Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Thoughts around Paperclips

You may be forgiven for wondering if you've stumbled upon the Country File blog - this little face was the first thing that leapt out at me when I went into my folder to find a photograph to illustrate this post - it was taken a few weeks ago on a walk with my husband, but bears no real relevance to what follows (especially as it exists outside).

Today marks the first day since the 10th February that I've been outside, having been bedbound, or more lately sofabound, for ten whole days with flu. I slept through the first three days and four nights, only waking to drink water and shiver dramatically with audibly chattering teeth. On the fourth day, I managed to stay awake for longer than five minutes and lay in bed doing nothing other than thinking r e a l l y  s l o w l y about things like how they get the plastic coating onto paperclips (my main consideration was how they coated them with no blobs or missed bits, or whether the coating was actually a pre-formed tube that was carefully slid onto each paperclip). I then moved on to thinking about how they get the led into pencils. Thoughts like these entertained me for at least twenty-four hours and were interspersed regularly with the conviction: I'm going to look this up on my phone and find a video that shows how it's done once I'm well enough to hold my phone.

On the fifth day, when I was well enough to hold a phone, I realised I'd enjoyed not holding one so much that I didn't want to start again, and reached instead for my Kindle, where I spent the next five days devouring books in-between extended catnaps. Here's what I read:

History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund - this book was incredibly beautifully written - there were certain sentences that made me stop and reread them over and over for how perfectly formed they were, my favourite being 'Winter collapsed on us this year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed.' But actually, as a novel, I didn't really enjoy it - the motivations of the characters felt too exhaustingly far from a place I could relate to in order to warm to any of them and the bleak confusion of it all matched my fluey-state and made the story feel like part of a bad dream (this was shortlisted for The Man Booker in 2017, so others clearly felt differently).

Next, I read Life Drawing, by Robin Black, a recommendation from my dad, who'd read an old review of it in the Guardian online and texted to say he thought I'd like it. I really love books where a good part of the narrative is based around the character's creative process (I loved Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere for this, and Anita Amirrezvani's The Blood of Flowers did it excellently too). Life Drawing centres around painting, but for some reason that part of the book didn't engage me in the way I'd hoped, although I did enjoy it generally and the last quarter was a page turner.

My next choice was Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sayaka, the much talked-about translation set in a Japanese convenience store. It's a quirky story that makes some interesting comments about life and the way we are as human beings, and I liked the central character who struggles to fit in with society's expectations, but found a storyline with a co-worker who went to live with her felt implausible, and ultimately it stole away some of the book's credibility for me.

I then read half of two different books, and gave up on both of them, so they'll remain nameless, but at this point, I was feeling I'd had only one true hit and several misses and semi-misses and should avoid choosing any more books, but then the next one was a corker. The moment I started reading Natalie Hart's Pieces of Me, I sank into the writing and knew I wanted to stay there for longer than the pages of the book would allow. It's a love story set between Iraq and America and shows the effect war can have on the psyche of those who fight in them.

Next came Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion, which I chose because it came really high on the Readers Choice Awards 2018 on Goodreads. The overarching theme (as you might imagine from the title) is feminism, which is unpicked and dissected through a myriad of different storylines within the book, but the bit that really carried me away are the wonderful characters Meg creates, so richly drawn that I felt I knew them. She also writes brilliantly about being young and idealistic and trying to discover who you are. I've added several of her other titles to my 'To read' list - have you read any of them, and do you have any favourites?

Finally, on day nine of my extended stay in bed, I started reading The Leavers by Lisa Ko, which I'm yet to finish, but it's excellent so far and centres around the life of an illegal immigrant and her child.

In between all that reading, I also watched some good things on television. On the recommendation of a friend, my daughter and I watched the BBC three-part series of Andrea Levy's The Long Song, which was excellent, if disturbing (it centres around slavery in Jamaica). We also tore through the new Amazon Prime series, New Amsterdam, which is set in a New York hospital (think Grey's Anatomy, but better), and we're enjoying watching each episode of Cold Feet as it arrives (Monday evenings). 

I picked my husband up from dropping his car in at the garage this morning at 8am and we stopped in at a nearby supermarket to do some food shopping. It felt quite odd to be out in the world and by the time we arrived home forty minutes later, I felt ready for another lie down. I'm hoping to have the energy to see if a sewing needle weighs too heavily in my hand this evening...

