Monday, 28 December 2015

Sending Christmas Emails

Happy Christmas everyone!

I was amazingly organised (well, for me) this year and it has gone much smoother than in previous years. My best tip is to start making lists in October and execute a few items each week.

One thing I like to do is to send a Christmas email to the folks I'm not sending cards. It's not as personal as a card, I know, but I figure if I do a little drawing, it's better than just a few words sent electronically. Several people quite liked this and asked me how I did it. 

"Paint" is a programme that comes with Microsoft and I've found it very useful for manipulating and making picture files. You'll have to fiddle with it a bit but my tips are:

I open Paint from the Microsoft symbol at the lower left corner of my computer screen. If you don't see an artist's palette and the word 'Paint', click on All Programs and see if it doesn't come up.

Click on 'Home' to open all the tools: your pens and brushes (I like to use the 'spray can' tool) and your colours. You'll have to click on Home every time you want to do something different. Play with the different options and see what each does. You'll need to hold down the left mouse button while you doodle. The Esc(ape) key gets me out of corners most of the time.

Unless you're very patient or a pretty good computer artist, stick with simple shapes and ideas. I've managed trees, gift boxes, snowmen and candles. I don't mind the child-like character as it make it all the more obvious you did it yourself!

As soon as you get a beginning of anything at all that you like, save the file by clicking on the blue box to the left of 'Home'. If you have a newer version than mine, I can't guarantee it's the same, but I doubt it will be much different. Save the file often, so long as you like what you have. I tend to save mine as JPEG files, as it seems to be more universally accepted than some of the other formats. Save your file often, to make it easier to correct mistakes.

Of course, you will make mistakes. I use the 'eraser' tool a lot! If you want to get rid of a lot of your work, you can use the blue arrow keys at the top to 'undo the last action'. 

If you want to add printed text (I find writing with the mouse incredibly difficult), click on the box with the letter A in it. You can choose the colour of your words and the placement of the box with the text in it. 

When you're happy with your image, save it to your desktop, or some easily accessible place, and open your email. Mine is Hotmail and it lets me send pictures 'inline' as well as attached. I find picture attachments can be a nuisance, needing to be downloaded and not always allowing me permission to open them. Inline pictures are visible when the email is opened.

Send the email to yourself to make sure it looks as you want it to. 

When you're happy with how that works, you can build your list of recipients using 'bcc' - blind carbon copy. That name goes back to the old days when letters were typed on typewriters and copies of the letters were made using sheets of carbon paper between the sheets of typing paper. A carbon copy noted as 'cc' would appear at the bottom with a list of the names of persons receiving the copy and everyone could see who got it. A blind carbon copy was noted as 'bcc' and this was typed only on the copy for the person receiving the bcc and on the file copy that the writer kept for their records. It was all rather complicated for the typist and not very common in the offices I worked.

Bcc is useful on email, however, to send emails to a long list of people without their seeing everyone else's addresses. Send the email to yourself with everyone else's email's entered using bcc and it will be nice and tidy. The downside is not being able to add a personal email to each, but of course that is also an option.

Write your personal email to each person and insert your drawing inline before sending it. Almost as personal as a card sent through the post!

Happy Christmas and Best wishes for 2016!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Grandmother's Birthday

This is probably how Grandmother looked when I came along. She stopped letting people take her photo not long after and threatened to break people's cameras if they caught dared try to capture her image on the sly. She was always definite in her views and you always knew what they were, I'll say that for her. Grandmother died in 1990, only a couple of months after Mom, so she too has been gone for a quarter of a century.

I've been thinking about what tradition I could observe to remember her and I'm sure it has to do with making pies. I was thinking of her when I made the crusts for my (five!) pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving this year. 

I've always said that making (American style) biscuits and pie crusts are two 'Grandma' skills I'd love to master, but I don't really want to have eat all the practice! It occurred to me as I was pressing a fork around the folded edge of my pie shells that I buy a ridiculous number of boxes of oat crackers (which I don't like) for Bill to eat. I'm pleased to report that he's moved away from cheese / margarine / butter on these crackers and now goes through jars of peanut butter. Because of all the running, racing, long distance walking, etc., he does, he's still quite slim. I decided we could afford for me to practice buttermilk biscuits and pie crusts so long as he eats the outcome more than I do.

Grandmother's favourite was cherry pie...

