It’s All Gone Potato-Shaped

Remember a little while back I introduced you to a new family addition called Mr Potato? He first came into family life not long after lockdown started, when Mumma B found a misshapen potato in the shopping. She took a liking to the vegetable and before you know it you’re fighting for parental love from a flipping potato.

Well patience has finally paid off and it’s now with a heavy(-ish) heart that I have to report Mr Potato is no more.

He’s wrinkly, he’s shrivelled and, in Mumma B’s own words, it’s started sprouting stuff from the back of his head.

(And technically his bum, but lets not dig too deeply into that.)

Mr Potato is now in the compost bin. Actually, given the rate of decompostation for your average potato, I’d probably say he’s more likely to be feeding Papa B’s runner beans in the polytunnel. But again, we’re really splitting hairs here.

If you are just as upset as Mumma B over this development can I kindly suggest you invest in a new hobby. Also, I have reason to believe that during his/its lifetime Mr Potato was a little bit right wing…

And trust me, in our household there are enough personalities going on to then try and fit a Boris lover in there as well.

So, in short, Mr Potato is gone and life is certainly no worse for it. Lets just leave it at that (please, Mum?)

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Dad’s Polytunnel

At the age I am, never did I expect to be contending with a new rival for the love and attention of my father. But then never did I expect to be on my second glass of midweek wine while I wait for my dinner, chicken nuggets and chips, to cook in the oven. We all make surreal life choices.

My dad’s got a new polytunnel out the back. Mum says it’s a monstrosity, I say it’s because we’re on lockdown but dad says it’s something he’s always wanted to do since Autumn (when one of his customer’s mentioned it to him). So that’s all that matters.

One of the agreements dad made with mum was that he’d place the tunnel somewhere out of view from the back garden. After a lot of ‘discussion’ this was the agreed spot, although mum still moaned that you could see it from the Dovecot patio. Mum didn’t get why I was laughing, and then I then took this photo and laughed even more.

Polytunnel in the Field

Quite literally the most middle class, Cotswold, fiasco to happen since…well, ever.

Dad had the tunnel delivered days before the UK lockdown (23rd March 2020) and then two weeks’ later had a further delivery of wood to build up the raised beds inside. He proudly claimed he was doing a good job of self-isolating, whereas I pointed out making other people deliver water irrigation systems and bamboo poles for his new hobby was, once again, another very middle class response to avoiding non-essential travel.

I’ve commented that it looks more like the pop up hospitals they used for Ebola cases back in 2016 and from that mum has decided it’s going to serve as a self-isolation unit if anyone, aka dad, gets sick.

Not like he has a problem with hanging out down there at the moment, he’s gotten very much into planting his seeds and herbs.

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Mum’s justification of the self-isolation polytunnel was further heightened when dad took power and water down to it, making it easier for him to grow produce without having to traipse up and down the length of the garden to utilise the outdoor water tap. The raised borders were completed shortly after that and seed-planting followed swiftly afterwards.

Here is a tour of the polytunnel I made dad do.

The cats have yet to make a formal decision on where they stand with the large tube of plastic in the back field. Given what we know him to be like, I’m convinced Bubble sees the whole thing as a 5-star, deluxe toilet facility. Glastonbury VIP++

Bubble in Polytunnel

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The polytunnel must have been up about a week when mum charged into the dining room to disrupt me in the middle of writing.

‘You have to see what your father is doing with the polytunnel!’

‘What?’

‘You have to go and see!’

I sighed. ‘Right, better go get some shoes on I guess. Not like I was focusing on something else. If I go all the way out there and find it’s nothing…’

‘You have to go and see!’

‘Yes, I got that part. Goodness me.’

So I made my way all the way down to the back field and found dad was digging a trench. The polytunnel wasn’t enough it seemed, he’s now growing raspberry canes as well.

‘Don’t you want to get up and running with all the things you’ve go planted already, dad?’

‘I’ve always wanted raspberries. My father used to grow them when I was a child.’

‘Right. It’s just you’ve already got a lot on the go here, the polytunnel is twice the size mum thought you were buying…’

‘When I have my massive bowl of raspberries I’ll remember you said that!’

‘Well…’

‘Have you seen what your father has done, Alice?!’

