Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Tale of Ma Baggs

Every tale is a fusion of fact with fiction and this one is no different.
Where the seams are....I leave you to decide.
How to start the story of Ma Baggs......what to leave in.... and what to leave out.....that's the conundrum.
 To begin at the beginning would be to start with a tragic tale of three sisters.
All of them beautiful.
One a musician.
One an artist.
And one a quiet rebel.
 Tragic because only  one of them lived passed the age of 18. 
So, let's not start there.
Instead we could try and start with Ma's first days in The Valley of Imaginings but, nobody, least of all Ma, remembers exactly when that was.
Was it before she was fired at by machine guns on a beach in the war? 
Or after?
Nobody is even sure of Ma's age.
How many birthdays? 
No one remembers?
That they were all celebrated  with trifle rather than cake....that is remembered by all. 
 
Ma is fond of telling folk that she is as old as her heart and a little older than her teeth.
She's helpful like that.
 The comforts of Ma Baggs' home and her warm hospitality are legendary in the valley so let's start there, with her house.
Real or imagined it comforts me still.
Among all the red roof tops and the red doors, Ma's house stands apart with its soft yellow, paintwork.
It is no less crooked  than all the others but inside all is in fragrant order, tended to, as it is, every weekday morning, with a set routine by which others might set their clocks.
On Modays a warm wind obligingly blows the washing dry and wafts the scent of soap suds and boiled linens the length of the valley.
Any Monday visitors might be gently coerced into winding sheets through the mangle or folding the laundry off the line ready for the iron.
Ma is very particular about laundry folding. She once told Violette that she was very good at folding things and the warmth of Ma's praise has never been forgotten.
Any helper on Mondays is always fuelled by spiced rock buns and a steaming mug of tea.
Tuesdays are always marked by the pleasing, fresh smell of lavender and beeswax when well-loved furniture is vigorously polished and rugs are hung over the washing line and spanked  with a tennis racket to relieve them of their dust. It's harder to catch Ma on these days as she dances from room to room singing lustily,if a little tunelessly,  at the top of her voice.
But if you time it right,at elevenses,  you will find her in the rocking chair by the aga, feet up on the dog. And she will share the contents of her teapot and her cake tin with anyone who drops in.
By Wednesday the house is looking spic and span and it is the smell of loosened earth and sweet cut grass or freshly cut flowers and herbs that filter into the air.
Ma tends her garden with nothing like tenderness but with infectious enthusiasm and skill. Her capable hands prune and plant and jab cuttings into compost and all things thrive.


Back in the kitchen on Thursday. Appetising smells .....often a rich and hearty stew....always sweet treats....tempt folk from far and wide.
Then on Friday, or happy cat day, as Ma calls it, some quiet mending followed by fish for lunch. Miraculously it is the aromatic tang of parsley and lemon that linger long after the cat has licked his bowl clean.
 
So, we could start with all these sacred rituals and routines. 
In fact we could end it there in all those cosy, comforting corners that were the foundations for  my sunlit childhood.
But.....really....the part of the story that wants to be told belongs to the afternoons.
 

After the lunchtime washing up is done, and dried, and put away, the apron is hung on the back of the kitchen door and Ma changes into a pretty floral dress, applies a dab of rouge and follows whichever intuition has been brewing that day.  Sometimes she sits in her parlour and waits for a visitor to arrive. She knows that someone, somewhere will be wending their weary way to her door in search of solace or wisdom or both.
 
Or she will know that somebody, somewhere needs to be comforted, cosseted or cheered but hasn't the sense to seek it out for themselves. Then she will don the appropriate outerwear......fur boots and wool coat in winter, headscarf if there is wind .....straw hat and lace gloves in summer..... and set off to dispense just the right amount of loving kindness in exactly the right place.
One afternoon just such as these, Ma was struggling with a feeling that had been rising all morning like sap in a spring tree.
As the feeling  pressed upon her she pressed back with conscious thoughts of all those in the valley who might need her help. All the reasons why she should not give in.
But as she sat back in her armchair in her afternoon dress and pearls she knew that she had a to obey the calling.
Swiftly, she swapped her summer sandals with their sturdy criss- crossing straps for her leather gardening boots and tied her paisley headscarf closely to her curls .Next she retrieved a large brass key from the hook by the door . Out in her garden she followed the winding path 
between the jumble of all things beautiful, 
medicinal 
and edible to the shed at the bottom, 
by the pond where 
the talking frog sat upon his lily pad.
 A turn of the key and the shed door creaked open. 
Ma's eyes peering from her elderly, wrinkled face were the eyes of a child,  lit with mischief and delight. She gazed passed the disturbed dust mites dancing in the sun to the  black beauty inside.