What do you remember about your Grandmother?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Alphabetic Silliness

Much as I'm amazed at how productive I am (well, relatively) now I don't write here regularly, I do miss this blog. I'm not resigned to giving it up yet. Perhaps in winter I will make more time for writing.

In the meantime I have been keeping my reading list up to date. With all the efforts I'm putting into other things - crafts, homemaking, taxes (ugh) and now Thanksgiving preparations - I find I'm less inclined to read non-fiction and want a bit of fluff to lighten my thoughts before dropping off to sleep. This means trips to the library where I've been picking up some of Sue Grafton's work. I've read most of hers, but so long ago I no longer remember the plots.

It crossed my mind that she's given us a new phonetic alphabet.  Instead of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie (which previously in Britain were Able, Baker, Charlie) we could use Alibi, Burglar, Corpse, etc. I would hear Bill telling our post code as Noose-Evidence instead of November-Echo.

Wouldn't that be fun?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Grandma's Birthday

I'm writing this back in April, having just been to a meeting of the WI where the speaker was talking about dementia. I wasn't much looking forward to going but I had things to discuss with other members and so I resigned myself to sitting through the meeting. It was much better than I expected - I actually laughed a few times.

Clara Rose (1890-1974)

The speaker had great passion for her topic: she worked on a ward for people with dementia diagnoses and her mother had dementia. Her presentation was part of a major initiative by the Alzheimer's Society to educate people in England about dementia. They had already met their first target of talking to a million people; we were part of the journey to the next target of 4 million. We played word Bingo and some sort of Simon Says game where we all pretended to be 73 years old with a six year history of dementia. She used a wadded string of fairy lights to serve as a model for the parts of the brain. She gave us a card afterwards to highlight "five things you should know about dementia":

  • It's not a natural part of aging
  • It's caused by diseases of the brain
  • It's not just about losing your memory - it can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday tasks
  • It's possible to live well with dementia
  • There's more to a person than the dementia
It wasn't until she got to this last point that my fairy light flickered and I remembered that Grandma had dementia. That's major progress, as it used to be the main thing I remembered about her. I got to scribbling some notes at that point and I'm writing this now while I still have a chance of remembering what they mean.

Though dementia is not a natural part of aging, about a third of us will develop this after age 65. She pointed out that it doesn't happen the day after our 65th birthday, some people develop this quite a while after that time. Dementia is caused by several diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer's, followed by vascular dementia. I got the impression that a fair number of women present had experienced loved ones with dementia as the variety of types called out was wide - more than I knew about. I don't think Grandma ever had a specific diagnosis back in the 1960s or 70s. Given her history of stroke, perhaps she had vascular dementia. I'd not thought of dementia as an umbrella term for a set of diseases of the brain; and why shouldn't the brain be vulnerable to disease just like any other organ in our body?

The fairy lights, meaning the parts of the brain, could flicker off and on; they could grow dimmer but remain lit; or they could just go out. Presumably there are analogous brain functions but she didn't really go into further detail. She did say that besides memory loss a person's thinking might be affected in a variety of other ways. They might confuse words and start calling something by a different, incorrect name. They might perceive things differently, for example a shiny floor might look wet; a black, rubber mat might look like a big hole; a patterned carpet might look like it's moving and be interpreted as 'snakes'. They might have trouble with logical order and have trouble dressing themselves, ie putting socks on over shoes.

In addition to the fairy lights another analogy the speaker used was of book cases. She asked us to imagine a person with dementia standing next to a bookcase the same height as themselves. This was a bookcase of facts and events in that person's life; let's say she is in her 80s. The books on the top shelf are the most recent events of her life; books at shoulder height may be from her 70s or 60s; the shelf at knee height might be from her teens; you can fill in the rest. She said the bookcase could be likened to the part of the brain called the hippocampus, where information is stored. 

We were asked to imagine the bookshelf rocking quite hard. She then told us to imagine the bookcase is only made of plywood and so it will move quite a bit when rocked. Of course the books nearest the top are most likely to fly off the shelves but the older memories are more likely to remain. This is a familiar concept to any of us who have known someone with dementia. 

She gave us some examples of events for our imaginary person, who was in her 20s in the 1950s. She used to put on her tea dress and her lippy for when George was going to come for her and take her down to the seaside for a bag of chips. Other memories were about raising children, having a part time cleaning job to help make ends meet, losing George to a heart attack (I'm making up some items that my own holey brain has already lost, but you get the idea).

