Sunday, 26 February 2012

Born Out of Wenlock

An unexpected treat on Saturday was a visit from comedienne Katie (aka Patsy Blades) who we became friends with when we were all living in Kochi in 2009. Joining Katie on her short trip to Hay was her dear friend Catherine Beale, a writer and historian from Presteigne.

Her latest book is Born Out of Wenlock: an Olympian story, tells the story of the British origins of the modern Olympics in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, not far from here. It would make a good present in this Olympic year, buy a copy here (Kindle edition also available here). Catherine has written several interesting books with appealing titles like 'Champagne and Shambles' and co-wrote the guide to Hampton Court.

(I had posted a smudgy iphone pic of Catherine, taken by Seth, but it really didn't do her justice. See her website to see what she really looks like!).

Spring arrives in Clyro

We woke up to crocuses in bloom outside our cabin door yesterday morning. Daffodils and crocuses are springing up everywhere, and we've been playing football with the boys in a field high up in the hills, and enjoying the spectacular views Pen y Fan from our friends' farm in the Brecon Beacons. Turns out a Welsh winter wasn't bad after all, and spring came around pretty quickly.

Friday, 24 February 2012

February chutney

Making the most of our last weeks in the cabin I'm busying myself making things for the larder at Pottery Cottage. Yesterday's project: My February Chutney made with forced rhubarb, plums, beetroot, russet apples, red chillis, red and white onions, ginger, raisins, sultanas, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, cyder vinegar. All fresh produce sourced from the Thursday market and Castle Greengrocers both in Hay.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Resolutions: round two

Previously I have not observed Lent, but after failing miserably to keep any of my New Year Resolutions, Lent seems a good opportunity to start again. It's a bonus that this time I only have to keep them for 46 days rather than 365.

So, on the Lent equivalent of New Years Eve I'm indulging and tucking into a big hunk of Sea Salt Dragon '54% Fairtrade dark chocolate with toffee and Halen Mon Sea Salt' (handcrafted in Crickhowell by Black Mountain Gold who have been commissioned to make chocolate for the Queen's visit to the Glanusk Estate later this year. 
Deep breath: 46 days with no chocolate... but that's as much of my list as I'm giving away here.

Cottage living

I had a nose around a lovely cottage near here where the owners had painted the old black stained beams in muted colours. I was considering doing this at Pottery Cottage and will definitely do so now that I've seen how good it looked at a not dissimilar cottage.

I also really liked that they'd made one of the main reception rooms downstairs into a study. It's such a shame when home offices are tucked away out of sight, especially when so much time is spent working in them. Mind you, if you're like Ollie and have to work in complete silence I appreciate that a study in the middle of the house with small children running around isn't ideal.

Salvage style

Do you like my new lamps bases? I bought the two balustrades from Leominster Reclamation Yard and they've been fitted with a wooden base for the bulb fitting and grey flex from Baileys Home and Garden. Thanks to Marina from The End in Hay for driving to Bridstow and coordinating with the electrician.

Hay opinion

One thing I've quickly discovered living near Hay is that locals have a very strong opinions about their town. That's a great thing. The huge turnout to the public meetings organised by Plan B were testament to that. So, getting into the local spirit of things, here's Ollie's opinion on this issue, on the Guardian Sustainable Business site today.
My opinion: no supermarket can match the meat from CJ Gibbons (oh, and that reminds me, I owe them a couple a quid for the sausages I picked up yesterday and didn't have enough cash on me. A supermarket wouldn't let me do that!!).

Monday, 20 February 2012

The long and winding road to Clyro

Car-less today, Bo and I walked up and down the hilly roads from Hay to Clyro. It took us 40 minutes and he sang cheerfully the whole way. I think with a little bit of organisation we could just about survive without a car once we're living in Pottery Cottage. I doubt we would give up our car, but I'm glad to know the walk is manageable and enjoyable with a little friend or two.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A good egg

Today's batch of freshly laid, perfectly mismatched eggs from the farm. I'm off to coddle a couple. 

Not any old iron

I bought this old bridle hook to hang my pans on in the kitchen of Pottery Cottage. That's IF we get the building regs approval we're hoping for to have a higher ceiling in one end of the kitchen. I love the orange paint on the iron and the shape of the hooks. I've also bought a fabulous iron candelabra which I'm hoping to hang low over our glass coffee table from Argentina, in the sitting room in front of the open fire, and I'm going to put one of big mirrors made by Los Diaz de Mario behind the sofa so it will reflect the light from the candles and the woodburner.

btw, I did get permission to take the photo!


