Together with art, poetry and ceramics one of my great passions is textiles. I just love, love, love fabric and my idea of heaven would be the haberdashery department of John Lewis. All those rolls of exquisite fabrics; satin, velvet, silk, lace, beautiful printed cottons and a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. Better than sex I say! I sometimes regret not specialising in textiles instead of photography at art school. So when my bedroom curtains shrank in the wash recently I was secretly delighted. I’d never liked them in the first place, choosing them under pressure when my house flooded back in 2010. I’d put up with them for long enough so perhaps it was no accident I put them in the washer when they were labelled dry clean only! So now I have a good reason to choose new curtain fabric and I’ve had fun this week ordering up free samples. My choices are narrowed down to four. I’m probably going with the green but the one with the thrush and the bumble bee would look great in a picture frame. It’s just so pretty!
My mother and grandparents worked in the textile industry in West Yorkshire in the 50s, 60s and 70s. It was the only type of work available for immigrants but was well paid and allowed my family to eventually buy their own home, a tumble down terraced next to a railroad track. When the train shot out of the nearby tunnel everything in the house rattled and shook like an earthquake! But after years of living in refugee camps they were happy to have a roof over their head. For a few years my parents and grandparents lived together for financial reasons even after I was born. My mother worked in a local textile mill as a winder. This job entailed tending the winding machine for winding yarn from hanks to bobbins or from spinning bobbins to other bobbins, spools, cones, cheeses, etc. It also involved piecing together the broken ends of the yarn. My mother was an expert at knots and in later life developed arthritis in her fingers from all those years of handling yarn. I remember visiting her at work, the deafening roar of the rows of machines and the stink of grease.
To a small child it was like a vision of hell. But since the late 70s the old textile industry in the north of England has disappeared. The grand Victorian mills have been converted into luxury apartments and most of our textiles are now imported from abroad where they are produced in appalling conditions for low wages. Very few fabrics are made in the UK today. Sad.
So anyway, back to my new bedroom curtains which are probably made in China or India but I hope they will make waking up each morning a bit more pleasant. Now should I choose the green or the blossom?
I was whisking up eggs, sugar and cottage cheese last night to make Syrniki (a type of Ukrainian cheesy pancake) and suddenly realised the rotary whisk I was using must be nearly as old as myself. It is still going strong (unlike myself 🤣) I remember growing up in the sixties and watching my mother whip up sponge cakes using that same whisk as I waited eagerly to lick out the bowl. Ooh yummy! When I married at the age of eighteen my mother gave me that whisk along with a load of other domestic paraphernalia, a sort of perfect housewife starter kit. Obviously didn’t work as I divorced seven years later!
What vintage objects have you got in your kitchen that you still use regularly? Rotary whisks are no longer in fashion as most people have electric blenders and food mixers now. I’ve always been averse to gadgets. You spend more time cleaning them than the time you save. I like the tactile quality of a wooden spoon and the physicality of cooking. My other vintage kitchen item is a cook book from 1980 which arrived with my new oven. It contains recipes for 80s favourites such as Chicken Maryland, Cheese Soufflé and Creme Brûlée. I still refer to it often. So…what antiquities do you have lurking at the back of your kitchen cupboards?
It was a time of velvet love,
revolution and Snakebite.
My mother gave me beige
polo necks and warned
of the dangers of touching.
My summer job yielded
a red dress from Bus Stop
with a plunging neckline
and a scalloped hem that swirled
when I twirled to Bowie and Bolan
alone in my room, rehearsing
my poses with a feather boa.
I met him on the landing of a cold
terraced in Queensbury, queuing
for the loo and giddy with homebrew.
He pretended to take my picture
with an imaginary camera, squinting
and clicking his tongue. You look like
what’s her name from Pan’s People,
he said as he kissed my neck. He wore
a peacock feather in his blonde locks
and a guitar with a tartan strap. His lips
were curvaceous like Bryan Ferry’s.
He called himself Fritz and a pacifist.
My mother was ironing father’s
socks, underpants and cotton shirts
when I got in, the steam clouding
the kitchen with a choking mist.