‘Hi mum. Well yes, I’m standing by it.’

I took a photo of Squeak sat by the narrow trench and looking in a similar way to how I felt about the whole situation.

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And then the slugs came. Downside of trying to be an ecowarrior (and a little bit too proud) with his compost heap, dad’s version of compost came invested with delightful little balls of slime. Shortly afterwards I found myself making hacking up in my car to the convenience store in the next village to procure a bottle of beer as part of my essential food shop. I was more than willing to help, that was until I found him drinking more of the beer than actually using it to kill slugs.

‘This is surprisingly good stuff for cheap beer! How much was it again?’

‘£1.60.’

‘Oh, you shouldn’t have got it then.’

‘The instruction I got was “please get beer. It’s urgent.”‘

‘No worries, thanks anyway.’

‘…Can you please drink something else?’

Mum once made the fatal mistake of telling him that Tesco used to stock a four-pack of canned beer for £1.00, but now can’t been found on shelves for love or money. Dad occasionally laments the fact that Covid-19 has stripped him of his supply of slug trap booze, making him in a unique position of being able to relate to the average park bench boozer.

Slug traps are still ongoing, with more surreal contraptions coming in the post everyday courteously of eBay. If this economy has any chance of survival then it’s through my dad’s endless purchase history of online shops (in comparison, my grand total of spend equates to a set of new books and a couple of reusable face masks).

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Mum has given dad a strict two year lease on the polytunnel, if after that time the venture has been a complete failure or dad stops taking an interest in looking after his produce then the whole thing has to go.

It sounds tough, but given my sister and I have fond childhood memories of trying to salvage his dead salad plants from growbags you wouldn’t blame us for being a bit sceptical of his latest venture. He also once bought a rotisserie from a late night shopping channel which never got used. We love him dearly but he’s the biggest impulse buyer in a household containing three women.

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I personally feel that this is very much linked to him being forced to stay at home and needing a hobby to keep him busy. I’ve told mum she shouldn’t complain as much, as him doing this outside means less time of him around the house. I told her it worked for Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, after all.

Course, whether dad would be as equally understanding if I’d announced I was spending hundreds of pounds on creating an allotment at this very moment in time, I’m less sure. But heck, if nothing else if gives him something to do and countless hours of laughter from me as it winds mum up.

Long term I guess we will all just have to wait and see…

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10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds

The Cotswolds are a beautiful part of the world. Rolling green hills, golden stone brickwork and chocolate box villages make it one of the most desirable tourist destinations within the UK. It’s also a large region notoriously hard to pin point.

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According to this map Swindon and Evesham are in the Cotswolds which frankly is the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.

Who better placed to review North Cotswold attractions than someone raised in a border village? After all, no one goes on holiday to spend hours in tourist information centres.

asf.jpg‘North Cotswold Triangle’ shown on map above.

10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds

1. Chipping Campden

This little market town marks the most northern point of the region and typifies a lot of the features you’d expect to find in a place that made its wealth in the wool industry.

Chipping Campden has been able to retain vibrancy in its little independent shops, pubs and coffee houses spread along the main high street and having attended secondary school in this sleepy town I can certainly vouch that it’s worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. During school holidays you can park in the school’s car park or, if you can’t park along the street, there’s a small pay and display car park in the centre.

Fun fact: Chipping Campden is home to the design studio of popular silverware brand Robert Welch.

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2. Walk the Cotswold Way

Linked to the above, Chipping Campden is one town that sits on this popular walking path. On this one I won’t compete with the multitude of books and websites (there’s plenty of information out there) but I would encourage anyone visiting the area to tackle a shortened route or section.

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3. Broadway Tower

Representing the highest point and one of the most iconic Cotswold symbols, Broadway Tower gives the best views for miles around. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this charming folly is located a short drive away from the market village of the same name, that said the hillside has considerably developed in recent years enabling visitors to linger a little longer and treat themselves to stylish interior buys and coffee in the converted barn.

If views aren’t your thing there’s also an underground nuclear bunker on site which is open to the public on weekends during the summer period (April – September). Closed in 1991 but restored to its 1980 appearance, it’s one for Cold War era fans.

