Episodes in my Life

To wear a hat or not to wear a hat? That is the question.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with hats. After my horrible boarding-school hat – which I jumped on when I left school for the last time – I avoided wearing hats as much as possible. Though I see from my About Elizabeth website page that I had a white straw hat when I was about seventeen in Paris being finished – but the straw began to unravel and I was pleased to have an excuse to ditch it. It smacked too much of ‘young lady’ and I was desperate to re-invent myself.

Later, when working in Fringe Theatre, I sported a rather nice white lacy wool beret. Alas, I washed it in a too hot white wash and it shrunk.

The hat I never wear

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This post is about two Arts and Crafts oak chairs with Walter Crane tiles, bought for ten shillings (50p),  with an intriguing story to tell. My mother, who loved auctions, got them from Mr Little’s Salerooms in Barnard Castle, an attractive upper Teesdale market town.

Chair a

The first History chair

They were, she explained, hall chairs, you weren’t meant to sit on them. In fact, they are excruciatingly uncomfortable, not to mention unsafe. I wouldn’t trust the front right leg of one of them (see photo above) and the other creaks ominously. But I like them, and I’m a fan of Walter Crane (1845-1915), an eminent artist who collaborated with William Morris. The tiles say a lot about late Victorian England and what people thought was important about English history. (And it’s definitely English history, as opposed to British.)

Caesar b

Julius Caesar tile by Walter Crane

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Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals was a favourite teenage book, and it introduced me to the rose beetle. Soon after he arrived in Corfu in 1935, Gerry met the rose beetle man, an itinerant pedlar wearing a floppy hat covered in feathers, and a patched, pocketed coat, bulging with knick-knacks for sale. Bamboo cages holding a variety of birds bounced on his back, and he held ‘a number of lengths of cotton, to each of which was tied an almond-size rose-beetle, glistening golden green in the sun, all of them flying round his hat.’

 Durrell

My much loved copy of ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell

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When my children were living at home, I had a hotch-potch of mugs, and, sooner or later, they broke, as mugs do. Looking at my current row of mugs, I see, with some alarm, that I may have turned into a mug fanatic.

Avebury right

Avebury – front

Nowadays, my mugs have to fulfil certain criteria: first, they must be interesting (i.e. historical). Second, they must be equally patterned on both sides. I’m left-handed and I’m fed up with picking up a mug with my left hand and realizing that the actual picture is on the other side. No more right-handed mugs, then.

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On Friday, my friend Eleanor and I went to Cambridge for the day. We try to do this every year and it’s always a pleasure. It’s a brilliant city for a day out: it’s not too large, there’s plenty to see and do, good places to eat in and a street market with interesting stalls. If the weather’s good, what more can one ask? We caught the fast train from King’s Cross station and forty-five minutes later we were in Cambridge.

1 Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum

We headed down Trumpington Road to the Fitzwilliam Museum: not, dear Reader, for Culture (at least not initially) but because the lure of coffee was overwhelming. And the Museum has an excellent café.

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I always like to end a visit to a exhibition by walking round swiftly one last time and choosing an object to take home. It doesn’t have to remotely practical – this is Fantasy-land, after all, and I can have anything I like. In the V & A’s exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear I was spoilt for choice.

41 Negligee for Berenice Marlohe

Negligée in silk satin and Chantilly lace, 2012

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A Child’s Day through the Ages by Dorothy Margaret Stuart was one of my favourite books as a child. I particularly liked the story A Garland Over the Door, set in Athens in 438 BC, about the arrival of a baby brother to ten-year-old Ageladas and his little sister, Doricha – and it inspired me to try out something dangerous ….

Syracuse Mus pottery lion

Greek children’s toy: pottery lion

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It’s March and I’ve decided to get on with one of my New Year resolutions.. I am going to have my front hall properly carpeted and, in a moment of madness, I decide to include the cupboard under the stairs: The Cupboard of Doom. In October 1940, a massive bombing raid destroyed the houses opposite, so there isn’t a right-angle in the house. Try to put a nail in the walls of the Cupboard of Doom and chunks of plaster fall down. It has housed at least four sets of gas and electricity meters, plus pipes and wiring and there are holes everywhere. The cupboard door doesn’t fit and icy draughts whistle under it in winter.

1.

Looking into the Cupboard of Doom

Heaven knows what’s in the depths of the cupboard. I certainly don’t. However, it’s got to be cleared in time for The Carpet. I begin to think that must be mad. Why did I ever start this? I put on my oldest jeans, T-shirt and bath cap (there are spiders’ webs) and track down my mother’s old garden kneeler.

2

What is this?

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