Monday 31 August 2015

The sewing bee ...

Isn't it a lovely thing to be able to take your work out-of-doors? Especially on a nice sunny day it seems wrong to stay inside when all the world is bright and cheerful and the sky is a heavenly blue above.

The other morning I came upon this rather unusual sewing bee, all bent over their labour in the bright Catalan sunshine. They were busy mending their nets with huge needles and big balls of nylon thread. Some individuals in the group were very practised, their needles flying in and out, and back and forth, like automated bobbins in a machine.

And, as is the case with any group of friends when they're working on a shared endeavour, they chatted amiably as they sewed, looking up occasionally to see how their neighbours were getting on or how they'd reacted to the last wisecrack that had sent a gentle ripple of laughter floating out to sea.

And then I noticed that I wasn't the only spectator. This chap was standing at a discrete distance from the group keeping a careful eye out for anything tasty that might tumble out of the folds.

Luckily for him the harbour cat was elsewhere - probably terrorising some unsuspecting tourists who thought the harbour would make a scenic background for a few selfies. The harbour cat is an animal that you mess with at your peril - hence the absence of photographs of him on my blog. I've never had the courage to stand still and take his picture when he's launching himself at us like a furry orange missile with his fangs bared and his claws unsheathed.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Sunday 30 August 2015

Boys ...

Today I spent the day with Emi and one of his best friends. We played tennis, we went swimming and after lunch we did some rock pooling. Everyone wore their flip flops, which made clambering over the rocks a  bit difficult. Duh! I should have known better. It must have been the heat that was melting my brain and leaving me incapable of making rational decisions ... . I mean I'm normally quite good at keeping all the children in my care alive and in one piece.

Then, just as we were struggling over a particularly large boulder and I was feeling less than up to the task, I saw these boys doing this:

Saturday 29 August 2015

Moonlit Sant Feliu de Guíxols ...

Tonight there's a party in town. It's La Nit en Blanc, when nobody goes to bed, and everyone's out and about, meeting and greeting and partying like summer's never going to end.

Emi and I took the Wonder Dog for his after-dinner stroll along the waterfront. It was a perfect night with scarcely a breath of wind, lit up by a huge round moon that hung low in the sky. Everyone was out. Laughter and music from other people's parties drifted through the air. The lights from the village danced across the waves as we walked along the breakwater.

Emi told me about a story that he wants to write. It had the sort of labyrinthine plot that appeals to nine year old boys who desperately want to bring dinosaurs back to life, and then mix them up with some aliens and a spot of extraterrestrial exploring. I'm sure I didn't follow it all, but with the special magic of the moonlight on the water it was hard to concentrate on the details. I think I said Really? and That's interesting enough times to convince him that I was listening attentively even though my gaze never left that wonderful August moon.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 28 August 2015

Harbour tails ...

The Wonder Dog has a nemesis down at the harbour these days. He's a great big ginger tom cat, and he takes no prisoners. When he sees us he comes racing out of the shadows hissing and fussing and squaring up for a fight. The Wonder Dog, who is more of a lover than a fighter, hides behind my legs and tries very hard to be invisible. I do a funny little sideways shuffle to work my way around the ferocious feline without getting my legs shredded or my dog massacred in the process. I'm guessing that this particular moggy's got a good supply of dinner in the form of left-over fish, and he's not about to start sharing it with anyone any time soon ... .

We trot on trying hard to look like we're not bothered. Although the truth is that I'm always a bit too shaken by the mad cat experience to take a photo of him. I mean he's really scary. It's a pity as he'd make a very fine photo with his back arched, his fur standing on end, and his lips drawn back to give us a clear view of his razor sharp teeth. But it's like he's possessed or something, and, as I can't predict how he'll behave, I always chose the safer option and hurry on past him to the relative safety of the inner harbour. 

By the time we reach the life-savers' cottage on the top of the hill we've recovered our composure. It's a sweet little building. These days it operates as a museum about life-saving along the Costa. Here in Sant Feliu they used to make buoyancy aids from the local cork. They'd fashion them into great cumbersome jackets that would have helped keep people up, but must have made it almost impossible for them to move through the water in the direction of their rescuers. 

We normally meet a standard schnauzer up there these mornings, who's a great deal friendlier than the ginger tom. He makes the Wonder Dog look like his Mini Me.

Well, I'll be schnauzered!
The cottage was built by the Shipwreck Rescue Association back in 1897 as a place of shelter for anyone who was shipwrecked off the coast of Sant Feliu. 

Local men volunteered their time, taking turns to do their bit to help those in distress. Being a sea-faring village the focus here has always been on the seaward, rather than the landward horizon. Everyone would have been able to empathise with the plight of those in trouble and would have held a sincere wish that, should their situations ever be reversed, someone would come to their aid too.

