It turned out to be a yellow tea cosy

We three children were looking forward to Mother’s birthday. With a view of deciding what was to be done we gathered round the schoolroom table, each armed with a statement of his or her financial resources. My assets were in a purse – total one shilling ten pence halfpenny. Cyril’s was not much better and it was left to Ethel to rescue the situation, which I have to admit, she did most nobly. Blessed with a godmother who sent postal orders she was able to contribute nearly ten shillings. Most magnanimously, she decided we should pool our resources and give Mother one really nice present rather than three inferior ones. It turned out to be a yellow tea-cosy, padded and quilted and embroidered with braid round the edge, finished off with a curl at the top. Cyril and I considered it a dull gift, but Mother received it with joy. It turned out she really had wanted a tea-cosy, a fact which Ethel has gathered by subtle means.

EH Sheoherd – Drawn from Memory

You are living the dream (and blog of the week)

Putting pencils in the kids’ Christmas stockings reminds me of Ben’s fourth birthday, when our friend Daniel asked him if anything special had happened yet and Ben said, with his little eyes glittering with excitement, “Well, Daniel. Yes. I got juice without any water in it.” “Juice without any water in it!”, Daniel said. “You are living the dream.”

The excellent gift guides and game recommendations are only one reason that I’m enjoying the new to me blog, Ben and Birdy. The writing is the other! Happy Birthday to my mother, who is also happy with small presents to mark the day. 


I amused myself by giving my father daily  Palsy Practice, which consisted of gently shaking his hand while he was taking his tea: “In a few years, when you’re really old, you’ll probably have palsy. I must give you a little practice now, before you actually get it, so that you won’t be dropping things all the time.”

Jessica Mitford – Hons and Rebels


Growing up, my absolute favourite dinner was “plate of little things”. My single mom would slice cheese, apples, crackers, hot dogs, dry cereal, whatever and we would eat it in front of the TV. I told her that recently and she gasped “What? Those were the nights I failed. I didn’t cook and was too tired to talk to you guys. That’s ridiculous.” Goes to show, it may be JUST when we fail that our kids feel most happy.

Who else remembers dinners like this and loving them as a kid? From this article on Cup of Jo that discusses worrying about parenting.


As it’s my birthday, thank you to my parents for absolutely not failing – the love and security I needed so much as a child and received from them still carries me through, along with a family belief in speaking truth to power, the knowledge that work is independence and your interests might be elsewhere, books, the education at schools I also needed, my own plates of small things (usually bread and honey, with a chopped up apple and some crisps, or half a cheesy crumpet) and a lot of patience at music practice.

(Illustration for Dickens’ character the Aged P, a family joke.)

Rat, oh rat…

never in my life have I seen

as handsome a rat as you.

Thank you for noticing my potatoes.

Oh Rat, I am not rich.

I left you a note concerning my potatoes,

but I see that I placed it too high

and you could not read it.

Oh Rat,

my wife and I are cursed with possession of a large and hungry dog;

it worries us that he might learn your name –

which is forever on our lips.

Oh Rat, consider my neighbour;

he has eight children (all of them older

and more intelligent than mine)

and if you lived in his house, Rat

ten good Christians

(if we include his wife)

would sing your praises nightly,

whereas in my house there are only five.

Christopher Logue

Della Volta


Another shot of this charming portrait of the Della Volta family, painted in 1547 by Lorenzo Lotto, and now in the national gallery London.

The bottom photo in yesterday’s post (with the very modern-looking handling of paint on the father’s hand, that I think belong in a Freud, Desgas or Manet portrait) was another detail from it.

photo January 2017.