My Autumn Project ~ A Five-Panel Folding Screen

While I am not (yet) at the stage in life where I feel the need to host a “crafternoon”, I do enjoy making things. A few years ago I started adding items like, ‘drill’, ‘electric saw’, ‘hedge trimmer’, and ‘axe’ to my birthday and christmas lists. A few of these have been ignored; I think Mr Bee is worried about me with an axe – partly for the sake of the trees and perhaps a little by the thought of me chopping off a foot. And he might have a point. My eldest son earns his living from his hands and has been a great encouragement to me, happily explaining how to wield the drill and helping (well, heading-up) various large projects: an outdoor tortoise enclosure as well as the concrete base for the greenhouse being the most onerous. My BF is also very good with a drill, and fixes things which many of us would happily take to the rubbish dump. I am still reeling from the sight of her taking apart the engine of a lawn mower many summers ago. Anyway, I enjoy making.

This autumn, in light of my empty nest and also because I find TVs rather ugly to look at in a room, I decided to build a folding screen to stand in front of the telly in what we still call the ‘playroom’ – this room has been the natural habitat of the kids since we moved in 15 years ago. In that time it has grown up at roughly the same rate as the Bees, and is now looking a bit more adult in nature (cheerio beanbags, boxes of toys and Disney dvds). The end of the room where they gravitate to is the tech-end, where they can veg out in front of the TV, DVD player and PS4. I would hate to count the proportion of their lives spent relaxing in this corner, but they seem to have turned out well so I mustn’t complain.  Now the Bees have flown the nest, I wanted to hide this unattractive, black tech area and decided that the best solution would be a folding screen; that way, when the Bees return during the holidays, they can remove the screen and once again go into an intellectual coma in their favourite spot.

I could have bought a screen but making one appealed and I thought I would share the process with you here.

Firstly I did some homework: I watched a few youtube lessons, read up on some websites, found some pictures of screens I liked (have a look at my pinterest board here) and made a list of what I needed to buy. I roughly measured (and I will come to this later) the space I wanted to screen, and then added a bit, due to the nature of the screens being angled. I debated long and hard whether to keep the tops of the panels straight or use a jig-saw to make them rounded. In the end, given what I decided to cover the screens in, I went for straight and simple.

My list was as follows:

5 mdf boards, cut to size (width: 0.5m; height: 1.5m). The mdf needs to be thick enough so it doesn’t bend.

a lot of PVA glue (which I called UVA glue at my local paint shop, but the guy in there knows I am a bit of an idiot!)

maps from charity shops

wallpaper (or alternatively you could try using material)

flush hinges 

paint brushes and dust sheets

I also ended up using my staple gun, which was one of those slightly dangerous pieces of kit I already owned.

So the first step was to go to the timber merchants to buy the mdf. There are some pretty scary men working in those places, and you can just imagine how much charm this middle-class, middle-aged woman had to muster on a drizzly grey day at a lumber yard at the back-end of a rough industrial estate. Still, all’s well that ended well and I managed to conjure a smile of out of the old gnarled guy who cut it all to my spec, though it was very hard work. The initial conversation went a bit like this. Let’s call the gentleman – um, Unfriendly.

Me (smiling): “Hello. I need some mdf please”

Unfriendly: “Yes”

Me (still smiling): “Do you sell mdf?”

Unfriendly: “Yes”

Me (smile-free): “OK. And where might I find the mdf?”

Unfriendly: “In there”, pointing to a shed the size of a small primary school.

The cost for the boards was about £85; you could of course source panels from skips or maybe charity shops, and old, interesting doors could make a quirky and cost-effective folding screen too (there is a picture of one on the pinterest board).

