Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Friday 27 February 2009

Heavenly hats

I love hats, sadly I don't wear a hat as often as I used to – but as an art student I wore a Boy George style black felt hat covered in brooches; when I got my first job I had to walk past a hat shop in St Christopher's Place on my way to meetings with authors in London, if the meeting had gone well on the way back I'd buy a hat; my favourite was a leather and brocade beret with a silk tassle.

I'm thrilled to see that hats are BIG this week – a fab looking exhibition has just opened at the V&A in London, which prompted an interesting article in the FT last weekend. I'd never thought of wearing a hat as being an 'English' thing – but now I think about it traditional English occasions do seem to need a hat – Ladies'Day at Ascot, garden parties, watching cricket on the village green, weddings . . .

Sixteen years ago today I wore this hat when I married Cliff . . .

It fitted like a glove – no it didn't, it fitted like a made to measure hat! I wore it all day; I didn't want to take it off; in fact I forgot I was wearing it! The lily on the back exactly matched the real ones in my bouquet and the buds were made from the same fabric as my skirt and jacket. Today it lives in a box in the top of the wardrobe, but yesterday I lifted the lid and took it out just to admire the work of the milliner who made it . . .

It was made for me by a young designer who had a hat stall on Enfield market – I was attracted to his hats like a wasp to a jam butty! We got talking, he'd recently graduated from St Martin's Art College and was making hats for some very prestigious cat walk shows. "Would you make me a hat for my wedding?" I asked, and he did. I see in the FT article that Andrew Bristow is teaching the millinery course at the London College of Fashion (if he has a web site I'd do a link - if anyone knows it let me know).

Andrew's family have been in touch with me to tell that sadly Andrew passed away on 26 December 2009. They have set up a web page in tribute to him here. He was a talented and creative milliner who gave so much to his students and all those who wore, and still wear, his hats. I am so pleased that I met him and to own two of his unique creations.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Let's go to the coast

Yesterday we decided we needed a day out on the coast. It's easy to forget we live in a coastal county, we're about 2 hours drive from the sea. A search through our extensive collection of books of walks found a circular route through the sandlings and along the River Alde to Snape – just the thing! (click on the map to enlarge it)

It was a glorious day to be striding out along the sandy paths lined with gorse bushes with their yellow coconut scented flowers. Our guide book was written when Rendlesham forest had been flattened by the 1987 hurricane, it described 'views across to the river' – these were now behind tall conifers and silver birches, 20 years of forest regeneration.

The middle section of the route was along the River Alde with views all the way to Snape Maltings. Flocks of waders and ducks were on the shallow estuary, from time to time some took to the air calling reedy, piping notes. This is one of the traditional wherries with its brown sail – the sort of boat that sailed in and out of the east coast estuaries and rivers carrying all sort of goods.

After our walk we drove to the nearby coastal town of Aldeburgh. Of course we had fish and chips, eaten straight from the paper bag while sitting on the sea wall.

There are loads of tempting shopping opportunities at Snape Maltings and in Aldeburgh – so what did we buy . . . pottery from the gallery at the Malting? a dress from the designer clothes shop in Aldeburgh?

No – I resisted! A jar of pickled onions from a table outside a little terraced house and this beautiful line caught cod from one of the fisherman's huts on the beach.

We'd never bought a 'whole' cod before and here was the opportunity to cook the very best quality fish. I consulted my copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Cookbook, he recommended cooking the head with generous quantities of fresh herbs . . .

and some chopped onion in 750ml water with 250ml white wine . . .

The tender white flesh from the head was served 'a la Hugh' with mashed potato and a drizzle of a fruity olive oil – no further pictures 'cos we were too busy licking our fingers and saying mmmmmmmm yum!

The fillets will make three more delicious dinners and there's a litre of excellent stock for soup or a risotto. Oh I wish I lived nearer the sea, we'd do this every week!

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Once a hen-witch, always . . .

Thank you for all your good wishes for Ruby. After another day on a yogurt and porridge-oat diet, Ruby has returned to the flock. The first thing she did was ignore the corn tea-time treats and gallop off around the corner like a velociraptor hunting down Sam Neill. Within seconds she emerged from behind a bush with a rather stiff mouse!!!! HOW DID SHE KNOW :-O After a tug-o-war session with me, I won and disposed of the rodent's body discreetly. Ruby then rummaged around in the garden borders for all sorts of muddy tasty bits and bobs! She's happy to be back with her fellow under-gardeners and within pecking distance of the Spice Girls.

