I have never owned or worn much jewellery, but I have always loved the boxes that jewellery comes in. I used to collect the boxes my mum discarded and used them for other purposes. My all-time favourite was a little white box that once held a ring; it was lined with peach-coloured velvet and in it I kept all the teeth I ever lost or had extracted. My own ivory jewels, I suppose you could call them. (I also kept my appendix in a jar for eight years until I left home - one of the few treasures I couldn't store in a jewellery box.)
So when I was in Paris and armed with The Patisseries of Paris (one of a number of beautifully produced mini guides published by The Little Bookroom), I was struck by the fact that so many smart patissiers and chocolatiers these days are packaging their goods in what could easily pass for jewellery boxes. Which makes them doubly attractive to me: I can eat the treats and keep the boxes, whereas I have mostly only ever had empty (real) jewellery boxes.
Of course, this being Paris, the packaging is very posh, and the edible jewels very delicious. I bought macarons from Pain de Sucre, a fabulous jewellery shoppatisserie in the Marais. (The bright pink and green macaron is cherry and pistachio flavour - or ruby and emerald.)
But the Tiffany of chocolates must be Patrick Roger, whose creations come in heavy, deep turquoise boxes, whose shop windows are magnificent, whose interiors have a reverential hush, whose goods are almost, but not quite, displayed on velvet pads.
The glowing, jewel-like fruit jellies even have a little magnetic closure on their box, like a precious compact. I half-expected them to come on a chain with a clasp so I could wear them round my neck before eating them.
And when we have eaten all our jewels, I shall have the fun of deciding what to keep in the boxes themselves. No teeth this time though, as I am hanging onto the ones I have. (Even though I am partial to sweet things, I am also very partial to teeth-cleaning. The teeth in my original box were unblemished - I simply had too many for my mouth so they had to come out. Or they were teeny-tiny first teeth, like little one carat diamonds.)
The more I look at them, the more I like and appreciate old-fashioned crocheted 'granny square' blankets. It seems they appear everywhere these days - I even spotted one in a scene in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (no doubt an acrylic number as the film was made in1964). This could be because I'm noticing them for the first time or maybe because people becoming far less apologetic about the wonderful mismatches of fibre colour and displaying their previously hidden gems now that crochet is out of the closet once more. I found these great vintage blankets on eBay when I went in search of inspiration and confidence. Because that's what they are really all about: confidence to crochet as you please and to use up yarn, and not to fit in with others' ideas of what constitutes good taste and grown-up colour schemes.
2. The inspirational book
This talk of colour and confidence brings me neatly onto the next good thing which is Color by Kristin Nicholas. Now this, too, is really about confidence, and seems to me to contain enough material for two or three books which makes it amazing value. It's about colour, design and the joy of knitting, and I found goodness knows how many great ideas and inspirations in here - and that's without even looking at the patterns themselves.
3. The vintage film
As I am very much aware of my own vintage status at the moment, when I discovered Hell is a City, a film made on location in Manchester in 1959, I knew I would be watching a little bit of my own history. And, sure enough, the film is packed with the Manchester landmarks of my childhood (and a number of unplaceable 'Manchester' accents). Great stuff. (It also led me to the fascinating and painstakingly researched website I have linked to - just one example of how the internet is so brilliant for sharing esoteric information. Without George Nixon's meticulous research, I would never have known that a house I walked past many a time as a child is a location in the film.)
4. The unironic CD
So while I buying the Dolly CD (see yesterday's post), I thought I might as well have a look at the Johnny Cash offerings. I grew up thinking Johnny Cash was all about 'A Boy Named Sue', the 1970s 'Man in Black' and bad TV shows, but in the last couple of years - mainly via the Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio shows - I have come to realise that there was/is a much greater significance to Johnny Cash than I'd previously suspected. This was underscored by Walk the Line (even though I had to fast-forward the druggy bits, just as I had with Ray, because they make me feel quite ill) which was a revelation. This means I can alternate ironic but brilliant Dolly with the unironic and similarly brilliant Johnny, and really go country in the car.
5. The history
My natural inclinations and interests tend towards the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but having gone to university in one of the most beautiful Georgian cities in England and having lived in various beautifully proportioned, high-ceilinged, sash-windowed houses with original heating (ie none), I am nevertheless drawn to the eighteenth century as a period of transition and taste. Amanda Vickery is an entertaining and readable historian with a genuine and highly engaging enthusiasm for domestic life (she also wrote and presented a wonderful Radio 4 series). Behind Closed Doors is an illuminating study of Georgian home life, with a particularly interesting chapter on 'What Women Made' which takes a new (and sensible) approach to understanding women's crafts and domestic accomplishments at that time.
and one for good luck: the genius
To mark his 75th birthday, BBC Four is having an Alan Bennett fest this week. His work ages beautifully, or maybe it just doesn't age at all, and is still as fresh, funny and moving as it ever was. What a treat to be able to watch and listen to a cornucopia of marvellously crafted plays, talks and monologues.
