Sunday 31 October 2010


My garden on All Hallows' Eve.

Saturday 30 October 2010


This is True.

You have to know people well before you can tell them that you think you have seen a ghost. I've lived with my husband for many years, but even so I took my time before asking him, in a deceptively casual manner, if he'd seen anything pass through the corner of our kitchen.
We had recently moved house to an old cottage that had  been extended by previous owners, so that our kitchen is sited on land that would formerly have been garden or field. We were involved in a considerable amount of work, removing and repositioning internal walls to improve the layout of our new home. Dust rose and small spaces were opened up to fresh views. Standing at the kitchen sink there is a window to my left and another directly before me. A small corner cupboard sits between the two windows and marks out the route that was regularly taken by my ghost.
She was a wraith, a wreath of mist, a young female, very sad. She was cool and grey, a gentle melancholic, with no menace to her. Nevertheless her presence made me uneasy. She was always passing through, moving at a walking pace from right to left, and I would strain and look behind and all about me to try and establish a good sound reason for whatever it was that was passing before my eyes. If you ask me how I know that she was young and female and sad I can only state that the sense of her seemed very complete.
Eventually I said to my husband, "Have you seen anything strange in the kitchen?" and because he looked blank I had to explain a little more fully. I was expecting a rebuff from this sensible man, but to my amazement he stood thoughtfully in the kitchen and said that he wasn't surprised. 
For a while that was how we left it. he would stand quietly in front of the sink or walk about the garden outside the kitchen windows. I would be washing up and my sad young ghost would float through the corner of the kitchen on her regular route. We decided that she was on her way to the big house up the hill and most likely coming from the farm situated several fields below us. Our house lies in a direct line between the two. All the properties in our hamlet were built for the estate workers serving the big house and I wondered if my ghost had perhaps been a milkmaid or parlour maid.

At Christmas, when we had been living in the village for a few months, we were invited to a neighbour's house for drinks. This was our first meeting with the local community and the house was full. My husband, in animated conversation with a group of people, waved to me from across the room to come and join them. To my horror he greeted me with, "I've been telling them about your ghost." How can you be thought of as a normal, level-headed person when you have been introduced in such a way? All eyes were upon me and I had little desire to explain myself.
"She'll be ours!" said the farmer's wife, and added, "What does she look like? Is she wearing a grey dress?" My reply was careful, I said that I sensed and saw an aura that was young and female, sad and grey. 
"She's definitely ours!" said the farmer to his wife, and since I was saying nothing more they told me their story.
The farmhouse has belonged to the same family for generations, so that the farmer lives where he was born, surrounded by family possessions and a landscape that he loves. The farm nestles in its hollow of fields and is a handsome place. A ghost has lived there for many years and her quilted, grey silk dress is kept in a large wooden chest in the hall. She is a young woman, who has been seen by a number of people. 
On one occasion an electrician was rewiring in the attic of the farmhouse. he had been working there for most of the day, coming down for his sandwiches at lunchtime and again in the afternoon when the farmer's wife made him a cup of tea.
"Your daughter's very shy," he said, "she's been up in the attic watching me work and she hasn't said a word."
"Our daughter's not at home," said the farmer's wife.
"Well, there's a young woman up there," he replied. "She's slim, with long dark hair."
"Is she wearing a grey dress?" asked the farmer's wife.
"That's right," said the man
"Well, I'm the only one at home," replied the farmer's wife, "so you must have seen our ghost." The electrician went as white as a sheet and had to be given a brandy. Nothing would persuade him to go back upstairs and finish his work.

"Are you happy to have her walk through your kitchen?" another neighbour asked me.
"Not really," I replied.
"Then you'll have to tell her to go away. You'll have to swear and be rude. You'll have to get cross and sound as though you mean it."
When we got home my husband asked me if I was going to shout at the ghost. Although I didn't want her in my kitchen I couldn't bring myself to tell her off. I went into the sitting room while my husband stood outside the kitchen window and spoke to her. I don't want to know what he said. I haven't seen her since, and although part of me thinks that I could have been more accommodating, really I am only relieved. 

Thursday 28 October 2010

First crack your walnuts.

It's not easy extracting the nut from its shell. Several years ago the food writer, Nigel Slater wrote, "I have a funny little way with walnuts. I am never happy unless I can winkle the nut out of its shell in one piece. Even a corner broken is regarded as a failure. Worse, I like to extract those dry, papery wings that wedge themselves between the two halves of the nut while keeping the kernel intact. I can usually do it." Sadly he didn't go on to tell me how he achieved this impressive feat.
Using our nutcrackers involves far more brute strength than I possess. I noticed that Cro, of Magnon's Meanderings, had a sturdy-looking knife in his basket of walnuts. Himself uses the tip of our old potato peeler jabbed into the growing end of the shell. He opens it as if it were an oyster, with a flick of his wrist and then uses the nutcracker to extract the two, neat halves. Perhaps I should buy him a Swiss army knife for Christmas, one with a thingumjig for getting whatsits out of horses hooves, so that he could access the walnuts with a little more style.
My method involves using the underneath of my griddle and a large pebble, (collected from a Cornish beach long before removing pebbles became an offence.) Rather primitive, you might think. Well, I'm sure that's been said of me before! Anyhow, it works - but if you have a better system, especially Nigel's, please let me know.
Once I've got a pile of shelled nuts, this is what I make. 

Treacle and Walnut tart

make a shortcrust pastry with 4 oz flour

2 eggs, beaten, then add remaining ingredients
4 oz soft brown sugar
grated rind of a lemon
2 oz melted butter
4 tablespoons golden syrup
6 oz chopped walnuts

Pour filling into the pastry case and cook for about 35 minutes at gas mark 4.
Don't over cook, the filling should sink  when cool and be slightly gooey.

