What’s it like working at Chelsea Flower Show?

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RHS Chelsea Flower Show is undeniably the best flower show in the world. It’s the highlight of the horticultural year and brings out the great and good of the industry and allows people to relish in the joy of flowers and plants!

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The show that the public sees is immaculate. There’s not a petal out of place nor an in-shined leaf. A tremendous amount of effort goes in to ensuring the show runs smoothly and visitors receive the best possible experience. To put it into perspective, for a five day show in May, we start planning in September of the previous year. Whether it’s a trade stand, a show garden or a shop stand, everyone is wholly dedicated to delivering a fantastic experience and gaining good results.

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I was so pleased this year to read Chris Beardshaw’s comments saying he doesn’t design his show gardens with the judging criteria in mind; he does it for the visitors, for the industry and for the sheer love of it. That was really reassuring to read. The judging is strict but it’s elating to receive that Gold medal or 5* award which is why everyone makes such an effort.

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The company I work for has exhibited at Chelsea for over 55 years! It’s amazing looking back at the archives to see how trends have changed. Yes there are flower trends just like clothing trends.

We usually collaborate with other like-minded brands to make the most of the opportunity and deliver a fantastic experience for the visitor. It’s very much a finished garden, full of planting, flowers, accessories seating, brick paving…the works. This year we collaborated with luxury interior designers Sims Hilditch, using lots of Neptune items for the home and garden which was just dreamy. I’ve just ordered a load of items from Neptune!

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A big part of my job is planning Chelsea and all the logistics. As fraught as it gets sometimes, I thrive off it and love seeing the end result. We came back with a 5* trade stand award this year (the highest accolade you can receive).

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But what’s it like behind the scenes? Well, it’s a heck of a lot of hard work and long hours but so rewarding and I get to see the show from a completely different perspective. And we all help each other out. During the build up, we housed an exhibitor’s ‘Prince William’ clematis in the greenhouse to encourage it to flower in time for show week in the Great Pavilion which sees no light…it worked!

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I put myself on the early shifts. A 4am start isn’t my favourite but I love getting there early with a coffee, walking past the crowds gathering at the gate and walking round the show when it’s so peaceful. There’s something so lovely about London in the early morning sunrise. The workers are checking their stands and watering the plants, making sure nothing is out of place and I get to appreciate the gardens without the crowds and talk to fellow workers.

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Coffee and the sheer adrenaline gets me through the day. It’s so lovely chatting to all the visitors to the stand, finding out where they’ve come from and asking their favourite bits of the show. I find everyone has a story to tell (ever in you don’t ask) and it’s fascinating meeting all these different people with like-minded interests.

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The days are long though and you have to be so careful in the heat to drink enough water and get enough shade.

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My feet were burning by the end of each day and got very swollen being stood up all day. But it’s all such a high and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

House Hunting: Old and New

“It has to be romantic and quirky. You’ll know when you find it. Don’t just settle with practical. Go with your heart.”

You might be slightly surprised to learn I have bought and sold three homes, all before the time I’m even 30! There are many reasons for this and thinking back I can see how fussy I was as I was learning what I did and didn’t like and always thought the grass was greener. Isn’t hindsight a funny thing.

The first house I bought was a new build. Like for many young couples, it was the perfect opportunity to get on the housing ladder with a small deposit and I bought in a little village just a 10 minute drive from work and the hub of a market town.

In most cases, when you buy a house, you push yourself financially to the absolute maximum. Buying a house is an expensive process so it makes sense to future proof and push yourself whilst you have the disposable income.

Of course, this leaves little spare cash for filling the house with furniture and decorating. I was quickly bored with how stark some spaces appeared and how plain the walls were. I desperately wanted colour in my house but I don’t think I’d quite found my style and as such, the rooms remained magnolia during my two years in the new build.

My house was a small four bedroom semi-detached and because I had come from a two bed rental, some rooms remained bare. As an impatient character I was desperate to style the rooms and fill it with lovely furniture. I really struggled to add any character to our home and I know many new build owners often feel the same.

There are some wonderful accounts on Instagram of new build owners who have really made their house a home and added character through careful styling and decorating.

