And this… I do love book hunting, especially when I strike literary gold!
I was brought up in Surrey, and I love gardening books, so Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, by Mrs CW Earle, seemed tailor-made for me, and I succumbed to its delights as soon as I spotted it (in a box of Oxfam donations, of course). It turns out that Mrs E’s country residence was in Cobham, which I used to know a little – when I was at school a friend lived there, and sometimes I stayed at her home overnight. And it was one of the places my family would occasionally ‘run out’ to on a fine day. Usually we fortified ourselves with flasks of tea, sandwiches, and slices of Mum’s home-made Dundee cake, but I am sure we once had afternoon tea in a genteel little tea shop in Cobham (though it may have been somewhere nearby). It impressed me no end: not only were we eating out, but there were proper waitresses, and it was definitely a step up from the local fish’n’chip shop or the self-service A.B.C. café we frequented on trips to a neighbouring town.
|My 1984 edition of Mrs CW Earle’s ‘Pot
Pourri from a Surrey Garden’, produced
by Century Publishing.
Anyway, I digress. Mrs Earle was the wife of Captain Charles William Earle, hence those initials. She was christened Maria Theresa, but in 1897, when her book was first published, a married woman was known by her husband’s name, a practice which has, thankfully, been abandoned.
The couple spent roughly half the year in London, and half at Cobham, which had a two-acre garden where Mrs Earle spent much of her time. She seems to have been a knowledgeable and ‘hands-on’ gardener, but there’s more to her book than gardening. It also covers cookery, holidays, housekeeping, families, education, furnishing, customs, history, health, poems, books, weather and all kinds of other things.
In her first entry, for January 2, she sets out her agenda, telling us:
But, she says, gardening will be given ‘preponderance’ throughout the book, and so it is.
|For those of who don’t know Cobham, this is a photo of the High Street,
courtesy of Wikipedia and their Creative Commons licence.
|Narcissi on the windowsill… Not south-facing,
alas, but they seem quite happy.
|When I make soup it tends to be more Pot Luck than Pot au feu!
This is made from all the vegetables left in the veg rack at the end of
the week… Plus fresh herbs… And stock cubes!
I am the first to admit that volunteering in an Oxfam Book Shop is not necessarily the best of activities for someone who has resolved that there will be No New Books. But the other volunteers are so nice, and our customers are unbelievably lovely… And, of course, there are the books. I’m like a child let loose in a sweet store. The shop, as you would expect, is packed with shelves, all full of books, and if there were no customers to be served I could spend all day browsing. But it’s the back room that I love the most. This is where we sort and price the donations, and there are books everywhere, crammed onto storage shelves, as well as the table, the desk, the packing area and, occasionally, the chairs. And there are days when you can hardly see the floor for the pile of book-filled bags and boxes that dominates the room.
First up is Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek, in this wonderful old VMC edition, with a cover featuring Karoly Patko’s Still Life with Lilies and Blue Hat. I love Taylor’s understated writing and, according to the blurb on the back this is her ‘subtlest and finest work’, so I can’t wait to start reading.
And I found Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus, which I’ve been hunting for for ages. Godden is one of my more recent discoveries, and I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read so far. This was famously made into a film starring Deborah Kerr, so I suppose most people know it is about a group of nuns who establish a convent high in the Himalayas, but tragedy ensues when hidden passions surface. Virago again I’m afraid – though I’m not sure why I feel I should apologise. I like Virago.
Actually, these aren’t the only books I bought this week, because when I was in the shop on Saturday I remembered I still had to pay for one about Chaucer, which I left on the shelf above the desk some weeks back. I succumbed to John Gardner’s The Life and Times of Chaucer because a) it has such a great cover; b) I rather like Chaucer, and c) I don’t know anything about him.
For warmth when it’s cold
Or shade in the Heat
A Hat on your Head
Makes an outfit complete.
|My cup cakes – next time I’ll use a recipe from an old book.|
|The ’50s housewife decorating her version of
of cupcakes (from the Good Housekeeping
|Sponge drops : were these an early form
of whoopie pie? (from the Good Housekeeping
|Children’s sponge cakes also seem similar to
modern whoopie pies. (from the Good Housekeeping
|A plate full of goodies. Tiny ‘bottle-top’ muffins, and
colourful cup cakes – actually they look more like those
whoopie pies, which really intrigue me – it’s such an odd name.
And talking of Oxfam leads me to the non-edible cupcakes. I have been stitching them in pink and purple felt, as requested by a fellow volunteer who is also busy sewing. Decorated with beads, buttons and embroidery, they will make the window look decorative for International Women’s Day on March 8 – and we also hope to sell a few (they make nice pincushions) and boost Oxfam’s funds.
|Balancing act! Put a felt cupcake on a cake case
and it looks quite eye-catching.