Apple, Celery and Walnut Tarts.

Make a shortcrust pastry with 4 oz flour to line 4 individual tartlet tins.

1  small dessert apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 oz chopped walnuts
1  beaten egg 
1 oz strong cheese
2 heaped teaspoons cornflour mixed with
4 fl oz milk
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients and pour into the pastry cases. Cook for about 20 minutes at gas mark 5 until the custard has set.


3 and a half oz butter melted with
3 oz dark chocolate.
9 oz sugar
4 and a half oz self-raising flour
3 oz walnuts
2 large or three small eggs
a teaspoon of vanilla
a handful of sultanas   and mix all together very thoroughly.

Pour into a shallow,greased and lined tray and bake for about 30 minutes, making sure that the top doesn't burn, due to the chocolate content.
Makes about 16 gooey, indulgent squares!

(The free-range eggs in these recipes were a present from my neighbours, Kim and Andy, given in exchange for walnuts. Their hens are rescued battery hens who, being unused to the great outdoors, are rather shocked by the wind and rain and loathe to come out of their nice little house. I know just how they feel. Kim is wondering whether she should knit them woolly jumpers.)

Tuesday 26 October 2010

One step forward

You remember the nice stone wall that we had yesterday? Well, today it is down. The building inspector came and declared it unsafe. He was quite right, in the process of demolition it fell down of its own accord! Himself has been dressing the stone in preparation for the rebuild, once proper foundations are in place. (He has just wandered past and asked, "Isn't that the world's most boring photograph?" The answer is probably, "yes".)

The concrete mixer duly arrived but was too wide to get as close as we would have liked. It meant a fair bit of shoveling.

The weather was not kind. (This is an example of English understatement.)
Looking on the bright side, the wind and rain brought down enough walnuts for  me to fill another bucket.

You know the saying, 'one step forward two steps back'. How true!
Tomorrow the blocks arrive. Wish us luck.

Sunday 24 October 2010


Although I live beside woodland I have never previously been foraging for sweet chestnuts because I was under the mistaken impression that in my locality the nuts were thin, concave affairs of no nutritional value. Then I looked at Gary's blog, 'A Day in the Life' with a lovely post of a walk in the New Forest and the copious amounts of sweet chestnuts that he and his wife had gathered. In recent years I've bought my chestnuts, vacuum packed in France, from the supermarket. Shame on me!

This morning I rectified this by donning thick gardening gloves and rooting about the woodland floor, where I discovered that there is a good fat chestnut to be found  together with several puny specimens inside each, very prickly, casing. Obviously in previous years I have only ever noticed the remains once the squirrels had run away with the pick of the crop. This Christmas our home-grown sprouts will be accompanied by locally grown chestnuts. I love foraging!

My father was the same. Although an active man he wasn't remotely interested in competitive sports. One summer when we were on holiday with friends, he was persuaded to play a round of golf. All went well until he spotted small white shapes on land adjoining the golf course. They were not abandoned golf balls but field mushrooms. He put down his golf club and went mushroom picking, much to the disgust of his friend.

Garage/greenhouse. The story so far....
The mini-digger came and behaved as though it might go completely out of control at any minute. But we did get the foundations dug. (They filled up nicely in the rain the following day!)

We filled the second skip - there didn't seem to be much garage left,

  not to mention my greenhouse!

I went to a birthday party today. It's a lot of fun when there are only four candles on your cake!

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Progress Report

The day started clear, cold and still, and, happily for our garage/greenhouse project, continued so all day. Yesterday the skip was delivered and today we filled it!
The garage had been cobbled together by previous owners sometime in the 70's from what had been the gamekeeper's dog pens.

The pens were built sturdily enough, as Himself discovered as he was knocking them down. But the additional walling, lacking foundations and, oh, so lightly attached to its neighbour, was quickly dispatched.

Tomorrow the digger arrives!

It is the shooting season but I've yet to hear the guns. The young pheasants are hanging around the undergrowth and hedgerows in gangs like teenagers who don't know what to do with themselves. My dog is having a wonderful time (on her retractable lead) sending them shrieking and fluttering in all directions. She also keeps an eye out for deer and squirrels and we wander along companionably, she with her thoughts and me with mine.

The pathways are crisp and bright with fallen leaves and I have the same pleasure as in childhood in kicking my way through them.

There is a small tree in the garden that is dwarfed by silver birch and evergreens and receives scant attention. But now its leaves are falling and carpeting the ground.

They are quite beautiful, each one worthy of attention.

And while I'm looking down at the ground, here are some leaves that have fallen from another tree in the garden.

Sunday 17 October 2010


The nights are cold and the garden is moving towards winter. Some plants that gave colour in the summer now give pleasure  with their seed heads and pared back structure. This year I cut down the giant scabious once it had flowered because it scatters it's seed so successfully about the garden. I shan't do so again because I've deprived the bluetits of somewhere good to hang out and feed.

 Scabious seed heads forming.
In the early mornings the deer are coming up from the woods to eat windfalls in the neighbours' orchard. I hope that they won't want to vary their diet by jumping the fence into my vegetable plot, it would be an easy thing for them to do. They are beautiful creatures but leave their ticks in the grass, so that a walk in the woods always means a careful inspection of the dog when we get home.

The grasses at the edge of the wood look beautiful

as does the stipa tenuissima in the garden that I grew from seed. It moves attractively in the breeze.

Constance came round on her daddy's shoulders to inspect the autumn colour.