@thisjoneslife – lovely Vickie has created a beautiful neutral family home and always inspires me.

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@our_new_home_with_redrow – such a gorgeous neutral pallette. Beth has created a stunning show home but with a genuine lived in feel.

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@newbuildtohome – Jo’s house features a pastel pink and white palette and it’s beautiful how it’s all come together.

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@laid_back_farmhouse – Nat is such a good friend of mine and we got to the vintage fairs together. Can you believe this house is actually quite modern and this living room is a new build extension!

@nandawiaderna – just look at this kitchen. Nanda has upsized in her latest home and made it look so loved in a short space of time.

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As frustrated as I was in my first home, I think my style has developed so much since and I’ve acquired some beautiful vintage and country style furniture (think Cox & Cox and The Cotswold Co) that would look lovely in a neutral setting. How lovely it is also to know your new house is exactly that, no one has used it or messed it up and if anything does go wrong, it’s guaranteed for a good few years. Heating and electric bills are also far lower than that of an older property as developers are tasked with building homes as efficient as possible these days and have guidelines they must adhere to. I had solar panels on the roof of my new build and got paid for the energy we generated! Brilliant!

When I decided to move into the market town to be closer to everything, I went for another new property. The townhouse was 10 years old but felt full of character with a stunning first floor bay window that overlooked the hills and our cobbled square. It was lovely and with a bit of decorating, updating the lighting and changing the kitchen to suit my country shaker style, it became a gorgeous space. Again, it was great not to have any unexpected costs and to have a cosy, well heated property that I knew was well built. I just couldn’t get on with a townhouse though – the ground floor became almost a giant hallway that was cold and unloved so I just ended up on the middle and top floors and it was a pain having a first floor kitchen. I do miss some of the décor of that house though.

Fast forward to the Victorian cottage and it was a whole other story. An absolutely stunning Victorian terrace that had been completely renovated. It was perfectly impractical. Because our onward house purchase had fallen through it was quite hasty but goodness what a beaut of a house in such a gorgeous setting, right on the water, with sea views from the top floor and a pond at the end of the lane. Bliss.

I was able to tailor my furniture and buying choices far more easily to a period property. I knew the look I was trying to achieve and really loved the neutral, country retreat I was trying to achieve. I was finally able to indulge in the likes of the Country Brocante and find key pieces to place around the house.

That being said, I missed the ease of a new build. The white washed floors were draughty and picked up every single hair, the radiators were constantly gurgling away and the boiler was no fun at all. Things just seemed to go wrong. The windows needed replacing and I noticed the gas and electric bills were noticeably bigger

When I put the question to my friends on Instagram, the response was overwhelmingly for period properties. You all acknowledged the ease of the new build but a friend wisely said

“It has to be romantic and quirky. You’ll know when you find it. Don’t just settle with practical. Go with your heart.”

And that really is true. It’s that feeling when you walk around, that urgency, imagining family there at Christmas, picturing which room will be the nursery and what you would plant in the garden. We are adaptable beings and will make something work if we really want to. All I would say is have an idea of your non negotiables but remember something will always be that little bit  out of your reach and you will always have to compromise, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons

How to sell a house

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Regardless of the fact I had a few frustrating onward house purchases, with gazumping and chains falling through, I’ve always been quite quick to sell a house so thought I would share some top tips if you are about to put your house up for sale or are struggling to sell.

 

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Purring tabby cat optional

  • Choose your agent wisely. I got to know each estate agent quite well and did my research at how they market properties. Any sign of typos or cliché sentences in properties they were marketing and I knew they weren’t for me. Amongst the hacks, there are some really good agents out there. After all, if they don’t successfully sell your house, they don’t make any money so they will want to do a good job.
  • Whilst I’m talking EA’s, negotiate your contract to a fee you are comfortable with. Be wary of any agents that up their fee if they reach over asking price as you will end up losing money on anything extra you might have made. If you can, only agree to a zero week rolling contract. Some agencies try and lock you in for 14 weeks meaning you can’t go to another agent in that period if you’re unhappy with them.
  • Before the agent comes round to value your house, have a really good sort out. Now is the time to do it. You know you’re going to move so will have to do it at some point anyway. The house will need a good clean as well.