Then the speaker asked us to think of a second bookcase on the other side of the person. This bookcase has the emotions associated with the facts and events shelved on the other one, but the emotional bookcase doesn't rock so much; perhaps it is made of good old English oak. The emotions remain. That part of our brain is called the amygdala. 

The speaker mentioned two scenarios that must be very common for families of persons with dementia. One is when there is a big argument and everyone gets upset. The family may comfort themselves that Mother doesn't remember a lot of things and she'll not remember the fight. She may not remember the fight, but she may well remember being hurt and angry. This may influence her behaviour in ways that don't make much sense to other people. 

Another scenario is where Mother keeps forgetting who they are when they take time from their busy schedules to come see her. They begin to think it doesn't matter if they don't make such an effort, since she doesn't even remember who they are. She may not have the facts straight about whether it's George Jr or her brother Henry, but she remembers feeling loved and wanted. So it is worth them coming to see her even if they don't get the response they would like to have. 

It is the last two of the five points that surprised me the most, and I gathered a few others there as well. I'm not sure everyone agreed that one can live well with dementia. I took away that a lot depends on what stage one is at and on having the right support - that is people who understand dementia, which is part of the purpose of this educational programme. I can see how a person with early dementia who is well supported could still enjoy life and perhaps even in later stages, though I'm not sure how one can tell. 

The last point she covered was to remember that there is more to a person than their dementia. An example she gave (fictitious or not, I've no idea) was of a woman who lived in a care home. She had the habit of tapping on any surface near her, tapping all day long. This drove the people around her nuts. One day her niece from Australia came to visit and they asked about the tapping. The niece didn't know why she did that. However, they were talking about her aunt's life and she reminded the staff of something they already knew, that the aunt had worked at Bletchley Park, where the Enigma Code was broken. They began to surmise that the aunt might believe she was tapping out Morse Code. Just holding that idea and remembering that this person had made an important contribution to winning WWII made everyone tolerate her tapping much more easily.

That's the point at which I remembered Grandma, who died when I was 18. She'd been senile since I was about 12, possibly before. I always thought of her as that 'dim housewife'; I thought that had she done anything to exercise her brain she might not have succumbed to dementia. Talk about blaming the victim! I think that's something we often do these days: comfort ourselves that bad things won't happen because we exercise / eat right / wear seat belts / etc. Grandma's dementia just took the form of her seeming to be lost all the time, even in her own home. She didn't have much to say at all, didn't remember the simplest of self-care routines. She seemed to just walk around the house picking things up and putting them down - sometimes somewhere they couldn't be found. She would sometimes remember to latch the screen door, though, particularly when Grandpa was outside taking care of the back garden! The poor man worked hard to take care of her in their last years.

I've written on this blog how angry I became with Grandma in particular when I learned (at age 54) that my Dad was adopted, decades after everyone else involved had died and I couldn't get any explanations. Over time, writing these posts, talking with people who remembered her before before dementia and piecing together observable traits from the pictures and clippings she carefully left specifically for me I have strangely forgotten her dementia. I know that she was lively, passionate, loving and dedicated. She 

  • was devoted to all her family
  • wrote hundreds of letters to siblings and extended family members
  • was literate and expressive
  • loved pretty clothes
  • desperately wanted a son child! Having got the adoption papers I now know she initially asked for a girl!
  • was fascinated by family history
  • was frugal
  • was perhaps spiritual rather than religious, as they seemed to change churches periodically, but Christian beliefs remained central
  • took pride in keeping her home tidy and pleasant

When I visited the link provided on the WI website and learned that we would be asked to become 'Dementia Friends' I was determined to say no. Although they said it didn't mean making any commitment to do anything like visit nursing homes and have tea with doolally residents, I was sure there was a catch. Turns out they wanted people to spread the word about dementia, just as I've just attempted to do.

Looks like they caught me after all...

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Rita's Birthday

If you read my post about Grandpa's birthday, you'll know I was looking for September traditions to remember departed family members. I nearly always blubber when I write these posts; Bill thinks I'm a bit mental I'm sure. Still, they are important to me so I continue.

2004 - our last visit.

Rita, who should have been 71 today, was my second mother; she was 12 when I was born and some of the most fun I had as a child was because of her. She took me swimming, to movies, to drive-ins for cokes and burgers, to amusement parks, shopping for clothes (including my first ever bra). I felt close enough to her to 'own' her - she wasn't Aunt Rita or my Aunt Rita: she was My Rita.

The obvious things that I can do in September that she would appreciate are sewing, shopping, travel and clothes. Rita loved all these things. 

