There are times when I wonder

There are times when I get fed up with Oxfam. Well, actually it is nothing to do with Oxfam, just the bookshop.

Today I put out a lovely collection of textile art books and thought that instead of working five or six shifts this week, I could use that time to reinvent myself as a textile craftsperson.

Instead of coming back from two weeks’ holiday and finding the place so full of books that you could hardly move – most of which dear reader, as you might know by now, went in a sack – I could do something delightfully creative and in my own time.


But it is not going to happen.

Firstly, I need structure and left to my own devices, I would fiddle about with time week after week, after week, until months had gone by and I would have nothing to show for it.

Secondly, I need contact with people and am rubbish at doing stuff on my own – I am not sure how many collective textile art beginners groups there are in Petersfield, but I am guessing not that many.

And I like my fellow volunteers and enjoy their company. The dog is great and the Best Beloved is great too, but they are not as good at being bossed around and they have their own stuff to do all day – sleep and write history, though the dog’s book is coming along very slowly she says.



Thirdly, I would really miss the books.

For all the sacks there are gems. For all the depressing piles of browned Dick Francis collections, collections of  guides to the stately homes of England, all creased, and  who wants to buy a second hand guide to Windsor Castle? – there is a delight.

At the moment, I have a collection of old books on nature – ‘Nature for Bright Boys’ for example. Dull boys presumably should go off and make model aircraft or something.

And there are books with bizzare subjects. Who would think you could make your own horse equipment or why you would want to do that. Does stacking wood the Norwegian way differ from the way you would stack it in Deepest Sussex – too late to find out as it sold ten minutes after I put it out.








A book on the children of the ‘Persian’ royal family – battered but worth a couple of hundred quid.

Books, with just really good titles.


Old knitting books with cover pictures of extremely glum-looking children – mind you considering what they are wearing, I am sympathetic.


So, I will – and dear reader you can no doubt see my martyred air – carry on juggling shifts and sacking books and making plans which I never get to carry out because there are too many books to sack and sort and price.

But in between all that, I will build a collection of old medical books, books which are so pristine we can sell them at Christmas as a gift that the receiver will never know is a second-hand book.

I will look up all the old annuals we have been given – some are worth something but most aren’t – and put them out with the Tintin books which sell like hot cakes.

I will build a collection of princess books around the wrought iron frog wearing a small crown – he sold so there must be a princess somewhere in Petersfield who is an optimist.


I will polish my halo and carry on, and secretly wonder if I would ever have made a textile artist.












Despise though I might the GCHQ watching of us all, I am minded to think that just a check through my emails when I get back from a trip might give anyone, with an ounce of sense, an idea of the life of a Sussex Housewife.

You don’t really notice the emails every day but when they mount up after a while, you can get a picture of the woman behind them.

So, here we go – a run down of the emails I get:

House of Fraser – now I am a hell-bent charity shopper but there are times when I go for a 70% off sale and if I do, HoF do it well. Last year in a moment of insomnia at about 3 am, I bought a Calvin Klein coat reduced from £350 to £79 – and I love it even though I already had a coat for every season/day/mood/colour/outfit.

I do have to say that one of my coats was bought by my mum from Oxfam about 40 years ago and I still wear it with enjoyment.

Mr Fothergill’s Seeds – up until very recently, I was a lacklustre gardener. However, the kind attention and instruction of my good friend over the road who told me what to do and how to do it, has changed all that. Now I can spend a day in the garden, dividing my irises and planting a hundred bulbs.

God knows what I originally bought from Mr Fothergill and why I signed up for his emails but I would have known nothing about what to do with them. Now I happily google what to do with my crocosmia and already the garden is looking better.

Thanks I have to say to Juliet, rather than Mr Fothergill.

Trip Advisor – now I know people are snitty about Trip Advisor but I find it a useful check. Once my best beloved booked us into a hotel in Lewes so that we had a place to change and sleep the night around a friend’s wedding. He didn’t check Trip Advisor who in no uncertain terms would have told him to think again and book anywhere but this place.

To be fair, it was billed as the oldest coaching in Lewes and was on the high street – but by god it was awful.

After waiting a while in the hallway – avoiding the sticky carpets, the jukeboxes and the very drunk people (at 12 noon) we were told that the room we had booked was unavailable because the previous people had trashed it.

Thank the lord.

I asked to use the bathroom to change and found that its definition of a shower was a hose attached to the taps….

We drove home that night.

Trip Advisor keep extolling me to add new reviews with the promise that I will get another badge – I am not sure what these badges are for but I like the idea anyway so I review away and apparently 20,000 people have seen my reviews.

I am not sure I believe that but I carry on anyway.

