Beach Hut Boost!

2017-05-22 22.37.39
Our pale, blue haven “Forget-me-Not” 399 Eastcliff, Walton-on-the-Naze

I am greeting this blog like a long-lost friend at a reunion this evening: I have reason to celebrate, but it also feels a bit odd and like my past has possibly come to bite me on the bum.

It has been a really long time since my last post on Beach Hut Blogger – as many of you know – I began The Happy Hire Company as a result of the musings and deliberations on this blog page, you could say one made way for the other and then the new brain-child took over.  Much like with siblings, The Happy Hire Company grew and stole all of the attention, whilst, like a jealous older-child, this blog sulked in the corner for a while.

DSC_0345
Really not sure about the new addition…

Indeed, The Happy Hire Company has soaked up all of my beach hut thought-time and left nothing over for this little page.

I confess, I also began to shy away from sharing thoughts about life in general as it can feel a bit odd and lead to a stunting of ‘real-life’ conversations.  Nothing throws a spanner in quite like, “yeah I read it in your blog.” Whistles. I did also FEEL like a bit of a spanner at times, things I shared one day would make me cringe the next. We don’t stay the same, we grow and change and written word has an unforgiving permanence. Much like Facebook, once you have the bastard thing, there’s no getting rid of what you’ve put out there, even if you delete it, it comes back and remembers it ALL!

Anyway, the long and the short of it is: blogging’s a bit weird, narcissistic and unnatural at times  – but I hadn’t fully given up on why I first started it…

I wanted to write.  I lost the urge to write on the blog for a catharsis, as I found time to launch myself into writing fiction, for real, and privately.  There is a deliciousness to writing without anyone to read it, judge or criticise or simply ‘not get it.’ I can be free and explorative and enjoy (slightly wanky statement alert) the art of it all. The purpose, eventually, when I am bold enough, will be to send it to a proper literary agent and publisher-type person. Right now, I am back to waffling on this blog – but for very good reason!

WE made the shortlist for the Top 10 beach huts of the year 2017! Our little Forget-Me-Not, that started this, has made the shortlist! It is a national competition by Towergate Insurance in conjunction with The Sunday Times  -and I am really proud to have made the cut as there are so many beautiful beach huts around, with owners that have fantastic stories.

The stories are the first thing I skip to, whilst you might think it’s the bunting and bric-brac that catches my attention, it’s the people in the huts that fascinate me.

People buy beach huts for lots of reasons.  Rest assured these are not for the faint- hearted.  They are expensive and make no logical sense at all!  They are essentially over-priced sheds located in the place most likely on the globe to erode a shed.  They need maintenance EVERY year almost, and are effectively grown-up Wendy Houses!  So, for someone to part with hard-earned cash for this slightly-bonkers purchase there has to be a special reason. Plus, some have been in families for generations and this tells a story in itself.

Our story is documented in this blog in one of my early posts.  It is also briefly outlined in the competiton link.

Let me tell you some of the story that hasn’t been told.

Nobody can prepare you for a baby, and definitely not two, now, we had a beautiful first year with my gorgeous Grace…

DSC_0237
Feeling very fortunate…

– but I did not expect to be in surgery, twice, with a very small baby.  Grace was born requiring plastic surgery on her hands and feet under general anaesthetic, so they could remodel them to fit her shoes and for her to be able to grab and handle objects as she grew.  Nobody would ever know to look at her beautiful hands and feet now that a small team of plastic surgeons had sculpted those perfect little bones at just a few months old.

Any parent who has left their crying child with an anaesthetist and done that bleakest of walks back to the ward will tell you that it is a devastating feeling that you never truly recover from.  Now, Grace had relatively minor surgery compared with the life-saving surgeries performed on a daily basis by our completely amazing NHS and believe me when I say I am grateful daily – indeed many people around us don’t even know she had surgery as I have never desired to make more of it than it was.  But.  When I look back on those first blog posts and think of the time we bought that beach hut, after her first year with us, I can see a correlation that I can only see now that I am having this reunion and like a picture on a jigsaw puzzle, it can only be viewed once the pieces start to fit together and it is formed.

