books to read

so I finally finished the quartet of books by Elena Ferrante about 2 friends and their relationship throughout their lives and being brought up in Naples.   It starts in the 1950’s and retells their friendship, their careers, their ups and their downs.  I don’t want to say too much, as I do highly recommend you take the time to read them.   by the end though,  I think that I didn’t like either character.  I have read that many people say it reveals the true characters of female friends and how they really feel about each other  – I hope not,  because as much as I wanted to like Lila, the narrator would try her best to turn her into a bitter woman, which in turn made you not like either of them.   The insight into life in the 1950 and 60s in Naples is very interesting, and shockingly very tough and violent and not so great if you are a female. However the books are a clever depiction of a lifelong relationship between two friends and the determination of 2 characters who aim to succeed.   You start with the first one, My Brilliant Friend – it takes a while to remember who all the characters are, but fortunately there is a cast list at the beginning that you can always refer to. I am not a big reader, usually reading before I go to sleep, so it did take me a year to finish the 4 books, so that didn’t help.  I am now embarking on 2 books, again both gifts ‘Friendship’ by Rose Tremain and ‘The Riviera Set’ by Mary S Lovell about Maxine Elliott.  I shall tell you if they are worth reading.

Ellie and Martha – 2 friends taken from my Floral Glimpses book.

 

birthday wishes

I thought that this poem was particularly appropriate as my youngest daughter has now reached 21 and my eldest one already married.  not only does this make me feel ancient, but also sad and reminiscent of how quick the years of childhood have flown by.  Its 10 years now that I have been doing this blog, and yet it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was writing my first posts.
Even during this strange period of staying at home, the time seems to be flying past, each day coming and going like the waves of the sea – a reminder that time is perpetual, and our children are beacons of moments of life.  I am hoping that there will be a lot of good out of this massive change;  for the moment it seems bleak for the young and the job situation – the creative and arts side of life seems so difficult to get back to any momentum – but I am sure we will get there.  history has proved it and we are strong and determined beings that have always pulled through and excelled.

This is one of my favourite poems.  Happy birthday Maude – I have but pride and love for you.  I realise that you always hold onto the youngest child longer – as you realise that both of you have grown up.

It is both sad and a relief to fold so carefully

her outgrown clothes and line up the little worn shoes

of childhood, so prudent, scuffed and particular.

It is both happy and horrible to send them galloping

back tappity-tap along the mist chill path into the past. .

It is both a freedom and a prison, to be outgrown

by her as she towers over me as thin as a sequin

in her doc Martens and her pretty skirt

because just as I work out how to be a mother

she stops being a child.

Penelope Shuttle

repair, renew and recycle

so during this lockdown, I have been picking things that I normally leave at the back of my wardrobe, wearing them, then altering and repairing them using the sashiko Japanese method.  I had been doing a diy version of this for many years, fixing tears and holes with similar fabrics, or with vintage white cottons, using pretty lace ribbons to fix up.  however, I managed to get onto a zoom online repair class with Toast, hosted by the lovely Molly Martin and its amazing how a one hour of tuition can make a difference, giving you the tips on how to do things properly and easily.  its the one good thing out of this situation is that as things are taught online, there seem to be no limits to the number of people joining into a class, whereas normally there is such a small capacity in store, you can never get onto one of those courses, they are always booked up!  I also did a darning mend class with Emily Settle at toast  and this spurred me to darn all my socks and holes in jumpers!

last year, I met Esthea Evans in suffolk and inspired by her, I fixed up a few broken linens and repaired stuff.  it really is very time consuming, but also very rewarding, especially if something is your favourite thing to wear, that holds lots of memories – so why not make a lovely feature of your repair, use a contrast colour thread or patch. Its also very eco, recycling and less wasteful!  I also attempted to make some face masks out of some scraps of fabrics that I had!  I have now realised that I should have made them double thickness, but I think that they are pretty.  I had to source elastic online, and discovered James tailoring for sustainable ethical and essential tailoring supplies.  other favourite sites to check out are merchant and mills, great simple patterns, one day I will attempt to make one of their dresses and Wild and Woolly for knitting – Maude recommended this to me.  I also dyed a few of my white cottons that get very yellow around the neck or have stains that I can’t get out, like rust – I have never found a perfect dye colour, so usually mix the blues or bright pink with some of the dark grey  – its all experimentation.  a lovely book to get inspired by is by Clare Wellesley Smith, Slow Stitch – just think that repair and stitching is a mindful activity, which is what we all need to do at the moment.

