Thursday 22 August 2019

Support Your Local Independent Bookshop

Hello, thank you for calling in.  The rain has stopped and I've dried three loads of washing on the line this week as we've had perfect drying weather, sunny and windy.  I do love the smell of washing which has been dried on the line and I've put out another three loads today. 

I am working through my reading list and ruminating on books.  How do you buy books, if indeed you buy them at all?  I don't have an e-reader, I know that they are marvellous because you can store so many texts in very little space, which must be especially useful if you are travelling, and because you can increase adjust the font size to read more easily, but I like the physical presence of an old-fashioned book.  "Books do furnish a room," wrote the novelist Anthony Powell and I have bookcases in my sitting room, on the landing and in every upstairs room in my tiny house.  To be honest, I am a little out of control, which is why I am making a concerted effort to read down my To Be Read pile shelf bookcase and set some of my books free.  (I have a friend who is horrified by this and who has asked my why I would want to "get rid of" a single book.)  I never buy new books for myself, although having said that, I remember buying myself a book while I was doing my supermarket shop about seven or eight years ago, but that was an exception.  I buy them in second-hand shops, both bricks and mortar and online, and at fetes and stalls and any new ones I have are gifts.  However, I like to give books as gifts and I generally like those to be new.  There is something so special about the feel of a brand new book (although I really like the smell of an old book).
I don't buy books from Amazon now.  I used to but they didn't seem to know how to pack a hardback book properly and they often arrived with damaged corners so I stopped using them, especially once their staff exploitation and tax avoidance practices came to light (until I bought Nigel Slater's Christmas Chronicles earlier this year, but I am trying to convince myself that once in seven years isn't too bad.)  My favourite place to buy new books was a wonderful independent bookshop in Much Wenlock called Wenlock Books. I use the word "was" rather than "is" because the shop closed at the end of June.
This was a wonderful shop: new books downstairs, second-hand books upstairs and a jolly children's section with a place to sit and peruse a book with a small child.  If you weren't sure what to buy, the friendly and knowledgable staff would make recommendations and there were reading groups for children and adults, children's storytime and summer reading and writing activities, author events and book signings, knitting sessions with reading (and cake!) and a monthly poetry breakfast in a local tearoom.  The shop owner, Anna Dreda, organised a poetry festival for a few years which took over the town for a weekend every Spring and where I was captivated by Andrew Motion, Benjamin Zephaniah, David Whyte and Owen Shears among other poets.  It was a lovely, lovely place and operated for twenty-eight years before Anna announced that she would have to close because the business was no longer financially viable.  Isn't that sad?  I know that high street shops are closing everywhere because people are preferring to shop online but this shop was so much more than just a shop.  Apparently, some people would come into the shop, find a book that they wanted, often with the help of a member of staff, and then say something like, "Yes, that's exactly what I want!  I'll buy it from Amazon because it's cheaper than it is here."  I am appalled by such rudeness.  Much Wenlock has lost a great asset, I think - the shop was a destination but when I went there I often visited other shops in the town as well and spent money there.  I really don't know where I'll go to buy new books now.
I visited the shop on its last day of trading.  Anna had posted on social media that she was selling off her remaining stock and invited people to come and help her to clear her overdraft.  I bought one new book, signed by its author, and nine second-hand books.  At £1 for a hardback and 50p for a paperback I just couldn't resist.  This bagful amounted to £6.50; I told Anna that it didn't seem enough, and I told her that I was beyond sad that the shop was closing.

Now then, I know that I am trying to reduce the number of books in my house and I shouldn't be bringing in any more, but in my defence, some of these are gifts for other people.  Most of them, however, are for me and I don't feel in the least bit guilty about that because a book is a lovely thing.  Take this one, for instance - 

For the grand sum of £1, how could I resist it?  It's a little battered at the top but beautifully bound with gilt-edged pages and small, about the size of my hand, which is deliberate because it is a Macmillan Pocket book.  I think I've told you before do that I think a book is about so much more than the text and the way it feels in the hand can be very important.  This one feels very pleasing indeed.

