Last autumn we decided to have a bit of a move round at home. Now that all three of our offspring have left home we resolved to tackle the clutter in both attics to give us both a warmer workspace for the colder weather ahead. We reorganised the newly insulated loft space to accomodate seasonal items and recycled things via the charity shop and recycling banks. Two trips to the TV studio in London in November and December left us short of time to get finished by Christmas but we had done enough to render our 'his'n hers' attics useable. Prior to moving upstairs I had been using the little back bedroom but it faces north west and felt cold even on a sunny day. One wall of that room was almost entirely covered by a huge noticeboard that I'd managed to acquire moments before it was due to be taken to the local tip. Two coats of paint later and it is eminently serviceable, particularly now it hangs on the attic wall and half of it isn't hidden behind a bookshelf! At the moment it only has a calendar and one or two little things pinned to it but I have plans for it to be both useful and beautiful. Not only will it host lists of prospective blog titles where I can find them easily but also somewhere to stick pictures that make my heart sing, like the one torn from Red magazine, above. I have collected pages I find visually inspiring for all of my adult life and have amassed several folders full. In fact, along with my husband, dogs and family photos they are one of the first things I would grab in a fire! Unfortunately they are quite cumbersome and searching through them for something I think I've put in there can be hugely frustrating timewise. On the other hand, looking through them on a grey day when things have not been going so well can give me more of a lift than almost anything else, so I'm not likely to be ditching them any time soon.
Although the contents of these Inspiration folders, as I call them, are all paper-based the overwhelming majority are pages from magazines. I love magazines. They are a particular weakness of mine. The two I have regularly are funded by subscriptions bought with my Tesco Clubcard tokens so they are not an actual expense as such but what seduces me about magazines is the pictures. All that colour and seasonality; but at such expense! So what if you could have all the pictures you could ever want, enough to fill a thousand enormous pinboards like mine? Pinboards which took up no space in your house but which you could view in their entirety at a touch. And best of all, cost you nothing at all. If you need your soul food fix like I do it sounds like a dream come true. Thankfully somebody has already though of it and it's called Pinterest.
If you already have a Pinterest account (and you can create one via your Facebook or Twitter account) you may wish to skip the next paragraph or so. If not and you are wondering how it works then please read on. When I started out last June I found quite a bit out by trial and error but if this helps anyone it will have been worth the effort of writing it! Pinterest allows you to create your own virtual pinboards on its website. The pictures you choose to attach to your boards are called 'pins' and you can either select your own pins from the Internet via the 'Pin It' button or browse other user's boards and 're-pin' pictures they have already placed there. Pinterest users - or 'pinners' - theme each board to build up a collection of one type of image e.g home. You are free to create as many different boards as you wish. Some people will have half a dozen whilst others have more than a hundred. The choice of title is down to the creator but something self explanatory will help other pinners to find your boards just as it will help you to find theirs. When you set up your account, Pinterest will ask you what subjects you are interested in and suggest some current pinners who have boards that may interest you to get you started. These are classed as boards or pinners you are 'following'. You can opt to 'unfollow' any boards or pinners that hold no interest for you in addition to selecting new boards or pinners to follow of your own. Once you opt to follow another user (and you can opt to select all or just some of their boards) their most recently acquired pins will appear on the home page for you to browse. Or you can look for pins by subject via the search box. As your mouse hovers over each pin a hand icon appears that invites you to 're-pin', 'like' or 'comment' on that pin. You can keep scrolling down the page until you find a pin you want. If you choose to re-pin you will then be asked which board you want to pin it onto before clicking on the 'pin it' tab. You then have a choice of whether to follow the board that the pin originally came from. You can choose to follow or click on the 'X' in the corner to get rid of the box. Either will take you back to the original screen so you can carry on scrolling. Other Pinterest users will find you quite quickly and if they like what you are pinning will choose to follow you. Here is an opportunity to follow others back who like the same thing. Are you with me so far?