Her crop still feels a bit squashy, but we’ll see how it goes – there's a definite improvement and her breath smells, er well, sort of like a hen. She’s a good actress and would never let on unless she’s feeling really really really sickly!!! Thank you Wendy for the advice about the anti-fungal stuff she needs if the yogurt diet doesn’t work. I loved Woodland Fay's comment referring to Wendy and me as ‘hen-witches’ LOL!!! I told a friend who who writes a 'Chicken Chat' column for her village's monthly magazine, and suggested she qualified as a hen-witch too. Apparently the villagers refer to her as the 'mad chicken woman at the bottom of the hill', so 'Hen-witch' was a good alternative.

At the weekend my Mum gave me some black and white photos of me a long time ago. Mmmmmm . . . once a hen-witch, always a hen-witch ;-)

Monday 16 February 2009

The patient patient

WARNING: If you're of a squeamish disposition, you're advised to not read any further.

The grande dame of the senior under-gardeners, Ruby, was looking even more matronly than usual. Her proud bosom (I know hens don't really have a bosom) stuck out as if she had a Christmas pudding stuffed under her breast feathers. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw her hiccup – oh dear, something was up. Hen-keeping is jolly fun until one of your flock is off colour, then it can get very stressful. Help is at hand in the form of books, friendly fellow hen-keepers and the very, very useful website Poultry Chat. A quick look in the 'Feeding and Healthcare' section confirmed my suspicions . . . Ruby has Sour Crop.

The recommended treatment is described in graphic detail here. A gentler alternative treatment can be found on Wendy's blog. Ruby's crop felt very squishy and when she burped the smell was foul (sic) – I held her upside down by the legs and from her beak spewed a lot of very smelly liquid :-O When back on her feet she shook her feathers and looked at me; I apologised. I then gently placed her in Ward 1A . . .

Ruby's usual diet is varied and experimental, as well as her ration of layers pellets and mixed corn she eats large quantities of grass and other vegetation, worms, any passing amphibian and mice she grabs from the jaws of the studio assistants – no wonder the delicate balance of flora in her crop has gone wonky and the content is fermenting like the IPA vats at the Green King Brewery. I needed to get some 'good bacteria' into the mix – but how was I going to persude her to eat yogurt?!

Into Ward 1A I placed a sturdy soup mug containing water to which I'd added that universal dicky-hen panacea Apple Cider Vinegar and garlic and alongside a small glass pot of live organic yogurt, I sat this within a larger plastic tray so Ruby couldn't kick it over or fill it with bits of straw and sawdust.

Ruby walked over to the offerings and eyed them suspiciously, then she ate all the yogurt! She woofed down the lot and didn't burp. I gave her a reassuring pat.

Ruby's being such a patient patient. Let's hope the yogurt does the trick!

Sunday 15 February 2009


I'd love to believe that this was the solution to the mystery . . .

Karen said...
A Fairy sled? ;)

Well, we felt like a couple of pillocks when I read out Wendy's comment

We have one of those creatures here too, it lives several feet up and runs from my office to the gate..... took me ages to work out what it was.
It's very friendly though, and brings in my phone calls.... dropping its straight track all at once when the ice thaws.

Do you mean like this, Wendy? . . .

The scientifically trained enquiring mind of Silverpebble was on the case too . . .

Is it drips or rods of ice from telegraph wires? There are no footprints so that's all I can think of - unless it's a beaver, whose tail is obscuring his footprints but that's pretty unlikely!

I think Wendy and Silverpebble deserve a little prize for revealing what dunces we are! And Karen also deserves recognition because from now on I'm referring to the trails left from ice dripping off wires into snow as 'fairy sledge tracks'. E-mail me to studio at celiahart dot co dot uk with your addresses and I'll see what's in the lucky dip basket.

Before I go to make our supper, I'd like to pass on a tip to any of you who live in a small village: Unless to want a job for life, pretend you are totally and utterly incompetent at everything.

A few years ago, after attending a Christmas service in the village church where there was no musical accompaniment to the carols; I somehow let slip that I could sight read simple tunes and play them on the piano. Which somehow led to me sitting in front of this . . .

