Thursday, 20 December 2012


94. Brass dog tag.

This tag was bought by one of our daughters for Bella, the first smooth fox terrier that I owned. On the reverse it is inscribed with her name and our telephone number. After Bella's death her relative, Maisie, took ownership of the tag with a promise from me that once she had learnt to read I would buy her a new one and put her name on it.
Maisie was my constant companion for ten happy years. She never learnt to read but she was adored and adoring and possessed a heart of gold.

95. Infant identity tag.

This small plastic hospital identity tag changed my life for ever. It turned me into someone else, a mother.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

92. Dustsheets

92. Dustsheet.

Whilst I enjoy being away on holiday I am always happy to return; I'm a home bird at heart. Since my marriage we have always lived in old houses and have become adept at making alterations, with walls down, doors moved and decorative colours carefully chosen. I have some of my father's dustsheets, stenciled with his name. They have seen a lot of action over the years, not only with our own projects but before that in my childhood home, which my father had designed and built. His dustsheets were often in use because he was constantly engaged in new decorative ideas and 'improvements'.

Inevitably the dustsheets have become blotched with marks over time. There are small spots of colour that act as a trigger to memories; rich ultramarine, a reminder of the dining room in an earlier home and a deep red brown that recalls a front door. Dustsheets are such useful things, and these, which must be well over seventy years old, are of wonderful quality. The family association is precious to me. I wash them and treat them as though they are cashmere blankets!

93. Garden trowel.

My elder daughter made this trowel in her craft lessons when she was a schoolgirl. It is still going strong! I spend a great deal of time in my garden grubbing about in the soil and have a motley collection of tools, some more useful than others. For obvious reasons the is the one that I handle with the greatest care.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

"Leaving Home," limewood carving.

86. "Leaving Home" Limewood carving by Peter Murphy.

I never intended to leave our previous home."You'll have to carry me out in a box," I said on more than one occasion. We were living in an old farmhouse with a large, overgrown and magical garden. It was very similar to my childhood home. "You've bought 'Coruisk'" my father said when he first came to see what we had let ourselves in for.

To the south and east beyond the garden lay an orchard and fields. To the north there was a small hill of oak and ash trees that protected us from harsh weather, creating a micro-climate that enabled me to grow buckets of tomatoes and plentiful 'Sweetheart' melons. Close to the rear of the house a long stone wall had been built to protect us from a new road that marked the boundary to an ever-growing satellite town.

All the family was captivated by the garden. For the children it was a space to run, swing and climb, to camp on the hillock with friends, to loll in the hammock strung beneath the massive fir tree on the lawn. Peter converted the pig house into a small carving studio, put in a workman's stove and reappeared only for meals when I rang the bell that hung outside the kitchen door.
I gardened, in the long conservatory that led off the sitting room, in the flower borders, the vegetable garden with it's old fruit bushes and on the sunny banks of the hill where the slow worms loved to bask.

The space around us became a source of our art; paintings and drawings, woodcuts and carvings. The carvings in particular recorded the pattern of our lives whilst living there.

Then the town boundary was altered. In spring, when the neighbouring orchard was in full, glorious bloom, diggers came and wrenched out all the trees. A national firm had bought the land for a housing development and our dream home was at an end. They built tight to our border, wrecking our drainage system in the process and causing un-imagined grief. After two years of disputes we were relieved to leave.

Peter made this carving once we had moved house. It is a farewell. Although we had physically left the farmhouse it took me a good year to say goodbye, I mourned for what had been. But I had been taught some valuable lessons; that nothing is set in stone and that it is best to be flexible and enjoy the present, for who knows what tomorrow may bring.

87. 1950's Aga cooker.

The buyers of our farmhouse had no interest in keeping the Aga - did we want to take it with us? What a question! We employed a man to come and move it for us. He was as squat and solid as the cooker, with hands as large as the hob lids. He moved the Aga with great skill, and seeming ease, out of the kitchen and through the door by means of a few wooden rollers. It sat in the garage of our new home for a while until we had rearranged the kitchen, having to knock down a wall to accommodate it. Once it was in place our small cottage started to feel like home.

Quite apart from cooking, an Aga serves a variety of purposes, airing clothes, drying kindling/hair/wellingtons/dogs - you name it! It provides a constant, comforting level of warmth. I have been cooking on this Aga for well over a quarter of a century. It was converted to oil when we moved house so that now it is rather expensive to run. But I think that it is well worth it, and the dog agrees.