Lots of websites help the pinning and sharing process along by featuring the Pinterest logo. This is an invitation to pin pictures from their site. You can also click on it to be taken to their own Pinterest boards. When Pinterest pins a picture it automatically captures the source details and these will be included below the pin when it appears on your board. Wherever you source your pins from it is considerd good etiqutte to quote the original source. Arguably, if you try to pass it off as your own it is stealing! Being Creative has the Pinterest logo in the right hand side bar under See and so you are more than welcome to use my pictures as long as you ensure they have been credited as coming from here. If you click on my Pinterest logo it will take you to my boards under the username Blackbird Bazaar. Underneath it will tell you that it is really me! The first of my boards is called Being Creative with pictures taken from this blog. Blackbird Bazaar is an exciting new project that I will be telling you about very soon. For instructions on how to acquire the 'Pin 'It' button to enable you to pin my pictures you will need to follow the instructions in the drop down menu on Pinterest under the heading 'About'. Alternatively, at the bottom of each of my posts is a little 'Pin It' button; if you click on this it will give you the option of pinning any of the pictures in that particular post.
If you look at my boards you will see that I am interested in things beyond the Being Creative remit. Although colour comes into this blog it is not really a category I write about but it is a huge passion for me. Likewise the vintage props that are peppered throughout the blog. I also enjoy graphics and illustration in all their forms. It's amazing how the simple design of the perfume box above can have such impact, isn't it? As for the Inspiring Words board, we all need a few of those to motivate us now and then. If I've inspired you with these words I hope to meet you on Pinterest soon. Happy pinning!
The Chrissy B Show - Christmas on a Shoestring - Sky 203, 9.30p.m. tonight
The lovely people at The Chrissy B Show have asked me back tonight to take part in a show entitled 'Christmas on a shoestring'. Just at the moment I am their very woman for the job! I'm surrounded by so many bits and pieces that I am getting ready to write blog posts about, there's hardly room to put my cup of tea down. For those of you who are waiting for my promised thrifty Christmas tips I will be back tomorrow. The upside is that with the impetus of a tv show I've got all the more ideas to share with you. Watch this space!
Here I am on The Chrissy B Show with Piper Terrett (centre) and Chrissy B (right). Catch up with this episode on Friday 23rd November at 9.30p.m. on Sky 203 (My Channel).
Three weeks ago a producer from a TV company left a comment on my blog. At first - for reasons that deserve a post of their own - I thought it was a hoax. So I checked out the links. It was genuine. My initial suspicion then gave way to abject terror. My husband, Si', took one look at me and asked if something awful had happened. I told him that yes, it had, and that someone wanted me to be on the telly - a live show at that - in three days time. His face broke into the most radiant smile and he said that he thought it was an amazing opportunity. By now I was quaking like a jelly and he was full of concern. He tried again; was I not thrilled to be asked and what was I afraid of? I was, I replied, but PEOPLE WILL LOOK AT ME! In case this sounds like the ramblings of a mad woman I need to put this in perspective. I started my blog almost five years ago to record the progress of my personal challenge of living well on less. Initially, I wrote it just for me and knew I would be more motivated to keep it up if I included photos. Readers started leaving positive comments and I began to write more with an audience in mind. The blog has worked its way up the Google rankings - a real source of pride to my offspring - but never once have I envisaged it going any further than that. Certainly not that anyone would want to interview me about it. Unless the blog is a promotional one - say, for a business or career purpose - most bloggers are pretty much invisible. It is what they say, rather than what they themselves look like, that is key. Mostly I write my posts first thing in the morning sitting in my dressing gown with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Today I am fully dressed but have a hot water bottle on my lap because it seems a waste to heat the whole house just for one (the dogs have their fur coats). If you spend your days as I do - messy activities like making jam and digging allotments and also writing in the company of two large dogs - then you do not need to look glamorous. What would I would I wear? Certainly not my dressing gown!!! I rang my daughter Caz, who lives in London, to ask her opinion. She, too, was all in favour; she also said she had a day off that Friday and that since it was an evening show I could sleep on her sofa. I tried voicing my reticence: what if I couldn't think what to say? She paused and said, "Mum, when have you ever been short of something to say"! So I emailed my acceptance and I am so glad I did. I was still terribly nervous. The show was to be about living thriftily and things you could make or do to save yourself money. Looking back through my early posts to refresh my memory was a bit like revising for an exam. Then I had to find examples of things I had handmade. This was more difficult as, rather than filling my house with my handiwork, I tend to make things with the purpose of giving them as gifts. So there was quite a bit of raking through cupboards. I took jam and I also made some truffles (more on those in a moment).
