Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Christmas day has come and gone and I have just a few minutes to write before the second wave of visitors. Today we will be one more for lunch at 12 as my brother, his wife, my niece, nephew and his wife arrive! So before they do I’d just like to share a few photos and pictures with you. The Dog had a new toy under the tree, a squeaky space-hopper. Now she has never had a squeaky toy before (can’t usually stand them myself) but this is meant to be one of her outdoor toys and it has gone down a bomb with her, Not sure if she likes the squeak or is trying to find out what is inside the thing that wants to get out, but she has found it great fun!

As anyone who comes to this blog via AnnMade will know AnnMade makes slate plates and this year we used slates for our starter of smoked salmon and prawns, and before serving I took a few quick snaps – looks yummy doesn’t it?

As usual out Christmas cake wasn’t quite a typical snow scene (though I have done some with snow on). I decided to do a map of the world with places marked where people with us over the Christmas break had immediate family. Though I had planned this earlier I ended up doing the final bits on Christmas eve with Son #3s girlfriend helping make the masses of holly leaves. The result was quite effective though hastily finished. Tasted good!

And in the New Year I shall be editing my latest novel, ‘The Angel Bug’ as I have heard back from Tim Smit of the Eden Project and he is happy to be featured as the only real person in the novel – so I am ready to move forward now with this. Look forward to publication in the spring. And if you have a new kindle (or other e-reader) and you’d like to feed it with my current novels you’ll find them all on AnnMade Books where you can have a New Year present of All 3 for just £5!*

So today is the great Turkey and Ham pie day, and I must away to make the rough-puff pastry. Here’s wishing you all a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

How did your Christmas go? What are your hopes for the New Year?

*(Offer until End Jan. Extra paid refunded)

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And breathe…

Just taking the chance to breathe.
The last few weeks have been quite manic in this household and with the business. You see, selling on the internet means a lot of packaging and posting at this time of year, and I am not complaining, was even quite concerned in October and early November as sales were very slow getting going.

Those of you who have come to this blog via annmade.co.uk know that I make and sell slate-ware. All sorts of items made from slate.

I got into working with slate in a rather roundabout way. Our lovely 16th century house had a thatched roof. A roof that we had totally replaced twice in the, then, twenty two years we had been here, and the second time using the more expensive and usually more durable water reed, hoping for at least 25 years from it. Alas, it was rotting on the roof in twelve and we applied to be able to change the roof back to slate. Yes, back to slate. I had evidence that the house was only thatched in 1954, so, though the house was now listed, it wasn’t an original feature. What is more as I did more research it turned out that this was exactly the problem. The angle so the roof had not been altered to be right for thatch which needs a steeper roof for the rain to drip from end to end of the reed and thence off on to the ground, rather than having a chance to soak in bringing all the problems with it that we were encountering.

Thatch on a shallow pitch roof gets wet and stays wet, moss and lichens grow, insects take up residence, birds scratch at it to get the insects, more wet gets into, the broken bits of reed break down, seeds start to grow in it. We had reed, grass and a tree trying to grow on the roof.

Eventually we were given permission to get it returned to slate and then had to find a suitable slate for the job. This was a task that I was set and took myself off to a slate supplier to look at different slates and try to find something that would look good on an old property, something that also matched the lighter grey slate slabs that surround the front of the house and form the path to the front door, slate which I suspected to be local.
Eventually I found a slate I liked, colour was a good match and the variation in the slates meant that even when new there was an irregularity to it, giving a aged feel to the results.
However, along the way I handles and looked at lots of types of slate, I asked the slate merchant how slates were cut to form the straight edge on one side and the broken edge on the other and was shown a hand-held slate guillotine. The tool on the far right in this photo:
I was hooked. I loved this material and began to think of items I could make from it to start a small business. I had recently taken an early retirement from teaching (in an inner-city comprehensive) and was looking for an enterprise.

I began making items in slate and items in fabric, adding repoussed aluminium work later and started by selling at craft markets. I had already thought of the name annmade, but thought that every Ann would have thought of it and there wouldn’t be a decent web-address going (and indeed there are a lot of annmades out there – but most had added their specialism into their name, like annmadeart, annmadecards etc) – so to my delight I found annmade.co.uk available and snaffled it immediately as at that time I was doing many things, not just slate.