As it happens, we are planning a trip to Barnard Castle, only about 50 miles away, just for a few days. Bill will be able to walk in the countryside near our motor home park, I will be able to browse the shops (especially the charity shops) in the town. I'm taking my sewing machine (just back from being serviced) to work on Christmas presents. The main reason we're going to Barnard Castle is because it is near the fabulous Bowes Museum, We've been a number of times, but I wanted to visit again because they have an exhibit on concerning Yves Saint Laurant, the man I adore for having made pant suits fashionable for women. I can't say too much how glad I am that he did. 

Sewing, shopping, travel and clothes...Rita would definitely appreciate all those things. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Grandpa's Birthday

Grandpa was born on this date in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1894, during what came to be called the Gilded Age.  The name came from a book by Mark Twain, published in 1873, calling attention to the major social problems of the day which had been, rather than 'whitewashed', 'gilded' over. It was a period of great wealth for a few, mostly related to development of the railways, but also of great poverty for many. I do worry some times that we are heading back in that direction; I hope I'm wrong.

The year before Grandpa came along, there was the Panic of 1893. I read an excellent book by John Kenneth Galbraith when we were in Budapest, in July this year. I realise The World Economy Since the Wars sounds terribly dry, but I actually found myself reading out bits to Bill and we had loads to talk about and even laughed. I can't recommend it highly enough. It explains - in very readable terms - so much that we all ought to understand. For example, the terms 'panic' (which sounds very tabloid-extreme), 'depression' and 'recession' are all exactly the same thing. The names change as the politicians try to make it sound less serious than it is.

Grandpa was the youngest of nine children. His father was a blacksmith who made ploughs. Grandpa's mother died when he was 10, his father when he was 17. 

Grandpa in 1960-something.

The 1890s were also referred to as the Gay Nineties (in Britain they called it the Naughty Nineties) though things don't sound like they were all that wonderful. The 'hilarity' - because that's what gay meant back then - seems to relate to the writing of Oscar Wilde, the art of Aubrey Beardsley (art nouveau!) and the beginnings of the suffragette movement. 

Of course, a person doesn't really register much until they are much older. I think I may only have started paying attention to the world more when I was about 16. Grandpa would have been 16 in 1910. The census shows that his father, John (aged 69), was a still a blacksmith. His brother, Peter (21), worked as a butcher in a shop. His 28 year old sister, Clara and her 7 year old son, Johnny, lived with them. She had been widowed after only a couple of years of marriage; her son was only one at the time. My dad used to talk about his cousin, Johnny. 

I found some images for 'life in Minnesota in 1910' that are rather evocative and make me better appreciate the broad life experience Grandpa had during his 78 years (1894-1973); the world changed a great deal during his lifetime. 

On a slightly different tangent, Norma (my 2nd cousin) just lost her husband, Art. He passed away at the end of August at the age of 86. They were married for 62 years. I've written about our visits with them. I only spent perhaps a dozen days with Art, if that, but he was lovely. I really enjoyed his company not just because he was kind and interesting but also because his mannerisms and his speech reminded me so much of my Grandpa. 

That little boy, Johnny, who lost his father when he was only 1? He was Norma's father. She was the one who told me the whole family called my Grandpa 'Jake' (short for Jacob), not just my Grandma. Everyone else called him Jack. He and Grandma were married for 60 years. 

I was thinking the other day about 'family traditions' - about traditions of any kind. After listing the obvious holidays, birthdays and anniversaries I was noticing there weren't many we tend to observe in late summer/early autumn. Then I realised that three birthdays fall in September, Grandpa's, Grandma's and Rita's. I was thinking about them and trying to encapsulate what sorts of things each of them loved to do, things they appreciated, things that reminded me of them. My remembrance posts have become a tradition for me for all sorts of reasons, mostly because I'm really grateful I had such loving family members. Not everyone does.

So, sometime in September, I plan to do these things in remembrance of Grandpa:

- Read Mark Twain's The Gilded Age:  A Tale of Today

- Learn more about Aubrey Beardsley and his art

- Make a meatloaf (one of his favourite meals) from one of Grandma's cookbooks, using Grandma & Grandpa's meat grinder

- Play more cards! Grandpa and I spent hours playing spades and hearts, also checkers. He was always very proud when I was able to beat him. I made Bill play gin rummy with me when we were on one of our motor home trips earlier this year (can't remember if it was Budapest or Barcelona). I beat him fairly regularly, which is no way to get him to play more is it? I have a book of card games and we'll have to find one that we can learn together. I love playing cards; Bill only seems to love Spider on his computer...