I travelled down to London on the Friday afternoon, laden down with my 'props'. I had tea with Carrie and then she very sweetly volunteered to accompany me to the studio in Finsbury Park. This was especially kind since she would miss the big fireworks do in her local park. As we waited to be buzzed into the building we met Piper Terrett, financial journalist and author of The Frugal Life, who was to be the other guest on the show. As we chatted in the green room I discovered that, like me, Piper has had a range of different jobs but hers have mostly been in the finance sphere. So what Piper doesn't know about saving yourself a pound or two is probably not worth knowing! (The picture above shows Chrissy B, the host of the show, on the right, Piper in the centre and I am on the left). Then Joanna, the producer, came in and we ran through which props would be needed for the show followed by Chrissy herself, to go over the questions she would be asking. As a complete television novice I had nothing to compare it to but Joanna, Chrissy and the others in the team could not have been more lovely and reassuring. Even before we went through to the studio it was like catching up with a group of friends who are exactly on the same wavelength and I'm sure Piper and Caz felt just the same. As I sat with Chrissy in the studio and she pointed out which camera focussed where and the countdown began, I found that I was completely relaxed. Not to give too much away, I went on first, then Piper and then Chrissy spoke to us both together. Altogether I was in the studio for 35 minutes but the time just whizzed by. I left the jam behind as a thank you gift and there were hugs all round as we walked back with Piper to the tube station. The following morning I caught the bus with Caz to Covent Garden where she works, treated myself to a slice of gateau as a reward from Patisserie Valerie to eat on the train home and spent a happy hour in Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Not only do they have huge craft and comprehensive gardening sections but they also have one dedicated to sustainability. I could have stayed all day!!! And just to prove the point that fortune favours the brave, I happened quite by chance to have the most inspiring conversation I think I've ever had on public transport on the way home. Maria was sitting across the aisle from me initially on the coach leg of our Mega Bus journey but moved to let a couple sit together. We had so much making, baking and school experience in common that it was an absolute joy to be in her company as we swapped ideas and recommendations. By this time all the truffles had been left in London - some were eaten on the show and the rest left with Caz and her partner, Matt - but I promised Maria that I would put the recipe on my blog for her to try for herself. Sorry Maria for my tardiness. I have been trying to concentrate on getting lots of thrifty Christmas ideas together for forthcoming posts but you can find the recipe here.
A few days afterwards I had an email to say that there had been an issue with the Sky satellite signal on the channel, of which the production team were unaware, and that the programme had not gone out live after all. Instead, this installment of the Chrissy B Show is to be shown on Sky 203 (My Channel) at 9.30p.m. this Friday, November 23rd. Please do lend your support by watching if you can. We all had such a good time making the show so I sincerely hope you enjoy seeing it and picking up some of our combined thrifty tips. You might even be interested to hear the story behind what I chose to wear. Thank you, once again, to all those above who helped to make my weekend wonderful. And Si' was quite right; it really did turn out to be an amazing opportunity!
I cannot remember when I first set my heart on having a pair of original Avery shop scales. For a long time - although they had been superceded by modern electronic versions - they simply weren't available and then, once they were, they were either prohibitively expensive or too far away to be cost effective to fetch. If you look on Ebay even now their weight tends to render them a 'collection only' item, not ideal if they are at the other end of the country! I did spot the odd set now and again but there was always something wrong with them; invariably the enamel coating would be badly damaged or they were rusty from being stored too long in a garage or shed. Often the pan would be missing. To be perfectly honest I had all but given up on the idea and had filed them away at the back of my mind in the folder marked 'things that would be really quite useful if only I could afford them'. Then about a month or so ago, whilst browsing at the local car boot, I spied a typical Avery lozenge shaped pan but no scales to go with them. I snapped them up quick as I reckoned that I might now be in a position to buy a pan-less set of scales on ebay at a price I could afford. Once I got home however Ebay was sadly lacking in scales minus their pans that week but the hunt was on. The following week I went to the same car boot to help my mum. If you've read this blog before you will know that she has an antique business. She often has to buy some very mixed lots at auction in order to get the bits she really wants so inevitably some things end up at the car boot.
