Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

Today is the British version of Mother's Day, only they call it Mothering Sunday. The name alone makes me think of old fashioned prams and lacy Victorian blouses. Turns out it wasn't always to do with mothers, but with one's Mother Church, initially being a Christian rather than a Secular holiday.

File:Mrs. Herbert Stevens May 2008.jpg

I'm positive that had I not been writing this post, I would never have learned about the history of Mothering Sunday. Though not particularly religious myself, I'm thrilled to bits to learn that this observance didn't originate with the marketers at Hallmark.

Saturday, 29 March 2014


We have rain, we have drizzle, we have thunder, lightening and hailstones; then we have more rain.

But at least we now have daffodils.

Saturday, 22 March 2014


It took me over a month to finish reading Paul Fussell's book, Abroad, British Literary Travel Between the Wars. His is a dense writing style that takes some getting into.  Also, at the end I had six post-it-notes covered with words to look up. I don't think I can share all that I would like to a single post, but let's at least get started.

Travail: painful, laborious effort (n), or (v) to engage in such.  You probably know about the snobs who distinguish between 'travelers' and 'tourists' - of course they are always the former. But did you realise that the word 'travel' has the same root as the word 'travail'? It's not just about hard work, but is related to the Latin 'tripaliare', 'to torture' or the instruments for doing this. Even worse, before that it probably came from the Latin 'tripalis' or 'having three stakes'.  Sounds about as painful as some of the travelling Bill and I have done - or touristing / touring, whatever you want to call what we do. I'm not bothered about naming it.

Actually, being a 'traveler' isn't the top of the heap according to Fussell.  To really impress him, you needed a whole other level of courage: you had to be an 'explorer'.  Might be interesting to read Graham Greene's Journey without Maps, a 200 mile trip in West Africa undertaken in 1935. He uses the word

sodality - basically a fraternity, concerning the many witch doctors he encountered there. By at least one account, Greene wasn't a nice character at all. Then again, I read similar stuff about H.V. Morton, whose book  (In Search of England) I'm about eventually going to read.

cf - from the Latin word confer, to consult. If eg is read 'such as' and ie is read 'for example', cf is read 'compare to'. You probably already knew that, right? I didn't.

I learned about a writer named Robert Byron whose opus magnum was The Road to Oxiana.  I'm unlikely to travel in Persia (Iran), but a tad of internet research took me to a picture of a breath-taking mosque.  Byron was killed in 1941 when his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Scotland; he was 35 years old.  Having died young makes me wonder if he might or might not have been one of the nicer writers running around loose at the time. 

pederasty - vs pedophilia - Apparently the latter is attracted to young children (say, under age 11); the former refers to a sexual relationship between an older man and a younger (12-16 years) boy. I wondered what I was reading about author Norman Douglas, whose most famous work is South Wind (mentioned in passing by Dorothy L. Sayers - it was a small world between the wars in many ways). Douglas lived in Italy, an exile from Britain as the result of a charge of indecent assault in London.  He carried on his pederasty with young Italian boys. Charming man, I'm sure. Actually, he probably was, but creepy all the same.

There was a passage early on in the book that gave me the shivers. It spoke of how in the 20's people were still recovering from feeling they had just barely squeeked through the nightmare of the first World War.  Then in the 30's (and coming to terms with the aftermath of the stock market crash), they gradually became aware of the horrors that were going to culminate in yet another World War.  As much as I love the fashions, the decor, the art of the time, I think the emotional edge people must have lived on is another thing along with all the social change that really fascinates me about this period.

Other passages seemed to illuminate and explain things:

"Sacred to this generation is the image not just of the traveler but of the wanderer, the vagabond, or even Chaplin's cinema tramp, all skilled in the techniques of shrewd evasion and makeshift appropriate to the age's open road." 

This chimed a faint cord of remembrance of something Grandmother said about tramps during the Depression, something about a code that required helping them. It will have been part of being 'a good Christian' but I had the sense there was something romantic about them as well.

'Jet-setting' didn't happen until the late 40s, early 50s. Prior to this, and particularly between the wars, one traveled by ship or by train.  Both of these modes of transport are iconic for this period. I wonder if this is why Bill and I are so enamoured of these modes of travel (and not just because I despise the circus that air travel has become).

I'm sure I've tried to cram too much into this post and thus incoherently skipped around. I could probably expound on any of these topics, but will leave it for now. I wanted to get this out before this post also grew cobwebs. There are a number of Fussell's other books about social class in the US that I'm looking forward to tackling. I am now forewarned that he is hard work to read. Totally worth it, but effort is required.

Have you read any of Paul Fussell's books?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Day Out in Blyth

This is another one of those drafted posts with cobwebs on it, all written up but never populated with pictures. I'd have sworn it was published until I was writing an email to a friend in Oklahoma and wanted to show her a shop there.

This is supposed to be a photo of the architectural features at the top, however,
it should be recognised that Greggs is a Northern institution that serves
pasties (rhymes with fast tees; nothing to do with tassels). Pasties are close on
the heels of 'fish and chips' as British fast food.