- Look for some flannel shirts, wool trousers and/or black brogue shoes.

Do you have any traditions to do with your departed family members?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Mom's Birthday

Today is Mom's birthday and I thought I might regret not having written about her; silly of me, I know. 

I found her 1935 senior high school school photograph on Ancestry a few years back and I see I've never posted it. She'd probably kill me for sharing it - no one ever seems to like their yearbook picture - but I think she was really cute.

Gone for 25 years now, but still cherished by her loved ones.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015


Today is Wednesday, my designated writing day. Though I have a list of posts to write I find my heart isn't in it. I have enjoyed writing here and have done my best to approach it with some discipline. However, given the list of other things calling for my attention I'm no longer certain that blogging is a priority, at least for right now. 

Nachtmarket, Vienna, May 2015

I've decided to take August off of blogging. We'll see if I can return with more enthusiasm in September. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XX

Susan talked to us about Branding in the Jewellery Business, which got Bigger in the late 20th Century, though Tiffany's Blue Book Catalogue was first published back in 1845.

By the 1970s and 80s, Paloma, daughter of painter Picasso, was designing jewellery for Tiffany, some of which is rather similar to the famous silver hearts that were all the rage, by Elsa Peretti. Even I had some earrings with a copy of that motif (but not from Tiffany, of course). Paloma's silver kiss was also comparably affordable. 

Another company, "Bvlgari", she said was perhaps the Main Brander (so much so that they have the nickname "Vulgari"). And of course there is the famous quote from Eliabeth Taylor's husband, Richard Burton, who said "Bulgari is the only Italian word Liz knows." Bulgari designs fitted well with the lavish clothing styles of the 1980s and the power suits that women wore in the work place.

Liz's emerald suite by Bulgari

Versace's clothes also suited big jewellery pieces. Bulgari produced silk cord necklaces that came in sections.  Which may have inspired some of the designs of Pandora, a Danish company.

And this, my friend, brings us to the end of this series. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XIX

In this, the penultimate (I've always wanted a chance to use that word) post based on the lecture we got from Susan Rumfitt back in March, I'm going to talk about three things.


I mentioned before that she told us Art Deco was the last true style of jewellery. She said it suits all ages and lifestyles, if not price brackets. In the 1960s there was an art deco revival - and the name 'art deco' was coined. Back in the interwar period it was called something like 'art moderne'.  In addition to the revival in the 60s, she told us Cartier had re-invented itself in the 21st century with its art deco jewellery. However at present I only find art deco writing implements for women, price from £300-770. (No presents, please).

Oh yes, and the tiara worn by Kate Middleton when she married Prince William was made by Cartier in 1936 for the Queen Mother.


One of many hallowed institutions here in Britain that is associated with jewellery making is The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. I remember visiting a jeweller in some small Northumbrian village on a day out with Vivien and he explained about the hallmarks on gold jewellery that signify not just the standard, but much more. I suspect it would be difficult to sell my American jewellery - not that I want to at this point - because of the lack of hallmarks. If the phrase 'Worshipful Company' amuses you as it does me, you can read about the 12 livery companies of London. They are called livery companies because back in the day of their original guilds, craftsmen wore special clothes to signify membership.

Anyhow, Susan told us about a fabulous exhibition at Goldsmith's Hall, designed by Alan Irvine. You can read about that here.  She pointed out that whilst we're quite blase about seeing jewellery in glass boxes sparkle madly because of special lighting, back in 1961 this was a new idea.


In Vienna, one very rainy day back in May, we spent the day at The Dorotheum, an auction house, browsing room after room and floor after floor of beautiful things for sale. To my amusement I learned that the German word for jewellery is 'schmuck'. Of course, in English it has a different definition: a foolish or contemptible person. The term come from the Yiddish word 'schmok', which means ... something else.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Whitby Past and Present

We made our way up the famous 199 steps to the abbey, AKA Caedmon's Trod. Caedmon is a familiar name, as he was a Northumbrian poet - and a monk who cared for the animals at the double monastery (both monks and nuns) at Whitby in the Seventh Century. 

I looked forward to getting a better photograph of the outline of the ruined abbey. On the way up we read the cemetery stones, mostly Victorian, some older. 

I love the way the horizon blends sea and sky...

Because families were often buried all together one can read stories in the inscriptions even when only names and dates are given. 

