Friday 31 October 2008

Love's Labour's Lost

MrM has booked theatre tickets for tonight:
Love's Labour's Lost
at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.

It is a special half term treat for MissM
and he is very pleased with himself
because the reviews are excellent.

He shows us the tickets

Oh! What a shame!

What do you mean?

It is the special production tonight
and so it won't be quite as useful
for my A Level synoptic coursework

What do you mean?

It has been specially themed
for tonight with a sponsored ending.

What do you mean?

It is the gothic version

Instead of living happily ever after
they all die

And the audience gets to choose
who dies first.

MrM looks aghast

They are planning to sell
those big foamy hands in the foyer
so that we can all vote with our thumbs
like they used to in the Coliseum.

You are pulling my leg...

It would appear that MrM
has underestimated how quickly
MissM can recover from jet lag.

Souvenirs from Japan

MissM has so much to tell us...
but first...
there are gifts...

A mini samurai sword for MasterM

A box of white chocolate for MrM

A beautiful deep-glazed pot for MrsM

There are chopsticks with geisha pictures

and weird foods
with incomprehensible ingredients lists.

But nothing is quite as wonderful
as the sight of her smiling face

Thursday 30 October 2008

A Japanese Dolls House

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

This is only a slip of a book about the creation of a Japanese dolls house. Why does it linger so in my imagination? Is it the details of the construction which are given in the appendix? I think not - I would not be entranced by a story about a model railway. Is it the charming way in which she breathes life into two small plaster dolls? Probably not - I don't return to the doll stories of Enid Blyton.

I think that it is the insight into family life between the wars when children were left to fill their own time without being distracted by TV, computers, after school activities and endless homework. They could run behind a bike to the hardware shop to buy wood and strong glue with their pocket money and come home to a workshop of clamps, fretsaws and drills. A place where it was possible to become friends with an elderly book shop owner and your teacher came to tea. So much freedom which seems unimaginable for the closely supervised children of today.

Here is a sample to whet your appetite:

The dolls were to have a feast too.

"A tea party" said Nona.
"A tea ceremony" said Miss Flower

Belinda's dolls-house food was a cardboard ham glued on a plate, some plaster fish glued on another and a plaster pink and white cake. "That won't do at all," said Nona, and she went to see Mr Twilfit to find out about a Japanese feast. In the end a beautiful little feast was set out on the low table: a bowl of rice made of snipped-up white thread - nothing else was fine enough; a saucer of bamboo shoots made of finely chopped grass; a saucer of pink and white sugar cakes made from crumbs of meringue cut round; and some paint-water tea.

"Green tea?" asked Belinda.
"Japanese people drink green tea" [said Nona]

Wednesday 29 October 2008


I am momentarily distracted

the fold and curls!

the frills!

the sorbet colours!

the pearlescent sheen!

A stern voice inside my head says

"Get back to the ironing...


Thank you all for joining in yesterday -
you are the BEST group of comment box pals...
and so very generous with your friendship.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

MrsM meets Mrs C

The Cruttenden Sisters
Thomas Gainsborough

I wish that I had more time
to freewheel around Blogland,
to wander, link by link, from blog to blog.

That is the way to discover great writing,
challenge your preconceptions
and make new friends.
When I first started reading blogs
I had lots of time to do just that
but at the moment I struggle
to keep up with the blogs of all the friends
that I have made over the past two years
and so it is unusual for me to get distracted.

However... yesterday I saw a comment from a Mrs C

I had a moment of panic.

“But I am Mrs C” I cried

(it may surprise some of you to discover
that my name is not actually Mrs Magpie)

and MrM (who is not actually Mr Magpie) said

“No you are not – you are MrsM”

(I see now that this was rather a weird conversation.)

And then MrM said sternly

“You can’t bag all the good names – that would be selfish”

And so I sat and read Being Mrs C
and I was glad that I did.

She reads! She cooks! She knits!
She writes of interesting places!

Please go and say hello
because the thing that struck me most
was that Mrs C has been writing
interesting posts for six months
and she deserves some friendly visitors.

If you have any blogs that you have just discovered
do let me know and I will post a list of recommendations.
We were all new bloggers once
but some of us were lucky enough
to find friends in Blogland very quickly
and it is the generous interaction
between writers and readers
that makes Blogland such an extraordinary community.

Monday 27 October 2008

Buttermilk is essential...

My mother makes the most delicious scones...

they are as light as a feather
because she always makes them
in a hurry
at the very last minute...

(or possibly the minute after that)

When Sarah and Breadbox asked for my scone recipe
I was rather embarassed
because I have not made scones for years.

However, they are both good friends of this blog
and so...
here is my scone recipe:

Although it is not MY recipe ...
it is Angela Nilsen's
from her extraordinary tour de force

8oz self raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 oz golden caster sugar
2 oz lightly salted chilled butter
4 fl oz buttermilk

Sift the flour and salt together.
Cut the butter into small pieces
and rub into the flour with your fingers,
Do not overwork or the scones will be tough.
Mix in the caster sugar.
Slacken the buttermilk with a small amount of milk
and mix half of the liquid into flour mixture
with a round bladed knife.
Add sufficient buttermilk to make a soft dough.
Lift out of bowl onto lightly floured surface
and pat to approx 1" thick.
Cut scones using cutter of your choice.
Glaze top with beaten egg
and bake on a buttered baking tray
for 12 minutes at 220 C
until risen and golden brown.

Eat warm with jam and cream.

My mother's recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

Friday 24 October 2008

Just for the Record...

1. A blackbird watches me on my way to work,
beak as bright as the Pyracantha berries it is eating.

2. A tall young man in full Goth regalia
clanks in front of me.
I wonder if he polishes all those chains.

3. Two magpies are taking a bath in the pool of water
on the flat roof outside my office.
Such busy splashing makes me smile.

4. The Solanum plant on my windowsill is growing!
There are new flowers!

5. The President of the Student society
bursts into my office,
her blonde hair glowing under her red cable beret.
She is adorable.

6. A colleague who will be in Morocco next week
promises to bring me something small from the local souk.
He beams with energy and enthusiasm about his work.

7. I meet a student from my old Department
and hear his plans for the weekend...
he will be singing in Westminster Abbey.

8. On my way home the aroma of Chinese takeaway
drifts from the student halls.

9. Here are two students wearing cycle helmets,
completely encased in bubble wrap.
It would appear that they are doing
downhill racing on office swivel chairs.

10. I feel guilty about the fact that I am not always able
to read my friends' blogs during the week
but I know that I will have some time this weekend.

11. I am hoping to persuade MrM to take me
to a Japanese restaurant this weekend.

12. This is the first Friday evening
that I have not felt ill with exhaustion.

Christiana Herringham 1852 - 1929

On Friday afternoon I had an unexpected email
asking if I had a painting by Lady Herringham in my office.
I didn't but I was intrigued and flicked onto Google
to find out more about her.

I discovered a woman of astonishing energy,
social ideals and artistic vision.

Christiana Herringham and the Edwardian Art Scene - Mary Lago

She was the daughter of Thomas Wilde Powell,
a wealthy patron of the Arts and Crafts movement.
In 1880 Christiana married the physician, Wilmot Herringham
and they had two sons but from 1889 at the age of 37
she became a well known and admired public figure.
The early influences of art and social justice
that were central to the Arts and Crafts movement
seem to have directed much of her public adult life.

Suffrage March

She was committed to Suffrage movement from 1889 onwards
and there are descriptions of her
embroidering velvet banners for Suffrage marches
using silk that she had brought back from India.
She was a friend of artist suffragettes
such as Annie Swynnerton who painted her sons.

Higher education for women was at a very early stage
and Christiana was a generous benefactor
of the new college in Cambridge, Newnham,
and a friend of one of the first female academics, Mary Bateson.
Her husband became a Governor of Bedford College,
the first college for women in London.

Laboratory, Bedford College

She was a talented artist and copyist of Old Masters.
Her 1899 translation of an Italian study
of the challenging technique of tempera
(which uses egg to fix paint pigments)
was very influential and led to the foundation of
the Society of Painters in Tempera in 1901.
Many artists of the time experimented with tempera
and the Society encouraged painters relearning the technique.

Madonna and Child Marianne Stokes (1907)

The late Victorian period was notable for grand schemes
to benefit the general public such as libraries and museums.
Christiana was the only woman on the committee
which created the National Art Collection Fund in 1903
with the objective of making art available to all.
Despite protests from supporters of Impressionism
the first purchase was the Rokeby Venus by Velasquez.
It seems a courageous choice for a woman of her time.

Venus at her Toilet (Rokeby Venus) Velasquez

Another of her initiatives was the foundation of the India Society
which was intended to encourage an apprecation of Indian art.
In 1906 and 1911 she travelled to India
and as part of her work for the India Society
she copied the Buddhist cave paintings at Ajanta near Hyderbad
which were showing signs of deterioration.
A number of Indian painters of the time such as Nandalal Bose
were influenced by her and she may have been the inspiration
for Mrs Moore in A Passage to India by E.M. Forster.

Ajanta Frescoes Lady Herringham

When she returned from India in 1911 at the age of 59
she began to suffer from paranoia
and spent the rest of her life in private clinics.

One of her sons died from acute arthritis as a child
and the other died in the First World War.

She was a very modern woman;
the causes that she supported
were ones that we value highly today.
It is a tragedy that she is now completely forgotten...
we owe much to women like Christiana Herringham.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Art and the Man

MasterM tells us that one of his school friends
has just sold a painting for £1,000.

We are very impressed and glad.
This young man, who struggled with
aspects of his school life,
has just started at a prestigious Art School
where he will be able to develop his great talent.

MasterM ponders his own Art Career
and wonders if he could sell
one of his earlier masterpieces.

Very little remains from the Abstract period...
his enthusiasm for murals
was discouraged by a Philistine mother.

The Naive period is well documented
- a folder full of cute pictures
of Potato People
has been retained for posterity.
The Artist's mother will not sell.

The later Figurative period was characterised
by much expenditure on materials
but saw a dramatic improvement
in brush technique.
It could be referred to as his
'Snot Green Period'.

MasterM very much regrets a youth wasted;
time spent on the rugby field
when he could have been honing his portraiture.
He realises that he has been careless...
if only he had brought back
a shark or two from Australia
he could have moved into the whole BritArt scene.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Birthday Greetings

Today is the birthday of The Lovely MissE.

She and MasterM are no longer
(how shall I say it?)
an item.

However, she is a much loved friend
and I hope that she won't mind
if we still call her Our Lovely MissE.

We all wish her the Happiest of Days
and a Year full of Good Things.

I am hoping to persuade her
to join me on an expedition
to find vintage clothes in the holidays.
Please say yes, dear Lovely MissE!

Tuesday 21 October 2008

A Sign of the Times

On my way to the Supermarket
to buy lunch

it occurred to me that
small businesses need my support now

not sympathy later

so I changed my plans
and went to the Farm Shop instead.


Still food related
but only just...

I extend a warm welcome to all my visitors from Russia
who have come to admire MrM's ties over the past few days.

I am not clear what is so attractive about them
because when I put the blog entry
into Babelfish the translation said
"Look! Visit The Magpie Files
to see how many ways
to enjoy a cucumber"

Monday 20 October 2008

Tiny Food and Tiny People

On Friday night we eat with friends.
Their tiny daughter opens the door looking immaculate,
her French bob beautifully brushed.
MissM had a French bob when she was that age.

We are told about her day dressed as Little Bo Peep.
We admire the homemade crook and I ask if she had a lamb.
She says "No...obviously not...
because Little Bo Peep LOST her sheep"
Of course! How could I have forgotten?
Is it really that long since I heard that nursery rhyme?

We discuss her part in the Christmas Nativity Play
var. 'The Grumpy Donkey'
She is to be The Smallest Angel.
I hope Mary is aware that
The Smallest Angel is the most important part.

I am given a guided tour of her new Dolls House.
She describes in detail in each room:
Drawing Room, Kitchen, Dining Room,
Playroom, Bedroom and Bathroom.
Her imagination furnishes the empty house.

I tell her that my little girl
(who is not a little girl any more)
has a beautiful pink Dolls House.
I tell her that we used to buy furniture every week
- tiny beds and chairs, a bath and a kitchen sink.
And each time we went to the shop
we bought some tiny dolls house food.

When I get home I look inside the Dolls House
for the first time for years.
The Dolls House family are sitting in the Drawing Room
listening to a piano recital
but their tea is laid out in the kitchen
by a careful owner who was little once
and is now half a world away.

Sunday 19 October 2008


Thank You

for your wonderful comments
and generous friendship



Help yourself to chocolates!

(but please leave a white one for MrM)

Saturday 18 October 2008

Paws for Thought

Poppy speaks out on The Green Agenda:

Think of ways of saving energy...
Here are some of my favourite tips:

Reuse water - give your friends a shower
when you have had a bath.

Keep warm in the winter - wear a fur coat.

Reduce food miles - let the postman come to you.

Recycle that stick when it gets thrown away.

Be aware of your carbon footprint - don't sit too close to the fire.

Make a commitment not to waste food.

we do not own the earth
we are merely custodians
for the next generation.

Poppy x

Friday 17 October 2008

MissM visits the Floating World

Today, MissM flies to Japan for ten days.

She will see Mount Fuji,

Hokusai ~ Mount Fuji in Clear Weather

wonder at the busy Japanese cities,

Hiroshige ~ Sugura street

eat sushi,

Hiroshige ~ Bowl of Sushi

admire precious kimonos,

Hokusai ~ Oiran and Kamuro

visit shrines,

Hiroshige ~ Pilgrimage to the Cave Shrine of Benzaiten

and have a hundred and one

Hokusai ~ Ocean waves

new experiences.

Hiroshige ~ Travellers on a Mountain path at night

And then, like a swallow,
she will come home
to tell us all about it.

Hiroshige ~ Swallow and Peach Flowers with a Full Moon

Please wave to her as she flies overhead.

Thursday 16 October 2008


I am a late-comer to the Aster Party.

I don't think I have ever bought them
before this year.
Such bright warm colours...
such fresh soft leaves...

I can't imagine why
I didn't know about them before

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Did I marry the right man?


says MrM

It's a gnome...

throwing a hand grenade...

I wish that he would stop watching
the Military Channel.