As a flu-related footnote, I can tell you that keeping one's skin in a stable environment (with none of the indoors/outdoors shenanigans that normal life requires) does amazing things and it feels weirdly smooth and seems to require no moisturisation or any of the usual things it cries out for - if only I could stay indoors forever. The last time I had flu this bad was at the turn of the millennium when it stayed for three weeks - I remember dragging myself into work half-delirious several times (I worked for a paper and regularly started my shift at 4am and am sure I nearly died on a London bus going into work early one January morning), but being sent home each time, and there too sleeping through several entire took me weeks to feel normal again, but when I finally did, I found that all the extra sleep left me feeling super-charged, so I'm excited to get to that point again...

I'm also relieved to have started reading again as I didn't read a single book for the whole of January, which felt like an odd thing indeed. What are you reading or watching at the moment? 

Wishing you a lovely week, 
Florence x

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

The Very Best of Shelves

In my last post, I briefly mentioned 'the very best of shelves' and, probably lured by the mention of plastic golden retrievers, there was a request from Caroline to see it. So, here it is, along with a full inventory of the area, and a backstory for each item. Note that some of the items I consider to be an integral part of the shelf's contents, are too big to fit on the actual shelf.
  • Beginning at the very left of the above photo, there's a black Rifle Paper tin, full of recipe cards. Only one of those recipe cards has ever been filled in, but I like to keep it on my desk as one day I might add to them and it's good to have some untapped potential sitting in front of me. Also, I like the pattern on the outside, so there's really no pressure over whether my potential in this department is ever unleashed. Win win. 
  • Resting on top is a pink rag-paper envelope, complete with gold hand-printed patterning and glorious tassel. I bought this in a shop in Rye nearly a decade ago (I think the shop was called The Paper Place and it was a real treasure trove). I'd intended to give it to someone in the form of gift packaging, but several years on I still haven't been able to part with it, so I think we can probably call this mine now. 
  • In front of the tin is a Liberty print postcard. I rarely buy fabric online from Liberty as they only sell it in hard-to-afford one metre cuts (they sell in 1/2 metres in-store), but just occasionally there's a need for it, and I'm always excited imagining which postcard might be included with my parcel, although last time there wasn't one and I was crestfallen. This one (above) was a real joy though as it's one of my favourite prints.
  • Moving onto the actual shelf, this section is like a miniature memorial garden of EPP rosettes that didn't make the cut. Front left is a rejected centre to this piece, while back right is the sun-bleached rosette that didn't make it into this piece
  • The wooden doll was a gift from my mum a few years ago - it has a slot cut in it so bias binding can be wrapped around it for storage, but I don't actually have any binding that needs storing due to being an ill-prepared sort of creature who makes binding up several days after I first needed it, but I love the doll all the same so it lives on the shelf. If you do have binding that needs storing, then you have admiration and you can find your own Binding Baby storage here
  • Behind that is the stretch limo of postcards (fitting for the very best of shelves) featuring dresses on lovely ladies, from the Orla Kiely exhibition at The Fashion & Textiles Museum. A friend and I took our daughters there for an afternoon and the postcard is a memory of a lovely day and a souvenir too, as Orla Kiely has sadly since gone into administration. 
  • My children created this Lego sewing machine for me as a Christmas gift back in 2010. It came in a handmade box with step-by-step instructions on how to put it together and nearly made me cry with its loveliness. It is one of my most treasured possessions. 
  • The tiny wooden pig has kept me company since I was four years old. I was, and still am, quite crazy for pigs and it's their lovely faces that caused me to stop eating sausages (and all other meat) in my first year at primary school. I decorated the walls of the bedroom I shared with my sister with pig posters and cards, and on outings wore a woollen cross-body handbag with a piglet knitted onto the front. The tiny wooden pig was nestled inside that bag, amongst a collection of boiled sweets that slid out of their wrappers during a holiday in Greece - I can still remember the trauma of realising the wool had been made sticky and sugary; the bag never felt as nice after that and I always dreaded putting my hand in to get something, when once it had been such a delight...but either way, the wooden pig survived its time in the woollen pigsty unscathed). 

