In the Details – Final

The small drawing-roomNot so in the years that the family gatherings happened. For some reason this was always their haven from Uncle John’s military style discipline. It was their place to build tents, play with Oupa’s pipes and listen to scratchy LPs. was exquisitely neat and smelled of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden shepherds and shepherdessesTime and again they would hide like naughty school girls behind the ruins of local block houses and listen to the cavorting of the young shepherds and their companions in the night. They always guessed there was more to “Red at night”…, on the mantelpieceSuzy and I used to run our marbles from side to side. Her on the one end and me on the other. It was a long shot, but the joy of success!, simpering sweetly. There were framed water-coloursThe question was always about the garish frame. Why gold leaf and why the intricacy surrounding such a tranquil scene?, two samplersThe fear of these hung around for years after Aunt Nicea passed away. She used them as punishment for not producing decorations that were up to her standards. To her credit she was always pushing them to improve and it did show in there later schooling. Reflecting on it they couldn’t help but think that she was living vicariously through their achievements., and three needlework picturesHis gran had tried her best to teach him the finer details; but somehow he had never mastered the accuracy required to turn needlework into an art form. These were his pride and joy, brimming with his love for the nostalgia of days gone by, though the eclectic colouring was a bit too modern for the themes of the triple ducks flying by. Nobody blamed him for this conceit, since there is always a danger of things going astray if you are colour blind. on the wall. There were some photographsAll artworks in the making. It was always a competition between the uncles who could produce the best compositions, but the talent was palpable. of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture – a Chippendale deskMahogany crica 1778 with gold leaf inlay in a non-typical asymmetric style with marching chair reupholstered to match the original. Unique and priceless., some little satin-wood tablesKlondike, freecell, spider, castle, bisley, demon – to call him a connoisseur would be an understatement of epic proportions. These tables were dedicated to an art form practiced in very few places, an art form of such subtlety that to watch was to dream. – and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofaNow that Gran was no longer around and Miss Daisy was sleeping permanently under the trees there was very little reason to keep it, it is just that no-one had the heart to do anything about it. There was an unwritten agreement to let it just dissolve into nothingness, that was more conceit than wishful thinking.
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Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | 1 Comment

In The Details – Final

The small drawing-roomIt had not always been a drawing-room, though a new visitor would never notice this. Madame had ensured the transformation was complete: even the elaborate fireplace and bay window had been torn out and made unrecognisable through the skilful efforts of Mr French and his apprentices. Only the sofa, a Victorian monstrosity without charm or comfort, remained untouched, a jarring reminder of that fateful night.
was exquisitely neat and smelled of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden shepherds and shepherdessesSo, one story could be that that little shepherdess, the one with the battered nose and faded skirts, is secretly a princess. The daughter of a powerful, handsome, and talented King, lost in a far away land. One day, he will ride onto the mantelpiece on his fine horse and pick up the little shepherdess with paint-stained hands (in Emily’s mind, the King is invariably a very fine painter), swing her onto the front of his saddle, and take her far, far away from this dreary drawing-room.
That’s just one possible story, of course.
, on the mantelpieceFaux-greek columns soared arrogantly around the cavity of the fireplace, filled with meticulously arranged, skillfully dried, artfully lifeless roses. So flammable, Emily often thought. So very flammable., simpering sweetly. There were framed water-coloursDark, mysterious landscapes where twisted roads soar up endless cliffs, and ancient trees reach upwards as if to pierce the firmament. The signature is a twisted scrawl, starting with a “Z”. They are very valuable, Madame always says, but she does not sell them.
, two samplersBoth the Gothic and the Cursive Alphabets lack the “E”.
Emily has repeatedly apologised for this, but nonetheless she has been banned from any further embroidering by Madame.
, and three needlework picturesFine works; Madame is acknowledged to have exceptional skill with the needle. They are for Emily’s dowry, Madame says: “The Sleepy Cat”; “Girls Playing”. “A Forest Encounter”.
Emily tries to be grateful, truly, but she finds the pictures disturbing. In her eyes, they are subtly subversive: the Cat, seemingly dozing in the sun, appears dead to her. And what is that… thing… the Girls are so merrily throwing?
The forest thing, hiding in the tree branches, comes to her in her dreams. It is not a pleasant Encounter.
on the wall. There were some photographsConrad and Julia Cuttner – straight-laced and narrow-toothed, just like Auntie Anne.
Richard and Robert Phillis-Smythe – specially scrubbed for this photo, no doubt, gleaming with gleeful guilt. In the background, Louis the Cat, petrified as per usual.
Gwynneth Smythe – perfect, polished and marketable. Madame simply adores this photograph.
There are no pictures of Emily, of course.
of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture – a Chippendale deskA grand old piece, taking more space than the drawing room affords it. It sits, fat, in it corner, glistening in stray sunlight, its surface clear except for that one, elegant volume. Madame’s diary.
Emily has read it a million times in her imagination. Her mind supplies staggering secrets, weaves clandestine narratives, reveals the truth of the lumpy sofa, the mysterious painter, the unwanted child.
She has never dared touch that desk.
, some little satin-wood tablesRefined, sophisticated, delicate.
Madame will probably leave them to Cousin Gwynneth one day.
– and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofaIt is a summer evening, sixteen years ago. Madame is a young girl, perching on the edge of the lumpy, large sofa. Her soft eyes are locked into the gaze of a young man, handsome, carefree and in love. The house is silent in the setting sun, all potential bastions of propriety and responsibility miraculously drawn away on serendipitous errands. Two hands, one marked with paint, touch: hesitantly, then urgently. Fate, merciless and swift, ties two lives together; and creates a third.
.
Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | 2 Comments