 

I was recovering from a deep wound of my baby being handled and injected and medicated and left by me, albeit I did it for her own good, and we have had a very easy time compared to many, but I know why I bought that hut, why,  as it says in that blurb for the competition that I may have, in part, ‘struggled to settle into family life.’  I know why it took me a really long time to settle my soul and feel an inner peace I had previously known.  I needed a beach hut to escape to because it was a place that I could gather myself and reflect and be as near to the sea as I could possibly get.  The healing, restorative, cleansing sea.  I wrote of waves crashing and peace dripping in my first blog posts.  I now look back and can see what I was seeking and can gladly can say I found it.  But not at a beach hut.  The beach hut helped. It was a boost. Truly though, nothing actually heals pain externally of ourselves. No car, house, holiday, book or guru would work.  I had and still do try and find answers outside of myself and this doesn’t work.  It may temporarily  – but it doesn’t really.  The answer, as the oh-so-wise ‘Moana of Disney’ says, is inside me – and I realised that ‘still, small voice’ was just a bit louder by the sea that’s all.

Now,  I know, I can access that still, small voice anywhere I want and I can access peace in any circumstances… N.B except the school-run and when the kids argue, as they are the last bastions of hell as all mothers know.

2017-05-31 16.00.53-1
No problem with these jazz hands – and feet!

As for the reunion.  Well, it’s felt quite nice.  Remembering the boost the beach hut gave us, how far we’ve come as a little family -and for me as an individual -how one little, blue beach hut and a tentative blog, gave rise to a new career- of sorts – and an income- of sorts -but most importantly finding what makes my heart actually sing, which is what I set out to do and have found, though this will most likely come back and bite me on the bum at the next reunion.

We really shouldn’t leave it so long!!

 

You can vote for our beach hut to win the competition and – if I do -I get to meet that smooth operator, Phil Spencer, from Location, Location,Location, so please nominate us by clicking this link below and voting for ‘Forget-me-Not’ beach hut Eastcliff Walton-on-the-Naze…

https://www.towergateinsurance.co.uk/home-and-property-insurance/beach-hut-of-the-year 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Is that fondant in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? 

2015-09-04 18.59.422015-09-11 12.50.02

Warning:  the following post contains innuendo, phallic imagery and scenes of doll torture…

A fondant-fanatic I am not, but, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a way of icing a child’s birthday cake (or an adult’s for that matter) that yields a more satisfying result.  Indeed, if it’s a character cake you are after then look no further than this sugary, grown-up play-doh.

2015-10-09 12.34.19

I use ‘Renshaws’, ready coloured , ready-made fondant.  The fun for moi is in the modelling, not faffing with recipes for fondant.  Saying that, I may try to make my own fondant in the future, it does get pricey if you are making quite a few cakes.

2015-07-23 23.37.22

Indeed, cost is a factor that is worth a mention. I have never, seriously, weighed-up if the cakes I have made compare favourably against the cost of a professionally made, cake-shop-bought cake.  I do know that if you desire elaborate characters and personalised, bespoke details then you will end up paying more.  Overall, I have parted with cash for the ingredients and, this year, various tools.  I now see it as another interest/passion so it follows that requires investment and I am happily expanding my skills with each cake. I also have some sort of masochism going on to torture myself like this each year!

On the subject of torture… my poor husband returned home to this in the middle of my making the Ariel cake for my daughter’s 3rd birthday.

2015-07-21 23.20.22 2015-07-21 23.08.45

The reason for this will come clear…

Each year I, stupidly, allow my children to choose a theme- we’ve had suggestions of Angry Birds, Lego Star Wars, Rabbit, Sandcastle, and more recently, The Avengers and Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’ took centre-stage.

Each cake that I have made has taught me something new and I want to share it here – as I know you foodies and fellow masochists might be interested!

My top fondant-trickery tips:

1. Tylose Powder – this stuff underpins all those amazing, gravity-defying cakes you see on Pinterest and at cake boutiques…just look at that seaweed, see how it stays vertical?  Tylose powder, mixed into a ball of fondant gives it a greater elasticity and general moldability and (ahem) staying power.  You could call this the viagra of cake making (I did warn you).  Half a teaspoon of this magic dust and you will have firm figurines and seaweed- so erect- it could make a girl of the night blush.

2015-07-23 20.44.502015-09-04 18.58.51

2. Moulds using old-fondant remnants.  Yes, you heard right…that fondant you throw away because it’s out of date or been over-used and finished-with can be reincarnated for perfect, little prints of objects- to place on your centrepiece cake.  Now, I tried other ways to mould shapes, in particular doll’s faces, for perfect figurines- hence the doll torturing above. This did not go well.  Not only does it make for a disturbing scene, very difficult to explain, honestly, but it is also ineffective.

I used a moulding jelly and I found it wasn’t robust enough to take the amount of pressing in of fondant that was needed to to create subtle facial features and contours.

