getting a future child to nursery/school and making my commute.

This house has everything. A safe, beautiful place in the country where children can be children and I can bake bread to my hearts delight whilst sipping my usual Earl Grey.

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From my amazing little teapot!