Like the woman whose husband died when he was 48, in 1857. Their daughter died the following year, aged only 17. The woman lived to 1886 and died at the age of 78: 'Her end was peace.' I found that, and others, quite evocative.

I was annoyed when I reach the gates of the abbey and saw a sign asking people not to photograph the markers. I think I understand that they are not meant to be tourist attractions, accessories to the Dracula mystique. Though it is inevitable that they will be seen in that way by some, that wasn't my intention. 

And what is the point of putting the sign at the top after people have already wound their way up, snapping all the way?

The abbey at the end of the street!

Never mind, we enjoyed spotting the goths in their lovely outfits and I found other surprise views of the lovely abbey. It reminds me a lot of ours at Tynemouth.  

After a very long walk along the beach to admire the row of colourful huts, we were glad to make our way back the the motor home.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XVIII

If you're confused about the timeline of the subject matter in these posts, it's probably because I'm a bit muddled as well. Just because I'm determined to finish what I started doesn't mean it will be done in a sensible, orderly fashion, OK? I might go back one day and re-jig these posts, but for now you'll just have to bear with me.

For a while it seemed I couldn't get away from mentioning the Duchess of Windsor if I wanted to talk about jewellery. Now it seems I'm stuck on Liz Taylor - and pearls. 

Susan told us briefly about La Peregrina, a large natural pearl which Richard Burton bought for $37,000 from Sotheby's for Liz Taylor's 37th birthday in 1969. It sold in 2011 for something like $11.6 - 11.8 million.

My thoughts when I began to write about this were to re-tell the story about how Taylor famously 'lost' the pearl and found it in the mouth of one of her dogs. I was thinking she was pretty casual with a pearl that was owned by Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain. His wife, Queen Mary (1516-1558) of England, was painted wearing it, as was Margaret of Austria (1584-1611) Queen of Spain.  And of course it passed through the hands of the Bonaparte's of France.

We'll make no unkind comparisons between Liz and Mary, OK?

My other thought at the time was that Susan told us no one knows who bought the pearl from Christie's (well, I suppose they do, but it doesn't seem to be in the public domain). I was thinking that there are so many fabulous treasures that disappear into private collections and are never seen again. We need to all support our museums to enable the public access to such wonders. I think that's all I wrote on the subject.

However, upon this writing, I've come up with some other observations besides that Taylor's dog is lucky to have survived his little escapade. Last night we watched a BBC programme that had to do with establishing the provenance of a painting belonging to a certain English church and supposed to have been given by a particular aristocratic family in the area. Bill and I were taken with the way that so much likelihood, supposition and expert opinion were the basis of the given 'provenance', which is defined as the history of ownership used to help establish authenticity.

When I came to re-write about La Peregrina (which means the Pilgrim, or the Wanderer), several things occurred to me:

Cartier's listing gives the provenance of the pearl as:
Spanish Kings:
Philip II, (1582-1598)
Philip III, (1598-1621)
Philip IV, (1621-1665)
Charles II, (1665-1700)
Philip V (1700-1746)
Fernando VI (1746-1759)
Charles III (1759-1778)
Carlos IV (1778-1808)

Joseph Bonaparte, of France (1808-circa 1844)
Prince Louis Napoleon, of France (circa 1844-circa 1848)
Duke and Duchess of Abercorn (circa 1848-1914)
Elizabeth Taylor (1969-2011)

I can't help but wonder who owned the pearl between 1914 and 1969? I see from reading Wikipedia that there is another pearl, called the Pearl of Kuwait (with a different weight) that claims to be that worn by Bloody Mary, etc. Establishing provenance and keeping it with the right article must be a pretty complicated business.

I started to be really shocked that something could be worth over 50 times its previous value (if $37,000 in 1969 is $224,440 in 2011) in just 42 years because Elizabeth Taylor owned it. Then I remembered all those rubies and other pearls in the necklace, La Peregrina didn't just hang on a leather strap...not to mention that she designed it and it was by Cartier and we don't know how much they paid for the Cartier necklace. Still...

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Day Out at Whitby

The other destination on our agenda was a return to Whitby. We've been a couple of times, once with the running club and another time we went on our own. Bill went a second time with the running club, but I had to miss that trip. I had to go to Dublin on the Sunday to be ready for a course we were putting on starting Monday morning. There was nothing for it, but I'm still sad about that weekend because they all stayed in a B&B next to Whitby Abbey and they said it was really atmospheric. The B&B has since closed and the building has another use, so that was an opportunity lost to me. Even before I knew this I really resented work biting into my weekend that way. Another reason to be so glad I'm retired!

