A Fenland Home Companion

Fenland reeds

Well yes, I’m aware that this week I promised a blog post concerning a striped ‘something’. Events, however, have overtaken us in the form of several inches of snow and a howling easterly wind that felt as if all the needles and pins dropped between the ClothSpot floorboards were being fired at me like a scene from Harry Potter.

In fact it all went a bit ‘Fargo’ this week as we became increasingly snowbound.

Fenland dyke
The Fengate Road dyke iced up and snowbound

All the roads around us were closed and although we managed to (literally) dig our way out for the post runs, Judy and Freya were both snowed in on the other side of our village. ClothSpot has been increasingly a one-woman band – although not quite. Judy’s been able to help out across her not-exactly-speedy rural broadband while car-pushing and snow-digging assistance was gratefully received from Rebecca (who took 3 days to get home from her place of work). Also with perfect timing, our friendly TNT man delivered some crucial fabrics about an hour before it all got completely silly.

So – if anyone thought that I was going to do do a series of clothing changes and stand around in our (unheated) photography space, then sorry, but not sorry. Did I ever mention that I feel the cold? However we did go for a walk before the wind started and the drifts deepened. Here’s a snap of our usual route for the post run.

Fenland with Alice
No make-up or hair products were harmed in this image.

The wind has now died down a little – and thank you to all those who were kind enough to enquire after our wellbeing following news reports of RAF mobiisation and snowbound cars across Lincolnshire. Pleasingly, this year I managed not to skid the car into  next-door’s field – and so I didn’t need to ask them to drag me out with their tractor again. Result! Plus if the pipes freeze, we’ll just need to break off an icicle from the back of the house and melt it over the stove. The only real crisis here is that the office Smint supply has run low.

Fenland icicles
Emergency water supply

I hope that all of you are managing to stay warm, with plentiful supplies of milk, bread, hot drinks and warmth. It occurred to me this week that it’s rare for us to be quite so challenged by the elements. There was a point on Wednesday when everything did begin to feel a bit of a struggle – especially when the hydraulic fluid that works my car’s gearbox froze up (or so I’m given to understand). We’ve been very dependent on the weather forecast and the news – and I began to appreciate how important it is to feel connected despite our rural isolation.

There’s a very practical element to our fabrics this week but we do have our ‘Prairie’ draping navy blue floral viscose fabric in amongst our otherwise comparatively utilitarian offerings (we thought it was an appropriate selection given the weather!) It’s a fabric that prompted thoughts of 90s ‘grunge’, or folksy Americana dresses; themselves echoing 1930s Depression-era clothing. Reducing such hardship to fabrics and fashion isn’t something any of us are comfortable with I’m sure – but it reminded me of the importance of the radio as a means of connecting people.

The Minnesota radio show (and subsequent film) A Prairie Home Companion immediately came to mind, which itself was partly inspired by the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music radio show. One of my favourite singers connects the two; Iris DeMent appeared on the Prairie Home Companion and I love her song about the music in her family home, Mama’s Opry.

I thought I might share some of the prairie-related diversions that have been part of my ‘Fenland Home Companion’ over the winter.

On the book front, I was given a copy of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder at Christmas. I’ve never read it (although I remember the TV series in the 70s) and I devoured it in a day. I loved the detailed accounts of ‘homesteading’ including the precise details of how they built a log cabin. I had no idea that this was on the second of a series of books so I downloaded and read the first one, Little House in the Big Woods just as eagerly. I’m saving the rest for next winter.

On Netflx I watched Anne with an ‘E’ – the Canadian dramatisation of Anne of Green Gables. The photography is stunning and the characters are just as I remembered them. Much better than the 1934 film which seems to have her growing up awfully quickly (although it’s an unfair comparison I’m sure).

Anne Shirley from 'Anne with an 'e'
Anne Shirley from ‘Anne with an ‘E’

A winter film I’m very fond of is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (That’s if we can get past the uneasy (to say the least) premise for the film – seven young women being kidnapped and taken away to a mountain cabin for the winter by their respective young men. Hmmm.) However – the barn-raising dance is just superb.

