A fan of fans!

I have been a fan of fans, so to speak, for ages and I was thrilled when Practical Publishing chose fans as the theme of my latest boxed set with them. The set (and it’s fantastic value) will be available on the website for pre-orders on Thursday 10th May and then on my upcoming Create and Craft shows on the 17th and 18th May. But back to being a fan of fans…

While there are endless possibilities for crafting, fans were, and still are, extremely useful devices for cooling yourself down on a hot day. Both highly decorative and practical, I think the loss of the fan as an everyday accessory is a great shame as it makes a great prop. You can fiddle with it (in lieu of cigarettes!), flirt coyly from behind it and use it to make a point by snapping it shut or perhaps even prodding someone with it!

Archaeological ruins show that the hand fan was used in ancient Greece at least since the 4th century. Christian Europe’s earliest fan dates from the 6th century. This was used during services to drive insects away from the consecrated bread and wine. Hand fans were absent in Europe during the High Middle Ages until they were reintroduced in the 13th and 14th centuries. Fans from the Middle East were brought back by Crusaders while Portuguese traders brought them back from China and Japan in the 16th century, and fans became popular. Fans are well displayed in the portraits of the high-born women of the era. Queen Elizabeth I of England can be seen to carry both folding fans decorated with pom poms on their guardsticks as well as the older style rigid fan, usually decorated with feathers and jewels.

In the 18th century, fans reached a high degree of artistry and were being made throughout Europe often by specialised craftsmen. Folded fans of silk or parchment were decorated and painted by artists.

It has been said that in the courts of England, Spain and elsewhere fans were used in a more or less secret, unspoken code of messages and that these ‘fan languages’ were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette… However, modern research has proved that this was a marketing ploy developed in the 18th century by a fan manufacturer! I am going to pretend I didn’t discover this fact on Google as I think the language of the fan sounds wonderful and should be reintroduced!

I always associate fans with Jane Austen’s novels and there are lots of fun and interesting fan references on the Jane Austen’s World website.

The website contains the following ‘quote’ supporting the language of fans story, which I am going to repeat here as I’d really like to be able to snap my fan shut to end an argument!

“In the eighteenth century, wealthy Georgian ladies, especially English ones, waved fans at masquerade balls and wore them as a fashion accessory with almost every outfit that they owned. There were daytime fans, white satin bridal fans and even mourning fans. As well as drawing attention to beautiful and perfectly manicured hands, these items played a big part in delicate flirtations. In fact, a whole ‘language of the fan’ had developed in England in Tudor times that became especially popular for middle and upper-class Victorian women who were courting. A folded fan placed against a lady’s chin told a gentleman that she found him attractive, for example, while snapping a fan shut was a curt dismissal! No wonder that the 16th century English writer, Joseph Addison, stated: “Men have the sword, women have the fan and the fan is probably as effective a weapon!”

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“Rhubarb rhubarb!”

I do enjoy Gardener’s World – an hour of delightful diversion, relaxing and thoroughly good for you. Whenever Monty Don so much as mentions a plant that I have in my garden I instantly feel as if this makes me a Proper Gardener. So, imagine my excitement last Friday when he was talking about picking your first rhubarb of the year and went on to say how a breakfast of stewed rhubarb and yoghurt was one of the most delicious breakfasts you could eat… that was just what I had tucked into myself earlier in the day! The combination is so yummy (a top culinary term!) the creamy yoghurt and tart rhubarb – and what’s more, it makes you feel virtuous as a healthy breakfast choice.

I think rhubarb is a bit like beetroot or avocado, a very distinct taste and you either love it or hate it. I love it, and it is so easy to grow! Our rhubarb is only about three years old (you shouldn’t harvest from it in the first year), but it is huge! Wrestling the stalks off the plant can be quite hard work (you have to carefully pull and not cut) and the enormous leaves need to be cut off and put straight in the compost bin, as they are poisonous. Unfortunately, people have been poisoned after eating the leaves. This was a particular problem during the First World War when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source!

Rhubarb is such an easy thing to grow and you get so much back from it and I, for one, like its rather exuberant appearance. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable but it is treated as a fruit, despite its tart flavour, you really can’t eat it raw and must add sugar. It goes well with ginger and strawberries… as well as custard and cream! And let’s be honest – is there anything more wonderful than a rhubarb crumble? Do you like rhubarb? If so, what do you make with it? Do share!

Rhubarb grows in two crops, the first arrives early in the year and is ‘forced’, or grown under pots, or those lovely tall terracotta forcers made especially for the job. The ‘rhubarb triangle’ around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford is renowned for its production of delicate forced rhubarb, grown by candlelight inside sheds… I saw a TV programme on it once – fascinating!  You can read more about it here.

Forced rhubarb is a lovely pale pink, with lime green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two crops. The second, called main crop rhubarb, arrives in the spring and is grown outdoors and is what most of us have sprouting in our gardens. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than the forced crop.

Rhubarb is a fruit (or vegetable!) that has many health claims attributed to it. As ever, I think we have to take some of these with a pinch of salt – or spoonful of sugar in this case! Rhubarb is packed with minerals, vitamins, organic compounds, and other nutrients that make it a good healthy option. Some of these components include dietary fibre, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Every serving of rhubarb provides 45% of the daily value in vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and can limit neuronal damage in the brain.

And if you’ve ever wondered why we use the term ‘Rhubarb rhubarb’… it goes back to 1852, when the theatre company of English actor Charles at the Princess’s Theatre, London would say the word rhubarb repetitively to mimic the sound of indistinct conversation in any crowd scenes, the word having been chosen because it does not have harsh-sounding consonants or clear vowels. So there you have it!

 

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Buttons, buttons and more buttons…

My memories of my grandmother and mother are of two very resourceful women that used and reused everything. Recycling is so ‘trendy’ now but honestly, it’s nothing new, is it? Can anyone else remember Christmas or birthday present being unwrapped carefully and the paper being whizzed away by an adult as they ironed it and reused it on another occasion?

Buttons and zips were another part of unwanted clothing that would never have been wasted, Granny had a sewing treasure trove with pre-loved (another trendy word) zips, hooks and eyes, buttons and the old favourite… school name tapes. There had to be an economy there too. The eldest child had a full name tape with both Christian name and surname, second child had new but with the Christian name cut off so just the surname was used and then poor old third child had just the surname carefully unpicked from older sibling’s clothing, so even less in the way of borders at each end. I was the eldest by the way so – ha ha ha – I got first and last names!

I would love to say that I am currently just as thrifty and take care of all the treasures handed down to me – but I’m sorry I don’t. Replace a zip …. Nope …. Sew on a button yes, maybe, but recycle hooks and eyes? Not on your nelly.

However, I have found a very happy use for some of the treasures – I add them as embellishments to cards.  Whether you like making vintage style (me, me!) cards or prefer a more contemporary slant to your creativity – buttons can still make great additions. Bright primary coloured plain buttons look fun on modern style cards – and the smaller pearly buttons look great on a vintage card – so keep saving and keep recycling, even if it is in 21stcentury style!

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Milking it…

Lovely local milk in glass bottles in the village shop!

Sometimes, you just have to give a wry smile and resist saying anything… this was my reaction when I overheard some earnest 20-somethings discussing the environmental benefits of buying milk in a glass bottle from our local shop and what a brilliant development this was. It IS an excellent development and the aim of reducing plastic use is long overdue… but it’s hardly new!

As a child, I used to listen out for the hum of the milk float – a battery-driven vehicle (gosh, how very ‘green’!) and the clink of our pints of milk being delivered to the porch. There was always the rush to get to the bottles before the blue tits had pecked through the lids and got at the cream on the top! Amazingly… we even used to recycle back in the dark ages of the 1950s too! Every housewife would wash out her ‘empties’ and put them back on the step for them to be replaced with new bottles of fresh milk the next day.

We collected the silver foil caps and recycled them (care of Blue Peter appeals) and the trusty milkman provided an excellent neighbourhood watch facility, spotting when anything was amiss if a householder didn’t take in their milk. He also sold eggs, bread and tinned goods, amongst other things, and must have been an absolute lifeline for elderly customers. Fancy that – home grocery deliveries! Now, where have I seen that recently?

It is lovely to see milk in bottles back in my local shop although the realisation that the bottles were one litre rather than one pint took me a moment – I couldn’t understand why they seemed so large! The milk is from a local dairy so there’s no problem with ‘food miles’ and the cows that produced the milk would have been grazing in fields quite nearby. Who knows where the milk in our supermarkets comes from? And it seems sometimes we can’t even believe the cheery information on the label as some supermarket ‘farms’ are completely fictitious.

It sometimes seems to me that we rush headlong into new ideas and don’t think about the possible side effects, as with the dominance of the supermarkets and the loss of milk rounds and many of our high street shops. But most developments are, of course, huge improvements and we must be open to change. However, I for one will be very pleased if the milkman and his humming milk float make a return to our streets, perhaps other much-missed aspects of earlier decades will come back too…

 

 

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Grace goes gardening!

We have a sad little 4-year old here that has been so poorly with scarlet fever, but I am happy to say she is recovering well. I rather thought scarlet fever had disappeared and was an illness from my childhood era, but it seems not and several of her friends at the nursery have had it as well.

So despite being definitely on the mend, she is still fragile and not up for the usual high jinks with Grandpa down by the swing or any rough and tumble. So one of the things Richard organised with her was some gardening and the early planting of vegetable seeds ready for summer.

It only took a few demonstrations for her to catch on how to plant them and as she explained to me later, it was a bit like putting the seeds to bed! So we now have runner beans (Scarlet Emperor and Guinness Record), radishes and cos lettuce. Several varieties of tomato, including one that promises faithfully to be blight resistant – the jury is still out on that one – and Grace’s favourite… Nasturtiums using last year’s seeds from the plants which she had kept in an envelope over the winter.

I love the fact that she understands where vegetables come from, as she and I stood in the conservatory and watched Grandpa plant out the first early potatoes, she chattered away about how she hoped the rabbits wouldn’t steal our crops this year – too many episodes of Peter Rabbit and Mr McGregor on the TV there I think!

It is such a privilege to be able to spend time with a little mind, we heard today which primary school she has been allocated (her parents first choice – yay!) and I just have to wonder where the past few years have gone – but a lovely time to share with my family.

 

 

 

 

 

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