Long story short.. well probably not, ……. ok definitely not, but I do sometimes at least try, and then go off on one of my bonkers meanders.

This one is probably one of the most bizarre ones to date, and believe me that takes some doing!

Topics in no particular order include …… Poppies, Face Coverings, Neighbours, Feral Cats, Shotguns, Barns, Attack Geese, Roger Daltrey, Landlords, Fires, Trout, Wedding, Mediaeval Tithe Barns, Royal British Legion, and of course all linked together by my bonkers disjointed “Butterfly Brain.” 

I think however I managed to squeeze in an odd Quilting reference! Welcome to “Mildred’s Marvellous Wonderful World of her Meandering Musings!” Mildred is my bright blue Citroen who used to be driven by my late 93 yr old mother. 

Mildred is a bit like me ….getting on a bit, strange shape, usually reliable and has attitude with a capital kick ass “A” …. Mildred is more than somewhat grumpy at the moment … She has gone nowhere since her driver got “Shielded”. Mildred is beyond Grumpy as she hasn’t moved now for 11 months, no jolly jaunts or adventures that I could blog or write about as her “Marvellous Meandering Musings”. I am fed up her glaring at me through the front window saying….. “Where are all these promised “Marvellous  Meandering Musings” then?” … so OK Mildred just for you I will try a bit harder.

All my previous blogs are HERE.

I have luckily never experienced ‘Neighbours from Hell’ and hopefully have never been one either. I have always been very fortunate with my neighbours, they have all been completely lovely and many have become close friends literally from my childhood up until now.

However with landlords, when I was renting, it is not always such a rosy picture. I had one landlady where I was not allowed to use the kitchen or lounge and had to exist on takeaways, (eaten before I went home), clandestine tins of tuna or sardines, packets of salami, and sandwiches that I had made at work smuggled into my room. I had to be home by 6.30 pm curfew and then stay upstairs in my rented room at all times, apart from necessary bathroom visits! She hadlotsof friends who seemed to be “visiting” from the nearby London to Brighton mainline railway station! I soon moved out, just in case I was ever mistaken for one of the “staff”!

Another notable candidate for the “landlady of the year award” shortlist was the one where I had to rent 2 of her bedrooms because I was not allowed to use her lounge, so I slept in the box room and had to use the larger 2nd bedroom as my living room, and was only allowed to use the bathroom and kitchen at strictly regulated times and for only half an hour. If I used the kitchen during my 1/2 hr allowed time slot this also included polishing the sink and draining board after eating upstairs. I was also not allowed to park my motorbike on her property because it would lower the tone of the area, so I had to get permission to leave it behind the local pub. I soon moved out of both of those lovely (Not) shared houses. If you want to rent out a room in your house for extra £’s, then it is a two way street that needs civility and compromise on both sides, not just a money making venture.

The ultimate in totally unbelievable naff dangerous landlords though, who wins the highest gold plated accolade ever, was when I rented a room in a Barn Conversion at a Tennis Club at Blackboys in Sussex. It all sounded good in the advert in a local newspaper, long before the internet we still had to depend on the “small ads” in newspapers. A Barn Conversion sounded exactly what I needed, especially at a tennis club. Men play tennis don’t they? The tennis club was run by a Polish WW2 RAF hero. However the word “Conversion” was slightly over egging the reality. It was indeed a Barn and had 2 rooms upstairs, a bath and toilet in a lean to, and a big open plan ground floor, and large gaps in the wall which the rats and the feral cats got through. Rats did not thankfully last long because of the cats.

I was in a hurry to move because of a new job as a pharmaceutical representative working for a pharmaceutical drug company that worked mainly in the oncology (chemotherapy) field. This meant I had to move to an area in mid Sussex. I kept my motorbike, but I had a shiny new Renault 18 in metallic green as my company car. It was my first ever brand new car, and it had a cassette player, so I was in heaven.

I moved into the barn and soon realised that I had made a huge mistake. There wasn’t even a kitchen, you cooked on a Camping Gaz Stove and did the washing up in the bath with cold water. The only heating was a mobile gas heater and you had to pay for the Gas, the same as for cooking. There was ice on the inside of the windows upstairs so you had to use duvets, blankets and sleeping bags on the bed just to survive. Extra insulation was provided by many of the feral cats who lived on the farm who used to lay on you, kneading your chest with their claws and purring like demented tractors. It was so cold you got dressed under the bedclothes. 

I was not a happy chappy, my misery only made worse by there being no hot water. If you wanted a bath you had to boil water on the camping stove, so a quick lick with a flannel in the washbasin was the norm. I used to go to a public swimming pool to use the showers and to wash my hair, the entry fee was worth it, although I never did have a swim. Washing clothes was either in cold water in the bath or at a laundrette 15 miles away. My barn mate was a young girl who worked at the tennis club & in their bar, so she was ok because she was using the showers there and was provided with a uniform which they laundered. I was not allowed to use the tennis club showers and there was no point in joining the club, just to get shower privileges, because I am rubbish at tennis and it was deep winter.

The only highlight of living in that village called Blackboys in East Sussex was the pub. The Blackboys Inn. Lovely open log fires and great food that wasn’t cooked on a camping stove.

It was a haven from the hell of trying to live in the barn, and was even frequented by rock royalty and their friends. Roger Daltrey of the Who, owned a Manor House and the Lakedown trout fishery just down the road, was a regular, along with his celebrity chums. 

But the worst experience of living in that barn was yet to come. “Attack Geese”. Yes actual real life guard geese that honked first and then attacked you, often drawing blood, for daring to try and get to the barn from the car. For the few weeks I endured being there I had formulated a strategy which involved parking as close to the barn as I could, climbing out through the passenger door, and permanently wearing boots, or changing into them as soon as I got home. Their honk was the horrendous prelude to what was usually a blood soaked carnage.

And let me tell you, this is no laughing matter! We are not talking about the odd hissy nip or peck. A goose has a sharp toothlike tip on its upper bill. When it takes a pinch of your skin, twists its head, and pulls back, the result is torn flesh, lots of blood, and it hurts big time.

The ex RAF pilot hero relied on the geese to warn him that intruders or trespassers were on the property. One evening I got home from work, it was dark, and I applied the usual tactic of putting on my boots and using the passenger door. They were honking at full blast as an intruder alarm.

The next blast though was not as welcome, as the owner of the Tennis Club let loose with both barrels of a shotgun from an upstairs window. Luckily none of it hit me personally, but the car was not as lucky. My lovely brand new company car was peppered, and the drivers window shattered. Try explaining that one to your boss and the insurance company! I called the police but no action was taken as he had a gun licence, and it was deemed to be an accidental discharge while defending his property. Needless to say I moved out immediately, but the landlord still would not refund the rest of that month’s rent.

The broken window glass in the car was replaced, and pepper holes from shotgun pellets were filled in with fibreglass and painted over, so all appeared well. But if you have read any of my previous blogs, and my calamity ridden lifestyle, you will know by now that was no, or ever going to be, the end of the story. 

In the middle of Eastbourne on my way to give an important professional presentation to Oncology Consultants (Cancer Treatment Chemotherapy Specialists), the repaired car caught fire🔥, like a real proper full on inferno that no fire extinguisher would ever rescue. I managed to get out in time, and watched my car disintegrate in front of my eyes, and thankfully Sussex Fire Brigade managed to extinguish the flames before the petrol tank exploded, which could have caused catastrophic consequences in the middle of Eastbourne to both property and passers by. It was deemed as being an “electrical fault” … the car was a complete write off … but I still think a few stray shotgun pellets that reached the engine and/or wiring might have been a contributory factor! I did not get a replacement new shiny car, I used my motorbike for a few weeks, and then was given a “Rent a Wreck” …. from someone who had left the company and driven their car literally into the ground. Luckily from my Army experience of driving lorries, I knew how to double de clutch to circumvent a dodgy clutch and lack of synchromesh.

I digress, well it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t! 

Back to nice neighbours. I have lived in my little cottage in a small market town in Oxfordshire called Faringdon since 2004. There is one lovely couple who live next door and they often have their great niece to stay during holidays and weekends so that her mother can do extra weekend shifts or work during school holidays. The little girl is a complete bubbly bundle of joy. She is now 8 and lost her father at 18 months old to cancer. I wrote about her and the special quilt I made for her special bedroom at her Great Aunt’s next door in my last blog “Support Bubbles”. She giggles for England. She loves sitting with me while I sew whether it is my house or in the garden, especially if I am making something for her. Sadly she can’t sit and watch me sew at the moment, but hopefully next year when this nightmare is over I will get the chance to help her make something and maybe even teach her how to use a sewing machine. 

I asked my neighbour if she would the quilt I was making, without a recipient in mind, for the little girl’s new bedroom. She thought it was a fabulous idea, and even brought her round to see what I was making, at a suitable distance of course. The little girl was literally jumping up and down with joy so I knew it was going to a good home! The Quilt is now finished, I made two proper pillowcases with the sleeve for the pillow to tuck under and all the seams are french seams so they will wash well with no fraying. There were still a few scraps left so I made her a Pyjama case, a reading pillow and a zipped pouch bag. 

I can’t do FMQ but I don’t let that put me off. I use the inbuilt stitches on my Pfaff Performance 5 and variegated threads to hide the boo boo’s and provide interest. The wiggles seem to work better than trying to do stitch in the ditch and easier to eyeball without marking the quilt. I use a feather stitch on the machine to do my binding. I use a 3” binding, folded in half and sewn to the back, then I bring the binding over to the top so that the binding edge is actually wider on the front than the back. I then use a variety of the inbuilt stitches to secure the binding but the feather stitch is the most reliable.

OK … I know this was meant to be about Weddings. On the other side of my house there is a lovely couple who moved here last year. In February we received an invite to their Wedding in August. I feed their cat when they are away, and they put our bins out if we away, as most nice neighbours do, but they are both really nice people anyway. Sadly they had to cancel their wedding plans, even before the new 15 people limit on guests, it was still a limit of just 30 when they decided to wait until 2021.

I know in the greater scheme of things a postponed wedding is absolutely nothing compared to the hardship, tragedy and loss that so many others are suffering. Sadly I have lost more than one personal friend to this awful virus. I could not even personally console or hug one friend’s widow because she was in quarantine and I was shielded, although obviously we have been in lots of contact via phone and Messenger. I have also recently lost a lovely friend, a man I served with in the Army to this evil virus and he was living in a supposedly safe region in the South West.

My neighbours were being very upbeat and stoic about their temporary wedding delay, but I knew they were really hurting. They decided they could not be at home moping around on what would have been their actual wedding day, so they rented a cottage to get away from it all for a long weekend, when travel was still allowed back in August 2020.

I knew they loved poppies because I had seen two large canvas prints in their lounge when feeding the cat. When we were away last New Year in Brugge in Belgium, I bought her a lovely Flanders poppy scarf which she was delighted with.

I love poppies as well and that is not just from having served in the Army and their special significance in Remembrance, or the many trips my husband and I have taken to Flanders and the Somme visiting places where my grandfather would have served. We have a stunning mediaeval tithe barn in the next village to us at Great Coxwell and I am still very proud of a photograph that I took a few years ago lying on my stomach in a wheat field full of poppies with the tithe barn in the background. It even made it into a local town calendar.

So I decided to make them a Wedding present of a Sofa throw or quilt featuring poppies. It was nearly finished and I decided to make the backing in fleece, rather than cotton plus wadding, because they now have two boisterous Jack Russel puppies, and I thought it would be more practical and easily laundered. I assumed they were leaving on the Friday for their weekend away, but found out on the Wednesday night they were going on the Thursday! So I had to pull an “all nighter” to quilt it onto the fleece and bind it. How many of us have also done that…. quilting to a deadline for a special present?

I can’t remember where I got the soft watercolour inspired Poppy Material, but I also used two red blenders, a black and gold print, and some Beth Studely designed Poppy fabric from her Makower Meadow range.

Just before they left I managed to take a couple of pictures in my garden and then deliver it next door in a box marked “Do not open until Saturday”.

They were blown away by it, loved the poppies and most of all the thought and care behind me wanting to give them a hug on what could have been a sad day.

They sent me a photo from their rented cottage after they opened their surprise.

By the time they had got home I had also managed to make 2 envelope cushion covers from left over squares and fleece for their sofa.

The poppy fabric I had bought to make and make the quilt didn’t go to waste though, our team of local sewers for our Community Mask trees at the food bank and local shops did some poppy themed ones to raise donations to the Royal British Legion in the run up to Armistice. I added a total of 13 metres to the poppy fabric stash and more suitable fabric for the inside lining. We worked very closely with our local Royal British Legion branch during this project to support them at a time when the lack of normal fundraising initiatives could impact on Poppy Appeal funds being raised. We wanted to have their full agreement and to ensure that any money raised from the special masks went directly to them. Some of their own members joined in with sewing face coverings as well. I think working with our local RBL branch and getting their support and endorsement was absolutely vital in ensuring credibility and reassuring people that any proceeds from donations went directly to the RBL rather than someone using Remembrance for personal or commercial gain. Approximately £2,000 of the local branch RBL fundraising total of £14,000 was achieved with the face coverings from our mutual efforts. 

 

 

I love making Quilted and Needlework things for other people, especially when they deserve it, and importantly appreciate the time and care taken to make them, and there is often a hidden story there if you dig deep enough.

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