We are always very busy at first as the other dealers descend for the best pickings but after a while I went for a walk round. I had done about two or three rows when I saw them: a set of Avery scales right at the end of a pitch. I sidled up to them. Sometimes it doesn't pay to appear too interested. Things sold at car boots often have no price tag and less scrupulous vendors are inclined to up the price if they think you are really keen to have something. I looked them over quickly. They were not rusty, the enamel was fine, they had a pan (and the right pan, at that)! Better still, the sellers were not 'trade', as those in the business are commonly referred to. I casually asked the man how much they were. He said they were twenty pounds, that they belonged to his wife - who was serving another customer - and that he thought she might take less for them. I bent down to have a closer look. My heart sank as I noticed that the glass at the front of the scales was missing. I mentioned this to the man. He said that their daughter had broken it whilst they were moving house. I tried different objects in the pan and they appeared to weigh properly. As I did this I noticed that the front of the scales was held to the back with two screws. As it appeared possible to take it apart, it might also be possible to replace the piece of glass.I decided to take a gamble, particularly since they were about fifty pounds cheaper than I ever thought I'd have to pay for some. I asked the man what he thought his wife would be prepared to take for them and he said he thought fifteen pounds. I suggested he'd better check now that she had finished serving the other person; if they belonged to her I thought she'd better agree the price. To my delight she said that fifteen pounds would be fine but that she'd be sorry to see them go. I told her that I had been looking for some forever and that they would be going to a good home.
So today, Si' - my very own Mr Fix-it - has been having a look at them. First he unscrewed the two halves, then he made the template for the new glass. Whilst I was cutting up the first windfall plums for jam he went round the corner to the glass place and returned with a beautifully cut piece to match his template and a piece of emery paper to smooth the edges for the princely sum of two pounds fifty! He then had a think about what to use to cushion the glass against the frame and returned later from Wilkinsons with a roll of self adhesive draft excluding strip for windows. Getting it to stick where we wanted it to - and not to each other - was a team effort but we got there in the end and then it was time to put it back together again. And here is the result above! (Please excuse the slightly wonky angle. By this time it was about six o'clock and the light was beginning to go. We had to move the scales into the bay window and due to the age of our house our floors are anything but flat). It just goes to show that sometimes you have to have a bit of faith in the world and be prepared to wait for what you want. At one time I would have bought something I wanted straight away without a second thought but there is no doubt in my mind that now I place much greater value on having fewer things and treasure those most that I've had to save up/wait for. Also I feel there is much to be gained from the challenge of something being not quite as you wanted it. There is something very satisfying about solving a problem yourself, particularly when you have saved yourself a bit of money too. We knew at the outset that we had a range of skills that would help us in our downshifting endeavour but we also try to be open minded and are learning new things all the time. I hope our experiences encourage readers to have a go themselves. Even if you start out with the little things, success brings the confidence to tackle more. As the saying goes, "Great oaks from little acorns grow"! The pan on these scales is just right for weighing this year's orchard bounty and not a moment too soon: the cider-making season will soon be here!
We awoke last Saturday morning to a world iced with white. There is something special about the first snow of the season, particularly if you are up early to enough to appreciate its untouched beauty. Having dug up my dahlias - to my enormous relief - at the beginning of last week, I had spent the rest of the week catching up with indoor jobs. So when the sun came out by mid morning on Saturday it provided the perfect photo opportunity. The shed shown above is in the orchard and as the roof is reasonably weatherproof we use it to store the logs we split in the summer. In a past life it had been used as a hen house, although when we 'liberated' the orchard the integral nest boxes had all but rotted away. We have cleared quite a lot of the undergrowth at this end of the orchard and hope to keep hens in there ourselves at some point but we are are ever mindful of the presence of Mr Fox. When we lived in Wales our children spent their Easter egg money one year on hens that would lay them real eggs. In the run up to Christmas that same year Mr Fox visited nightly for his chicken dinner, leaving the very last one for his Christmas lunch!
These footprints probably belong to a cat but we have seen fox tracks criss-crossing the allotment during snowy weather in the past and quite often spot their russet forms amidst the undergrowth in the darker winter months. They do not trouble us, though the dogs catch their scent, and probably keep our rabbit population in check.
