Monthly Archives: March 2015

Magical Walnut Mini Worlds


Some people look at Walnuts and think Christmas, a loaf cake or Floridian pensioners who have failed to apply effective sunscreen protection. Ruth Brickland looks at them and sees magical mini-worlds. I want to be part of Ruth’s world.
Ruth is a a potter, embroiderer and creative curator. Working in ceramics, textiles and mixed-media, she creates a variety of artworks including these magical walnut miniatures. She says: “The walnuts are tiny worlds within a nutshell.They contain figures depicting characters or stories, real and fictional, that are in someway special to me. I like to think that they move around when my back is turned. Sometimes it seems that if you peered into a walnut for too long you might walk into it.”

How utterly delightful. Ruth describes herself as a magpie, who loves both folk art as well as being inspired by extravagant works of art including Renaissance, Baroque or Victorian Naturalistic silver and gold works of art. I suppose this is why her walnuts are so unexpected, unique and evocative. I did a double take when also reading that she particularly loves to sketch Victorian Staffordshire ceramics. I am really beginning to think that I have unlocked a crucial evolutionary bond that will lead me to people I will like. We need to form a “Mutual Victorian Staffordshire Pottery Appreciation Society.” Obviously with crowd control.

Ruth says that she is inspired by folk art, where perhaps slightly unexpected, but readily available materials, are used with unusual results. This is exactly what the Staffordshire potters were doing in the Victorian period. The Staffordshire hounds, or Wally dogs, bit of an obsession for me (see previous posts including Bring Back the Staffordshire Hound) were often decorated by workers, that included children, using fairly primitive materials such as sand and rock. Ruth uses sand, glittered sand, shells and dried moss amongst other materials to decorate her mini-worlds.
I think that part of the charm of these Walnuts is that they make me feel like a child again. They remind me of the smell of powdery rose scent, the charm of little objects and the joy of hiding things in the garden.
Ruth says: “The idea that magical things can happen in secret, amidst our real world is one of the main reasons that I am drawn to puppets, snow domes, nativities, dolls houses and ships in bottles. They seem to have the  potential to animate themselves. It is from my desire to create magical worlds on a tiny scale that the walnuts arose.”

See her work at

My voyage of discovery to Ruth came about when I found a stash of old ‘World of Interior’ magazines in a local charity shop. I never quite know when the conditions will be right, but when that evening comes, I pour myself a glass of red wine, in a beautifully heavy old Italian glass goblet, light a real log fire and explore these interior treasure troves. Whilst absorbing the grandeur and glory of inspiring homes, I also wonder about the provenance of these magazines and imagine that whoever they came from they inhabited a very special interior. I wonder how they came to be in the charity shop. Death is the most obvious answer, or more prosaically a good clear-out. But I like to wonder if perhaps a doomed love affair led to a dramatic departure from the delightful environs of Muswell Hill, and the original owner can now be found in the outer perimeter of the Peruvian Cordillera Huayhuash, blowing engraved glass cameos with a band of artisan sheep-shit creatives. After all, life is there for the taking.


