Home inspiration: relaxing bathrooms

Eclectic bathroomI am, once again, deep in the throes of a house renovation.

It’s been six months since we bought our new house and moved into rented accommodation while we did the building work. We originally thought that it was a four month build (ha ha ha, *head falls off from laughing so hard at the naivety*) and we’re now at the point where we’re about to start the attic conversion and bathroom redesign. Still, on the bright side, the house is no longer subsiding, after lots of underpinning and so on, so that’s always a good start for any potential home…

Taking up my brain space almost all the time, right now, is the planning of the two new bathrooms. I am writing endless lists, visiting lots of bath shops (there has been much fully-clothed entering of baths in showrooms) and, above all, pinning endless images to Pinterest for inspiration.

My aesthetic is along the lines of contemporary rustic, pared-back, simple and relaxing. Does that make sense?!

Top of the list is a roll-top bath, floral tiles on the floor, white-painted tongue-and-groove walls and taps for the basin coming straight out of the wall. It will be bliss if we pull it off!

And these are some of my favourite pics that I’ve saved up while planning, found on Pinterest, but linking to original sources.

Claw foot bath…

Clawfoot bath
From Design Sponge

I love pretty much everything about the image above (c/o Design Sponge and do click on the photo to see the full house tour, which is all similarly amazing…) But it’s the black-painted claw foot bath that I’m planning to use. I’ve wanted a claw foot bath pretty much forever, but have never had a bathroom with enough space for one before. In the new house, the claw foot tub will sit in front of the sash window, and I’m dreaming of a Farrow and Ball dark blue / black colour on the exterior. A proper statement bath, a perfect place in which to lie back and read.

…with bath caddy

Wooden bath shelf caddy
From Rightmove

And over the top of my luxurious tub, I’m planning on having one of those amazing wood hold-alls to put a book, or maybe a glass of wine, to enjoy while I stretch out.

The picture above, incidentally, is from a glorious house I saw on RightMove, for sale in Clapton, Hackney, with the most fabulous interiors I have ever seen. If you’ve got a spare £1.3 million and are in the market for a new house, take a look at the rest of it.

Wall taps

Concealed shower
From Concepts and Colourways

A recent obsession of mine: concealed plumbing. Taps and showers that come straight out of the wall, without any pipes. Amazing! I am completely hooked on this idea, and pretty much every place where I can manage it, the taps or shower head are going to come straight out of the wall, rather than from the basin or pipes.

Floral floor tiles

Geometric floor tilesAs in the bathroom floor in our old house, I would like once again to have some geometric / floral floor tiles. The top image are some favourites of mine from Fired Earth, but I am going to try and search out a cheaper option. (I was blithely going ahead imagining we would get these exact ones, until the hubby pointed out that to buy enough for our relatively small bathroom was going to cost us upwards of £1,000. Yikes.)

I adore the bottom image, courtesy of Elle Deco in Sweden, because it is both clean and pared back at the same time as busy and intriguing. A brilliant combination…

Tongue and groove panelling

Tongue and groove bathroom panelling
From Beach Studios

Oh, yes another long-term obsession, tongue and groove panelling just classes up any space, doesn’t it? I love the grey paint in the bathroom above, but the plan for ours is to have it going half way up the wall, painted white, and with another (pale) paint colour on the walls above it. Mind you, now I am sitting looking at this photo, I’m wondering if I should change my mind on that decision and reach it all the way to the ceiling…

These photos, and even more, on my Pinterest family bathroom board if you fancy a look.

Tell me, what is your dream bathroom?

Life, the universe and everything

Collage Hello friends! To paraphrase one of my favourite Robert Lowell poems*, I’m back, after three months away.

So, why the long pause?

Well, I am tempted to give the usual excuses. You know, I was heavily pregnant, I had a baby, life was a bit more tiring with three kids, Christmas came along etc etc. All perfectly true, to a certain extent. But, of course, if you really want to do something, you manage to find the time to do it, no matter what else is going on.

And, I think the real reason for the extended absence, was that last year I rather got sucked into an amateur pro bloggers vortex, if you know what I mean.

