Spring Cleaning

True it isn’t spring yet, despite a couple of quite sunny days this week, but spring cleaning and clearing out has begun in earnest in this house. The electrical problems mean that we need to take up the floor in my son’s room to get at the faulty wiring in the dining room. That means emptying the bedroom – which is full to bursting anyway. The big plan is for my son to move into the spare room temporarily which means dismantling the spare bed, matching under-bed drawers and sewing furniture – desk, drawers and shelves- to put his wardrobe and chest of drawers in there. We are going to buy him a new bed so his bed will become the spare room guest bed which left a single bed spare, not to mention a lot of IKEA shelving and a bench seat with storage in the base. A note on our local knitting group board has resulted in prospective new owners for all . It was a week for clearing out and swapping of possessions at the knitting group, bags and boxes were transferred from car to car and everyone went home either the proud owner of something they wanted or the happy owner of a little bit more space in their house.

Some of the cleaning has been less successful, I spent Thursday morning changing the covers on the sofa and cleaning the kitchen floor. This morning it was raining, the dogs went out into the garden and brought enough mud in to cover both floor and sofa in large muddy pawprints. I can’t wait for some good dry weather, enough to allow the garden to dry out. I need to work out a way of draining the garden before next winter as it has been so wet this year that the lawn and borders have not had chance to dry out since last winter!




Death of the Seagull Service

After 119 years the Seagull Dinner service has been discontinued by Royal Copenhagen. It was originally produced by Bing and Grøndahl porcelain manufacturers.  Wikipedia notes that “The company’s signature design, Seagull, was created in 1892 by designer Fanny Garde (1855-1925). The modest, classic design features flying seagulls against pale blue backgrounds, sea horse handles and shaded patterns of scales around the edges. Due to its popularity from the 1950s to the 1980s, the Seagull design was considered the “National Service of Denmark”. During that period one out of every ten Danish households owned some of the dinnerware service.” In 1987 Bing and Grøndahl merged with Royal Copenahagen who then continued producing the Seagull range until the end of last year. The first I knew of its demise was a small note on the Royal Copenhagen website saying production had ceased on December 1st 2011.

I first saw the Seagull service in a small antique shop in Denmark when I was there on holiday.I can still see the shop window in my mind, an oval table laid with a white linen cloth and set with the most beautiful pale blue china. It had been a glorious summer and the blue skies I’d enjoyed were recreated on the china. I vowed to have a dinner service like that when I grew up.When I left school I went to Denmark  as an au-pair and bought my first piece of Seagull china, a tiny salt boat. Over the years I have collected an almost complete dinner service for eight people, almost all second hand, and plan to carry on collecting bit by bit.

I love the Seagull service, I have finally got an oval table and can lay it with a linen cloth and set it with beautiful china, for Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions . A cup of tea in a Seagull cup and saucer can cheer the bleakest of days. I love the quirky designs, who could resist the little sweet bowl on its dolphin pedestal?







Or the soup tureen with sea serpent handles?










I love looking at the designs and wondering who owned the pieces I have bought through auctions and market stalls.

A few years ago I was in Copenhagen Airport looking at the display of Seagull china, I got talking to the very young and very handsome assistant who told me that he had just recieved his great grandmother’s Seagull Service left to him in her will. He was so happy to recieve it and said that although he didn’t yet own his own house he would store it carefully until he had somewhere to put it and planned to use it regularly. Royal Copenhagen may have stopped producing it but there are many owners who will continue to love and cherish the pieces they own and pass them on to delight future generations.

