THE VALUE OF JEWELLERY

I’m not a woman who values jewellery very highly. I can appreciate the beauty of the stone, the courage and strength of the miner, the skill of the workmanship, how it enhances an outfit. But why should a small piece of mineral be worth hundreds and thousands of pounds when it’s of no practical use whatsoever?

I do own some nice pieces of course – items given me by my husband to celebrate events, or just pieces he brought home from somewhere he’d been – and I enjoy wearing them. I have lovely necklaces of semi precious stones, sometimes finished off with a more expensive pendant bought by John on our holidays, designed specifically for me and a particular outfit by Joanna, and I remember her skill, her knowledge and her big hearted generosity every time I wear one. I also have a pendant of the Mary Rose, bought by Elisabeth in a gift shop on a school trip to the Isle of Wight, which hangs beside the malachite, the biwa pearls, the turquoise, the amethysts and all the other objects I own. But while a gift has emotional value – the love with which it was given – I tend not to invest the object itself with that value. So I will stop wearing necklaces if they make my neck itch; I’ve all but given up bracelets because my tendency to shake when tired makes them noisy, and for years I’ve worn no rings at all as I found them wearying on my fingers.

But last week I tried on my rings and found them to be OK, so I’ve been wearing them.

Years and years ago, I bought a ‘fake’ ‘sapphire’ and ‘diamond’ cluster ring in Asda of all places for the princely sum of £5. My companion was a lady of more traditional outlook than myself.

“Anyone who knows you,” she declared, “will know that you could not afford it.” Well blow you, I thought, promptly deciding to acquire it and replying, “Surely you realise that it is we who are the valuable objects, and not the baubles we wear.”

Besides, she was wrong. I went to a party, wearing the Asda ring, and encountered an acquaintance whose jewellery collection was much more valuable than mine. She could not keep her eyes off my ring. I thought, if she admires it, I’ll take it off and hold it out to her and invite her to guess how much it was and we can laugh over its lowly provenance, She however did not comment on my ring which never the less held her spell-bound, so I said nothing either. When I next met her, she was sporting a similar ring of gold, with a dome of small diamonds and a spattering of sapphires. I’m sure she went to a proper jewellers and that their version of the sapphire and diamond ring had cost them much more than ours did.

Anyway, decades have passed and the ring has languished in my ring box. Last weekend, on a whim, I put it on my right hand and we went off to meet Elisabeth and Rob at Wisely. We had a lovely day. In one of the ‘model’ gardens, my ‘sapphire’ ring slipped off my finger and fell silently into a patch of undergrowth. Diligent searching on their hands and knees by John, Rob and Elisabeth failed to find it,

But I thought, Easy come, easy go. I’ve had far more than £5 worth of fun out of it.

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MEMORIES OF MY FATHER

 

Today is Father’s Day and we have been with our son and his family, celebrating their father and grandfatherhood. I am remembering my own father, with whom I did not have an easy relationship. There were years of my life when I never spoke to him at all. My father did not have easy relationships with anybody. When we buried him, those present were his wife, his son and his daughter and their spouses; two of his grandchildren and the spouse of one of them, (the third grandchild was too far away to return), and his great grand-daughter. He held no offices. He was a private man.

And yet he was an exceptional individual who affected the lives of many people that he came into contact with in unexpected ways.

My father was contrary. When I was told that I resembled him, (which happened frequently) I did agree, but I always added the proviso, but I am more reasonable, to which whoever had compared me to him invariably agreed. Mind you, this did not count for very much, for no-one could (on occasion) be less reasonable than my father.

He was a small, wiry man- could have been a jockey small. But what struck you first on meeting him was how handsome he was. His face was outstandingly good-looking, and in his exceptional beauty (but not his actual looks) he resembled Prince Philip or Piers Brosnan or Anthony Eden. He was not vain. He was tanned, with wavy blonde hair which he retained into old age, and eyes of an indeterminate colour that ran between grey, green and turquoise and all the shades between. He could speak the Angus dialect or the Queen’s English, but when he got annoyed, he spoke the Queen’s English. He was a man of formal courtesy (except when he abandoned that) and people meeting this quiet, polite, modest man generally had no idea of who he could be.

