Saturday, 25 August 2012


There is no doubt that the Newark International Antiques Fair, which we attended this week, offers plenty for girls who love beads. Who wouldn't happily while away the hours inspecting and comparing colour, sparkle and clunkiness?

As a child I used to collect beads and swop them, like stamps or tea cards, prizing them for their beauty rather than their rarity. I still feel the same, though I know a little more about them. They were first made by early man in pre-historic times, thousands of years before the Ancient Egyptians made these simple tubular faience beads.

They come from every part of the world and are made from all materials...

...carved bone and lacquer from Japan, Chinese glass,

European glass trade beads used by African tribes,

shell and turquoise from North America,

plastic Art Deco beads for a modern young thing in the 1920s.

In the 21st century some beads, amber and coral, are bought by weight and not solely for their beauty.


As usual there was plenty to choose from at the Newark fair, and many buyers too. Gentle browsers and keen collectors ...

...I THINK she's saying,"Gimme the beads or else!"


Sunday, 19 August 2012


I was reading one of my favourite blogs the other day - The Age Of Uncertainty - when I was reminded of my early struggles with crafting. The blogger, Lord Steerforth, a youthful purveyor of old books and interesting thoughts, had written a post about the contents of a 1960s children's compendium of ideas for creative activities. I have one of my own, see above, given to me one Christmas in the 1950s by Granny N (not by Santa, I gave him up when I was 3 after seeing one jolly chap in red outside Woolworth's and then another Yo-ho-ho-ing by a nearby toyshop. Logic told me that this was fishy and destroyed my infant faith in a flash.)
My own book could easily have wiped out any budding creative streak with its quaintly antiquated ideas...

These ideas were more like the things Granny would have had fun with in 1910 and not really suitable for a 5 year old living in post Festival of Britain England!

Neither Granny nor Mummy threaded bebe ribbon through their undies in the '50s, not to mention the fact that our house was far too modest to have a  "distant room"

Here is the idea that turned me from making things to other activities, at least for a while. I made "A", the "bedstead", for my doll's house - it was very easy, but looked rubbishy & gave me no sense of achievement at all. The book was put back on the shelves, to be used occasionally for pressing flowers.


Lord Steerforth's book dated from early in the next decade and was illustrated with photographs, not simple line-drawings, but he was bemused by the ideas it contained - were we really entertained by making newspaper trees, for example?

Well, as it turned out for me, we were. In late 1960s Kent we art students made a giant rolled newspaper tree, as tall as a house - then we set it alight and danced round it as it burned! We called it a Happening. By this we meant it was a spontaneous visual spectacle with no audience, only performers. I remember another such event involving the basement at college, filled with unfamiliar objects and textures. It was completely dark, to be entered and experienced by touch alone. (Only now do I wonder if these activities were created by our tutors for their own amusement.)

Some Art involving jam...

...and an early soft play area - or is this Art too?


Sunday, 12 August 2012


... and all sorts of other people were out in the midday sun at Arthur Swallow's Lincolnshire Antiques & Home Show last week!

This pair almost won the award for sweetest terriers in show until Mr N bagged the prize with these two antique terracotta cuties .

I wonder if we can bear to part with them?


Tuesday, 7 August 2012


I am fascinated by eccentrics and eccentricity (I cannot imagine why!) Over the past year or so I have been taking a literary journey around the lives of odd bods - I sincerely believe that the most interesting and creative people in the world are a little bit "different". This journey started after I watched a documentary about the poet R.S.Thomas, made for TV by his biographer Byron Rogers.

Thomas, a writer of beautiful though austere verse, was quite a serious curmudgeon who would not allow his wife a hoover because of the noise (hmm, I know someone like that...) and whose first action, on moving into an ancient draughty Welsh cottage, was to rip out the central heating. He wasn't keen on fridges, washing machines or televisions either.
Reader, I read the book and travelled on, via many stops - Henry James, The Bloomsbury Group, Anne Lister, Emily Dickinson, Laurence Sterne, J.L.Carr etc. - biographies, autobiographies and novels. I've just arrived back in Yorkshire and now I'm reading The Plot by Madeleine Bunting...

... an engrossing account of English history told through the story of The Plot  and its setting in the landscape, and also a memoir of a talented but difficult man, the sculptor John Bunting, who became obsessed with this small piece of Yorkshire where he built a memorial chapel. The writer, his daughter, gives detailed instructions of how to reach the area, including map references, so the idea of visiting whilst reading the story was irresistible.

Hambleton Street is an old drovers road with Roman origins and The Plot lies  just off it at Scotch Corner,a bend on this wide green track. We found the Street just off the A 170, near the top of Sutton Bank, and followed it through a mixture of old hedgerows, forestry plantations and bilberry bushes down to the small clearing.

Whatever significance this quiet spot had for its owner and his family, for us on that cool morning it had considerable magic, peopled as it was with silent figures.

You can walk on down Hambleton Street to Oldstead and Wass, but we chose to drive to Coxwold and visit Shandy Hall, once home to Laurence Sterne who wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a teasing, comic novel telling the inconsequential story of a host of eccentric characters. 

The curator of the Hall brought Sterne to life for us and I realised that he (Sterne) was having fun and enjoying his celebrity as a writer - but he was perhaps not an eccentric himself.


You may be interested in an "eccentricity test" I have found. According to studies there are 18 distinctive characteristics that differentiate a healthy eccentric person from a healthy ordinary person (although some may not always apply). The first 5 are in most people regarded as eccentric:

Nonconforming attitude
Intense curiosity
Happy obsession with a hobby or hobbies
Knew very early in his or her childhood that they were different from others.
Highly intelligent
Opinionated and outspoken
Unusual living or eating habits
Not interested in the opinions or company of others
Mischievous sense of humour

Oh well, who wants to be ordinary anyway?


Friday, 3 August 2012


Nobody could ever accuse Mr N of being a proper grown-up, so it stands to reason that he believes that one of the best reasons for having grandchildren is that you can enter with impunity those special farms designed as visitor attractions. Temple Newsam House, a Tudor mansion full of antique treasures on the outskirts of Leeds, has a working Home Farm attached to it.

Little B liked the tractors best.

This is an optical illusion - not a cruelly caged teenager. We can assure you that she is totally free-range.

On to the fascinating fowl and beautiful beasts.

Perhaps the most fun are the perky little pigs.

And the big dozy ones.

Phew - this farming's tiring work!