tea and crafting also looks like a very interesting place – you can do a 3 hour workshop in embroidery, knit some gloves,  make your own candles in a tea cup, sew a tote bag – basically, anything you might want to ever buy, you can learn how to make yourself!!

keeping white fresh and clean

dont you hate it every summer, you go to get your lovely white dresses out and there are all these yellow marks over them?  apparently, even if your clothes look clean and there are no apparent stains, you should still wash them before you put them back, especially clothes that you dont wear that often. its the body fluids, grease etc, even from your fingertips that remains on the fabric.    I have so many antique clothes, that they actually disintegrate with too much washing, so i  dont wash everything each time.  anyhow, i have discovered that if you soak them in Ecover bleach- i have only done this with white things, then the yellow stain miraculously disappears!    i am not guaranteeing it for everything, but the few times that i have tried it, its worked for me.  Apparently baking soda acts the same, so I may give that a try next.

incidentally, my beautiful victorian blouse that i wear rips everytime, so i now sew vintage lace ribbons into the holes to patch up and it seems to not only cover the hole, but adds to the quirkiness of the blouse.   i used to just hang them in my bedroom as decoration, but have decided that its silly not to wear them.   i tend to buy my vintage ribbons from the cloth house, they have a lovely selection as well as interesting fabrics.

Teowa is a violin teacher and actress and is one of my constant muses;  the vintage dress I bought from a shop in spain, apparently it was the owners grandmothers dress….  sadly the shop isn’t there any more.  I really miss photographing people at the moment, its going to be one of the first things I am going to do when the rules allow…….

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DoubleblossomXX

11. DoubleblossomXX

Its been a long time since I have added any new writers (see the Guest Writers page for more)  – but during this strange time it somehow has spurred me to reignite certain aspects of my life, my blog being one of the things.  maybe its something about getting older (and wiser), but I feel more confident to do all those things that I would never have done a few years ago, post selfies, write, try out new and different things – maybe its because I am realising that life is getting shorter……  anyhow, a friend asked me to collaborate with her on a project that looks at our lives, narrating our feelings and thoughts about our upbringing and lives as Chinese women brought up in a western world.  Strangely we are similar age and are called Christine and Christina – we met 22 years ago, when our sons were at the same nursery, but lost contact and then remet a few years ago through our creativity.  anyhow, here is post number one from both of us – we are chatting to each other, revealing our inner thoughts, worries and criticisms…..

Dearest Christina
Here I am at the age of somewhere around one.
My parents used to love to tell me the story of when my mother took me shopping at Lord & Taylor’s, our local posh department store. She lifted me, nestled in a baby seat, onto the checkout counter while she searched for her wallet to pay. I was quiet and very still. No one noticed me until I sneezed a little baby “atchoo”, which gave all the shop ladies a fright because up until then, they thought I was a baby doll.
The Chinese have a word, “gwai”, that means well behaved and obedient. When I was little, I would beam with pride when my parents told the story. I took pride in the fact that I was “gwai”, the ultimate in being the perfect Chinese daughter.
Now, when I play this story back to myself, I think, “How strange? Would the shop ladies have thought I was a doll had I been a white baby?” Hartford, Connecticut, 1962. I think I might have been the first Chinese baby the city had ever seen. My parents were part of the early wave of immigration into areas of the US outside its major cities. Just a few years before, my father had been told he couldn’t rent an apartment because he was Chinese.
And so you see, I think this feeling of objectification, experienced my whole life, has very early beginnings. By objectification, I mean a sense of feeling “other”. Did I always feel this? Is it an inherent part of my personality or did I absorb it through my skin because others felt it of me. My guess is that like all things, the answer lies somewhere in between.
So I realise now that my whole life, I have always been walking this fine line of trying to accept me for myself but then not really knowing who I myself was. Even at the age of one, I was watching, always watching. As if I knew even then that I wasn’t like the others; not quite fitting in while trying to work out what was required of me to fit in. Fifty-eight years later, I wonder if I was always as serious as this photo suggests I would be. I certainly have very few memories of experiencing pure, unrestrained joy. Whatever I was doing or thinking, I was always wondering if it was “right”. I look at this photo with my own objective eyes, and TBH, if I don’t mind saying so myself, I was pretty darn cute. That little bowl haircut with those chubby, chipmunk cheeks, anyone could be forgiven for thinking I look like a doll. With love, Xtine