Whitby Abbey just at the back...

Whitby is really built up and crammed together, so it was nearly impossible to get a good shot of the Abbey from a distance. There was a lot going on in Whitby other than the crowds of tourists: there was a Goth convention in town, so loads of great clothes and make up to enjoy. I'm guessing Goths like Whitby because of its association with Bram Stoker's Dracula. They meet there twice a year, I've discovered. 

Sunshine makes everything look better!

The town - and much of the areas we drove through - was also preparing for the Tour de Yorkshire after last year's brilliant success as part of the Tour de France. It made little sense to me that a tour of France should take part in England, but nobody asked my opinion and it was great for British tourism, so why not?

The Tour de Yorkshire has probably saved thousands of old bikes from landfill!

Whitby is also known for its jet jewellery. Soon after I moved here, a friend in Salt Lake contacted me on behalf of another of her friends to see if I might help her obtain jet for her jewellery making. I had no idea how to get to Whitby at the time (I didn't drive the first 4-5 years I was here) and I didn't have the time or energy to add that to my list of things to learn about living in a foreign country. So that never happened. I did buy some earrings and a small silver and jet brooch when Bill and I visited the second time. Queen Victoria was responsible for this industry taking off; given the black colour of jet it was the perfect accessory for her lifetime of mourning after Albert died. What the Queen did, others followed suit.

He was eyeing my fish and chips, I tell you!

We got to Whitby not long before noon and Bill felt it was obligatory that we have fish and chips for lunch. I didn't disagree but dreaded walking around with all that in my tummy. Surprisingly, he made a sensible decision that for once we would share a single portion of fish and chips and that was just right for me. I had to laugh at the chippie we got our food from, though. In addition to deep-fried pizza, candy bars - you name it - they also did organic and vegan (no doubt deep-fried) for the health-conscious.

We sat on a bench on the marina to eat. My main worry was that the seagulls wheeling around would either poo on my food or try to take it off me. They are pretty fearless, you know, and big enough they could do some damage. 

And complaining loudly that he didn't get any...

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XVII

There is, you know, a dark side to jewellery, to precious gems. I've long heard the phrase 'blood diamonds' but didn't really know what that was about. I thought maybe it meant something to do with the dangerous business of mining. Susan didn't tell us about those, but rather about pearls. 

Apparently in the time before the technology of making cultured pearls ('farmed pearls') was discovered, slave boys were weighted down to help them get deeper for the larger pearls. Of course, some drowned whilst others died from the bends (internal bleeding caused by surfacing too quickly). Pearls brought up by boys who died had higher value. Sometimes, perhaps if the pearl was big enough and they survived, they might be freed. Charming story, eh?

Consulting Wikipedia, I learned that blood diamonds are AKA conflict diamonds (and their are of course other conflict resources) mined in a war zone and used to fund an insurgency or over-throw of the government. Various countries in Africa are given as examples. In 2000, the World Diamond Conference at Antwerp adopted a system of international certification to allow only import of officially sealed packages of diamonds and to impose criminal charges on traffickers in conflict diamonds. However, apparently the system isn't fool-proof as demonstrated by the Marange diamonds in Zimbabwe, where there are rumours of forced labour, etc.

In more recent years rich diamond sources have been found in Australia and Canada, but the history of diamonds is generally connected to countries in Africa. When you consider the dangers of mining, the great wealth attached to owning mines and the racial inequality that has existed, what do you think might have been the number of deaths attached to gaining that wealth? And what percentage of those deaths do you think were white people? Those ideas don't just attach to diamonds and pearls but to most gemstones, I expect. I think we should all look at our jewellery and consider what its real cost might have been.

We can't talk about the history of diamonds without mentioning De Beers. When I first moved into this house my neighbour was a lovely old lady named Dorothy. I often regret that I didn't spend more time talking with her. She was still quite beautiful in her own serene way, always friendly but never nosy. She told me briefly that she'd been in the WAAF's during WWII. She'd long been a widow when I met her and she mentioned that her husband had been older than she. Also that they had lived for a number of years in South Africa because her husband worked for De Beers; I think she said he was an engineer. I wished I'd asked her more about her life as I imagine she had some great stories to tell...well, some stories, anyhow. 