When I opened the front cover I found this inscription, which reads,

"To Dorothy,
on her 21st Birthday
With love
Dorothy Stagg.
I wonder who those Dorothys were and what became of them?  I know that we are not supposed to inscribe books because it reduces their resale value but I like an inscription inside a book because it tells me something about where the book has been before it has landed in my hands.  Also inside the front cover of this book is a little sticker which announces that the book was initially sold by
Stationer and Bookseller
36 Rye Lane, Peckham S.E.
I like that, too.  I wonder how the book travelled almost 170 miles from London to Shropshire, and with whom?  Dorothy?  And was Dorothy the owner of the bookmark I found tucked between the pages,  advertising the British Dominions Fire Office?  (The back of the bookmark outlines the "All-In" policy which included cover for Accidents to Servants!)

Turning over the first page, I saw this and discovered the full title of the book which I have always called simply The Trumpet-Major, and that this edition was first published in 1923.  So perhaps the mysterious Dorothy was born in 1902?
Now I should confess my guilty secret:  I already own a copy of this book.  I whispered that.  I own a paperback copy which I bought new with some birthday money in 1984.  I read it and sadly, some of the pages came adrift so as the book was incomplete, I cut out some more and used them in a craft project a few years ago.  I don't regret it at all because that made a very neat gap on my bookshelf for this little treasure. 
Before I dash off, do you know about Hive, a British company which was set up in 2011 to sell new books online at warehouse prices?  If you buy something from them, you can nominate an independent bookshop and the company gives a percentage of the money you have spent to that bookshop.  If I bought something from them I nominated Wenlock Books and I would have my parcel delivered there, although you can now have your purchases delivered to your home, and when I collected my parcels I would buy something small in the shop, too.  The first time I did this I felt embarrassed and apologised to Anna Dreda but she was very gracious and insisted that it was absolutely fine and that there was no need for me to apologise because the shop would benefit from my business with Hive.  So, if you would like to support an independent bookshop in this way, and I hope you do, you can find Hive here.
I really must disappear now - I have a cake in the oven and I can smell that it's ready.  We are off on an adventure tomorrow so I wish you all a happy weekend, especially if you are able to make the most of our bank holiday on Monday, and I'll see you on the other side.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Sunday 18 August 2019

My Button Box Blanket

Hello, thank you for calling in, I'm always pleased to see you here, you are all welcome.  We are all well but quite soggy as it has rained and rained and rained this week, although it did stop long enough for the Best Beloved to mow the lawn on Thursday and for the Painted Ladies to come out and enjoy the buddleia.  I haven't seen them in the garden since August 2009 and for the last fortnight they have been fluttering about whenever the sun has popped out from behind a cloud.  Many cups of tea have been drunk outside while I have watched them dance from flower to flower.
However, I have come here today to write about crochet, not about butterflies.  I was inspired to learn to crochet by bloggers, chiefly Lucy at Attic 24, Heather at Little Tin Bird and Fi at Marmalade Rose, and the thing I really wanted to learn how to make was a blanket.  These three women put colours together and made them sing, conjuring harmony from their hooks, and I really fell in love with the idea of making such a blanket for myself.  So I learned how to crochet, with the help of a patient friend and some online tutorials, and over the last couple of years I have made a dozen blankets for babies and children - Facebook showed me a photo of one of my Shropshire rainbow blankets in London the other day and I was thrilled to bits.  I felt that I was ready to tackle a full-sized blanket but I just couldn't find the right pattern.  I'm not confident about putting colours together so I wanted that to be done for me, but nothing I saw seemed quite right.  My house is tiny so everything which (and who!) lives in it has to earn its place; my blanket had to be useful and handsome, in colours which I could live with every day and which fit in. I looked at lots of blankets online but some were the wrong colours, some the wrong pattern, some the wrong stitch and some the wrong size.  I dithered, afraid to commit to the expense of such a big project and lacking the confidence to do my own thing.  I knew that I needed to take a deep breath and dive in somewhere but I couldn't find the courage.  Something was holding me back.

When we were camping in Cornwall at the end of May I realised what it was: I wasn't sure that I needed a blanket.  I certainly don't need one on my bed and I already have a couple of lap blankets which I use on the sofa on chilly evenings.  However, I realised that I really would like a camping blanket, something to wrap around me on a chilly evening or to lie on to read on a warm day.  Yes, a camping blanket would be really useful, and when I returned home I began looking again. 

