Jane Garvey & The Chair

Recently Woman’s Hour asked people to tweet in pictures of what they were doing whilst they were listening.

My delight was pretty unbounded when I sent in a photo of the chair I was upholstering and Jane Garvey, no less, said’ ‘Someone upholstering a chair, I am very impressed by that.’

I was very nearly name-checked by Jane Garvey – it boosted my day no end.

I do realise that upholstery as a hobby is a pretty sure definition of a Sussex housewife, but I would like to say it is harder than you might think.

So, whilst not exactly stretching the grey matter to degree standard, it does require some thought and a lot of help from our teacher.

Most of the chairs I re-upholster get sold ( for a bargain pittance, I may add,) on eBay or Gumtree and the proceeds go towards Syrian refugee appeals.

If we had a retail outlet, I could charge more but then they would have to be shall we say, more perfect.

I am at the slapdash end of upholsterers. I am not sure that my tacks – which won’t be seen until the next upholsterer strips it back – need to be in an absolutely straight line, just by way of a small example.

An upholsterer friend said, usefully, one day,’ If a man on a galloping horse can’t see the problem, there isn’t one.’

I have that very nice chap in mind quite a lot.

But this brings me on to the local tip.

The tip shop is where I get a lot of my chairs – not least since the local auction house moved to smaller premises and no longer has the house clearance stuff that you could pick up for a song – or a last minute bid of not very much.

Anyway, chairs at the tip are usually ugly ducklings, and very cheap ones but they can be transformed with a bit of imagination and fabric.

But the tip and therefore its shop, was threatened with closure. A stupid idea if ever there was one.

It is very well run and very busy, and the nearest ones are about 12 miles away – fly tipping, bring it on.

As far as I gather, it has had a reprieve but the powers that be have come up with the nearly as stupid idea of not opening at the weekends until 11 and closing at 4.

There are queues to get in at the weekend – and that is when it is open at 9.

Anyway, I know all this because I have been haunting the tip lately – being an almost daily visitor – looking for a chair.

In this case not just any old manky small duck, but a button-backed chair.

Previously, I had absolutely refused to countenance anything which needed such an eye for detail, patience and a neat way of working – all skills which I possess in minute quantities.

But I found some fabric.

I am a cheapskate when it comes to fabric and like hunting down bargains and this was a roll of more than three metres reduced from £20 per metre to £1.99.

And, if I may say so myself, I am rather good at fabric choices – doing various bits of the chairs in different fabrics, contrasting piping and all that.

( Should you be at all interested, I have just mastered making piping and now don’t know why I made such a fuss about it.)

Anyway, I found a roll of lovely stuff which I hesitate to describe as pink lest you pull a face and think badly of me – suffice it to say, it is a very interesting shade of pink.

My plan is to do the chair in this pink and make the buttons a sharply contrasting colour – yet to be decided.

But can I find a cheap button-backed chair? No I can’t.

Up until I decided I wanted one, there were hundreds of them at the tip, in auctions across the county, going for nothing on Freecycle, being given away locally etc etc, but now there is a strange dearth.

Button-backed chair owners everywhere seem to have decided, unaccountably, to keep them.

But one day my chair will come and for now, I am on very friendly terms with the men at the tip.

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Syrian Preserves

I do like to cook so I don’t want the reluctant housewife thing to suggest I am far too busy and cosmopolitan and interesting to be bothered with the stove.

Nothing I like better than pottering about the kitchen, but I never saw myself as a jam-maker.

Still, I had a tree full of crab apples and one of the builders doing our kitchen extension started nagging me to do something with them.

At the time he was dowsing with a wire coat-hanger to find our water supply whilst I was beating nettles out of the way so he could get a better fix.

He did find the supply and also told me of various ways to ensure the best crab apple jelly.

So I made some and handed it around the neighbourhood to the (few) people round here who don’t make their own extensive range of preserves. ( I am of course talking women.)

Last year we had more crab apples – that being the way of nature, though this year the tree isn’t well and is – thus far – in a crab apple sulk or perhaps feeling very under the weather.

Down the road there was also a tree laden with elderberries and of course, being the crunchyside, there were blackberries.

I had been re-upholstering chairs and selling them in aid of Syrian Refugees – see what I mean about being a Sussex housewife – and so decided to make a shed load of pickles, jams and preserves and have a party at which everyone was morally (and insistently) obliged to buy them for the Good Cause.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – it is a long and daffy process making preserves but I persevered. (sorry)

Courgette relish for burgers, elderberry vinegar which I have to say was rather the star of the show crab apple jelly of course – and it got rave reviews when it landed up in a Scottish restaurant via a friend, blackberry jam, pickled peaches for serving with ham – I could go on….

Then I caught sight of myself preening over preserves.

Panic-stricken at the thought of being that woman, I hot-footed it to an exhibition in London and read a book on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Still, the Syrians got a couple of hundred quid so all was not lost.

Stags, Hens and Bacon Sandwiches

Although we had two free first class tickets, we decided to take the train which had no first class seating.

I won’t bore you with why we had the free tickets, but I will say that we chose to go to Cardiff the scenic route thus swapping (mild) train luxury for scenery.

The shame was that the best beloved slept through most of it – missing the White Horse etched on the hill, the great view of Bath, the pretty fields and sweeping countryside etc etc etc.

Anyway, partway through this journey we were joined by a stag party on their way too to Cardiff.

They weren’t wild, foul mouthed, pissed as skunks but they were loud – though even they couldn’t walk the BB from his happy slumber.

I was, at this point, thinking that taking the other route complete with peaceful first class carriages might have been the better idea.

Later I was to find out that Cardiff was packed with Hens and Stags.

