Sunday, January 31, 2010

Camphor, Smoke, Moths and other Problems

Have bought a variety of interesting, and - on the whole - very beautiful vintage blankets this week, and will soon be listing them in my eBay shop, The Scottish Home. But most of them, although new, and in their original packaging, have had to be washed, because they had obviously been stored in various houses where people smoked. Not only was the cellophane a strange yellow colour, but all these lovely, unused, albeit sixty year old, woollen blankets, stank of cigarette smoke - they were kippered! I doubt if there is anything more disappointing than coming home with some wonderful old textile, to find it saturated with the scent of somebody's old ciggies. It's fine when you're dealing with linens or woollens, which can easily be washed. And all my blankets now smell wonderful. But it's terrible when- as has occasionally happened to me in the past - you find some lovely old embroidered picture, or Cantonese silk shawl - something you can't possibly wash - and you get it home to find that it smells of smoke. Textile conservators must have a way of dealing with this, but it isn't something that you can deal with in a domestic setting.

My other intractable problem, last year, was to buy a box of old quilts and coverlets - only to discover that they were permeated with such a strong smell of camphor that they were utterly unusable. Even driving home with them in the car was a bit of an ordeal. I don't think it can have been mothballs - too strong. I suspect they had been stored in a powerful camphorwood wardrobe or chest for many years. The linens that came in the same box, had to be washed several times, at high temperatures, and then hung out on the line, before the smell disappeared. But in the box were several very pretty bedcovers, made in some early man made fibre - and they simply would not respond to washing at all. I hung them on the line, and went away for a week. It rained on them. I came back, rinsed and dried them - and the pungent smell of camphor filled the house. I figured, eventually, that with these manmade fibres, the camphor molecules had somehow bonded with the textile molecules (but, of course, I'm no chemist!) and the coverlets were doomed to smell horribly of camphor for all eternity. So I got rid of them.

I got to thinking afterwards, how these Victorian gentlemen, in their tweeds, or ladies in their fur coats and capes, which were - of course - stored in the same kind of camphorwood, to deter moths, must have gone around absolutely stinking of this somewhat toxic substance. Not at all nice, although perhaps if everyone smelled like that, nobody noticed!

Which leads me to moth deterrence. Lavender is pretty good, and I find I use a lot of it: lavender bags, dried lavender, strong lavender essential oil (which smells almost medicinal, but very nice) and sprays. Better than camphor any day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Old Scottish Village

Nice old image of a Scottish village from the early 1900s. The interesting thing is that this one has - in close-up anyway - rather a lot of figures in it, especially children who would probably be recognisable to their offspring. I suppose there's even a chance that some of them may still be going strong!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Burn in the Snow

Last of the snow, I think and I don't know whether to be glad or sad. It's melting, making horrible puddles on the ice and thudding down onto the conservatory roof.

More snow is forecast for the West of Scotland, but I suspect it will be our usual wet sleety stuff. The birds seem very pleased about it all though, cavorting about the garden!
The burn that runs through the centre of the village was particularly beautiful yesterday - went out for a brisk walk in the middle of the day and took some pictures.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

More snow - and an account from 1815.

Woke yesterday to a village covered in snow. This is the longest cold spell I can remember here. It is very beautiful, but causing vast problems throughout the UK. It is also hugely expensive in terms of fuel and cancelled journeys - and it has been going on for weeks now. However, while the man made global warming sceptics vie with the man made global warming enthusiasts over reasons why (and this is not the place to go into arguments for and against in any detail, nor am I qualified to do so) - there is something to be said for the historical perspective. Some years ago, an elderly lady in the village showed me a copy of the old village schoolmaster's 'Commonplace Book' which she had rescued from a bonfire. You can read about it in more detail here.

I remembered this yesterday, because when I first read it, it crossed my mind that I had never seen such weather in December, in this village - the most we normally see is the odd snow shower in January or February, which quickly melts. So here's what our 'dominie' wrote in his account of the Great Snow, in 1815.

“December 15th Stormy day, wind from the west and sleet showers in the forenoon and hail showers towards the evening making the ground gray immediately after the shower but almost melted before next shower.

16th The ground covered with snow about 4 inches deep, snow showers frequently during the day which covered the earth about 7 inches deep. I shovelled the doors twice this day. Wind NW

17th More snow during last night. I shovelled the doors a third time, also Sunday morning, the snow this day about 10 inches deep, in general the weather being always since the snow fell at first, quite calm. Some blades of snow in the evening, hard frost, wind North.

20th I rose about 9 o’clock this morning. There is a strong wind from NE with a very thick snow and drift which continued until the evening incessantly when the snow ceased but the wind continued to drift only what snow fell during the day and the preceding night as the snow that had fallen previous to that was saddened with the nature of the thaw, the hares were only beginning to look out as yet but plenty of partridges this evening is just to my mind. (
Not sure what he meant by that last paragraph but I quote it verbatim!)

21st Beautiful day, keen frost, wind NE I never saw so deep a snow in general though I have seen much greater weather.

22nd Keen frost in the evening and during night, strong sound from the linn but clear sky and hard frost and wind NE.

23rd Windy with sleet and rain from the south, rained this whole day incessantly. Wind South.

Not a pleasant December then - much like last month, and I'll bet it continued into January. No central heating to temper the frosts either. This was a time when outdoor curling was a regular occurrence in South West Scotland - again, something that we haven't seen for years - but are certainly seeing now.

All of which is interesting, isn't it?

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Happy New Year!

... to all our readers, from the frozen South West of Scotland. Last night, the temperature was ten below, and - in spite of being invited to an excellent party - we elected to stay put. Alan has arthritis and couldn't negotiate the bridge over the burn which is like a mini Cresta Run and has been, since well before Christmas. No sign of a thaw either. Although the house was reasonably warm you could feel the temperature dropping and dropping. We had a splendid Hogmanay, all the same, just the two of us (the youngsters having left for Edinburgh) - warm fire, candles, drinks, and ancient variety stars on STV. This year, STV's offering was like a parody of itself - you would have thought it was all a spoof, reading the listings - but the old film clips turned out to be as enchanting as such things usually are. Music Hall lingered long in Scotland, still does in the pantomimes, and the programme recording all this was wonderfully cheesy. When we found ourselves chorusing forgotten names in unison, we realised that we were enjoying ourselves very much indeed.
Today, it's so cold that I keep expecting to see the White Witch's sleigh trundling along the village street. This is incredibly unusual here. We almost never have snow and normally, when we do, it melts very quickly. Now, it's too solid even to make a snowman and reminds me of the two years I spent working in Finland when I was a young woman. Our local council, South Ayrshire, seems to have run out of grit. At any rate, none of the side roads, even in the county town of Ayr, seem to have been gritted and people keep having accidents. I suspect they budgetted for grit in anticipation of the 'warmest winter ever' - the tabloids had been running the usual stories about primroses blooming in November - every year without fail these appear - and this year the council believed them. Or perhaps they couldn't afford to stock up on grit. Now we're stuck with the coldest snap I can remember in all my years of living here, it seems set to continue well into the New Year and there's not a thing we can do about it. Except get out the Ayrshire blankets, the whisky macs (one part whisky to two parts Crabbie's Green Ginger - it HAS to be Crabbie's) and sit it out.