We all know that preparation is key, so I got everything organised, threw dust sheets over anything that could get unwanted glue on it, made a cup of tea and brought in my first sheet of mdf.

making a folding screen 1

My plan was that one side of the 5 screens would be covered in vintage maps, and for the other sides I chose some pretty wallpaper. Firstly, you have to coat the mdf with a layer of PVA glue, to seal it. While that was drying I started cutting out bits of the maps ready to start the process of decoupage – ie gluing the cut out paper to the object.making a folding screen 2

making a folding screen 3 placing the mpas

Once the maps have been glued into place, including the sides of the mdf, but not going over onto the back, and once it has all dried, you brush yet more glue over the top of the entire thing; 2-3 coats gives it a nice shine and (like varnish) will stop it from being too knocked about. Repeat times 5, then flip the panels over, seal the mdf and start gluing the wallpaper on. I asked my local paint-shop guy whether I should use wallpaper paste, but he said the PVA would be fine. He was right. By complete fluke, the rolls of wallpaper were within a few millimetres of being exactly the right size for the panels. If you are going to use wallpaper, this is definitely worth bearing in mind.

homemade folding screen wallpaper side Getting the wallpaper and maps to stick to the 1cm thick edges of the panels was a bit tricky and I did end up using my staple gun.home-made folding screen (staple gun)

I decided to use flush hinges and found the best value was from Screwfix, where I got 20 of them for about £8.home-made folding screen  - hinges

That meant I could put 4 (or indeed 5 if I wished) per panel. Now this was the point at which I made a fundamental error: in my joy at having got that far with no mishaps, and my impatience and lack of logic, I screwed all the hinges to the same sides of all 5 panels. Any old fool knows that they need to be alternate.

So hopefully that all makes sense. The end result, once I got the hinges right looks like this:

homemade folding screen mapshomemade folding screen wallpaper side

It is quite heavy and the whole lot did topple over onto me while I was screwing on the hinges (which is fiddly without a helper) but my scream did not go unnoticed and I survived to tell the tale.

Total cost, bearing in mind I chose to buy 2 different rolls of wallpaper at £20 each (so have plenty left over for other projects) was about £140. I could definitely have done it cheaper, but for a first shot, I am very pleased and it does the job of hiding the TV. It is also rather bigger than I needed. Four panels would have sufficed.  So the last piece of advice is, don’t guess what the size should be and cross your fingers like I did!

Annie Bee x

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Utterly Unscientific (But Fun) Gluten-Free Taste Testing ~ Cookies

We coeliacs have to look far and wide for our fun (although I concede that eating gluten-free [GF] foods  is much easier than it was even 10 years ago).

So I decided to invite a few coeliacs around to Bee HQ to sample some GF cookies. Just an excuse to forego a proper breakfast and move straight to the carb/sugar rush? Perhaps, but also simply a bit of fun and a good opportunity to meet some new people.

Where did I recruit these lovely cookie-eating-helpers? The town I live in has a group FaceBook page specifically for parents –  people on it are helpful, polite and friendly so I decided that was a good place to start. I was hoping for a group of 5-6, but conducted the taste testing on a weekday morning when I was not teaching; the majority of people were of course at work, and others had child-minding issues. Oh well, all the more cookies for us  – but thank you to those who were enthusiastic but couldn’t come along.

I will say upfront that this was in no way a scientific experiment. To be clear, A) there were only 3 of us doing the tasting. B) The cookies and biscuits were all slightly different, though themed around CHOCOLATE (hooray!) In a proper taste testing, you would have 6 plain digestives, for example, and conclude which is the best. Unfortunately the range of GF foods does not allow this when it comes to cookies, though I intend to do a bread tasting, which would better meet that criteria. The other thing to mention is that all the biscuits/cookies were from a GF section of the shop. There are some perfectly lovely GF options (the Mrs Crimble’s range for example) of macaroons etc, but these are aimed at what I believe prisoners call the “Gen Pop” (general population) and what some coeliac wags call “Muggles”!

I should also be clear that all cookies were bought by me, and I have nothing to gain from the results, other than hopefully giving you some useful information here on this page. gluten free cookie/biscuit tasting

So, with hearty thanks to my two new coeliac buddies, Jackie and Sarah, I give you the low-down on which cookies left us cold and which could have passed for ‘normal’.