. . . and doing this . . .

Which is all very well when it's a nice warm summer's day and you've got time on your hands and feel like playing a nice tune just for your own amusement. It's a whole other story on a cold damp February afternoon, when the temperature inside the church is about 5 degrees below the temperature outside and there is no heating near the organ! From experience I know this calls for thick knitted socks, sturdy thick soled boots, a fleece jacket under my overcoat, hat and wrist warmers and those nifty little pocket warmer sachet thingies to defrost my fingers during the prayers and sermon – none of these improve my performance but they do hide my identity. To paraphrase the lovely Eric Morcambe: I might not play all of the notes, but those I do I try to get in the right order!

Friday 13 February 2009

Puzzle time: Tracks in the snow

It snowed again last night, re-covering the garden and plants in a soft white duvet. It covered the satellite dish too and blocked the signal, just as we were snuggled down watching Masterchef, after eating obscenely large portions of toad-in-the-hole, mash, sprouts and red onion gravy!

This morning it's mild and the snow is melting fast, but still lies a few inches deep in the front yard. Cliff returned from shovelling a clear path to the garage to say that there were strange tracks in the snow and maybe I should take photos.

There were two tracks, one less distinct that the other as it has been covered with a thin layer of snow. The track came from the corner of the yard nearest the river and the road, crossing the yard diagonally to the hedge on the other side. The more distinct track them emerged about 15 feet along the hedge and returned to the riverbank. You can see the scale next to our footprints on the left of the photo.

In some places there are breaks in the track . . .

and here too . . .

When 'it' emerged from the hedge it did this . . .

So, what was in our front yard last night? And what lives near our river?

We've no idea, have you?

Wednesday 11 February 2009

I've been tagged again!

Soilman tagged me to do the 4-4-4 meme. His instructions were to “go into your photo archive, pick the 4th folder in the archive, select the 4th picture in the folder, and write about it. Then tag 4 other people to do the same”

I don't know how organised other people are about archiving their photos, but I'm rubbish! (Except for images for design projects, then I'm obsessively organised.) So, I just stuck a digital pin into the two folders that I found when I clicked on the 'Pictures' icon on my hard disk and out came . . .

Picture 1:
The tabby studio-assistant doing some pole dancing . . .

Picture 2:
The harbour at Santa Cruz, La Palma. This was the first day of our holiday last month and we had walked from the apartment in Los Cancajos, along the coast to the island's capital where we had lunch and wandered around the streets high above the town centre before taking some precipitous steps down to the road near the main harbour and returning along the coast road.

I tag Amber, Leanne, Rhiannon and Dottycookie. Picked at random from among my recent bloggy reads. Play by the rules, make up your own or ignore – the choice is yours :-)


Monday 9 February 2009

Have you egged today?


This was our first six-egg day!

Saturday 7 February 2009

Hunters in the snow

No brainer question of the day;
"Wash the kitchen floor or go for a walk in the snow with Cliff?"

We've just got back from a short walk across the fields on the edge of the village . . .

The snow has frozen and is scrunchy underfoot; sheets of ice cover the puddles and rivulets of water run beneath the frosty panes.

Just behind the churchyard we disturb a Muntjak deer, it turns in a scatter of snow and is gone. We follow the field margins, the straw coloured grasses stabbing through the snow, and look for animal tracks as we make our way across the smudgy landscape. A mouse had made tracks back and forth between two tunnels in the snow-capped tussocks; birds, dogs, horses had all passed this way.

Then a pale bird swoops across the white-striped furrows and skims over the hedge to our left – a seagull perhaps? No! an owl!

"A Barn Owl!" we whisper – it glides towards us and hovers low over the grasses; I fumble with the camera case and the rasp of velcro sends the owl in slow flaps away over the hedge again.

We stay and watch, inching along the hedgerow to a track which curves through the fields to a farm; we stand and see the owl in the far distance as it hunts over the ditch banks beside the track – and then there are two . . . a pair of Barn Owls hunting together in the snow . . . magical moments.

These are enlarged details from the photos I took. I like the pastel-drawing quality and the winter palette.
Hunters in the snow frozen in time.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

It's like walking on eggshells

Hey! it worked this time . . .