As an habituée of the obituary columns, I discover all sorts of amazing lives just when they have ended. Yesterday's obituary of Liam Clancy introduced me to someone who influenced Bob Dylan, and who wore the most fantastic aran sweaters (see photo in link). In fact, these marvellous hand-knitted sweaters became the trademark of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem after their manager, looking for something to make the group stand out, discovered the Clancys' mother had sent them a parcel of sweaters knitted by their aunt in Ireland, and decided they were it. Thereafter, they always wore beautiful sweaters knitted specially for them. (My favourite is the one with the shawl collar, but if you look at more photos of the band, you will see all sorts of traditional cables and patterns and shapes.) I love the way Mrs Clancy sent off aran sweaters to her boys so they wouldn't freeze in North America, proving that there is a story in every hand-knitted garment.
2. The creepy film
I know it's Gothic tosh, but Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte is good Gothic tosh. I haven't been able to watch it since my mum warned me that something horrible would come down the staircase, but as Simon was there and I had my knitting to hide behind, this time I could watch the something horrible come bouncing down the staircase. I'm not saying what 'it' is as that would spoil the nasty surprise, but the general creepiness of the film is quite brilliant - and funny, as long as you are not watching on your own in a large, run-down plantation house full of empty chairs and long shadows and dubious relatives.
3. The thoughtful book
Changing my Mind by Zadie Smith appealed as soon as I read that ZS approaches literary criticism as a reader and not as an academic, and therefore doesn't destroy the 'quiddity' (a lovely word meaning 'inherent essence or nature of a work' as I found out) of literature when looking at it closely. And this is true; the collection of essays are easily read yet profound and make you realise just how creatively some people read. Plus, ZS loves Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story which means I shall now have to watch it again, this time with Zadie.
4. The useful blog
I don't think there is anyone who can match India Knight when it comes to shopping. She appears to know about every single brilliant, smart, unusual, tasteful product on the market which makes her blog an unbeatable resource for ideas, leads and suggestions. I don't look at blogs that are nothing more than a trawl through what's on offer in shops and on websites, but India Knight's blog is much more than that. Her book recommendations are particularly good.
5. The ironic CD
Ever since a neighbour where I grew up told us how she had swum in the same holiday hotel swimming pool as Dolly Parton (who was in there without her wig) and that Dolly Parton was completely natural and delightful with everyone, I have been intrigued by the deliberate mismatches of her voice, her appearance, her style and her messages. I finally bought my first Dolly CD this week and I am discovering the country gal within me (in the car, as no-one wants to know her in the house). I don't know where Dolly fits into the critical agenda, and I don't care because she is pretty amazing in all sorts of ways. (See, I too can change my mind.)
There was a point last week when we realised we had a bulb battle on our hands. As a result of my bulb-buying enthusiasm in warm and sunny August/September, and despite having already planted a few hundred already, we found ourselves on a cold and wet December weekend with quite a few hundred more yet to be planted. There was nothing else to it: adopt a military approach, arm ourselves with spades and trowels, and blitz the bulbs by digging wide trenches and not taking any prisoners.
We have long used the Dutch strip method of planting; this is not a technical one you'll find in any gardening books, just that we prefer to use mini-Holland-style lines of bulbs rather than tasteful but very time-consuming naturalistic inter-planting. But this year we went for extra-wide trenches because we knew the light would fade fast, the rain would inevitably fall, we would sink in the mud, and the battle would be lost.
And this year the campaign was helped by the fact that I was out there as a bulb-rank-and-file-planting-private instead of bulb-directing-operations-officer for a change. It was lovely - excellent exercise and fresh air, and we even caught an hour or two when it was sunny and still, and long, long shadows were being cast.
And here we are, privates on parade, Simon with his spade, looking for all the world like illustrations from a Laura Stoddart book. In the end, after a battle royal, we won. Every single bulb is where it should be. Victory for the diggers.
I was delighted last week to find lots of bright red, ripe chillis hiding in the foliage of the three 'Etna' plants that Simon had planted in a cool spot late in the season. Who would have guessed that chillis could hold on till December, especially with the recent appalling weather?
But I'm not taking any risks with frost now, so I picked a big bouquet of chillis for Simon and put it on the windowsill so that we can all admire the fruits of his faith in nature before eating them.