88. Hungarian dresser.

The fitted furniture could not come with us from our previous home and replacements were needed. My old built-in kitchen dresser had open shelves and all the glass and crockery had to be regularly taken down and washed. I wanted it's replacement to have glass-fronted doors to keep the contents clean.
We searched for a while before finding this dresser, in a rather forlorn state, brought from Hungary in a van, one item of many to be patched up and resold. It makes me smile because, although crudely made, it has pretensions of grandeur, with it's fluted columns and decorative details. The feet were worn and uneven as though it had previously been standing on an earthen floor.
Now china stays clean behind the glass doors and the capacious lower cupboard stores my heavy crockery. There is a bread slide, a useful pull-out shelf. I would love to know the history of this furniture, what items formerly sat on the shelves and what sort of dwelling it came from.

89. Hungarian wardrobe.

Rummaging amongst imported furniture that was stored in old farm buildings awaiting restoration we found a couple of wardrobes. I personalized the one in our bedroom by painting on the door panels and adding a poem by Robert Herrick. It seems very suitable for a room where we drift into unconsciousness each night.

Here we are all by day
by night we are hurled
by dreams
each one into a several world.

Robert Herrick,  1591 -1674.

I suppose that this piece of furniture is now anglicised and in the future people will look at it and scratch their heads!

90. Antique French chandelier.

It is interesting how some goods travel from one country to another. What is considered old-fashioned in one place may be highly desirable in another. Things disregarded in France have long been coveted by the English.
I wanted a light fitting for the sitting room, nothing too flashy, but a bit special none-the-less. Chandeliers have become very popular but new ones can look outrageously shiny. In an antique shop I found this old French fitting looking suitably 'shabby chic', with it's dark metalwork and slightly wonky crystal drops. I love it!

91. "Keeper's Cottage." Egg tempera painting by James Lynch.

James was commissioned to paint a portrait of our cottage for my sixtieth birthday. He is a keen hang-glider and the subjects of many of his paintings are seen from a bird's-eye view. Because of this we erected a scaffolding tower at the edge of the lawn. He sat on a chair atop this in nonchalant fashion, sketching and making notes. He went away with this information and several weeks later phoned to ask, "Do you want me to include the house next door?"
"Not really," I replied, so he used a degree of artistic license.
In reality our cottage sits in the centre of a small hamlet, but in my head I live joyfully surrounded only by nature.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


84. Leedsware dish

This badly damaged piece of old Leedsware, cracked and minus its handles, sits on my kitchen window ledge. It holds an assortment of broken clay pipes, a collection that grows with each year as I dig and unearth them from the vegetable garden. The dish, of cream earthenware, is very probably of an age with many of the pipe pieces, as the pottery was begun in 1770 by two brothers and closed in 1878. Their work was famous for embossing and for pierced openwork, as my example shows. The openwork was created by hand with a variety of small tools.
The dish belonged to my father, who was a Leeds man. He didn't mind that the piece was in such a poor state, he could appreciate the work that had gone into making it and he still considered it beautiful.

85. Modern Leedsware mug

Moulds and pattern books from the old pottery had been preserved and in recent times
'Leedsware' earthenware was reintroduced - made in the Midlands! It should really be described only as creamware. I  bought this mug as a present for my father but the craftsmanship is only a dull echo of the original work.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


81. Venetian mask

I have bought many souvenirs, over the years, from Venice, my favourite city. The earliest purchases were of shoes, bought from small shops that sold custom and ready made shoes of the softest, jewel-coloured leathers. Sadly the shoemakers have now gone, but many other skills survive. The pleasure of shopping in Venice is that craftsmanship is still alive. In back rooms the paper makers, framers, glass blowers and mask makers are all busy producing their goods, skills passed down unbroken through the generations. Like every other tourist I have bought my fair share of embroidered and initialed handkerchiefs and mementos of Murano glass.
As well as sunshine we've also experienced a fair amount of rainfall in this city of water and one year we came home with an extremely large and elegant gentleman's umbrella. It was not remotely British, the fabric was a rather racy navy with brown spots and each metal spoke was tipped with wood to match the handle.
Now the city is awash with tourist tat, imported fabrics that are a dull echo of the work of previous years. Masks are big business. They vary from the traditional to the revolting to the magical. I bought this blank to decorate myself. It has been hanging on the wall of my workroom for years, a quiet presence, with a teardrop moulded into the papier-mache. Initially I had some complicated idea as to how I would paint it, but now I like it just as it is and it will remain unadorned.

