Josef Frank, Celebrating 40 and Mixtapes

I always miss this space horribly when I don't get a chance to post, but it tends to be the first thing to go when I'm busy. However, I wanted to write before the closing date of a particular exhibition that I'd like to tell you about. More on that later though.

A few weeks ago I celebrated my fortieth birthday. I hadn't really planned anything, but then a friend made me an amazing cake that was three tiers deep and it prompted me to arrange to see people to help me make my way through it. It ended up being a really lovely, relaxed time full of friends and family that went on for five days until the cake was finished. I would have missed out on so much had it been regular-sized (thank you, Emma).

My husband surprised me by having arranged for my sister, daughter and mum and I to spend the following weekend together in London.

We went to the Josef Frank exhibition that's currently on at London's Fashion & Textile Museum. Josef Frank was an Austrian architect, better known for the textile designs he created after moving to Sweden to escape Nazi discrimination. His prints are breathtakingly lovely. I am always drawn to designs that have lots of tiny, delicate dots surrounding a bolder design, because it seems to lend a welcome softness - this is something that features in many of Josef Frank's designs.

It was a real treat that along with large lengths of fabric, the original design was often also shown. Especially interesting to see how he had planned out the repeat. I really love photos of people engrossed in looking at things in museums - you can almost feel the quiet stillness. It's my sister in the photo above.

As always, the way that the FTM lay things out was a complete delight. They have a very small space, but the thoughtful displays always feel visually exciting. For this exhibition, the way that they had hung the panels meant that everywhere you turned a new sight line of different fabric combinations was created.

They had also upholstered several sofas and chairs in Frank's fabrics, that they generously invited visitors to sit on. That feels such a rarity, as so often the fabrics are too old and precious to cope with an endless stream of visitors.

The colours in this design made it by far our favourite. The exhibition is on until 7th May and if you're anywhere near London, I'd implore you to go. You can book tickets here, although I've never been turned away when I've bought them on the door.

A friend alerted me to the fact that you can actually import Josef Frank fabric and accessories from this site. They are outrageously expensive, but incredibly beautiful.

Oddly, our hotel had a very Josef Frank feel to it in places. This is one of the sitting rooms.

We also loved these displays created by tiny pebbles. Although it's set back from Trafalgar Square in a very quiet street, its still a large central London hotel, but it has lots of creative touches like this that soften its edges and make it feel really cosy. My sister and I stayed a few years earlier and fell in love with it. They do lovely hot chocolate in the bar if you're ever in the area during the day. After cocktails, we scurried upstairs to pile into bed to watch a film. My sister and I saw about five minutes of it before falling asleep, leaving my mum and daughter to finish it together.

We also visited St Dustan in the East (do look at the photos - it's a lesser-known London landmark, but really beautiful), where the four of us sat in the sunshine, having a long and meandering conversation so bizarre and laughter-filled that I think I will remember it always.

In entirely other matters; through a strange electronic quirk, I'm only able to listen to my iPod docked in my car if I begin my journey by going forwards (forgive me for giving no lead in to alert you to where this story is going - I'll deliver you to the destination in the next paragraph). Reversing out of a driveway or a space in a car park is seemingly so objectionable that seconds after I've committed the crime and begun moving forward, the music is confiscated and will only be reinstated if I can find somewhere to pull over to go through a long process of persuasion. Generally, a journey is best if I can just start by going immediately forwards. Some days, it also finds a particular bend in a country road disagreeable and casts the car into sudden silence, leaving only the eerie sound of tyres on tarmac. I think it's a car that craves straight, Roman roads. The men at the repair garage tell us it's all working perfectly, looking askance when I speak of long, musicless journeys.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that there's still very much a place for CDs in my life, which seem solid and reliable by comparison and can be played irrespective of the direction of travel. For my birthday, my husband made me three compilation CDs, containing a song that was released in each of my 40 years - it feels so odd to listen to them in order and work my way through my lifetime track by track. It was a really lovely gift and has been on rotation in the car ever since. I usually have on the CDs that my sister has made me for birthdays and Christmases - I wonder if we are the last generation who will make mix tapes that can be given to others. iTunes allows you to share a playlist with others, but I think it then relies on them to purchase the songs, rather than allowing you to buy them as a gift.

My husband and I listened to a two-part series on Radio 4 about the demise of the music industry as we once knew it, reflecting on the time when things shifted from CDs to digital and the impact of services like Napster. Here's part 1 and part 2, if you'd like to listen. We found it really interesting, if quite sad.

It's been a surreal time as I've been totally absorbed in a project that I began at the end of last summer and the only days that I've really surfaced from it have been to race off to do something extraordinarily lovely, before diving straight back into it. I have really enjoyed the balance of intense work (which is mostly energising, rather than draining) and intense relaxation. A few weeks after our birthday weekend in London, I found myself popping over to Spain for a few days to spend some more time with my sister, only booking flights the day before I left.

We ate fennel and lemon salads; and also nuts (my sister's, always unadulterated 'woodland snacks'; mine, shameful salted peanuts, which we compromised on calling 'safari snacks' after I'd vetoed her derogatory suggestion of 'circus snacks'. It says that they are 'a natural source of protein and fibre' on the pack - she maintains that this is negated by roasting and salting. I'd welcome your own thoughts about salted peanuts); warmed our skin by the sea; rode carousel horses, just as we had done in Paris seven years ago (although that time, my hair had not blown across my face to give a curious monobrow); sat talking for hours while I sewed; and watched films before falling asleep each night. It was a truly magical time.

London felt cold and wintry by comparison on the evening we arrived home, but the next day there was glorious sunshine and we launched straight into my son's birthday who has joined the ranks of teenager (thankfully not of the Kevin variety, although I did show him the clip a few years ago and he was enamoured with Kevin's almost instant transformation), meaning that I now have not even a slightly small child left in the house. It's odd to think that he was only three when I started writing this blog. Speaking of teenagers, we watched The Edge of Seventeen with our older daughter a few evenings ago. It's such a lovely film that's incredibly funny - it has had universally good reviews. Probably only suitable for slightly older teenagers as it's rated 15 and the content is quite adult at times.

In other thoughts: Easter. I hope you have a really lovely break. We are planning to see family and potter close to home. I hope whatever your plans are, they involve good things.

Florence x


  1. Many Happy Returns, Florence! Straight to the nutty issue: I'd imagine fibre and protein are left intact by salting and roasting but the fats will have been turned into unhealthy ones, and it's more salt than is sensible - I'm always trying to get my dad to swap the circus snacks for the woodland ones. (Also, peanuts... aflatoxins... have a Google.) Exhibition looks great; I've been going to appointments nearby and wish I'd known it was on - might make another trip down there to catch it. Your car just knows that CDs rule! And that song-per-year gift idea is brilliant, totally stealing that. Also suddenly very taken with the idea of going on holiday with just my sister. This post was worth the wait, despite conspicuous lack of sewing! x

    1. So lovely to hear from you, despite your vicious use of the term circus snacks ;)

      I will google aflatoxins, but part of me doesn't want to as I looked up an ingredient that's in my daughter's shampoo (which apparently gives the softest hair ever and which she's just bought two industrial bottles of) and am now faced with having to break the news on MIT. I'm going to wait until she's finished these bottles and then broach the subject and hopefully she might enjoy trying out something new by then anyway.

      That's such a shame when you were in the area anyway. I think you'll really like it. I hope that all is well and that the appts were just orchestral.

      You should definitely take a holiday with just your sister - they're one of my very favourite things. Also, we tend to stay in far nicer places than I would if I were going with my husband as we're splitting the bill (although this year was my husband's treat), so it all feels more affordable. x

  2. Belated Happy Birthday! I have two thoughts in response to your lovely post.
    1) I happily eat peanuts in many forms: plain, roasted, salted, unsalted, even dry-roasted. There are so many truly decadent things I *could* be eating, I feel quite comfortable with the okay-ness of peanuts.
    2) I wish I had a sister. And if I did, I'd hope she was as good company as your sister.

  3. Oh Florence, I love your writing SO MUCH. You find the magic in everything. At first I was so delighted at the friend who was so thoughtful to give you a big cake that required sharing. Then jealous of your wonderful getaway with sister and mom and niece and laughter and bizarre conversations. Then moved by your husband's idea of one-song-a-year from each of your years. And this absolutely ridiculous fact of your car not playing your iPod if you start in reverse!!!!

    I have a friend from university who made us mixtapes each year-- I finally made alist of the songs and got rid of the tapes, but she also drew on the inserts, and handwrote the listings, so of course i kept those.

    And then even your first commenter writes a comment that's an absolute treat to read! ("Have a Google.")

