the rambles of a family of five in Australia


a-hunting we will go, a-hunting we will go…

The Lodge

A favourite film scene of mine has always been the fox hunt which Mary Poppins, Bert the chimney-sweep and Michael and Jane Banks get caught up in while in one of Bert’s chalk pavement pictures. I’m not sure if it is the charming mix of animation and real-life actors, the music or the comical animals that make it so enjoyable for me, even now as an adult.

Recently, we had the opportunity to lurk on the edges of the local Hunt’s Meet, prior to the commencement of the actual hunt itself. Due to the ban on fox-hunting which is in place in England, there were scent trails laid, rather than the hunt searching out an actual fox.

The weather itself was glorious: sunshine beamed down, the breeze was no more than a zephyr and we found ourselves scenting spring on the air, rather than frost and snow.

The Meet

 We walked up to the Lodge and stood on the ha-ha (a walled embankment above a field) to watch the hunt meet. The horses were enormous and high-spirited – great fun to watch – and their riders were decked out in glorious costume. (Not really costume, but the outfits dictated by custom.) We even spotted a lovely lady riding side-saddle in a fabulous skirted riding-habit – quite as if she had stepped from the pages of an Austen novel. Riding hats are merely hats here – not helmets (it’s not even compulsory to wear a bicycle helmet when riding on the road here!) – so there were various modes of headgear: top hats, bonnets; caps etc.

Taking some final instructions…

The hounds were brought up after about half an hour or so, by the Master of the Hounds/Kennels, and they were gorgeous. Liver and white and thigh high when standing on all fours they were inquisitive, boisterous and utterly consumed by the need to explore. The home-made sausage rolls and glasses of port being handed around were safe only on horseback or in the hands of the very confident. E was captivated and desperate to get closer to the ‘dogs!’ until he was licked in the face, which made him more timid. (N.B. Never let anyone hear you say ‘Dogs’. They must always be referred to as ‘Hounds’.)

When it was time for the hunt to set off we got to see the Master of the Kennels in action. He had such amazing control of the whole pack of 20 or so hounds that he could look at one who was baying softly and say ‘Shhh’ with his finger to his lips, and the hound would stop. Only once did we see one hound continue, at which point it was flicked on the nose (by the Master, who was on horseback) with a piece of cord, and then it did hush!

The hounds led off the hunt – searching for a scent to follow – and were then followed by the riders. We saw them hither and yon across the estate for most of the day after that and it was a bit of a thrill to hear the horn being winded and to be part of our own Mary Poppins moment.

E rediscovering sunshine

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christmas 2010

Jesus is the reason for the season!

Rob getting suitably attired to sit in the kitchen and open presents…

E’s first gift – not really sure what to do with all the paper…

First gift unwrapped and sorted – think E is getting the hang of it all!

New crockery and cutlery from Gma and Gpa….

…yep – it’s a winner!

‘More tractor, Daddy, more tractor!’

E chose this himself on Christmas Eve and is still delighted by it!

Cooking Christmas Lunch – E loves to grind pepper.

E also volunteered to wash up. Water all over the floor = happy little boy.

E had his eye on dessert (apple pie) since he woke up. (So did his Dad!)

The wonders of Christmas snowfall!

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time for a fire

One of the most amazing things we experience, living where we do, is to be surrounded by unfamiliar birds, animals and plants.

Only this week we have watched water buffalo bathing in the lake; stags clashing antlers (as the breeding season gets underway); smaller deer pronking (jumping along on all four legs at the same time); 200-300 wild geese wheeling in an extended ‘V’ formation as they prepare for migration; squirrels scrambling up and down the beech trees as they prepare their hoards for winter; pheasants and partridges feeding on our driveway; a sparrowhawk dragging a pigeon off for lunch after a quick, neat kill; and dozens of different birds thronging our bird table.

We’ve also seen walnuts and chestnuts ripe for the harvesting on various trees on the estate; apples growing wild so bountifully that the ground around them was littered with windfalls; little red-yellow crab apples; huge cooking Bramleys and all sorts of plums ready to be picked by the score.

E harvests our raspberries as often as he can get away with it – and is receiving lessons in sharing as a result. This is a wonderful place for a child to spend time in, and we are enjoying ourselves enormously.

We won’t mention how cold it is already, and the frequent rain, which is creating opportunities to wash more often! We’ll just leave you with a picture of our first coal-fire and the assurance that we are spending as much time as possible in front of it!

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dairy cottage

It has been said that ‘though the mills of God grind slow, yet they grind exceeding small.’ The mills of bureaucracy and government in the UK, however, merely grind slow. We’ve been living in our new abode for nearly one month, but are yet to get a phone line; bank account; internet access or a TV connection and license. We are sorry to have been out of contact for so long and look forward to being able to use skype, email and this blog to keep up to date with all our family and friends.

