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

Centro storico

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The historic centre of Naples is a series of narrow lanes,

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converted churches with toy tableaux, different levels as streets and squares intersect and then part,

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cafes and Renaissance carvings, staircases and graffiti,

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lemons in crates, crazy doorfronts, marble gateways to a castle by the sea,

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and a 19th century arcade with constellations on the ceiling.

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Decemeber 2018.

Quantities of rooms

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“It was a wonderful house to have Christmas in if you were a child…an enormous Victorian Gothic, with quantities of rooms, passages, unexpected steps, back staircases, front staircases, alcoves, niches…and three different pianos.”

Agatha Christie’s autobiography, and Two Temple House, a place I first discovered one Christmas and that really would be fabulous to grow up in.

Familiar comforts

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Barcelona, November 2018. Of course I feel comfortable here – these 19th century neighbourhoods were literally made for people like me to walk around and buy a cake before going back home to our comfortable apartments. It’s the same reason I enjoy Berlin or recognise certain neighbourhoods in London. Mental familiarity plus beauty. I wonder how others experience these streets.

Blue rays

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Baltic herring market in Helsinki as shot for FARE magazine; irises by Ohara Koson; photo by @poshpedlar

At this time of year I always think of Wilfred Owen’s poems, that we studied in school, and that refer to the air growing bluer as dusk falls.

Colours everywhere

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Cycling through the Dulwich Picture Gallery again (the first place I saw a painting and thought, I LIKE that), I saw the excellent Edward Bawden exhibition and also enjoyed the latest reshuffle of the main collection.

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The siderooms off the main corridor haven’t changed hugely, to my satisfaction – there’s still a Poussin room, there’s still dutch landscapes with a smattering of Rembrandt’s – but there’s also something new: an 18th century portrait given a new corner to shine in; a repaint in bright yellow from grey panels from green brocade; a room with close up analysis of a Tiepolo.

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Always worth a visit! All photos August 2018.

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A time of green things

I think of that time of year as a time of green things. Green like me, and unlike the city. Around the same time as the green melons, fruit sellers started to sell yesil erik, green plums…

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My first year in Istanbul I didn’t understand the plums. They are small, almost like oversized cherries, and hard. The second year we sit in the heat with whiskey and a saucer of salt in a spot where we can see the Bosphorus flow. Take a plum, bite a piece out, and dip the wet opening into the salt – just so, not too much. Now take another bite. Now a sip of whisky. The salt and the cold tart flesh and the smoky liquor and the ships that go by with their red – blue – grey containers packed high like a child’s wooden blocks do make sense. I begin to laugh. Now, I look forward to the green plums each year.

Green plums in FARE Istanbul. Image by @niftyswank

My life

I was eager to learn Italian and took lessons with a black-clad widow living in the Sixieme. Presently her teaching was supplemented by an Italian who picked me up in the Luxembourg gardens. His name was Alfio – “like Alph, the sacred river in “Kubla Khan”” – he explained. He was years older than me, very handsome, told me that he had been a Partisan, and did his best to seduce me. I liked him, but when I agreed to visit his flat things got out of hand and he kept shouting “Take off your knickers.” His English was excellent but I was not going to obey his orders and I made my escape. My progress in Italian stalled.

Claire Tomalin – My Life.

A fascinating read of a type of life open to middle class girls in post war Britain where you were expected to simultaneously have four children, be knowledgeable yet relaxed about your husband’s infidelities, gain an Oxbridge degree and be content typing letters for the odd Conservative MP or gossip column. Well written, not bitter but rather sad. Also worth reading for a mention of a scrambled egg party, luxury when rationing ended!