He was also extremely intelligent in contradictory ways. He was very practical and could build whatever he wanted from a beehive to a house. He knew every tree and plant and all it’s uses. He could calculate mathematically quicker than any computer. He could keep a running total at a supermarket in his head with no apparent effort. He would know every card that had been played (he refused to play cards.) He could ‘guess’ what people thought and predict their actions with great accuracy. He was, despite his practicality, a dreamer of dreams and a maker of prophecies. These were often accurate. He was cunning, devious where necessary, and surprisingly patient for an impatient man and he was not a good man to have for an enemy. In spite of all these things he was also generous and compassionate.   He was however courageous and enduring, and he stood up for truth and justice (as he saw them.) He was incorruptible in the sense that he could neither be bullied nor bribed.

He worked in dangerous places and during this period several serious accidents occurred. In each case he was immediately sent for, and told, ‘Keep this man alive until they get him into the hospital.’ Though it was sometimes many months before they were able enough to come back and see him, they all survived.   On a more prosaic level, he taught several illiterate men how to read and write.

He was wrong about some things but the things he was right about far out-weighed his errors.

He was interested in religion though he espoused no religion. He had a wry sense of humour and was a great raconteur, if he was relaxed and in good humour. But if he was not in a good humour – and there was no apparent reason for any of his moods, he could poison an entire day with his miasmic silence, or set it on fire with his vicious rants; his expertise at both these skills would make Gordon Brown seem a rank amateur. He could be silent; but he could also talk for hours (this could be extremely wearing.)

He was also possessive. He thoroughly disliked and did his best to discourage any male friend of mine until the magic day when I parted from them. He knew me well enough to know that they were now completely safe, and then he would express great sympathy for them. (Where will he find another woman like you? He could win you over with a throw-away line.) He did not come to my wedding.

In truth, he could be and generally was an exhausting difficulty. He was a man of great and puzzling contradictions and if you had canvassed opinion on him you would have wondered if people were talking of the same man. He was also mercurial and might change his position on some point, or hold to it forever. He was never predictable. He had interesting, thought provoking things to say. Life with him was never dull.

He was a man of secrets. When John went back to my parents’ house to collect Joanna after the birth of our second daughter, and said her name was to be Elisabeth, John reported that he said only that it was a fine name, but he seemed oddly moved, and it was only then that I learned that his mother, who had died in his young childhood, had been called Elizabeth.

He was by no means an easy parent to have, and it’s probably just as well we were his own children, and flints of the same rock, as it were. But you can forgive your parents anything, if they only love you; and his love was like a bottomless ocean.

It does not seem appropriate to hope that he rests in peace, for he was a most restless person; but may his journey be easy.

I count myself fortunate that I was his daughter.

JUNE

JUNE

Isn’t June a lovely time of year? It’s true that we generally are awakened by young jackdaws squabbling noisily in our back garden at about 5 am, but the times are so lovely you don’t really mind. The sun is high in the sky and everything seems to be stretching heavenwards.

In the garden there’s fragrant honeysuckle and the heady philadelphus. The roses are all beauty and scent. The lawn is green and tender (and at the stage of will-you-credit-how-fast-that-grass-grows.)Lupins stand tall in the border. There’s a whole stand of foxgloves under a tree. The air is full of birdsong.

The first little family of newly fledged blue tits came en masse to the feeders this morning. They were all tweeting excitedly and had to be shown what to do by their parents. We have starlings, blackbirds (who eat our gooseberries), thrushes, great tits, sparrows, jackdaws, crows, and magpies.

The garden is full of activity and life.

I lie on the swing in the shade and just let everything slip quietly by. June will be gone for another year before we even know it.

THE ORANGE PIG

THE ORANGE PIG

I reported recently that when in France we’d had some good meals, and we sampled (in part anyway) two extremes of examples of 2 starred Michelin restaurants.