The cottage sits on a small cliff at the mouth of the old harbour, so the folk up there would have enjoyed a good view of everything that was taking place round about.

Back in the old days the fishing boats would have been landed on the beach, where they would have sat waiting for their next expedition. These days the beach looks very different.

And, thankfully, we still have a few lifeguards around.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Thursday 27 August 2015

So what's the story?

This chap greeted me on my way home on Monday evening. I was walking back from the Convent of Sant Daniel, just outside the city walls of Girona when I spied him, towering large on the side of a building and looking for all the world as though he was suffering from the mother of all hangovers.

On reflection though, I think he's been dancing a Sardana, the traditional dance of Catalonia that originated in this part of Empordá. He's certainly dressed for the part. It's danced in a circle with everyone holdings hands, and my guess is it's all left him feeling a little bit dizzy ... .

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday 26 August 2015

First thing in the morning/ last thing at night dog walks ...

The Wonder Dog is always sitting with his paws crossed first thing in the morning and last thing at night, so my day tends to start and finish with a stroll to give him a chance to do what all well trained dogs wait to do outside ... .

Here in sunny Sant Feliu de Guixols on Spain's Costa Brava we live just above the harbour, which is where I usually take him on these outings. I'm a lousy sailor, but I love the idea of messing around on boats, so the harbour always draws me in. Added to which there's something very special about how the sunlight plays across the water in the early morning and late in the evening. It gives me a real sense of a beginning and an ending, which neatly bookends my day.

Our village fishing fleet includes some pretty big boats, and some not-quite-so-much-to-boast-about boats.  I'd really rather not put to sea in this little barcito. To my landlubber's eye it looks like a floating bathtub.

Yesterday I had to go to Figueres, where I stopped off to see my old friend Dalí. Did you know that he's actually buried in his museum up there? Weird! Anyway, I digress. All this Dali-in-the-sun stuff and these boats in dry dock (below) were starting to remind me of his long-legged elephants. Does anyone else see it? No, just me, eh? Ahem, I think I can hear the men in plimsols and white coats pulling up outside ... .

On our way we pass a bank covered with the most wonderful purple Morning Glory, which is strictly off limits to the Wonder Dog for any leg-lifting type activities. 

Yesterday in the late afternoon there was scarcely a breath of wind. The sea was like a mirror and, as the shadows lengthened, the reflections were perfect.

Emi came along and did a lot of talking about how he'd really like to learn how to fish. This was his Spanish side talking. When you go to the beach out here with a bucket and spade none of the other children are very interested, but should you chance to bring a half-decent fishing net you'll be the toast of the shoreline and everyone will want to take a turn at trying to catch something. 

We walked past some children who were armed with rods, nets and a catering size mayonnaise tub in which they were keeping this little chap. He doesn't look like he'd be much of a dinner for anyone. Emi was full of admiration. I just hoped they'd gently toss him in again. 

On warm, balmy evenings like this it's hard to believe that September is just around the corner, bringing with it a return to school and all our usual routines. I so don't want summer to end. 

But already this place is emptying out a little. There's a gentle, but perceptible drift back to work and the city. It's getting easier to find a space to park in town, and there aren't quite so many people stretched out enjoying the rays on the beach during the heat of the day.

We still have a healthy population of seagulls for company. They're a raucous bunch. They all congregate on certain blocks of the breakwater, leaving other blocks totally empty. I think they're having a bit of a gossip, catching up on each other's news and just generally chewing the fat.

And then, on our way home, we walk past the scary chap below.  I know it's not a good thing to draw on other people's walls, and I really shouldn't encourage that type of behaviour - especially if young Emi is anywhere within earshot, or reading over my shoulder. But you have to admit this little guy is rather charming in all his naive simplicity, and the wall that he adorns did look a bit cheerless before he showed up.

Anyway, look who's trashed the sofa and is demanding another walk ... and he's a very hard chap to say no to. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Catalan Harvest L'Horta de Can Patxei

The other day we went for a long lazy lunch with Mr B's family. They're a fun bunch who enjoy their food, and can be totally guaranteed to choose a good restaurant. My brother and sister-in-law live, who just outside of Pals, suggested we go to Can Patxei, an arable farm with a restaurant added on for good measure.

The food, the company, the ambience and the vino were all fabulous. I'd make a rubbish restaurant critic as I always have too much fun to break off and take photos of the food and analyse exactly what they've put on my plate. Suffice it to say that it was all super-delicious, very tasty, traditional Catalan food.

