Showing posts with label antiques. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antiques. Show all posts

What Are You Writing Next?

My other (Polish) great great uncle was an artist.

The very first question that an audience member asked me, at the very first event I did for my new book about my murdered Leeds Irish great great uncle and what came after (in Blackwell's, in Edinburgh, as it happens) was 'What are you working on next?' I was tempted to say 'I don't have a scoobie' because that would have been the absolute truth.

It was a very hot night. Lovely friends had lent me their apartment, otherwise the event would have cost me a fortune. Edinburgh in July is not the cheapest place to stay. And because it was such a very hot night, only twelve people turned up to hear me speak about A Proper Person to be Detained.  Fortunately, if you click on the above link, you can read all about the book, since the Books From Scotland website very kindly asked me to do a question and answer piece about it.

The Ayrshire launch of the book, a couple of weeks later, was extremely well attended - many thanks to all those who ventured out on another very hot night! - and Waterstones sold out of copies, which was even better. There are more events to come. If you click on my events page, to the right of this post, you'll find a list and there may be a few more to add to that next year.

But ever since then, I've been pondering what to write next. So this post is partly to allow me to put some of those thoughts into words. Because I genuinely don't know. A friend asked me if I was 'looking for inspiration' today, but that isn't it. Besides, as most writers know, if you wait till inspiration comes along, you wouldn't write much at all. I'm never short of ideas or inspiration. In fact I probably have too many.

I've been planning another (factual, reflective) Robert Burns related project, and to tell the truth, I'm about half way through it. But it isn't exactly setting my heather on fire! Before I do anything else, I probably need to knuckle down and finish it and then let it lie fallow for a few months before I work on rewrites.

Recently, three different people have asked me when the sequel to The Posy Ring, which was always intended to be a trilogy, is coming out. It's going really cheap on Kindle for the summer, and the beautiful paperback is still available if you prefer solid books. But I don't know when The Marigold Child is coming out, if ever, because I haven't written it yet, although I do know what happens. And just occasionally, the characters, of whom I am very fond, walk into my head and ask me what I'm going to do about them. 'You can't just leave us in limbo like this!' they say.

There's a third possibility. Because at least some of A Proper Person involved writing about my much loved late father, Julian Czerkawski, and because I have been spending some time embarking on the process of applying to reinstate the dual Polish nationality I once had, I have also been considering researching and writing about the other side of the family, the Polish side. As different from the Leeds Irish side as it is possible to be.

So, I suppose the answer to the question 'what next?' is still, I don't have a scoobie. Because above all, I need to earn some money. Not for extras like holidays, but for money to live on. Money for groceries and house maintenance and electricity and central heating oil. That kind of money. And I suspect that the only way I'm going to achieve that (although it has taken me a lifetime of working in hope to be able to admit it) is not through writing.

It's to do something else altogether.

So I might just sell antiques for a bit, blog about them, and about various related things like gardening and country living on my 200 Year Old House blog, finish my Burns book in my free time, research more of my Polish family history, and see where all that takes me.

Or I might give up completely. For the first time in my whole writing life, since I was about ten years old, and wrote bad poems, madly and happily, I sometimes fantasise about stopping. I don't really believe I will. Sooner or later, the need to shape words into something more than fact will prompt me to start again. But all the same, there's a part of me that acknowledges the novelty of this. I've never felt this way before. Not once. Not ever.

And that worries me.

Antique of the Month: An Old and Unusual Costume Doll.

I've had this little personage in my possession for some years, but I think it might be time for her to find a new home. She's a costume doll, with a painted face (a bit like a Lenci doll, but that isn't what she is) dressed in a Polonaise costume that is entirely hand made - and enchanting.

Her head is made of scrim, very firm, with painted features, and her body seems to be made of the same stuffed fabric. She has real human hair, with a beaded hat, and hat pins. 

She had a pink satin overdress, with hand made lace sleeves, and trim at the neck. The lining of this is hand embroidered. Below this is a pink quilted skirt, and if you lift the overskirt, you can see her white lace edged corset with pink ribbons, and pink satin stays with fine stitching under that. The quilted skirt also has two little linen covered buttons fastening it at the back. Beneath that is a white linen petticoat, with a deep frill of hand done broderie anglais, with a pink flannel petticoat under that. 