In my day, they used to come to Cardiff from the valleys for a night out before the wedding, get very drunk, probably have a row, and go home – all on the same day.

Now they make a weekend of it and come from all sorts of places.

My sister tells me the same is true of York.

When someone (bizarrely it seemed to me,) donated a pink cowboy hat to the Petersfield Oxfam bookshop, she told me you could see about 150 of those in York on any Saturday afternoon.

Back in Cardiff, we bumped into a hen night in the pub opposite our hotel – one of those not gentrified in the changed cityscape.

There was a dedicated afternoon disco room and everyone had a sash saying who they were: mother of the groom, bridesmaid, cousin of the bride, groom’s previous lover – no, of course not the last one.

But in the bar were two nice men who I talked to about the changes since I lived there.

My BB said that I spent the whole weekend going up to complete strangers and saying, ‘Hello, I used to live here you know. ‘ He was pretty much spot on.

But the proliferation of stags and hens reminded my of the Big Chill.

My BB’s children gave us tickets to the festival as a birthday present and we went.

Luckily it was within a few miles of my mum’s house so we had showers, food, toilets etc etc within easy reach – we are not bring-it-all-on-we-don’t-need-anything-but-a-hole-in-the-ground-and-some-music types.

Anyway, we pitched out tent next to a circle of tents full of (not surprisingly,) young people and then after setting it all up realised we were just by the entrance to the main arena.

Despite these very nice young people telling us that all would be well and they would ensure we had a lovely time, we picked up the erected tent and moved it down the hill.

Settling on a nice spot a long way from the arena and sitting outside on a lovely evening,  we watched as the space next to us filled with young men all with pup tents.

Being the sociable one of the two of us, I engaged them in friendly festival conversation and found out they were there on a stag weekend.

The idea of upping sticks, or erected tent, and moving again was just too much like hard work and if all else failed, my mum was only a few miles away.

But do you know what, it was delightful.

Of course, we didn’t stay up all night helped by various illicit substances though we did have an encounter with a dental nurse from Bristol who was dressed in a large white fluffy dressing gown beneath which she had secreted the bladder of a box of white wine and she was very generous with it.

And the stag group next door were quiet as mice.

The next day I got up early, as is my wont,  and went in search of sustenance.

I presumed nothing would be open but hey, of course, some people were just coming home as it were.

To my surprise, the groom-to-be was also awake and he and I strolled up the hill to find tea and bacon sandwiches.

We did that every morning.

He told me that he had promised his wife-to-be that he would be good, so he had decided two pints of cider a day was all he would have, and he always liked early mornings not least because you met people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.

I thought she was a lucky woman to have found him – I am not sure I would say that of all the brides-to-be whose grooms-to-be were in Cardiff last weekend.

The Days Of Typewriters

It was a trip down memory lane and it was hard to realise how much older I am now than when memory lane was just day-to-day life.

We went for the weekend to Cardiff.

When I lived there,  journalists – and I was one, hard to believe though that might be, dear reader – used typewriters.

Indeed you didn’t have your own typewriter so if you were late into work you might find yourself landed with the upright black one dating from about 1925.

‘E’ is the most popular letter in the English language and the ‘e’ on this machine had worn out.

So when you finished typing your story – on two sheets of very thin (as in cheap,) paper with a piece of carbon-paper sandwiched between so that one copy could be kept in case of legal action – you had to go back over it writing in all the ‘e’s.

We had one mobile phone for the whole newsroom and that was so bulky you needed to have the only office car to take it anywhere.

Its range was hardly more than shouting distance so taking it anywhere was usually a waste of time.

If you wanted information you rang someone and your contacts book was your most precious belonging.

If you wanted older information you went to the newsroom ‘library’ where you would ask a surly man for the subject you wanted and he would bring you a cardboard envelope, called a packet, full of cuttings from the paper on the same issue – if you were lucky.

This was the library which still held the lovely Western Mail headline when the Titanic went down: ‘Welsh people die in shipping disaster.’

It also held packets and packets and packets of coverage of the Aberfan disaster.

I was a trade union activist – hard to believe though that may be, again, – and I used to have to go and talk to the printers.

Though they were the newspaper equivalent of horny-handed sons of toil, they were much better paid than us effete journalists and one day I will tell you about going to meetings in their Bedford HQ and beef wellington and generally how it so differed from the journalists’ union HQ – suffice it to say at this point, they had considerably better surroundings.

Anyway, I was in my early 20s in those days and one of those days, I went downstairs to talk to one of their union officials.

I got wolf-whistled which wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but their union leader shouted for it to stop saying, ‘She isn’t a girl, she’s the Mother of the Chapel.’

It never seemed odd to my feminist-atheist self that the terms Mother and Chapel as a description of a woman union leader was anything other than perfectly reasonable – I bridled, though, at being called a girl.
Enough, for now of my journalist stories though I could tell you about flunking my first National Council for the Training of Journalists exam because I argued with the examiner about what was realistic in the aftermath of an all -ut nuclear war – in those days that seemed a possibility – though not like the examiner had suggested.

I could tell you about the lovely Inn on the River known locally as the Pub on the Mud where I spent many a happy Sunday lunchtime. And whilst on the subject of pubs – we were journalists after all…..

I could tell you about The Philharmonic (The Philly) a pub where we adjourned after a late shift before getting a Cardiff speciality – chips with curry sauce – from Caroline Street.

(To my delight, there are still places selling that Cardiff delicacy in Caroline St even though the new, posh Brewery Quarter is there too.)

Actually the brewery, Brains, has moved. It used to belch foul, or at least unattractive, smells of hops being transformed into Brains beer across the road to the Western Mail.

The brewery has moved and the paper has moved too.

Just a little stretch of memory lane left.