Today both Dovegrey Reader and Stuck in a Book write about similar subjects: the stories behind people at the end of their lives. It makes me wonder about the lives of those I see all around me. None of them appear to be “ordinary” but maybe that is the whole point of life or lives, each of them extraordinary in their own way.

The photo above is of the house where my father and his siblings were born. As I grew up I thought that my father was one of three children. After his death I learnt that he was one of four; he had a half-brother who he knew as his cousin until a day in the the early 1970s when his sister and half-brother came to visit us. After my mother’s death I discovered that in fact he and his siblings were the second family of his father.

Researching family history I asked my aunt to fill in some gaps for me. Little did I expect the thirteen page letter that arrived , spilling its contents into my head like a Catherine Cookson saga. The letter and my own research caused episode after episode to unfold until truth became as unbelievable as fiction. In 1850, in Oxfordshire a twenty-nine year old spinster named Charity gave birth to my grandfather Charles, a name he would convieniently share with his second family’s other grandfather. For several years they lived with her parents and siblings but by 1861 her father was dead, her brother was head of the household and she and her child disappeared from view. We can only imagine the dramatic scene in Episode x of this saga. “Father is dead, I am head of the family now and you can get out and take that bastard with you.” My aunt’s sanitised version of her father’s early life was that he grew up in an orphanage. The harsher reality was that he spent his growing and early adult years in the workhouse. Merely seeing the word on paper, or reading it in your head conjures up awful images. Superficially it doesn’t appear to have harmed Charles. It seems to have at least instilled the work ethic into him. He stayed on once he was an adult to become first a “porter” and later “Assistant Labour Master”. I suppose that the workhouse and Poor Law was the forerunner of the Social Security system and indeed my grandfather took advantage of the system as much as anyone sitting for their Civil Service exams in later years. By the beginning of the twentieth century he had risen to being Registrar and Relieving Officer for an area stretching from Henley to Ascot. In other words people came to him to register births and deaths and he doled out Poor Relief. When he died he left a house (see above), a field and a cow. Nor bad for a boy from the workhouse.

If you want to see next week’s episode now, the tune into Channel X !

Do you remember those twee little cartoons …. Love is ….

Well here’s my contribution to that genre: Love is ….. a TWODALOO !!

wodaloo

I’m frankly speechless. If you really want to read more then please do.

Where was the editor?

I’ve almost finished reading NOAH’S ARK by Barbara Trapido but I have been annoyed and distracted by a couple of errors which should I think have been picked up by an editor. Quite early on there was a reference to the books of Beatrice Potter. That niggled away at me and, although a little self-doubt crept in, I was in danger of being stared at on the train for chuntering out loud, “I know I’m right, I can’t have been wrong all these years.”

It upset me so much that when the train stopped at my station I left my bookmark in the offending page rather than the page I was reading. Of course I did nothing and next day on the train I reassigned the bookmark to its more usual function. Dear old B Potter popped up later in the book, this time with her name spelt correctly as BeatriX. I was pleased that someone in publishing knew the woman’s name enough to spell it correctly. However, I was still astounded with the inconsistency of things.

All this would have been forgotten but this morning, when I can’t be more than 12 pages from the end of the book I see that the editor has been slacking again:
Hattie at first was not to be coaxed from the darkness of her bedroom where she sobbed under a Hollie Hobbet quilt.

Now anyone who was around in the late 1970s will know that Hattie’s quilt was Hollie Hobby NOT Hobbet. I could forgive an alternative spelling of Holly because quite frankly I don’t know which is correct. We had an enormous real child-sized HH rag doll and I have a feeling that her removeable prairie-style dress might still be lurking in my house now. The location of the corpse of poor HH is something about which I have no idea.

Still looking good 50+ years on

Am I talking about the Heals curtain fabric in the background, COTTAGE GARDEN that originally sold for £10 9s a yard or the talented textile designer Mary White pictured here with her design?  Well if I look as good at 58 as Mary does at 78 then I’ll be happy and if I could ever create something as fresh and exciting as COTTAGE GARDEN , let alone something that still looks modern over 50 years later, the I would be ecstatic.

MAry White at Liberty in front of her 1950s design COTTAGE GARDEN

It’s no wonder that Mary’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Dening couldn’t bear to leave the unused designs gathering dust in the loft. Sarah is married to one of Mary’s sons and his penchant for wearing distinctive shirts must surely have been Sarah’s inspiration for bringing Mary’s “lost” designs to light as exclusive men’s shirts.

