Places, puppies and a book
Somehow it's over two weeks since I've written anything here and I'm now receiving complaints from my sister about a lack of posts (and an email of concern from Mary - thank you, Mary!). I don't have any finished sewing to share with you, but my sister said 'and don't write about sewing' when putting in her request for a blog post, so I'll share what the fabrics at the top of this post are intended for another time. Instead I thought I'd tell you about the things that I was mulling over during the busy (but lovely) half-term week we've just had.
|sand dunes at Camber|
After pondering over it in the days before we met, I eventually narrowed it down to three places. The first was my grandmother's old house: a tiny and very tidy terraced house in a run-down part of Macclesfield that felt entirely magical because of the person that she was to me and my sister during our early childhoods. I told Katy about the enormous, soft powder puffs that my grandmother kept in her bathroom that my sister and I would use to create huge talcum powder clouds with; the Chesterfield sofa, which for years was a horse in our games (in the photo above I'm sitting on top of the Chesterfield above my grandmother and sister, who alarmingly looks slightly stuffed, she never actually looked like this*); the maracas and castanets that she kept by her huge bed which we would use for raucous renditions of Doris Day songs or rowdy hymns, inspired by accompanying our grandmother to her pentecostal church where people would suddenly shout 'hallelujah' from the pews, seemingly apropos of nothing other than a need to openly rejoice. Sometimes our grandmother would shock us by doing this too. It wasn't the kind of reserved worship that my sister and I saw in our school's church, so it felt particularly delightful in its eccentricity, despite it failing to sway either of us into believing anything we heard there.
My grandmother's house was not a shrine to good taste and I think that was why we loved it so much there - it was decorated with all the things a child would probably covet (but be refused) if they knew they existed: garden gnomes outside, pink bulbs in the wall lights, a trolley to take the plates through to the dining room (which we tended to 'drive' rather than push. I served dinner onto the carpet on more than one occasion), Toby jugs lined up on shelves and a carpet so thick that the vacuum cleaner left track marks in it. We made the beautiful gnome gardens in the photo above with her. I've wanted to do this with my own children but have never found such tiny gnomes. Katy wanted to know whether any of the places I talked about had changed me as a person. The others, not really, but I really think this one did. Not least because it was in that house that I was presented with my very first sewing basket. It was wicker with red satin lining and my grandmother filled it with beautiful threads and shiny-headed pins for me. She taught me how to embroider things that Christmas...I've never been terribly good at embroidery, but it's nice to remember being taught some needlework. We actually called our grandmother, Nannie, as that was what she preferred, but 'grandmother' seems a less personal word when talking about her to other people. When I was talking to a taxi driver I once referred to as Nannie accidentally, to which he replied: Jesus Christ, you sound more like someone off Downton Abbey every minute. I think he'd misunderstood and thought I was referring to a live-in nanny, but as we were near my home I enjoyed replying 'you may set me down here then, driver'. To which he burst out laughing, so I think he must have realised that I was joking.
|Photo credit: Pat Bravo|
Finally Rye. It's our short break or day trip destination that never fails to offer a feeling of having been completely revived. We seem to set off with the intention to have fun there and always do. We wander around the cobbled streets, eat ice-creams, sit on benches and chat and time seems to slow down. We then potter off to the beach at Camber or go for cakes at the tea shop in Winchelsea village and if we're staying overnight we enjoy going back to our room at The George. I thought we may be alone in our love of Rye and how perfect things feel while we're there, but I spotted a Rob Ryan tea towel in one of the shops and when I read the words he'd cut, I realised that Rye seems to inspire a universal feeling of contentment in everyone who visits. My husband would love to live there, but I don't want to break the spell of its loveliness by having it as part of our everyday lives.
Last week we went again, but this time with Nell. I was worried that it would feel different with her there and that her presence would alter the dynamic of the four of us being there together (because it feels like she's altered it in so many other unexpected areas, not all bad, but with that same repositioning that takes place when you add a new baby to the house. I hadn't expected a dog to be capable of creating that feeling of all the pieces having been thrown up in the air and having to wait patiently for them to land in harmonious new positions). But actually, she added to, rather than detracted from our time at the beach.
She ran with such joyful enthusiasm (ears flapping wildly, tongue hanging out) in the sea with the children. It was her first time off the lead and to our surprise she didn't seem to want to run away, but ran excitedly between each of us until she'd got used to the sensation of being completely free, at which point she dug a very large hole, which she then sat in to watch the kites and other dogs.
Several places were on my list but didn't quite make it: one of which is our greenhouse, which emerges as a new room to our house each year and where in the chill of spring we sit and chat on the sleeper-edged beds, before being ousted by plant growth as summer arrives. The fact that it is a room that only exists for us for a few months makes it even more special. Sometimes all four of us gather in there, other times my husband and I arrange to meet there if we want to discuss possible plans for the day without the children overhearing...or if everyone is in a bickery mood and we need to escape for a few minutes. But there is something lovely about being discovered there too: hearing the sound of feet trotting down the garden path and the door being flung open and the humid air being mixed with the freshness of outdoors again. The children seem to love being in the greenhouse too. It's a place that forces me to stop and notice new growth where it may pass me by elsewhere.
I was appalled to find myself fleetingly considering Waitrose, a shop where my sister and I agree such a sense of calm prevails as you push your trolley around its aisles that it's capable of also inspiring the sense that, for the time you are surrounded by this order, space and abundance of wholesome food, nothing bad can ever happen there. In my defence, I realised that when I go to Waitrose it tends to be that I go there with other people when we're feeling the need to have nicer-than-usual-food and will enjoy choosing things from the shelves together, as opposed to Sainsburys where I'd do our regular weekly shop alone (if I was organised enough to do a regular weekly shop) with none of the same feeling of frivolity. So perhaps I could consider it so well liked because of the people and mood that I go there with.
So that's a rather long and rambling post around my discussion with Katy, with some dog worries in between. Which places are special to you? Do you think a place is special because of what it is, or because of the people you're there with. Or would one of your favourite places be somewhere where you tend to be entirely alone?
While we're off topic (sewing being on-topic), I thought I might tell you about a book that I'm currently reading. My sister lent it to me when I went to stay with her a few weekends ago. The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves was originally read on Radio 4, but I missed that, so I'm now reading a little each morning as I dry my hair. It's divided into bite-sized case studies of Stephen Grosz' own patients, often featuring the moment where after years of psychoanalysis they grasp what's been underpinning their troubles and finally make sense of some of the patterns to their behaviour. It's fascinating and insightful and I'm now not wanting it to end because Stephen Grosz seems so lovely and as though his understanding of people comes with a complete kindness that makes the book relaxing to read, no matter how challenging the subject matter. It's not a self-help book, more a book about understanding the human psyche. I remember reading a book by Oliver Sacks at university, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, that had a similar impact on me - I think it's a real skill to be able to write about the human mind in a way that makes it fascinating and accessible to laypeople and this is what both these writers manage to do so well.
Anyway, I'd love to hear about your own special places, your what-you-can-realistically-expect-from-a-five-month-old-puppy thoughts or any good books you might be reading.
* That my be the last time she'll ask for a non-sewing related post.