The five I chose to test were as follows, as they were all available on the same day from my High Street, here in the ‘burbs:

  1. TESCO FINEST – FREE FROM   All Butter Chocolate Millionaire.  5 biscuits, 185g, £1.35Tesco gluten free biscuits
  2. DOVES FARM  – ORGANIC AND FREE FROM Double Chocolate Cookies.  7 cookies, 180g, £2.25, bought from my High St, independent health food shopDoves Farm gf cookies
  3. MARKS AND SPENCER  – MADE WITHOUT WHEAT RANGE Triple Chocolate Cookies 10 cookies, 170g, £2.50Marks and Spencer gluten free cookies
  4. PREWETT’S – GLORIOUSLY GLUTEN FREE Rich Triple Chocolate Cookies  8 cookies, 150g, £2.29 bought in my local Waitrose, which didn’t have any own-brand GF choc biscuits or cookies for us to test.Prewett's gluten free chocolate cookies
  5. PREWETT’S Milk Chocolate Digestives 14 biscuits, 155g, £1.50 bought in Sainsbury’s which also didn’t have any own- brand for the taste-testing on the day I shopped.

Prewett's gluten free chocolate digestives

So what was the result? Our least favourites were described as “dry, bland, powdery, hard, greasy, oily, insubstantial, pale”. The ones we much preferred solicited descriptions such as, “crisp, chocolatey but not too sweet, melt in the mouth, nice balance of bite and crumble”.

The make which all 3 of us least liked was the Doves Farm (“powdery, gritty, not much flavour, dry, brittle, bland”) and the best (also unanimously) were the Prewett’s Triple Chocolate Cookies (“appetising, chunky, chocolate-coated, delicious”).

Prewett's winning cookies

I very rarely buy biscuits (unless we have coeliac visitors) because, once opened, I lack the will-power to not plough on through the entire packet before the kettle has even boiled. I had never even come across the Prewett’s make before this week, so that was an interesting find for me. So who are they? Now based in Bristol, they do a large range of healthy and free-from foods, and you can order from their website here as well as finding their products in supermarkets and health food shops nationwide. Interestingly, their Chocolate Digestives also came out well, despite looking rather less interesting.

So, my new pals and I discussed good GF recipes, and made various recommendations to each other, including this book, “The GF Cook-book for Kids”; the No G websiteA Basing Cakes;  an entirely GF cafe/restaurant (how often do you hear that?!!) near me here in Hertfordshire called The Saddlery Cafe which I cannot wait to visit and Atkins and Potts who apparently do exquisite GF sauces.

So a good morning’s work. Unscientific for sure, but a lot of fun, and we all agreed that the trials and tribulations of having Coeliac Disease are diminished when shared between friends over a cup of tea or coffee. And cookies.

Annie Bee x

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Ai Weiwei @ The Royal Academy

I was very privileged to go to a private viewing of the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the RA in London a few days ago. I have never been to see a major exhibition without another hundred or so other people crammed into the space trying to get a good look at the art, so it was amazing to be able to wander about with only a handful of others and take my time learning about this extraordinary man and his art.

I make no claim to being knowledgeable about art, so won’t attempt to write down my thoughts on the exhibition. The Royal Academy say this though

With typical boldness, the chosen works explore a multitude of challenging themes, drawing on his own experience to comment on creative freedom, censorship and human rights, as well as examining contemporary Chinese art and society.

I took some snaps on my iphone to whet your appetite and I highly recommend a visit. The Royal Academy itself is a thing of great beauty and whenever I visit places like that in London, I am reminded how extremely lucky I am to live where I do, with such history and architecture and culture available to me.

I was walking down Piccadilly once in my early 30s, going to a business meeting and I bumped into my parents ~ it was a surprise to the 3 of us and I was reminded of it on Saturday. A lovely memory and a lovely evening out with Mr Bee.

Ai Weiwei entrance to the exhibition

Ai Weiwei stools

Ai Weiwei porcelain crabs

Ai Weiwei Coca Cola vaseAi Weiwei vases

Ai Weiwei in prison

Ai Weiwei chandelier

The most powerful piece, in my view, is his memorial to the 5000 children who died in the Sichuan earthquake. I could not do it justice with my little camera, but I urge you to go and see it.

This description from the Royal Academy website explains it beautifully, but you need to see it to understand its power:

The largest gallery at the RA will houseStraight, Ai Weiwei’s poignant response to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. Poorly built schools in the Sichuan province – held up by steel rods which twisted and mangled in the quake – were devastated, leaving thousands of students dead. These rods (which Ai had labourers straighten by hand) make up the 90-ton floor-based sculpture, that is laid out in broken undulations recalling fault lines.

A couple of the little signs in the Royal Academy itself also took my eye:

No Smoking sign @ RASign @ RAsign @ RA

Info on the exhibition can be found here.

