Sunday, 23 August 2009

Small is Beautiful : The Ashes

Is this the smallest sporting trophy in the world?

Victorious England captain Andrew Strauss holding a replica of the precious urn today. The Ashes is a Test cricket series played between England and Australia. It is one of international cricket's most celebrated rivalries and dates back to 1882. It is currently played biennially, alternately in Australia and England. Don't ask me to explain the intricacies of Test match rules to my American pals (or even to some of my British ones) save to say that one match will last up to 5 days and may often end in a draw, sometimes occasioned by the intervention of rain.

The term 'Ashes' was first used after England lost to Australia - for the first time on home soil - at The Oval on 29th August 1882. A day later, the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary to English cricket which concluded that: "The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". The concept caught the imagination of the sporting public. A few weeks later, an English team, captained by the Hon Ivo Bligh [later Lord Darnley], set off to tour Australia, with Bligh vowing to return with "the ashes"; his Australian counterpart, WL Murdoch, similarly vowed to defend them.

The velvet bag that originally held the urn

During that tour, Bligh and his players participated in a social match where he was presented
with the small terracotta urn as a symbol of the ashes that he had travelled to Australia to regain. I was disappointed to find that it is only a myth that it contains the burnt remains of the bails that sit across the stumps forming the wicket. Well, to Bligh the urn was a personal gift and it stayed on his mantelpiece at Cobham Hall near Rochester, Kent until he died 43 years later. Then at his request it was bequeathed to the home of English cricket the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) and came to rest in their museum at the famous Lords ground.

In the 1990s, recognising the two teams' desire to compete for an actual trophy, MCC commissioned an urn-shaped Waterford Crystal trophy.

The new Waterford trophy dwarfs the original

Acknowledgments: Wikipedia and Lords

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Esther Williams Does It For Me

When I reached a particular decade birthday, this was my wish - to be filmed swimming underwater in a sarong with a knife between my teeth. I could play the video on the tv instead of having a fish tank long into my old age.

I realised later that this insistent image of myself originated from the GIRL comic I loved as a kid. It was the one about the pearl diver who rescued the man with his foot stuck in a giant clam. Ok, so I'd leave out the heroics from my own film but, miserably enough, we never got round to making it. (Local swimming pool no good; South Seas good. South Seas out of the question.)

Imagine my joy when I discovered this medley of Esther Williams watery feats of grace and daring. It is all my fantasies rolled into one. For it, I must thank the deliciously eclectic blog Uma foca em Galápagos(click) with whom I share a love of glamorous vintage bathing costumes(click).

[Does anyone have the same problem/know why links don't show up in a different colour? For me, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't]

Friday, 21 August 2009

Air de Fête

Marie Daage Decoration - Creation sur Porcelaine Paris makes my pulse quicken. Many generations of the Daage family were painters of fine Limoges porcelain and Marie studied at the Louvre. Her heritage and education emerge in her ability to mix the traditional and the chic with great distinction. The sublime colour palettes, the circus stripes, the illustrative lightness of touch all give the work, in Marie Daage's own words, an air de fête

Drifting through her beautiful website in a kind of reverie, it occurred to me that you really should be properly dressed to appreciate these gorgeous things...

Look at her achingly beautiful colour chart with names like coq de roch, absinthe, vert flamboyant, mandarine and bleu ardoise.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Smidgens of Family Wisdom

Last summer we were in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and were introduced to Ferrell and Becky Shuford by our amazing hosts, Hugh and Bambi MacRae. As we spent most of the holiday swimming, it was a treat to be invited for a sail on the Shuford’s yacht. Hugh had told me that he wasn’t sure how old Becky was but she seemed extraordinarily youthful and this I can confirm. She is also very pretty. (Ferrell, you’re not so bad yourself!)
[Photo by Freda]

As I relaxed in the cockpit with the sun on my face and the salt breeze in my hair, Becky was all over the boat trimming the sails, keeping us ship shape. The Shufords spent many years ocean racing and she was a formidable foredeck hand.

Now as a grandmother, Becky has looked back over a fulfilling family life and pulled together a number of threads that are important to her in Smidgens – Bits & Pieces of a Southern Family’s Life. I have just received my copy.

Woven into anecdotes from her life is her gentle faith-based philosophy, advice on a happy marriage (‘share domestic tasks’), bringing up children, running a household and, most importantly, her love of entertaining.

Isn’t this picture great of her as a newly wed/novice cook and I love the anecdote about inviting her brother and his wife for an evening meal. Working full-time as a teacher she decided on a simple supper of her mother’s wonderful vichyssoise, hot herb bread and, wait for it, prune cake. Becky only found out years later why her brother turned down a second helping of soup. He was waiting for the entrée. It made them both laugh.

Since then her entertaining became more varied, more appropriate to family high days and holidays and more sophisticated.