I don’t have any desires to make any money from this blog. (A brief foray into paid links, of which eagle eyed readers might have spotted two in the past two years, convinced me that it was a pretty tiring way to make money. For me at least.) But I did want my blog to rank alongside professional blogs. To be just as worth reading as those by bloggers who do use it as a way of making a living. So I was often reading lots of other blogs and seeing all the other articles out there similar to mine and, of course, almost every article ever has already been written, so I wondered what was the point of adding mine to the mix. I started to feel like yet another person photographing the wreath on their front door for Instagram at Christmas time…

I got a serious case of blogging fatigue. And Instagram fatigue as well, for that matter. It all just started to seem a little bit… …pointless.

So what’s changed? Why am I back again?

Last week, we went to buy fireplaces for our new house. We were wandering round the shop, which is full of antique and reproduction fireplaces . And we wanted one that was exactly the same as the one in our old house. We’d assumed we’d easily spot it out on the display, but there wasn’t a similar one out. Then I remembered that I’d photographed out mantelpiece for this blog a few times in 2015 and that there was likely a photograph of the whole fireplace in there somewhere. Lo and behold, there was! (This one.)

I was delighted to have the photo to show the shop manager, but also, more importantly, for posterity of the house that we renovated and no longer lived in. Of the display on the mantelpiece that marked that point in time in our lives. And which I would have never ever photographed were it not for the blog.

So I remembered that crucial thing that had been missing for me last year: this blog is, primarily, for me.

To record moments in our lives, things I’ve made, recipes I love. A place I can look back to find the details that get forgotten over time.

And if anyone else wants to read it too. Well, really, that’s just a bonus!

So, this year I will, I hope, be back for a bit more of the same. If you’re reading along, hello! Thank you! And I hope I won’t disappear for so long again.

And for now, a very brief catch up.

I had the baby! Woo-hoo. She was 10 days late, which I hadn’t anticipated, and arrived in the middle of November. She is very adorable and – though life is inevitably a little more stressful with three children rather than two – she makes our little family better in every way.

The boys are besotted with her and love to do nothing better than plant never-ending kisses on her cheeks and tell her how much they love her. When she smiles at them, they are delighted. Then they go off and beat the crap out of each other, ha ha.

When she was ten days old, she got bronchiolitis and was in the paediatric ICU for ten days, unable to breathe on her own with a collapsed lung. It was a terrifying time and brought back a lot of memories from when my first son died. It also made me think a lot about grief and children and life and expectations and, really, all sorts of things. I have been mulling over a blog post about some of that for a while, which may or may not come later. But, the most important thing, she made a full recovery and, apart from a weak chest for a few years, should be perfectly fine.

I handed in my very final garden design assignments last week. I really loved doing the course, but boy was it a lot of work. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how it is possible to make any money being a garden designer, unless you’re totally at the top of your game. Though I was pleased with what I managed to produce, I’m not convinced that it’s a career for me. I think I love learning about and working with all the plants a lot more than I enjoy wondering how you would construct a retaining wall. So the latest plan… …take another course! Ha ha, I do hope my Mum isn’t reading this as she would despair of my incessant course-taking. But there is a diploma 3 level horticulture course that is just crying out to me that I could take later in the year. And then I’ve found a really rather awesome looking masters in plant diversity. Does any of this earn money, erm, no, and therein lies the rub. We shall see.

What else? The hubby is still on shared parental leave, which is great. Our new house is still undergoing building work and will be for the next three months minimum, which is really not great. And, other than that, life continues as before.

Thank you to all loyal readers who’ve made it to the end of this page! High five for your persistence. And apologies that this is illustrated only with photos from Instagram. I haven’t got my big camera out at all in the past few months.

So, what have I missed with all of you? Hope life has been good…

* Home after three months away which you can read here if you’re so inclined.

Autumn days at Sissinghurst

SissinghurstHello, poor neglected blog! I’ve thought of you a lot over these past few months and yet never found the time / energy to pop in and say hi…

Late pregnancy this time round has been a total crusher of energy. Partly, I suppose, because I’m older, partly because I have two other little people to look after and partly because I seem to have been ill with one thing or another at least once a week. (Though the last of those is down to the first two, I am pretty sure…)

Anyway, here we are with ten days to go before the baby is due, and I’m finally managing to drop in and share some pictures of our trip to Sissinghurst from a few weekends ago.

