I hope everyone is surviving January. Today we had some radiantly beautiful sunshine after a series of grey and damp days and it felt like a gift.
I have various cheering up strategies to take me through my least favourite month. The first is indoor bulbs. My hyacinths and paper whites which I planted just before Christmas are hitting their stride nicely, and I love coming downstairs in the morning to their fragrance. I bought the hellebore in this picture at the market last week, and could not resist keeping it inside for a couple of days. Hellebores, obviously, are not indoor plants. Infact, these perennials like a semi shady spot in the garden and will cope with slightly damp conditions and woodland areas. However, I thought it wouldn’t hurt this spectacular plant to take centre stage in the living room for a very short time. I hasten to add that it is now outside, in the front garden, so passers by can also enjoy its amazing plum coloured flowers. It has the rather disappointing name of Ice’n’Roses ‘Early Red’ on its label. That doesn’t do justice to its beauty. I bought the terracotta pot from St Martins Antiques Centre in Stamford with my Christmas money. I do love an old pot, and the wonderful scalloped edging of this one drew me to it. The dealer’s note described it as a hand thrown Victorian one. I like the traces of old paint, it adds to the charm for me, and the maroon colour works with the hellebores.
A good book is another must for the winter months. I am really enjoying this one. Despite the rather worthy title, it is absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in gardening and social history. My great grand father was a shoe factory worker and a talented breeder of chrysanthemums, which he supplied to various stately homes, so the book has special resonance for me. I am currently researching this great-grandfather’s history as he was also an amazing artist, and I’m just really intrigued by him.
When I am not engrossed in this, I’m working my way through the excellent Ann Cleeves detective novels, and I’ve just bought To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, which is going to be an epic read. She wrote A Little Life, which I can highly recommend.
Clothes, bright colours and charity shop finds also bring joy at this time of year. The pile above are all thrifted from various places around town. I have always loved second hand clothes. It began when my oldest friend moved away from our East Anglian village to an affluent area of Surrey. She discovered some incredible jumble sales; doubtless they were filled with cast offs from the wealthy ladies of the commuter belt. When we were about 15, in the late 70s, she bought me a pair of white Gloria Vanderbilt jeans for 10p. They were my pride and joy. I remember that I wore them the perfectly named Top Hat night club in Guildford, paired with a skinny black silk shirt. Very Saturday Night Fever.
Then in the early 80s I was a keen clubber. I loved The Limit and The Leadmill in Sheffield and the Hacienda in Manchester, and a little later, The Mud Club after I moved to London. There was no fast fashion, no Primark in those days, so pretty much everything we wore was second hand. I can still remember the thrill of hunting down a garment, rushing home, washing it in the sink and drying it in front of the electric bar fire in our student house so that it could be worn that same night. Sometimes the item would be hastily altered to fit with giant, wonky stitches. The clothes were often still damp, prickly, slightly smelly and really quite uncomfortable. I distinctly remember some voluminous ex-military khaki jodhpurs which I teamed with red ankle boots and a donkey jacket. But I also loved old 1950s floral dresses, little wool cardigans and tweed suit jackets. Once we found a whole bolt of white cotton fabric, and the lady in the Oxfam shop in Broomhill, Sheffield, made it up into oversized pinafore dresses, the design of which was sketched by me on an envelope, one dress for me and one for my friend. We then dyed the garments blue in the bath. Happy days.
The thrill of the chase remains, and I do still enjoy a good browse through the rails of a charity shop. Now second hand and vintage is the ethical choice, so that’s my excuse.
My final tip for lifting January gloom is making marmalade. I’m always delighted to see the first Seville oranges at the local market, and they had arrived last week. Actually, I had been given a bag of limes and lemons a few days previously, so I used those in my first batch. It’s a joy to fill the house with the scent of citrus. The peel has to simmer for up to two hours to soften, so the fragrance travels into every corner. The recipe I use for most of my marmalade is Delia Smith’s, which is the easiest I have found, and it can be found online.
It’s good to walk, and we’ve been borrowing this little dog for some strolls around nearby Burghley Park. Gemma is a loyal companion to someone who can’t leave the house, but she loves being out and about. She is quite overweight, bless her, but she does seem to enjoy her walks. She is a sweet dog, good with other people and their hounds, and well behaved around the sheep that we often encounter (she stays on the lead). We can’t commit to owning a dog, but this arrangement works very well. Her owner is pleased for his dog to be taken out for a walk, and we love doing it, so it’s win-win. If I am a bit low or cast down on the way to collecting Gemma, I never feel that way when I’ve been out with her.