Sunday, 27 October 2013

Sunday Reading - The Irish Bible

When I found this beauty at a carboot in the Summer, it kind of sang out to me.

On a stall consisting of 3 painting tables covered in, mostly, dubious looking electronic goods, a couple of books peaked out from beneath the modernity. I think the sun may have come out from behind a cloud especially for them and hit them just so, to catch my eye.

I may be exaggerating.

But there was a definite pull. So I sauntered over and entered into conversation with the Gent-of-Many-Radios. He told me the bible was old and that he didn't know where it came from. Had he looked inside, he might have seen, but, meh. I knew once I picked it up, it had to be mine and all I needed to know was the price.

"Four quid, love" came the reply.

I handed over my twenty 20p's -  he was not amused - and walked away clutching it to my chest.

It was mine.

It was only when I got home, having told The Beard I had bought "another old Bible" when I found him half way across the thrifting field, that I could have a proper good old look at my new religious treasure.

And what treasure it was. I felt like I had bought someone's whole life for the price of a pint and a packet of crisps. And I felt blessed.

Stuffed, shoved, snuggled and stowed inside were not only dried flowers but pamphlets from 1914-1918, Easter sermons and notes in the margins.

Hand-written notes by the owner.

Who's neighbourhood I have since walked around on Google Earth. Natch.

As I crept through each page, a whole pot of tea went cold. I think the sun may have even set by the time I came through the other side. I could not believe that I was now the guardian of this book that, like my Antique Bible , had once meant so much to someone.

I conjured up and image in my mind of this woman, attending church every Sunday and with extra vigor on the Holy and Feast days. Someone who's faith was true and nourishing.

Someone who thought it prudent to place flowers in the pages. Had she picked them herself, in an idol fashion whilst daydreaming home from the service, or had they been given to her by a suitor? Perhaps who walked her back from church to her parents homestead or rented lodgings with a peck on the cheek and a tip of his hat?

Why was there German translations written in on a scrap of paper and placed inside? Could she has been a VAD Nurse and went to the front? Fanciful, I know. But, maybe...

Was she a student studying in England? Was she affected by the events in Ireland around 1916 when the I.R.A was beginning to form?

All. These. Questions.

The thought of never knowing who she was, what she became and how she spent her life began to take over my own.

This is the downfall of collecting old things. You have to accept that there may be questions that remain unanswered.

The only thing I could know for sure is how much this item had once meant to Juliet. She had placed important, memorable flora and fauna inside. She had written the 10 commandments in the back -  and oh! what a pleasure to see her hand writing. She had copied out the parts that possibly gave her strength.

But, the most illusive question of all, is that you may never know what the former owner looked like. You may never be able to put a face to an object. And there is something about that which I truly love. You can make up it's history. You can ponder it but you may never get the information you seek.

There have been others of you out there that have bought an old item, a hand bag or a dress, with an old ticket stub still in the pocket or an earring concealed within the middle compartment. Or maybe an old shopping list. I have yet to find one myself, but I hold out hope.

But a photo? They are pretty rare.

Except inside this thrifted find.

Is this Juliet? Is this the face behind the collection of items, the flowers, the telegram, the handwriting?

I like to -  no -  I love to -  think that it might just be.

And it has made me want to know about her even more.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Monk's House - The Home of the Woolf's.

I have long since been slightly in love with Virgina Woolf. Not so much with her writings -  although there are certain novels that I come back to again and again (To the Lighthouse is not one of them. My A-Levels put paid to that) -  but there is something that draws me to her and the circles that she moved in.

So, imagine how I felt when I visited Monk's House -  the very place where she lived, loved, entertained and worked.

It may be sparsely decorated, but every single piece brings it's own delight.

Especially as a lot of pieces are hand made as part of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Simple, yet bold, you can feel the creativity that abounded at one time. When I walked in, I thought to myself: "Now... if I had somewhere like this to write... my book would come pouring out of me".

Perhaps that's the truth of it, or perhaps I am actually the rabid procrastinating dilettante I try to ignore.

Sparse it may be, but I loved the humble air of the place. It may seem a little barren, but it is full of warmth. They might have been moderately wealthy, but you cannot tell that from the interior. It's not flashy or grand, but a creative home.  And that is no bad thing. Gives me something attainable to aspire to. The items that are on display show how life would have been for the Woolf's and I felt a little like Virginia may, at any moment, come gliding down the stairs. In my head, Virginia moved with a tall, graceful but purposeful stride. She would be heading out to the garden to gather some of the abundant roses. Or going off to the kitchen to make some tea before she heading off for a walk in the adjoining field, which the couple purchased to preserve their stunning views. 

Sadly, but also delightfully, all that greeted me from upstairs was the gaze of a small terrier. A formidable, but tail wagging guard that helps the rope across the stairs keep visitors in the bottom of the house. Having bought the house in 1919, the couple made it a 2 story abode in 1929 and travelled between London and the country. 

The walls of the living room were a beautiful shade of green and there were lots of everyday items that were once in constant use, now laying as artifacts for us to gaze upon.