Annie Bee x

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Meat-Free Monday

Welcome to a new week

For a couple of years here at Bee HQ we have been observing Meat-free Monday. We are unapologetic carnivores, although we do eat quite a lot of fish, and generally eat very healthily; for many reasons it seemed like a good idea to devote at least one day to eating a plant-based diet. Some of the Bees found this easier than others, and I must admit we do sometimes eat fish on that day which may not be 100% in the spirit of the thing. I have found that interesting salads and soups work best for the evening meal.

meat free monday

So what does Wiki say about the background to what is now a fairly well-known concept?

The history is quite interesting and although restarted in 2003 as a public health awareness program, the idea of sticking to a meat-free day once a week goes back (in the US anyway) to WW1. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for every Tuesday to be meatless and for one meatless meal to be observed every day, making a  total of nine meatless meals each week. The United States Food Administration  urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to help the war effort. Conserving food would support U.S. troops as well as feed populations in Europe where food production and distribution had been disrupted by war.

And why Mondays? Well, Monday is typically the beginning of the work week, the day when individuals settle back into their weekly routine. Unhealthy habits that prevailed over the weekend can be forgotten and replaced by positive choices. Here in the UK it is as much an environmental campaign as a health initiative. Many western countries around the world have similar schemes, encouraging us all to eat veggie for at least one specified day per week. The McCartneys (Paul et al) are great exponents of this movement and their website is worth a visit if you want information and inspiration.

So what will I be eating today? I imagine a very simple avo smash on toast with a few cherry tomatoes and then tonight I will be cooking a new recipe (for me): pumpkin soup. I have found what looks like a good, easy, nutritious recipe at BBC Good Food which has excellent ratings (though with a few warnings to avoid buying a “halloween pumpkin” as they are not bred for their taste, so I am hoping to find a proper one at the supermarket).

Pumpkin soup

One of our favourite books we read to the Baby Bees when they were little was ‘Pumpkin Soup’ by Helen Cooper. A classic, beautifully illustrated tale for toddlers. Mr Bee and I can still quote from it, a decade and a half after it being a bedtime favourite. Perhaps that is what we will be doing this evening as we tuck in!

Children's book "Pumpkin Soup"

Have a super, maybe meat-free, Monday

Annie Bee x

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A Gem Of A Garden Amidst An Aerodrome

With the sound of light aircraft buzzing nearby, I spent this morning walking leisurely through the charming Swiss Garden, originally part of Old Warden Park, and now in the lee of Shuttleworth Aerodrome in Bedfordshire. When I went to pay my £8 entrance fee in the Visitors Centre, the lady at the till was talking to a pilot (I assume not airborne) about which way to approach the runway. Now that is what I call multi-tasking ~ selling postcards and doing a spot of traffic control.

The Swiss Cottage

For the vast majority of the time, I was on my own wandering through this 200-year-old, Regency pleasure garden, tucked away in Central Bedfordshire, near the market town of Biggleswade. By the time I left, there were a handful of other visitors, but until then it was just me, a couple of resident peacocks and 2 knowledgeable and helpful gardeners. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful English autumn day. You can’t ask for more.

Swiss Garden Shuttleworth Bedfordshire

England is laden with famous, gorgeous gardens, and you could spend a lifetime visiting them all.  The Swiss Garden is not particularly well-known but is definitely worth visiting. It is part of the Shuttleworth Collection, a Trust, committed mainly to the preservation of transport artefacts — primarily bicycles, motor cars, and aeroplanes; essentially, the primary appeal seems to be the aviation museum, but this alpine landscape, chock full of follies is a hidden gem.

Briefly, the history is this: Created in the early 1800s by Robert, the third Lord Ongley, the garden lay within the 2000-acre Old Warden Estate, and took eight years to complete. In the 1870s, the new owner,  industrialist Joseph Shuttleworth, added a few Victorian flourishes of his own while retaining the original layout. The Shuttleworth Trust describe it thus:

~ Today, it is an outstanding example of the Regency fashion for creating landscapes in a picturesque alpine style

In 2014 it underwent an 18-month restoration process funded to the tune of £2.8 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund. I understand it is still on the Heritage at Risk Register but it is not obvious to the layman why that is still the case. It looks in very good nick to me.