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  • Remove all sense of clutter and anything too personal. These things stick out like a sore thumb in pictures and on viewings.
  • Check that the agent will use a camera and not just their smart phone for taking the pictures that will go on brochures and online.
  • Take a look at what is out on display. Clear any paperwork or anything indicating your identity and put it somewhere safe.
  • Remember that people will look in built in cupboards and wardrobes so make sure these are tidy and aren’t bursting at the seams, You don’t want to give the impression there’s not enough space.
  • Sell a lifestyle. Don’t be precious about keeping your most prized possessions or birthday cards from three weeks ago out on display. People don’t care. They want to imagine themselves living there, not you so keep it as neutral as possible. Yes it’s an upheaval and can be unsettling, especially with strangers looking round all the time, but it will be worth it.

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  • When those viewings get booked in, make yourself scarce. Unless the interested party has specifically asked for you to be there because they have questions for you, leave the house. From experience it’s really off-putting having the owner there. I felt limited in the questions I could ask and influenced in what I could freely say. Sometimes, it might not be convenient for you to leave the house. If that’s the case, just go out into the garden or close yourself off in a room (after they’ve seen that room) or go and sit in your car for 30 minutes.
  • Speak to the agent about arranging an ‘open house’. They are a clever marketing tool in which viewings are limited to a set time on a specific day. They will try and cram in as many viewings as possible with the view to having a bit of cross over. There’s nothing like making someone think they want a house because someone else might be interested.
  • Have fresh flowers round the house. It’s welcoming and suggests you take pride in and look after your home.

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  • Bake a cake the morning of a viewing. I did this when we had a couple take a second viewing of our house. I knew they were interested so I made a little effort. There’s something so welcoming about the smell of a freshly baked cake or bread. They made an offer that day.
  • Always do a run round the house each day before you leave for work. You might not have a viewing booked in but I have had last minute viewing requests which I’ve had to postpone because I forgot to make the bed that day or didn’t clear the dishes away. It sounds like I’m being a bit anal about it all, but first impressions count and it should all be spotless like a hotel. My first thought if I walked into a bedroom with an unmade bed would be, if they can’t be bothered to make a bed, what else can they not be bothered to maintain around the house?

 

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Take a little time to reflect on what you want from your next home

 

Keep calm. It’s a big decision putting your house on the market and signals the beginning of the end of the journey you’ve taken in that home. Take some time to think about your next journey, what you’ve learned from living in your home; likes and dislikes, and start planning. A whole new adventure awaits.

My year ahead

And hello to a brand new year. A chance to dust off those new diaries we bought for ourselves back in September and make some plans! It’s time to look forward.

I’ve set myself a goal to plan in something fun every month this year. I always live by the idea of having something to look forward to and in these dark and cold winter months, it’s nice to look after your soul.

January

Trampolining

 

Me and my friend are going to go to AirHop. I’ve been wanting to visit for ages. I loved trampolining as a child so I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon than bouncing around, pretending I am eight again. Image credit to Kate Spade, from Pinterest.

 

February

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I am re-uniting with my insta friends Harriet and Michaela. The first time we met, we had a bottomless Prosecco brunch in London. This time, we are off for a trip to Bicester.

March

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I’m trying my hand at a calligraphy class with a friend. I’m always in awe of these beautiful hand-written notes and signs and would like to see what I can do.

April

Lisbon

A trip away with one of my favourites. I think we will be heading to Lisbon in Portugal. The weather should be warming up by then and there will be plenty to explore.

May

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A spa day. I think I’ll need it in the build up to RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

June

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My 30th birthday and I’m really rather excited. For my birthday itself I’ll probably either take the day off or work it, which I don’t mind, as long as I can wear a birthday crown and eat cake all day. It’s a very busy time of year at work. I’m taking the following week off though and celebrating in style with a trip abroad. I’ve narrowed it down to Italy or Croatia…

July

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I’m actually going to make it to National Trust Mottisfont to see the glorious roses. The flowers in bloom are such a pretty sight to see at this time of year and it will be a lovely day out.