Dearest Christine many years ago, I found this cute photograph rummaging around my mothers’ few personal trinkets, which consisted of a green vanity case and an old oxo tin full of photos.
There are not many photographs of myself as a baby, but I fortunately have this one, mounted on card and obviously been hand tinted. I am sitting on a sideboard with flowers in vases – I am positive that this is not my mother’s house, as she has never shown any passion for fresh flowers, vases nor decorative cloths – her own life consisted of practical and basic necessities. I can only presume that this is my paternal great aunt’s house in Yorkshire, which I did visit as a child and I have distant memories of her lace doilies and ornaments. My aunt Elizabeth apparently brought up my father, though I have no real true story as to why this happened, sadly all the relatives on his side have passed away and only a distant cousin has a few stories to tell. I only discovered recently that my father Donald was in Borstal by the age of 15, and his way to escape this problematic life was to join the army. He was stationed in Hong Kong, which is where he met my mother Ying, and brought her back to England – married and bearing myself. I was born in Ryhl, which was an army station. Moving from base to base was the pattern of our lives for the next few years.
My mother was originally from Guangdong (formerly Canton)in mainland China, but as a result of the 1949 revolution when my grandparents’ thriving tailoring business was taken away, she was sent to Hong Kong to study and hence met my father.
Sadly my parents separated when I was 5 years old and it was not amicable. My mother spent over 12 hours a day working to support us 3 children, and so I never really saw much of her, especially as I moved to London at 19. It’s a far cry from the close relationships that I have with my own children – but life then was definitely harder. My mother never really wanted to speak about my father so I have learned very little about him. Fortunately I only have memories of a happy if not colourful childhood. I cherish this only photograph of myself as I look so happy and content in my lovely clean white dress – I look so poised and oblivious to whatever was going on around me, ready to take on the world and its challenges.Love Xtinaxx

if you are interested in reading our stories, you can find us on Instagram Doubleblossomxx

 

the sun

my lovely friend Ellie dropped this book to me last year and I know nothing about the poet Mary Oliver;  her poems focus on nature and real life – they are honest and can show that life is not easy at all.  I am finding that poetry and lyrics are so soothing at this time – maybe its the rhythm, the brevity that make them easy to pick up and read.

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed–
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems volume one.

buttercups

it’s delightful to see a patch of tiny yellow buttercups spring up on their own from the ground – they must be hardy as they are everywhere;   its rare to see buttercups used as house flowers, I don’t know why because they are simply beautiful as well as reminding you of your youth.

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buttercups symbolize cheerfulness and charm and because buttercups can spread lavishly over the ground in great expanses and their blooms are golden-yellow cups, they can also represent riches.

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dont you remember holding a buttercup under your chin, and if it reflects you are supposed to like butter?

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for one inspirational lady who I miss dearly

it would have been Eilleen’s birthday today, so this is for the most inspirational lady i know.