In The Details – Final

The small drawing-roomThe strongest memory I have of the drawing room is the smell.
There was a salty sea-like smell, almost a taste. The nearest piece of coastline was more than 60 miles away. The smell began tickling your nostrils a few paces away from the door. Once you entered the room, it became almost sweet. Like the smell of meat just before it turns. The strangest thing was that the smell would stay with my shoes for days afterwards.
was exquisitely neat and smelled of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden shepherds and shepherdessesThey were somewhat cracked and crumbled, much like the host.The two figures shared three hands between them and the legs of the bases were broken: they listed towards each other like drunkards on a street corner on a Saturday night., on the mantelpieceIf I hadn’t had to sit through hours of his blathering about it before he had it installed, I would have sworn that the mantelpiece was made of lino. Bargain bin cast offs at that. As it was, I knew that he’d paid through the nose to have it imported from Balochistan. The stone itself wasn’t cheap, but the bribes for the Customs officials to turn a blind eye to the boys he was smuggling in with the stone had nearly bankrupted him. “Worth every penny,” he had leered at me over a glass of port one night., simpering sweetly. There were framed water-coloursThe frames at least matched the elegance of the furniture: rich, smooth, wood; crisp lines. The paintings themselves were a different story. The scenes depicted were easily recognisable as various views from the gardens because the house itself was so striking. The technique left something to be desired, however. The flat washes were heavy-handed and the wet in wet looked more like accidents than artistic endeavour., two samplers“ABCDEFGHIJKL
MNOPQRSTUVW
XYZ
abcdefghijkl
mnopqrstuvw
xyz
Erica Roberts
July, 1956″
How… unimaginative.
, and three needlework picturesThe most polite way to describe the content of the pictures would be “unconventional.” At first glance they seemed innocent enough, but perhaps haphazardly made. Closer inspection revealed something perhaps more sinister: occult symbols and iconography. I never dared to ask directly if the pictures were their equivalent of a crucifix, for fear of a direct answer. on the wall. There were some photographsSeventeen. The number of photos he had of his niece and two nephews was now seventeen. The first few that went up felt like he was just the proud uncle. After the tenth one found its place on the the wall it started to become a little odd. Then he started making ever more elaborate frames for them: card; tissue paper; buttons; glitter.I suppose that’s why he was always hanging around Mrs Williams’ haberdashery as a boy. of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture – a Chippendale deskThe desk was exquisite: a thing of beauty. It was one of the few things in the house that I coveted. While so many other things were in a state of disrepair (the curtains, the Afghans), he kept the desk in the most mint of conditions. I would have loved to have a rummage around in his drawers, but he never left it unattended. It was almost as if he was frightened it would run off if it looked around and realised where it was., some little satin-wood tablesThe tables were of such a high quality and craftsmanship that the knitted coasters splayed upon them jarred all the more. The surfaces were often slightly sticky to the touch, as though they’d been cleaned in a hurry upon hearing the door bell. – and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofaI chose to remain standing rather than sit on the sofa. It’s not so much the uncomfortableness of it, more that dark patch at one end. Who knows what it is, or how long it’s been there. Are those claw marks in the wood? My goodness.
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Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | 2 Comments

[Victorian sofa]

Now that Gran was no longer around and Miss Daisy was sleeping permanently under the trees there was very little reason to keep it, it is just that no-one had the heart to do anything about it. There was an unwritten agreement to let it just dissolve into nothingness, that was more conceit than wishful thinking.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[satin-wood tables]

Klondike, freecell, spider, castle, bisley, demon – to call him a connoisseur would be an understatement of epic proportions. These tables were dedicated to an art form practiced in very few places, an art form of such subtlety that to watch was to dream.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[Chippendale desk]

Mahogany crica 1778 with gold leaf inlay in a non-typical asymmetric style with marching chair reupholstered to match the original. Unique and priceless.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[photographs]

All artworks in the making. It was always a competition between the uncles who could produce the best compositions, but the talent was palpable.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[two samplers]

The fear of these hung around for years after Aunt Nicea passed away. She used them as punishment for not producing decorations that were up to her standards. To her credit she was always pushing them to improve and it did show in there later schooling. Reflecting on it they couldn’t help but think that she was living vicariously through their achievements.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details, Uncategorized | Comments Off

[framed water-colours]

The question was always about the garish frame. Why gold leaf and why the intricacy surrounding such a tranquil scene?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

[mantelpiece]

Suzy and I used to run our marbles from side to side. Her on the one end and me on the other. It was a long shot, but the joy of success!