Oh, and a mirror surrounded by embroidery. Which has now been added to my long list of things-I-would-like-to-make.

I got the impression that Monks House was somewhat of a retreat and it was not only Virginia and Leonard who benefited  Being a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia entertained the likes of T.S.Elliot and E.M.Forster at her out-of-town abode and it is nice to see the photos to show them all sitting around, smoking a pipe and discussing ideas. 

Not that I know what they actually talked about, but I like to imagine. 

One of the most memorable parts of my visit to Monks House (aside from the unseasonably chilling wind that continually slapped me in the face - ouch) was Virginia's bedroom. Separate from the main house it is stuffed full of books. 

Books and book and books. A simple room with good light, windows festooned with roses and a clear view of the Rodmell church, there was a peaceful air to the place. A simple single bed, a sink, a fire, a table and lamp and book shelves. Some of which held hand-bound copies of Shakespeare.

 Hand-bound by the lady herself, the titles on the spines written in her own hand. Did she surrender herself to days of reading, isolated from the rest of the house? Or, did she spend her time here in depressive solitude as she fought another bout of mental illness? I guess I could have asked the guide, but I was too busy staring at those hand-bound books. 

On our way through the poppy laden garden, we came across a significant and saddening Elm tree. Beneath the wall and highlighted by not only a plaque but also some rather fine sculptures, are the cremated remains of both Virginia and Leonard. There seemed such a gap to me, between the passing of the wife, followed by the husband. And then I remembered that, with pockets full of stones, Virginia had waded into the River Ouse one day in March 1941 only to be found over 2 weeks later further down stream. After moving to Monk's House permanently in 1940 after their London home was damaged in the Blitz, she continued to write. Her last diary entry, written on that very day, seemed normal. But, for whatever reason, she let the river take her.

 I was jolted into thinking about her, putting on her shoes and coat, pushing fistfuls of pebbles into her pockets and striding towards her death. Where, in the house I had just been so caught up in, had she placed her last note to Leonard? 

"Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V"

Had she walked across the fields towards the river? Macabre, I know, but, this is the sort of thing that fills my mind. And I really need to know the answer.

Once we had peeked at the allotment and tried to count all the water-snails in the pond (there were tonnes), we happened upon Virginia's writing room. Well, summer house really. Completely away from everything else, with a large table, lots of pencils and a pair of spectacles almost waiting to be picked up again, The space itself is off limits to visitors, but I was happy enough to gaze through the single glaze and imagine her sitting there. Not that she sat there alone all of the time -  as you can see. Opening up the double doors on a hot summers day and staring out across the fields. What could be better? 

Well, the fact that you can stay there. Yep. Well, no, not in the writing room. It would be a tad drafty. But you can stay on site in the Monk's House Garden Studio . Situated right next door to Virginia's bedroom,I had a good old peek through the windows to see what it was like (if I had been staying, I would have shut the blinds for shiz) and it's the kind of place I can imagine dealing a hammer blow to writers block. I found myself wondering about who's jeans were flung across the chair and if they had broken the back of that final chapter with the help of The Woolf's.

I left Monk's House feeling inspired to write more, to get on with that book, to send more letters to my pen-pals. But, I also felt a little more than sad at the thought of this beautiful. wonderful place being the last sanctuary for Virginia.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

C & C's Wonderful Wedding

Remember when it was warm? When the evenings stretched out and you could enjoy a Pimms long into the night? Well, back when the season was such, I attended a wedding.

And a right corker it was too. Not only did it have customised Converse but also united 2 of the most amazing ladies I have good fortune to know.

Although the wedding was not until mid-afternoon, this did not stop me flying into a panic about what to cover my body in. I don't know why, I had had ages to think about it. But, I went off the outfit I had decided upon and had to start all over again. Hot, sweaty, sweary rage ensued. You know the type. Where you open your wardrobe and it seems to contain only black bin bags and one green shoe? 

Yeah. That.

 I had already made my tilt hat topper, so I knew that I was heading in the general direction of yellow. And after I had stood in the kitchen, raging about time going too damn quick and running out and OH  FOR THE LOVE OF... WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE!!!.... I found a saviour of a £5 charity shop frock at the back of all those bin bags.

BOOM! Done and off out the door.

And, after all that internal faff, what a fabulous day it turned out to be. Of course it did! It was stuffed full of C & C and most of our closest friends. The sun was shiny and the sky was blue. There was indeed Pimms. And popcorn and profiteroles, steak and cake and a band who wrote a special song for the lovely ladies. 

Which was awesome.

Even the Queen was on the wall of the Masonic Lodge that was our home for the duration. Oh, and there was also handmade lavender shortbread biscuit wedding favors. How could I have forgotten them? I sure did scoff enough of them.

And, here be the dress that came to the rescue (a dresscue?) An 80's wonder-find bought last year teamed with wedge sandals and a cheap as chips straw bag. Oh, and a crochet brooch I had made that morning, when I still thought I had the luxury of time on my side.

We danced and drank late into the night and I have not stopped grinning about their epic day ever since.

Hurrah for the news Mrs & Mrs!


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