August

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I’d like to go to a food festival I think. The River Cottage ones always look good.

September

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I am hoping to head to the Cairngorms in Scotland for a bit of a walking holiday with a certain man and his dog. It will be something entirely different and I’m all for exploring what this beautiful country has to offer.

October

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I’d like to go to a supper club. Me and my friend Emily had planned to attend Club Epicure back in November. Unfortunately I fell ill. I’m so glad Emily still made it. You can read her review on her blog. Image credit to Emily too!

November

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Time for the Christmas preparations to begin. I always love attending the Spirit of Christmas Fair or Country Living Christmas. I wasn’t feeling it last year for obvious reasons and only made it to the Winter Brocante. I have a feeling my festive feelings will be back in full force ready for this year.

December

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A little trip away to a cosy B&B I think to soak up all the beauty of winter and the warmth of the decorations and fairy lights.

What plans have you made for the year ahead?

Table for one?

As we put on our coats and grabbed our bags ready to leave the office for the weekend this evening, talk turned to our Friday night plans. When I explained that I had planned nothing more than to cook myself a nice dinner, pour myself a glass of wine and hunker down in my pyjamas and watch some festive TV, I was met with surprise.

My colleague joked that I should be out on the town socialising, not on my own and certainly not on a Friday night, even when I said that actually, I’d had a busy week and was still getting myself back to full strength following my illness. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved alone time. There comes a point in my day and my week where I just need quiet, a little silence and a time to take stock and be kind to my soul.

And then I read a piece of writing, about love. It was charming, and personal and full of happiness but it was flawed and hinted at a societal ideal that we can only be happy if we find love and have a partner to share our lives with. I believe everybody should know and experience love in many forms but we shouldn’t solely rely on being with someone to know happiness and we shouldn’t ever define another person’s happiness by our own. And by that I mean that whilst one person may be truly happy spending every night socialising with friends, another may welcome a quiet night in to watch a guilty pleasure on TV. And whilst one couple may treasure a weekly lunch date tradition, another married man and wife may enjoy time apart every Saturday morning, doing their own thing.

The notion of being alone can be experienced in many different ways. There’s almost a stigma around it and we certainly shouldn’t always associate it with loneliness. No one should ever feel lonely and I know it is experienced heavily. But it’s what makes us reach out and try to make those connections, build our support networks and find partnerships. I’ve explored the idea of being alone and started to get to know myself again. And it’s felt really good. And I’ve seen how strong I am, and I know where the stopcock is when I need to turn the water off! I’m not sure I experienced that before.

I think when we are happy and in love it’s easy for us to naively want for others, what we have. But don’t diminish the importance of knowing yourself, finding that independence and from that, we might just discover what is missing, if anything.

So yes, I’ve done exactly what I intended to tonight, happily. And it’s been blissful. And tomorrow morning, I fully intend to head to my local café and ask for a table for one. So be proud of yourself, of spending some time alone, because one is enough; you are enough.

My festive favourites

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After a few weeks of illness, the prospect of Christmas has certainly sprung up on me. I’m feeling stronger day by day so my thoughts are now turning to all things festive.

I adore Christmas but it will be different for me this year. That being said, I am looking forward to making new memories and taking a little time to reflect on the year.

With that in mind, surrounded by the people I love, I’m indulging in things that make me happy so I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite festive finds to share with you.

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Starting with this sparkly dress of dreams. Where do I begin? I bought this on a bit of a whim and didn’t realise quite how sparkly it is, but it’s just lovely. It’s the perfect cut neckline without flashing anything when you move about. The waist is flattering whilst still allowing plenty of room for those all important Christmas canapés and it has flattering short sleeves. All in all, it has the perfect amount of swish. I just hope Oasis will make it in lots of other colours too.

Christmas Breton

This red robin is no ordinary robin, he has a glittery top hat too. I adore this Boden Breton top. It’s lightweight too so you won’t overheat like if you were wearing a thick Christmas jumper.

Nigel Slater

I love a light-hearted read at Christmas. it’s a departure from the usual novels and non-fiction I read and definitely a guilty pleasure. This year though, I’m really enjoying settling down to read Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles. Part memoir, part cookbook, I adore the way Nigel writes and he’s certainly encouraging me to enjoy the Winter season rather than fight it. I challenge you not to love every word Nigel writes, or every dish he creates.

Winter-candles

Bringing light and a sense of calm to our darkest months is so important. If you’re like me and go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, lighting candles at the end of the day can provide such joy. Like many of you, I adore the seasonal candles from The White Company. This year I’ve got a reed diffuser as they last such a long time and throw the scent well. I was lucky enough to receive a gift voucher too so I think I’ll get myself a candle a little closer to Christmas.

Botanical candle matches

Speaking of candles, how lovely are these fancy matchsticks from The Botanical Candle Co? I adore the candles Amalia creates and it’s been great to see the success of her company this year. These would make a lovely little gift, don’t you think?

I love this print from Hero stores. And whilst I’m at it, these beauties have caught my eye for a bit of luxe casual.

I’m usually very lazy with jewellery. I don’t like fuss and I wear the same pearl earring every day, but I’d love a new simple, elegant necklace.

And of course, as self professed queen of bobble hats, I’ve been eyeing this one up for a while. Faux fur of course.

It’s soon time to start with the annual traditions and so I am heading to the Country Brocante Christmas Fair at Cowdray on Saturday. I can’t wait to share my photos with you. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what festive things you’ve got your eye on?

If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake

Baking, cooking, frying, roasting. It’s all therapy to me. 400 {ish} cookbooks (I haven’t done an inventory in a while) and a baking cupboard to rival Nigella’s. It’s fair to say I’ve found a lovely little hobby to keep me out of trouble.

Baking has at times strayed beyond just being a hobby. I have made wedding and birthday cakes for friends. And there was the Great British Bake Off audition of 2013. That was fun but any sense of calm I had in the kitchen went out the window as soon as there was expectation and a time limit. Why I thought it would be a good idea to make French Fancies for the first time is beyond me. Seriously, try it. The messiest bake you could ever try your hand at. Leave it to Mr Kipling!

But along the way, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to ensure I get good results so I thought I’d share them:

Baking top tips:

  • It’s good to get the basics mastered. Learn a classic Victoria Sponge and you’ve got a great base recipe to play with. The golden rule of 225g for flour, sugar and butter with 4 eggs will deliver you a light fluffy sponge.
  • On the note of fluffy sponges, I believe it’s all down to how you cream the butter and sugar. I always cream the butter on its own first, in my KitchenAid. I then add the sugar and almost whip it into a frenzy so it goes very pale and has a mousse like texture. This doesn’t fail me.
  • Always sift your flour in a sieve before adding it to a cake mixture. It may look like it’s lump free but it won’t be and you’ll inevitably end up with floury lumps in your cooked cake if you miss this step.
  • If you’re making pastry, roll it out between two pieces of cling film. You’ll use less flour for dusting this way meaning your pastry will remain short as it should be.
  • Have your ingredients out before you start. That way you know for certain you have everything you need and won’t be making a dash to the shops for that last egg halfway through your bake.
  • And finally, a simple one, but certainly something I’m still guilty of missing out…read the recipe before you start. And if you have the patience, read it again.

Happy baking, bakers.

 

Keep learning

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Every day on my journey into work, I pass a sign for West Dean College that simply states ‘Keep learning’.

It has been a timely reminder for me to take the opportunity to discover something new, learn a skill and find the joy in the every day.

When I was at school, then college and studying for my degree at University, it all felt like a long hard slog if I’m honest. Yes, I enjoyed it but I don’t think I did it entirely for the reason of wanting to learn; rather, it was something to be done, a stage in my life that would get me somewhere else. By the time I graduated at 21, I was exhausted and, naively, thought I was done.

Fast forward eight years and I’ve learnt that there’s a lot to learn from others, by looking up, looking around and burying your head in a book. Explored, read, ask questions.

To grow is to be open to learning new things and with it, new adventures.

