A belated return to my blog

by The Curious Scribbler

Who writes a blog when there's a baby to play with?

Who writes a blog when there’s a baby to play with?

Where have I been and what have I been doing since mid November, my regular readers may well ask?   Well nothing really out of the ordinary: a very busy Christmas with the house bursting with guests, a daughter moving house to Bristol, an enchanting one year old grandchild to play with, a nasty bronchial cold, and the fallout from the collapse of a fellow local historian’s book on the very brink of its publication by a small Trust.  This last event occurred as if in illustration of an article by Matthew Parris in the Spectator entitled “Why are volunteers so mean to one another?”  Parris wrote ” What is it about voluntarism, what is it about organisations composed of public spirited people giving of their own time and money for some purpose larger and nobler than themselves, that breeds the poisonous atmosphere that so often chokes their deliberations?” .  In an attempt to answer this question he posits a new explanation.  When people ‘give up their own free time’  for no remuneration, they become very difficult to command. Volunteers consider themselves released from the usual rules of the workplace.  In the case in question, a volunteer steering committee, having engaged a volunteer author, decided, two years later, that they wanted a different book.  Had the publication been driven for profit, the outcome might have been very different. As Parris remarks – the pursuit of principle is an infinitely more corrupting thing.

My own last regular printed output has also come to an end in January  but it was a bloodless end, the death of the magazine Cambria came because it simply could not afford to continue without Welsh Books Council grant aid.  And committees  don’t wish to fund ‘more of the same’ indefinitely.  Cambria has existed for 18 years and for most of them I have been its garden correspondent.  It seldom could afford to pay me, but I was rewarded in other ways;  my copy was never hacked about by an insensitive editor, my pictures were reproduced handsomely, my picture captions emerged correct.  These are virtues which cannot be taken for granted in the world of magazines.  The choice of topics was invariably mine, and my final piece was an account of a visit to the immaculately restored and recreated Allt-y-bela.  The story had first appeared on this blog, in July 2014.  As a final bonus, the magazine has long enjoyed a special status in the catalogues of the National Library of Wales.  So for every article in Cambria, I have been awarded an author-indexed entry in their catalogue, as I would be for articles in more heavy-duty scholarly publications about Wales.

The last issues of Cambria magazine

The last issues of Cambria magazine

But blogs too may earn their immortality and I was gratified to be asked by the NLW for permission to copy and index my blogs relating to the remarkable sculpture by Mario Rutelli on the Aberystwyth war memorial.  This topic continues to develop, leading blog readers to make the pilgrimage to Via Quattro Fontane in Rome to verify the identity of the original bronze, and report back their findings.  Keeping a foot in both the electronic and the printed camps, I propose to write up the story of Aberystwyth’s ‘Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War’ for a printed journal this year.

Letter from Aberystwyth will continue, for the most part as a vehicle for overlooked or long forgotten fragments of our local history.

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Twelfth Night

by The Curious Scribbler

We took down the Christmas tree today.

The tree bears witness to six decades of decoration styles

It seems there is a certain amount of debate as to when you start counting the nights of Christmas and when the children were small we usually took it down on the 6th, Epiphany. No serious bad luck attended this oversight I’m glad to say.  Now there is a wealth of advice on the web which explains that Twelfth Night is really the 5th of January, though an exception is often made for decorations featuring the crib, since the wise men are not scheduled to rock up until the 6th.

So the boxes are retrieved from the loft and I spend the afternoon dusting and putting away the Christmas treasures each in their own flimsy sectionalised cardboard box.   For our tree represents a sixty-year accumulation of treasures: gaudy Czechoslovakian blown glass baubles, clip-on glass birds with glass fibre tails, wooden toys, metal musical instruments, American painted wood hummingbirds dangling on long white strings, glass candles, foil flowers and angels, and twisted bi-coloured metal strips which hang from the branches turning in the slightest air movement.  Almost every year a box or at least a few items have been added to the tree.

This year I will show you the oldest baubles we have: five British-made Austerity baubles from 1945. My newly married parents spent the last two years of the war in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and then moved to smoke-stained and dispirited York, a far cry from the brightly burnished tourist town of today.   Burnished decorations were also in short supply, the Czech glass industry  all but extinguished.

But someone in Britain had sought to fill the gap, with ornately moulded glass not seen before or since, and my mother bought a box of five.  The little caps with the spring legs which slot into the neck are far solider than in normal baubles, and with an inconveniently tiny eyelet which makes them difficult to thread.  And they are quite drab-coloured, rather than the familiar mirrored glass, one is misty blue, one red, one green.   Their opacity resembles Roman glass retrieved from the sea. Two smaller ones are mirrored silver, probably indeed made like mirrors, and like old mirrors the silvering has slipped and tarnished.   But these wartime baubles held their own as the glossier foreign goods reappeared and have always had a special place in my affections.  Those who grew up reading the Tim books by Edward Ardizzone will remember when Tim went to sea and Ginger, the cabin boy, illicitly drank of the first mate’s patent hair-growing medicine.  The blue bauble has always, for me, represented the flask of the dreaded hair tonic in the book.  And the other baubles have ridges, grooves and ornamental bosses unlike anything which has been produced since.  Neither the largest nor the brightest, these ornaments set the stage for the continuous collecting of the following years.


The blue moulded bauble reminded me of Ardizzone’s hair tonic bottle.


The Green glass bauble

The mirror glass baubles have not aged well

Also from 1945, showing signs of age


The red bauble moulded in the same form as the green one

Czech glass appeared in glittering heaps and bins in the upstairs section of W.H.Smiths by the late 50s. I remember the year my mother bought a golden glass trumpet with the metal reed set in its flaring bell, which we were each allowed to blow, just once, before it was hung on the tree, and I remember the year I was allowed to select my own novelty bauble and I chose a copper coloured kettle with handle and spout, about two inches tall.  I treasure it still.

    My Copper kettle - A Czechoslovakian glass bauble from the later 1950s

My Copper kettle – A Czechoslovakian glass bauble from the later 1950s


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