Sissinghurst

Sissinghurst

It was one of those glorious Autumnal days, the sky blue, the sun shining, the leaves just starting to turn and the fruit trees dripping in bounty.

The kids ran around, I slowly wandered about admiring the planting and ruminating on the how the garden design fit the architecture and surrounding environment (I was compiling a sketchbook on said topic for one of my garden design assignments) and we all ate heartily at the (rather expensive) cafe.

Sissinghrust tower

Sissinghurst oasthousesI don’t need to say much about Sissinghurst, I’m sure, as it must be one of the most famous gardens in the country. But, despite the glamour and renown of the garden rooms, I have to confess that I find some of the outlying parts a little more appealing. The kitchen garden, surrounded by views of the fields, was fat with pumpkins. The orchard was full of apples, crabapples and pears. The lakes, towards the very perimeter of the “gardened” land were looking beautiful with huge stately oak trees shaking their branches over the top. And perhaps my favourite parts are where you can catch glimpses out to the Kentish farmland beyond, the gentle chug of a tractor in the distance, a few faraway figures walking the dogs through the yellow fields… I do love the domestic romance of the English countryside.

Country view

Sissinghurst lakes

crabapples

I noticed, for the first time, that there is a B&B on the grounds of the estate. (Website here: sissinghurstcastlefarmhouse.com) One to add to the list for a child-free weekend away at some unspecified point in the future!

Anyway, I hope you’re all well. I suspect I won’t have time to drop in again now until after the baby arrives, until when I am busy trying to finish my last assignment for the course (designing a show garden for Chelsea / Hampton Court!) and finishing off the blanket that I have only just started knitting. (You can see it on my IG account here: baby blanket) Oh dear, little baby, I am sorry that before you are even born I have had less time to spend on you than I did on your siblings!

The big move: an update

Blue glass windowHello, hello! I write to you from the other side of endless box packing and unpacking and moving out of one house and (sort of) into two others…

I was going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the hellish ins and outs of the two moves from last week and the week before, but perhaps it’s best to draw a veil over it all and just focus on what’s ahead.

Sitting room Bay window

Suffice to say, we did manage to get all our stuff out of our old house in the end (a day late, thanks to our removal men, so it was a big relief we had decided to move out a week before completion!)

And now most of our shiz is in our rental house, and almost completely unpacked, hoorah. And a few other bits of our shiz (fridge, washing machine, kitchen table – the things that are already here in the rental) are sitting in our new house just where they are supposed to be. And, even more excitingly, we’re meeting the builder there tomorrow morning to run through all the structural stuff that he’s going to start working on on Monday.

So, fingers crossed, within a month or so, it will be a house that is no longer subsiding!

Kitchen Bedroom

Meanwhile, we also have architects working on designs for planning permission for the attic extension, and I have my brain running through all the plans for the other gazillion things we’ll need to do before we move in.

Anyway, I wandered around the new place on completion day, snapping some pics with evidence of how it is currently. I think the term is “potential” right?!

But the ceilings are high, the windows are huge, and there are some lovely original features dotted about. Actually, I just can’t wait to move in.

Hallway Window Door arch

I am writing this in a terrible hurry, as I’ve just dropped the sproglet off for his first day of school. I am proud to report, I remain dry-eyed! I say a day, but, actually, it’s just two hours this morning, of playing, so I am hoping he will be okay. He seemed pretty cheery as I left him. I suspect the reality of a full week next week might be a little different…

So, a month of huge changes! Happy Friday to all, hope you have a wonderful day and a great weekend.

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A featherdown week: camping in the Cotswolds

Hidcote BartrimIn something of a head-in-the-sand moment, we had a short break last week in the Cotswolds. A bit of time to unwind on a glorious glampsite (that’s a word, now, right?), admire the sunsets, wander round beautiful gardens and deal with the kids’ whinging as a parenting duo have a bit of quality family time together.

