Howard Robinson’s Farmhouse

 

I always feel as though making a little decoupaged scene feels rather like creating a jigsaw puzzle – and I love puzzles! It may actually be that you have seen this image in a range of jigsaw puzzles as the artist Howard Robinson licenses quite a few of his creations to puzzle manufacturers around the world. It always makes me smile when I spot a puzzle from an image I recognise in a toy store.

There are twenty sheets to play with in the pack of Howard Robinson decoupage and it does feel like play. In this farmhouse picture, there’s the group of animals to arrange and it’s up to you how much detail and how many layers you choose to add. You can be really frugal and make more than one card from a sheet, it’s all personal choice.

I have to say the only real success I have had with decoupage over all my years’ experience is when I have been using a glue gel. My choice is usually Pinflair or Collall – both work really well and make decoupage a delight to create. You can make 3D decoupage cards with foam squares but the end result looks very gappy in my opinion, with glue gel you can curve the edges and vary the heights.

If you have never tried decoupage, these sheets are a good place to start – and remember you may find it easier to snip everything out using a tool like decoupage snips – if you don’t want to use those than try for some really small but sharp scissors.

Happy cardmaking!

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The weather is looking a bit blenky out there…

I suspect we’ve all been a little obsessed with the weather over the past couple of weeks as we have swung from a mild February into a ferocious and freezing March… and then back to balmy spring days again – I know I have! I’ve been glued to the Met Office App and avidly following weather stories on the BBC website.

After witnessing a stunning weather phenomenon – a sort of universal ‘glazing’ – down here on Dartmoor last week, a post on Facebook drew my attention to ‘Ammill’, the official term for this rare event. As ever, this set me thinking and I started looking for other unusual or forgotten weather terms – and was delighted with what I discovered! I suspect that, years ago, the weather had so much more direct impact on our lives that we had many more terms to describe it. I am going to start a crusade to reintroduce some of these gems into regular use. So, the next time we are stuck with drizzle and strong wind, be sure to tell everyone it is hunch-weather!! Enjoy…

BLENKY

To blenky means ‘to snow very lightly.’ It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18th-century word for ashes or cinders.

A perfect Drouth day.

DROUTH

This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes.

FLENCHES

If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does… we have a lot of that in Devon!

FOXY

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it is misleadingly bright’ — or, in other words, sunny, but freezing cold.

Hunch weather.

HUNCH WEATHER

An old 18th-century name for weather — like drizzle or strong wind —that’s bad enough to make people hunch over when they walk.

HENTING

A Cornish word for raining hard, as in “ee’s henting out there!”

BENGY

Pronounced ‘Benji,’ this is an old southeast English dialect word meaning ‘overcast’ or ‘threatening rain.’

MESSENGER

A messenger?

A single sunbeam that breaks through a thick cloud can also be called a messenger, rather lovely, I thought.

SWULLOCKING

An old southeast English word meaning ‘sultry’ or ‘humid.’ If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on the way.

HEN-SCARTINS

This is an old English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast a rain. It literally means

Now that’s what I call a Twirlblast!

‘chicken scratches.’

TWIRLBLAST AND TWIRLWIND

Two lovely old 18th-century names for tornados – much more fun!

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The Mad Month of March!

Whenever the month of March arrives, I always think of Mad March Hares! As a child, I think we were all told about how they box and seem to go ‘mad’ and this eccentric behaviour endears us to this elusive mammal. Alice in Wonderland is also responsible for heightening the hare’s reputation, as it is one of the strange creatures stuck in an interminable tea party with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse.

With its long ears, long legs and saucer eyes, the brown hare is a beautiful, yet sadly rare sight in most of this country. I have never seen one in the Westcountry, but I did see some when I lived in East Anglia, many moons ago. Once a common sight, it is thought the brown hare in the UK has decreased by up to 80% in the last century, thanks largely to changes in farming techniques. Where have we heard that before?

Long and brown and fantastically fast moving (up to 40mph!), the brown hare is a member of a group of mammals called Lagomorpha. For many years it was thought they were rodents but we now know that hares belong to their own separate family. The other common Lagomorpha is, of course, the rabbit.

Although vaguely similar, on closer inspection, there are several distinct differences between the two. While rabbits are known for having long ears, the ears of the brown hare are much longer and have black tips. As the two animals move, you can see that the back legs of a hare are much longer than on a rabbit – this makes it look like a rabbit hops and a hare sprints. Rabbits live underground in warrens whereas hares never go underground, preferring ditches along field edges.

Hares are famous for their energetic behaviour, and March, in particular, is when they are known to ‘box’ frantically with one another. These mad March hares are in their mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season. However, it’s not the males that are responsible for the boxing (not with each other anyway) it’s the females who start the punch-ups! This usually happens when a male is being too pushy with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. Eventually, when she has had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a boxing match! Girl power!

Hare mythology has fascinated us for centuries. Ever since the Romans first brought them to Britain, hares have had a role to play in legend and myth. In hare mythology, the hare is a creature with pagan, sacred and mystic associations, by turns benign, cunning, romantic or, most famously in March – mad! We see images of hares everywhere, they are found in carvings on ancient buildings (particularly here in Devon) and are popular in paintings and statues of ‘moon-gazing’ hares are commonplace. The hare and the rabbit are often associated with moon deities and signify rebirth and resurrection.