Refugee Action – now this is my street cred of emails. I read them and sign petitions but don’t do much else. But I do read and respond to the Rural Refugee Network which, as I might have said before, is a fab small charity which aims to make people welcome here.

Then there are all those sites asking for you to sign a petition of some sort – proper wages, the fight against people trafficking, grammar schools and so on and so on.

I sign, some of them, and then I go to Twitter and read Brian Bilston, the twitter poet and the tweets about the Archers and then I go to Facebook and check up on what other people are doing.

I had promised myself that I would never post a picture of any meal I ever had on Facebook on the grounds that I hated other people doing it – why do I want to see your breakfast?

But then we stopped in Thirsk for a late lunch – not least because we had misread the atlas and confused kilometres for miles and didn’t want to arrive at my sister’s too early.

Anyway, the best beloved was dragged away from the reasonable sandwich shop, protesting mildly, and made to walk a few yards to the next cafe where we had a wonderful lunch.

And I put on Facebook a picture of my quiche and salad – it was just so beautifully presented – and then I used their wifi to look at my emails……..

A Day in the Life

So, here is a typical Reluctant Sussex Housewife day.

Be warned, dear reader, this is not that exciting, but what can you expect from a blog that tells you on the label that this is housewife-ness and deepest Sussex.

It is also a rather long day and so you might want to go and do something more interesting or self-improving.

So, the Aga is on. I do miss it in the summer but realise that you can’t have a large oil-burning block sitting in your kitchen with the back door open and sitting in just your knickers because it is just too hot.

But now, today, even with the lovely warm weather we have been having, it is now back on and there is a chicken casserole in it.

The first casserole of the autumn.

(The best beloved’s son and girlfriend were down at the weekend and wanted a fire – we lit one. The first fire of the autumn.)

But before I could get the casserole together, I had a few other things to do.

Get my BB and his car with a problem to the garage for 8 am, and then him to the station to go and do grown-up policy things in London.

Then I had to get to a meeting on health and safety and catch up with some news, more of that later, over the Downs and far away.

That in turn, required me to look casually competent, a look I don’t often have to do for dog walking/Oxfam.

Girls, that did require some thought – in the old days, that kind of ‘uniform’ would have been second nature but these days, I have to give it a bit of thought – not that anyone noticed I suspect.

Dog walked, BB on train, I found myself very early for H&S appointment, so I nipped into Sainsbury’s for the chicken (see casserole above) and incidentally a useful couple of bras – as you do.

So, the H&S stuff was in relation to The Garden Show which happens in June and I work there for a few days with many very nice people and especially my lovely friend.

Her role is to smooth the ruffled feathers of exhibitors and mine is to behind her making equally soothing noises whilst keeping an eye out for trip hazards and missing children.

I love working at The Garden Show and am there because of my late friend – she who plied me with wine and then, dear reader, imagine my surprise the next day, I realised I had agreed to be the H&S person.

Should I believe in people looking down, as it were, I would think that she would be splitting her corsets seeing me looking like someone who knew what they were talking about – but hey, the man who did know what he was talking about said we were fine, and there was nothing much he needed to advise us to do differently.

So, to run an event you have to have an eye on the big picture and the finer details and the great woman who runs it now, does just that.

She keeps an eye on the financial disaster unfolding for an exhibitor, she knows all the car parkers by name, she remembers the name of the young person who came for a bit of holiday money and wants him back next year.

And today, she had her eye on her daughter’s broken leg – no, skateboards, alcohol and children’s parties do not mix – the terms and conditions she needed to amend, a couple of dogs and their relationship, as well as being more thoughtful and smarter about H&S than I was.

So, enough about how great The Garden Show people are. I am sure you don’t need more eulogising, dear reader.

But just another smidgen of that: In the margins of that meeting, I caught up with stuff about people who are part of the family of The Garden Show – and yes I know that is a cliché but it is true – nepotism at its best.

Two of those people are seeing each other and do you know what, that was the best of news. Two very smart, funny, lovely, bright people and the news that gives you that warm feeing of things being good.

Dear reader, you can seriously give up at this point and help yourself to a large glass of wine or even go for a long walk, because there is more….

So, off back to Oxfam.

Now, I have been away for two weeks and it seems that in that time, there have been a large number of clear outs from schools and homes, of books they don’t want.

I thought I was on duty for the afternoon – not on the till, but clearing those books.

Boxes, bags, piles, tables, benches of them

Art books, paperback fiction, children’s books, out of date cookery books, Readers’ Digest books of Facts dated 1989, atlases with missing pages and missing modern countries ( John Le Carre era cold war atlases), a ( another bloody) collection of the complete works of Dickens, jigsaws with missing bits, aged library books, books from other charity shops with 50p written in pen on the inside…..

And more and more were coming in.