She didn’t look up when I gave her
the peacock feather. It’s pretty, I said. Some call it the evil eye, she replied.
Next day it was tucked behind her
gilded wedding photo on the shelf
with the candles and the broken clock.
These found poems are based on the real letters of Annie Mackay. She spent her brief life working the small family croft in a remote area of the Highlands. Sadly, she developed cancer and died at the age of 21 in 1957. Her orphaned six month baby boy was left to be raised by an aged uncle. At the time illegitimate children were considered social outcasts. No-one ever discovered the identity of the baby’s father which might be hinted at in these letters. They were written to Annie’s married sister Violet who had moved to Edinburgh. I love these letters because they are full of joy and humor even though Annie was already aware of her illness. They also paint a picture of the preoccupations of a country girl and life in the 1950s.
I sold eighteen turkeys
so we can have a night
out in the pub,
going from bad to worse (puff).
Ronald says Ray is a born lunatic,
that was his opinion when he saw
the photos and then the blue jersey.
Your hair looked very nice,
is that a new dress you had on?
I hope it’s nylon
I’m not in favor of wool.
Lots of love and kisses,
I can tell you about it. There was turkey for dinner, then at 3 o’clock tea.
I had my cake with 21 candles. All the family were there listening to Lux
and singing The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House.
I think its super, don’t you? Lena brought the record Walking in the Rain.
I like it do you?
Jesse gave me £5 and Connie £2 and Grandad two aprons and Mary a nylon underset
and Margaret a necklace, sparkles all colors and Donald a mohair scarf (awfully warm)
and Sheena nylons and Jane a cameo brooch and Granny a Terrylene blouse.
I’m not in favor of blue.
And from Julie a ‘Le Page’ compact and from Johnny, Black Rose perfume,
very good of him and from Lynn a Coty lipstick, nearly ruby and from Alan a purse.
What a present, not much use with no money and then of course, your presents.
Johnny stayed till midnight… everyone else went off at six.
Lots of love and kisses,
PSA Separate Special Instalment for your Eyes Only:-
BURN AFTER READING
My first experiences of poetry happened early in childhood. My maternal grandfather wrote a poem for me each year to commemorate my birthday. It would be penned carefully on the back of his birthday card. I am sad today that I did not keep these special tokens of his love.
My first poetry book was A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson. A beautiful blue leather bound copy with gilded page edges was presented to me at Primary School as an Attainment Prize. I was nine years old. Again it reinforced the idea that poetry was something precious. I began to write my own poems. I recall a gem that began with the lines, “I was playing in the dairy/when I first saw the fairy”!
At the age of sixteen I was initiated into contemporary poetry (together with sex) by my Glaswegian boyfriend. He introduced me to the music and poems of Leonard Cohen. As a Christmas present he bought me a little book of his poetry and I still have the battered copy on my bookshelf. Cohen’s poetry is often overlooked as he is best known for his songs. I like his short poems which seem to have a mysterious double meaning. Here is one of my favourites called I Heard of a Man:-
I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.
I read Cohen’s romantic and political poems over and over again, learning some of them by heart. At the time I had no idea poetry would become such a vital element of my life as it is now. For me, poetry is therapeutic but more importantly, a way to communicate difficult emotions and experiences to others.
What were your first tastes of poetry? Were they positive or negative? Did you learn poems by rote in the classroom? Or did your parents read to you? Do you remember your first ever poetry book? I would love to hear how you were initiated into the wonderful world of poetry.
And here is a YouTube video of Leonard Cohen singing one of his most famous and poetic songs:-
groovy French name,
eyes cool as mud,
In teenage shade
U left your cabbage
heart 4 me,
white as paper.
in my book.
Note:- Before the age of Facebook and digital ‘likes’ adolescents used autograph books with pastel colored pages to collect signatures and messages from their friends. These often included humorous rhymes.
My lady waits in the wall
papered over by skeletal hands.
She withers lilies with one eye
and blue ivy winds her hair.
Her holy cheeks crumble
like old plaster of Paris
but not her secret vows.
Restless but unseen, she stirs
death to do our parting.