Mary never gave her designs names, she left that fanciful part of affairs to the manufacturers who snapped up her designs. Her clients read like a textbook of  textile design history: Heals, Liberty, David Whitehead, Turnbull & Stockdale, Gayonne …. I could go on because Mary was indefatigable in the way she traipsed around with her portfolio putting each new batch of her designs in front of  the textile buyers in Manchester and London.

It seems that this determination has rubbed off on Sarah Dening with her business Pigletchops that is producing Mary’s original designs for a whole new generation. In the 1950s Mary benefited from a good life style thanks to her designs being produced by British companies. In view of this Sarah has vowed that these British designs will be printed in the UK and the products will be totally made in the UK. That sounds easy enough but as we know most of what we wear has not originated in the UK. It took a lot of hard work for Sarah to stick to her principles but she has done it and the shirts now available at Pigletchops have labels that proudly celebrate this feat.

Photos by, and thanks to Emily Tullett, Manager of fashioncapital; Cottage Garden curtains from private collection of Ruth Marler

MAGICAL REALISM : a plan

A short while ago I wrote about my ignorance of the genre MAGICAL REALISM. I decided that something should be done to fill this gap in my literary knowledge and went a-clicking  on those book sites  that we all know so well. I’m off to Cornwall for a week at the end of June and so I have decided that that will be an ideal way to begin my foray into magical realms.

I’ve selected three books, the two you can see here; “The Medusa Frequency” by Russell Hoban and “Nights at The Circus” by Angela Carter. I am waiting for “Threshold” by Ursula Le Guin to arrive.

With a bit of luck The Medusa Frequency may prove to be a crossover book, meaning that it can crossover from my reading pile to that of mu husband. This doesn’t happen often, the most successful crossover author so far being Brian Moore. I love Brian Moore’s works for the Roman Catholicity of them. If you were educated in a convent books like Brian’s seem to exert a certain hold. The other half reads them because they tell an exciting story and you can’t really argue with that.

My Other Life

I’ve been having an exciting few days. On Friday I was interviewed by BBC TV about the 1950s textile designer, Mary White. I did some original research on her about ten years ago so they decided to ask me about her.

Then yesterday I spent the day in a “private functon” at Liberty. What a great life, sitting around in between visits by members of the press eating dainty sandwiches, strawberries and cream and later on afternoon tea.

Meanwhile Mary was being interviewed in person and on the telephone. I could get used to this sort of life.

When Mary, a freelance designer left off traipsing around to manufacturers with her huge portfolio of designs and concentrated on bringing up her children and teaching pottery she put all her unused designs up in her loft. The children grew up and when one of her sons married his wife discovered the hidden treasure and decided it shouldn’t languish in the loft. Now she runs pigletchops.com and Mary’s “lost designs” are being used on a series of men’s shirts. These are being issued in limited editions of 100 and are best described as Mid Century Modern for Men.

I spent quite a while talking to Piglet Chops proprietor, Sarah Dening and she let slip that they are about to launch an item of women’s clothing that will be just the ticket for the coming summer months. I can’t wait to find out what this new item will be because at the moment I just wish I was a man because I would have to have those shirts.

Mid-Century Modern for Men (as seen on www.retrotogo.com)

Pigletchops offers limited edition men’s shirts made from classic 1950s Mary White textiles

Piglet A mix of the old and the new – new shirts made from vintage textile designs – Pigletchops limited edition Mary White textile shirts.

Mary White was a successful textile designer in the 1950s – producing textiles for the likes of Heals, Liberty, Edinburgh Weavers, David Whitehead and Turnbull & Stockdale. In fact, some of her designs reside in places like the V&A and The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

The shirts are the work of Mary’s daughter-in-law, produced in limited numbers (100 of each) from 1950s designs created then stored away…until now. All the shirts are semi-fitted, made of 100 per cent cotton poplin and have a two-button single cuff. They retail for £149 each.

Find out more at the Pigletchops website

If you are wondering why I’ve suddenly stopped talking about books or yarn then I will explain. Back when I was a very mature student I went to a jumble sale and caught glimpse of a pair of curtains that yelled 1 9 5 0 s to me. I dragged those curtains out, handed over my 50p (‘cos they were just clearing up and had to get rid of everything) and decided I would do my dissertation on them, When my tutor told me there was no way I could because I would never be able to find enough out about the designer it was like red rag to a bull and the rest is history. The curtains were “Cottage Garden” by Mary White and manufactured by Heals.

I’m thrilled that Mary White’s work is being seen again or rather in the case of these designs, for the first time because these are designs that she didn’t let anyone buy at the time. They have been biding their time in her loft and now when we are ready to appreciate such things again she has allowed them to be used in these limited edition shirts. I can’t help wondering if young designers of today will prove to have work that stands the test of time so well.

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