Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Stitch in Time

AFTER dipping into my stash of materials, threads, beads and 'crafty' things that may come in useful one day, I have been busy stitching hearts and flowers using various techniques, mainly a kind of quilting, with shapes sandwiched between layers of fabric, embellished with beads,ribbons, lace, charms and stitching. Some even use real flowers.
Some of my stitches are very uneven, but it is a while since I have done anything like this and, on the whole, I am quite pleased with the way they turned out. I have plenty of ideas for other 'fiddle faddles' and hope to improve them After all, practice makes perfect!
I may even try turning some into cards, to see if I can sell them. They would be suitable for Valentine offerings, weddings, anniversaries, engagements, Mother's Day - or just to tell someone you love them!
Meanwhile I have posted photographs of some of my work.

I have posted photographs of some of them here, for everyone to see.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

AM I the only person who objects to the volume of noise in modern society?

As cars thunder past with the bass beat booming out, there is no discernable tune – and there is certainly nothing melodious or harmonic about this so-called music. Instead it sounds as if drivers are travelling around while an enthusiastic amateur drummer performs for anyone within earshot. Or, possibly, they have the entire percussion section of a loud but incompetent orchestra stowed away in the boot, from whence (unlike Victorian children), they can be heard but not seen.

Similar sounds spill forth from houses whose community-spirited inhabitants seem to feel the urge to share their music with others, whether they have similar tastes or not.

Most pubs, restaurants and cafes have music playing – sometimes at a level which makes conversation impossible. Are the owners and managers unaware of the concept of having a quiet drink, whether it be a cup of coffee or something stronger?

And as for the shops... all I can say is that if I wanted to listen to music, or the radio, I would sit at home in comfort to do so, rather than endure the cacophony which assails me on all sides.
Shopping malls usually have some kind of ‘piped’ music, which can be heard quite clearly at certain spots. But in addition many of the shops provide their own sounds, each competing against the others in the battle to be heard. There are even some stores where your ears are assaulted by a variety of sounds, with individual departments all playing different things.

Pay a visit to your doctor or dentist and you could end up feeling worse than when you arrived, thanks to the headache inducing pop blaring out in the waiting room.

And, should you decide you’ve had enough and decide to head for home, beware if you opt for public transport because, as like as not, you will find yourself sitting by some prune who is plugged into their iPod, but has it turned up so high that, despite their earphones, you can still hear the rhythm of the music.

Anyway I’m off now to buy some earplugs...

A version of my article originally appeared in the Tamworth Herald.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

An Uncommon Queen

I HAVE been sitting re-reading Alan Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader’ and enjoyed it just as much as I did first time around.

A delight from beginning to end, literate, understated, quintessentially English, this book is beautifully written and constructed. Bennett always manages to use the perfect word in exactly the right place, and this is full of his usual wry, detached observations of the minutia of everyday life and human behaviour.

At the centre of the novel, or perhaps I should say novella, is the Queen, older, wiser and more human – albeit more selfish – than she appears in Bennett’s ‘A Question of Attribution’.

But you warm to her as she discovers the joys of reading and takes up an ‘interest’ for the first time in her life becoming, as she does so, more aware of the feelings of her subjects, and of those around her, who are not necessarily so keen on her hobby.

HM discovers what many of us already know, that reading leads to more reading as you chase allusions, check out facts, hunt for answers and search for truths. You rejoice with her as she discovers your own favourites and, spurred on by her enthusiasm, you vow to extend your own reading and try something new.

As a result, Proust now tops my list of 'musts' since Bennett's Queen is the only person to make me feel I could cope with a writer I have always regarded as 'difficult'.

And if the real Queen does not resemble the character portrayed by Bennett, then she should try a little harder to match the image – his creation is up there with the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. I really do want her to exist.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


I HAD a glimpse of the past yesterday when I went to the doctor. While waiting for my prescription, I limped into the supermarket to buy milk and bread, when a lady said hallo and explained she recognised me from her days volunteering in the Oxfam shop. I used to go in and out quite regularly with The Daughters when they were small, hunting for treasures – for them and me.

I was amazed that she recognised me after all these years, and we had a pleasant chat, about charities, volunteering, daughters, and community life. How wonderful that she took the time and trouble to approach and greet me – it really gave me a boost.

And it brought back happy memories of The Daughters when they were small. In one charity shop Elder Daughter once discovered an old straw hat, decorated with artificial flowers and ribbons, and she wore it everywhere, on every occasion, whatever the weather – we have a photograph of her in the rain, clad in wellies (on the wrong feet – she had just learned to dress herself), dress, mac – and ‘The Hat’!

Younger Daughter was the Button Queen. Wherever we went she scoured charity shops for buttons. We amassed a collection of tins, jars and boxes which she would empty, then sort the contents according to her mood… colour, size, patterned, plain. She would count them out, devising strange games which the rest of us failed to understand.