{We should have really been busy organising, for tomorrow we move house, along with all the weariness that brings, but enough of all that til another time…}

Featherdown tent

We stayed on a Featherdown Farms campsite, having really enjoyed our hol with them two years back in Dorset. It’s camping in name only: you live in a huge safari tent, with proper beds, mattresses and duvets, and a flushing loo. This year, not wanting to haul my gigantic seven-month pregnant body half-naked across a field to the shower block, I also insisted that we pay the £100 odd extra to stay in one their “frills” tents, which means the bathroom even has a hot shower (on mains water) that was actually better than our one at home. Yeah, it’s pretty blissful. The only downside is that the prices are, quite frankly, extortionate. We paid about £650, which is a lot for four nights in a field, no matter how nice the tent.

Still, this was the view of the field our tent was in at sunrise:

Sheep field, Cotswolds, UKand this was the view from the car park:

Cotswolds fieldswheat field

So, you know, it was probably worth it, in the end.

The other huge plus point, for me, if not the rest of the family, was that our campsite was part of the Hidcote estate, and in a field just behind Hidcote Manor, to which we had free access for our stay. I’ll write a whole separate post on the gloriousness of the gardens there, but I took every opportunity I could to wander in and look around.

Hidcote Manor

It was my first time visiting such prime Cotswold territory (we were just between Chipping Camden and Broadway which is, I think, pretty much peak Cotswold) and my god, it’s glorious there! I now see why everyone bangs on about it being so nice all the time. We were there in the middle of August, and there were certainly quite a few coachloads of tourists popping up everywhere, but I never felt completely overwhelmed by them (as I do in the centre of London sometimes…)

You can see the impact on prices, though. The Chipping Camden Co-op was noticeably more expensive than our local one in East Dulwich. It’s not often that I go on holiday and find the prices higher than London.

Burford
Burford

Burford

All the towns seem to sit on top of hills with the most magnificent views of glorious English countryside. I was particularly taken by Burford (above) as the main road that runs straight through the middle of town was a major thoroughfare and pulsed with traffic including lorries, tractors and huge combine harvesters as well as the cars and coaches. For some reason, that tickles me a lot more than a sleepy little village with only the occasional bicycle passing through.

As well as wander round honey-coloured Cotswold towns, we also took a day trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park.

Last time we went, I was bowled over by the planting and the kids’ playground. This time, perhaps because my expectations had been higher, I thought the planting was a little bit meh, for the most part, and the playground seemed to have simultaneously shrunk and become more over-run with bigger children. But I guess that’s all in the mind…

The walled garden was still spectacular though. I particularly liked the tropical section.

Tropical garden, Cotswold Wildlife Park

And it was interesting to compare the difference between the late summer annual planting with the spring display we saw on our last visit.

Walled garden, Cotswold Wildlife Park

Oh and the animals enchanted us all as much as before. I’m not entirely sure it’s great to keep either giraffes or penguins in the UK climate, but I have to admit I was pretty pleased to spend time close up to them.

PenguinsGiraffe

Of course, the only trouble is, I’m now slightly regretting our decision to move to another London abode and rather wishing we had decided to leg it out to the country after all. But peak Cotswold has definitely made it to the top of the list for the “possible places to move in 2018″…

Further info:

  • Featherdown farms have sites throughout the country (and Europe). More info on their website: www.featherdown.co.uk.
  • We visited the towns of Burford, Broadway, Chipping Camden and stayed in Hidcote Bartrim. It’s pretty flipping lovely all round the area, but if you have children then Broadway has a most excellent new playground (that took up an entire field), which might just tip the balance in its favour. It was also less noticeably touristed than Chipping Camden or Burford when we visited.
  • If the animals or gardens of Cotswold Wildlife Park tempt you, there is more on their website: www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk.

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Five on Friday: ups and downs

Instagram photoYes, this week was, indeed, one of ups and downs. But let’s start with the positives:

