Thursday, 24 February 2011

Beatle records

24. 'Yesterday' 

The resident trad jazz band played at all the Leeds Art School raves and at home my elder brother was also a jazz fan, his Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton supplanting our parents' choice of music. Even so, there was no escaping the Beatles. This 'Yesterday' single is the first of their records that I bought.

I was living in London when the 'Rubber Soul' record was released and have a clear memory of walking along Lewisham Way one dark evening, arm in arm with my boyfriend, both of us singing 'Norwegian Wood'. He had come from the north of England for the weekend to visit me and we were on our way to my dingy little bed-sit. I was studying at Goldsmith's College in my fifth and final year as a student. 
We had no idea what the future had in store.

Monday, 21 February 2011


23. Sandstone carving

Four years at art school produces a lot of art, not all of it easy to transport back home. This stone carving was one of a number of large, and heavy, pieces made by a student at Leeds College of Art called Wyatt. It was an exam piece, twenty-four inches high, designed for the foyer of a maternity hospital. He simply did not have the means to take his work away and store it and said that if I wanted any of his carvings I could have them. My father obligingly drove to college to collect my work and anything of Wyatt's that we could transport. There were some other lovely carvings, sadly too large for us to handle.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Period evening dress

22. Silk chiffon evening dress from the 1920's or 30's.

Art school life provided the opportunity to wear whatever you liked, and after years of school uniform I seized on this freedom with joy. When the local drama group disbanded I was allowed to raid the prop box and carried off a number of outfits that took me to student balls and raves and during rag week to precarious rides on the art college float.
This is the only piece of clothing from the prop box that I still have. It is not in good shape, the fabric is starting to disintegrate and the skirt is slightly spattered with oil paint. I think that this dress was actually intended for nothing more strenuous than lifting a cocktail glass!
It is fully lined with a beaded neckline and feels lovely to wear; the gored hem sways about your ankles as you move.
This is the dress that started my love affair with the colour purple. When I first acquired it my hair was long and dark and it is now short and white, but wearing purple clothes, not to mention shoes, bags and jewelry always makes me feel happy and most like 'me'.

A row of buttons serve no other purpose than to decorate the back.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


21. Double bedspread

In the late fifties and 'swinging' sixties the fabric and furniture designs that were most popular were 'modern' and Scandinavian in style. But I much preferred old-fashioned items and was often given lovely things simply because the owners knew that I would appreciate them.
This beautiful quilted bedspread was one such present, from a woman whom I hardly knew. It is an old piece but is in perfect condition, beautifully made, with broad stripes of alternate red and white stitched cotton on the top side and solid red fabric in a paisley design on the reverse. The bedspread is entirely hand stitched. These days it is rarely used, only in very warm summer weather when the duvet is banished. Then I get out a pair of my mother's Irish linen sheets and luxuriate!

Detail of the paisley fabric showing the hand stitching.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Pocket watch

20. Victorian pocket watch
This silver pocket watch was a present given to me by a fellow art student. He bought it, although it wasn't working, because there were roses on the clock face, suitable for me, and because it was a lovely object. I think that he paid about three pounds for it. It has lain in its box for very many years. 
Last autumn I took  the watch to the jewelers and asked if it was worth repairing. I was assured that it was. It cost me one hundred and forty-five pounds to put back into good working order and it is still sitting in its box. Now I need to buy a suitable watch chain so that I can wear it in my waistcoat pocket.
It is becoming an expensive momento! 

Sunday, 13 February 2011


18. Victorian garnet brooch

These two brooches belonged to my grandmother. I  wore them regularly as an art student, pinned at my throat, just as Isabella did. I love jewelry, especially family pieces that give such a feeling of continuity .


The second brooch, worn below by my grandmother, is my favourite. My mother was happy to pass this jewelry on to me as she did not especially like Victorian  pieces.

Isabella Leishman


16. Wooden and string giraffe

 This toy giraffe was how I used to occupy my fingers and my imagination in childhood. By careful manipulation of the base he could be made to 'walk' and 'talk'. Long conversations were had with my giraffe, who would listen politely before nodding his head in agreement. (He was quite a good dancer as well.)