I am usually disdainful of holiday souvenirs, but can hardly be so about those from Venice, after all I have bought so many! Half masks and full masks, vases, glass sweets and jigsaws, water carafes and ice-cream sundae dishes, the latter stretching my Italian vocabulary to the limit but improving my miming skills considerably.

82. Jigsaw of the Palazzo Pesaro-Rava.

Venice is a place for moving slowly, on foot through the myriad small alleyways, by boat up and down the canals. It gives a pace for looking, observing more closely, discovering all manner of small pleasures, the sounds of footsteps that have not been obliterated by the roar of car engines. You stroll along the same streets each day, you linger in a shop doorway, and you are tempted. It isn't possible to buy the Palazzo Pesaro-Rava, so beautiful on the Grand Canal, but you can take home the jigsaw that bears it's name.

83. Classical casts.

A ramshackle wooden box, bought years ago at auction for a few pounds, holds four layers of these delicate small casts, souvenirs from an era when people embarked on the 'grand tour'. They brought these items home as a reminder of the works of art that they had seen on their travels through Europe.

An old German book, 'Gemmen und Kameen des Altertums Etder Neuzeit' helped me to identify much of the subject matter and the source material.
Some of the pieces had perished and Peter set to work to reproduce the remainder whilst they were still sound.

Moulds were made, after which the fun really started. What materials to cast in, and what colours to choose? We made a mixture of resin, marble dust and pigments and worked alongside examples of different stones to imitate their qualities.

We were delighted with the results and had several pieces made into jewellery. We thought that we could sell these. 
We couldn't ! Our skills didn't extend to commerce, or any ability to make money. After the pleasure of making durable copies, followed by designing a letterhead and leaflet, our enthusiasm and salesmanship faded and our little gems were put away in a cupboard.

Stick to what you know!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ivory figures

79. Japanese entertainers
ivory, 4 cm high.

I handed over my father's collection of ivories to my nephew several years ago and then saw this beautiful little object in an art gallery while Peter was looking for something else. The man's toe is broken. I had picked the piece up by the clear perspex base, thinking that the figures were attached, but no, they were not, and the figures went flying, so the missing  toe is down to my own clumsiness. I was delighted to buy this ivory and bring it home, it is a pleasure to put in the palm of my hand and study closely, each small detail of the patterned clothing, the ribbons beneath the chin. My father would have enjoyed this object and my buying it feels like a continuation. Our daughters are the same, the younger tells me, "we don't do tidy, Mum, we're too fond of stuff."

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Street cries of London

78. Street cries of London figurines
8cm high.

Some time before the luxury of having a hamper delivered from Fortnum and Mason, produce could be bought on the streets of London from the many sellers, each with their own distinctive call.  They are a popular subject matter for small figurines such as these.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


77. Fortnum and Mason wicker hamper.

On the morning of Christmas Eve a few years ago a courier struggled up the garden path with a large present for me. Oh, joy - it was a hamper from Fortnum and Mason, absolutely packed with goodies! The family and their partners were arriving later that day so I opened the hamper on the kitchen floor and examined the contents. There was everything that a hostess could wish for to add to her celebratory meals. 
We were feasting all week!
The hamper has been re-stocked and taken on various outings since then, the F&M logo adding a bit of style to happy occasions!

Nativity set

75. Pottery nativity set

We bought this nativity set many years ago, in the week before Christmas, from a pottery in the narrow streets around Palma cathedral. Its simplicity is charming, the sheep made from just a squidge of clay with four nails for legs.
Several years after having bought it my parents took our elder daughter to Majorca to recouperate from a serious illness. She was ten years old and insisted on an expedition to the pottery, although she could not remember exactly where it was. My parents told me later that it took a lot of finding!
They bought this black and white Spanish bull to add to our nativity set.

76. Boxer dog.

And because my own childhood had been spent with a faithful boxer dog as companion my father bought me this dog as a momento, (although Bruce was a brindle boxer and an altogether more solid character!)