  1. Hurrah, we did exchange on our house purchase last Friday! At 4.55pm, five minutes before the deadline for the day, I got a call from the solicitor to say it had all gone through. Huge sighs of relief all round, not least from the poor estate agents who had been somewhat frazzled, I think, by the endless issues with the chain. We complete in three weeks and I am just finally allowing myself to think about the fact we’re going to live in a lovely house on a road I love, in a part of East Dulwich I love and that, wow, it’s all really happened!
  2. To compound my good mood, on Monday morning I noticed that my latest photo on instagram was getting a fair few more likes than usual. And when I say, “a few” I mean more along the lines of many multiples more. It’s the one above, of my kitchen shelves. I had a little investigate and discovered that it had somehow, somehow found its way into the #dslooking top posts selection and by the end of the day I had more than 1,000 likes and a new 150 or so followers. To put this into context, in case lots of instagram influencers are reading, this is about four times more than I usually get. I was rather chuffed! (Though, also, isn’t instagram a funny place? Yes, my shelves are kind of nice, I think so too, of course, but this is so so so so far from a really great photo, or even one of my best photos, that it does amuse me it’s my most popular…)
  3. Incidentally, I put up another photo of a different set of shelves in my house yesterday – this time my bathroom – hoping to capitalise on some of the same success, but no such luck, ha ha. I guess it was a one off alignment of the instagram stars.
  4. But the downs… …also on Monday morning, I set off for the dentist to have a fake tooth fitted. Years (and years) ago when I was a student, I had a dodgy filling put in by a dodgy dentist, which meant one of my back molars ended up cracking and had to be removed. There’s been a gap there ever since, but recently my (hopefully non-dodgy) dentist noticed that the tooth above had started to slip downwards. I’ve had endless appointments at Kings Dental clinic to discuss what to do (pull out the slipping down tooth, or try and push it back up again?) and finally opted to have a fake tooth put into the gap, with the hope that the top tooth will start to go back into its rightful place. This is a very long, very boring dental story I am realising as I’m writing it, but the short version is: new fake tooth means my jaw no longer connects anymore. Only the slippydowny tooth meets the bottom teeth for the time being. So I left the dentist with a huge lisp and am unable to chew any food except on that one tooth for, erm, probably about the next six months. I’ve been working on the lisp, which I find embarrassing, and I almost sound like normal again, but chewing is still hard and I’ve been only eating soft things all week. Which isn’t ideal when you’re pregnant and starving all the time. Anyway, that’s my woeful tooth story over so onto the final down…
  5. Also on Monday: the buggers who had said they’d rent us a house close to our new house and close to the sproglet’s school decided they didn’t want to rent it out after all. Which meant I’ve had a frantic week desperately trying to secure a new rental house for us to move into in a fortnight’s time. We’re planning on doing lots of building work on our new house, so we need us and our furniture to be elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Nothing has come up in the right location, but I’m just hoping we’re going to find somewhere before the week is out. Please, please keep your fingers crossed for me!

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Peak bloom at Thames Barrier Park

Thames Barrier Park, LondonThames Barrier Park is one of those slightly random places in London that I tend to read about and never visit.

Built in 2001, next to, you guessed it, the Thames Barrier, it’s a really cutting edge bit of garden design and I’ve seen photos of it in magazines, online, and, frequently, in lectures at my garden design course.

Thames barriers

And yet, it always seemed so far away and hard to reach that I’d never had quite enough impetus to go and visit. And that’s coming from someone who already lives in London.

But at the end of July, we had a scheduled visit on my course, so I hit the jubilee line and then the DLR and set off for Pontoon Dock, the station beside the park. (Side note: Pontoon Dock! What a fabulous name!)

My reservations about travelling so far must be shared by others. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the park was all but deserted, apart from my gaggle of eager garden designers to be.

The park is surrounded by a huge amount of new buildings and new building work, bordered at one edge by the river and the barriers, and at the other by the DLR line, and directly under the flight path of City Airport, with planes taking off and landing every few minutes. Yet, despite the noise and the bustle, it’s a surprisingly relaxing place to be.

Thames Barrier Park

At the centre of the design is the sunken garden: the one you’ll probably already recognise from photos. Clipped hedges of yew are shaped into huge rows of undulating waves, the long lines leading your eye all the way down the barriers. Interspersed with the green yew is a range of colourful perennials and grasses which, when we visited, were at peak bloom.

Rolling waves of yew hedging
Thames Barrier Park in July

Thames Barrier ParkIt’s an impressive and innovative spectacle, no doubt, but maintenance issues were apparent when we visited (and, I think, all the time) as the clipped forms need constant care and were growing straggly in places and had even died off completely in others.

You can walk down into the garden and wander along the lines of plants, but it’s really designed to be viewed from one of the bridges that cross over its width.

