Tuesday, 17 February 2009

An influential book

I love looking at lists of people's favourite books. I used to swap lists of my top three with people I met, without which I'd never have read In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje or A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, both of which will stay with me for life. Both authors are inspiring story-tellers (and tell inspiring stories) and write beautiful prose. Both write of aspiration and despair but don't leave you feeling hopeless.

So it's strange that the book I write about here, which I love above almost all others, is so incredibly simple. I was reminded of it a few weeks ago; the Little Helper has discovered our family's love of books (he is currently asleep in his cot upstairs with four board books), and the books that we (and my parents) read to him most are the Topsy and Tim books. I don't know how much he understands but he will sit absolutely still and with utter concentration as we read them to him. He loves Topsy but doesn't seem to have much time for Tim and won't mention his name.

My favourite of this series (and by the way I am talking about the books as I first read them in the 70s - not the redrawn and rewritten editions of the 80s and 90s which I find boring and mediocre) is Topsy and Tim's Friday Book. There is just so much to love about this book: a Party invitation! Dressing up! Burnt cork moustaches and pretend earrings! Party tea! Prizes! It sums up the best of my childhood. We did all of these things frequently. My mother organised the most marvellous parties and created delicious teas (oh, the sophistication of party dip and crisps!) with homemade cakes made to look like Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, individual jellies with the colour from the hundreds-and-thousands melting across the surface and tiny pink meringues. My father made up amazing games - eating crisps noisily through a microphone or filling in the noises in a story. And then there was Hunt the Smarties - dozens of small girls in long party dresses (this was the 70s after all!) scouring the house for hidden stashes of Smarties to fill up empty Smarties tubes.

So here are my favourite pictures from the story:

I love this picture - Mummy in her lovely dress at her sewing machine making dressing up outfits for Topsy and Tim and what I like most is the yellow ric-rac she's sewing on the waistcoats (I had an identical waistcoat and matching trousers in royal blue, but with red ric-rac). I like to think that maybe this picture inspired my love of sewing for children.

Here are Topsy and Tim on their way to the party, and there's Mummy, always in her hat and gloves, and look, there's Tony Welch dressed as a box of matches. Incidentally, it is impossible to say the words "Wait for me" to me or my two sisters without us completing the phrase "...called Tony Welch's voice, I'm a box of matches". I know it must annoy everyone, but it invariably makes us laugh.

And my favourite picture, the party tea. See, none of your cut up carrot and cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes here. This is what party tea should be - sticky, sweet and an unadulterated treat.

I love this book because it makes me happy. It makes my children happy. It is uncomplicated and true and I will never grow tired of reading it.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Taking over my life

More of my current obsession - bunting. I just can't help it, I love it. I love creating it in my mind, I love sewing it, I love seeing it hanging in my kitchen.
I still think the traffic jam is my favourite, but this comes a very, very close second. It just makes me feel happy - lovely cakes without the guilt of eating them! And those lovely shiny button cherries. I've always been a push-over for gooey fluorescent glacé cherries, and the buttons are just like them.
Can I take this opportunity to apologize to my husband though: he waits patiently for months for a button to be sewn on his shirt (and no, he really can't do it himself!) and I keep putting it off, but give me a pile of bunting and my lovely tin of shiny buttons, and I can't get my sewing box out quickly enough. Maybe he just has the wrong sort of buttons on his shirts?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Bunting, bunting, bunting

Those of you who know me will already be aware that I love bunting. Directions to my house usually end with the advice "Ours is the only house in the street with bunting". The thing is, I put it up for a special occasion and then it doesn't seem worth taking it down, because after all there'll be another birthday along soon, or a party or, well wouldn't you know it, it's Christmas and we'll need the bunting up then.....and now it's just grey winter and it would be too sad to take it down just when we need a bit of colour in our lives, and anyway it'll be the Little Helper's birthday next month. Before you know it it's been up for a year, and well, frankly, it just makes our house easier to find, and I'm rubbish at giving directions.

So, I've had this idea in my head for weeks for making bunting with a difference. I've spent ages trying to figure out if it would work, then designing patterns, cutting out, finding the time to make it and finally putting it all together today surrounded by three over-excited children, all of whom, by the way, covet this for their bedrooms.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out - I love the colours and the buttons, the proportions seem right. I like the way the vehicles sway slightly with any movement or breeze like they're revving up at the lights. I've got so many more ideas along these lines, I just need more felt and buttons....