As soon as I saw the Button Box Blanket at Black Sheep Wools I knew that I had found The One: I loved the colours, the wide border, the pattern and the size (it's a small single size and I didn't want anything too big).  This kit appeared to tick every box so I lost no time in placing an online order.

An hour and a half later, Black Sheep Wools sent me an e-mail to let me know that my order had been despatched and the parcel arrived the following day...but I was out so the postman left it with a neighbour and as it was pouring with rain, I didn't retrieve it until the following day.  That was a very long night!  I tore open the packaging and found eleven balls of wonderfully soft, squishy yarn, a project bag and the pattern.  For two days I just looked at the lovely colours spread out on the sofa, periodically picking one or another up to squish it. 

The third day was a Saturday so I picked up my crochet hook in the afternoon and began.  It took me hours to find the rhythm of the pattern and I had to frog my work five times but by the time I went to bed that night I had mastered it.  I really enjoyed making this blanket.  I crocheted on my sofa, on The Teacher's sofa, in bed, in the car, at a friend's house, at our local National Trust property, in the park, on Titterstone Clee and in two different cafes; I couldn't put it down.  

When I finished the body of it after 140 rows I realised that I had made a mistake somewhere and I eventually found it back on row 115, so I had to frog again.  That mistake cost me three days.  I struggled a bit with the border so I asked for help in a Facebook group and the generosity of the crochet community came to my rescue.  I can't honestly say that I enjoyed sewing in the 222 ends but I can say that I found satisfaction in it.  About five weeks later, my blanket was finished.  Would you like to see it? -

It's not perfect, I know that the border is a little bit wonky at the corners but I reckon that if I don't say anything, nobody else will notice.  Making this blanket taught me new things, and I like that.  It drapes beautifully, it's soft and squishy (have I mentioned that already?) and I absolutely love it.  My blanket hasn't been camping yet but while it's been in the sitting room it has kept me cosy and I have realised that I can live with its colours very easily.  Now all I have to do is work out what to make with the leftovers...
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Friday 16 August 2019

Entente Cordiale

Hello, thank you for calling in.  I hope you have survived the peculiar weather we have been enduring - rain, storms, high winds and heavy, humid air is making for an odd summer.  On Saturday morning I wailed at the Best Beloved that my face was sliding off, I really couldn't cope with the humidity, but in the afternoon the wind was so strong that I had to hold my skirts down to preserve my modesty!
We spent the day celebrating a wedding.  It was a beautiful wedding, as most weddings are, but special because it was a Quaker ceremony held in two languages.  The bride was English and the groom French so they made their declarations in both languages before the certificate was read out first in English, then in French.  We sat in comfortable silence until some people stood and "gave ministry", each speech then being translated into the other language by two marvellous bilingual volunteers.  After about an hour, two elders shook hands with each other to signal the end of the meeting and then we all shook hands with the people immediately to our left and right before signing the marriage certificate, every one of us, children and adults, because everyone present was a witness. 

The reception was held at Wilderhope Manor, nestled beneath Wenlock Edge, which was built in 1585 and now belongs to the National Trust.  There were British, French, Spanish and Indian people there with a common purpose; there was even a nun, in full habit, drinking a pint of beer and playing outdoor games with small children while a group of young French men attempted to play cricket.  The newlyweds posed for photographs with their dog (The Teacher tells me that all the dog owners she knows have had their dogs at their weddings).  After the wedding breakfast, the traditional speeches were given by the mothers before first the bride and then the groom stood and spoke.  I had a wonderful day, my rusty old schoolgirl French held up quite well and the atmosphere was almost bursting with love, happiness and, as the bride's mother pointed out, entente cordiale.   
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday 9 August 2019

Hopton Castle

Hello!  Thank you for dropping in to my little patch and special thanks to those of you who left comments on my last post, your good wishes were much appreciated by me and the rest of my family.  I haven't been here for three weeks because I've been spending a lot of time cuddling Cottontail and playing with Tom Kitten, both very important grandmotherly tasks, as I'm sure you understand.  Everybody is doing very well and the Best Beloved and I have taken a step back now.  Yesterday we went out for the day by ourselves for the first time this school holiday and we had the best of days.
We drove south between the hedges, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the hills were green and the fields were golden.  The farmers were busy, some of the fields were dotted with large, cylindrical bales and some with rectangular bales which were being stacked into towering walls.  It was a drive which lifted our spirits up and up until they were soaring - I never tire of the beauty of this county.  We drove to Craven Arms and turned west and a few miles later, down very narrow lanes, found ourselves at Hopton Castle in the picturesque village of... Hopton Castle!  I have known about this place for more than twenty years but never visited before.