Gorgeous shoes, broderie anglais petticoat, flannel petticoat and pantalettes. 

She even has hand stitched corsets!
Below that are gorgeous white pin-tucked pantalettes. again all hand stitched, with pink ribbons, and finally there are hand made stockings, with little white kid, beaded shoes.

I think she is a one off piece and obviously not nearly as old as the costume itself - circa 1900 perhaps, although it's hard to be sure. It looks to me as though this has been an ambitious handicrafts project for somebody, since so many different hand stitches and techniques are included - almost like a seamstress's 'apprentice piece'. But who knows? I've had her for many years, and treasured her and she has accompanied me to more than one talk about antique textiles - but I think it might be time to find her a new home. To tell the truth, I won't be too upset if she isn't sold - and in any case, I thought my readers might like to see some pictures of her.

She's currently for sale on my online store, The Scottish Home, on Love Antiques. 

Antique of the Month: A Precious Reminder of My Polish Family History

A tiny silver and enamel mirror - a rare survival.

I might fit in more than one antique this month. After all, Christmas is a time when this old house really comes into its own and it's nice to reflect on the history of a few precious possessions - not particularly precious in terms of monetary value, but only in terms of the memories they hold for me, like my piano that I wrote about last month,

This month, it's a tiny mirror, no more than three inches long. It's in silver, although since it came from eastern Poland, there's no hallmark. The back has pale cream enamel in an intricate and pretty design that doesn't show up too well in the photograph, and I'm afraid the glass on the other side has been somewhat damaged, although you can still just about see through the centre of it.

My grandmother
It belonged to my Polish grandmother, Lucja Szapera and on the right is one of only two photographs I have of her. Looking at that rather pretty, vivacious face, you would never know that her story was not destined to be a happy one. Born into a reasonably wealthy Lwow family (and I don't even know if there were any siblings) she met and married my grandfather, Wladyslaw Czerkawski while they were both very young. She must have thought all her dreams had come true.

Wladyslaw was handsome, charming and potentially rich. He had inherited one large country estate while still a child, and stood to inherit another, the one where he was born. Many years later, my great uncle Karol Kossak, who had been one of his closest friends, having married into the family, told me that he had been 'fond of the ladies' as I'm sure he was.

I met Lucja once. My grandfather not at all. He died of typhus on the long march east and is buried in Bukhara on the Silk Road. Long after the war, the Red Cross found my grandmother and put my father in touch with her. By that time my refugee father had met and married my mother in Leeds, and made a life for himself. Everything the Polish side of the family had once possessed was deep behind the Iron Curtain. The English/Irish side of the family had very little to begin with, but that's another story.

Lucja came to visit us in Leeds while I was still a young child but I have almost no memory of her except as an old and complaining lady who didn't want to be in England and didn't want to be where she was in Poland either. She wanted the promised land of her past. Her health was poor, she had lost everything that mattered to her, and she never came to terms with it.

My father Julian, Wladyslaw and Lucja in happier times. 

Before the war, she had already left my grandfather and returned to the city. My father divided his time between the two. I think she had discovered that she hated living in the countryside. She disliked the mud and the flies in summer, the cold in winter. I sometimes picture her as a character in a Chekhov play, longing for something else. Besides, the marriage had not turned out at all as she expected. My sociable grandfather loved the countryside. He read. He liked music and painting. He loved horses. He was always planning some new venture, something to make money. Like so many he was property rich and ready cash poor.

Poor Lucja was discontented and when my father was born, she was fairly discontented with him too, although the picture above still portrays an idyllic existence. He always remembered his aunt Wanda, Wladyslaw's sister, with more affection, although being a very kindly man all his life, he never really elaborated on the reasons why. As for my grandfather - he was already conducting an affair with the wife of a local schoolteacher by the time war put an end to all such distractions and, ultimately, to him.

Nevertheless, my father brought this little mirror with him to Yorkshire, and thence to Scotland, via the battle at Monte Cassino in Italy, along with a handful of photographs and nothing else. I'm looking at it now. The older I've grown, the more I've come to sympathise with Lucja. Some can build a good life out of nothing. My father certainly did. But for others - and for all kinds of reasons we can only guess at - it becomes impossible, the hill much too steep to climb.

Who are we to judge?