I slipped out to get milk for tea and bumped into someone I know and asked if he and his wife wanted to come for supper.

He runs the ‘proper’ bookshop and she is a really interesting woman who is helping set up the Harting Supper Club – I am sure I have told you about that before.

That’s what Petersfield is like, you bump into people – and that is nice and very Waitrose.

Anyway, back at Oxfam, I was upstairs and my colleague downstairs and we were filling sack after sack, after sack, after box, after sack – you get the picture.

In the end, I didn’t have to work the whole afternoon as I am working all day tomorrow – and do you know, there will still be boxes, bags, tables of books.

So I came home and put that casserole in the bottom of the Aga.

Meanwhile – and I do suggest you give up at this point because even I am getting bored – I sold a teak sideboard.

When we got back from Brussels and France, stuff didn’t fit in the house and ended up in the garage.

For some years, I have been planning on selling the teak sideboard but never had managed to get the bloody thing out of the garage – it is very heavy.

This weekend, the BB’s son and he got it out. I photographed it and put it on Gumtree and Ebay.

Clearly, I did not ask enough because it had sold – several times over – a few hours later.

Jim was first come, so first served. He turned up this evening and told me about how he and his wife had enlarged their house and now needed stuff to put in it.

He told me this as he peered into the garage and looked to see if there was anything else he might be able to use/buy.

And then he said, ‘ I read your blog.’

Good Lord, dear reader…..

So, I am getting the casserole out and awaiting the return of the BB and then it is tea and bed – another scintillating day in the life of a Sussex Housewife.

P.S. BB came home, ate some casserole and then turned Aga down to the minimum……


















The Harrying of the North

I had heard of the Harrying of the North but hadn’t really understood what it involved.

Apparently, according to Melvyn Bragg in a radio programme I was listening to as we headed to the aforementioned north, it was outright slaughter with the dead lying unburied in great numbers because there were not enough live people to put them in the ground.

William the Conqueror found the North had the last Wessex claimant to the throne ( the nicely named Edgar Atheling,) and some Danes – he paid the Danes to go home – but the remaining rebels said no ( or maybe non!) to a battle so he decided to starve them out by laying waste to the north – especially York.

I had always imagined harrying to be a bit like repeated nagging. ‘For goodness sake, we’ve won. You lot, and I know I have said this time and again but it is worth repeating, you have to come to heel and bow at the knee and all the other stuff.

‘How many times do I have to say it? If you think I will just let it go, you are wrong. So, think on as my grandmother would say.’

( And, whilst I am at it – how much did he pay the Danes to go home? Did they really want to go home, were they homesick, and was this just a bonus? )

Anyway, we were in Northumberland for a few days and it does indeed feel a long way from London and it does feel delightfully northern.

We took the dog and my sister’s camper van and set forth on what turned out to be a bit of an estate agent’s tour.

Everywhere we stopped we discussed whether we could live there – and in quite a few places the answer was yes.

Except for the weather. Now, I am sure you are thinking that yes, the bad weather in the north would put you off.

But in fact it was the lack of proper bad weather that put me off a few places.

One night we camped in a site near Hadrian’s wall – it was very well kept with good showers ( and rather enjoyably, though oddly, it had Radio 2 piped into the shower block.)

The hardstanding was industrial grey chippings which created a rather austere look to the place and the trees, like a lot of others around there, were battered into a forty five degree angle by the wind.

But imagine the lovely snow up here, I thought.

Then I talked to the woman checking us in.

‘Oh no, ‘ she said, ‘ I came here a couple of years ago expecting some snow and they tell me it hasn’t snowed here for goodness knows how long.’

That wouldn’t do – poor summers I could cope with, but poor winters are not on.

Then we went to the very good Roman Army museum near (ish) to the Roman site of Vindolanda.

It was an excellent museum and it had a great 3d film bringing to life the town that was Vindolanda at its height – and, according to the film, it snowed a lot then.

It was a hardship posting and I’m sure life was not a bowl of sun-warmed cherries – and I am also sure that snow was not then considered a bonus.

But I went to Vindolanda with an image of glowering clouds, snow and the chance to walk around in the footsteps of many a Roman soldier looking for the delights of a warm bath-house, an inn with wine and companionship, women, shops, all sorts of delights.

When we went, it was blazing sunshine and even with a vivid imagination, it was hard to conjure up the right images.

In fact, the weather for all our trip was lovely except for a spell on Lindisfarne when it bucketed down.

We adjourned to a pub and had crab sandwiches and shared the bar with the Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Team – no, I don’t know why they were there but when they went back to their vehicle it was a little unnerving that they failed to stop their car alarm going off.

A Desk Of My Own

I am not a fan of Virginia Woolf but the writing ‘room of your own’ idea is definitely dear to my own heart.

