Thursday, 29 September 2011


Me:  When you have an itchy palm on your right hand, does that mean you're going to come into money soon?

Mr WithaY:  Yes, it does.  That, or you've got a burrowing parasite.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


I've been looking at the jobs pages in the local paper. Employment opportunities in this area are limited, compared with less rural localities, and as I don't want to commute, I am not looking even as far afield as Bristol and Bath at the moment.

I might change my mind, though.

So far, this is what I've found: 

Job details


  • Location: Longleat Forest, Warminster
  • Salary: N/A
  • Industry: Other


  • Location: Longleat Forest, Warminster
  • Salary: N/A
  • Industry: Other
I am considering how to reframe my CV.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Basket cases

Last week Mr WithaY and I went on a one-day willow basket-making course.  You can't become a basket-maker in one day, but you can make a basket.  Here's how:

You start with 6 sticks, all approximately the same thickness and straightness.  You have to find the natural curve of the wood and follow it to get the proper basket base shape.  My sticks all looked to be either completely straight or wavy as anything, not the gentle curve talked about by the instructor.

Once you have aligned your sticks properly, you stab them with a deadly steel bodkin, pointy, sharp and scary.  Oh, before you do any stabbing, you grease the bodkin point with tallow.  It's positively medieval. 

Our instructor told us how she once had to rescue her can of tallow from a greedy dog which had its face in it.  She didn't mention it to the dog's owners;  I expect they found out later that day.

This is how the sticks look once you've STABBED them with the greased-up bodkin.  It's interesting how unnerving it is, having to stab something when usually you are all English and repressed and un-stabby. 

Once you've finished stabbing, you slide one set of sticks through the other, thus:

This is the basis for your basket.  I had to stop and have a cup of tea at this point, all the craftsmanship was exhausting.

After you've had tea and braced yourself, you start doing the next step.  It has a technical name which I have completely forgotten, but it involves weaving small willow stems to make the basket base.

See the two different colour willows?  One sort has bark on and is slippery, the other sort doesn't and isn't.  They're both bloody awkward to weave properly.  You have to hold the spokes pressed hard into your tummy as you do this.  Painful. 

Once you've got the base woven, and it is properly convex, you add long sticks to make the sides of the basket.  If it's not convex enough, you have to help it along using your knee and brute force.

Adding the long sticks was fiddly and hilarious, with all of us wrestling with our baskets on the floor.  We got there in the end.

Once we'd got to that stage it was lunchtime.  Lunch was excellent. Home-made and delicious. I recommend it. 

After lunch it was time to start building the basket up.  Da da daaaaaaaaa.

You have to STAB it once again with the bodkin to hold it in place while you weave the willow sticks.  That's harder than it looks.  Getting everything nice and even and tidy is even harder.

Once you've built up the base, you change both style and material to make the sides.  I was using a weaving technique that involved using two lengths of willow in pairs at once, in a traditional English style.  It's strangely hypnotic. 

Then, when your basket is tall enough, you do another set of the stronger weave that you used for the base, to make the top nice and sturdy.  If your basket is less than perfectly circular, you assist it with your knee and brute force.

Willow is very forgiving. 

Once you've done that, you make the top edge, using the long sticks you stuck into the base to form the sides.  Remember them?  Yeah you do. 

If you're a bit forgetful and have failed to keep your willow sticks wet, they will snap at this point.  The instructor will then rescue you and fix it so it will not show.  She was very good at rescuing people.

And at the end of the afternoon, you will have a lovely basket.

There were as many different baskets made as there were people on the course.  Mr WithaY made one with a French weave in the middle, and conveniently it stacks neatly inside mine.  There's tidy.

That's his on the left with the fancy French weave thing.  Sacre bleu.

One lady made an up-and-over handle.  Very pretty.  Those round things in the background are big bundles of willow sticks.  The barn we were working in smelled lovely. 

One chap made these rather fetching finger holes.  I shall try that next time I make a basket. 

If at any point you got bored or frustrated, and went outside to look around, you could see where the willows grow:

They had information boards up to let people know all the kinds of animals and birds you might see if you looked for long enough.  I saw bugger all.

I liked these gigantic sculptures, left over from a Glastonbury Festival, apparently. 

And the maze was fun, despite being very low.  I reckon I could have stepped over the partitions in an emergency.

So, after a long and full day, a splendid vegetable lasagna and fruit crumble for lunch, a lovely drive through the Somerset Levels, and weird bruises where I hadn't expected any, I now own a basket that I made.  And it works.

Did I mention  how much nicer this is than being stuck in the office?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tiny tripe

Well hello there.  It's been a while, hasn't it?  I was working on the assumption that everyone would be away on holiday and therefore not notice that I had been slack and idle for the best part of a fortnight.

To be honest, that's not true.  I haven't been slack, and certainly no more idle than usual.  In fact, I have been out and about, gallivanting across the countryside like a frisky gazelle, scampering hither and thither.

Yeah, I have.

Where have I been? Well I'll tell you.

Mr WithaY and I went up to Derbyshire for a weekend.  The Chatsworth Show was on, and we fancied having a look at it.  We drove up to a pleasant B&B on Friday evening, and were advised to try a local pub for dinner. 

If you are ever in the area, go and eat there.  Really.  The food was excellent, the staff were competent and friendly and the prices were not too steep.  In fact, here's their website - The Black Swan.    It was so nice that we went back again the next night and tried their "sharing dish" of rib eye steak and big chips.  Mr WithaY and I enjoy our food* but we still ended up with a small tinfoil package of steak to take home at the end of the meal. 

The B&B was good too.  Note for American readers - a B&B is a Bed and Breakfast establishment, where you stay overnight and they feed you breakfast - usually a huge and sausage-filled extravaganza - but you don't get an evening meal.  B&Bs are less expensive than a hotel, and often more interesting.  Sometimes, though, they are shite. 

This one was lovely, though, and on a farm, our room looked out across one of their trout lakes.  People were fishing, and Mr WithaY sat with his nose pressed forlornly against the window, watching them till we went out. 

There was a degree of grumbling along the lines of  "I knew I should have packed my travel fishing rod," but it soon passed.

The Chatsworth Show was excellent fun.  We missed the Red Arrows, who flew on the Friday for the first time since the crash that killed one of their pilots, but we did see a splendid display of stomach-churning aeronautics by two small stunt planes as we were leaving on Saturday afternoon.

Chatsworth House itself was under wraps, unfortunately, possibly to deter visitors to the show from gawping in through their windows and watching the Duchess sitting there in her curlers eating cheesy Wotsits and watching Jeremy Kyle.

I took a couple of pictures of their impressive wall carvings though:

There were hundreds of different stands and displays there, ranging from the traditional country pursuits of ferret-racing (no photos, I was laughing too much to think of using my camera) and stick-whittling to formal mounted displays of the Household Cavalry, with a fairground and lots of small trade stands in between.  There were people doing clever fishing demonstrations, shooting stands where you could Have A Go, and more delicious food vendors than you could shake a stick at.

As is traditional, Mr WithaY and I Had A Go at as many of the shooting stands as possible.  It got competitive. 

I am officially Rubbish With An Air Rifle.  Mr WithaY was hoping to win an air rifle on the strength of that result, but as yet has not had a phone call telling him to go and collect his prize. 

However, the .22 rifle was more successful.  Mine:

Mr WithaY's:

And yes, that is the noticeboard I made. We have our targets displayed in the kitchen. 

We watched some lurcher racing.  It;s like greyhound racing but a bit less organised.  The dogs have to run at high speed through a field, after a fake rabbit on a bit of string that is being dragged along at even higher speed.  Blimey, they can move.

To such an extent that there are warning signs posted.  They'll BREAK YOUR BONES, so stand back.  I wonder how? Perhaps they use cudgels, although I'd have thought gripping a big twatting stick between small lurcher paws might be tricky. 

There were many different craft tents, some crammed to the gills with talented people, others less so, some just brilliantly demented.  We found these chaps in a far corner of the showground. 

They had a whole marquee full of teeny little model carts and things, all made to accurate scale.  My favourite was the butchers shop on wheels.  It had dolls-house size meat, including little teeny pigs trotters. 

You get a sense of the scale of it by comparing it to the proud creator sitting behind the table there.  He was delighted that I was taking pictures, even moving the butchers shop around this way and that so I could capture the interior properly.

Look at the tiny pigs feet!  And black puddings!  And tripe!  I was entranced.

I spotted this giant letter "R" made from trees on the opposite hillside.  No idea what it is, or why it's there.  Anyone who has any answers, please feel free to comment. 

Oh, this is me firing a 2-bore muzzle-loaded gun.  The recoil was hefty, hence the rather appalling firing stance I have there.  You could have a go with four different types of muzzle-loader, shooting at clay pigeons.  I am proud to announce that I managed to shatter a clay with a flintlock musket.  Yay me.

We also popped in to see my genius clock-making mate, and selected two of the types of wood he is going to use to make our clock.  That was interesting, and I am looking forward to hearing how it's progressing.

Where else have I been?  Oh yes.  Ragdale Hall.

I went on another - ANOTHER! - short break to the home of all that is relaxing and beautifying, along with both sisters, mother and auntie.  We had a blast, I have not laughed so much in a very long time.  I had a reflexology treatment, a full body massage, a facial and a pedicure, and loved every minute.  We all went swimming in the fabulous pools, sat in the various steam rooms and saunas, chilled out in the comfy chairs that are artfully scattered around the place, and talked and talked and TALKED.  So much to say to each other. 

Normally when we all get together there are hordes of children and husbands and partners milling around, getting in the way and preventing two-hour conversations about nothing. 

Middle Sis and Youngest Sis and I shared a triple room.  It was like the Three Bears house.  Three beds in a row in the room.  Three robes hanging in a row in the cupboard.  Three coffee mugs in a row by the kettle. Only one toilet in the bathroom, though.  I had half expected to see three of those in a row in there too.

Other news:  I have been harvesting crab apples from the tree in the garden, and making crab apple jelly. The first batch has turned out remarkably well.

I'd post a photo if Blogger would let me.  Maybe later.

*are fat greedy bastards.