Airy mornings

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There’s a change in summer light each year, which means that you wake up with the room feeling airy and bright for the day, even if the breezes are still cool, and which makes it almost as pleasant to lie beneath the sheets and look at the sun through the curtains as to sit in a garden with that first glass of water listening to the birds. These pictures by Andrew Wyeth (part of an American family of painters whose art I first saw in Charleston two years ago) and Federico Zandomeneghi capture just that.

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The air was full of bells

I walked down the empty Broad to breakfast, as I often did on Sundays, at a tea-shop opposite Balliol. The air was full of bells from the surrounding spires and the sun, casting long shadows across the open spaces, dispelled the fears of night. The tea-shop was hushed as a library; a few solitary men in bedroom slippers from Balliol and Trinity looked up as I entered, then turned back to their Sunday newspapers. I ate my scrambled eggs and butter marmalade with the zest that in youth follows a restless night. I lit a cigarette and sat on, while one by one the Balliol and Trinity men paid their bills and shuffled away, slip-slop, across the street to their colleges.

– Brideshead Revisited

A bottle of Bass

Inspector Maigret is well known for his bottles of cold beer and ham sandwiches to fuel a case, but Charles Parker in the first Peter Wimsey novel, Whose Body?, also dines on ham sandwiches and a bottle of Bass whilst Peter goes to Wyndham’s to search for gossip on the case.

Bass is part of Peter John Cooper’s memories here too, jobbing on the local shoots that could be part of Peter’s next mystery, Clouds of Witnesses.

The May!

There was a great throng of people pouring up the street, in their gayest holiday clothes, shouting and singing as they came, and carrying great branches of flowering May  and armfuls of bluebells and golden Mary-buds, so that the whole street seemed full of the spring and sunshine and happiness. On they came, laughing, singing, shouting and waving their flowering branches, and at each door people dropped out of the throng and began to set up the May branches above the lintel. Some of the May branches had knots of spring flowers tied to them, some were sparkling with silver ribbons, some had only their own scented curds of blossom for beauty; but they were all lovely.

I’ve mentioned Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Armourer’s House here before, but this passage (which turns into an exciting day out with sugar pigs, the prentices’ riot and some Morris dancers) is just right for today. Feeling particularly nostalgic for May Morning in Oxford this year.

Comfort

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I can remember, during the tedious or frightening but always sleepless nights of fire-watching in wartime London, that the place I loved to be in most intensely was the red bedroom at Farringdon, with its crackling fire, it’s Bessarabian carpet with bunchy flowers, and above all its four poster bed, whence from beneath a huge, fat, fluffy, old-fashioned quilt one can gaze out at the view, head still on pillow.

Nancy Mitford

La lista di Natale

Among family events, Christmas was the most important of the year.

Emilia, facciamo la lista di Natale,” Nonna Valentina would say at the start of December. “What do you think we must order?”

Nonna sat at the dining room table perusing the old note-books of the family recipes all saved in the library on the second floor. The menu never changed much. What would a holiday be without the beloved dishes that had accompanied the various celebrations year after year over several generations? Pasticcio di maccheroni, lasagne, arrosti…

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