I’ve had a bit of a Bridget Jones day today. You know the sort, when all of the icecream you ever ate appears to have suddenly settled on your bum, you look absolutely knackered with bags you could fit a week’s worth of Tesco (or Wal Mart) shopping in underneath your eyes and everyone takes every opportunity to tell you so, everything you do goes wrong, you feel rubbish at everything, the irritating 10 year old child genius who lives next door to you is practising the piano and playing Beethoven perfectly on a loop while you are stuffing your face with icecream and watching Jersey Shore, taunting you with your 24 years of fruitless talentlessness, and the fear that you will die and be eaten by alsations in the home for spinsters begins to loom with frightening intensity as you realise it won’t actually be long until you are genuinely old and barren. Days like this usually make me resort to a little cry in the toilets and a large glass of wine in the pub with friends after work, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do either of those things today, so instead I am curling up on the sofa with yet more of Mr Ben and Mr Jerry’s finest and some knitting and a lovely book I realise I have not yet told you about, and which I should. This book has cheered me up no end, by the way, and I am no longer entertaining thoughts of eating the entire contents of my freezer. Which is a very good thing.
Also, today has not been all bad, as I found out I am going to be the proud auntie of another nephew in May. When my sister sent me her ultrasound photo two months ago, I rejoiced at the thought of a new baby in the family, and my excitement has known no bounds since! In case you’ve missed me mentioning them, I already have two nephews, and they are amongst the greatest joys of my life. George is 4 and Freddie is 20 months old, and they are the most adorable, most wonderful little men in the entire world. I loved watching them both grow into huge bumps and then magically appear, perfect little baby boys, over a nine month period, and before I moved to New York, I loved nothing better than driving over to my sister’s to read stories and bake cakes and cuddle and play with my little men. Sadly I will miss the entire pregnancy and first few months of this new baby’s life due to the fact that we now live an ocean rather than a short drive apart, but one way of me feeling connected to this new little baby has been by knitting a blanket for him. Every time I get my knitting out, I think about the baby and the life I hope he will have. With every stitch is a hope, a wish, and a prayer for his future. During the early months of his life, when I am not there to cuddle him in my arms, my blanket will wrap him up safe and warm and surround him with the love I have for him, even though I will be far away, and perhaps the dreams I knitted into that blanket for him, of love, and happiness; of joy, and of fulfillment in all he chooses to do, will rub off somehow. I hope so.
Knitting the blanket for my new little munchkin was inspired by the aforementioned lovely book that I am currently perusing, and have had sitting by my bed for a few weeks now. I dip in and out of it, when I am feeling so inclined, and it really is the most wonderful, life affirming, encouraging book that shows you it’s the little things in life that matter. This book of wonder is the marvellous Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity, which is written with the same blend of passion, zeal and comforting, gentle reassurance Jane exudes in person. Split into a variety of sections, the book is formed of short essays on a myriad of domestically themed topics, from baking fairy cakes, to knitting tea cosies, to enjoying nature, to reading, to films, to paintings and the simple joy of eating chocolate. It highlights the small pleasures of a life well lived; of spending time with family, of passing on traditional skills, of filling a home with the smell of fresh baked bread, of curling up under a homemade quilt with a cup of tea and a Dorothy Whipple novel, and of noticing the colours and patterns and textures of everyday life. Jane takes things most of us wouldn’t normally notice, like a row of daffodils outside her window, or the way the afternoon light hits the windowsill in her kitchen, and uses it as a point of inspiration. The home, rather than a place of oppression, as many feminists would have women believe, becomes a place of light and laughter and love and freedom, where a woman can express her creativity, her passions, and her personality, in a variety of different ways.
It is such a wonderful book to come home to. It reminds me of the pleasures of a simple life, like the one lived in Little House in the Big Woods. I live and work in one of the busiest cities on the planet, constantly surrounded by noise and people and stimulation, and it is hard to make time to read and knit and bake and be cosy. I love all these things, but they always feel like a ‘waste’ of time when I could be seeing the new opera at the Met, or going to an exhibition, or trying a new restaurant, or catching a movie, or going dancing, or volunteering in the projects, or meeting friends. Jane Brocket reclaims the importance and value of domestic activities in the order of everyday life, and her passionate, beautifully written essays on the emotional and intellectual stimulation that stems from the inspiration found within the home environment are just magnificent to read. The book is also punctuated with some lovely recipes, gorgeous photographs and images, and it all adds up to a delicious, refreshing and marvellous package that I love sinking into with a cup of tea. While I have been knitting my nephew’s blanket, the way I feel when I knit has constantly reminded me of Jane’s intelligent insights on the value of using your hands to make something from scratch, and the level of satisfaction and joy that comes from watching a piece of knitting grow beneath your fingers. It has truly been a labour of love, and despite the fact it nearly bankrupted me (Purl Soho might be a beautiful shop, but the price of the yarn is heartstopping – apparently not everywhere sells wool as cheaply as South East London charity shops), it has given me a satisfaction that cannot be matched by an evening at the theatre or a fabulous meal out with friends. For when my little nephew is clutching that blanket in his teeny hands, the pride and love and joy I will feel at knowing he is wrapped in something I made with loving care, just for him, with every stitch measured out with a thought for his life and his future, will truly be priceless.
If you don’t know Jane Brocket, hop on over to her blog and take a look. I have all of her books and can promise they are excellent, and I have also had the pleasure of meeting her in real life and can attest to her absolutely lovely character. Persephone readers may know her as the preface writer of High Wages, and as she loved Dorothy Whipple before Persephone reprinted her, I think that sums her up as a good egg all round, really.