Oranges are the only fruit…

To make proper Seville marmalade you need proper Seville oranges. These are only available in the shops here for a short time, usually around the latter part of January. This year I got a phone call from the local grocers to tell me that the oranges had arrived in the first week of January and hot footed it up to buy some. Glorious bumpy skinned, sunshine bright oranges were heaped up in very attractive wooden crates, I couldn’t wait to buy some and bring them home. Despite the problems with the electricity last week I managed to make eight jars of dark amber marmalade last week and made eight more today. The recipe is a mixture of ones I have read plus memories of my mother’s marmalade making. Mum wasn’t a great cook, she made good plain food with a fairly limitied list of ingredients. She was however a very good baker of Victoria sponges, Dundee cakes and scones and an excellent jam and marmalade maker. Her recipe for marmalade has long been lost but I can remember bits of it. I know it began with two pounds of Seville oranges which invariably rolled off the scales onto the floor to be chased by our little Border Terrier, Sheena Bhan, who was in her turn chased round the kitchen by my Mum! Looking at my recipe books I can see that 2 pounds of oranges need 4pounds of sugar but I do remember that Mum always used four ounces less and made up the rest with four caddy spoons of dark treacle. The caddy spoon was the spoon in the tea caddy used to measure tea into a pot (no tea bags in our house) and was roughly the size of a tablespoon with a very ornate teapot as a handle. Sadly it too has been lost but a plastic tablespoon sufficed. Mum used to mince the orange peels in her green enamel mincer but I find cutting them with scissors gives a more even size and retains the chunky texture better. I’m also a bit wary of using the mincer -imagining my fingers getting minced along with the peels.The only other ingredients were water and the juice of a lemon. The method involved three stages. First cut the lemon into eight wedges cutting vertically, leaving both pips and peel in place. These lemon slices go into a small pan with half a pint of water and all the pips from the oranges and are boiled for about ten minutes. The liquid is drained off into a preserving pan and the lemon slices and pips are put into a muslin bag. Meanwhile the oranges, which have also been sliced into eight vertically and had the pips removed earlier, have the flesh and pith removed and cut into small pieces. This goes into the preserving pan along with 3 and a half pints of water and all the orange peel cut into slivers. I cut mine approximately half an inch long by an eigth of an inch wide. The muslin bag is added to the pan which is brought to a simmer on top of the cooker, then put into the Everhot warming oven at 150degrees for about three hours. After this time the orange peels should be soft and almost translucent.  The muslin bag is removed and left to cool. At this point I add the sugar and treacle, I don’t warm it as it will start to dissolve while I deal with the muslin bag. Once that is cool enough to handle it is squeezed out so that all the pectin from the lemon peel and pips is removed. This is a sticky liquid which is added to the preserving pan to help the marmalade set. The pan is put onto the top of the stove on the simmering plate and stirred until all the sugar is dissolved completely before being moved to the boiling plate. The clean jars are put in the warming oven to sterilise while the marmalade is boiled. Once it reaches a rolling boil it usually takes about 15 minutes to reach setting point.The warmed jars are taken out of the oven and the pan is taken off the cooker and left for ten minutes to allow the peel to disperse into the marmalade and not rise to the top. Then it is ladled into the warm jars and the lids are put on while it is hot.The smell of the marmalade with its treacle undertone is such a lovely rich smell which brings back memories of the kitchen when we lived in Beech Hurst, a beautiful flat in a Victorian house with a red lino floor in the kitchen and a big cream AGA cooker. My father was in hospital and my Mum did a lot of marmalade and jam cooking, presumably to keep herself  from worrying about him. When he died and we had to leave the flat (it belonged to his employers) I do remember her packing boxes and boxes of jars which almost filled the larder at our next, much smaller, home.

The marmalade making today was complicated by the fitting of the wood burning stove in the sitting room. Poor Tilly is anxious at the best of times but took a particular dislike to the workmen today and was even more worried than usual so paced and whimpered much of the time until I was trying to stir the marmalade as it boiled when she decided she needed to be very close to me. Stirring boiling and spitting hot marmalade with a large dog curled up at your feet is not ideal but it did calm her down! The cream door her head is resting on is the warming oven door. I was very worried she would end up with hot drips landing on her but she survived unscathed.The wood burning fire is now fitted but we have to wait 24 hours before it can be used to allow everything to set and settle in place. The weather forecast is threatening a return to wintry weather so it will be ready just at the right time and we are looking forward to cosy evenings by the fire.