Dairy Cottage is a cute little stone-and-brick semi-detached house built in the early 1800s as part of a dairy on an estate. Our neighbours, who share the other part of the semi, have lived and worked here for fifty-four years and have been extremely helpful in giving us advice and hints on places to shop and how to use various appliances we aren’t used to. Our house was refitted a few years ago with modern kitchen cupboards and a new stove (the English call it a ‘cooker’) but is otherwise much as it has been for years, apart from fresh coat of paint the week before we moved in.
We’ve a little glassed-in porch as you go through the front door, then a short hallway which provides the entry into the three rooms on the ground floor and the staircase. We’ve used the biggest ground floor room as a lounge room, and the other long narrow room full of windows as a playroom for Ewan. The final downstairs room is the kitchen which is floored with very old red terracotta tiles. We’ve a small table, two chairs and E’s highchair in the kitchen, which is where we eat our meals and where H and E spend much of their day when not outside. The kitchen is also the warmest room in the house, heated as it is by the residual heat from next door’s Rayburn stove which backs onto one wall of our kitchen. Both the lounge room and E’s playroom have working fireplaces (for coal & wood fires) with lovely old mantel pieces, which at present are doing duty as bookshelves.

From the hallway you can either go downstairs into the cellar (a nice cool place suitable for storing cheese, I’m sure!) where the boiler lurks, silently for the most part, and our dryer sits; or you can go up four wide shallow steps to the first landing, off which is a small bathroom with a lovely view onto the back garden. From this first landing you then go up seven narrow creaky stairs to the second (and final landing) off which (up one stair) is the master bedroom; E’s small room; the guest room and a dressing room that leads into the main bathroom. The highest room in the house is the airing cupboard which is up two very deep stairs from the bathroom. The master bedroom and the bathroom also have fireplaces and the corresponding mantelpieces and there is a central heating range in every room except the kitchen and the landing bathroom. There is quite a bit of storage in built-in cupboards in two of the bedrooms and the dressing room, which is quite unusual in a lot of English houses and for which we are very thankful. And that is the sum total of our lovely Dairy Cottage.

Except, of course, for the garden, which, when I first saw it, I remembered as small, but it is actually quite a reasonable size. You get to the garden through the back kitchen door. On the left hand side is a gate leading into the next door neighbours’ lovely garden; then the oil fuel storage and a small brick shed where we keep coal and the gardening tools. Heading up the garden path, on the right hand side is a long garden bed about 1.5 metres wide running up along the fence line, while on the left is lawn all the way to the next paddock broken only by a hedge which serves to give us some privacy. The garden bed is lovely in the English country garden style – full of bluebells; buttercups; daffodils; forget-me-nots; foxgloves; periwinkles; raspberry bushes (soon to be covered with lovely ripe fruit); roses and violets.

 It was also stuffed to bursting with weeds, mainly ground elder and stinging nettles, which by dint of careful perseverance we have removed.

H and E have sown seeds (in very haphazard fashion) of sweetpeas, stocks, nigellas, poppies, lettuce and rocket and are keen to see what fruits are produced by their labours. Above this garden bed – running almost parallel – strung between the coal shed and another corrugated shed at the top end of the bed, is our washing line. It was there when we arrived and we are very grateful for its presence.

 Despite the fact that people look at our washing askance, we love being able to dry it in the open air as at home. People similarly comment on how ‘old-fashioned’ it is to have a top-loading washing machine, when we tell them what we used in Australia, and are horrified when we say that we wash our clothes in cold water only! It is clear that we won’t be able to dry our washing outside for most of the year here, but H intends to make the most of it while she can.

There is a further shed beyond the corrugated one, made of wood, and bordered by a forest of stinging nettles and some well established young elders, which must come out. There is also an old, dead, spindly tree that we had to pull out of the big garden bed for fear it would fall on top of one of us, and it will need to be sawn up and put on our next door neighbours’ bonfire pile. R is in charge of the mowing, given his recent prowess, but is lamenting the lack of his Australian tools, as he is currently using a flymo electric lawnmower to cut the lawn and it is a laborious effort.

The estate on which we live is about 3000 acres in size and is split between arable land and woodland. At the moment there are about 1800 acres under cultivation with oilseed rape (which we know as canola) and wheat.

There are about 35 acres planted with soybeans and maize, but this is to feed the pheasants during the growing season, before the hunting begins.  E and H try to go for a walk most days and tend to walk past all the farm buildings and machinery (which E loves to look at) and through the canola fields towards a huge Cedar tree. Today our walk was all in the blue unclouded weather and I am convinced we are experiencing a true English summer’s day. Our walk was improved further by being given a huge bag of lettuce which was delicious in our lunch salad.

All in all, reading over this before I post it, it sounds rather idyllic and I’m conscious of how blessed we are to have been given the opportunity to live here and experience this kind of life. It’s not all perfection however! There’s the little matter of the lack of mobile phone reception; the fact that it will be horridly cold in winter; the nasty finding of a dead rat on the driveway two days ago; the certainty that we are currently giving house (and chimney) room to a small and very lost bat who likes to fly around at night – when else would a bat fly, after all?; as well as the multiple creaks and cracks in a house like ours.

We love living here and E is appreciating the bigger spaces and freedom to play.

More of him (and Dairy Cottage) in posts to come!

(Written 17 June 2010)