Then I unearthed the old-fondant method and it was revelatory.  At this point, I have to credit Verusca Walker with this fantastic nugget.  It will not waste your time to watch her excellent tutorial-clip, on You Tube, about how to make old fondant useful by adding A LOT  of that magical Tylose powder and quickly pressing in your chosen ‘positive’ object before it sets.  See the examples of some moulds I made for the Ariel cake below…

2015-07-23 16.03.072015-07-23 22.00.222015-07-23 22.13.242015-07-23 22.48.30

…no this isn’t a tiny penis mould (top left) it is a doll’s body I promise…

So, now being able to mould my chosen shapes and objects I could race ahead and frolick thought this fondant lark.  I had a perfectly formed doll’s face (can’t say that without launching into a rendition of Dirty Den’s “alwight doll face” for some reason) now all I had to do was decorate the features.  This involves patience and time: this is good for me as a form of harnessing that rush, rush part of me and forcing myself to focus and slow down.

This doll’s mush needed seriously steady hands and a focused mind, in fact, I could lose a whole evening working on it and think I had only spent an hour, it is totally engrossing, escapism.

2015-07-24 21.10.59 2015-07-24 21.11.07 2015-07-24 21.11.20

For information, I used fondant to make Ariel’s facial features. I didn’t get on very well with the pens or brushes you can buy; they often bled into the icing and looked a bit messy – see first failed examples..

Ariel looks like she has had a hard life here – or been on the lash – not the look I was going for…

2015-09-04 17.51.47

I worked hard on using tinier and tinier amounts of fondant to do the mouth and eyes – if in doubt use less, and then less again, is now my rule of thumb.  Awkward-looking figures are usually due to oversized parts -whoops there it is again.

After lots of preening and primping – she looked like this (see below) and I was the proudest I have ever been of anything I have ever made – ‘The Little Mermaid’ was also my favourite film as a child- so that helped and added to the enjoyment!

2015-09-04 12.21.38  2015-09-04 18.01.56 2015-09-04 18.09.42 2015-09-04 18.34.56 2015-09-04 18.58.46 2015-09-04 18.59.05 2015-09-04 18.59.15 2015-09-04 18.59.42 2015-09-04 19.00.02

So, now I had discovered fondant moulds I could leave the poor dolls alone and I could make figures like the ones I ogle over on ‘Rouvelee’s Creations’.  This woman is a genius.  She is the Leonardo DaVinci of fondant.  One look at the figurines she creates and it changes you forever.  I knew I had to try harder. Indeed, my Ariel (above) is based on her beautifully poised figurine – found on Pinterest.

3.  The third main thing I have learnt that changed the game entirely for me is that you can store fondant.  SERIOUSLY – I used to make cakes in the few days before the birthday/event and ice it all in one crazy burst of fondant-fecklessness.  To discover you could make them months in advance and then plonk them on top of your cake on the day – well this is a revelation. Now, be careful: you can only store a figurine in a cardboard box; if you put it in a plastic tub- like the ones you should store unused fondant in -they will sweat;  don’t put them in the fridge either, they will fall apart and fade;  a cardboard cake-box is best, in a cupboard. In fact, lurking in my cupboards are all kinds of weird, in-limbo, creations- waiting for a final resting place.

These tips all work the same for Marvel/Avengers characters – see below…

2015-09-11 12.49.09

Tylose the ‘superhero’ of cake decorating (see what I did there!?) can be mixed with a little water to make a great glue-paste that sticks the parts together – meaning Thor’s hammer can stay firmly in place. (cough)

2015-09-11 12.48.462015-10-09 10.27.56

Well, for those of you who have the inclination and a little time – remember –  you can make those fondant bad-boys in advance – I say go for it – become a fondant fakir and share your magic with me – please – I need all the help and inspiration I can get.

Fondant innuendo also very welcome. 😉 xxxxxxx

p.s – if you would like more detailed information on how to sculpt individual elements of any of the cakes I have shown on the blog or Facebook page – please let me know and I can do follow-up posts -depending on demand. Feel free to ask questions and I will do my best!

Inspiration

image
The beauty hurts my eyes.

‘Inspiration’ is the word of the day.  Where do we get it? Why do we get it? What is it exactly?  How do I get more of it!? I got back to blogging this weekend, mainly because I saw these -above…

Beach huts in Bournemouth – recently decorated in Cath Kidston’s beautiful prints.  I’m in love. Yes, it is an advertising stunt, yes, it is to shamelessly promote the brand, but, it just cannot be denied- they are so, so bleedin’ pretty, look at those perky rows of eye-catching colours and prints!!

image
The cloud print is AMAZING for a hut.

