Episodes in my Life

Open House weekend in London happens once a year, in September; when all sorts of buildings which you can’t usually see inside, both public and private, are open to the public – for free. This year, my niece and I decided to visit the tomb of Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), Victorian explorer, soldier, linguist (he spoke at least forty languages), scholar and prolific author and translator who had long been a hero of mine.

Sir Richard Burton’s tomb in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen’s in Mortlake

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When I was about six, my Great-Aunt Eliza gave me this nautilus shell. It was kept on top of a high chest of drawers in the West Room – a big spare room with a four-poster bed so huge that it had to be sold with the house. I wasn’t allowed to have the shell in my own bedroom until I was about eleven, so I only glimpsed it occasionally but the knowledge that it belonged to me always gave me a thrill.

Great Aunt Eliza’s nautilus shell

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A couple of weekends ago I was staying in a cottage on top of a chalk downland hill in Wiltshire. The views are stupendous. Look south on a clear day and you can see the Isle of Wight. I love the wealth of Ancient History here. Wiltshire is criss-crossed by a number of ancient, Prehistoric roads, the most famous being the Ridgeway, on the north side of Salisbury Plain.

The Ridgeway with barley growing on the far side. This ancient road is much wider than a footpath Continue reading

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Sometimes, things go wrong in life. You lose people you love; someone close to you becomes ill – or you do; things don’t work out at work, and so on. Add a couple of small things, like your kitchen tap developing a persistent drip, or realizing that you still haven’t made that difficult phone call, and, suddenly, you are in a bad place.

This is when you need a personal oasis; a place that’s safe and quiet and not too far away; somewhere you can just be.

Moroccan rose bath oil and scented candle

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I have posted 101 blogs since I began, rather hesitantly, back in 2016 and, my goodness, was that a steep learning curve. I see that I have covered a lot of subjects – from the frazzled: Dejunking One’s Life: The Cupboard of Doom; and the slightly bonkers: Napoleon’s Toothbrush; to literary criticism: Is Mr Rochester really a Woman in Disguise?; to travels abroad: The Park of Monsters (Italy); and visits to interesting places in and around London: A Visit to Kensal Green Cemetery. There are posts on Jane Austen’s novels: Jane Austen: The Power of Money; and visits to Art Exhibitions: Celebrating Artemisia Gentileschi; as well as posts on simple pleasures: The Rose Beetle (as seen by Gerald Durrell in Corfu, and me in Albania), and: I Love Cambridge Market.

Easter daffodils in my garden

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When I was fifteen, my mother gave me Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost for Christmas. It was a book she’d loved as a child and she thought I might like it, too. First published in 1909, it was republished sixty-one times, and, by the time the author died in 1924, more than 10 million copies of her various books had been sold. A Girl of the Limberlost was also turned into a Silent Film.

Gene Stratton Porter, courtesy of Wikipedia

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Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent, is Mothering Sunday. From at least the seventeenth century, Mothering Sunday was the day when young apprentices and maidservants had the day off to visit their mothers. They would bring her a cake as a gift, often a traditional Simnel cake, and a small posy of spring flowers.

Daffodils

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When I was eleven, I was sent to Boarding School, a horrific experience which I try not to think about, but there was one thing I learnt which has proved really useful, and that was Sewing. We only did it for one year, but it covered all the basics, including darning.

It’s now winter and I feel the cold. I have several jumpers and cardigans which I rely on to keep me warm. I’ve had them for years and I love them all but they are beginning to show their age and holes are beginning to appear. My darning skills are needed!

My Orkney jumper by Judith Glue

Take my Orkney jumper. My mother bought it for me when we visited Judith Glue’s shop in Kirkwall in the Orkneys in 1996. It has five rows of runes along the top, which read ‘Orkney’, a row of Pictish birds underneath, then a row of stylized waves, followed by rows of triangles in browns and greys. It’s incredibly warm.

Judith Glue lives and works in the Orkneys, and mine is one of her runic designs.

Darning the elbows

Unfortunately, as you can see, holes developed at the elbows and I’ve had to darn them. They are not perfect but at least they tone in with the pattern – well, that’s what I tell myself.

Dealing with the moths

Then I noticed that moths had nibbled at the bottom of the ribbing at the front. I’ve over sewn it and mended a tiny hole in between the two heather-coloured triangles. There were at least six tiny moth-holes which are too small to darn. Fortunately, Shetland wool is thick and I’m hoping my repairs don’t show.

My Welsh jumper

I’ve had my Wendy Lawrence jumper which for at least twenty years – I bought it in a Charity shop in Harlech in Wales for £5. It’s a thing of beauty and I can’t imagine how anyone would want to get rid of it. I absolutely love it and it even warmer than the Orkney jumper. It’s so thick that, so far, it doesn’t need darning.

Dealing with the seams

But it’s beginning to come apart at the seams. You can see – just – where I’ve over sewn the arm seam with thick black wool.

Multi-coloured stripy cardigan, Gap, 2007

I love this cardigan, too. It’s 100% lambs’ wool and not as heavy as the two jumpers. The sleeves are three-quarter length and I wish the cardigan was an inch or so longer but it’s still a very useful garment as it goes with almost anything. However, both elbows developed holes which I’ve repaired by cutting a large suede patch in half, cutting out a suitably-sized template and creating two patches, one for each elbow. I’ve folded one sleeve over for the photo so that you can see that, from the front, the patches don’t show at all – probably just as well!

Repairs under the arm

It, too, is beginning to come apart at the seams and I’ve had to over sew where the underarm sleeve meets the rest of the cardigan. It’s an awkward place and I chose cream wool on purpose so that I could see exactly what I was sewing. Fortunately, I don’t go around with my arms raised so it doesn’t show.

Gap cardigan sleeve seam repair

I’ve been keeping my eye on Gap’s new season cardigans but unfortunately, at the moment, they are going in for sparkly stripes and too many colours with yellow in them, neither of which suit me. So I’m using such sewing skills as I have and hoping that fashion will move on.

James Pringle of Inverness 100% wool cardigan

Lastly, there’s my 100% lambs’ wool navy cardigan which I bought in Fort William. Again, it’s very warm and I wear it a lot in winter. However, I’ve recently noticed a hole in one of the sleeves (I’ve put a bit of card inside the sleeve so that you can see it), and the other sleeve is also thinning at the elbow. They will have to be darned.

Navy darning wool and my darning mushroom

I went into my local department store which has a small  haberdashery compartment and said to the girl at the counter, ‘I’m looking for navy darning wool.’ She looked bewildered. ‘What’s darning wool?’ I explained but it was obvious that she didn’t really know what I meant.

I eventually found some but I felt like a relic of a long-vanished past. Am I the only person who still darns?

The garments look huge in the photos, I don’t know why. They are all size M.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mr Little’s auction house, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham. I am about eight and I spot an interesting-looking orange book on an old table. It is Little Women. I pick it up and show it to my mother who says in surprise,  ‘Haven’t you read it?’ I shake my head. She takes the book and marches off to find Mr Little; two minutes and half-a-crown later, the book is mine.

My copy of ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott

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