Monthly Archives: March 2013

Caveat emptor, or The Long and the Short of it

A 'vintage' cushion, though I remember when it was new

A ‘vintage’ cushion, though I remember when it was new

We don’t do many things completely off-the-cuff, but with time to kill before a train at Clapham Junction we mooched into Debenhams because new bedroom curtains had been recently under discussion. Of course you should never buy curtains without careful measurement; in fact the adage ‘measure twice, cut once’ could hardly be more appropriate. But then when a ready-made pair presents itself which is (a) acceptable to both parties in its design; (b) lined and interlined so that it’s much cosier than the other offerings; and (c) in the sale, what are you going to do?

One of us has a much better sense of spatial awareness than I do, and not only that is much more adept than I with numbers and measurements in general. So it was with confidence that we made our choice, closed the deal and walked briskly back to the station with the parcel under an arm. Sorted, as they say. We even caught the originally intended train.

Back home the next day there was a pleasant sense of anticipation as we spread the new curtains out on the bed. The weight was luxurious, the colours warm and comfortable with the existing decor. A bonus even: they toned beautifully with a Bargello tapestry cushion stitched 40 years ago by a much-missed great aunt which had found it’s way into the bedroom for safekeeping. But somehow … they looked just a bit … narrow? In fact barely the width of the window, when curtains have to be at least one-and-a-half times, if not twice the width to be really generous-looking. *Sad faces*.  Disappointment. And a useless pair of curtains.

Turns out it’s quite tricky to put a pair of curtains back in their packaging so that they look like they’ve never been opened. Because of course you would check the measurements before you undid them, wouldn’t you?

Scene Three of this little tale takes place in our nearest upmarket town, the one with Marks and Spencer and the nicer kind of chain store lining its steep and cobbled High Street. The sort of place you go to, for example, to buy secret presents for your other half when their birthday is imminent. I left the house with a vague mention of non-specific shopping to do, at nowhere in particular and had a productive and discreet time, for once actually finding all the presents I had thought of. I left them stashed away in the boot of my car to await the right moment for smuggling them indoors when the coast was clear.

“What have you been up to while I was out?”

Addressing the curtain problem, of course. He’d been to the nearest Debenhams, paid to park and everything, only to find they were too small to have a curtain department. So then he’d had to go to … aforementioned upmarket town, pretty much visiting the same shops I’d been to, presumably within minutes of my being there. Now that would have been awkward, to be caught with armfuls of future surprises. But my secrets were safe and I managed to conceal my amusement when he talked about not finding the very thing I had also looked for and not found in Lakeland.

And the curtains? Out of stock in the right size. But the lady was very helpful, and she took back the mis-purchased pair, checked the online stock, found there were three pairs left and arranged for one of them to be sent directly to us. Good news all round.

Only a few days later, I returned from some meeting or other mid-morning to find curtains laid out on the bed once more, but this time looking altogether more substantial, width-wise.

For some reason, putting up curtains is one of those fiddly jobs I just can’t get on with, tugging away at the tape, getting the pleats even, and worst of all fitting those brittle plastic hooks. But we struggled on, one half and then the other and by lunchtime it was done.

It was only when we came up to bed that we noticed that one curtain was two inches shorter than the other. Having put them up in the morning, we’d left them open and at that time the disparity just wasn’t obvious.

Another expedition to upmarket town. The curtain lady in the store was once again very helpful, and she decided to order both remaining stock pairs into the store. And it was really only a few more days to wait until the call came that they were in and could we go and pick them up. At least this time we didn’t need to pretend we hadn’t opened the package when we returned the second pair, and by the third attempt we were getting quite adept at the whole curtain-hook protocol.

Sweet dreams at last.

Buy in haste and repent at leisure

Actually this is just a place-holder for next week’s blog about the still unfolding saga of an impulse buy…

In the good news section, two new grand-babies have arrived safe, sound and with acclamation – Spring is a time of new beginnings.

And meanwhile, in another corner of the portfolio life, there’s this.

World Book Day: more than just dressing up

A lovely Sunday afternoon tea with my sister and brother-in-law. They are erudite people, both steeped in medieval Italian history and the conversation turned to manuscripts and palaeography.

Pouring over photos of astonishingly beautiful illuminated manuscripts, I began to ponder the occasional marginalia and ‘glosses’ (translations or interpretations written over words or phrases). How could anyone ‘scribble’ in the margins of these amazing artefacts? By now the glosses themselves may be highly valued historical and/or contemporaneous insights, but when they were written, wasn’t it the equivalent of scrawling with a ballpoint pen in a hugely expensive coffee table tome, thereby spoiling it for others?

Apparently not. These days we can make use, as needed, of commentaries and translations galore on works of literary merit.  To put ourselves in the place of readers in the middle ages and the renaissance we have to imagine a completely different environment. Those who could read were in a minority, books were rare and precious objects. If you were lucky enough to own one, you would be studying the text unaccompanied and unsupported. Once you had worked out the meaning of a Latin passage, or had an insight about it, it was perfectly natural to record your thoughts right there in the margin for when you came back to that point the next time. This is what reading was – a privilege as well as a skill, a painstaking pursuit for those who had the time.

Now, we are bombarded on all sides by text via every conceivable channel and platform. There’s just too much information so we skim through it remembering very little, rushing on to the next email, document, blog, website, newspaper, book club novel, textbook, cook book, … on and on it goes. We’ve lost the ability, or inclination, to  ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’, and I’m not convinced the world’s a better place for it.

I remember how moved I was when I went into a bookshop with our daughter just after she had  begun to read, aged three-and-something. The thought of what was being unlocked for her stirred deep emotions, offered a momentary flash of insight of how precious and important and life-enhancing it is just to be able to recognise the written word and understand what it means.

quaeris quot mihi basiationes ....

quaeris quot mihi basiationes ….