But the buttons presented endless possibilities for play, learning and creativity.
They were used as counters, weights on scales and money in a ‘play shop’ stocked with empty cartons, unwanted toys and battered books. They were pressed into home-made playdough to create patterns; painted to produce printed designs; placed beneath paper for rubbings with wax crayons, and stuck to collages.

Additionally they were threaded on wool to make bracelets, necklaces and Christmas tree decorations, or stitched to offcuts of material, transforming the fraying remnants into colourful flower pictures which were hung in the kitchen, and brooches, which were fastened with safety pins.

However, the one thing I never did, unless absolutely unavoidable, was to replace buttons which fell off our clothes!

When I started this posting I intended to say ‘what a difference a day makes’, but ended up writing something completely different! Anyway, in just 24 hours most of the snow has gone and the temperature has risen so much I opened all the windows to let some fresh air in.

Perhaps spring is on the way after all.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Snow on Snow

AFTER yesterday's slight thaw more snow fell overnight. I awoke to find a monochrome world. Sky, ground, houses, cars and gardens had taken on the same curious yellowish grey tinge. The winter wonderland has vanished, the view is bleak and depressing and snow has continued to fall throughout the day - small, wet flakes that you think will never settle, but they do, building an ever-deepening layer on top of the older ice and sludge which lies beneath.

People trudge along, heads down, brollies up, faces as cheerless as the weather. Warmth and sunshine have become a distant memory in this seemingly endless winter...

Even Muggins, our Marmalade Cat, has lost his usual zest for life, and having swaggered outside to investigate he turned around, crept back in, curled up by the fire and now refuses to budge futher than his dish of food.

However, news of an earthquake in Haiti overshadows the problems caused by the English weather and I count my blessings as I watch heart-rending pictures of the homeless and injured, bewildered and confused, with no hope in their faces.

And I wonder how a world which unleashes such powerful, destructive forces can be the same as the world that creates the delicate tracery of a snowflake.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Grumpy View of Socks

I think there must be a one-legged gnome living in our washing machine who steals socks. How else do you explain one of the great, imponderable mysteries of the universe? Pairs go in, but emerge as lonely singletons, sad and forlorn. We have plastic carrier bags stuffed full of odd socks, which I keep in the hope that the missing partners might return - or I perhaps l will be able to find a use for them.

The Man of the House, likes his footwear to come in twos – anything less, he feels, is deficient. He even took to buying dozens of identical pairs, which festered at the bottom of the washing basket, awaiting the day when they would be washed, all together. That way, he reasoned, the problem would be solved and his socks would march out, two by two, in an orderly fashion.

Sadly, he was quickly disabused of this theory, for on the appointed day of the Great Sock Wash out tumbled a tangled mass of…. ODD SOCKS! No two were the same. Each was a different hue, and they came in various sizes, shapes and textures.

Fortunately The Daughters have happier dispositions and, over the years, have taken to wearing odd socks with the insouciance that only the young possess. Not so much a fashion statement, more a matter of necessity. Were I to do the same it would not be regarded as stylish or quirky. I t would merely confirm my role as a batty old lady.

Occasionally, however, a dejected wanderer does return, limply sliding from the machine where it has been slyly hiding among other garments.

By the time I spot it, alas, it is far too late and the escapee has left its indelible mark on the rest of the washload – recently a duvet cover, sheet and pillow cases took on a rather fetching shade of pink, acquired from a red sock, while much of underwear is a less pleasing shade of grey.

And that raises another question. Why, when the colour comes out of socks, does it become immovable the moment it seeps into other fabrics – yet the socks will continue to ‘run’ through innumerable washes?

Monday, 11 January 2010

A New Beginning for the New Year

I AM starting the New Year with a new venture, and - despite my inability to deal with modern technology - am building on my successes with Facebook by attempting to create a blog. So far, so good!

Here I am, sitting on the sofa, with my trusty laptop, feeling somewhat sorry for myself as I have a dreadful cold which I cannot shift (it is now in its third week) and a broken toe which, surprisingly, is excrutiatingly painful. As I cannot bend the said digit, or put any pressure on it, I cannot drive, and it makes walking in the ice and snow more than a little difficult - on Friday I slipped and hurt my back when I struggled through the elements to sign on at the Jobcentre.

So, for the time being, I am housebound.

But the weather is slightly warmer today and through the widow I can see patches of grey slates showing through the snow on the rooftops, like holes worn in an old blanket, while the mini-glacier in my birdbath/birdtable (pictured in its full witer glory last week) is slowly shrinking.

Snow on the pavements has turned to a dirty white, slippery slush and people, faces hidden beneath layers of clothing, walk gingerly past, clinging to walls for support.