“I will never write a How To post,” I say smugly, “at least not on something I’m not an expert on.”
Only experts, in my view, should be the ones writing How To posts. Specialists in their field, people who’ve spent a lifetime in their area of expertise and several years of serious postgraduate study engaged in meticulous research into the benefits of breastfeeding, the science of baby led weaning and the trials and tribulations of being a working parent. If you haven’t been slugging it out at the chalkface for twenty years, I said, then I’m not prepared to listen. Anyone with a few spare minutes and at least one hand could get your meaningless tips from Dr Google itself. Why should I read your blog post on How To Go To The Park With a Baby, How To Tidy a House or How To Write a Pointless Diatribe Full of How To Tips? I know better.
And then, so the story goes, I got old, and cynical, and someone told me that writing How To posts was the surefire path to blogging plaudits and riches beyond my wildest dreams, courtesy of Pinterest, and somewhere along the way I thought, oh, the tips post. I could do that. If Tom, Dick, Harry and Sally consider themselves experts in the field of teaching hapless readers to do stuff they can probably already do, then why not me? Pippa Middleton wrote a book on how to put ready-made party nibbles in the oven, and all that stands between me and Pippa Middleton is a bridesmaid gig at a high-profile wedding. And so, without further ado, I bring you….
The Tips Post.
What can I do? I thought to myself. What is my talent, my raison d’etre? What gets me out of bed in the morning? In what field can I inspire others to embark upon and achieve their own personal path to greatness?
Why, I told myself in a moment of inspired epiphany, that would be the business of making Christmas decorations out of pine cones. After all, it is almost May half term, a time when people are likely to be thinking ahead towards their yuletide festivities a mere seven months away, and I am very experienced in the field of doing creative things with artefacts collected on a springtime nature walk, having done this precisely zero times before.
I looked longingly at the pine cones before me, a beautiful but, I feared, somewhat brittle set of ornaments of nature’s bounty. What was I to do with these things, so greedily sourced from the forest floor in a sudden surge of nostalgic feeling for something similar that I may or may not have done, many years previously, on my own childhood jaunts in the woods. I cast my mind back to New Year’s Day, when I spent some time flicking through the pages of Home and Garden magazine (in my defence, it was the school holidays, and my daily routine allowed the occasional moment to ignore my child to peruse print media, rather than the usual snatched moments of checking Facebook whilst breastfeeding), and saw Christmas decorations styled three different ways, in three different jaw-droppingly elegant and improbably tidy homes.
“I do like to bring nature into the house at Christmas,” the owner of one palatial abode trilled in the accompanying article. “I usually decorate the hearth with a few branches and some moss-covered stones sprayed liberally with fake snow.”
“That’s it!” I thought triumphantly, as it dawned on me almost five months later that maybe I too could make a career out of photographing my lovely (ish) home all bedecked with boughs of holly and sprigs of mistletoe. Forget the poinsettia I unintentionally killed after just two days last year; that’s the job of the pine cones; not to be abandoned, forlorn and crumbling, in a forgotten box in the attic, but to be spray painted with festive spirit and placed on a mantelpiece or, in the absence of a mantelpiece in my sadly chimney-less home, to hang on the tree, if I ever manage to work out how to hang them on said tree without spearing them to their destruction. It’ll be amazing, like Changing Rooms: the Christmas Special, for the Pinterest generation. A bit of sticky backed plastic and I’ll be well away. I started googling immediately, conscious that if I was going to google how to preserve pine cones and create yuletide masterpieces, then somebody else might, and I would have made a piece of content that would be eternally pinnable.
And this, my friends, is what I have learned, and now I am going to share it with you. You’re welcome.
Step 1: Source a dazzling array of pine cones from a local wood (I have no idea what time of year is best for pine cones. Maybe they hang around all year, I don’t know, but I will tell you it was MAY. Just in time for Christmas then.
Step 2: Clean said pine cones. The Internet said something called a “Q-tip” could be used. If I have my American-English translation hat positioned correctly, then that’s a cotton wool bud to you and me. However I found this stage to be completely unnecessary. There is no way I am spending my Sunday afternoon scrubbing woodland paraphernalia with a cotton wool bud when I could just stick them in a bath of water mixed with white vinegar (make sure you open the windows for this. I once boiled a kettle full of white vinegar to get rid of the limescale, and OH MY LORD THE FLAT WAS NEVER THE SAME AGAIN).
Step 3: After soaking the cones for half an hour or so (“the cones,” see, we’re on pet name terms now) take them out and leave them to dry on a tea towel. After being open when I put them in the water, they were all closed up by this point (they are so clever, they are practically ALIVE. No need to panic guys. Apparently this is a normal function of pine cones).
Step 4: After leaving them for a few days, turn them upside down and give them a good shake, so that any bits come out (I don’t know if the bits were supposed to be there, but I don’t want them in my Home and Garden rustic mantelpiece double page spread. They might lower the tone. Only the best for H&G).
Step 5: Spray them with an acrylic spray. I used one I got in Wilko. I have no idea what it does, but apparently it preserves pine cones, although what it was doing in the paint section I’m not entirely sure. Disappointingly, there was not a section marked “things to buy when attempting to bring nature indoors at Christmas, a la moneyed minor aristocrats in Home and Garden magazine.” I think it might be the pine cone equivalent of sticky back plastic to keep everything in place.
Step 6: After the acrylic spray has dried, spray with several coats of gold spray paint, and leave to dry, preferably outside on a fine day, to avoid asphyxiation by spray paint. I love spray paint, but every time I use it I find myself wondering if I can invest in one of those masks professional graffiti artists wear, without making myself look as if I’m about to loot a branch of Curry’s with a petrol bomb.
Step 7: Phone Home and Garden magazine. They’ll need some advance warning of my forthcoming Christmas nature extravaganza.
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