Handsome Wladyslaw

Some years ago, I wrote a novel called The Amber Heart, based on my Polish family history. It's only available on Kindle at present, I'm afraid, but if you want to know more about the turbulent history of a family very similar to my own, in eastern Poland during the mid 19th century, then you could give it a try.

Antique of the Month: My Beloved 'Squire' Piano.

My genuine antique 'B Squire' piano.

Because my new novel, The Posy Ring, due to be published by the ever excellent Saraband in 2018, involves antique dealing, among other things - I thought I would begin to write an 'antique of the month' post. And since I've just had my wonderful old piano tuned, it seems like a good idea to begin with this instrument.

I acquired my upright 'cottage' piano when we first moved to Scotland from Yorkshire, and I've had it since I was twelve years old. That's a very long time, and I love it dearly. I had been learning to play the piano since I was seven years old. My first teacher was a formidable but kindly woman called Miss Ingram who taught at Leeds College of Music in the late 50s. I can remember the head of the college saying that she was an 'iron hand in a velvet glove' and my seven year old self finding this vaguely alarming because she wore little fingerless gloves when she played and taught. The college was in a big and decidedly chilly old building at the end of Wood Lane, in Headingley and I always wondered if the mittens were concealing the iron! She had short grey hair, she wore a faintly Bohemian black velvet jacket over a pleated skirt, she massaged Nivea cream into her hands to keep them supple (the scent of it still takes me back to that time and place) and cleaned her piano keys with milk.

We must have had a piano in the house then, although I don't remember what it was like. But I suspect it had once belonged to my aunt Nora, my mother's much older sister, who was a fine pianist. In fact she had been offered a place at that same college of music to study full time, but she never took it up. Back then 'people like us' - working class people - didn't do things like that, and she  played only for pleasure. Being a good deal older than my mum, she had also - so I'm told - played to accompany the silent movies in the local cinema, when she was still a girl. It was when my mother married my Polish father that things changed, for me at least.

When I was twelve, we moved to Ayrshire and my mother bought me a good piano in the local saleroom. There were two salerooms in the town of Ayr back then, and I can't remember which one it came from but it could easily have been from our single surviving saleroom - the one I visit pretty much every week - Thomas Callan. Mum and dad found me a new music teacher in Ayr and I carried on with my piano lessons until I went off to university in Edinburgh at the age of seventeen, by which time I had reached Grade 7 and was reasonably competent, although I was only ever going to play for fun.

The piano has been tuned by the same person for all those years, a man called Paul Cohen, who is not only a fantastic tuner, who knows all about old instruments, but a brilliant musician in his own right as well. Every time he comes to the house, he marvels at just how good this lovely old piano sounds, because - he says - it IS old. In fact he reckons it dates from the late 1800s! It lives in our cottage sitting room and since the house is much older than the piano, having been built in 1808, and not particularly overheated, the piano seems very happy here.

This time, when he had taken the front off, we examined it more closely, and I took some pictures. The piano was sold by Paterson, Sons and Co but the maker is B Squire - Squire was an old and distinguished London company of piano makers, and when the original Mr Squire died, his wife Betsey took over, in the middle of the 19th century, and thereafter the firm was known as B Squire and Son. Inside, there's a serial number, 17420,  which we can't find anywhere else, but fascinatingly there's also a price of 44 guineas. Which - when you think about what people earned in those days - makes this a very expensive purchase indeed. 

I've played it for many years, sometimes more and sometimes less frequently. Our son had lessons for a couple of years when he was a wee boy, but as his lovely teacher, Lisa Occleston, observed, he was never going to enjoy it much. So when he stopped, I took his lesson slot, to refresh my memory, and a high old time we had every week, while I learned some quite demanding pieces of music. That came to an end when Lisa moved away, and again, I neglected my piano for a while. I always tend to play more in winter than in summer. 

Now I've dug out a heap of music, the piano has been tuned, and I plan to spend a lot more time this winter, refreshing my memory all over again. That's the huge benefit of learning to a certain standard. Even though you neglect it for a while, you don't really forget and can pick it up again with a little application. 

Paul tells me that pianos can hardly be sold these days. Everyone has gone digital. Which seems a pity. When all these gorgeous old instruments have been broken up, they'll probably become valuable all over again. But I wouldn't willingly part with it. And anyway - I don't think we could move it!