My musical choices could go on for ever but I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of some of my ‘Prairie’ favourites. It starts with Nanci Griffiths’ beguiling introduction to Trouble in the Fields from her album One Fair Summer Evening which sets the scene. Do press ‘Play’ if only for that.

Other highlights include Jane Siberry’s song of children playing ice hockey on a frozen river, which is sublime and evocative even if you’ve never played ice hockey (I haven’t!). Also on the list is Kate Bush’s Snowflake – a snowstorm from the point of view of – well – a snowflake.

I make no excuses – it’s a personal selection – and a brief one at that (be grateful!) Let me know what you think.

Finally, the Jack London short story To Build A Fire is one that never fails to make me appreciate how fortunate I am to be warm and dry indoors. I remember reading it as a child and could hardly bear to turn each page and the description of the bitterly cold Yukon landscape is startling in its detail.

We’ve at least another 24 hours of snow forecast here so we’ll be hunkering down and getting on with things as best we can over the weekend I know from emails and blogs that lots of you have favourite music, films, podcasts and radio shows that you enjoy listening to while you’re sewing, doing the chores, preparing food or just working down your to-do lists. What have you been listening too, reading or watching, that evokes cold winter days? I’d love to know – do share them if you have a moment. I can stack them up ready for next winter, like so many seasoning logs.

As soon as we have a thaw, I’ll get back to my ‘striped something’, I promise. Meanwhile stay warm and safe – and thank you again for your kind thoughts this week.

4 thoughts on “A Fenland Home Companion

  1. Jenny says:

    When the snow began to fall and the east wind began to blow (was it really only twelve days ago?) I was reading “Oh Pioneers!” by Willa Cather. Set in Nebraska around the turn of the century, it’s a wonderful tale of hardy folk from many lands and their struggles and joys as they tamed the prairie, and it’s a satisfyingly long read. Willa Cather was an unusual woman. A very popular writer in her time, she published between 1905 and 1932. At school apparently she dressed in boys clothing and refused to conform. I downloaded her major works, having read a short story years ago which I wanted to re-read.

    With the idleness enforced by the weather I moved straight onto “One of Ours”. With my early morning cup of tea in bed on Sunday morning I read this, referring to an early March morning – “The roads were beginning to thaw out and the country was black and dirty looking. Here and there grey snow crusts lingered, perforated like honeycomb, with wet weed stalks sticking up through them”. Very appropriate!

    I enjoyed the clips of A Prairie Home Companion, it helped set the scene. My choice of musical would be Oklahoma!, although I don’t recall any winter scenes in that.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Jenny – of *course* I should have thought of Willa Cather – thank you so much for the reminder. Indeed yes – she sounded like quite the character. I loved ‘O Pioneers’ but I have never read ‘One of Ours’ and shall seek it out. That description of the dirty looking countryside is *so* accurate – what a wonderful passage to share. I felt so glum last week watching the fields disappear and that magical bright white light fade… We lost the very last shred of the drift outside our front door only this morning although there is still snow in the dykes and in heaps at the end of the road.

      I hear your ‘Oklahoma’ and I raise you ‘Calamity Jane’!

      • Jenny says:

        I downloaded The Best Works for free to my Kindle at the end of January – bargain of the year. The print in my old paperbacks is too small to read without glasses now. So far I like O Pioneers best, followed by My Antonia. One of Ours ends with the First World War, very poignant. I always like to immerse myself in the genre, like reading the Shetland series whilst knitting a fair isle jumper, so I looked for some pioneer type clothing or craft. No knitting tradition it seems, but I read a fascinating article in Selvedge magazine issue 80 about the sack dresses of the depression, and the red gingham sacks made for Gingham Girl Flour in 1925. I may have to dig out my scraps of gingham for some appliqué.

        • aliceclothspot says:

          Oh I missed that Kindle freebie! Well spotted – however I see it’s only 75p even now which is amazing! It used to be really difficult to find her books. There are times when new technology just comes into its own. Thank you for the tip-off – I shall grab it now! I do know what you mean about immersion in a theme. I’ve been working through Dorothy Whipple’s books as published by Persephone and have recently come across a stash of my grandmother’s copies of Tailor & Cutter magazine from the early 1050s. I can feel some proper tailoring coming on….

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