Here's the vid that wouldn't upload this morning

Nutmeg has been transformed since we came back from our holiday (or was she swapped with a lookalike while we were away?). Gone is the timid and skittish, bottom of the pecking order, little hen I felt very sorry for; not only has she started laying, perfect pale blue-shelled eggs, but she is confident and friendly too.

Yesterday I watched her ploughing through the snow which came right up to her breast. Here she is today, scrunching over the ice-crusted snow. The other hens are marooned on the island of grass, top right; except for Sylvie, who is all in a flap, poor dear! She needs to get up into the nest to lay an egg, but how do you do it without stepping on snow?

What did you do on Snow-Monday?

It was as if the country desparately needed an excuse for a day off. Isn't that what Bank Holidays are supposed to be about but aren't, because we whizz around doing stuff and getting stressed out – yesterday thousands of people just took a day off and played. I've been looking at some of your great photos – Gina was making snow angels, Matron and Soilman were looking at how the snow had transformed their vegetable plots, Lucy made a cute little film (nice one!), Vegetable Heaven watched from her window, Zoe went for a walk and met some photogenic villagers . . .

. . . so, what happened to Magic Cochin?

As I wrote the previous post on Sunday afternoon the snow was starting to settle, we decided to go to the local cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire, this was our first visit to the brand new multi-screen just a few miles away. "If it's packed out we'll book for the later showing", "OK" I said (I can't say I was that keen to go out, I felt a bit subdued). The snow was swirling around the bright lights outside the cinema, there wasn't a queue – there were about 10 of us in Screen 4 to see the multi-Oscar nominated film sensation.

As the loud rhythmic music blasted out accompanying dizzying camera-work cascading through the turmoil of of the slums of Mumbai, I began to feel increasingly nauseous – it was as if the sound and images were turning my stomach. Had I developed synesthesia?

Cliff obviously enjoyed the film more than I did. "I thought it was going to be more of a 'feel-good' movie", "Indian cities are tough places", "I know. The ending was nice." And yes, it was a fabulous ending, there aren't many films where you have to stay for all the end credits – but this was one.

We drove home along the white roads leading into the village, the front yard was completely covered in a blanket of soft snow. I opened the door and the kitchen was full of the smell of pheasant pot-roast (I'd set the timer on the oven and our dinner was ready to eat on our
return). "Dinner smells good", "Mmm.....?" I said as I lifted the Le Creuset pot out of the oven, "I think I need to sit down". And that was it – I hadn't got synesthesia or lost my liking for a great movie experience – I was a victim of the dreaded 'winter vomiting bug' !

So, that was my Snow-Monday; I didn't go out to play in the snow or take photos, I stayed inside in the warm with the studio-assistants. After completing a digital illustration commission deadline and sending the work off in an email, I was too weak to do anything else.

I missed being out in the winter wonderland yesterday and now the snow is melting fast, but I have ventured out into the garden this morning. If blogger was behaving itself I would have uploaded a video of the senior under-gardeners and Spice Girls on the snowy lawn, instead here a couple of stills . . .

Ginger surveys the scene from up high

Nutmeg bravely strides out

Sunday 1 February 2009


Last week I scanned through the online catalogue for my favourite auction house in the hope of spotting another potential bargain. My eye stopped abruptly on a small framed picture – this one deserved attention. I wasn't aware that I knew the artist or the image, but there was something about it.

It's The Snow Shovellers by Clare Leighton. She was an illustrator and skilled wood engraver who worked both in England and America, most of her work shows people working in the countryside and she illustrated many books as well as posters for London transport and ceramics for Wedgewood. I love the strong silhouettes and sweeping curved lines which run through her work.

The Snow Shovellers was an image Clare Leighton engraved in 1929 while visiting New York. 1929 – the year of the Great Depression. She must have felt a world away from the English countryside she obviously loved and she captured a solemnity as the men clear the streets of snow and the buildings towering above them.

I couldn't get to the auction yesterday so left a cautious commission bid; my hunch that the picture was more interesting than the modest estimated price in the catalogue proved spot on . . . and I'm glad I wasn't there in person as the bidding soared way to a price I definitely couldn't afford! So I didn't buy The Snow Shovellers but I had an excuse to look at the work of a great illustrator and top printmaker.

The snow is falling outside my studio as I'm writing this – large slow flakes which are covering the courtyard with a blanket of white. Hope you're all warm and snug indoors.