Hopton Castle isn't really a castle at all; looking like a small medieval keep, it was built in about 1300 as a high status tower house for the de Hopton family, probably on the site of an earlier motte-and-bailey.  Sir Walter de Hopton was an important man, the Sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire, and the house was designed for comfort rather than defence.  In the 16th century, ownership of the estate passed to the Wallop family and by the time of the Civil War the owner was Robert Wallop, a staunch Parliamentarian who was a judge at the trial of King Charles I in 1649.  If anyone knows about Hopton Castle it's because of an incident which happened here during the Civil War.
Robert and his family were not in residence at the time of the incident in 1644 and a small garrison of less than twenty Parliamentarian soldiers under the command of Samuel More was installed there to prevent the Royalists taking control while the family was away.  When the Royalist forces attacked, they demanded that the Parliamentarians surrender and Samuel More refused to acknowledge them.  The Royalists left, leaving a few guards, and several hundred of them returned a few days later, by which time the garrison had been increased to about thirty men.  Again Samuel More was asked to surrender and again he refused, so the Royalists attacked and breached the curtain wall before retreating, having lost perhaps two hundred men.  By the time they returned, the garrison had been under siege for weeks.  For a third time, Samuel More was asked to surrender and the Royalist commander warned him that if he refused again, the Parliamentarians should expect no mercy ("no quarter") but the threat had no effect.  The Royalists attacked, this time with heavy cannons, and when it became obvious that their victory was inevitable, Samuel More surrendered the castle.  He was marched away and, unbeknown to him, the rest of his men were executed.  Apparently, for years afterwards, Parliamentarian troops would offer their opponents "Hopton Quarter" in revenge.
The details of this event survive because Samuel More wrote them down in a diary, but not until twenty years later, which is why they are taken with a pinch of salt.  When the castle was the subject of a Time Team dig in 2010, they hoped to unearth the skeletons of the massacred Parliamentarians beneath the moat, but they didn't find them.  Robert Wallop was compensated for the damage done after the Civil War but he never returned there and sold the castle in 1655.  The damaged tower was patched up but probably never inhabited again and it is now owned by the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust who have done some conservation work, including digging out several metres of rubble from inside the tower to reveal the floor and making a small car park.

The castle is like a reverse TARDIS and seems much smaller inside than it appears from the outside.  We climbed the stairs and sat inside to eat our picnic in the shade.  I think the Trust has done an excellent job, retaining the integrity of the existing walls while making them safe.  The new work is obvious but sympathetic. 

Outside, the views are beautiful.  This is an idyllic spot.  The Best Beloved wandered around with his camera while I circumnavigated the tower, drinking in the views, before sitting down on a bench to quietly read my book.  You could see all that there is to see here in less than half an hour or you could spend a longer time and lose yourself in the landscape and the history, especially on a warm, sunny day.  We were there for an hour and a half before our reveries were loudly interrupted by the sound of a nearby and incessant lawnmower.
Our visit cost us the petrol for the car and nothing else.  Car parking and admission are both free, as is a very nice leaflet about the castle, but there are donation boxes if you would like to support the work of the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust, which needs a few thousand pounds each year to maintain the site.  They have a good website here, although some of the information is out of date.

We drove back towards home, back through the beautiful countryside, I SO wanted to stop the car and take photographs but that wasn't feasible.  Unexpectedly, the Best Beloved turned the car and drove us along the River Severn to a pub at Coalport in Ironbridge Gorge where we sat on a terrace in the sunshine, drank long, cold drinks and ordered some food.  We rarely eat dinner out so it was a real treat, a relaxing way to end our adventure.  When we arrived home, we still didn't want the day to end so we opened up the summerhouse, lit the lanterns and drank a bottle of wine as night fell on a very special day.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x