Christmas present T shirts: the scarab beetle 2

Christmas present T shirts: the scarab beetle 2 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Daughter No 1 discovered these lovely sweatshirts from Arket online during lockdown. Beautifully made, their  seams are firm and straight, with no twistiness when washed, and there are no hanging threads that threaten to pull or unravel. Enamoured with the clear fresh colours, she bought 2 for each child and then asked me to do what I wanted with them.  Before I came back to Cheltenham I managed a brief foray into central London, mainly to visit Liberty and was delighted to find Arket now occupying the corner of the old Dickens and Jones department store right opposite the Liberty store at the Regent Street end of Great Marlborough Street. I bought 2 more sweatshirts, one for my husband’s granddaughter (in magenta, so gorgeous with dark hair) and another  in royal blue for my grandson because he so loves the royal blue T shirt I embroidered with a scarlet beetle for his birthday two years ago but which truth be told was a not very nice quality T shirt (from M & S – I was desperate but choice was limited).  Hot on the heels of last week’s stag beetle, here’s another – this time purple on pale blue with a bit more cut away á la Alabama Chanin to revel the pale blue underneath.

Christmas present T shirts: the scarab beetle 2 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Today, Saturday, I sit beside my window feeling happier than any time during the previous week. The dentist attempted my troublesome tooth extraction on Tuesday with the aid of what they like to call ‘happy gas’. However, the minute she fitted the gas delivery system on my nose, with tubes on either side across my face I knew I couldn’t stand it and asked her to stop. I begged to have my oxygen levels taken again and this time they were well above normal. She kindly rescheduled the extraction for Thursday and was happy to sedate me as long as the oxygen reading was good. All went well on Thursday and apart from feeling my left cheek has received a punch from a heavyweight boxer, I am recovering. Thinking about it we realised my oxygen levels were low because I had spent the morning with an intermittent irritating cough which was then exacerbated by a brisk walk up the hill to the dentist in cold air. For my second and third visits we took a cab to the dentist and I spent the mornings before doing deep breathing and trying to sit up straight. Great relief and great joy. In my 20s and 30s I may have coped adequately with the birth of 4 children including an undiagnosed breech birth (child No 3; gas and air) and a posterior presentation (child No 2; much the worse, in spite of all sorts of attempts at pain relief) but in later life I have become a complete coward. Just knock me out please for any further extraction or intervention. Two students attended the aborted extraction on Tuesday and I like to think they may have learned much about all the other aspects of the job apart from the bit involving just the teeth.

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Christmas present T shirts: the scarab beetle (1)


Christmas t shirt: a scarab beetle (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

We’ve had another difficult week. This time it was my turn – no Covid, thankfully, but toothache instead, an ailment minimal in the scheme of world affairs but utterly maximal for the individual sufferer. All signs pointed to an abscess above the tooth and on the tail of  such self diagnosis  came a wave of cold dread at the thought of the tooth’s likely imminent extraction. I cheered up slightly knowing I had now found a vey good dental practice who offer sedation for extractions. I was fortunate to get an appointment the next day. Better get it dealt with sooner than later. (In times of personal crisis, take comfort in clichés.) The problem and prognosis were as I feared. As we discussed alternative treatments, the dentist clipped a blood oxygen monitor on my finger and through a mirror I could see the reading was 90% – a bit of a  bombshell, much  too low for the dentist to consider sedation. Oh dear, now I have something else to worry about! Since the appointment,  antibiotics have cleared the infection and the pain has stopped. I will have the tooth out in the next few days and have been offered what the dentist calls “happy gas’ (as well as the usual pain killing injections into the gum), which almost makes me want to reject it for its name alone, but which I think is basically gas and air I had (and successfully benefitted from) during childbirth. I am not looking forward to this one little bit.

Christmas t shirt: a scarab beetle (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Now, back to the Christmas T shirts. Here is a scarab which is probably one of the few beetles most people can make a stab at recognising from its starring role in several thousand years of Egyptian history. Usually painted turquoise in wall paintings  and carvings or made from turquoise stones into elaborate jewellery, the real life beetle is disappointingly a dull black and a little over an inch in size (more than big enough for me).  Something about the habits of this unassuming beetle chimed with the ancient Egyptians idea of birth, death and rebirth. When the female is about to lay her eggs, she collects a small lump of animal faeces and embeds her eggs into it. Then both male and female scarab work together to roll this into a ball, pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing, accreting earth and detritus until the ball has become as big as the beetle. It is then buried. When the eggs hatch they emerge, enjoy the food source their parents have incorporated  in the ball for them and when strong enough they dig their way out and the cycle of life begins again. The ancient Egyptians saw something special and even celestial in the movement of the ball as it became bigger by the action of the two beetles working together; that the balls lay buried for about 30 days before the eggs hatched, suggested another parallel with lunar cycles. Although the beetle is in reality a dull colour, there’s something about its, shape, proportions and pleasantly rounded body that makes it a curiously satisfying form which lends itself well to decoration and embellishment – and just as fun to wear on a T shirt today as to have on a jewelled collar 5,000 years ago.

Helene Carter: Map of Africa, showing insect distribution (scarab iin Egypt top centre) From 1938 ‘The book of Insect Oddities’ by Raymond L.Ditmars and illustrated by Helene Carter.

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