But what I really enjoyed was seeing the fruit harvest at close quarters. After we'd all over-indulged at the table we went for a little stroll around the farm. Just feast your eyes on the grapes:

Monday 24 August 2015

The 900 year-old Tapestry of Creation, Girona Cathedral ...

Yesterday I walked through the Treasury of the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Girona. It's a building that I know well and love dearly. In its treasury are some rare and wonderful things, but one of the most impressive is the Tapestry of Creation. It is a thing of great beauty; a true survivor that amazes not only by its antiquity, but by its size and complicated iconography. It combines the story of Creation with the cosmography of the calendar and the history of the Legend of the True Cross.

It's also a thing of mystery. They think that it was created for use in the Cathedral, and they believe that it was created somewhere within the city of Girona , but they don't know what it was used for, who made it, or where exactly it was woven and embroidered.

Friday 21 August 2015

La Fosca ... and the Castle of St. Esteve de Mar, Costa Brava, Catalonia

Yesterday we met up with a bunch of friends for a long, lazy lunch at one of our favourite restaurants, the Hostal La Fosca. We enjoyed some fabulous food and a good catch up, and then everyone headed for the beach. The children had their hearts set on an afternoon of messing around on pedalos, the grown ups wanted to stretch out in the sun and chat, but something else, the ancient castle of St. Esteve, sitting on the near horizon caught my eye.

La Fosca with the Castle of St. Esteve de Mar in the background

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Summer breeze lacy cardigan ...

Here's my latest creation. I've procrastinated over it for the l-o-n-g-e-s-t time. It's not difficult or involved or complicated or anything like that, but, with summer holidays and everything I've just not been able to focus on getting on with it. It's turned out pretty much as I'd hoped it would, and it's a great weight for these late summer nights or for the early days of autumn when the weather starts to cool down just a smidgeon.

It's knit with DMC Just Cotton in Aguamarina, Shade number 25, which is a lovely 4 ply cotton. The pattern attached is for size medium/  36" or 92 cm bust. You can make it larger or smaller by increasing or reducing the number of stitches cast on the back and front panels by factors of 8, which is the number of stitches over which the lacy pattern repeats. I used 7, 50g balls in total. Just read on for the pattern:

Friday 14 August 2015

Space City, Toulouse, France

Sometimes Mr B comes up with a good idea for somewhere interesting to visit. And Space City, or le Cité de l'Espace, was one such choice. Sitting in an unassuming suburb of Toulouse it's exactly what you wouldn't expect to find in such an old and historic city.

The first thing that catches your eye is the 53 metre high mock-up of an Ariane 5 rocket that's parked outside. In a low-build skyline you'd be really hard pressed to miss it.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Irish Blessings and Summer Driving ...

We're off to the sun-kissed lands of the South. Catalonia here we come!

And because our party includes the Wonder Dog we're off on a road trip (the Wonder Dog doesn't do aeroplanes). I love these madcap jaunts through France. There's nothing to beat driving on the wonderful French roads on a sunny day with the windows down, the breeze blowing in and the music cranked up as loud as it'll go. I know I've hit the mark when  Emi complains bitterly from the back seat about not being able to hear the Scooby-Doo movie on his headset.

I've got a Spotify drive-time playlist that will take me from Belfast to Barcelona and back again. There's the odd objection to some of my choices here and there, but for the most part it's a happy experience as we boogie on down the road.

There's a lovely old Irish blessing for occasions like this:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
And may the hand of a friend be ever near.

It's got many variations, but that one's my favourite.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Monday 10 August 2015

Fossil forraging in Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is a timeless sort of place. It's been here for over a millennium. The Saxons hung out and fished. It's been written up in the Doomsday Book.  Jane Austin came for the sea air, Mary Anning found her many fossils hereabouts and generations of would-be palaeontologists have followed in her footsteps.

In the summer it can get a bit chocker, but the beaches are plenty big enough to allow the masses to spread out and not tread on one another's toes.

My favourite bit of town is the East Cliff Beach which is at the end of the promenade. Carry on past the museum that's been built on the site of Mary Anning's old shop and family home. It extends north east towards Charmouth. In fact you can see the visitor centre at Charmouth and the oddly shaped cliff that sits on the other side of it in the distance.  Out here it feels sort of otherworldly. The colours are strong from the intense green of the abundant seaweed to the dead grey of the crumbling sea cliffs.

Lyme Regis, Dorset, Devon

Saturday 8 August 2015

Summer nights ...

Do you ever wish that summer would never end? I do. 