    I have nothing to weigh in on about the salty snacks as I like to stick my head in the sand and pretend that there are no problems in any of these products we consume or use on our bodies . . .. la la la la la, I can't hear you!!

    Anyway I don't know if I've conveyed enough my appreciation and enthusiasm for your returning to us in blogness. It's fantastic that you had such a wonderful birthday -- if anyone deserves it, it's surely you.

    Happy Easter to you and your family.

    1. Kim, you totally conveyed it and made my day too - thank you! I'm so grateful for the incredibly lovely comments that you always leave.

      I love that you bury your head, as I do in parts too. My husband says it's a maddening mix and depends entirely on how indispensable I feel something is (so I will ignore all the write-ups that talk about the dangers of sugar, but won't have a microwave in the house because I feel mistrustful of what they might be doing to my food). I'm hoping that my wavy line will somehow leave us on the right side of health...

      With love, Florence x

    2. Oh, and I hope you had a lovely Easter too. x

  4. I have missed your posts so much. I enjoy reading about your projects and admiring all your lovliness. Glad you had a good birthday - I had one last month and spent most of it in hospital, things can only get better!

    1. Gilly, thank you so much for saying that :) I'm so sorry that your own birthday was blighted by hospital. I hope that they used a tiny portion of NHS resources to give you a cake or at least put a candle in your pudding. But yes, the only way is up from a birthday in hospital, isn't it. I hope that the rest of your year is wonderful.

      Your hospital birthday reminded me of my 8th birthday spent on a plane flying back from Australia, where we'd lived for a few years. I had a nose bleed that lasted for two days and the captain personally came and gave me a box of tissues and said that he'd be amazed if I managed to make my way through them...I did. Several times over. Although disappointingly, he didn't come back to see the results of the incredible feat. I remember hoping it would end in a Toblerone, which we'd been given on the flight out two years earlier...

  5. Belated birthday wishes!!!! Such a beautiful post, as always, as a matter of fact. I have been wondering, have you studied literature, by any chance? I find your way of writing very interesting and it seems that you always choose the words you use very carefully. Happy Easter!!!

    1. I'm really flattered that you like my writing - thank you for asking about my background.

      At school, I was always more interested in putting words together in an order that felt pleasing, than in the topic I was writing about - so you're right that I do really enjoy choosing the words that I use! My school didn't give a good grounding in the more complex rules of grammar though, so I'm always pained by how much I'm probably getting wrong that I'm not even aware of...I'd quite like to do a crash course at some point to change that :)

      I studied English only to A'level - my degree was in sociology with lots of psychology modules thrown in. I ended up enjoying the psychology far more than the sociology...and generally, I have so many regrets about my choice of degree (I think we do it at too young an age, or at least, I did), but I did meet my husband there, so all was not lost!

      Happy Easter and thank you for asking. x

  6. What a lovely read. That exhibition looks fabulous too.
    Zoe | floral and feather

    1. Thank you! It was really wonderful - I'd definitely recommend it if you're anywhere near London. x

  7. I'm in California so I won't be getting to that exhibit, but it looks amazing. Speaking of amazing, your husband comes up with very thoughtful gifts! And I loved The Edge of Seventeen! So poignant and so funny.

    1. It's really wonderful, isn't it - I'm so pleased you enjoyed it too. It really reminded me of what it feels like to be a teenager, far more so than anything else I've watched in recent years.

      And yes, he comes up with amazing gifts - I'm very lucky. He also has a knack of winkling out wonderful books that I haven't spotted myself, but which are just perfect for me.

      Well, you don't have Josef Frank, but you do have the sun...I'd happily settle for photos of the exhibition in exchange for that! x

  8. Happy Birthday! I turn 40 this year too (in a couple of weeks) and I can't wait! Hope your 40's are fabric filled and fun! (PS. You need to update your about information on your sidebar ;) )

    1. Ahem! Well spotted, Angie! I think maybe it's best to just remove the age entirely at this point, seeing as maintenance is so infrequent (but that's shocked even me!). I could so easily end up a 90 year old woman claiming to be 36.

      So pleased you're looking forward to it too - feelings around ageing tend to come in waves for me (oddly, far less frequently, the older I get!) and I just felt entirely positive about turning 40 this year. It's already proving to be both fun and fabric-filled, so thank you - I hope yours is too. What are you doing to celebrate? x


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