I’ve been pondering this post for some time now. Over the past few weeks I’ve considered all sorts of topics, with weather being at the top of the list for obvious reasons. However, today is considerably fresher than the last few weeks and we’ve actually had some rain – hooray! Anyway, there’s been so much talk about the weather on Twitter, Facebook, and the news that I eventually decided to be very un-British and talk about something entirely different for a change. Finally, today it came to me. This blog is supposed to be all about what it’s really like living in the country, and part of that is rural pursuits.
But what does that actually mean? The phrase ‘rural pursuits’ conjures up images of rich people who really ought to know better galloping about the countryside on horseback, ripping animals to shreds. Or just galloping about on horseback. Or possibly weaving a basket before taking a break for high tea, complete with home-made cake and cucumber sandwiches. Well pardon me but for most of us that’s just chocolate box fantasy so sit back with a cuppa while I tell it like it is.
My mornings invariably start around 7ish (give or take) when I roll out of bed. Rather than Laura Ashley and tweed, I opt for usually grubby, paint-spattered walking trousers and a fleece. Oh, and wellies. I practically have them welded to my feet. Thus glamorously attired, I can take the girls fresh water and feed, let them out, and hand pick the poo out of their house – this gets saved for the compost bin on the allotment. There’s usually at least one or two eggs – I’ll collect the rest later – and it’s back in for breakfast. This weekend it was the Monyash Quilters exhibition – “Quilts in the Peak”. Held just once every three years, I had offered to help out in the kitchen on Sunday but I popped along on Saturday morning just to have a look while Mr P took the dogs out. I have to say it was a pretty impressive display!
From there I headed straight to Bakewell and Mr P went off to play cricket. For those of you who haven’t been, Bakewell is very pretty in a quaint sort of way, with a few high street chains, such as Boots, Fat Face, and Costa but otherwise it’s mainly independent shops selling everything from clothing to bears, books, and kitchenware. There are some real gems: Bakewell Cookshop, Birdsong (possibly the prettiest shop ever), and the Hartington Cheese Co. For those who like to browse the charity shops, Lighthouse is set out like a French brocante. I headed there first before legging it to my favourite place for coffee, Gallery Cafe, to try to avoid the lunchtime rush. I celebrated losing a bit of weight this week by indulging in a homemade scone with clotted cream and jam (cream first before you ask!) and a large flat white. It was a valuable bit of me-time accompanied by the book I’m reading at the minute – At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, funnily enough! It’s a good read and I highly recommend it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around too long as I’d got things to do at home but I did just swing by the Farmer’s Market where I picked up a couple of succulents to plant in the wall at the back of the house. Given the weather lately, it seemed sensible to give them a try! If they do ok, I can buy more at the market when it’s back next month.
Back home there was a load of fruit waiting to be dealt with. I had gooseberries from my allotment and my neighbour on the next plot had given me a batch of whitecurrants. I’ve never actually eaten whitecurrants before. I grow blackcurrants on the allotment and there are two very productive redcurrant bushes in the garden which, to be honest, I don’t bother with. The blackbirds are welcome to them – I’ve got enough on my plate (pardon the pun) with everything else! The gooseberries just needed topping and tailing for the freezer, as I’d already made a batch of jam a couple of weeks ago. It’s not my favourite job but it is quite absorbing and I sorted them into cookers and ‘ripe-enough-to-eat-raw’ as I went. With those sorted and bagged up for the freezer it was time for the whitecurrants. I always think currants are a bit of a phaff, quite frankly, and probably more trouble than they’re worth – at least if you’re bothered by the seeds. I’m including a short video of the easiest way of getting currants off the stalks using a fork.
My allotment neighbour strains hers to get the seeds out but I really can’t be fannying about with all that – life’s just too short and besides, that’s what flossing is for. Also, I don’t really have space for doing it in our little kitchen. All our jam has to be made in the microwave because of the utterly useless piece of shit that is the Rayburn which masquerades as a cooker, water heater, and fires the central heating. Even when it’s turned on it’s hopeless but in this weather the only option is to turn the whole thing off and just use the immersion heater for water. This means we don’t have a hob and can’t even boil a bloody egg! So the microwave is the only option for jam. Or any kind of cooking at all. All I do is bung the fruit into a large bowl, heat it til it’s a bit mushy, add an equal weight of sugar and stick it back in the microwave for a few minutes – I just keep checking it and stirring a bit til it seems about right. It’s all a bit Heath Robinson but it seems to work pretty well really. Luckily, I prefer my jam soft – it’s so much more versatile as you can spread it on toast, dollop it on scones, or slather it over icecream. Or mix it with whipped cream. Or custard. Or … you get the idea.
By the time I’d done all this I was pretty knackered as I’d been on my feet all day and it was around 4.30pm. The dogs had already been out with Mr P for a good long walk but needed a quick ten minutes to stretch their legs. And so on. I still needed to get cracking on this blog post too but gave myself permission to watch an episode of Foyle’s War with a cup of tea. I love Foyle’s War; Michael Kitchen is fab even if Foyle is just a tad dour, and Sam’s a female version of Tim Nice-but-Dim. Having said that she seems to have a bit more about her in the later series. I managed to fit in a bit of sewing at the same time – I’m currently working on dressing a bear in clothing inspired by Dolly Parton’s song “My Coat of Many Colours”. This basically means I’m making a tiny patchwork coat – the pair of patched trousers are already finished. Anyhow, Mr P came home from cricket and I got sidetracked into going to the pub around 9pm, where Echo started barking and had to be taken home in disgrace, while Basil did his impression of a starving dog for the benefit of the people eating dinner at the next table and combed the carpet for errant chips. Somehow, in the midst of all this the girls were shut up in their house for the night well before I fell into bed long after midnight.
Today has been rather less busy – I’d volunteered to help out in the kitchen at the quilt exhibition so after dealing with the girls, I spent two hours washing pots. A highlight was venturing out to see how things were going and meeting Jenni of @notreallyafarm. It turns out we have plenty in common and a cup of tea is on the agenda. There was lots of cake about and I bought a whole chocolate, courgette and coffee cake to take home, with a promise from the baker to let me have the recipe. After a piece of cake and a cup of tea I managed another episode of Foyle’s War and then by 4.30pm felt compelled to take a nap! This isn’t like me really as I usually only sleep in the daytime if I’m ill but, since having been particularly unwell last autumn, it’s become a more regular occurrence than I’d like.
I really enjoyed my dinner tonight, partly because it was delicious, partly because some of it came from the sweat of my own brow. An omelette with home grown courgettes, my own potatoes, and eggs from the girls only needed a little feta cheese to become a feast. That was followed with a short walk with Mr P and the dogs, shutting the girls up for the night, and back to the blog. Bed is calling and I won’t be able to resist for long. Apart from the fact that I haven’t been to the allotment this weekend because of the rain, or walked with Mr P and the dogs because I was otherwise committed, this has been a reasonably typical weekend.
I suppose the point of all this is to say that there is plenty to do if you live a rural life but the days when I lived in the city and spent weekends meeting friends in town for coffee and shopping or going out for cocktails are long gone, and seem a million miles away. Much of what I do now revolves around creating things, whether it’s an allotment, quilts, bears, cakes, or meals. Dogs feature heavily, as do chickens. Activities are weather dependent, and maintaining a social life is largely reliant on me making an effort to get involved in what’s going on locally.
In short, you need to be able to find things to do indoors on a wet weekend without relying entirely on the TV or heading off to your nearest shopping centre; you only get out what you put in. A rural life is very much what you make it.