She says you need money of your own as well, but for that I have to admit I rely on my generous husband. ( I think, if memory serves, Virginia had a bit of help from a rich family and wasn’t entirely dependent on her royalties to break out of the lentils and bread routine…)

Anyway, we have two spare bedrooms, and a study.

In one spare bedroom in one my generous husband has set up a history writing den as he decides how to create the definitively simple guide to European history so that we not only can know what the defenestration of Prague was all about, but what was also happening in say, well everywhere else, at the same time.

But let me not distract you with thoughts about how useful and entertaining that will be when it is published.

When he said he wanted that room for history writing, I said, that was fine as long as it could be easily converted back to a spare room – and that in return I wanted the study as my writing space.

Well, point number one is working out fine, but point number two never really did.

He never really left the study and I never really took it over.

So, dear reader, this could turn into a very long story so I will cut to what has happened.

I decided to move my writing to the other (by the way much smaller, but probably my favourite)spare bedroom but it lacked a desk.

A country auction is what I needed. Lots of brown – but lovely – furniture on offer. At least it is sometimes.

Sometimes, like charity shop shopping, there just isn’t anything you want. Should you want a miniature obelisk, or a Chinese inlaid cabinet or a set of wheel-backed dining chairs, you are fine but if you want something else, something particular and in the right size, shape and price you are out of luck,

We used to have a good auction house in Petersfield but it is now a trendy bar, so we have to go to Alresford where there is a (country) auction.

So, on the hunt for a suitable desk, I dragged the generous husband to the viewing and found I was delightfully knee-deep in potential desks.

To get the idea you have to imagine barns stacked with a lot of brown ( mahogany, walnut, oak etc – most of which will have been made by hand) furniture – very unfashionable – and pine furniture which, inexplicably, goes for a relative fortune.

Anyway, one of the ‘desks’ was mahogany and was really a wash stand – think servant in a good house getting up at 6, or maybe newly-middle-class girl thinking of making herself pretty, or given where we live, a farmer’s daughter – all in the the 18th century and with her wash bowl of cold water, doing her ablutions.

(If you are an imaginative sort, you could fly with a woman of slender means doing her pre-theatre abultions and hoping to get lucky, you could go with the widow fallen on hard times after her husband got killed in the Napoleonic wars, you can go where you want to – go for it, feel free.)

There was a fine Regency piece which had all the lovely curves and was originally a hall table and I liked that a lot.

It was not quite Beau Brummel’s standard I suspect, but he could have walked past it and maybe cast an admiring glance.

Those were the days when people had hall tables of walnut and hand-turned legs, dovetailed drawer joints and all hand- properly made.

Then there was another Georgian desk – and it was a proper writing desk, as defined by the catalogue, and who can’t love the idea of sitting down and writing at a desk which has been ‘written on’ for all those years.

Who was writing what to whom? Were there carriages rattling past the window as she ( or even he) wrote that poignant/formal/rebuffing/begging/entertaining/last letter.

I love Georgian stuff – it has the sniff of properly old stuff. I have three elm Georgian chairs, bought for a song and I love the fact that they are British elm – no longer available as they say – and have had bottoms on them since the 1700s.

As I say, there were other ‘desk ‘ options but they were not in the same league – they would have done, been serviceable, useful and would have rescued some ‘brown’ furniture which is always a good thing to do.

But they were not going to send me home with a song in my heart ( though what they went for would certainly have put a song in my generous husband’s wallet.)

We looked and measured and considered and all in all, the ‘desk’ I fell in love with was not entirely the best option – and anyway, it had a much higher estimate than the others.

So, the next day I schlepped back – alone – to the auction. They do a fortifying bacon roll and cup of tea before the kick off, so I had one.

As the lot number approaches, even now after all the auctions I have been to, my heart starts thumping, my hands grasp the catalogue, but I try to look calm to impress the auctioneer and other auction-goers, though god knows why because they don’t give a stuff whether you are a hardened bidder or sweating your knickers off.

Anyway, so many lots at this auction had gone for diddly-squat – and, dear reader, they were lovely things like a walnut sideboard, a Georgian cabinet, dining tables for what you would pay in IKEA for a few candles – you could have furnished a house for two and six at that auction.

But of course, you can never quite believe that your lot will go for less than double the estimate – and you will have to go home weeping.

So, I had three lots – one after the other.

You just have to bid as they come up and hope that you get one of them and if not, you have to put it down to bad luck and keep looking.

In my case, I was lucky in that my favourite came up first – that usually doesn’t happen and you have to forgo bidding for your third choice to save your money for your first and of course…..

You will no doubt, if you have got this far, be delighted to hear that I got the favourite – the one I really wanted, and I am sitting at it now writing this – in the (spare) room of my own.

And it was a bargain.