Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!

widecombemare“Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!”

…so goes the well-known Devon folk song about a man called Tom Pearce, whose poor old horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the fair in Widecombe with his many, many friends. Although not at all funny for the grey mare, it is a humorous song and often performed by rowdy crowds (all NINE verses of it!) that have enjoyed a little too much cider! It’s such a well-known song that the term ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ has come to be used as a colloquialism meaning “anyone and everyone”.

widecombehistoryPossibly because of the song both Widecombe and its Fair are famous throughout the country. Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to use its full name, is a picturesque village in the middle of Dartmoor, with a magnificent church (the interestingly named Church of Saint Pancras!), visible from all the surrounding hills and tors and known as ‘the cathedral of the moor’.

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Widecombe Fair takes place annually on the second Tuesday in September, attracting thousands of visitors to the tiny Dartmoor village. It is still a traditional event full of farmers and local craftsmen and as popular with locals as visitors and well worth a visit. My partner in crime writing, Julia, went along this year to take some photos and soak up the rural tranquillity and a way of life that has gone on for centuries in the Dartmoor valleys.

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There were sheep shearing competitions, cattle, sheep and pony classes, vintage cars and agricultural machinery and some stompingly good live folk music in the beer tent from morning through to midnight! The obligatory produce tent, crammed with huge vegetables, jams and flower arrangements (and you wonder where we get our inspiration for the Swaddlecombe books?!) is always worth a visit. There was also an interesting area dedicated to ‘Living History’, complete with thatchers and other traditional craftsmen demonstrating their skills. Add to this ferret and terrier racing and the intoxicating smell of steam engines and you have the perfect rural day out!

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Left to right: Was the Reverend Ruminant present at the Fair? Certainly looks like his car! Adam Henson and his BBC film crew… and a traditional bit of ferret racing!

Such is Wideombe Fair’s fame, Julia spotted Adam Henson, the farmer presented from BBC1’s ‘Countryfile’ programme, busy filming at the fair… so, if you keep your eyes peeled you might get to see it on TV!

 

 

 

 

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The perfect hanging basket!

HydrangeaBasketI love hanging baskets and every year I promise we will have really splendid ones as you see in commercial places like pubs and shopping centres. I have discovered my problem – they all rely on an automated watering system, hence the beautiful and prolific blooms. I, however, have to rely on a Richard watering system, which although wonderful, amazingly hard working and… (what else should I say?) – just doesn’t seem to want to water the hanging baskets many, many times a day and do you blame him? He did try suggesting we had plastic flowers in the baskets this year – and I said I felt my Mother would send down a bolt of lightning onto him if he did that!

This card shows one of many ways to use our brilliant Signature hanging basket die, together with the Signature Busy Lizzie die and the Signature Sabrina Lace Border. The embossing folder is called Tied Together and must, I am sure, have been one of the best-selling embossing folders of all time.

Layer some embossed white card over a gentle mustard or mid-green card. Layer a smaller panel of white card with the same green and some pink. Assemble the card with the embossed layer, then some Sabrina Lace, then the smaller panel. Now put the hanging basket in place with the filling/soil made by cutting out some beige card or white card coloured with pens.

Now cut lots of the Busy Lizzy flowers and colour those with pens too, you could cut them out of pastel card if you hate using pens. Attach the hanging basket to the smaller panel using glue gel to raise the basket slightly. Now arrange your flowers and leaves as shown.

As an important embellishment, there is a self-adhesive pearl on every visible junction of the embossed card and a little dot of glitter in the centre of the flowers. Add the chains from the die and a ribbon bow and you’re all set!

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Longer lasting lavender…

LavenderBiscuitsI adore lavender. I love the scent and the colour, I have it in dried arrangements around the house and I also use it in cooking – lavender shortbread is delicious. However, it can be a surprisingly tricky plant to grow successfully. When the plants are first established they look wonderful and give off their gorgeous smell as you brush past. But I always struggle to keep lavender for more than three or four years as it becomes woody, gappy and just plain tatty and I end up digging it up and replanting.

Early September is the time I usually give my lavender its summer trim. The flowers have lost their colour and the bees have lost interest. So I thought I’d look for advice on pruning English lavender (the French variety has the little tufty ears and needs different pruning), to ensure I was doing it correctly.

LavenderPruneI always prune my lavender rather timidly having been told that if you cut into the wood it won’t regrow. However, looking online, I have found that specialist lavender growers say that English lavender needs hard pruning and you should cut right down into the brown part, where little lavender shoots can just be seen. They suggest cutting back as much as 9” just after the plants finish flowering.

A neighbour (with enviable lavender plants!) says he cuts it right back to the brown, especially in particularly spindly areas of a plant, and it shapes up well again before Christmas. In fact, you can prune lavender into a sculptural shape for winter – it looks lovely in the frost. So, this year, I am taking the bit between my teeth and will be chopping back the lavender plants a good 6” and see what happens… if it’s a success I may be bolder next year!

Top Tip
LavenderChair
The experts say you should use good secateurs for cutting lavender. This makes the job a lot longer than using shears, but it seems to give a tighter, more sculptural finish. And you need to not go mad and chop at it willy–nilly or you will kill it. Secateurs mean you can see what you’re doing. You need to be careful and cut just above the tiny shoots at the bottom of the stem – if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate and it will die… So wear your reading glasses!

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It’s a tiring business…

Tablet“Goodness, I am tired!” I hear myself and my friends say this on a regular basis. While I tend to laugh and put it down to advancing years, today’s world is actually much busier than it used to be with technology sneakily eating into our leisure time making us more stressed and tired. Many of the things we think are pick me ups, or relaxers actually have the reverse effect! But don’t despair… there are all sort goods of small things we can do to help improve our energy levels.

TVs and tablets
I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this appearing at the top of the list as it’s had a lot of publicity of late. Both TVs and tablets give off blue wavelengths that suppress your brain’s production of melatonin (the chemical that makes you feel tired and helps you fall asleep), so you’re more likely to have shorter, disrupted sleep, causing you to be tired the next day. I, for one, am very naughty about putting my iPad down at bedtime – grr!

TiredMessySort it out
A messy unorganised environment means you expend mental energy on stress, which increases your exhaustion. I know when I have had a really good sort out in my craft room and got everything properly ordered and stored, I feel so much happier and my mind less muddled.

The coffee kick

Even though many people find the kick of coffee essential in the mornings, come the afternoon or evening it might be the reason you’re nodding off. While caffeine is a stimulant and increases your energy, the effect wears off over time and leaves you feeling worse later.

TiredCoffeeCheers – not!
While a nightcap might help you fall asleep faster, the quality of sleep you’ll get after a glass of red wine is not good. You can expect a restless night and to wake up more often, leaving you tired the next day.

Let in the light
A study of workers with offices with windows, verses those without, found that people who enjoyed natural light all day long on average slept 46 minutes more at night. The same goes for your home – the more natural light you have will help you sleep better at night and feel more rested the next day.

Feeling blue…
This is a bit of an odd one, but a study by Travelodge (the motel people) investigated bedroom colours in 2,000 homes and found that blue walls help slow down your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, and make you feel sleepy. So while this is great news in your bedroom, it isn’t ideal anywhere else in your house!

Naughty snacks!
Foods loaded with simple carbs and sugars result in frequent blood sugar spikes, followed by sharp drops that will make you feel tired over time. This is something I can certainly identify with and I am feeling a great deal better following my healthy eating and veg growing regime! I’m not saying I never hanker after a handful of crisps, but…!

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