The plastic golden retrievers are now in view, but I'm working up to them in order, so don't skip ahead in the excitement! 
  • This is just one of the many conkers my son has given me over the years, usually with a characterful face drawn on. This one has the wondrous addition of small fangs and is probably about six years old now. My very favourite one, which looked like a small baby, I carried around in my handbag for years until it disintegrated, so I'm enjoying this conker while I still can.
  • I bought the EPP printing blocks as a photo prop for my book and liked them so much they made their way onto the shelf. And as I've linked to everything else I've mentioned, here's a link to my book šŸ¤—!
  • The small blue business card bearing a rabbit (just in view) was sent with an order from Chloe Giordano's lovely shop - do go and have a look - her embroideries are divine. I've bought several of her cards and they always feel like a real treat to send to people. I also had one framed as a Christmas gift for my mum. (I love beautiful business cards - the one on display changes fairly frequently, but this one is a favourite). 
  • Finally, yes finally, we arrive at the plastic golden retrievers! The items that truly make this the very best of shelves. My husband bought the larger one for me while passing through Fenwicks' toy department. I don't think he really expected me to treasure it in the way that I have, but I loved this curious gift and liked imaging what might have been going through his head when he chose it for me. I still haven't quite worked that one out, but noting its success, a few years later he bought me a golden retriever puppy to go alongside it. His mission is now to buy curiosities that will be considered special enough to go on the the shelf. I'm not sure how he could beat this offering though. If Marie Kondo were to put this plastic duo in front of me and say 'Florence, do these dogs spark joy in you?', I would say 'Yes, Marie, joy by the bucketload,' and put them straight back on the shelf. 
  • You may have noticed the die-cast Mini just peeping into shot. Cars don't feature heavily in my thoughts, but I do love very small ones with beautiful design features - pastel-coloured Nissan Figaro, tiny Fiat 500s, old Morris Minors (we had two in succession when I was growing up - one of which had a rusty hole in the floor covered with a mat to stop the air rushing in around my father's feet as he drove, and both of which made a cosy whining noise as they turned into our drive, which we called its 'home-time noise' as it never happened at any other time - it must have been something about the speed of the engine and the angle of the turn that produced the sound. We then got our first modern car, an Alfa Sud, another awesome small car, which I remember us all being astounded by because it had a push up sunroof and went a LOT faster than the Morris). As an adult, I've always loved Minis for the position of the headlamps, which look like eyes, and the beautiful round dials inside, so this die-cast one was a gift from my husband a few birthdays ago (I think he always buys this type of gift as a little extra or a stocking filler, not realising that they're actually the main event). 
  • The other printer's block letters were a gift from my sister and they can be a bit of a mystery as most people think they read if, which I quite like as 'if' is a word that has so much possibility, but actually its our initials: Ian and Florence. 
  • Moving along the shelf, we come to this appliquĆ©d version of me, beside the doll version of me, which is all very me-centric. I first bought one of these handmade dolls as a gift for my sister - her one looked just like her, in that it had blonde hair instead of brown - and I liked it so much that my husband bought a dark-haired version for my birthday. It arrived with this gorgeous little panel with my name stitched on! They're made by Just So Sara - do take a look at her shop if you'd like your own me-centric doll. 
  • Hidden behind the doll (who is clearly far more adventurous when it comes to hair accessories and spends longer in the gym...which wouldn't be hard as I don't spend any time in it), is what my daughter and I like to call 'the stolen tin'. This was a gift given to my daughter by my mum years ago, but we later agreed that I appreciated it far more than she did, so would become its caretaker. Here was the conversation we had while tidying her room together one day that enabled the theft: Do you really love that tin? - Erm, yeah, it's nice - Just nice? - Mmm, yeah, it's okay - Oh, because I actually reeeealllly love it - Do you? - Yes, I think I like it a lot more than you do. Do you want me to have it for you? - Okay, you can look after it then). It's now filled with carefully cut fabric flowers ready to appliquĆ© in an emergency, which makes me sound like the kind of person who would have pre-made bias binding to hand after all, doesn't it! Also the kind of person who shamelessly steals things from her daughter's bedroom...don't worry, I think badly of me too.
  • Moving onto the desk, we have a beautiful turquoise tin that, when turned, plays music and the horses go around the merry-go-round - a gift from my mum. I really love music boxes and this one feels extra special as she bought a matching one for my sister, who is my merry-go-round riding companion in life (literally - as adults we've leapt on them together in Spain, France, Russia, and around the UK)
  • Below that, a Diptique candle with a scent called Baies, a gift from my sister after we'd been to one of her scans while she was pregnant. It's entirely coincidental that the name of the candle is one letter short of the word 'babies', but I always read it that way as it felt so in keeping with the day. It smells amazing, by the way, although nothing like babies.
  • On top of the candle sits a tiny swatch of Liberty silk that Alice Caroline included with an order. It shows barely any of the print, but the exquisite turquoise background and the tiniest bit of petal creeping in make this one of my favourite fabrics ever, so the swatch lives in the shelf-overflow area (sadly, they didn't have a larger piece for me to buy). 
You may have noticed one limitation with the shelf, and that's that it's just below the point where the roof begins to slope, so all shelf items are limited to being about 5" tall, but I quite like the challenge of that. The items on the shelf get shuffled and edited quite frequently, but I'm actually going to put a second shelf up next to it to make one long shelf, and although bigger isn't always better, I have hopes that it may become the very best of the very best of shelves.

Thanks so much to Caroline for inspiring this post. 

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.