Her formal table setting

I have been drooling over the good old-fashioned recipes and there are dozens of them. But let’s have that Vichyssoise:

4 leeks or 1 ½ cup chopped onion
3 cups peeled chopped potatoes
3 cups strained chicken stock or 3 bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups water
3 tablespoons Chicken fat, butter or margarine
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 tsp salt
About 1 tsp white pepper

Chop washed leeks and about 3 inches of their green tops into small pieces. Boil leeks and potatoes in stock from which fat has been skimmed until very tender (about 40 mins). Without draining, blend until smooth. Add fat, cream, milk, salt and pepper. Reheat in top of double boiler to blend flavors.

Vichyssoise should be thicker than the average cream soup and served thoroughly chilled, garnished with minced chives. In winter you may choose to serve hot, garnished with paprika.
Serves 6

One of the reasons I love the book's cover is the washing line! Since I don't own a tumble drier it gladdens my heart to see a line full of clothes billowing in the wind. It also appeals to my inner Mrs. Tiggywinkle: I mostly love doing the laundry. It is about my only domestic accomplishment. For that reason I was ecstatic that in her chapter on ironing, Becky described the production of a fragrant, pressed masterpiece of a shirt on a hanger. It had been washed, liquid starched (yes!) line dried, sprinkled with water and then rolled into a ball to allow an even dampness for pressing. Yes, again! Call me old-fashioned but that's how I do it (when I'm in the mood).

Smidgens is privately published and edited by Ferrell Shuford MD who admits that helping his wife put this book together has been one of the greatest sources of pleasure since his retirement.
To order a copy for $25 (including shipping in the USA) contact Boatshu Publisher, 2602 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, NC 28403-4037

Sunday, 16 August 2009


All images © Rosie West

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Drink du jour chez moi

A glug of dark rum, the juice of a whole lime*, ice cubes and fiery ginger beer. Or ginger ale perhaps. Oh yes, and fresh mint.
For some reason this is known in our house as a Virgin's Thighs even though there aren't any round here.

* that's for quite a big glass. I admit it.
Picture by © Me

Taking the Liberty: Grayson Perry fabric

Dropped into one of London's most distinguished shops yesterday.
Liberty is a refined independently-minded department store on Regent Street, born out of the Arts & Crafts movement. Tana lawn, a finely woven but crisp cotton dress fabric, is Liberty's most iconic product loved by many generations. Here are some familiar designs from the Liberty archive. Remember that they are scaled for a little dress or a man's tie.

Betsy created in 1933

Wiltshire 1933

Phoebe 1966

Thorpe 1968

Ideal for children's clothes and big girls' blouses ha, I mean for men and women, crafts people, quilt makers.. it's quite simply divine.

Imagine my surprise and delight to find that they have commissioned designs by Grayson Perry in a new promotion called Prints Charming. He is joined by other renowned artists and designers and you can see the products on the Liberty website (Click here).

I like the way Perry subverts the traditional innocence of Liberty print

I had to buy the minimum 30cm of each fabric to show you. The colour isn't quite right here; think more greeny yellow and a warmer blue. The 'conversation' of this print is an apocalyptic landscape of a polluted world inhabited by our children. A grim fairytale indeed.

Both designs come in at least four colourways and retail at around £19 a metre.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Transvestite Artist and The Harley Salesman

At a party near The British Museum last night. Someone asked artist Grayson Perry(en homme in white trousers) about the motor bike embroidered on his t-shirt. This prompted him to tell a good story about the US Ambassador's 4th July party last year. I remember him looking deliciously out of place on the crowded lawn of Winfield House in a girl's satin party dress, frilly white socks and white mary janes.

Perry told us, delightedly, that he met the head of Harley Davidson distribution (Europe) who was totally baffled to find himself discussing the merits of their very latest model with this outrageously infantile transvestite. We don't think the Harley man was aware that Grayson Perry wore a similar outfit the night he won the prestigious Turner prize for contemporary art in 2003.

He has said that the art world was more shocked by his pottery (usually demoted to 'craft' ) than by his dressing up.

The pots are rich with imageryfull of stylistic and cultural references. His is a dystopic vision: a kind of obsessive teenage compulsion with the perverse, the unspeakable and the insistent concerns (by his own admission) of an angry working class man who was excited by the idea of subverting night-school pottery classes .

Two Children Born on the Same Day
1996, Earthenware
42 x 30 x 30 cm


G P's textile works are sometimes overlooked. I find these more compelling than the earthenware. Well, his very dressing-up is a textile narrative about gender identity, repression and the right to self-expression. But look closely at the detail of those nursery-style dresses and you will find a perverse iconography.


Grayson Perry, like many transvetite men, is married. His wife Phil is a psychotherapist and his daughter Florence is entirely at ease with her father's alter ego Claire. His 'autobiography' Portrait of The Artist as a Young Girl (written by Wendy Jones) is frank, direct, charming.
Rather like G P here talking to camera. Brilliant.

courtesy Telegraph Online

Back to the Harley Davidson. This suit of leathers was a present from his wife. GP designed it himself, inspired by the Cerne Giant hill carving.

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