Unsuitable Girl

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  1. Getting over the South East!

    We moved away from our family home in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, on 2nd September, and after three weeks of discombobulation of varying degrees, the dust is beginning to settle and the wide skies and landscapes of Staffordshire are gradually  soothing our ruffled feathers.

    One huge difference is the friendliness on all sides of whomever happens to cross our path, when out for walks. The eyes looking at the ground habit doesn’t exist here! Most folk will engage and chat and it feels so warm. Sometimes, in the evening, Jean, down the road, will be out pruning her shrubs. We stop and chat for at least twenty minutes, and end up laughing. And she’s offering some teasels as a house warming present when we eventually have a home again!

    Small families out walking in nearby Shugborough Estate smile and see us, as opposed to our invisibility down south. 

    And who knew that Staffordshire was stuffed to the gunnels with interesting places, wild life sanctuaries, intriguing industrial histories, and has kept its character, holding on to its architectural identity from way back, and even now the next annual Staffordshire Cycling Festival, the fourth, is being planned! See www.ridestaffs.co.uk and their FB page Ridestaffs.

    We visited the new Wedgwood Museum, opened six weeks ago, where we did the factory tour and saw artisans throwing pots, painting gold lines on edges of spoons and plates, marveled at the ingenuity of the technology of a tunnel furnace, presses, moulds, learned potteries words like fettling, sponging, biscuit firing,  took delicate tea from bone china cups in the Tea Emporium, along with warm scones,  and on another visit, went into the Josiah Wedgwood story all meticulously curated. 

    The man was a remarkable human being. He was a visionary entrepreneur. The youngest of twelve siblings, he was born into a potter’s family. He did his apprenticeship in the potteries. He saw the potential for bettering bone china, and set about improving everything. Faced with the problem of deeply muddy roads, impassable in winter and probably not much better in a wet summer, he turned to developing a canal system to distribute his wares. Meanwhile he experimented, meticulously noting each color, each batch he tried, developing the now world famous Jasper ware. His china products were taken up by the Royals. Fashion and the rising middle classes did the rest. 

    His fortitude in the face of difficulties was immense. His knee gave him much pain, due to having had smallpox as a youngster. He decided in later life to have his leg amputated, without anaesthetic and at great risk of death from infection. He survived and even went on to have a wooden leg made for him. 

    Perhaps the most telling aspect of Josiah’s character was his vociferous campaigning against slavery. He had medallions struck showing African people in chains, and he published pamphlets arguing that Africans were people like us and that slavery was utterly wrong. It seems like an eighteenth century change.org campaign, with the badges becoming a fashionable item to wear and thus spreading the message among the chattering classes. 

    All this story is set out among a beautifully curated collection of the wares of Wedgwood from the eighteenth century to the present day. History interwoven with artisanship, art, entrepreneurial vision and the social changes for the workers lucky enough to work in Wedgewood’s factories.

    I do urge anyone passing through Staffordshire to stop off at Barlaston. As the website says, it is an exceptional day out. Go to www.wedgewoodmuseum.org.uk to get directions. The food is very good too! The staff are lovely, chatty, helpful and all possessed of that Staffordshire quiet humour. 

    And don’t miss the  Tea Emporium, where you can taste delicate teas, then have an elegant sit down, to sip from bone china cups, eat wickedly pretty cake, and contemplate the wondrous story of Josiah Wedgwood. 

     

  2. Forty three years living in a house  collects trailing ribbons of attachments and roots which hold deep.

    The babies, Melissa and Magnus, lay out in the pram, at the front, to catch the sun in springtime and shade at the back of the house in high summer.  They staggered around delving in heaps of sand, blowing bubbles on the doorstep, tiny Melissa daubing paints on her easel at the front door while I watched, Magnus already  gestating happily.  Many sunflowers have been  planted, watered and grown, the seed heads to be fed to the sparrows and finches. Many iterations of tadpoles in the old baby bath were watched, with  frogs hopping out to the garden eventually. The buddleias had myriad fluttering butterfly attendants, watched in wonder by Melissa and Magnus, Clive and Adrian, the boys next door. Painted Ladies came to rest on the baking concrete in late summer, then flying  to the buddleia, or the verbena, or the cuckoo flowers in the grass.

    My parents came  here to help us settle in, Grandpa hefting loads of soil … from the bottom of the long  back garden up to the front, to plant the hedge with Pratap. He presented me with a tiny seedling Yew tree, all of three inches tall, back in 1973. I can see him now on that  doorstep, seedling cradled on his strong capable hands.  That is now my oldest Bonsai tree, forty two years old now, and is a tangible link to my Father. And that act by my father, eventually has ended in my absorption into the art of bonsai. I now have a collection of nineteen trees, mostly from the garden or bonsai workshop purchases, all on display  around our marvelous  terrace.

    The study I’m sitting in was the baby room, with sunny yellow ceiling and curtains, sewn by Pratap,  with grey and white puppies, flowers, butterflies. Then the cot was replaced by bunk beds for the two of them, made by their Daddy, helped by Grandpa. All this house is all our life together as a little family. That is the magnet, the pull and the emotional pain at the notion of letting it go. Triumphs and ills, sadnesses and joys, all the ups and downs of life happened here.

    Hours of practicing tennis shots against Anna and Alan’s  garage wall, hours of piano practice, flute practice , drum practice, marimba practice, homework, baking, birthdays, blowing out of candles, digging of the front pond, deep in mud! Camping out, a den in the hedge, digging vegetable patches and rolling in mountainous heaps of dry golden oak leaves from the venerable old oak which came down in the Great Storm of 1987. It stretched right over the whole width of the garden. Seeing it keel over that autumn  morning, while we were getting ready for work, was like seeing a friend die. We were all sad.

    The white lilac tree, perfumed and  magical in April and May, a present when I left my school to have Melissa. How can I leave that? The magnificent tree paeonies, in June, with their huge blowsy  flowers and elegant leaves, pull me to stay, not to leave them. The amelanchier tree, right now covered in pale pink blossom, and its coppery leaves already showing, is so pretty against the dark backdrop of the purple Cotinus (Smoke Bush). And the cream and pink hellebores in the winter border with the bees busy in them in spring. To sit under the clematis clad pergola Pratap built, sipping a glass of wine, watching the dragonflies patrol back and forth across the pond, the blackbirds splashing about in the shallows, bathing, is the very essence of good life, well earned, restful and happy.

    We arrived at this place, a young couple, in our thirties, excited to have a lovely house and a big garden just right for children, when they arrived. Now we are more than twice the age we were then!

    Time presses ever on, and life has its own dance to dance. We must follow as best we can, dancing along, keeping up and enjoying every day. Life goes on, grows on, we mature, generations succeed and we all come together again towards the end, hopefully wiser and better than when we began. And still dancing!

 


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