An embroidered alphabet: letter Q


Embroidered letter Q (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

This week’s flight of mercy to help with second chicken pox victim was bookended by a couple of Wren’s churches. I say churches but one, St Paul’s, is of course a cathedral – indeed it’s England’s first built Protestant cathedral, erected after the Great Fire of London had completely destroyed the previous building.

Embroidered letter Q (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

On Tuesday, it was St Brides in Fleet Street, warmly regarded by journalists as their church. “Brides in Fleet Street lacks a choir” as the nursery rhyme  goes and it does in that the choir sit facing each other in the middle of the nave, as in a college chapel, with the congregation arranged in the same way. Bombed in WW2, with just walls and spire remaining, it was completely rebuilt to Wren’s plans in the 1950s. Daughter No 1 was reading a lesson in a service dedicated to the remembrance and celebration of journalists, with particular reference to those lost this year (including the murdered Jamal Khashoggi) but also journalists who had died in WW1 (e.g from The Times newspaper, more than 150 and The Telegraph, more than 250). We sat behind former Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman (triply rooted in the profession as the daughter of journalists) who in her address underlined the principle, ‘not unkind; not untrue’ (not her words), to be as difficult to abide by in writing about high fashion and battling gross commercialism as it is in investigative and comment journalism. Of course I can’t resist adding that she wore a silk skirt in a houndstooth check in shades of blue over which bold flowers had been embroidered [by machine] while her lurex jumper, in a similar but not quite the same blue, was lightly printed withe Indian motifs. They didn’t quite go together as an outfit but I loved the idea that she loved them enough to want to wear them together. (Daughter No 1, “Though I thought her mismatch perfect!”) Turning to talk to us, she was touchingly nervous, doubted the calibre of her address and felt as down to earth as someone you might regularly meet for coffee and a chat.

Sketches of various Qs found online

Back in Islington life with a very spotty 18 month old and a nanny not in the best of health meant there was plenty to do. Books too needed to be shifted from the room formerly designated as the study but soon to become the small person’s bedroom. This was not an occasion to be a perfectionist (it can pretty much do your head in if you let it) and for the time being books were shelved according to size and  subject matter.

Sketches of various Qs found online

One of my passions is English church music –  choral evensong I think just might be the most perfect of Anglican church services.  Three Oxford colleges had – well still have – full choirs with boy trebles who sang every evening during each of the university’s three eight week terms. Magdalen College Choir was my favourite and it was rare that I missed a service while I was an undergraduate. My grandson now attends St Paul’s Cathedral School which lies tucked in behind the east end of the cathedral. He loves being so close to this glorious building which he can clearly see from his class window and is curious to know more about the school’s choristers who sing in the cathedral (lovely little video about the choristers on the school’s website). I promised to take him to a service.  Yesterday seemed an ideal day so I set out to meet him from school. First I braved the Piccadilly Circus end of Regent Street to visit my current favourite shop, Anthropologie, but Black Friday crowds were ridiculously bad and after a brief circuit and no buying I bused it up to the cathedral with plenty of time to walk round and enjoy the building … and discover that yesterday the boy choristers weren’t singing (not mentioned on the cathedral’s website).  We shall try again, when I’ve checked with the choir master. Nevertheless, we had a nice one on one session, a bite to eat and bussed it home in time for me to have another hour with the family before the 19.48 train to Cheltenham.

How rarely one uses upper case Q – probably not at all if it weren’t for Queen Elizabeth!

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An embroidered alphabet: letter P

Ipsden Church in Autumn

Feet! Suddenly winter boots that have served me well for several years have let me down and a week ago, after a day of walking round Cheltenham – not very arduously –  I returned home with a painful tendonitis along the top of one of my feet. A few years ago I bought 3 pairs of near identical boots and all, much resoled and heeled, have worked well with insole supports. Obviously no longer. After a  weekend resting my foot (which fortunately combines well with knitting and sewing) action was necessary. Skechers Go Walk shoes have been brilliant for me over the past few summers and put a stop to painful plantar fasciitis – (tendonitis of the bottom of the foot, aka policeman’s foot), so we set off into Cheltenham on Monday morning to see if we could find some Skechers shoes and boots that could see me through winter(s). Thank goodness, we were lucky and I came away with 2 pairs of suede loafers, a pair of suede lace up boots (not my first choice of style but they were too comfortable to ignore) and a pair of men’s leather chelsea boots, which latter I also persuaded my husband into (in his size naturally). Daily walks and lots of rest and I’m relieved that just 8 days later, the pain and swelling has subsided and things are definitely getting back to normal. Rarely have I spent so much money with such joy and I can now more happily face the coming winter!

Embroidered letter P (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The alphabet continues with a rather glorious life affirming P. This is modelled directly on another of Jessica  Hische’s brilliantly conceived capital letters but with the addition of little golden leaves at the end of its curls. These are all too appropriate now as the trees, which seemed to stubbornly hold on to theirs for longer than expected, have suddenly had enough and just in the last few days have decided to shed vast numbers of mainly very yellow leaves. Derwent May in his Nature Notes column in Wednesday’s  Times newspaper confirms this and says it is turning out to be a very yellow autumn with reds little in evidence.

Embroidered letter P with golden leaves (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

In fact,  generally, British woods tend to yellow in autumn as relatively few native European trees go red before leaf fall – rowan being one of those few and wild cherry which can go quite scarlet. Introduced species, like acer and the North American oak, dot our landscape with red but these are comparatively few and far between. Curiously yellow and orange pigments (flavonoids and carotenoids) surface as chlorophyll declines and is reabsorbed, while red pigments, or anthocyanins are newly manufactured. Autumn, or Fall, is much redder in N.America and E.Asia because more trees of ancient origins have survived. Evergreen tropical trees, the early ancestors of deciduous trees,  didn’t lose their leave in autumn; they then evolved into evergreen temperate trees, which of course also didn’t lose their leaves and from these deciduous temperate trees evolved. It is now thought that redness of leaves evolved before the mass leaf dropping habit of deciduous temperate trees.  Perhaps the red pigments provided protection from leaf eating animals which are now long extinct, or perhaps red is a signal to bring animals to the tree so that they can harvest the seeds and berries.  Some think red pigments may  have anti-fungal qualities or protect the leaf from the damages of sunlight as it transports important chemicals out of the leaf and into the safe keeping of the twig. It may be that redness evolved for one reason but then in a happy accident turned out to be useful for other reasons. Scientists are just not sure.

Sketches of various Ps found online

Sketches of various Ps found online

In 2002 I went to American Sublime, Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880 an exhibition at Tate Britain which showed American artists taking a romantic view of their own landscapes and out-turnering Turner in their depictions of  suns setting on an idyll of meaningful landscape.  The Hudson River group of artists was founded by the Englishman Thomas Cole and included Frederick Church and Jasper Cropsey (I don’t think you had to have a surname beginning with C but maybe it helped). The British public was as entranced in 2002 as it had been in the mid C19th. When Queen Victoria saw Cropsey’s Autumn – On the Hudson River she thought he must have exaggerated the colour and in her forthright way, told him so. He later sent her a package of brilliantly coloured leaves – the only real reply.

(Church and fellow Hudson River School painter Sanford Robinson Gifford went on with others to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880: Andrew Wilton &Tim Barringer (Tate Publishing 2001) Catalogue to the Exhibition

Autumn can be wonderful – but to appreciate it properly, you do need sun and preferably no rain. This week we have been lucky.

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