After 11 months living in rural France it’s been strange to return for a winter visit to the hustle and bustle of England.  I’d never noticed the sheer weight of advertising and branding we surround ourselves with in the UK.  You first notice it in the positioning and jostle of all the M25 motorway traffic on lorries, vans and cars.  Everyone seems to want to sell you something or tell you about their must-have thing.  Everything is branded.  Everyone has an offer.  It doesn’t take long to slide back into mentally zoning out the sales pitch but for the first time I’m conscious of needing to do so.

The skies have been mostly overcast and grey but that brings the benefit of mild weather, in comparison to France with it’s freezing cold mornings but bright sunshine.  Living in France feels like the dial on everything has been turned up slightly.  Winter cold in England = colder in France.  Summer heat in England = even hotter in France. Rain in England = torrential downpours in France.  Soft autumnal colour washes in England = vibrant reds and ambers in France. I'm beginning to understand why the UK climate is described as temperate.  Our little island is kept safe from the intense cold of countries on the same latitude by the gulf stream sweeping benignly from the west which allows palm trees to grow on the west coast of Scotland.

On the first fine crisp and bright day we drove to a favourite walk round the village of Badminton. Instead of having a acre of garden to free-range in, Buster now gets taken on proper walks on a lead and (impressively) remembered exactly where he’d left his toys nearly a year before, whereas I had completely forgotten how to turn on the oven or where the cutlery was.

Within 48 hours I had rediscovered the joys of fish and chips and curry and I’m planning many, many more of those culinary thrills with friends over the next few weeks!  The diary (or bullet journal-more of that later) is quickly filling up with places to go, people to see, courses to book and craft fairs to visit.  And as if all that isn’t enough, it’s nearly Christmas!  Normally I start planning for Christmas months in advance, making cards, gifts, planning meals, planning shopping lists…  Autumn for me disappears in a blur of anticipation of cinnamon scented days, mulled wine and mince pies.  For the past few years we have had a tradition on Boxing Day of filling our tiny cottage with as many local family as we can gather. We pile up our modest kitchen table with a buffet of oven warmed pies, cheese boards, hams, creamy dips and bread sticks, home made kipferl biscuits, chocolate truffles, beer, winter warming cocktails and every good thing.  This year there are still Covid concerns so our Boxing Day will be quieter than usual and actually it’s quite nice to be let off the entertainment hook.  Our lives are still quite topsy turvey being split between two houses and anyway the vegetable peeler is in France.

I’m planning my 2022 bullet journal, thinking about what I really want to log, monthly layouts, birthday lists, you tube filming schedules and social media stuff.  I’m great at making, filming, editing and loading up to You Tube.  I’m hopeless at letting people know via facebook, instagram and other social media!  I want to get better at that and I hope my journal, with it’s reminders and planners will guilt me into action.  I also want to fill my journal with my own artwork, mostly pen drawings since that's what I naturally gravitate towards but perhaps some experiments with watercolours might creep in and the quality of my new journal might allow that.  For 2022 I’ve gone with a beautiful dot journal from Archer and Olive.  This really is a class product.  I chose a 160 page hardcover book which arrived in a simple, sturdy white box printed with a lovely design and embossed with the company logo in gold.  I know I shouldn’t be impressed by the outer cover - but reader, I was.  Turning the storage box over in my hands, I could imagine a neat row of completed journals stored in their boxes with the year written on the side. This was a considered purchase.   At £28 it is more expensive than my previous Rhodia Goalbook at £20 but there were a number of things I grew to dislike about my Rhodia book over the 18 months or so that I used it.  The paper is 90gsm, one step up from photocopy paper and although the paper itself is beautifully smooth and nice to write on, it is limiting in terms of what media you can use with it.  Tombow pens and Faber Castell pitt pens all show through and I found I was using the book up fairly rapidly because I was glueing pages back to back to prevent that bleed through.  Glueing pages together messed with the pre-printed numbering on each page and I also found myself having to re-design page layouts to accommodate those numbers which was a minor irritation but an irritation none the less.  By comparison the Archer and Olive pages are a whopping 160gsm, almost nudging into watercolour paper thickness.  It’s pages are pure white rather than the creamier colour of the Rhodia and I’m enjoying that change because colours look more true and I can use very, very soft pastel shades without losing them into the background.

I’ve used the back pages to practise sketching and inking floral layouts for reference and it is a real joy to feel the ink flow like silk onto the page.  My choice of pencil is the deliciously smooth Blackwing Pearl in preference to the Blackwing 602 and Natural versions which I find don’t erase as thoroughly as the more gentle Pearl. For inking I use Sakura Pigma Micron 01, 05 and 005. I love Faber Castell Pitt pens but have recently returned to Tombows dual brush pens. Their nibs are longer with greater flexibility than the Faber Castell, which suits my style at the moment but I expect I will interchange between the two. For my floral images, I must pay tribute to Shayda Campbell who has some very thorough, detailed tutorials on her You Tube channel and is well worth a visit.  For watercolour tutorials I follow Makoccino and Emma Jane Lefebvre, also on You Tube.