I am lucky to have two sons whose business is making wonderful websites, (and now much more) and after a while they found time to create a website for me and annmade.co.uk began to take off.
With many innovations and experimentations I created the annmade range of slate plates and slate cheeseboards. I asked an environmental health officer to test my resulting product and the results were very good.

I was already selling to hotels and restaurants when I had a call from a TV company making The Great British Menu. It was all hush, hush, as ordering the 120 Quattro slate plates (my smallest size plates) would have given away the results of the finals, but that was how my slate plates first made their way on to TV. The following year they made lots of appearances in the different heats as chef after chef used them to display starters, desserts and even a fish course.

Last year I had another call, this time from Channel 4, the TV company had a request, from chef Richard Corrigan, for 7 of my Standard-pro slate plates for his new programme, Cookery School, where they appeared twice when it was screened this spring.

Annmade slate plates and cheeseboards have found themselves sent as far as Chicago and Connecticut in the USA, and Adelaide in Australia, and in hotels from the furthest reaches of the Highlands to The Berkley in London as well as to hundreds of individuals all over the UK and Europe.

So, breathe……

…… and get ready for the Christmas rush on the home front…. Only eleven for Christmas day this year .. but I have the cake made (Same recipe as used for My Nephews wedding cake * see blog) – maturing in the freezer (if not yet iced) , mince pies made and frozen, pickles in the pantry (except the red-cabbage – need to do that) … oh but .. not got the decorations up yet … nor made the door wreath … or finished the shopping … oh oh …

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What’s not to Lichen?

Yeah. I know – it depends on how you say it – more of which below.
So it was Christine that started me off on this particular blog by sending me a rather nice photo of a lichen, with fruiting bodies, growing on her fence. Here it is:-
Now, somehow, I know not how, she had guessed I’d know something about these plants, though she didn’t know that I really like them and have done since learning about them at A level. Talking of which, it was my A level Botany lecturer that insisted the pronunciation of the word lichen should be ‘liken’ (I have vague memories of her saying that the ‘ch’ was the hard ‘k’ sound because the origin of the work was Greek – as in the word Character) and indeed she was right, though I note the OED also accepts the soft ch sound that many people use. Not that it should be a problem – except when it comes to poetry and there the difference can change a rhyme sequence if the reader is not of the same persuasion in pronunciation as the writer *speaking from experience*.

So back to the lichens, as the leaves fall the lichens become more noticeable, and here in Cornwall we are blessed with many of these wonderful plants. Where I came from we were lucky to see even a close-growing leafy (foliose) lichen, most were the tight colour-patches (crustose) type.
One in particular appears as yellow patches often on stones and walls, (xanthoria) is one of the most tolerant of polluted air and was the main one to be found in the South East of England where I grew up. Lichens derive most of their nutrients from the atmosphere, as they do not have roots, and so most need unpolluted air to thrive.

Photos: Stone Wall showing two different types of Crustose lichen – the grey/white and the yellow.
And one Leprose (powdery) type of lichen (the green coloured one)

So imagine my delight when I came to live in Cornwall where these plants flourish, with not only the crustose and the foliose type but also the branching, bush-like fruticose group of lichens. Lichens are generally slow growing, but these trees were only planted 25 years ago and even the newer wood has the beginnings of lichen invasion.

Photos, Trees showing fruticose and foliose types of lichen. Do click on these images to see them better!

Tree – showing crustose (grey and flecked black) lichen.

I keep just saying ‘these plants’ but of course Lichens are not just any plant, they are actually two plants in a symbiotic relationship, an algae and a fungi , living together to make the most of the resources available and of each others skills in accessing them. The pairing of algae and fungi vary and create the differing types and forms with their strengths and weaknesses.

It is part of what makes Lichens successful in that they are found from the edge of the sea to the highest mountain top and from humid jungles to frozen tundra.
The little branching ones (the fruticose) used to be collected and dried for making model-railway trees and shrubs at one time. Some lichens have been used historically for dying and has even been used a food stuff in very hard times.
Lesson over, but I hope I have piqued your interest in these plants if you’d never considered them before – there is an awful lot more to know if you want to seek it out.

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