We broke down on our way to church in Crickhowell this morning. Not quite as bad as it sound as we managed to get the car to the school where the church meets and the RAC turned up within an hour. They agreed to delay sending the recovery truck, so we could have lunch as planned with friends in Abergavenny, and Tony, the farmer who owns our cabin home picked us up at the garage in Clyro. Other than the boys' excitement at going for a ride in a huge truck, the major perk of all this was that Tony took us a different route up the hill (where's he lived all his life) and he pointed out a heron, a fox, wild ducks, a red kite, the ruins of an old mill, and the biggest swathe of snowdrops I've seen, as well as filling us in with plenty of local gossip in between.

First disco, bad outfit

So yesterday Seth and Bo went to their first proper disco, the Crocodiles Pancake Disco, in wellies. It's so muddy up on the farm that it didn't even occur to me to put them in anything else and thankfully to date they haven't shown the slightest hint of interest in what they wear, so didn't notice how non-disco like and totally uncool their outfits were.

Seth at the Crocs disco where showed signs of takes after his father and only got into dancing once he was wearing a disguise.

The wellies faux pas reminded me of a photo I snapped a while back of the entrance to Crocodiles on a Friday Forest/outdoor school day, when wellies are totally acceptable and look super cute lined up on the steps outside.

Saturday, 18 February 2012


Thanks Matty C for the nice mention of doble M design in the latest Phaidon Wallpaper* city guide to Buenos Aires.

Fun at the mill

We joined up yesterday with Seth and Bo's Breakfast Club pals, Ben and Hannah, at Talgarth Mill for their half-term activities.

 Mouse hunt along the river bank

Butter-making (shaking) and tasting on the yummy bread made at the mill

Making saltdough mice

Storytime: 'The Little Red Hen

Back to pottery

I was back at my pottery class yesterday, thanks to the Sercombe family who looked after Seth and Bo for the afternoon so I could go. I really liked the bird sculptures that Judith has been working on.

I finished some slipware bowls and plates that I'd started before Christmas and can now go for their second firing, and I started another slipware/scraffito below (below) which will be all different shades of vivid purple after firing and glazing.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Cambridge life

The boys were chuffed to bits to see Papa's school. We popped into the Latin American Studies Department, a brand new building with huge glass windows, sofas and armchairs scattered around, lush indoor plants and brightly coloured ponchos thrown over the back of chairs. Lots of Latin American vibe going on, with everyone coming out of their rooms to say hello to the Seth and Bo. We walked through King's, and the town market with Ollie's Scottish pal, Gavin. Back at Christ's it was all very English and we spent the whole time sshhh-ing the boys and telling them not to step on the grass. But they loved hearing the chapel bells ring and seeing where Ollie sleeps, and knowing where he goes each week.


Two pint-sized fans sat on the bonnet of our car yesterday and cheered on Ollie playing hockey for Christ's College. Seth was cheering 'Go go Papa, go go Papa! We want you to win!' and turned to me and said, 'Papa say yes, he'll win!'. And win they did, 1-0 with Papa scoring the goal. He's such a crowd pleaser. Shame the crowd were distracted and missed it!


I'm not into Valentines at all, but near Cambridge for the first time since Ollie started his PhD he booked us in, along with Macu and Jamie (keeping up our role as their cupids), for formal dinner. So here we are being tourists and having our photo taken in front of portraits of Christ's alumni Milton and Darwin. Unfortunately others do not have the same view of Valentines as I do, and the guy in a gown sitting across from us spent most of the dinner with his tongue down his girlfriends throat and his hand down her top. Rather put us off our chicken pie.

A taste of Argentina

Aaah, Monday afternoon took me back to Buenos Aires as Macu took the afternoon off work and we hung out in London. First stop: the food market outside St James's Church on Piccadilly for empanadas and Argentine steak with a little huddle of Argentines speaking in their broadest porteno accents. If I'd had 900 quid to spare I'd have been on the next tube to Heathrow and on the plane to BA.
Macu outside the studio where she works, restoring paintings.

Pottery Cottage renovation: pause

Talking of Pottery Cottage, work there has ground to a halt. We can't do anything until we have an alternative solution for the trusses, so we're just having the stone wall finished, and the doors painted, but other than that it's on hold.


(sorry, can't get this to upload the correct way up! Will try to correct later)

I absolutely loved loved loved Hockney's exhibition at the RA. I'm a huge fan of his work anyway but this exhibition was even better than I'd imagined. The fantastic colours, the huge scale and his ability to take in so many details, it all had such a huge wow-factor. Most of the work was painted in the Yorkshire Wolds and they were mostly fairly ordinary English countryside scenes, like tree-lined farm tracks, but he turned these into spectacular, dramatic paintings. Having been in Argentina for the last few years, I have really appreciated the seasons and how the landscape, especially seen our hilltop cabin, changes so much as the weeks and months pass by. Hockney's paintings are a like an intense celebration of the seasons.

My favourite of the oil paintings is the one above (upside down!. The ipad paintings which have had loads of coverage were really impressive too. Towards the end of the exhibition there is a film installation. The wall was covered in a grid of 18 huge high definition screens. There were several films, including some shot on car with nine video cameras attached to it, which they drove through the countryside. I really enjoyed the ones shot in Hockney's studio, with 18 cameras filming from above, creating a slightly fragmented canvas. There's a white floor, and furniture in block colours dotted around, a pianist playing on the black grand piano and dancers from the Royal Ballet dancing around the studio, and in one of the sequences, tap dancing on block colour mats. It was so beautiful, and slightly disconnected views from the screens worked so well. That's a terrible description. Go and see it if you can!

It was all very inspiring. I left on a real high, and feel like I'm appreciating and enjoying the countryside even more from having seen it through Hockney. I'm also dreaming of a Hockney flower bed, at Pottery Cottage, densely planting flowers in the colour palette from 'A Bigger Picture'.

Words words words

First stop on my colour fest in London earlier this week: walls of books at the Words Words Words pop-up library in Selfridges. Like clothes shops in Argentina which are always displayed by colour, this appealed to my colour coordinating obsessive compulsive self. Blurry pics as the library was dark and I was in a rush to buy a pair of Converse trainers (annoyingly left 2.5 pairs of the 3 I already own in storage in Argentina) from three floors up before closing time.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Habits of Mind

I went to a very inspiring meeting at Clyro School yesterday evening. It was mostly a presentation for new parents about how they have integrated the 'Habits of Mind' into the everyday language and practice of the school.

Headmistress, Dorothy Davies, gave us the background on Professor Art Costa, who developed the Habits of Mind, which has been turned into a teaching plan. She explained how the staff team use it at Clyro School. It's not a tag-on, but something that impacts everything that they do in the school.

The 16 habits of mind have equal weight and fit together like a jigsaw, so here they are, in no particular order:

Listening with understanding and empathy
Managing impulsivity
Gathering data through all senses
Applying past knowledge to new situations
Finding humour
Questioning and problem posing
Thinking independently
Responding with wonderment and awe
Creating, imagining and innovating
Thinking flexibly
Striving for accuracy and precision
Thinking about your thinking (metacognition)
Taking responsible risks
Remaining open to continuous learning
Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision

The idea is that they are using these 16 Habits of Mind to train the kids to be problem solvers, decision makers and creative thinkers.

They showed a DVD of the Habits of Mind in practice in the school, which had loads of great quotes from the kids, and showed lots of examples of them using the Habits of Mind in practice. So, for 'applying past knowledge to new situations' they divided a class into groups and gave them ingredients to bake a cake, but no recipe. They had to work together, using previous baking experience, to to make a cake. (One group used nine eggs!) Amazingly they were all edible and then they talked through how they'd turned out and why.

Every activity or task they do at the school is framed within one or more of the Habits of Minds, so they're continually getting the kids to think which Habit/s would be best for a particular task or situation. It's part of the language that the teachers, and the kids, are using all the time, so these ideas are embedded in their minds as their language is developing.

As part of their learning journey, they consider for each Habit what a Novice, Apprentice, Practitioner and an Expert in that Habit would look like, and they start as a Novice in each one and are trying to work upwards in each one.

Using the Habits of Mind the staff team have developed four principles that they use in a discipline context which are integrated into their whole way of working with the kids:

1. Respect for others, ourselves, property and possessions.
2. For every action there is a consequence.
3. A fresh start every day.
4. I reflect and improve.

The staff are so enthusiastic about the Habits of Mind approach and I was so impressed by this and how much thought they put into everything that they are doing with this kids, nothing is standard teaching practice. They're not doing things as they've always done, or are required to do, but they're really thinking through everything they do at the school by fully immersing the Habits of Mind into every area of school life to try and make the school the best it possibly can be.

There was much more too it, but I've used up enough space here and I'm sure I haven't explained it anywhere near as well as they did at the meeting. I was hugely impressed by the evening and what they're doing at the school. I feel that we've lucked out moving so close to this school, and that it's a great place for Sethie. He's so happy there anyway, and just loving it and has soaked up so much even in this first half-term. Unfortunately his teacher goes on maternity leave from tomorrow (her baby is due tomorrow!), as she's done a wonderful job of settling him in.

Yep, it's half-term already and we're off to visit Granny in Coggeshall, and take the boys to Cambridge to see 'Papa's school' so Bo can stop telling everyone that his 'Papa lives in a railway station'!

Street view

Here's the wall shaping up from the street view. The neighbours in the converted schoolhouse came round today asking if they can paint their back wall (the brickwork shown in this photo) a mushroom white. I'm very happy about that, and it will make a good background for the flower beds I'm planning in that south facing side of the garden.

Door delivery

This is how the back of Pottery Cottage looks as of today. The exterior walls have been stripped back, ready to be rendered once the folding doors are in place.
The folding doors have been delivered. I think they look great! They need to be painted (gray) before they are fitted - the smaller, three-door one in the foreground will go in the kitchen, and the larger one with four doors is for the playroom.