Some of our apple trees still have a few fruit clinging on. We have eleven apple tree altogether and with the bumper crop we've had this year that means an awful lot of windfalls. Last year we left them where they fell but this year we took the advice of the charity East of England Apples and Orchards Project and barrowed them to the north side of the orchard. This means that they are still available for wildlife to feed from but, since our prevailing winds are from the south, substantially reduces the risk of any potential disease spores or pests from re-infecting the tree via rotting fruit. The snow and the leaf together on this Bramley does rather remind me of a hat, with the icicle providing the tassel on the end!
Here are some of those windfalls after our resident wildlife have been feasting. I have been careful to tip each barrow load close to the hedge so that the feeding site is both sheltered from the weather and affords some protection from would-be predators. Presumably, that which is not eaten will rot down and provide nutrients to feed the hedge itself.
Likewise, there is a good crop of berries on the ivy, too. Ivy flowers quite late in the season and provides a much-needed food source for bees and other insects once other flowers are over. On sunny days in September and October this plant hummed with winged visitors and though the ivy is troublesome if it runs unchecked into the trees, it is welcome to its place in the boundary hedge.
I was also intrigued by the patterns the snow created on very familiar objects like the roof, above, and the pallets, below, and the contrast it created with the bright stems and berries, further below.
Since Saturday, though, we have had more and more snow culminating today in heavy showers more or less non-stop throughout the afternoon and this evening. We now have about seven inches of the sort of wet snow that sticks to the washing line and the telephone wires and renders them thick as ropes. And the forecast? Well more of the same, actually. So while my daughter, Lu', in London is just celebrating her first flakes we are all but buried up to our ears. Not to mention how cold our toes are growing. Never mind; it won't be long till Spring. Tiddely pom!!!
Here is my little friend, Robin, whom I was absolutely delighted to have captured succesfully with my camera this afternoon. We first became aquainted during the winter months while I was working on the allotment. As I cleared the ground of dead plant material he would hop within a few feet, waiting patiently for me to uncover some tasty morsel to eat. I didn't realise it at the time but robins need to eat almost half their bodyweight each day, during the kind of cold weather we've had this last winter, to survive. I'm very glad then that I'd remembered reading somewhere about mealworms being their favourite food and have put out a daily dish of food - with extra mealworms added - ever since. Robin has a mate now, who I call Bobbin, and they've built a nest in the allotment hedge, sheltered behind an old door. A couple of weeks ago, I was cutting down some overgrown elder when I heard a terrible twittering beyond the hedge. Fearing a cat had found their nest I tiptoed over to look, only to discover a fight had broken out between Robin and an intruder. The intruder beat a fairly hasty retreat but I have read since that about 10% of robins actually die as a result of battles over territory; it would appear that the perpetrator in the poem 'Who killed cock-robin' was most probably another robin! Apparently, they have been known to attack toy robins, bunches of red feathers and even their own reflections in an effort to defend their patch. Neither has Robin taken kindly to other birds encroaching on his dinner table; neither he, nor Bobbin, were prepared to tolerate other diners -in the form of dunnocks - near their nest spot until they had had their fill! In the last couple of weeks, Robin has taken - most endearingly - to feeding Bobbin with mealworms and other tasty treats. Presumably this is in readiness for when she begins sitting on her eggs and becomes totally reliant upon him for food. In the last few days Bobbin has been noticeably absent at feeding time and I hope this is a good sign. Now that Robin has become used to my daily contribution to his diet I think he looks out for me and is quick to come and serenade me when I arrive. At other times I do not hear him at all but look up from my digging to find him three feet away! I understand that only British robins have developed this affinity with humans and that in Europe they prefer to skulk about in the undergrowth instead. No wonder, then, that they were adopted forty years ago as our national bird. It's heartening to know, too, that robins are one of our more successful garden birds, with about 4,200,000 pairs in Britain and also that numbers have increased by about 20% over the last 25 years. It was as he was waiting for his tea that I managed to get these photos of him today. I'm thinking that if I'm going to be feeding an entire family of robins soon then I'd better start stocking up on mealworms now.