Electric Avenue

The plan for the first week of January was to store away all the Christmas decorations, china, candles, ornaments, cards, wrapping paper, lights etc in one of the top cupboards and sorting the fabric that I would have to remove from that cupboard.

I did it, yes I did…all the Christmas trappings are now safely put away and the fabric is piled (ok heaped) in the spare room. By Thursday of last week I was feeling quite pleased with myself and planned to spend the weekend sorting and measuring  the fabric. Ha, they say pride goes before a fall…and what a fall. On Thursday we had had some problems with the washing machine and central heating boiler, by Friday the electricity was tripping out whenever anything was plugged in/switched on or in the case of the fridge and central heating boiler whenever the temperature changed and the power boosted. By Friday evening we could not use any sockets, had no heating and the ceiling lights were decidedly dim. So I called in an electrician, a pleasant young man who unfortunately was terrified of dogs. So terrified that he was down at the far end of the drive when I opened the front door having heard the barking when he knocked. He came in and had a look at the fuse box (with all three dogs safely shut in another room) but flinched at every sound, he couldn’t identify any specific faults then and when asked if he would come back the following day he said he’d really rather not!

So on Saturday I rang another electrician, my first question was not the price of a call out, or if he was available but did he like dogs and luckily the answer was yes. Ian arrived later in the morning when the two German Shepherds were out for a walk and must have wondered why I had checked that he was comfortable working near dogs when all he saw was the elderly Border terrier, snoozing on the sofa. He soon identified a few problems the main one being the fusebox/breaker unit which needed to be replaced but the wiring in the garage was also causing some concern. He did what he could on Saturday to no avail, the power would not stay on despite his best efforts. He called back on Sunday with a temporary fix to allow us to use the central heating (gently)and the fridge. I feel the cold very badly so heating is important and I need the fridge to keep my Aranesp injections cold. We could also use the Everhot cooker, although it runs on electricity it uses such a small amount and at a constant rate so it didn’t trip the fuse. That meant I could boil a kettle for hot water bottles (yes I feel the cold that badly) and make hot food. I also made a few pots of marmalade just to keep myself busy and warm!

On Monday the man from the washing machine company came to open the machine as it was full of half-washed mopheads when the fuse tripped and wouldn’t open either automatically or manually and I knew it was going to smell…and it did!

On Tuesday Ian returned, replaced the fusebox/breaker unit and sorted out the wiring in the garage and kitchen. He checked the other rooms and found that the dining room and my son’s room have faults in the wiring so the sockets in there cannot be used until they are rewired.  The main casualty of the power problem is that the freezer thawed out so we have lost all the food but otherwise there has been no lasting damage.The general upheaval of checking all the wiring meant that I had to take Tilly and Skye to daycare while Ian worked as the chances of them being electricuted were too high to risk. That just left Nino who could well have blundered into the odd live wire so he came to work with me. He left his usual peaceful life to spend the afternoon sitting in my classroom with the Reception and Year 1 children (ie 4 and 5 year olds) at school. I was a bit worried how he would cope but apart from the odd concerned look when they were being very excitable he did splendidly and even joined them in the playground for a little run about. The best part of his day was definitely the trip to the staffroom for a cup of tea and a bit of cake at the end of the day. The children loved him and were fascinated by his age (15 dog years which they worked out is roughly equal to 105 human years) and his teddybear looks.  He was exhausted and slept very well all night, in fact he had to be woken up to have his breakfast this morning. He did look quite hopeful as I got ready for school this morning but opted to stay in peace on the sofa. The children were very disappointed that he didn’t come back today so I think he’ll be welcome when Ian does the next bit of rewiring. Tilly and Skye have spent this evening asleep, having spent two days at daycare this week they are both tired.