You inspire me
When my eyes begin to glaze
You inspire me
In so many ways
When I’m on the ground
You seem to know
How to pour blessings down
And spread them all around

You inspire me
When my well is almost dry
You inspire me
And in the twinkling of an eye
I’m back on my feet
You’re so inspiring to me

The road is long
And it winds through the night
But when you’re near
You let there be light

You inspire me
When my eyes begin to glaze
You inspire me
In so many ways
I’m back on my feet
You’re so inspiring
I don’t have to wish upon a star
That’s how inspiring you are
the beautiful lyrics of Nick Lowe

82,white_bud_rose

white roses from my cards range – eilleen’s favourite flower.

secret gardens

strangely we have been avoiding walks in the park now that they have got so busy, and instead have enjoyed strolling round the streets and alleys of nearby areas.  today we walked around the lovely alleys of Hampstead, which really is so old, winding and beautiful.

several years ago, we stayed near Shepton Mallet  and discovered this beautiful historical secret garden, Kilver Court.   it was so tranquil,  a perfect place to just visit and enjoy the view.   we stayed at a lovely hotel, Ston Easton Park for the night, which was sheer luxury – beautifully furnished with antiques and set in beautiful grounds.    The area of Somerset was lovely to explore, a lunch trip to Wells, the Mulberry Factory shop, the farm shop at Sharpham everything you need to make a weekend perfect.

i love the hidden gardens of london – tucked behind residential and industrial areas of london there are so many to discover;  i recently  visited st georges garden, just near to kings cross – a 300 year old burial ground, its a lovely breath of greenery in a somewhat park free part of town.    my architecture buddy Maria, took me to the gagosian gallery in kings cross first and then we walked around the lovely Marchmont Street.   I much prefer a local street with independents…..

although kew is not a secret, its still a lovely place to visit and lose yourself amongst the victorian conservatories and woodlands.   I can’t wait for all these places to open again.  these can all be places to put on your list of things to see and visit.

other secret gardens in london are Abney Park Cementery nature reserve in stoke newington, hampstead hill gardens and pergola in a little known pocket of hampstead heath, built by Lord Leverhulme for his parties a century ago.   the old english garden in battersea park is a more contemporary garden, recently revamped in battersea park.  camley street natural park is in the heart of kings cross that has been turned into a floating forest garden with pond meadow and woodland habitats.  so wherever you are , there is a hidden haven right in your city.  charter house square is another new discovery, right by Smithfield market, with its 14C building, its definitely somewhere to revisit and Mount Street Gardens, right in the heart of mayfair is a lovely place to sit and take a rest.  I have been walking through st Pancras gardens to get to Waitrose in Kings Cross, such a peaceful haven right by the train station and perhaps by one of the most congested roads in London.   another former cemetery, St Martin’s Gardens is close – again only recently discovered on my daily walk.   there is so much to discover locally , just take a stroll and learn more about your neighbourhood – its one of the bonuses  of this time.  if you want to see a list,  the london gardens trust inventory has all the available gardens .   create a wish list now of all the public buildings and gardens that you would like to visit, that will be something to look forward to.

wallpapers

still stuck indoors for most of the day, makes you totally aware of your grubby walls and cobwebbed corners;  some mornings, I have a mad frenzy of spring cleaning – thought this is slowly disappearing.  you do however look around wondering what little changes you can do, and now that spring has definitely arrived, a bit of colour and even pattern makes you want to jazz up those plain walls.   I have not used wallpapers myself, but have always looked at them. wallpapers can totally change your room, you don’t even have to paper the whole room, just one wall can be effective.  I have done this to several rooms, painting either a contrast colour or a darker shade on one wall.  there are so many different types of wallpapers available at the moment, some are hand made, such as the ones made by Tim Butcher and Lizzie Deshayes, with their company Fromental – a beautiful selection of embroidered and hand painted papers.   i just love the chinoiserie range.  For lovely muted colours and simple classic patterns, see Paint and Paper library.  Farrow and Ball also have a classic range of papers, perfect to combine with their already popular paint colours.  Erdem MOralioglu has collaborated with the historic interiors brand de Gournay to produce a hand painted, silk panelled wallpaper featuring colourful flora and birds;  I am sure its pricey, but if you only do say one wall it could be beautiful.   Designers Guild has an unusual, bold and colourful selection of papers.  Cole and Son has an impressive range of papers, including designs by Vivien Westwood and Fornasetti.   you can find gold damask wallpapers from Fabrics and Papers.  John Lewis has an interesting choice too and includes some designs from all the other brands, so gives you a wider choice.  many years ago, my friend Elli used this beautiful gold wallpaper on her wall, very striking and luxurious.