Hydrangea
That instagram fave, the hydrangea, was in full flower when we visited

Around the main area, is a swathe of wildflower meadows, interspersed with a grid of birch trees and, I have to confess, I found this a more enjoyable place to sit and spend time. The semi-natural environment provided more of a relief from all the construction and hard lines around, and it was lovely to watch the grasses waft in the wind and the bees landing on the flowers.

wild flower meadow wild flowers

I would say it’s well worth a visit if you’re already in the area, but that begs the question who would be in the area and why? I wondered exactly why such a contemporary garden had been built here and whether the original intention was to draw people to this rather neglected part of the docklands simply to come and see it? If so, I’m not sure it’s been successful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve visited…

I am delighted to say I am joining in with Annie Spratt’s wonderful How does your garden grow once again. Annie’s has long been one of my fave blogs to visit and I was really sad when Annie announced her decision to stop blogging recently, and over the moon when she decided to resurrect HDYGG again. Do go over and visit everyone else’s posts, there’s always some great inspiration to be found…

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Five on Friday

Berry topped Victoria sponge cake
This was deeeelicous!

Cake bunting

Toddlers watching YouTube
Agog at the laptop

Well what a week!

  1. The big news is that we did get our mortgage valuation approved last week, so we’re (theoretically) good to buy our new house. Hurrahs all round. On a slightly less exciting note, we’re now involved in protracted wranglings with a six-person chain about a moving date. Five of the six have agreed on a date, but the bottom of the chain keep making ludicrous demands and changing their minds every few minutes about when they can / can’t complete. It’s been exhausting. We’re supposed to be exchanging today but we’ll wait and see if they can jump on board with everyone else date-wise. Never, ever let me move house again!
  2. I’ve also been trotting round our neighbourhood looking for a rental property we can take on for six months while we do building work to the new house. Man, I had forgotten how utterly dingy rental property can be. I looked round a house yesterday where the ceiling of the bathroom was flaking off and covered in mould. The second bedroom ceiling had huge chunks of plaster missing. The estate agent said that they were going to re-do the ceilings and was utterly certain we’d be fine to move in within a few weeks. Hmmm. Anyway, I think I have found somewhere now, I’m just waiting to hear if they will take us as tenants!
  3. On a calmer note (sort of) the sproglet’s fourth birthday party went off swimmingly last weekend. Thanks to all who left comments wishing him a good one! The pictures above are of the cake and the cake banner I made — his name, of course, is not Sadie, that was for his friend, but in my vague attempt to keep his private info off the internet, I didn’t photograph the one with his name on too… I made two cakes, this berry-topped Victoria sponge, and then a whole selection of bug-shaped cupcakes in chocolate and carrot. They were a huge hit. As was the bug hunt we organised (hidden bug toys around the park, and magnifying glasses for all the kids to go off and search for them) and the “pin the tail on the ladybird” that my friend organised for them all. A great party, where we had too much fun to take any pictures.
  4. The boys are obsessed with watching kids music videos on YouTube. I’ve been shattered this week, so a lot of time has been spent with them in the positions above, while I lie on the sofa with my eyes shut trying to gather the energy to sit up. This was happening yesterday when a nighttime song came on (along the lines of, “sleep tight, night night, I love you very much”…) when the oldest suddenly burst into tears and came running over to me sobbing, “That song makes me so sad, Mummy.” I hugged him, asked why it made him sad and, between huge sobs, he replied, “Sometimes music just does…” An artistic soul.
  5. Instagram stories. Have you seen? I don’t get it. I think the whole mini video revolution has entirely passed me by. (YouTube is used only for the children and the odd knitting tutorial in this house…) But honestly, I find most of the “stories” I’ve looked at overwhelmingly boring – someone I don’t know’s view out of a car window as they drive past somewhere or other, or a talking head saying good morning to me is just not what I want to spend my time watching. Am I alone here?

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Introducing Blanco, Ginger, Polka and Dot

Pekin bantam urban chickensGoodness, but it’s been a long time since we first got our chickens and I’ve been meaning to introduce them to you ever since.

Turns out, though, that chickens are seriously hard to photograph. I guess it’s all that pecking about. Getting them to stand still long enough for me to take a photo has proved almost impossible and so, seven months after I first started trying, I admit defeat and bring you some chicken chat along with some far from perfect photos.