There are 13 or so structures, from the Swiss Cottage itself (above) to an Indian Kiosk, bridges, a grotto, and a Chapel  ~ all amongst simple, but effective planting and some fabulous trees.

Victorian Urn at Swiss Garden

Swiss Garden at Suttleworth

Old Tree roots at Swiss Garden

Swiss Garden grotto

If you live nearby and haven’t been to visit, I can highly recommend it. If you love gardens and airplanes, you will be in heaven! There are some more of my photos of the garden on Pinterest.

Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth, Old Warden, Bedfordshire

Have a good weekend

Annie Bee x

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RIP The Disposable Plastic Bag

Here in Blighty, today marks new laws (albeit not 100% straightforward, sadly) about the flow of plastic bags from vendor to the bottom of cupboards and drawers in our homes, not to mention into landfill and the oceans. I would estimate here at Bee HQ, we have somewhere between 30 and 50 bags dotted around the house, although that includes many Bags For Life and eco-friendly cotton or canvas ones. It is the end of the flimsy disposable plastic ones which we greet today, and not a moment too soon.

There are 3 trees on my road (Ginkgo Biloba I think – absolutely beautiful) which happen to find themselves in a somewhat exposed spot where the wind whips round them. One of the Baby Bees, when little, used to call them the ‘plastic bag trees’ as they more often than not, would have a collection of colourful but caught bags, waving like flags.

plastic bags in trees

Hopefully we will begin to see the end of that today; England is way behind other parts of the world in this, and I am optimistic that it is a welcome change to the rules. As an elderly friend of mine (87 and indestructible) pointed out to me the other day, you had to take bags with you to the shops back when she was a child growing up in rural Sussex. Future generations might well look back on our love of throw-away plastic bags with disbelief as to our thoughtlessness for the environment.

decomposition of rubbish in sea

It is a promising day for the seas and landfill. I am pretty good at taking bags with me when I go to the shops. Let’s see how many 5p ones I get charged for over the coming weeks. Not too many I hope.

Annie Bee x

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It’s Friday, And The World’s Gone Mad

Today’s newspaper is brimming with bad news: yet another college shooting in the US, Russia bombing Syria, GPs being offered cash incentives to cut the number of hospital referrals……. I could go on. The only good news is that the pumpkin harvest is looking promising for Halloween.

bad news newspaper headline

By far the worst news though is that some bright spark has decided it will be fun to launch an app where we can all rate our fellow humans. These days we are encouraged to put a rating on everything: books, music, food, hotels, delivery services, hospitals. Feedback is de rigueur, and I won’t pretend I don’t use it to make judgements about everything from buying a kettle to deciding which hotel to book in Barcelona. I also offer my opinions if and when I think they might be helpful, especially from a coeliac’s perspective. We have all become judges and  – obviously – this opens up plenty of opportunity to complain (often anonymously) from behind our screens. And vitriol abounds.

I once stayed in a hotel in Indonesia where the buffet breakfast was quite literally the best thing I have ever seen. It was a foodie heaven and I could have happily lived there in that brekkie bubble for the rest of my days. A review on TripAdvisor, written the week before we arrived in this culinary paradise, was a long and detailed account of how disappointing one guest found this breakfast elysium. Well it takes all sorts.

This new app, coming to a mobile device near you in November is called Peeple, people, and is a bully’s paradise. To join up you must be at least 21 and have a Facebook account. To add a new person to the database, you must have their mobile phone number (implying you are on at least some sort of friendly basis with them before you deign to offer you marks out of 5 rating; but these days we all have mobile phone numbers for everybody and their dog). Positive reviews will be posted straight away, while reviews of 2 stars and under will go straight to your inbox, giving you and the reviewer an opportunity to ‘work it out’ (or call your lawyers). The most hilarious part is that

~  reviews will  expire after a year, to reflect people’s capacity to “grow and change for the better”.’

Isn’t that kind of them to offer us all that opportunity? The lovely inventors of this abomination go on to say it is “a positivity app for positive people”. And yet, it doesn’t take a genius to work out it is likely to end up being the exact opposite.

app on mobile phone

Perhaps April Fools Day has come round 6 months early. This will end in tears folks. Mark my words. But please don’t mark me anything less than a 4 out of 5. People.

Annie Bee x

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