Friday 22 March 2019

The Red Stools

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  Now that we have reached the vernal equinox and astronomical spring has sprung, I've changed my header photo to show you Acton Burnell Castle behind the village churchyard, which is noted for its heritage collection of daffodils - much as I love Ironbridge, I don't want to be looking at a picture of it bedecked with snow when outside my window, the daffodils are flowering. I did think about going back to my previous header photo, the one I have used since I began blogging over four years ago, but I fancied something seasonal and I hope you approve.

Today I would like to tell you a story so are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin...once upon a time there were two little girls called April and May.  They were cousins, born a few weeks apart at the end of the 1960s.  One year, when they were quite small, their aunt bought them each a shiny, red, wooden stool.  Aunts do that, don't they?  They see a good idea for a niece or nephew and if there is another niece or nephew of the same age, they buy one for each of them.  A small stool is an excellent gift for a small child because it is so very useful: you can stand on it to reach the things which are too high up, you can sit on it when your little legs need a rest and you can use it as a little table, perhaps for your tea set when you are having a tea party.  If the stool has been painted a bright and shiny colour, so much the better.

These stools, however, were even better gifts because they had an extra function.  Four little wheels were set into the seat, and can you see the bracing piece between the legs?  This meant that you could do this - 

Turn the stool upside down and a small child could now sit astride it and use her feet to scoot around.  What a marvellous design!  April and May now each had their own set of wheels.  Many, many hours of pleasure were had with the red stools (and April's, at least, was always known as "the red stool") in the 1970s, both indoors and outdoors. April had three siblings and May had two and all seven of the children enjoyed playing with the stools; April's big sister may have been a teeny bit jealous that she didn't have a red stool of her own.

Alas,  after years of sterling service, April's red stool eventually succumbed to the pressures of wear (and four children) and the seat split, the piece of wood which held two of the wheels shearing right off.  The red stool was irreparable and she and her sisters were very sad.  May and her siblings grew up and her red stool was cast aside, by now looking very scruffy and worn.  However, May's mother tucked it away inside her house and kept it.

More than twenty years later, May gave birth to a little boy.  Her mother brought out the old red stool, sanded it down and repainted it with glorious, shiny, red paint so that it looked as good as new, ready for her new grandson to scoot about on it as his mother and her siblings had done.  

Years after this, when May's children had also outgrown the red stool, May tucked it away inside her house (well, not quite, because she found it very useful when she needed to reach things on the high kitchen shelves)...until the end of last year, when I visited her with my family and she brought it out for Tom Kitten to play with.  When we left, the red stool came home with us on long-term loan.  I photographed it and sent pictures to my family to show them which caused a good deal of excitement as many happy memories were recalled.  At Christmas, when we gathered together, I took the stool for them to play with to show them.  April was thrilled to see it, for she is my little sister and May is my cousin - and by chance, it is her birthday today.  Happy Birthday, May. 

So this little red stool is now serving its third generation of small children and more memories are being made.

See you soon.
Love, MrsTiggywinkle x

Sunday 17 March 2019

The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett

Hello, thank you for popping in.  I'm sorry that I've been away for longer than I intended.  Sometimes, things get away from me.  I hope the wind, rain and storms haven't swept you too far away.  I have been hunkering down with books and yarn and trying not to look outside the window.

Visiting Shipton a few weeks ago reminded me how much of Shropshire's traditional wealth was derived from the Medieval wool trade - Shipton means "sheep town" and there is a large hall there, built in the sixteenth century.  Returning home, I went to the shelf where I keep the books from my childhood and reached down The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett.  It has sat on a shelf unopened for about forty years and I felt the time had come to read it again.  A few years ago I culled my childhood books and sent some of them to a charity shop but this one survived the cull because although I only read it once, when I was about thirteen years old, I remembered that it was a good story and that I had learned a lot about the wool trade from it.

Do you know this book?  It is set in the Cotswolds in 1493 when Henry VII was on the English throne.  The central character, Nicholas Fetterlock, is fourteen years old, the son of a wool merchant who is a member of the Wool Staple and, in the best tradition of my beloved Famous Five and Scooby Doo and his gang, Nicholas and his friends have to outwit some villainous adults and save the day.  Along the way we learn a great deal about fifteenth century domestic life and how the wool trade operated.  Rather than being a straightforward children's novel, I think this is a history book aimed at children.  I enjoyed all of that as I reread it - well, the historical detail more than the plot, but after all, I am no longer a child.

However, having said all that, the thing which makes this book special is that it really is about more than the actual text.  Cynthia Harnett, the author, studied at the Chelsea School of Art and the artwork on the cover is her own.  I think it is perfect, scenes from the story in a restrained colour palette and simple style which evoke the fifteenth century setting.

If I take off the dust jacket (which is in almost perfect condition because when it came to books, I was a very careful child) you can see the cover with its image of a pack horse, laden with sarplers of wool, embossed into the front.

Open the cover and you will find a beautifully drawn map of the places involved in the story, tracing the route from Burford to Southampton and the Isle of Wight.  The same map is replicated on the endpapers, too.  As I read the story I found these maps very helpful.

Throughout the book there are simple but detailed line drawings which enhance the reader's understanding of fifteenth century life.  For example, have you ever wondered how men kept their hose from falling down before they had elastic (I'm serious, don't laugh!)?  Cynthia describes this as Nicholas gets dressed and then she gives us a little drawing.  I found these drawings delightful and at the end of the book, she tells us where she found the inspiration for some of them.

So, if you happen to come across a copy of this book and you know a serious child who is interested in history, I urge you to buy it for her or him - or if you are that grown-up child, buy it for yourself.  It's a bit of a gem.

See you soon, honestly.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x