So I’ve been thinking about what I want to do:

Brush up on my photography skills

I studied photography at college and I love taking photos for my Instagram; my guilty pleasure but I’d love to get myself a new digital camera and really make the ordinary extraordinary. I’ve been looking at cameras and love the idea of the Olympus Pen or the Panasonic Lumix. Can you recommend any?

Take a sugar craft course

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Baking is my jam. It soothes my soul and brings me joy to bake things for other people but I’ve never taken the time to learn sugar craft. It requires skill and a lot of patience and imagination. I love creating beautiful “naked” cakes with fruit and flowers but will often shy away if anyone asks me to create something novelty with figurines. There are plenty of courses available at local colleges or YouTube tutorials that I hope to take in 2018.

Refresh my digital marketing

Digital marketing is an exciting, ever-evolving arena. I’m conscious of keeping up to date with skills that might otherwise pass me by. I’ll often attend CIM courses or free ones run by the inspirational HPS Group and recently I’ve been taking little ad-hoc Google Digital Garage courses when I’ve had a spare ten minutes.

It’s good for the soul, it’s good for my sense of satisfaction and above all, reminds me that I might be wiser and more experienced than I was as a post graduate eight years ago, but I will never know it all and that’s what keeps me going.

So, what would you like to learn?

The Gathered Home

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The ever growing collection

A cookbook can serve many purposes in a home. It can be a manual for creating food for the perfectionists among us, it can prop up a wonky table leg on the dining room table, it can be a decorative accessory for the aesthetically minded, or, if you’re like me, it can be a form of escapism and inspiration; a journey into someone else’s kitchen through carefully crafted words and beautiful photography.

“A good cookbook is as much about the recipe as it is the story behind it.”

You can tell an unused cookbook from a loved one. The latter will be found with curled edges, and covered in splatters of batter. My most treasured of books are the ones that I have to dust the flour from and which immediately fall open to my most used recipes. The lemon drizzle loaf cake. I know the quantities and method by now but there’s something so lovely in the preparation and cinema of following a recipe; cutting and lining the tins, measuring the ingredients, the surreptitious reward of licking the spoon (and that’s just the adults) and proudly presenting the finished piece to share.

A cookbook lies at the heart of any kitchen, serving as the inspiration for what can be an everyday meal; a necessity for us all, or a memorable, glorious celebration with friends and family. Different books serve these different purposes. There are well known cookbooks I will regularly purchase from my local bookshop written by established food writers. These are writers I feel I know through their food and whose writing I look forward to. And there are others I come across and take a punt on, drawn in by inspiring photography or a way with words that makes me want to cook with them. A good cookbook is as much about the recipe as it is the story behind it.

My cookbook collection is, in a sense, a reflection of my life and everything going on around it. If I have travelled somewhere and tasted good food, I try to replicate that back home and treasure the memory a little longer with a wonderful, authentic dish. If I have a pudding to make for a dinner or a cake to bake for a celebration, I’ll look for books specialising in these. I may not end up baking a specific recipe from these books but I’ll know that they have provided much needed inspiration and got me to the bake I have settled on.

“I cook what my body needs and I read what my soul desires.”

As we observe each season around us, my cooking is heavily influenced by the weather and fresh food available. Cooking allows us the freedom to explore the seasons and to take advantage of the bounty on offer to us each month. I cook what my body needs and I read what my soul desires. There’s nothing better than sitting in a comfy chair on a lazy weekend afternoon; preferably when it’s getting cooler and the air hints at the celebrations of Autumn and Winter to come, and just reading, indulging in words and pictures and planning feasts and collecting ideas for gifts or preserving. A seasonal cookbook is always a favourite, indulging me as I plan for the week’s meals ahead or when I just need an uplifting memory of a warmer season and a reminder that it will come round again.

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The literary cat

I have amassed nearly 400 cookbooks over the years and the collection is my pride and joy as it continues to grow. When I rival Nigella Lawson’s collection of 4000, I may stop, but then again, maybe not. The books, whether shelved alphabetically or by colour of the spine, are a beautiful decorative addition to any space, creating that sense of a lived in home. They are a reflection of me. Where I’ve been, where I’m going, what I love, what inspires me, what I’ve made… and that’s what any collection should be. It is, very much so, my gathered home.