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[Victorian sofa]

It is a summer evening, sixteen years ago. Madame is a young girl, perching on the edge of the lumpy, large sofa. Her soft eyes are locked into the gaze of a young man, handsome, carefree and in love. The house is silent in the setting sun, all potential bastions of propriety and responsibility miraculously drawn away on serendipitous errands. Two hands, one marked with paint, touch: hesitantly, then urgently. Fate, merciless and swift, ties two lives together; and creates a third.

 

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[satin wood tables]

Refined, sophisticated, delicate.

Madame will probably leave them to Cousin Gwynneth one day.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses]

So, one story could be that that little shepherdess, the one with the battered nose and faded skirts, is secretly a princess. The daughter of a powerful, handsome, and talented King, lost in a far away land. One day, he will ride onto the mantelpiece on his fine horse and pick up the little shepherdess with paint-stained hands (in Emily’s mind, the King is invariably a very fine painter), swing her onto the front of his saddle, and take her far, far away from this dreary drawing-room.

That’s just one possible story, of course.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[Chippendale desk]

A grand old piece, taking more space than the drawing room affords it. It sits, fat, in it corner, glistening in stray sunlight, its surface clear except for that one, elegant volume. Madame’s diary.

Emily has read it a million times in her imagination. Her mind supplies staggering secrets, weaves clandestine narratives, reveals the truth of the lumpy sofa, the mysterious painter, the unwanted child.

She has never dared touch that desk.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[framed watercolours]

Dark, mysterious landscapes where twisted roads soar up endless cliffs, and ancient trees reach upwards as if to pierce the firmament. The signature is a twisted scrawl, starting with a “Z”. They are very valuable, Madame always says, but she does not sell them.

 

 

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[mantelpiece]

Faux-greek columns soared arrogantly around the cavity of the fireplace, filled with meticulously arranged, skillfully dried, artfully lifeless roses. So flammable, Emily often thought. So very flammable.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

In The Details – Final!

The small drawing-roomDespite its fancy name it was a small, poorly lit room and rather uninviting. It had once been the entrance hall before the estate was subdivided and the majestic driveway destroyed. was exquisitely neat and smelled of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden shepherds and shepherdessesThey were a wedding gift from a forgotten relation, placed safely out of reach in the room from which we children were forbidden. In my earliest memories I broke a shepherd’s crook and mended it with desperate, childish clumsiness. The inevitable punishment never came – in all the intervening years the damage was never noticed. Mother always hated those pale, pastel statues: perhaps that’s why father insisted they always be displayed.
, on the mantelpieceDark mahogany: beautiful but chipped at the edges and grimy in the cracks., simpering sweetly. There were framed water-coloursMother was a dedicated amateur artist in the last years of her life. The first, an early attempt at a Strelitzia, is skilful but uninspired. The second, completed in the last years of her life, depicts a stormy beach in late afternoon. In the far distance three figures walk ankle deep in the froth; another trails far behind wading through deeper water., two samplersWe did them for mother when we were kids, a craft project. My brother’s sampler is precise and elegant; mine by contrast untidy and childish. They had lain in the bottom of a cupboard for years; it was only long after we had left home that they were framed and put on display., and three needlework picturesThey have always been here. My mother must have known where they came from and why she kept them but if she ever told me the story I have forgotten it. on the wall. There were some photographsThere are twelve photos, apparently of my cousins. I recognise eight of them but can only name three. My brother would know them all, he was always more interested in the family. of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture – a Chippendale deskIt was my mother’s special writing desk – bought, years before, to write her novel from. At fourteen I first managed to pick the lock of the bottom drawer: there was no secret manuscript, just some old passports and a dusty Anias Nin novel., some little satin-wood tablesMade of exquisuite inlaid wood and always polished to a mirror-sheen: my grand parents brought them back from India in the 30′s. My brother, before he left, once said they were the only thing in this dreary house that he wanted to inherit. – and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofa I remember my brother, aged nineteen, sobbing wretchedly on that sofa: hopelessly and frustrated. It was one of the last times we spoke.
I told him to just get it over with and tell my parents the truth about himself. I told him once they were over the initial shock everything would be alright. He should have known better than to take the advice of a fifteen year old: they never spoke to him after that day.

.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | 2 Comments

[satin-wood tables]

The tables were of such a high quality and craftsmanship that the knitted coasters splayed upon them jarred all the more.
The surfaces were often slightly sticky to the touch, as though they’d been cleaned in a hurry upon hearing the door bell.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[drawing-room]

The strongest memory I have of the drawing room is the smell.
There was a salty sea-like smell, almost a taste. The nearest piece of coastline was more than 60 miles away.
The smell began tickling your nostrils a few paces away from the door.
Once you entered the room, it became almost sweet. Like the smell of meat just before it turns.

The strangest thing was that the smell would stay with my shoes for days afterwards. Nothing else: just my shoes.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[three needlework pictures]

The most polite way to describe the content of the pictures would be “unconventional.”
At first glance they seemed innocent enough, but perhaps haphazardly made.
Closer inspection revealed something perhaps more sinister: occult symbols and iconography.
I never dared to ask directly if the pictures were their equivalent of a crucifix, for fear of a direct answer.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off