The good news of the week is that Tilly has gained weight, we have been so worried about her as she had lost a huge amount of weight in the weeks before Christmas and was looking quite ill, especially once she shed her coat and her skinny frame was visible. (German Shepherd moult all year but sometimes shed their complete outer coats leaving just the soft undercoat.)  We have changed her to a gluten free diet and she has put on a kilogram in just under three weeks and already looks so much better – she has a long way to go to achieve the correct weight of 30kgs for her age and height but it is a step in the right direction. She is to be weighed each month at the vets to check her progress but the vet was very pleased with her progress so far.


Yesterday was a strange day, I don’t drink so I didn’t wake up with a hangover but I certainly felt as though I had one. I just wanted to curl up on the sofa under a blanket – not much of an option with three dogs who want to be fed, walked and entertained! I did all the above in short bursts, retreating to the sofa in between feeling decidedly miserable.

Today I feel much better, and have achieved some of what I planned to do yesterday. My plans for the new year centre mainly on sorting out the amount of “stuff” we have collected in the years we’ve lived here. When we moved in we had the basics (well I had no bed and slept on the floor for a while but we had most of what we needed) and little else. The house seemed spacious and it was easy to keep tidy. Over the years we have aquired lots of stuff, teachers are terrible hoarders as they always thing they could use that box, tube, fabric, yarn, stack of old Christmas cards etc at school and they collect books too. Running an old car and an old motor bike (my son’s) means acquiring a selection of  spare parts which may come in useful one day and hobbies like sewing and knitting add another layer of useful bits and pieces. As a result each year at Christmas when we need to clear the spare room for visitors and tidy up the rest of the house a terrible merry go round begins, shifting boxes and boxes from one place to another trying to find a space to store it out of sight for a while. This year it seemed to be more difficult than ever and I felt very irritated with myself for having filled every available space with clutter.

So 2012 is going to be the year that we sort it all out, decide what we really need to keep and what can be sent to the charity shop, recycled or thrown away. We are fortunate to have most of our recycling collected once a fortnight but for the last few months the recycling boxes have been full of work stuff which I needed to clear out of the old garage when the new one was being built and haven’t got round to sorting it all out. So our recycling has been put into carrier bags and left in the garage. Today I sorted all the paper, cardboard, plastic and glass and went up to the recycling centre and posted it all into the correct bins and boxes. The house looks better already as I collected up all the newspapers and Christmas wrapping paper as well, I usually save the wrapping paper thinking it will be useful for school and then forget about it until we break up for the Christmas holidays when I’m putting up our decorations!

After that I made some replacement cushion covers – just plain cream calico as Skye had torn the other cream covers, she seems to have a fascination for zips and chews them so these ones are pillowcase style.

The dog food has been stored in the kitchen over Christmas as there was a heap of recycling stuff in it’s normal place on top of the tumble drier. Once the recycling was sorted there was space to store all the dog food and treats which has the added advantage that they don’t try to help themselves as it is out of sight.

Over the last few days I have been looking at my collection of Aluminia plaquettes – little plates with Danish scenes painted on them as I was given a couple of new ones and was checking to see if I already had them. There are roughly 100 in the series and I have collected 48 different ones. I like them but have nowhere to display them all so they generally live in a drawer and I have a small selection (3) hanging by my bed. Seeing them all arranged on the table made me think how ridiculous it is to have so many so I plan to choose my favourites and sell the others.

The same applies to my collection of fabric, I am going to make a list of what I want to make and what I will need to make it with …and then the rest must go. I love fabric and have a terrible habit of buying it if I see something unusual. I don’t sew as much as I did when my son was younger when I made costumes for school productions so over the years it has just accumulated in cupboards.

The book shelves are overflowing so they will need to be sorted and thinned out – that will be difficult as I like to re-read books but I’m tired of the heaps of books all over the house. The other option is to get bookshelves built into the alcoves in the sitting room from floor to ceiling as our one existing bookcase isn’t big enough.

I’m going to set myself small challenges each week as the thought of sorting it all out is quite daunting. This week’s challenge is to take down the Christmas decorations and empty a space for everything to be stored together, lights, tree decorations, unused cards and wrapping and of course the Christmas tea-set. That means emptying one of the fabric cupboards …I’d better get on with that!