One of the many things I love about this season is how it never gets totally dark. The sky turns a dark, inky indigo, not the usual jet black from other times of the year. And you can go walking in the woods after twilight to listen to the creatures that come out after dark. Emi comes with me, but he's a bit scared of the dark. He likes to draw me into involved conversations. We talk about aliens and what kind of dinosaurs used to live in this part of Devon. In fact we talk about anything at all that will take his mind off his fear of the night. 

As the twilight darkens the bats come out and swoop around us. Sometimes we hear the big dog fox who lives in the orchard. On nights like tonight he enjoys a good bark at the moon. I think he needs to find himself a girlfriend, but that's a whole other story. And if we leave our nocturnal wanderings until really, really late we sometimes catch a glimpse of the barn owls. They appear like phantoms out of the night and they sound like nothing else in the world of the living ... . 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 7 August 2015

Dino rampage at the Eden Project, Cornwall

Calling all dino fans - or perhaps, more accurately, calling the mums and dads of all dino fans! If you've got a child who's mad about the big prehistoric lizards I've got the perfect day out for you: down in Eden they've brought the dinos back from extinction, and they're running amok through the perfectly manicured flowerbeds. It's all a bit crazy ... but it's guaranteed to delight.

Emi has had one of his best chums down for a few days to stay with us in deepest, darkest Devon. Both boys are mad about dinos, so when I asked them what they'd like to do I got a list that had a predictably pre-historic theme to it: a trip to the Jurassic coast was mentioned, and so was the dino rampage down at Eden. Emi had picked up a leaflet about it in town, stored it away and then waited for the perfect opportunity to suggest it as a day-out.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Malteser squares for tea time ...

Emi has just had one of his school friends down to stay with us in Devon for a few days. They bonded originally over a shared fossil fascination, so much of our time has been  dinosaur-themed. We haven't done anything extravagant, but we've enjoyed long country walks with the Wonder Dog, feeding the chooks and making friends with our bovine neighbours who've moved into the cow paddock down the lane.

One of the country rituals that our little visitor from London approved of whole-heartedly was afternoon tea. In my world everything stops for tea, and my world always looks just a little bit better after a nice cup of Rosy Lee.

Now as everyone knows a cup of tea on its own is just too ... wet. It's calling out for a nice biscuit or a bit of cake. These Malteser Squares fit the bill perfectly. They're from an old recipe from my own childhood that my mum used to make for me when I had friends home for tea after school. And you know in all my years I've yet to meet a person who doesn't like Maltesers. Sure there are lots of chocolate snobs out there who'll sneer at the humble honey-combed chocolate-covered balls, but just watch them carefully and you'll find that none of these self-professed foodies is above snaffling a few when they think no one's watching.

Anyway, enough of my rich and philosophical observations on the human condition, here's the recipe for a super simple no-bake classic that's guaranteed to go down a treat at teatime:

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Coldharbour Mill: a little piece of knitting history ...

The other day I popped by a wool spinning mill with more history than you could shake a stick at. The Coldharbour Mill in Uffculme, Devon (just beside junction 27 on the M5) is a little chunk of the West Country's industrial heritage. It's been doing its thing, spinning wool from raw fleeces, for more than 200 years. At first it was powered by a huge water wheel, then they upgraded to steam. These days they mostly run on mains electricity, but on certain days of the year they fire up their huge beam engine and return to the age of steam once again.

Coldharbour Mill, Uffculme, Devon

Monday 3 August 2015

How to waterproof your seed drill labels ...

The other day I was mooching around a rather fabulous garden, where they had everything organised and cared for to a level that I can only aspire to. I happened upon these seed drills where they'd recycled some used water bottles to water-proof their drill labels. It's such a simple but effective idea.

Attach your label to a stick, and then house it in an upturned plastic bottle, and the rain's not going to wash away your ink: genius!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Sunday 2 August 2015

The Lost Gardens of Heligan in high summer ...

The last time we visited the Lost Gardens was in the springtime. They were divine. The apple trees, the bluebells and the wild garlic were blooming and the rhododendrons had just passed their best and were dropping great carpets of cerise petals on the ground.  Last week we returned to see them at the height of their summer glory. And, whilst they were very different from how they'd looked in the springtime, they delighted us with displays of ripening fruit, larder-filling vegetable drills and happy farmyard animals hanging out down by the orchards.

I've got nothing against the great Renaissance gardens or the celebrated English Landscape Movement that set out with the single objective of being pretty. All of that stuff rocks, but what really makes my heart sing is a beautiful, practical garden that's full of things I could feed my family with. And that is where these gardens come into their own. Yes, they're pretty. Yes, they please the eye. Yes, they tick all the boxes on the aesthetic check list that add up to good design. But the highest compliment that I can pay them is to say that they, quite literally, look good enough to eat.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall