Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

A dropped ice cream!

‘A dropped ice cream is a seagull’s dream’ – these words made me smile. Nearby in Teignmouth, there’s a lovely promenade where you can walk along next to the sea and relax – we love walking there and often take friends and visitors. The only drawback really is the number of seagulls. I love all the parts of the British seaside… but gulls hmm not so much really.

If you live near the sea then seagulls can be quite difficult. My parents’ bungalow had a persistent seagull that nested in their chimney several years running and when the eggs hatched she became quite over protective and territorial. Fine, I’m a mother, I understand your feelings, but aghhh! This meant we were dive bombed arriving at the house, the postie was more scared of the seagull than any dogs and my poor father trying to trim the climbing plants up the side of the house, resorted to trying to trim with one hand and hold up an open umbrella over his head with the other! They are also VERY noisy.

Whilst walking down the prom at Teignmouth, we have often been beset by scavenging seagulls. Tina Dorr, our newsletter editor and I were quietly looking forward to a couple of gorgeous clotted cream ice creams we had just purchased. Ok, I admit we were probably talking and not looking at the ice cream – but 30 seconds later – whoosh… speed of light! Two thieving seagulls and the balls of ice cream on top of the cones … gone. We had to laugh as we gazed down at our empty cones! However, they are part and parcel of our British coastal areas and so I will have to put up with them!

This card could be for a birthday – or perhaps I should just send it to Tina as a laugh at a shared memory! The seagulls are a signature die and, to save you colouring, the beach huts have been die cut in striped card. The backing paper is just carefully slit and the ice cream posted into the layers. The card measures 170mm square, just under 7 inches.

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Squeezing through the Corinth Canal

Here’s a final holiday blog for you… some pictures from the island of Sifros and our journey through the Corinth Canal. I hope you have enjoyed some of the highlights of the trip.

One of the main reasons we wanted to do this journey was to see what it was like for a medium sized boat to squeeze through the Corinth Canal. The really big boats can’t make it but we did last night and wow it was spectacular. With only a foot or two to spare each side we took about 45 minutes to cross through this gap carved through solid rock. If you can’t take this shortcut then it’s a 180-mile trip round!

We were guided by a pilot boat and sailed through at a constant 5 knots, excuse me if I don’t regurgitate the mass of techy information the captain gave me about pressures and constant speeds… I just smiled and nodded!

The island I wandered round today was called Sifnos. The guides are all lovely and each one insists their island is the best. I have been trying to be friendly and learn a little Greek and smiled at everyone saying “Calamari!” (Good morning) till the guide politely pointed out that I was yelling “Squid” at everyone and I should have been saying kalimera not calamari. I thought they were looking strangely at me!

The island is so pretty and some of the walls were from 1500BC… so something like 3,500 years old… amazing and the flowers were beautiful, mainly bougainvillea and, as always, tons of olive trees. Lots of locally made bits and pieces, honey, olive soap, amazing ceramics and the ever present wine.

I bought some honey yesterday when I visited the site of the Oracle of Delphi. Apparently, the honey is made from local bees who all use pollen from the calm, positive atmosphere of Delphi and so the honey will bring positive vibes every time it is used. Ok, so I was persuaded…. but it tastes nice so what the heck!

Sadly home again soon, but it has been a very educational but fun trip, will it influence my work, no probably not but it has given us a wonderful rest!

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Tasting olive oil and rocket fuel!

Continuing my holiday adventures…

Yesterday, we docked at a town called Kotor in Montenegro. It was quaintly medieval in many places and very beautiful. I will admit to complete ignorance about Montenegro, the only time I have heard of it was as part of the Eurovision Song Contest but that’s faintly embarrassing! The tour we chose took us around the town and on to a small family olive oil producer.

Left to right: Here I am taking a wander around the old town of Kotor. Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. The olive grove.

Our first stop, once we arrived on the farm, was to meet Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. Mischka is 18 (on the right) and expecting a baby donkey soon and we shared some of the little welcome doughnuts we had been handed. We didn’t share the welcome drink we were given, I took one sip and immediately passed the rest of the glass to Richard… 50 per cent proof home made brandy… made variously from grapes, apples, plums or, I suspected, any fruit they had handy. It wasn’t unpleasant but wow it blew your head off! They didn’t call it rocket fuel for nothing!

We then moved on to the 300-year-old olive press and machinery, so beautiful, and lovely that it has been preserved. There was a careful explanation of how the oil is extracted. The rubbish/paste left over they reuse as compost material and animal feed. They had goats and sheep for cheese and rabbits for… OK, I will gloss over that one but I kind of assume they may not have kept 20 or so rabbits as pets. They showed us their brand new modern machinery, much less work for the donkeys than the old version, hence their transfer to weed management!

Then we had a lesson on how to taste olive oil and a serious lecture on how the stuff we are all buying is very unlikely to be proper olive oil as most of the supermarkets sell oils that are hugely blended and taste nothing like proper olive oil. Well having tasted some I suspect he was right, it was far fruitier and a little more peppery than the big bottles I buy in Tesco… and a 100cl bottle cost 3 euros direct from the farm, so that is about £25 a litre. Hmm, now what do I pay, about £4.99 at most for a litre. So I may change my ways, I’ll look more carefully when I get home.

Left to right: The old and the new olive presses… and the finished product.

They then gave us a gorgeous lunch, with cheese from their sheep, prosciutto ham made at home by the mother, eggs from their chickens and some lightly battered courgettes. Followed by apple cake (yup made by Mum) and Turkish coffee (fab if you like strong coffee). The cheese was interesting. One was a pale soft cheese which tasted like a mild Lancashire or something along those lines. Then they take some of those cheeses and place them in wire mesh cages and hang them over the patio (!) for three weeks. This dries them out and they then immerse them in olive oil. The resulting cheese was quite firm and almost had the strength of a Parmesan.

Then back to the ship where we found an invitation to eat with the captain tonight, aha … maybe I can persuade him to try card making, he already does various crafts like wood carving etc. in his spare time… so who knows!

The photo at the top is of the beautiful fish filled river and ponds in the town of Kotor.

 

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Speedboats, soap making and stonemasonry!

I thought it would be fun to share a day of my holiday with you all, I am on a cruise that goes from Venice, around the coast to Croatia, Albania then onto Greece.

Yesterday I visited the island of Brac, pronounced Bratch, in Croatia. This is my first visit to this part of the world and it is quite stunningly beautiful and the people have been so friendly. The tour I chose for the day was much better suited to my crafty interests than the trip Richard chose – visiting Split. This part of Croatia is where they filmed the Game of Thrones and being a super fan, he was so excited to see it all and indeed came back to the boat with loads of pictures and tales to share.

Such stunning stone work… including an outfit! The sculptress who made the the two-piece outfit is Ida Jaksic while the statues were made by her son www.galerijajaksic.com

But back to my trip, first we went on a fabulous speed boat from Split over to the island of Brac… oh I do like fancy boats! Travelling at 30 knots is very exciting. Climbing onto the speedboat helped by two young, topless Mediterranean guys was a nice bonus too!

We travelled first to the home and studios of a family of stonemasons and artists. How wonderful that mother, father, son and daughter can all be so talented and live together too. This limestone outfit (see picture) was just amazing, shown at New York fashion week some years ago, they were also selling some gorgeous carved stone blocks for candles, but I thought it might be asking too much from my luggage allowance!

Onwards then to the highlight of the tour for me. Another family business. The father, Joseph, lost his job but had a family of four children to bring up and get through college, expensive in any country. So he and his wife experimented with traditional family soap recipes and now make over 550 bars of soap every day… wow! The key to the soap is that it is clear and uses only local herbs, oils etc and Joseph himself was oh so interesting. They still operate out of a little room with these pots, barely bigger than you would use in the kitchen. I have so much respect for a family that pulls together like this and the children have now graduated with really impressive degrees.

Quite amazing how they make so much soap in a tiny kitchen!

My fabulous gold soap on the left … and a few of my other soapy purchases! Brac Fini Sapuni www.bracfinisapuni.com

Did I buy anything? Come on, do you need to ask?! They have started manufacturing clear soap with 27 carat gold in it, which is apparently really good for anti-ageing… who cares, it smells gorgeous and is a fab souvenir! It sells for massive amounts all over the world but I managed to buy a bar for 6 euros rather than the 100 it sells for in Scandinavia ! I also got mint, basil, tangerine… oh ok, I bought a lot of soap but hey, it’s my holiday!

A fantastic local meal at Restaurant Ziza completed the day, with red wine, local seafood, fresh figs picked from the tree we sat under and local goat, sheep and ricotta cheeses. I think it was a truly fabulous day. I will try and write more later in the week…

The photo at the top of the page is our delicious lunch at Restaurant Ziza. You cannot beat fresh local produce!

 

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Hold on to your hats – the fourth and final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries will be available from mid-October! In ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’, Christmas comes to Swaddlecombe and, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, and I have had a lot of fun re-visiting our fictional village of Swaddlecombe and seeing what Victoria and Albert, the Reverend Ruminant, Jean and pub landlords Roger and Trudy and have all been up to since the last instalment! It’s both exciting and scary as you never quite know where things will take you, the characters definitely develop minds of their own.

This fourth novel opens in the run up to Christmas – Victoria’s first country Christmas in deepest Devon. Everyone’s getting festive, especially Trudy and the triplets and Victoria finds herself on a Christmas wreath-making course – ooh, I wonder where that idea came from?! Julia wanted to write about dastardly doings with a glue gun, but I managed to talk her out of that – I am too squeamish!

Dear old Albert is busy cooking again and ‘feeding’ his Christmas pudding. A local vineyard ensures there’s plenty of wine to lubricate the proceedings, but does it also contribute to two ‘accidental’ deaths? You’ll have to try and work that out for yourselves…

All your messages of encouragement (and nagging!) have been much appreciated and have helped keep Julia and myself motivated. We’ve both had a difficult couple of years and, while the writing project did take a while to come to the top of the ‘work’ pile, it was always in our minds. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you who love the characters and have been so patient in waiting for book four.

‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will be available in Paperback and on Kindle mid-October and I promise to keep you posted on an exact launch date.

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