Worth noting that this site gets busier during peak times (e.g. summer and weekends) and while fairly substantial the car park does fill up. Given the hillside bumps that sit alongside the tower, sheep are sometimes let lose to keen the grass trim resulting in lots of ‘little presents’. For both reasons sensible footwear is recommended.

Top tip: You can pay to go into the tower itself where a brief history of the area and exhibitions are presented. At time of writing tickets for adults are £5. My advice? Save the money and invest in coffee and cake at the tea shop.

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4. Cotswold Lavender

In many of the fields near Broadway Tower you’ll find the purple shrub growing in large quantities, spoils of which go into making the popular scented products sold by the Cotswold Lavender company. When the lavender is in season a visit to the farm is an experience for all the senses.

In a rush? If the lavender is in full bloom make the effort to drive down the country lanes that cut through the crops. The intensity of fresh flowers combined with a gentle breeze is something you won’t forget in a hurry.

5. Go for a drive (and give the sat nav a rest)

Take a map and a basic idea of where you want to go and just drive. There are some beautiful Cotswold lanes and undiscovered hamlets to be found across the North Cotswolds and, better still, the roads are all of solid quality and easy enough to spot (even if they’re not always signposted well).

If you want to really experience the Cotswolds you have to avoid the well trodden path. Everyday large numbers of coaches take visitors (from the UK and overseas) on day visits to the main destination towns. Popular towns are popular for a reason and in peak season it’s not uncommon for individuals to come away feeling disappointed with the experience they get at such places. My advice? Ditch the crowds and gain a unique experience by going for a scenic drive. Who knows, you may even discover a location or pub you go back to later on.

Word of Warning: the unique experience will also mean a lack of mobile phone reception and make sure the tank is full of fuel before setting off (petrol stations are not a common sight in the rural Cotswolds).

6. Hidcote Manor Gardens (The National Trust) and/or Kiftsgate Court Gardens (Privately Owned)

My family home is quite literally at the bottom of the hill so I’d be foolish to not give a mention to these world famous gardens, both of which are neighbours. That said, having spent my entire life living in the shadow of Hidcote my opinion on the gardens themselves are a bit mixed (personally I think there’s a touch of Emperor’s New Clothes about them). I do however respect their popularity and historic value and would always encourage people in the area to visit either Hidcote or Kiftsgate (or both) because they are a big deal and a ‘must do’ if holidaying. 

Hidcote is free to National Trust members, Kiftsgate has an admission fee. As per a lot of attractions these gardens get busy so my advice would be to go early and on a nice day (if it rains there is little to no shelter).

thLU4BKI90.jpgHidcote Manor Gardens

thCZ6VZGYU.jpgKiftsgate Court Gardens

7. Stratford-Upon-Avon

Whilst not located within the parameters of The Cotswolds, Stratford brings with it a different vibe compared to that of its rural neighbours. As well as being home to Shakespeare Stratford also has a rich history dating back hundreds of years. A quick google search will provide you with several days worth of activities.

Depending on where you’re holidaying in the region Stratford is only a short drive away and worth exploring to get a comparison. It’s also home to a number of high street shops and well known eateries during the day and stylish wine bars and dining at night.

Top Tip: Don’t kid yourself into thinking the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will have a multitude of same day performance tickets available. The majority of tickets sell out months in advance so book them at the same time you book your accommodation. Also check out ‘Stratford ArtsHouse’ – a venue that has come leaps and bounds in recent years. This small theatre pulls in a number of touring comedians and plays.

8. Bourton on the Water/Broadway/Stow on the Wold etc.

Granted these places do get busy but there’s a reason for that. Heavily photographed and easily accessible, any of the above towns will be found on number of visitor check lists. Each town has their own history and charm, for example Bourton is frequently referred to as ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’. Avoid these places like the plague on August weekends/bank holidays, but otherwise they’re worth a visit if you’re seeking souvenirs and wanting to experience the pure essence of what the Cotswolds are all about.

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9. Batsford Arboretum (near Moreton in the Marsh)

If you’re visiting the North Cotswolds in Autumn and not considering this as a destination then think again. Batsford is home to a large number of tree species and is coincidentally the country’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs. That aside, it’s also a great place for photography, wandering and (if kids or big kids are present) running around and letting off steam.