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Mum mates


This is an ode to the joy that is my fabulous mum friends. My fellow pram-pushers, nose-wipers, burp-bringer-uppers. I have got to know these incredible women over the past six years, ever since my firstborn started nursery, and they are a constant source of joy, inspiration, compassion and laughter. I feel incredibly lucky that I can make friends like this amidst the madness of modern motherhood.
Gate mates, mum mates, mum friends, whatever you call them, these are the people that can act like a lifeline in the constantly changing demands of life and new parenthood. In a few snatched minutes of the morning and afternoon, they are often the people who can become most acquainted with events in your life.
This relationship can be a slow burn, but close your eyes and six years have passed and these are the friends who have shared seminal moments of your life.
From a new haircut, cancer scares and house moves to child ailments, pre-birth wax arrangements, parental bereavement, redundancy and homework, to vasectomy timing, depression and what constitutes a decent Cesar salad. Together we can deal with all of this and more.
Topics we have discussed include do pubes go grey? When is the best time and how do you tell your children the facts of life? Catchment areas for schools!!! How to juggle a career and parenthood? The merits of a gamine haircut.
Contrary to the myth that seems to pitch stay-at-home mums against working mums, I have never found this to be an obstacle to friendship. I just want up-for-a-laugh mum, tell-it-how-it-is mum and I-trust-you-with-my-child-and-therefore-my-life-mum.
In many ways it does feel a bit funny making new friends at this stage of your life. Probably the last time you experienced this kind of social pressure/experimentation was when you were a child yourself in the school playground or maybe at university. It can feel quite daunting entering a playground where you know no one and playdates can feel like mini dates for the adults too.
But in many ways this is a great time in your life to make friends. By your thirties you have hopefully worked out your style, taste in music and basic moral compass. You have shed a lot of youthful bullshit and appreciate time spent with good people. I love that my Mum is still making friends in her sixties.
Inspired by my daughter’s recent homework I have written a Kennings poem, rather than an ode, for my fabulous mum mates. A Kennings poem is a riddle made up of several lines of kennings to describe something or someone.

Joy creators
Cheer leaders
Belly laughers
Truth tellers
Solace providers
Sense sharers
Compassion givers
Tosser spotters
Party makers
Drink pourers
Idea suppliers
Blog subscribers
Hug squeezers
Giggle inducers
Boob squashers
Ear benders
Constructive critics
Fashion stylers
Interior admirers
Mood enhancers
Kid sitters
Ailment advisors
Plaster donators
Secret conferrers
My saviours

NB It sounds like I am ignoring my very dear childhood friends, school friends and university friends, but they are sensible enough to know that a Kennings ditty is also due to them. Now there’s something to look forward to…

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Parent/ teacher relations. NB no micro shorts allowed


I vividly remember one parent teacher evening watching the startled expression of the young form mistress as a Dad arrived. Resplendent in micro cycling shorts, he sat himself down in one of the kids mini-chairs, pulled his knees up to his chin, and gave her a frankly biologically detailed view of the physiology of his knackers. How she managed to remain focused on phonics amazes me, but the lady deserved a medal. Navigating parent/teacher evenings, and that communication with your children’s teachers, is one of the many new relationships that parenthood springs upon you.
If you are not part of the teaching profession then, like me, the last time you interacted with this crowd was probably when you were wearing big gym knickers and knee high socks.
I find myself sort of regressing in the face of these memories. Despite the fact that you revisit this relationship a fully-formed adult, with a lifetimes of experiences and knowledge, the undeniable thought persists. That teachers are not human. When I bumped into some my children’s teachers in the pub I was a painful mix of mortified and weirdly over-excited. When I saw the deputy head in the supermarket I adopted a sort of Cold War spy-style crouching manoeuvre behind some lemons and then, when spotted, became incoherently implausible as to why I was head-butting lemons.
When a new head introduced the practice of addressing teachers by their first names the playground rang loud with grown-up sniggers as we battled to call Mr Anderson- Mark with a straight face.
I can only imagine the staffroom conversations centring around why ‘so many middle-aged women were behaving like giggling teenage morons.’
Equally at the other end of the scale I found myself adopting Victorian-era patois when attempting to discuss a new boyfriend with one female teacher, who was at most seven years younger than me.
“How lovely. And you long have you been courting this young man” I found myself asking, in my best impression of a Bronte sister on an uptight day.
There is also the obstacle course that is teacher gift giving. Our current primary school parent teacher association asks for one annual donation from parents. This covers all teacher gifts, a total bargain at £25/year. It completely removes the strain of trying to be thoughtful, creative and impressive with £10. The alternative, which is what we did at their first primary school, is to go it alone or club together with other parents.
General good bets are John Lewis vouchers, a book, bottle of wine or flowers. Not wildly original but generally acceptable.
Be careful if you go off-piste. I remember the snort of derision from one (very wise) mum when she overheard a group of us discussing the etiquette of buying one young teacher a T-shirt and socks for Christmas. “Socks are practically pants. It’s just not acceptable,” she said emphatically.