My favourite diamond ring, Grandma's engagement ring. They were married in Feb. 1913. The centre diamond isn't that large, but it flashes beautifully in the sun (which is in short supply today). I think Grandpa did pretty good, considering he was only 19 when they married!

The name De Beers belonged to the brothers who sold their farmland to Cecil Rhodes. Given that we have Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Rhodes University in South Africa and the Rhodes Scholarship, funded by his estate, one wonders why the diamond company was named De Beers. I'm sure he had his reasons. I'll spare you all the business details (most of which I don't understand anyhow) but some of the relevant dates are:

1888 - Founded by Rhodes and Rudd. Cecil Rhodes was chairman of the board.
1902 - Rhodes died. De Beers controlled 90% of the world's diamond production.
1927 - Ernest Oppenheimer became chairman of the board; the Oppenheimer's ran De Beers from then on.
1947 - American ad agency working for De Beers coined the phrase "Diamonds are Forever". Equating diamonds and love, the market in engagement rings was thus boosted.
2011 - The Oppenheimer family sold 40% of their De Beers holdings to Anglo-American (which an Oppenheimer started, but later sold), giving Anglo-American 85% ownership. The Oppenheimers apparently decided they wanted out of the diamond business. (Love the link above: Diamonds aren't forever.)

Over its nearly century-long diamond monopoly of the diamond industry, entries for De Beers under 'Legal' on Wikipedia include

  • Sherman Anti-Trust Act
  • South Africa's missing billions
  • Diamond prices (which De Beers controlled by withholding or flooding the market)
  • Industrial diamonds (needed for its hardness and thermal conductivity for grinding, polishing and cutting in industry and science - so not just a pretty rock)
  • European Commission
  • Conflict diamonds and the Kimberly Process
  • Forceful relocation of indigenous San people in Botswana
Sadly, vast money and power do not seem to make people nicer.

On a possible more positive note - though entirely through self-interest - Susan said that De Beers is responsible for keeping the jewellery industry thriving, through grants for new designers.

The best part of Grandma's ring isn't the diamonds, it's the sweet little hearts on each side of the setting.

If you want to know more about diamonds (and why De Beers wanted men to 'surprise' women with proposals of marriage) read on here.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Gold Bag

I've completed two projects in recent weeks. The 'discipline' of putting them on this blog has helped quite a bit. It makes me hold myself to finishing one thing before beginning another. I can't help but wonder how would my life have been different had I established this habit when I was younger. Still, I'm younger than I will be next year...

Anyhow. I took advantage of some brief morning sunshine to photograph the bag I just finished. It still needs threads trimmed and a final press, but the sun waits for no one. 

I tried attaching the handles between the shell and the lining and put a contrasting, divided pocket inside. The lining is hand stitched to the shell. I'm undecided about whether this is an improvement. On one hand, finishing the ends of the handles is unnecessary; on the other I'm not confident about only having one row of hand stitch attaching the lining. Will have to think about this some more.

This finishes off the green and gold project that started off as a notebook cover. It didn't work because the fabric was too stiff to wrap nicely around a notebook. On the other hand it might make a pretty good cover...something else to consider! 

Oops - 'scuse my camera strap - Picmonkey can't save me from that!

I liked the effect well enough to do a similar piece in gold with bright green thread for the other side. I've plenty more of those strips of fabric. A few more of these bags and my scrap stash might be a bit more manageable.

Can you tell I was in a hurry!?

Another project was this peach coloured jumper. I'd intended to have to finish all my projects before starting ANY others, but this isn't entirely practical. For one, I go to a knitting group twice a month and it wouldn't do to be sewing there. For two, knitting is much more portable and practicable on the move. When I turned this in to the knitting group I was told I'd just doubled my output for last year: this is the second jumper I've given them. She said it with a laugh and I replied that no one could accuse me of being fast. 

This is the same pattern as the purple one, but for some reason I struggled to get the neckline right. I worked on our Budapest-Vienna trip. My sister-in-law, Jane, watched me rip it out and study the instructions repeatedly. When I got home I had more quiet time and inner calm to look at it again and the solution became obvious. I can see my knitting has improved a great deal over the last year or two, in that I can now spot and correct most of my mistakes. It doesn't seem like much, but to me it is huge: an alternative to starting over (again).

Well, now I'm off for a day in the kitchen. I got a great deal on soon-to-spoil mushrooms and red peppers at 30p a bag. I washed and dried the peppers when I got home. Now I'm going to do the same for mushrooms and spend the day roasting veg for the freezer!