So, I guess spring cleaning includes dusting off old posts?

Vivien, Lucy and I had a great day out in Blyth not long ages ago (you might notice a Christmas tree in there somewhere). People around here do a bit of a double take when I say we went to Blyth.  

Let's just say it's not the garden spot of the UK. That said, I think Blyth council do a good job, far better than our own North Tyneside and there are plenty of scenic places around like the beach huts and the dunes, Ridley Park and the wind farm out to sea.  But those weren't the places we went to visit.

I'm taking Bill to lunch here today.

For one, the crafting ladies had raved about 'Margaret's', apparently a weird and wonderful sewing shop that stocks all sorts of unusual items. We were warned she sometimes was shut for her visits to India for stock, but we took a chance.  As it turned out she was "closed until Tuesday", so I don't think she was abroad, but we'll have to go back another day. (Vivien and I did go back and found her open. She has an enormous collection of trims and buttons, cute knitted baby clothes and her mother's collection of knitting needles for sale; the income from the latter goes to charity. She was about to leave for India to buy more stock; I was envying her the warm weather she'd enjoy.)

Another place I wanted to visit was Your Sister's Closet, a consignment shop (or dress agency as they call them here in Britain).  They had a stall at Tynemouth Flea Market that made me want to go check them out.  I made a list of charity shops in the area as Lucy had said they were sometimes pretty good. Finally, Bill thought the local market might be on as well.  I had a look on the internet and he was right. Northumberland Council also have a website about car parks and all those in Blyth are apparently free!  

Your Sister's Closet turned out to be worth the trip, though none of us bought anything.  The brands aren't terribly upmarket, but the clothes are carefully edited and the prices more than reasonable.  The clothes tended to be either quite young styles or fairly dressy, which doesn't really apply to any of our lifestyles.  If I had a dressy event to attend and couldn't find anything suitable in my closet, I'd definitely check back here.  I might go back sometime anyhow, when no one is waiting for me to finish trying things on.

The most amazing thing we discovered, though, was Frameworks.  It was the first noticeable thing we passed after leaving the car park and I assumed it was 'just' a cafe.  The large stone building is wonderful, but the wrought iron frontage is stunning.  After an hour or so of walking we decided it was time for lunch and we returned to the cafe.  I fell in love as soon as I walked through the door.  Most of the photos on this post are from their cafe and the adjoining shop. First, the cafe:

Loved this clock. Wish I were musical; since I'm not it
wouldn't feel right for me to own it...or is that crazy?

The piano was automated for part of our meal, but then a man came along and played for a while.  I can't tell you how luxurious that feels.  

And now for the shop. (When V & I returned, most of their stock was completely different; still great, but different. So let us stop now and indulge in what was there.)

I loved these light fixtures. Trust me to find the most expensive item in the shop:
£600 each (about $1,000). 

This was rather a shock to find, coming around the corner.

Sunshine and sparkles - can't tell you how much that lifts the spirit when you live
in a grey place.

Somehow I feel the urge to have more (any?) feathers in my house...

Books as drawers...great idea!

I adore screens!

Can't remember the last time I played tic-tac-toe; I think they call it
noughts and crosses here.

Bull dogs are a British icon. Not quite sure why.
Something to do with John Bull?

My front door key looks a bit like this; skeleton keys are still fairly standard
around here.

This  is Terry, in charge of Security; he shakes his head and directs people upstairs
 (and wears a sign saying he loves his cat.)

Miniature clocks of every descriptions, all lovely.

Clocks, feathers, screens, books, bird cages, chests, mirrors, wrought iron, copper, world maps, stained glass, glass fishing buoys, butlers' trays, French, quaint, curious...this place pushed all my buttons. Being me and wanting it all, I walked out with nothing.

Lucy bought pillows for a niece and nephew in France; the pillows look like traditional British biscuits (cookies).  I wasn't familiar with these so when we stopped by her house on our way home, she showed me one. They are hard and quite sweet with all that icing. I think they look better than they taste, but that's just me.

When we returned to the market, Lucy went back to a tangled mass of costume jewelry that included pearls and various chains in addition to a good length of iridescent green seed beads.  The string was broken and the more the mess was handled, the more fell off.  She finally worked up the nerve to ask the guy what he wanted, she didn't have time to untangle it all.  He gave the whole kit and caboodle to her for £1!  Big bargain! I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with those beads and other bits. 

I bought a man's shirt with a purple print to finish a Christmas gift sewing project, which you've since seen. The project was for Helen but since I've made similar for Lucy and Vivien (and Jules and Sarah), I couldn't explain why I wanted the shirt except that it had to be purple and I preferred 100% cotton.   The other thing that Lucy and I bought was some novelty yarn from a yarn shop.  I haven't done anything with mine yet, but Lucy began knitting her ruffled scarf last week, so I may be able to show that to you.  I don't think I would wear a ruffled scarf, but I though the yarn was so amazing in its construction that I had to play with it. I'm hoping I'll come up with a different idea for its use.

In all we had a great day out (as usual).  We headed for home about 4pm, as it was getting dark...