Soon the drone of the garden insects and the twittering chatter of birds was drowned out by the rumbling sound of a powerful motorbike engine. Sitting astride the beast Ma looked every inch the free spirit that she was.
For just an hour she rode through the valley, passing every house with a wave of greeting to everyone that she saw.
 Oblivious to the raised eyebrows and open mouths.
Once or twice she pulled a wheely! 
Just for fun.
Remember it is for you to decide where the seams between fact and fiction lie!
Always she drove faster than was wise,  leaning over the handlebars squealing with glee.
Then  finally back home for afternoon tea of sandwiches, filled with condensed milk and strawberry jam, followed by a nice slab of  fruit  cake.
Her cheeks  aglow and not a hair out of place, with the cat sat purring on her lap Ma would consider it a very good afternoon indeed.

 




Sunday, 29 January 2017

Trifle. The Baggs-Davidson version.

Yesterday I set out to make good on two promises.
The first promise being to share my recipe for trifle.
And the second.... telling the story of Ma Baggs, trifle maker extraordinaire.
The two things are very tightly bound together. With multiple strands of significance and meaning.
And there you were thinking it was just a desert and a fictional character. 

But before I share family secrets with you let me rewind to the beginning of the week.

 


That's where and when I had another little crisis of confidence and wondered for the umpteenth time about what it is that I do ......and why.
All sorted now, thankfully.
 I just shelved the vexing question and got on with doing what I do.
Although I do still feel that the phrase 'eclectic practice' is just a euphemism for  undecided or confused.
But the question got me on the lookout for links between different projects and recurring themes.
And as much as I might be stretching a point I think I found a few.
So,the abstract, intuitive painting was also a colour study for brooch making.
 

And the dark skies of the early morning dog walk,
and we are talking ridiculous o'clock,
 held the colours that were in my mind for Ma Baggs.
They also reflected my mood and a general mood that is in the air provoked by recent world events.
Not venturing into any debate here, just sharing that my heart is troubled.
 And at times it is as grey and leaden as the Sunday morning sky.

But this life of ours is complex and richly layered  and for now now I am not choosing to examine each layer but just accept it as a whole.
Which brings me nicely back to trifle.
Layers of sponge and fruit, custard and cream.
The recipe that I use is an adaptation of one from Sainsbury's food magazine.
Boozy trifle it's called!!! Not that I know of any other kind.....unboozy trifle is...... not trifle! 
 

The recipe calls for a homemade , what I call posh, custard. Real custard. But I don't do that. I stick to what my Grandma did in her Diggy vous which is to make a thick Custard using Bird's custard powder and whole milk.
But I am racing ahead. The first layer is sponge or trifle sponge or amaretti biscuits or some combination of the two.
Next time I am going to try some ginger biscuits!!!! 
 
Next up is the booze. Sainsbury's suggest brandy.... too strong for my taste and just the whiff of it would have had my gran under the table.... so I use sherry. Spooned out in that time honoured, one for the dish three for me, measure  until the sponge has enough to soak up and become moist but not soggy. We all know our baking queen, Mary Berry's decree about soggy bottoms. 
And I think this applies to trifle too.
 Not certain. 
Not willing to take the risk of the fearful penalty that might ensue.
Anyhoo enough sherry to make the trifle moist and taste of alcohol without blowing your head off and to, by now, make the cook a little squiffy.
Which makes the subsequent layers a bit of an adventure.
 

There has to be fruit. A rule of thumb is to match your top half to your bottom. 
Works with getting dressed too! 
So, I use frozen raspberries and sliced tinned peaches. Two of my grans favourite fruits. .... which, as a combination, never made it into one of her trifles. She wasn't normally one to miss a trick but.... well , we all have our blind side! 
 

Another break away from family tradition is the last layer of cream. 
Or not cream.... Sainsbury's suggest, God bless them, a lemon juice and brandy sherry syllabub. 
 In my humble opinion it elevates the trifle to squidgy heaven in a bowl. 
The hundreds and thousands on the top are my own genius, retro addition. And a reminder of the boxed trifles of the 1970's which were so bad but so good. 
Remember them!!!!
So that's it friends. 
Serve it to your friends, your family, all those you love. Celebrate the big occasions with it and the small. And maybe, just a Monday. 
 
Personally, every time I make and eat Trifle I celebrate the best Diggy Vous maker that I ever knew. 

So, I've made good on one promise but still haven't told the story of Ma Baggs........ getting closer though

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Shall we build bridges

So, how's it going in your corner of the world?
Your corner and my corner are not so far apart really, are they.
It seems that the world grows smaller every day with our interwebby connectivity and constantly streaming news. 
And it has been a colourful week hasn't it? In the news. 
What with The Inauguration........colour that whichever way you want.......and the pink marches.
Don't blanch with anxiety, I'm not going to talk politics. 
I'm not smart enough for that. 
Or well informed enough.
 Besides, I'll remind you of what I said in blog one, or maybe two: I believe that the world needs more light and not more darkness and to that end this little blog of mine, and my life actually, tries to focus on the sunnier aspects of being. 
Not in a Pollyanna-ish way but in a determined and constructive way I do try to seek the good stuff.
 