17. Wood and string brooch 

My father brought this brooch of a climber's boots and pick as a present for me from the Lake District. I was not impressed. He had taken my older brother  to the lakes for a walking weekend, leaving me, a mere girl, at home.  Although fond of brooches I don't recall ever having worn this one. 
Do you think that I was consoled by being brought a present? Not on your life!
I don't know why I have kept it.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Ginger jars

15. Ginger jars

This pair of ginger jars, sixteen inches high, stood either end of a long bookcase in the living room at home. I think that my father must have bought them some time before his marriage in the 1930's.
Chinese ginger jars were not just for storing ginger, they were used in a far more general way as canisters for storing any spices as well as for salt and oil.  Different coloured jars have different meanings. Ones decorated in red such as these are often inscribed with symbols for happiness and prosperity.
My mother used the jars to store any paper work that she didn't want to mislay; letters, bills or recipes cut from the paper or a magazine. This was as near as she ever got to a filing system! 

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Terracotta figurine

14. Spanish terracotta figurine

This figurine, seven inches high, of a nursemaid and her charge, made the long journey through Spain and France in the back of our car some time in the 1950's. All that is missing half a century later is a bit of one finger.
Before air travel became commonplace we went on holiday in the family car. Leaving England seemed exciting then because the car had to be hoisted high by means of ropes and chains to board the cross channel ferry. My father's cars were what were then known as,'shooting brakes' and had plenty of space in which to pack all sorts of clobber, and, more importantly, to bring all manner of things back home; pointed amphora, assorted pottery and on one occasion a large decorative column that was stored beneath my feet and had me chewing my knees throughout the return trip.


11. Child's Spanish handkerchief.

On holidays as a child I collected sugar paper wrappers. Sugar cubes and sachets were used for advertising in every little street cafe and hotel and it was possible to amass quite a considerable collection, even in a fortnight. Needless to say, they were not objects destined for long keeping!
But this child's handkerchief, having a practical use, is a souvenir that has survived, together with object number twelve, one of several old vinyl records, rendered mute because I no longer have the equipment on which to play them .

12. Record of traditional Catalan dance music.

13. Oil painting by Walter Atkinson.

 This painting by my father hangs in my kitchen in Yorkshire. I can remember that it was  completed at home on our return from a holiday in Spain because I had to sit on a cushion over an armchair to pose for him! My long hair had been given an 'urchin' cut while we had been away, so I made a good stand in for a Spanish boy.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


9. Ibizan doll

This is the only doll that remains from my childhood. She is far from the brightly-coloured, neat little figure that she once was, with crisp white skirt, petticoat and bloomers. The rope-soled alpargatas have long since disappeared from her feet and her black stockings are in holes.

Traditional dress was still being worn when we used to holiday on the island of Ibiza.
The different coloured ribbons that were tied at the end of the plait were to denote the marital status of the wearer. Like the Ibizan girls I had my ears pierced so that I could wear the traditional gold drop earings.

10. Ibizan earings with detachable drops

My father was happy to draw and paint any locals who would sit for him. He was the sort of English man who thought that he need only speak a little louder and more slowly to be perfectly understood. Fortunately my mother was a fluent linguist, having worked as a translator in Spanish, French and German prior to her marriage. Thanks to her abilities we gained access to many and varied households.

I first went to mainland Spain when I was quite young. It was a dramatic introduction. Having obtained visas, my mother, being unable to drive, took my brother and me on holiday by train. (My father had been on holiday earlier in the year, traveling around Italy with a couple of friends, an opportunity taken because one of the friends was working in Italy at the time.) We traveled with my mother at night through the Pyrenees in a storm. The Spanish train had outside viewing platforms at the rear of each carriage and we stood, one moment in darkness and the next with sheet lightening displaying the landscape all about us.

I approved of the Spanish way of life from the start - children were not just packed off to bed at night! They were allowed out in the cool of the evening to paseo in pretty dresses or, better still, to dance sardanas in the square. No matter if, unaccustomed to this, I fell asleep at the table over my small cup of hot, dark chocolate. 
My mother knew the ins and outs of life in Spain; we did not post our cards to home from the post office where Franco's portrait hung on the wall. We went round the corner to what looked like someone's front room and conducted business from there.

I have been to Spain many times and only ever met with kindness and courtesy, not something that I can say of every European country!