Friends, Romans, countrymen and blog readers, let me finally introduce you to Blanco, Ginger, Polka and Dot.

As you might remember, the chickens were a Christmas present for the boys last year. Or rather, on Christmas day, they unwrapped a giant, empty chicken coop and a card saying, “we’re going to get pet chickens!” Turns out a three-year-old doesn’t think this is much of a present at all, so rather than waiting til the Spring, as we had planned, we set off a week later and bought our first three chooks in the cold months of early Jan, delighted to welcome Blanco, Ginger and Nero to our family.

Chickens on a windowsill

I did quite a bit of research into breeds beforehand, as I knew I wanted something good with kids (obviously), who would make good pets and also, ideally, that wouldn’t cause too much damage in the garden.

Pekin bantams seemed the best bet and luckily we found a breeder relatively close by with some to sell.

They’re very small, compared to most chickens, and as a pure breed they don’t lay every day, year-round. (Hybrids have been bred who will lay almost constantly, even in the winter, but they stop earlier and die younger, which seems a bit of a shame to me…)

They’re insanely cute, with beautiful feathers, and fluffy feet, which means they’re not as keen as pecking around in flowerbeds as other breeds can be. And they’re very docile and good-natured, so they’re great with children.

Pekin bantam feathers

Their home is an Eglu Up, with an extended run, made by Omlet. It’s a ridiculously expensive system, but easy-to-clean, well insulated in the winter and fox proof. Ideal for an urban chicken keeper.

We had planned to put them straight onto the grass, but the breeder told us that they don’t like getting muddy in winter (those feet feathers again) so instead, for a good few months, they sat on our newly-laid patio, crapping all over it, and staining the sandstone with little white circles. We loved them so much, we didn’t care…

I used to let them free-range all day long, sitting watching them from the window inside on days when it was really cold. The three of them loved nothing more than to perch on our kitchen windowsill, fluffing up their feathers, picking off the occasional grub and having a little chat.

Until one day, in February, a fox darted into the garden and ran off with Nero, escaping over the back fence in the time it took me to run out, shouting, and trying to chase it away.

As a newbie, non-hardened, chicken keeper, I was completely devastated and spent most of the afternoon in floods of tears and, needless to say, the chickens now stay inside their run, unless we’re physically in the garden with them.

A few months later, we bought two new hens: Polka and Dot. It was slightly stressful trying to make sure they were integrated happily (I read countless horror stories about new chickens being pecked to death when they joined an older flock) but after a bit of abuse from Blanco in the first weeks, they now all rub along together really well.

Polka the pekin bantam chicken
Polka the pekin bantam
Pekin bantam chicken
and Dot

Since the destruction of the gigantic greenhouse, we’ve moved the coop to a dedicated area at the back of the garden, where they have a layer of bark on top of bare earth, which I’m sure they’re much more happy about.

And now that it’s much warmer, it’s been much easier to let them free range, as I’m out in the garden on sunny days anyway. They peck about on the grass and seem to have a good line in eating weeds and not any precious plants, for which I’m pretty grateful.

Pekin bantam chicken
Ginger, heading straight for some weeds
Pekin bantam chicken
Blanco, when we first got her, before her comb grew. What a fluffy chook!

But, of course, one of the biggest benefits of chickens are the daily eggs. After an eager wait, all four chickens are now laying and, on a good day, we get four gorgeous little browny-white eggs that, quite genuinely, taste far better than anything you could buy in the shops.

Egg from pekin bantam
Freshly-laid egg
Pekin bantam egg
Freshly fried egg. Tiny, isn’t it?

Popping out to the coop a few times a day and checking on the eggs has become a really enjoyable part of my day. There is something so utterly miraculous about the whole process.

But, that’s not to say chicken keeping has been 100 per cent plain sailing. One thing I didn’t appreciate before we got the chickens was what a pain it would be when they “go broody”.

Blanco has done so twice so far this year, meaning she sits on an egg, refusing to move and hoping, fruitlessly, to hatch a chick from it. (On our one-day chicken keeping course that we attended just after buying them, I naively enquired how you know if there is a chick inside an egg. The woman looked at me, a little bit surprised and said, “well, it depends if they’ve met a cockerel, doesn’t it?”)

