My blue painted easter egg

Is it too late to wish you happy Easter? Probably. Is it too late to have a hot cross bun? I bloody well hope not.  Normally it’s my favourite part of the Easter festivities; a buttery, toasted, spicy hot cross bun, with a cuppa. And then probably another one. This year I haven’t managed any so far. Maybe I’ll make some myself this weekend, before it gets far too late.  If I do, it’ll be these.

In all other respects, apart from y’know, the whole Jesus-y bit, I had an unusually celebratory Easter.  Firstly I went on holiday by mistake.  We’d planned a trip to Brighton a long time ago, when the weather was poor and the evenings were dark and fuelled by sloe gin and The Sopranos.  We had to change the weekend several times, and it was only later we realised we’d booked an Easter holiday. The second revelation was the weather. It was absolutely beautiful – not a single cloud. It’s disconcerting having a British beach holiday when you don’t need to position yourself in a fortress of windbreaks.

We stayed at The Artist’s Residence, where each room is painted by a different artist in a different style. It’s a really welcoming, friendly and interesting place to stay, although far too many bananas for breakfast for me. More importantly one of the rooms has a Japanese-style plunge bath. You can bath with water up to your neck. Plunge indeed.

On Easter Sunday we took the first bus up to Devil’s Dyke, ready for a 10.45am egg rolling competition. Or not. That’ll teach me to read a website properly. In fact we were a day early.

Luckily we already had a walk around the Dyke planned. I know it’s usual for National Trust walks to guide you, subtly towards their sites, cafes and shops, to encourage a little retail spending. This walk involved a de-tour off the route and to their café. Had the café, set in a small barnyard and barn, not been beautiful, and had they not served me tea and marmite toast, I could have worked myself up to a bit of outrage.  However, Saddlescombe Farm comes highly recommended, and the salads and cakes that were brought out looked very tasty.  The marmite toast certainly hit the spot, but when doesn’t it?

On Easter Monday, we took the same bus up to Devil’s Dyke, ready for the 10.45am egg rolling competition. Showing an unusual level of preparation, I had hard-boiled the eggs on Friday afternoon; it gave me a good excuse to make a salad nicoise at the same time. On Saturday afternoon we had sat in the Artist’s Residence (aptly) painting our eggs. Prizes at the egg rolling were also awarded for best decorated eggs, so careful painting was required.  We had one egg each, and an extra, just in case. Post-painting, they were named Charlie, Mildred and the blue one.

Charlie and Mildred

When we got to Devil’s Dyke, we joined a snaking queue of families crossing over and up the Dyke, getting good positions for the egg rolling contest. There were three categories – under 7s, aged 13 and over (otherwise known as adults) and aged 7-13. Apparently the under 7s generally try to run after their eggs after letting them go, and so there were several warnings to stop them bounding down the steep dyke. Periodically a child would accidentally let go of their egg and chase after it, to the cheers and whoops of the crowd above.  He’d then begin the arduous climb back up the slope.

For each category, each egg was numbered, and inspected to see if it qualified for the prettiness prize. Then, after three, all eggs would be rolled simultaneously down the slope – picture the Sony advert, but with slighter fewer balls.

Egg rolling, 7-13 age group.

Most of them reached the bottom of the slope, and some of those that did continued bouncing along the path for a long way. The winner’s number would be announced, everyone would cheer, and bound down the hill to re-collect their egg.

Running down to collect the eggs.

We had one egg each to roll, so Mildred was spared the ordeal. Charlie and the blue one made it down the hill, and along the path for quite a distance, but unfortunately, not quite far enough.

The eggs in Littlehampton.

As a celebratory treat, we took them along to Littlehampton, to sit beside the sea. We left them there to be washed away, but not before a boy spotted them – ‘Mu-um! Look!’ and her response, a suspicious and confused, ‘What are those?’


Designers Makers Market

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There’s something I really like about the atmosphere of a market. Once the difficult business of dragging yourself out of bed is done, it feels good to be up and about and being around other people who have also got up early in preparation, and are also absorbed by the business of setting up the stall.

I like the lull between being set up and when customers start arriving. It generally involves a cup of tea, something to eat and the opportunity to go around and look at what every one else is selling. I could have spent quite enormous quantities of dosh at the designers/makers market. It sounds like shameless advertising, but I fell in love with a great many things on the other stalls at the market. Special mention goes to Helen Steel, Yeyah, Emily Bucknell and James Brown. I’m rather jealous of all the print makers, and need to get myself back into a silk screen printing studio one day soon, and re-learn what the Dalston Print Club taught me.

The market is every Saturday and everything is handmade and original. It makes a nice change from looking at the same series of dresses and t shirts repeatedly, knowing you can get the same thing in Spitalfields, Camden and Notting Hill.

I really enjoyed myself – sitting at the stall and getting a really positive reaction to my cards and boxes, eating treats from nearby Broadway Market and sewing bunting for a party. Sounds like near on the perfect Saturday.  Hope to see you there soon. I’m next there on 7th May.

Mannequins, Tissue Paper and Pins

I am in a little back garden in Stepney Green, enjoying the sunshine, compiling photos, typing text, and hoping the black keys of the keyboard don’t become too hot to touch, and feeling a little like I’m on holiday.

This time last week I was back in school, the Fashion Retail Academy to be exact; packed lunches, notebooks and lots of things to learn, having boistrous discussions with classmates about the relative merits of different shop fittings and how best to build a three-part accessories diplay. I also learnt how to manoevre a mannequin (primarily, with care), how to make tissue paper arms and tissue paper skirts, and the ins and out of the visual merchandising industry – which shops over-pin their clothes? Which shops under-pin? Whose windows have looked the same for the past 15 years?

I was part of their Visual Merchandising Short Course. It was a refreshing change to be in the classroom again, and, for an English graduate, extremely refreshing for the course to be completely hands on and practical. The Academy itself has been kitted out to an extremely high-spec and prides itself on facilities it has to offer. This isn’t surprising, considering it’s links with the retail giants The Arcadia Group (Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Topman, Topshop And Wallis), Marks and Spencer, Next and Tesco. It has a mock-shop, mock-windows and an unsettling room full of blank-faced mannequins, including one with a big, smooth pregnant belly.

After a day and a half of Visual Merchandising practice and theory, we were let loose on a window, with a brief.

Brief: In pairs create a contemporary spring window. You will be expected to design and install an innovative window that is dramatic and eye-catching.  Design a window scheme with a selection of props allocated.

The Design: I was happily working with a fellow Lucy. We’d had our eye on some purple flowers and other foliage from the props cupboard, so we shamelessly grabbed them as soon as we were able. I was surprised how strongly we felt that the mannequins were definitely right or definitely wrong. You’d think they were just there to hold the clothes, but apparently not. We tried a few different tops on the mannquin, but nothing really worked, so we set about customising our own. This was particularly lucky, as there are only few things that I love more than fashioning something from paper. One of them is marmite.

     So happily, we whiled away a couple hours making tissue paper flowers, drinking bad coffee, with worse radio on   in the background. We pinned the tissue paper flowers to an oversized bikini top, adding somewhat to her cleavage in the process.

Lucy number 1 (I was Lucy number 2) worked hard pinning the individual flowers to the waist of the skirt, while I brushed out the hair of our mannequin and of the mannequin for the chap with the window next to ours. I ended the day happy with what we’d done and also covered in long polyester hair. Which is not a sentence used often enough. I scrabled around on hand and knee to arrange the foliage and create the spray of flowers underneath her. There was some guidance from the lovely Denise, our VM guru, about keeping all parts of the display connected and hiding a few broken fingers. It all came out lovely in the end.