Although it's been a month now since I mentioned 'the secret', there has sadly been no further progress, which is a shame as I have so many potential posts that tie in with it. Never mind, though. We have had some lovely prolonged periods of rain to quench the thirst of our allotments this week and now sunshine is forecast for the weekend so that I can spend my birthday digging and sowing in my favourite place. The eternal optimist in me whispers, "all things come to (s)he who waits" and so I wait. Patiently. While my Robin sings . . .
I've got a secret. It's terribly exciting and I want to share it with everyone I meet. But I can't. Not yet. When something really exciting like this happens I come over all superstitious and worry that in sharing it before the ink is dry, so to speak, I might be jeopardising my chances of it reaching fruition. Silly, I know, but there we are. I can tell you, though, that it has been taking up most of my spare time over the winter months, luring me away from the comfort of my computer and stealing my blogging time. But I see it as an investment. Time spent now will allow my secret to blossom and bear fruit and will actually add to the things I have to write about here. Relevant things, to do with living well - on less. With pictures and examples to inspire you (I hope)! So please bear with me a little longer. I anticipate being able to tell you all any day now.
Last week, I discovered a blog I hadn't previously seen called 'Finding Simplicity', after Sharon - the author - left a comment on this blog. Her blog has been running for about the same length of time as mine and she writes some very well-researched, thought-provoking stuff about her endeavours to live a more simple life. One of the posts that particularly caught my eye is called Six years of change, where she examines a list of things she felt she couldn't live without six years ago to see whether they still hold true today. I've added Finding Simplicity to my typelist of Sites to Inform, Inspire and Delight if you'd like to catch up with Sharon yourself.
Reading Sharon's list prompted me to consider what might have been on my own list of things, that I felt were really vital to my life, as recently as twelve months ago. At that time any list of mine - had I written one - would have been bound to include 'retail therapy trips' and 'my credit card' in the top ten. Given that my family (including my dogs), a roof over my head and enough money to live on would have been on both lists, my new list would abandon the retail therapy and credit card and in their place would be 'our allotment' and 'time to do things properly'. Above both of these, though, would be 'colour'!
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that colour is such a vital ingredient in my life, given that this entire blog is such a visual feast of it. In fact, my appreciation of colour has developed further as a direct result of taking photographs for Being Creative. How the eye - and subsequently the brain - interprets colour depends on the changing light levels throughout the day and even the sun's changing position in the sky as we pass through the seasons. Depending upon when you photograph flowers, for instance - with their intoxicating combination of colour and scent - their brightness can scorch your retina at one extreme or look totally washed out at the other. My love of colour has become so profound, that I like to think that if I were cut in half, it would reveal a rainbow of colours running through my body, rather like the lettering in a stick of rock! I feel it has become part of the very fibre of my being.
One of the most wonderful things about colour - from the point of view of this blog - is that it is free to everyone who has the gift of sight; that is to say, almost all of us, yet it is a potential source of joy that is frequently overlooked. Our society encourages us to provide lots of bright and stimulating colours for babies and young children - just look at the colours of Playmobil - but similarly expects those children to abandon them in favour of more muted, serious tones as they become adults. Most of the paint and furnishing fabrics that are sold in this country are in subtle 'neutral' tones. I am going to stick my neck out here, though - like the child who announced the emperor to be devoid of clothing - and suggest that they are just dull. Where is the joy in waking up to a bedroom full of beige? My particular bete noir is magnolia. I imagine this is a highly popular shade, since all new buildings seem to be painted with it but for me, it's blend of pink, blue and yellow tones emulate the skin colour of someone who is very poorly indeed. How relaxing is that to live with?
My faith in both IKEA - through its catalogue - and Country Living magazine rose a notch this week after they both encouraged readers to embrace colour in their lives. IKEA's war cry of "Be brave not beige" mirrors my own maxim that 'life is too short for beige' and Suzy Smith has stuck her neck out -long overdue in my opinion - by writing, "Enough of quietly tasteful interiors and gardens: what everyone needs is an injection of colour to mark the last days of summer with a flourish". Here, here!!! To be honest, colour has only become so enjoyable to me, on a conscious level, in the last ten years. Before that I probably regarded it like most other people; nice in small doses but a minefield of possible expensive mistakes. Strangely, what changed my mind was going to work in a school. When I first started there, the library was a very small, under-used room which was painted in a shade which was possibly related to lilac but looked for all the world like something that had run in the wash. Everytime I came into the room my heart sank when I saw it. I persuaded the then head to let me re-paint it and selected a warm shade, the colour of vanilla ice cream. As the library increased in popularity I asked for, and was granted, a much bigger room at roughly the same time as the old head decided the whole school should be painted in the school colours of blue and yellow. Instead of primrose and navy, I bought turquoise for the walls and golden yellow for the noticeboards and painted it all myself. The room faced south and east and caught the sun for the entire day. The tranquility of the turquoise made for a most relaxing environment and even the Ofsted inspectors chose to write their reports in there in preference to the rooms they had been allocated!