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10. Snowshill Manor (The National Trust)

Located near Broadway, this National Trust property houses the collections of Charles Wade who bought the property in 1919.

The random but fascinating treasures held in this house define both the owner and period and show an early 20th Century interpretation of what the modern day rich do when money is no object. If you don’t dwell too heavily on the wealth being sourced from slave plantations in the West Indies then you’re in for an insightful experience. Each room provides a different exhibition of artefacts, it’s history within history.

Top Tip: during peak periods entry to the house is administered on timed tickets. Visit the property first before lingering in the gardens. The property itself is also a short walk away from the coffee shop/entrance which is worth noting before you set off.

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(11. Stanway House and Gardens)

Stanway is probably the best kept secret of the North Cotswolds, if not the entire Cotswolds. Only open two afternoons a week in the Summer (Tuesday and Thursday), this fully functioning family home will provide a truly different experience to anything you’ll see at a National Trust property.

Volunteers run every element of public-facing operations, from collecting tickets and acting as room guides, to running the tea shop in the converted stables. Inside is an explosion of old vs new, antique tables and tapestries coupled with modern day invoices and weekly food shops. The garden outside displays a dramatic jet fountain which rises to 300 feet (making it the highest jet in England).

Wonderfully eccentric and undiscovered to the majority of tourists (but well known by locals), this is the attraction that none of your friends or family will have visited.

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And there you have it…

…some starting points for things to do in this Cotswold pocket. Of course there are a many number of other places to visit in the region (for example Bourton has a record-breaking model village and Chipping Norton is also a popular go-to destination). However I hope this list gives you a feel for the range of attractions and culture us Cotswoldians are proud to have as our own. If you want a taste of the Cotswolds (and beyond) then the North is certainly your best bet to get all you need from a relaxing mini break.

Think I’ve missed off a notable attraction? Add your comments below!

Useful Links (please note that all direct to external websites)

Broadway Tower

Cotswold Lavender

Kiftsgate Court Gardens

Hidcote (The National Trust)

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

Stratford ArtsHouse

Batsford Arboretum

Snowshill Manor and Garden (The National Trust)

Stanway House and Fountain

 

Mess With My Garden, Mess With Me. 

It’s a gloriously sunny day in the fair town of Swindon, Britain. The temperatures are scorching, children are playing about on the lush green communal lawns and there are men walking around topless who really shouldn’t be. So why do I find myself ripping my hands to shreds as I tug away at weeds and vines in my garden?

Crawling under my front hedge to pick up pieces of rogue rubbish, putting together an outdoor table and realising at the finish line I’d screwed one part upside down and thereby having to start all over again. When I bought a house they did no tell me this is how I would spend my finite time on Earth. My government sold me a lie! Damn you Teresa May!

As I look at my patio garden, now with correctly assembled three piece dining set, I acknowledge that to some the small outdoor space would hardly pass as acceptable. The fact that despite the owner’s hard efforts, vine and weed sprouts are already starting to poke through the wicker fence would be inexcusable. There is no water feature or decorative sculpture, no plants and excluding the weeds there isn’t a speck of green. Not a single blade of grass can compete with the paving stones which stretch from the back door to the boarder of my territory. In fact it could be said that the only characteristic feature of the plot is the clothes horse proudly plonked in the centre to catch as much light as possible. As I type my floral duvet in ruffling ever so slightly in the near still breeze. Foliage will make an appearance eventually, as soon as I have the money to buy pots, soil and greenery which requires zero attention to look fabulous. (As I reread that I realise that basically I’m asking to plant a tub of weeds…)

And yet do I care? Pfft, of course not! Because although it’s not perfect and it’s not a 20 acre meadow, it’s mine. Who wants perfect? Who wants to battle a wild meadow on their weekends just to use it as a five minute conversation piece at dinner parties? Not me. You can keep all that, I’ll take my perfectly small, perfectly improve-able garden. It’s not ugly but a work in progress.

It may not be full of colour, bees and landscaped features but it’s mine and that makes it more attractive than any one blossom in your garden. You mess with my garden, you mess with me and my poorly constructed table.

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Written in response to Daily Prompt Blossom