Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Threads of Connection Across Past and Present

It all began a while back with a comment from Liz of Carolina Knits on my post "And is there honey still for tea?". Liz, amongst other things, is both a virtuoso knitter and an Anglophile. She knits things I can only dream of making in my wildest (and most unrealistic) imaginings - elegant shawls, beaded gossamer wraps, complicated, colourful tea cosies, soft cowls and shrugs, lacy scarves, intricate gloves and beautifully draped cardigans, all drop as gracefully and easily from her needles as autumn leaves floating from maple trees in the Fall. She even spins and dyes her own yarn with blueberries. Have a read of her blog if you haven't already and you'll see what I mean!

Her comment related to the fact that my post, with its quotation from Rupert Brooke's poem, seemed to suggest that an England that one might have thought was long gone, although hankered after, was in fact, still alive and well. An England where church clocks still chime the hours and afternoon tea still happens and the landscape still looks recognisably similar to how it did in the past. And although of course in many ways Rupert Brooke's England isn't there any more, there are indeed ways in which it is.

While the kind of afternoon tea the poet envisaged on the lawns of Grantchester sloping down to the river, with tea served in fine bone china cups with saucers, accompanied by thin cucumber sandwiches, sponge cakes and honey, is not served every day in most 21st C English households, I for one, do stop for tea every afternoon, although it is usually just tea with a single piece of homemade cake or something similar, without the wafer thin sandwiches etc and the tea is in a large mug rather than a delicate china cup and saucer.

The ancient church clocks of villages up and down the country still mark the hours as they have done in many cases for centuries.  The clock in the church down the road here, for a start, has been doing so, since it was made and installed in the medieval tower, by a local clockmaker from Wantage, in 1575. Four hundred and thirty seven years (and counting) of uninterrupted ticking and chiming!

And although the English landscape looks drastically different in some respects from how it looked a hundred or more years ago, the pattern of country life and the seasons has a reassuring continuity about it. The mechanics of agriculture have changed almost out of all recognition but farmers are still not immune to the capriciousness of the weather. The age-old rhythm of seedtime and harvest still gives shape to the year in the countryside and with the reduced use of pesticides many of the wild flowers, birds and animals, that populated the landscape Rupert Brooke knew and loved, have made something of a come-back after a time when they were a bit thin on the ground. I have noticed in recent years, for example, that the larks I remember so well from my childhood, singing high above the fields, but which seemed to disappear in the nineteen eighties and nineties, are now back and in good voice. Scarlet poppies, blue cornflowers, pink corncockle and pale, mauvey-blue scabious again dot our cornfields with colour after a monochrome period in which they were largely exterminated; hedgerows more often than not, now get carefully relaid by conservation-minded landowners, instead of being replaced with fencing. What goes around, comes around.

Thinking about all this and my own nostalgic enjoyment of the past, made me want to send Liz a little parcel of English things as a sort of tangible reminder of what she was referring to in her comment. And what fun it was putting it together! It took a bit of time  - a book I wanted to send was out of print and took time to locate and I had some difficulty deciding what to include and what not - but eventually I had a little collection of nostalgic, quintessentially English echoes to send across the Atlantic and in due course a parcel arrived here from Liz with a collection of some similar, nostalgic American echoes. A wonderful Anglo-American swap made possible by the new and the old happily married together - ultra-modern 21st C blogging technology and a postal system now well over a hundred and fifty years old but still going strong.

I love the fact that although it is by its nature virtual, blogging makes possible these kinds of connections in real time with real people, near and far. And it is one of the great unexpected gifts of being part of this wonderful on-line community that real friendships and shared enthusiasms can and do cross over from virtual to physical reality.

And just as I wrote in my post on "Post" the other day, about my French great-great-great-grandmother sending little handmade items to her sister a hundred and sixty years ago, 21st C bloggers are doing exactly the same thing. In a delightfully nostalgic sense "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" And real and happy friendships spring up as a result. One of the ills, it seems to me, of 21st C society and one of the things that is very different from the world inhabited by our forebears is, all too often, a lack of time and space to spend time with friends and make real connections with people. I see this a lot in my work. So much isolation and loneliness are out there. How wonderful that despite all that we haven't got right as a generation, we have managed to come up with an idea that counters some of that so effectively and in which nostalgia for a bygone, rather more connected, age comes so vividly alive.

As a result of this particular connection, for the last week or so, I have had my nose deep in the most wonderfully evocative book "Prairie School" by Lois Lenski about a country school in the prairies of Dakota in the last century. The book's charm is enhanced by delightful, black and white pencil drawings. Have a look! Aren't they just the most evocative illustrations?

It is nostalgic and beautifully engaging and although the weather has been quite hot here in the last ten days or so I have vividly felt the intense cold of the prairie winters the author describes and longed to cosy up to the warmth of  the ancient "Heatola" stove of the "teacherage", the little wood and corrugated iron building that housed both teacher and pupils, of the type common in the remoter districts of the prairies.

Thanks to Liz's generosity I have also had the chance to experiment with some quintessentially American "Peaches and Creme" yarn ...

... to make a Granny Square face flannel in wonderful sea-greens and blues that I want to bury my face in all the time, it's so soft!

And my crochet hooks also have a beautiful, new and proper home!

Thank you again to Liz and to all of you who read and comment here and with whom I have had the privilege to weave threads of connection in various ways. It is such a joy to be part of that virtual and tangible tapestry. May the warp and weft, of past and present, time now and time future, stretch far and wide and its colours catch the light for much time to come.

E x


  1. Dear E
    Yet another lovely post - thought-provoking, gentle, melancholic but also positive and joyful. I am at present thinking of items for my very first blog swap which is very exciting and I echo your comments about blogging and meeting people.
    Thank you.
    Best wishes

  2. Thank you so much for your effusive praise! I am equally impressed with your creative and aesthetically pleasing blog. Your description of England (past and present) is written in wonderfully evocative prose, and I love that you included some pictures from Prairie School that show so much expression in the faces of the people in them.

  3. Another beautiful post! Always something good to think about, and I totally agree about the pleasure (and surprise!) of virtual friends becoming "real" friends:)

  4. Dear E - What a wonderful post! I am always amazed that even though we live in a very technological age, we all still seem to be doing something our ancestors did but in a very different way - COMMUNICATING! Now our communications are almost instant whereas a hundred years ago they would have taken days and even weeks to reach their destination. There are pros and cons for both but I for one love the fact that I can read today about what someone in America was doing just this morning .... makes the World seem a much smaller and friendlier place. Hugs and love. Laura x

  5. This is what I love in your blog (apart from your gentle personality!) : a sense of the old England we, foreigners, have buildt through English writers and poets ,painters, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and our own dreams...

  6. I am intrigued by your way of writing and your sense of color, emotion and the sense of reverence for the past. I am a new follower, connecting through knitsofacto (Annie). Looking forward to more of your writing and pictures.


  7. This is a wonderful post. You write so well. And what lovely things came through the post! I love the name "Peaches and Cream" yarn. I would buy it just for the label. xx


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