Secondly, wherever I've lived and whatever I've been doing, I have always participated in fundraising of one kind or another and I gravitated towards this in my library role, playing an active part on the College Council. Quite early on in my time there, a Year 7 girl came to me and asked if we could raise money towards finding a cure for breast cancer, as her mum's best friend was suffering from the disease. Noting that pink was the colour chosen to represent the relevant charities, we held a Think Pink day throughout the school. I liked to play my part on such days and felt I should be suitably attired, though I had always associated pink with being an insipid shade knitted up for baby girls by doting grandmothers. Once I started wearing it - in several of it's many hues - I found it both suited my colouring and lifted my spirits. To the children - and my fellow staff - I became synonymous with pink!
One of the greatest influences on me - in terms of deepening my passion for colour - has undoubtedly been the work of the designer, Tricia Guild. She takes her inspiration from nature and as such combines colours that are traditionally seen as conflicting, such as blue with green or red with pink and orange. As she quite rightly - in my view - points out, there are no clashes in nature! Her only UK shop - on the King's Road in Chelsea - is a colourist's paradise and a joy to behold even if you don't buy anything. It does, however, sell fabrics, cushions, bedlinen, etc, of exceptional quality and their sales are legendary for their reductions, particularly towards the end of the sale period. Occasionally, some of it ends up in TK Maxx which saves you the expense of a rail ticket to London. The more frugal - or financially-challenged - amongst us can order her books from the library. I particularly recommend the titles Think Pink, which is about the power of colour to transform our environment and Private View, a collection of images and impressions that inspire her as a designer. While you're placing your library order, another book to whet your appetite for colour is The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket. Jane has a blog called Yarnstorm, which started out as a blog about knitting but soon encompassed other crafts as well as her love of baking and gardening. She also illustrates both the blog and her book with her own beautiful photographs. In addition to the wonderful colour there are a handful of recipes, one of which - Oaty Vanilla Biscuits - provides the perfect base for Nigel Slater's Strawberry Mascarpone Tart.
As I said earlier, I think a lot of people are scared of introducing colour into their lives for fear of making expensive mistakes.If you have never thought of yourself as someone who enjoys colour but would like to give it a whirl, try starting with a bunch of flowers - or even a single flower - in a shade that really appeals to you and keep looking at it now and again throughout the day to see how it makes you feel. Flowers are relatively cheap - or you can pick them from your garden, if you have one - and either way they don't last, so you won't have to live with something you hate. The next step is to replace things you use regularly - once they wear out - with a colourful version. This could be anything from a tea towel to a dog lead or even a 'bag for life' from the supermarket. One of the best and cheapest ways to enjoy colour is by sowing a packet of seeds or bulbs. If you don't have a garden you could grow them in pots on your windowsill. If you want to go the whole hog and start re-decorating, paint is one of the cheapest mediums and can easily be painted over if you dislike the result. Better still is to paint a piece of lining piper with a matchpot of your chosen shade to see if you still like it over the space of a few days.
Our own house faces south, so gets plenty of light throughout the day, while the back can be quite dark, especially in winter. To maximise the available light, all the walls are painted white and colour has been added with soft furnishings - such as the rug above - and certain pieces of woodwork, like the doors or our kitchen cupboards. The impact that colour has on us will be different for everyone and discovering your own favourite combinations can be exciting in itself. Some time ago I banished black from my wardrobe, as even in the summer months it makes me look pale and drawn. Instead, I've discovered that both of my favourite colours to wear - most pinks and turquoise blue - combine much better with shades of brown, from caramel to chocolate. So I urge everyone who reads this - at a time of year when nature is at her most bold and brilliant - to embrace a little colour in your lives. As Tricia Guild so aptly states, "One of the joys of developing your sensitivity to colour is that every day offers an opportunity to savour the satisfaction of what colour can do; a shaft of sunlight illuminating the petals of a rose; the dusty sheen of black grapes on a blue ceramic plate. And life is always the richer for such moments."