If you think all this fuss is absurd be grateful that you are not in the the private sector. One local private primary school’s head had to step in, as once again competitive parents, raised the bar on teacher gift giving just a notch too high. In particular she referenced the gifting of a Chanel 2.55 handbag, RRP £2,500, that was closely followed by another family offering a teacher return tickets and a two week stay in the family villa in the Caribbean.
It is important to to form a decent relationship with these people that have such an important, influential and hopefully positive impact on your young children’s lives. But no good teacher can be bought. They just want them in school on time, potty trained with an aptitude to learn. Chanel- always a bonus. Perhaps a nail varnish next time.

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Controlled courting


“Now that is the perfect sofa for four people who don’t get on” quipped my hilarious older brother, on spying the Victorian magnificence that has recently graced our living room.

He was referring to the new joy in my life that is my conversation sofa.
I discovered that this little beauty is officially known as a borne. This is defined as a round or oval ottoman or sofa, often with a tall cylindrical back support. It first appeared around the 1850’s during the reign of Napoleon III. These seats were popular because they created a visual spectacle and allowed several people to sit around and chat. The borne was widely used in grand foyers by the Victorians and often had a flat shelf on it’s back to support a large urn for flowers or greenery.

I have been on a quest for one of these for donkeys, although they tend to come up for sale rarely and then at Bonhams’ auction house for many thousands of pounds. This fetchingly faded pink number was, as I told my husband, an absolute bargain on ebay. And that is all he needs to know.

Here are some others. I just love them. They are pleasingly curvaceous, squishy and decorative. Wonder what that reminds me of….

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My conversation seat is actually composed of four separate seats that easily come apart, perfect if I am having a little soiree that requires extra seats. Posh or what.
Next up on my wish list is a Victorian love-seat, known also as a courting bench, kissing bench or tete-a-tete seat.

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What these chaps have in common is that they typically have an S-shaped backrest, resulting in two opposite facing seats with a shared armrest between them. In the era of Victorian prudence this was considered very fashionable and practical, allowing couples to sit closely, face-to-face, whilst keeping a modest barrier between them. Controlled courting at its best. Better ship one in before the kids hit their teens.

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Chickenpox, nits and worms in school

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The email that induces a rush of endorphins for the weekend festivities. Yum.

Norovirus, we are ready to embrace you.

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A pretty thing in every corner

IMG_0938 As a very lovely friend sat sipping a glass of wine in my living room the other day, she paused to say: “I’m really sorry. It’s like I have a nervous tic or something but I can’t stop looking around. My eyes are just constantly on the move. It’s like Aladdin’s cave. There are just ‘things’ everywhere.” IMG_0928 It is true. I am one of life’s hoarders. Thinking back to my childhood I realised that my obsession with collecting things, displaying unusual objects and revelling in a retail experience, actually started when I was still quite young. I think that I was heavily influenced by my mum’s love of antiques. Ingrained on my memory are childhood holidays driving through France with my mum shrieking at my Dad to stop at every church and every antique shop we came across. (That and the car stereo alternating between the Archers omnibus and Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album.) While I didn’t embrace the religious habit, the retail habit hit home. I imagine this was why I took to running an antique shop from my bedroom for a number of years, from the ages of perhaps five to 11-years-old. I had a black binder folder where I would collate information on each of the objects in my possession and had a price list. I would always allow for a little manoeuvrability on price. Some of the ‘cabbage patch’ crowd were hard bargainers. I still have the antique till where I used to amass the days takings. It now acts as a spice draw. IMG_0921 I love to dot my house with objects that I collect in a haphazard fashion in life. There is no particular rational for the choices, I just have to love looking at them. As the Rosie Brown song goes, “a pretty thing in every corner.” IMG_0941 I think a home needs these random trinkets. They add layers of personality and interest to a room. You probably have more than you think already. A lot of it comes down to the art of display. Choose things you love and think about how you present them. In groupings odd numbers work well, three’s and five’s. To stop it looking like a jumbled mess use some cohesion to marry things together. Group by colour, vintage or usage. Happy collecting. IMG_0923 IMG_0936 IMG_0924

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