Seriously, I held my breath when I saw them. Why though? I ask myself.  I am a rational person (sort of) stirred by real-world events and important issues, nevertheless, a tiny wee nearly came out when I saw these huts- and a squeal formed at the back of my throat somewhere low and primal-as primal as anyone can be about polka-dots and florals anyway.

Excitement (of the wee inducing, squealing kind) is born of love and passion for things.  I love beach huts (as is clear) but they are inspirational in a way I can’t fully explain-unhelpful- from she who writes said blog.  Others things inspire in this (not fully explainable) way: old-fashioned/timeless photographs; new wool; a brand new book; a very old book; all things VWCampervan; vintage style (in the best sense of the word- not keen on the slightly depressing items that just smell a bit).

I am in good company.  We all get the nudge, heart-flutter, lift, sigh, intake of breath, urge to run out and create/do something in some form or another.  It’s a great place to be, on the verge of producing something, having just been inspired.  It’s a legal-high and I believe it’s totally a spiritual thing .  I used to ignore the things that made me feel this way, now I stop and give them more credit than simply being preferences.

2015-06-12 11.22.32
Oh you blue, beauty you. Sigh.

… I don’t know about you but I also get really inspired by ‘before and afters’.  Don’t you love it when you see an image on those DIY adverts of a dingy room -and then after – a light, fresh, airy oasis?! I love the improvement, the freshness of it all. Ever since I can remember I have been obsessed with transformations like this. To witness someone become the best they can be, watch an underdog achieve and have their turn to shine, these are powerful.

The downside is, I am, therefore, very frustrated by slow progress, I like transformations to be quick, complete and dramatic! My hut looks like this inside right now…

IMG_0265
A shed by the sea.

I am having to strongly resist getting discouraged. It is inevitable that things take time.  I want to get to so many things and so many days just don’t contain the hours, or at least the non-comatosed ones.  I also haven’t been myself lately either and I find my mood dictates how creative I can be.  I didn’t know this until I started this blog.  I just couldn’t find the ideas, inspiration or motivation.  The verve needed to write, even a humble blog post, is something that has to just be there.  I needed to find my inspiration and daily life was getting in the way, by that, I mean the grind of life, the dull things, like paying bills.

Nothing kills inspiration like the words, ‘direct-debit’.

Then there’s the more corrosive stuff like thinking negatively, becoming stuck in a way of thinking. ‘Inspiration’ comes along to invite you out of whatever mud you are stuck in.  It is the creative’s best-friend and it cannot be engineered.

Inspiration works on your soul in the form of a random attack. Suddenly, something makes your heart leap, or fascinates you, or just grabs you by the collar and jerks you towards it.

Van-Gogh-Mandorlo-in-fiore
‘Almond Blossom’ – Van Gogh

Years ago, I visited the Van Gogh gallery in Amsterdam and understood for the first time what all the fuss was about, his life, his story and his paintings grabbed me.  I was so, so moved, how he had been plagued with mental illness, when this was so misunderstood (still is) and produced paintings that spoke so loudly of beauty.

On the same trip, we toured Italy, and to be honest I almost became de-sensitised to the works of art that surrounded me.  In Italy, you can be standing on an ancient, work of art and be waiting for a bus.  We walked through endless corridors at the Vatican museum and began to switch off.  Then we came to the Sistine Chapel.  We were told that Michelangelo was almost blind while painting the ceiling – caused by spending so much time elevated inches from the dust above him. He was also being forced to work on it. He had run away many times, but having been commissioned to complete the work, he was made to continue. I couldn’t imagine where he found the ability to create something so exquisitely beautiful in those conditions. Perhaps he just poured his torment into the work like Van Gogh and so many others.sistine-chapel_1

It isn’t just visual art, books do this. Most of us can remember a book that grabbed us and left its mark.  For me, it was ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, I was very young and I was left humbled by the courage of Atticus Finch and outraged at the injustices in the world, new to my innocent self. I wasn’t the same after reading it.  There have been many examples since. Harper Lee, however, found it very difficult to write and suffered great personal trials whilst writing and afterwards. Maybe we need some angst –  it is the typical portrayal of the artist isn’t it?

So, it may be that I need to write even when I feel like burying my head.  Crack on, to push through the mood barrier.

It may be necessary then to seek inspiration like a medicine for those times when I don’t feel up to pursuing anything much at all.  A great song, a great book, or in my case today I simply came across these beach huts and it inspired me to get back to the hut and to my writing and to finish what I have started.

Xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx