“I Learn in this Letter…”

Since university I have done very little reading. The weeks after my finals I think I did none at all. Then, over the lazy summer months I read nothing but trash- quick and easy, but highly enjoyable, fictional trash. Novels I didn’t have to analyse so could just guiltily inhale in the knowledge that the plots were predictable but fun, and that my professors would scorn me – but from a distance, as they had no power over me anymore. Georgette Heyer, Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman, J K Rowling (again)… Once I’d recovered from the worry that my English Literature BA had killed my love of reading, my ability to endure it and stick with somewhat not always likeable characters for more than 300 pages, and the perseverance to resist the tempting face of other pastimes – such as rather interesting television, I began to rack up bills in bookshops, buying more varied modern classics, poetry, even non-fiction. Whilst I was reading Dickens, Gaskell, Hardy, Shakespeare, Tolstoy (ok, so maybe I didn’t actually ready Tolstoy), the Man Booker prize winners and nominees passed me by (until I bought Hilary Mantel for my mother for Christmas and she raved about it for weeks). I finally discovered Margaret Atwood and devoured The Handmaid’s Tale in 48 hours. It was completely not what I expected, but it gripped me and wouldn’t let go, which was exactly what I needed. I’ve since bought The Penelopiad and am hoping it will be just as rewarding. The Reluctant Fundamentalist followed suit, thought-provoking and fast-moving, its ending left me undecided and challenged, if not a little confused. But because I didn’t have to discuss it for hours in a seminar, I revelled in it and moved on. I’m a sucker for pretty hardbacks (I’m afraid I do quite often judge a book by its cover) so bought The Diary of a Provincial Lady for its gorgeous floral front, without knowing much more about it than the review in the shop, but read it travelling to and from London on the train whilst working for Dorling Kindersley, its epistolary, epilogue style being perfect for commuter journeys. Brideshead Revisited kept me in touch with more “classic” classics and made me nostalgic for university (and long gone eras) and I acquired The Misanthrope after seeing the recent stage production with Damian Lewis and Keira Knightley. Currently I’m buried deep within Angela Carter’s Fairy Tales, luxuriating in the fact that they echo a childlike feeling within me and yet they’re oh so grown up. And I am once again excited about the fact that I have lots of books to read…

(“Much Ado About Nothing”)

“Now is the Winter of Our Discontent…”

Mm. Melodramatic much? Perchance. But the evenings are drawing in, the clocks are going back this weekend, the Autumn leaves are falling, I find myself shivering and throwing on extra layers, and yesterday I even resorted to snuggling up in my Christmas cardigan (adorned with knitted reindeer). The bright, crisp Autumn colours may make me want to wax lyrical like Keats (“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/ Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”) but the dreary grey of Winter merely makes me reluctant to shake off my duvet in the mornings and prompts me to pile on calories by “warming my hands” on cups of hot cocoa in the afternoons.

But surely, you cry, there’s much to be joyful about in these colder months? Crunching in bright piles of jewel- coloured leaves? (I live in one of the “best kept villages in all Sussex” – a man with a street sweeping machine comes and “tidies” the leaves away every other day.) Fireworks? Snuggling up in layers of warm clothes? (Yesterday I remembered why I don’t normally buy woollen cardigans… adorably adorned with reindeer or not… I came out in a rash where it had been in contact with my skin.) Home-baked apple pies? Christmas?!

Ah yes… I am certainly not all bah humbug. Recently I have been pondering with friends and family when, if ever, it is too early to be planning for Christmas. Surely never? And definitely not after it’s become cold enough to drag the Christmas cardigans out of the wardrobe. Therefore, here are some action shots of our ritual “Christmas cake baking” day (alongside some sneaky glimpses of the aforementioned cardigan), footnoted by the fact that we usually do this on August Bank-Holiday Monday. So surely that makes me the very opposite of humbug?! (And I’ve even included some recently- made Christmas cards. Yey.)

“As I Remember…”

Tonight I had a lesson not just in crochet, but in my family history. For as long as I can remember we’ve had a weather- beaten, moth- eaten, hand- made, adorable crocheted blanket in our house. There are pictures of me aged about two and a half rolling around in the garden with it, enjoying an imaginary picnic. I’ve always loved it for its nostalgia. And now, being as such things are back in vogue, my mother is teaching me how to make one of my own. (This could, potentially, be recipe for disaster, as she tried to teach me how to knit once before and it nearly caused a family feud. An argument when both parties are holding needles is never the best of plans.) See our first attempts below! ** Updated!**

As my mum and I knitted (she did one, and I did the other, amusingly taking almost twice as long to crochet the same amount of loops) we metaphorically unpicked the old blanket. It’s been darned and redarned (probably due to ragamuffins like myself rolling around in gardens with it) but it is, in essence, and dating from its original square, at least 40 years old. All the different wools tell a different story… There’s the mottled greeny brown that was used to knit my grandfather a cardigan, a shade of pink left over from my mum’s school friends making her a scarf, multicoloured strands also used for knitting hats, some red from a woolen waistcoat, a mustard yellow knitted into a cardigan for my father, and the purple that mum used to patch some holes after making me a cardigan.

And now I’m starting my own attempt with that very same purple. It’s going to take me a long time to finish it, but here’s hoping mine will eventually gather just as many memories and happy years of wear and tear. ♥

(PS: As You Like It, for those keeping track of Shakespeare openers. It seemed apt.)

“Tush!”

Calligraphy and card making have been hobbies for mine for a very long time. Both are time- consuming and somewhat messy, but there’s something very therapeutic about writing with inks and nibs. And the latter probably has more to do with my magpie- like hoarding habits. If this is your compulsion too then take up collaging: hoarded items + pva glue + a pretty pattern = job done!

These lines of poetry have been hanging on our bathroom wall for ages… they’re a very early example and thus a bit rough around the edges but I still love the original concept, and the words. As for the cards, maybe one day I’ll be persuaded to give them away! (And I’m always open to commissions…)

NB: Iago is reprimanded with a “Tush!” at the beginning of Othello. Perhaps Desdemona should have had better hoarding skills: then she wouldn’t have dropped that handkerchief and they wouldn’t have all ended up in such a sticky debacle!

“Good Day, Sir” (part 3- my Romanian adventure!)

The Caminul Felix website (see post below) declares that having been to Romania you’ll never be the same again. I thought they were lying when they claimed this, or at least exaggerating, but it’s the truth. The Emma that went to Romania is not the same Emma that came back…

Regarding the physical building work, I’ll let these pictures do the talking (for which I can take no credit). Instead, here are my highlights of the week- emotional moments that really get right to the heart of what Caminul Felix is all about:

Watching a septuagenarian allowing a young boy to beat him at cards, even though they’ve never met before and because he has a charming, innocent, toothless grin as he cheats and wins every time…

A young girl, safe and smiling and happy, delighting in all the foreign doting attention, fully enjoying her first year at school and captivated by the novelty of our digital cameras…

Listening to a “house mother” describe with sadness and concern the state of two children she and her husband are about to adopt (whilst having a house full of 12 others already)- living on the streets like animals, amongst the squalor of boxes and drains whilst their father is at work- a sadness tinged with hope for the future…

Walking through a half- built house with its young lady beneficiary, excitedly talking about the imagined position of a table, mirrors, bright purple sofa and the paintings she’s designed for the walls…

Collapsing in a seizure of exhaustion after building all day, with one arm cramped up and tense (with muscle spasms affectionately dubbed “hammer claw”) but being unable to stop grinning because you know you’re helping to give young people a future and a start to life…

It’s about freedom for children, churches and a country rising from years of oppression… It’s about “Caminul Felix” – a happy home, a happier future, and family.