I used to have this quotation pinned to the library wall where I worked. I remember coming across it once in a catalogue of children's books and thinking how much it stressed the potential that libraries have to offer. Indeed, there really is nowhere like them, with their opportunities to sample every topic imaginable, free of charge, and they are a godsend to those living on a limited budget. On so many occasions I have come across books that have been recommended in magazines, or other books, and have subsequently been able to get hold of them through our county library service. I find the online catalogue particularly valuable, as I can search by keyword as well, so if I'm after books on breadmaking, as I was quite recently, I can look through everything they have on the subject, held in all the public libraries across Lincolnshire. To help me decide which titles will be most useful on any subject, I have the Amazon web page open simultaneously so that I can read other people's reviews and see how they've rated each title. It costs 25p to reserve a book from the online catalogue which, considering some of the books cost £25.00 to buy, counts as an incredible bargain in my book (excuse the pun)! Of course you only have the book on loan for a limited period but I think the beauty of this is that you are much more likely to read it, knowing there is a time limit, than if you actually bought the book and could read it whenever. The book then goes back to the library - rather than taking up space on your bookshelf - for other people to borrow which is, I suppose, the ultimate in recycling. I borrow all my fiction from the library but will often borrow non-fiction titles, prior to buying them, to see if I think I'll get the use out of them. Amazon's 'used and new' listings can often be a source of good buys here, as can Munn Books. They are both worth checking on a regular basis as their stock changes all the time.
It's hard to believe that public libraries, in this country, have only been around since the mid-nineteenth century, following the Public Libraries Act of 1850. Even then, they were restricted to larger towns and the amount of money that could be added to the rates to pay for them was capped. It was not until a further Public Libraries Act of 1919, that the foundations were laid for the public library service we have today. Our own town library, shown above, was opened in 1905, the year my grandfather was born. When I was little, the twin joys of a trip to the library were the coloured wooden chairs and picture book boxes in the children's library and being able to 'skate' up and down on the slippery floor of the foyer! Until I was a teenager, it still had it's original reading rooms with long wooden tables and shelves of encyclopedias. Given that I am such a frequent visitor - and having liaised with them through my former job - I have become good friends with many of the staff there. They very kindly bring me their empty jam jars to recycle and in turn I 'test' my new baking recipes on them now and again. When I ran my school library, I was always encouraging pupils to join the public one to give them access to a wider range of books than one school library was able to provide. I suppose I had my ideal job, in many ways; taking such an enormous joy in books and reading myself, it was very rewarding to pass that enthusiasm on to my pupils. When they first started at the school, I always pointed out to them just how frequently I visited the town library to fuel my own passion for books. Judging by their shy smiles and greetings when I bumped into them there, I'm not entirely sure that they thought I'd been telling the truth!
2008 is the National Year of Reading and events are being held up and down the country to celebrate. Though books are at the centre of this, all reading 'counts, apparently, even reading blogs like this one, so you can pat yourself on the back if you've read this far for having participated. The year is divided into monthly themes and December's includes blogs, so I must get plenty of posts planned for then! Of course, libraries are not just for books. Ours has free computer access, CD's and DVD's to hire - at a cheaper rate than local hire shops - photocopying at 5p per sheet and noticeboards full of posters and cards promoting local events and services. You can even read the daily and weekly papers for free! Appointments can also be made to view their collection of historical documentation on the town, including old maps and postcards. In fact the more I write here, the more I realise - like most of us - that I could make much more use of our library than I do. My current borrowings seem to reflect my current interest in food and cooking, with a smattering of gardening, green living and fiction thrown in for variety. Just at the moment, though, they are having to compete for my attention with the growing amount of bounty that needs harvesting and storing from the allotment. It's as well really that I have all those recipe books from the library at the ready! News and recipes from the 'soft fruit glut' coming soon!!!