We’ve yet to find a good way to solve the broody situation, despite trying a range of approaches from letting her get on with it (if they really were hatching eggs, the chick would appear in three weeks so they should snap out of it by then) to more aggressive things like putting her in a “broody buster” where she sits in a wire cage all day long which keeps her cool and doesn’t allow her to sit down.

None of them seem to have worked especially well, but the issue of chicken broodiness is a huge one, perhaps for another post.

Also, especially since Nero was snatched, I find the fox issue quite stressful. If I am in the garden with them and have to pop inside for a moment I spend the whole time worrying that a fox is seconds away from rushing off with them and every little noise implies imminent chicken doom. As a result, I tend not to let them out of their run unless I know I will be able to sit outside for a good stretch of time. And then, instead, I feel guilty that they’re not as free range as we had originally planned.

Basically, it’s maternal guilt all over again, just with chooks.

But, hey, I guess that shows you just how much I love them, right?!

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Five on Friday

  1. The London EyeIn the London EyeView from the London EyeBig BenLondon skylineTo the Thames, on Wednesday, for the sproglet’s fourth birthday. His favourite thing ever in London is the “big wheel” (aka the London Eye) – he is seriously excited whenever we spot it from the window of a train, or see it in a photo. So, as a birthday treat, we took him on a circuit, preceded by a river boat trip along the Thames. It was raining and grey and I got terrible boat sickness (must be a pregnancy thing, as I’ve never suffered before), and couldn’t talk or move for an hour after the boat trip. But all that aside, a fun day in the centre of town!
  2. His birthday present from us was a scooter. I know, I know, seriously late to the game, most kids are on them from birth these days, but I’ve been wary of them since a friend’s son broke his thigh bone falling off one when he was three, years ago. He was in a full leg cast for a month and couldn’t move from the sofa. It was a stationary fall. But I’ve finally given in to pressure, along with the realisation that in a few months I will be carting three children up and down the roads on the school / nursery run, and it would be handy if one of them at least could get along under their own steam power without constant whining about being tired or the need to hold my hand. So far, it’s been a great success; he scooted off to nursery with glee the past few days.
  3. Said scooter is red. Another slight bone of contention. For me, anyway. The sprog requested a pink one because, well, pink is his favourite colour and his best friend’s scooter is pink. (She’s a girl.) For the past four years, I’ve been railing against the ridiculous gender stereotyping of pink vs blue. If I ever encounter some item which for absurd reasons you can only buy in pink or blue (from fuzzy memory, I have been in shops where you could only buy sippy cups, bath mats or cutlery in those two colours) then I always buy pink for the boys because I think the whole thing is so insane. And yet. And yet. With the sprog starting school in September (and already very young in his year, quite shy and very small for his age) I had all these horrid thoughts of him getting teased by much bigger boys for turning up on a girl’s scooter. So we bought him a red one, which went down fine, but I was very aware that all my ideals had been completely compromised in the face of some imaginary bullying from a five year old. Is this how it goes from now on? Ideals are all good and worthy, until you worry they might stop your children making friends?!
  4. His party, joint with a friend from nursery, is on Sunday. It’s going to have a bug theme. I have purchased a gazillion wind up bugs and finger puppet mini beasts to hide around the park and we’re sending them on a bug hunt, with mini magnifying glasses. There will be up to 20 children aged four and under. I am feeling slightly apprehensive about the whole thing. But, actually, there is little time for apprehension tomorrow, as my to do list is as long as your arm, starting with making a bug birthday cake. Maybe next year, we’ll do a quiet day trip with one friend…
  5. In non-sproglet related news, we are on tenterhooks today, waiting to hear back if our proposed new house has been signed off by the mortgage company. If you can’t remember all the convoluted details; in short, our mortgage was turned down last month because they said the house had serious subsidence, though the structural engineer told us he thought it was perfectly mortgageable. It was the day after Brexit, so we wonder if uncertainty about the future led to a clamp down on lending. We’ve now applied for a mortgage through a new company and yesterday was the survey valuation. We wait to hear their thoughts on the (only slightly falling down) house we’ve fallen in love with…

So, that’s my week! Hope you’ve had nice ones. Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.

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