The first, entirely satisfactory experience was in a luxurious conservatory type room in an expensive hotel in one of their coastal towns. While the men were parking the cars, Elisabeth and I were climbing a short flight of stairs at the entrance, she carrying the folded wheelchair and me walking. The front door opened, and someone relieved Elisabeth of the wheelchair, and advised me that if I found stairs difficult, they had a lift at the side. Our name was taken, our reservation confirmed, the men arrived, and we were shown in to the elegant restaurant which had a beautiful view of the bay. The linen, china, glassware and flowers were all a delight to examine. To our amusement, we ladies were brought a kind of hook and shelf that fitted to our chair on which you could place your handbag.

We decided we would have the most modest menu, which had 2 or 3 choices for each course and included a bottle of wine. The men had pastis and we had champagne as an aperitif. There was delicious home-baked bread and an amuse-bouche. I am ashamed to admit that out of the plethora of meals we ate, I cannot recall what exactly we ate here, but it was all very good. There was no feeling of disapproval that we had chosen a less expensive choice (it was still quite pricey you understand), and the service was impeccable – it was attentive without being tiresome; it proceeded at exactly the right pace – show enough that you felt you could relax, but not so slow that you became impatient. This kind of service, which you barely notice, is difficult to deliver.

There was only one wrong note. A waitress from another table, a middle-aged woman in black, came to our table. ”You have a Princess, called Charlotte.” she declared in tones of great excitement. “Ah, yes,” we said, “We’d heard that on the news.” We smiled at her. But this was not apparently what was expected. “Are you not pleased?” By this time I’m reflecting that I’m not required to hold a random conversation with a waitress on a topic of her choosing, and her not even our waitress, but we reply politely that yes, of course we’re pleased. It is good that the child has been delivered safely; the mother is well; and they must be pleased to have a boy and a girl. I don’t know what raptures she is expecting – they got rid of their monarchy but if they feel they need one, they’re welcome to ours so far as I’m concerned, but the waitress stomps off, clearly in a huff, delivering her coup de grace over her shoulder. ‘And it is good for England as well!’

The maitre d, one of these unobtrusive chaps who just appears out of nowhere when he’s required, (and hence the excellent service) materialises at our elbow soothingly and the meal proceeds.

But discussing this later with Elisabeth, we think it is significant that neither of us can remember anything we ate here. We can remember that it was all very pleasant; that the service was superb; the occasion enjoyable; and the food was very good – but we wonder if a Michelin star is worth what it used to be.

I considered complaining about the impertinent waitress but the maitre d was so competent I reckon he had dealt with it anyway.

Another starred Mchelin restaurant on our last day. Elisabeth and I approach the restaurant while the men park the cars and settle Milo. We try various doors around the building but cannot gain admittance. A chef emerges from some hidden door and opens a gate and directs us into a car park from which (if we’re lucky) we can enter the building. As we approach the doors we pass a plastic life sized orange pig. Inside, the place smells of spa and three ladies in dressing-gowns are consulting the receptionist. We wait. When they finish, the receptionist looks us over, and then decides there is something more urgent requiring her attention elsewhere and walks off, leaving the reception empty. After some time, a young male receptionist arrives. Elisabeth says we have a reservation. He denies this. She insists. He finds it, but does not apologise. I say I wish to visit the ladies’ room but this request is ignored. Although the dining room is empty, we are ushered to an unprepossessing table far from the window and with a lot of passing traffic. Worst of all, above this table is a giant photo of an unattractive man in chef’s uniform. I take even more exception to him than I did to the pig, The men arrive and we are presented with the menu. There are three prices of menu printed, but we are informed that only one is available today, (the most expensive) which costs 90 Euros per person. I have already decided (at about the point where we passed the pig) that I do not care for this establishment, so I shut my menu decidedly, and the decision is made that we will leave. The waitress says, “We can propose for you a simpler menu.” But I think, and will you also remove the photograph of the chef, and we sweep out, passing more people in dressing gowns.

We drive down the road and we find a rough building in a wood, practically a shack, where we can see the chef working (he is amusingly grumphy) and the waitress (perhaps his wife) is a beauty with a swan neck, and for some modest sum we have a delicious meal (there is very little choice) which includes kebabs of lamb and wonderful home made ice cream, served on mis matched china and surrounded by French families.

You can keep your orange pig.