Of Christmas Stockings, Stairgates and Historical Novels

Christmas preparations are underway. Firstly, we are attempting to go some way towards toddler-proofing the house. We managed to acquire a couple of second hand but never used, stair gates, which, with luck, will stop small persons who are no longer entrapped in cots from endangering themselves. These were officially A Bargain but required screwing to the door frames in a semi-permanent fashion. As I am just about capable of not hurling myself down staircases (I hope this isn’t a case of famous last words) I was relieved to find that the gate parts are removable and I am not going to find myself crashing into barricades during nocturnal wanderings. The instructions had clearly been badly translated from an obscure foreign language but with very little profanity, one is now in situ, with the assembling of the second on tomorrow’s ‘to do’ list.

Sixty years ago my mother was hand crafting a large Christmas stocking from netting, bias-binding and ribbons. Actually, she was better organised than I, so it was probably sixty years and some months ago. I used it every year for twenty six years, then it passed to my daughter. Thirty years ago, having two daughters requiring stockings, I made one that resembled the first as closely as possible, using different coloured binding and decorative ribbons. My grandchildren have their own Christmas traditions when they are at home but at Granny’s, the stockings are again in use. So, another thirty years on and I am making a third stocking. Realistically, I suppose I might just still be here in thirty years. I wonder if there will be the need to make another then?

Making a third stocking was not without its complications. First I needed to assemble the raw materials. Net curtains seemed the way to go. As my house is hidden away I have no need for net curtains and none survived my last house move. Luckily a horder near me found not only a surplus to requirements net curtain but an alternative in the form of a prawn net. I was tempted by the prawn net but I thought that small fingers might get caught in the mesh and in the interests of making all three stockings as similar as possible, I went for the net curtain. Next bias-binding. Time was when I put a reel of cotton and a card of bias binding in my mum’s Christmas stocking each year; it became a standing joke and a family ritual. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the life-time’s supply of bias binding when she died. I used to get these from Woolworths. Woolworths is no more. Does bias binding even exist in the twenty-first century? I found a local fabric shop and keeping a low profile, kept an eye out for bias bonding. I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself by asking for something that no one has used for twenty years. It seems it is still a thing, although you now buy lengths from a roll, phew. I am now in the process of hand sewing the binding what suddenly seems to be a very long way round the third generation stocking.

4581718Another North Devon author is pulled from today’s advent box; there is so much talent in this county. Pamela Vass has written several books that are rooted in the Devon landscape. Seeds of Doubt is a novel that has the catastrophic 1952 Lynton and Lynmouth floods as its inspiration. Thirty four lives were lost in the flood, as the monthly rainfall was 250 times the normal level. Pamela’s novel is the product of careful research and reflects the actual speculation about what caused the tragedy; was it a freak weather incident or were there rainmakers at work? Shadow Child has Lundy Island as its setting and investigates the workings of Children’s Services as a young boy is abandoned in mysterious circumstances. Pamela has also written a biography of the computer pioneer Thomas Fowler in The Power of Three. She is currently working on another historical novel, Fire in the Belly: the North Devon Suffragettes. This is another opportunity for me to indulge my love of historical books and those with a local setting in a two for the price of one way, what a delight!

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