Monday, 6 September 2010

All those helping hands ~ some special people and the ripples spreading out

As I've written these articles I've been aware of the influence of certain people in the background.  Four in particular stand out: they are my sister Rachel, my friends Zoe and Valerie, and my mother.

Rachel has been the source of numerous recipes, techniques and general know-how. She has far greater domestic skill than me, so my thanks to you Rachel, for sharing what you know and providing the inspiration to take it further, not only in my life, but in being able to pass it on to others so that they too can discover for themselves the value of it in their own lives.

When Rachel and I were little, our first sewing was the creation of clothes for our dolls, some of which are still kept and treasured.  It's a great way for children to start even if the only tool used is a pair of scissors!  You can do a lot with that. 

It was Zoe who taught us both to sew, finding time to contribute miniature garments for our dolls as well as a selection for ourselves over the years.  She sewed professionally and encouraged us to learn so  that by the time we were ten and sewing classes began at school we were already confident using a machine and had some sewing skills.  Those classes followed an extremely slow and laborious course.  Zoe snorted about that and pointed out quite rightly that the most important thing to learn was that you could create something yourself and that it wasn't difficult.

Zoe was endlessly patient and immensely generous.  I remember a time when I was a teenager and trying to decide which of two lengths of fabric to buy for a blouse.  I simply couldn't decide.  I asked Zoe for help.  She responded by travelling all the way into town with me where we walked from one shop to the other.  Her verdict: "I think either of them would make up nicely."  So simple, and true!  I wore that blouse for years!

I remember Zoe with great affection.  Always sure of my welcome I often spent days with her, helping her in any small way I could.  We spent happy hours in the garden and from time to time drove inland to the mountains well provisioned with good food and drink.  My memories of her are accompanied by certain motifs: the yellow climbing roses which always seemed to be in flower on the trellis near the back door, gorgeous posies from the multitude of flowers that crowded her garden, tremendous personal style, her habit when leaving the house of commanding in ringing tones "Angels guard our home!", apple pancakes with lemon juice and sugar, a hilarious and highly infectious laugh, and the smell of freesias...  How fortunate I was that we were friends.  

Her recipe for fruit loaf made with tea is one of the most searched and read articles I've written.  For those who choose to try it I can assure you it's a winner!

When I was older and living in quite another part of the country I had the great good fortune to have another such friend, resourceful, lively and generous: this is Valerie.  I lived at Valerie's place when I was in my twenties and not particularly clued up.  

Valerie is the greatest exponent of making do with less of anyone I've ever come across.  I'd look in the kitchen cupboards and find them bare.  She would look in the same cupboards and exclaim "There's enough here to last a siege!"  She always moved at speed and still does. She'd whisk off down the wooden stairs to the garden, pluck some handfuls of things I didn't regard as edible, briskly give everything a one-two-three in the kitchen at a pace that made the whole place rattle, and in less time than it would take for most people to do much more than turn around, she'd have produced a meal not only nutritious and satisfying but also a winner in terms of flavour and presentation.  I learnt to use my imagination better and to improvise!

Valerie's skill at creative improvisation is not limited to food: she is also marvellous at home-making generally, using scraps of this and that to make what is needed and simply getting on with things.  Soon after I moved in a number of my family came to stay.  Valerie showed great generosity in extending her welcome with mine. 

When my mother and my young sister (then aged perhaps ten) came to stay the only spare room where my sister could sleep in was a storeroom the walls and ceiling of which were unlined. Valerie decided we must make what she referred to as a shamiana no less, which is a type of ceremonial Indian tent.  Off we went to Joe's fabric barn in search of suitable material.  What we found was a length of dark blue material covered with what looked like rivulets of gold.  It was gorgeous and rather mysterious looking.  I think it cost a dollar a metre.  There were lots of metres.  Valerie persuaded the proprietor to let us have a couple of empty cardboard fabric tubes and off we went.  Armed with this as well as a considerable amount of dark blue rafia twine and some cup hooks we set off for home.  

What a day!  We suspended the tubes from the rafters with twine which allowed us to swag the fabric overhead in three segments.  The sewing machine buzzed busily.  More twine firmly anchored at either side gave us something to throw the flaps over.  After a lot of hard work and a great deal of laughter it was complete.  It was wonderful. My sister loved it and Valerie and I became friends for life!

Valerie also taught me to laugh in the face of adversity, which she does often.  I learnt the even more important lesson of laughing at myself.  I don't hope ever to attain her level of skill and optimism, but I have made important steps in that direction over the years and am a better person for it.

Much of what I've learnt from these women I could have learnt from my mother who is generous and skilled in her own way, but like many young people I hadn't been paying much attention.  We all benefit from having lots of skilled and generous people in our lives. 

Others have contributed to my life in different special ways.  I would like everyone to be as fortunate.  If we each share what we know and can do it can make all the difference in the world, ripples spreading out... 

Meanwhile big bouquets to Rachel, Zoe, Valerie and my mother, and very many thanks indeed.

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