Can you picture me now, 
sitting at my dining room table,
 basking in the warm winter sun, 
making my bits of frippery, with my fingers, metaphorically, in my ears, 
going la la la la la la, as I try to tune out the news of .......well you know what goes on in the news. 
It ain't good.
But  it is not possible or healthy to live in a vacuum.
Things happen both at home and on the world stage. 
And we respond, emotionally if nothing else.
 Creating is almost always my refuge.
 I find solace in the meditative, repetitive processes. 
Surrounding myself with colour and beautiful things makes me feel more aligned and calm.
That's just my way.
And I know just how troubled I am when housework provides the same balm.
I suppose it is a reaction to the the wider disorder; creating domestic order.
Right now things are clean. 
And tidy.
Even the dogs are a bit freaked out because their bedcovers are getting washed on the weekly!!!


But, as I have been plodding on, merrily making shawl pins and brooches a sound bite has been rolling around in my head.
 
Fake news.

Ok, so,maybe you should blanch now!

A very dear friend sent me a text message from the other side of the Atlantic showing a photo of one of the marches in Calfornia. 
An inspiring, comforting, hopeful sight.
And I wondered if perhaps the majority of the news could be seen to be fake, or at least the slant of it. That it does not present the whole truth. 
Not in anyway denying the terrible things that really are happening. 
Not at all.
Let's be clear on that.
But denying that we are powerless to change things. 
Denying that hatred can ever really triumph over love.
Disallowing the mind control of much of the media.
 Acknowledging that the vast majority of humanity wants pretty much the same things and that unity is possible.
What if we were bombarded by news of all the kind, brave and wonderful things that people do individually and collectively. 
What if we looked for and supported the good in each other.
 Looked for our similarities and points of connection rather than the points of difference.
We could build bridges not walls. 
We really, really could.
And lest you think I am all mouth and no action let me just say that's the whole reason I stepped out of my comfort zone and wrote this post, to be accountable. To get up off my recently enlarged bum. Damn the Christmas overload. And puff up my introverted little self in readiness for engagement and action.
Oh my!! 
I am aware that this is quite a confused post. Words and images chafing a bit.
But that's my life.
What goes on in my head and what comes away from my fingers are a bit at odds with each other.
I try and reconcile it.
All. The. Time.

 





Wednesday, 11 January 2017

New year





Spasmodic.
Unreliable. 
A teensy bit tardy.
Know someone like that?

If you've ever read this blog before you most surely do.

I am reminded of just how long it is since the last post and how much has been left unsaid.
Sooooooooo long!
It makes it hard to pick up the threads.
Where did it go?
And what happened? 

I was hoping you might be able to tell me because I'm blowed if I know!

Somehow September collided with Christmas.
 I collided with assorted sequential lurgys.
And here we are........2017 underway........ not one resolution made.
But plans......one or two of those.

Including more workshops.
I consulted with the guru Freddie.
  His best advice is always 'go for it'!

But I am also basing my decision on the success of the last two workshops where everyone including myself had a jolly good time.
It was fun and it was  simple.
Much like myself , I like to think.

 

Not everything was a success.
My attempt at iced buns was laughable! 
And in the end everyone was too busy creating to want more than tea or coffee anyway. Phew! 

 

Everyone was pleased with the results of their evening's endeavours.
I, myself, was thrilled.
When I looked at the photographs the following morning I got quite emotional.......a little bit teary in fact!
I believe, truly, that making art provides a portal to the soul, that we reveal something of our soul to ourselves and to each other, even if that is not our conscious intention. And that's exactly what I saw. And exactly why I was so thrilled. And exactly why I intend to do it again.
 

 The lead up to Christmas went by in a blur of making and shopping and general preparation in addition to a little home loving.
After 14 years we have finally found a decorative way of making our stairs dog proof.
Hard floors are so much easier to sweep and wash when there are two hair shedding, muddy footed hounds in the house.
 
 Christmas eventually came and went. For me it is always a time of hibernation, introspection and general dossing about. 
I love it. 
Especially lighting candles in the evenings, especially surrounding  a bubble filled bath. 
And this year's newly discovered  delight...... a glass of sherry whilst submerged in those bubbles. Who knew!? 
My grandmama, most probably, who was partial to a good glug of sherry in her signature dish  of 'diggy-vous' 
A.K.A. 'Trifle', to the uninitiated.
Although even to us, the initiated, the whys of it are a mystery.
That doesn't stop us celebrating with 'diggy-vous' at any opportunity. Christmas Day being ideal.

     
 Anyhoo whilst lolling about in bubbles with sherry the idea came to me to open a second  Etsy shop and to name it DiggyVous  full as it is, of trinkets, trifles and treasures.