A study in 2004 followed the history and migration of a symbolic image of three hares with conjoined ears. In this image, three hares are seen chasing each other in a circle with their heads near its centre. While each of the animals appears to have two ears, only three ears are depicted. The ears form a triangle at the centre of the circle and each is shared by two of the hares. The image has been traced from Christian churches here in Devon right back along the Silk Road to China, via western and eastern Europe and the Middle East.

 

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Burns’ Night cometh… the mystery of the haggis!

While wandering down an aisle in the supermarket last week, my mind on other things, I came to a sudden halt and I found myself staring at some alien looking things in the meat department. After the initial shock, I realised I had come across a pile of haggis, all ready for Burns’ Night on 25th January.

In my younger days, the prospect of a Burns’ Night Supper was quite fun as it usually involved plenty of energetic Scottish dancing and a jolly evening perfect for livening up a cold and grey January. But haggis? It has never been high on my list of likes. Oh, be honest Joanna, it’s high on your list of dislikes! But the whole Burns’ Night Supper always sounds so wonderfully wild and Scottish that it appeals to the romantic in me. Served alongside the haggis you have the marvellously named ‘rumblethumps’ (potato, cabbage and onion) or ‘neeps and tatties’ (swede and potatoes), followed by the magical sounding ‘Clootie dumpling’ (a suet and fruit pudding). If all that wasn’t enough to fill you up and keep you warm through a freezing Scottish night, you can always add a few drams of whisky!

As decreed in Burns’ great poem, the haggis is slit with a dagger!

So what is haggis? It is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach although nowadays, an artificial casing is often used. A cheap dish designed to waste nothing and use up scraps and offal; it isn’t something many people would choose today as they try to eat less meat. But if you want to enjoy the whole Burns’ Night atmosphere there are lots of vegetarian haggis (haggi?) on sale and plenty of recipes online if you want to make your own.

Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, thanks to Scots poet Robert Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ of 1787, a Scottish dish through and through, you would think. But wait! The name ‘hagws’ or ‘hagese’ was first recorded in England in 1430! And it gets worse…

There’s evidence to suggest that the ancient Romans were the first known to have made products of the haggis type. Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. The well-known chef, the late Clarissa Dickson Wright, said that haggis “came to Scotland in a longship” (from Scandinavia) even before Scotland was a single nation. So that’s another ‘tradition’ shattered!

We looked for the reclusive wild haggis but couldn’t find any photos, so here’s a gorgeous Highland cow instead!

Even though there may be evidence that the Scots didn’t invent haggis after all… they have come up with an alternative history that I think sounds perfectly reasonable. The wild haggis is a small Scottish animal, a smaller hairier version of a sheep. According to some sources, the wild haggis’s left and right legs are of different lengths, allowing it to run quickly around the steep mountains and hillsides that make up its natural habitat but only in one direction. It is further claimed that there are two varieties of haggis, one with longer left legs and the other with longer right legs. The former variety can run clockwise around a mountain (as seen from above) while the latter can run anticlockwise. The two varieties live happily alongside each other but are unable to interbreed in the wild because, in order for the male of one variety to mate with a female of the other, he must turn to face in the same direction as his intended mate, causing him to lose his balance and fall over!

PS. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal

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We all love an Advent calendar!

As today is 1st December, I thought it would be fun to look at that Christmas favourite – the Advent calendar!

As a child, I can remember being SO excited about opening the little numbered windows in the run up to Christmas Day. Back then, there was nothing more than a picture behind each door or, if I was very lucky, a chocolate and I found it thrilling! Today, you can buy Advent calendars stuffed with 24 ‘surprises’ ranging from chocolate to gin and everything in between, with just as many aimed at adults as children. Each to their own of course, but I can’t help feel it’s another nice little innocent tradition that has been thoroughly hijacked by commercialism! But hey ho… I thought I’d do a bit of delving and look back into the origins of the Advent calendar.

An Advent calendar is used to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Technically, the date of the first Sunday of Advent can fall anywhere between between November 27 and December 3, but today, pretty much all Advent calendars begin on December 1. It’s widely accepted that the Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now common across most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, Advent calendars featured the manger scene, Father Christmas or idyllic snowy landscapes and featured paper flaps, windows or doors, covering each date. The little windows opened to reveal an image, a poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity), or a sweet treat. Often, each window had a Bible verse and Christian prayer printed on it and Christians would incorporate this into their daily Advent devotions.

Today, as well as covering a mind-boggling array of indulgent treats, the calendars can take the form of fabric pockets, painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items or, as I spotted online, a train set with 24 mini waggons, each loaded with a present… and so on and so on. So much for any religious significance!

In the snowy northern climes of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden there is a tradition of having a so-called ‘Julekalender’ ­– the local word for a Yule, or Christmas – calendar (even though it actually is an Advent calendar) in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve. I’m amazed this hasn’t caught on over here! Surely we could have a series of 24 gardening, cooking and dancing shows to trot us up to Christmas in a very merry frame of mind! But then, that wouldn’t seem all that different to our usual TV scheduling, would it?

Oh, but that’s enough of my cheek. My granddaughter Grace will have a lovely traditional Advent calendar (with perhaps just some small sweetie treats!) and I know her little face will light up with joy as she opens each window and begins to feel the magic of Christmas. Smiles, Joanna.

 

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