 

But not this trinket. This and others like it are for hanging in the shop window. Just for prettiness. 
I decoupaged some gorgeous tissue paper with a  butterfly design onto
Christmas ornaments and then handpainted flowers too. 
It has kept me happy as I recover from, what I seriously hope will be, the last lurgy for a while.
Just as much as I hope that this will be the first in a line of slightly more frequent blogposts.
Fingers crossed on both scores.
Happy 2017 to you all.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Words can cage us or set us free



There are stirrings in The Valley of Imaginings.

Have you got a quiet moment?
.....with a pot of tea on the go?
You've got time to butter up some crumpets before we begin ......

I'm not quite sure where to start.
















I had thought to tell the tale of Ma Baggs, the trifle maker.
Her presence is, after-all, like a silken thread that runs throughout the valley, binding all of its characters and shaping many of the happenings.
I am impatient to tell you about the time she rode through the valley on a motor bike...
wearing her best tea dress....
paisley headscarf,
tied tightly beneath her chin.

But the current gossip concerns Violette and the Slouchy Hare so
we'll start there.
















As the flying season gently draws to a close there's a lot of smoothing out to be done. Eyes are brighter and there is generally something less weighty in the appearance of those who have flown but it is often the case,
in the aftermath,
that things are not always returned to their original starting position.
Never more true than for Slouchy and Violette.

Apart from some springtime leaping Slouchy prefers to keep his feet on the ground.
He is truly an earthbound creature.
This season he has spent his lonesome days doing very little, saving his energy for long nights of stargazing and patiently waiting for Violette to finish her flying.
As the days faded into night he looked to the sky for the first twinkler to appear.
Long ago he was taught to wish upon a star by his dear papa. Over the years he has repeated the rhyme many times.















" star light, star bright
first star I see tonight,
wish I may, wish I might
have the wish I wish tonight"

And Slouchy's deepest longing is to be able to speak to Violette
to make her see,
to make her understand.

Violette is by nature a cheerful person, a being as full of light as it is possible to be.
Not that you would know that
and neither did she.
How could she, with her head forever stuck in that book!
Between the spotty front cover and the dotty back cover she had recorded every hurt, every perceived wrong, long lists of grievances fears and frustrations, sorrows and pains. Every page was stained with tears.















Every morning that she has read from its pages Slouchy has watched Violette's light flicker and dim. He has watched her face as the corners of her mouth turned down.
Watched the back of her hand rise to her forehead and heard the breathy sigh of woe.
Over so many years Slouchy had become, if he could be frank about it, frustrated by her preposterous posturing.
In fact he had moved through frustration to fury- and that's hard for someone as softly stuffed as he.













Slouchy longed to tell her to close the damn book!!
Well maybe not damn.
He was a soft spoken, soft hearted, soft toy after all was said and done.
But close it , definitely.
He wanted to point out that if she would close her spotty book of dotty jottings
and look up at the stars once in a while,
if she would pause to look at the flowers more often,
stop looking over her shoulder towards the past and instead take in the full view of the horizon,
she just might find that her little frozen heart would thaw.

The first morning after the flying was done Violette smoothed down her rumpled dress, teased the windswept wisps of hair back into place and cast her bright eyes down to her book and began to read out loud.






Slouchy's little patched heart slumped in his chest as he heard the familiar words. He felt every stitch in his neatly stitched mouth tighten and pull.....
he surveyed the scene around him in the dew damp meadow....
....although everything was beautiful...... row upon row of grasses strewn with jewelled spider's web..... his little heart just ached for Violette....






Suddenly Violette looked up.
Her eyes were wide and bright.
Strands of her hair lifted in the breeze and her nose twitched slightly as she caught the scent of falling leaves.
If Slouchy could have, he would have held his breath...
With a very sharp decisive movement that made the soft hare jump, Violette snapped the spotty book tightly shut.
She turned to look at Slouchy and held his gaze intently for a moment that seemed equally long and still and silent.
Something imperceptible passed between them, surely....they both felt it ....as light as a bird's feather.... caressing a cheek....
Finally the spell was broken as Violette placed her book into her capacious pocket and tilted her head towards the birds swooping in the sky above.
Then she slowly looked towards the house slip sliding down the hill and a smile lit her face.
Finally she dropped her eyes to the ground at her feet and slowly bent to retrieve a stone that lay there.
As she raised it up in front of her face Slouchy could clearly see the heart shape and the hole in it that let the light shine through.
Violette took in a deep breath, breathing in all the scents of autumn in the valley and exhaled a declaration

"Time to write a fresh story"

And so a new chapter began.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

❤️Written with just a tiny nod to my loving memory of Evelyn Baggs my motorbike riding grandmama who gave me far more than a love of trifle ❤️












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