Friday, 2 December 2011

Stitching a Picture of the Past

Day Two in my Advent Bookfest reminds me of my own childhood although, I hasten to add, I am younger than the author. At the end of December 1999 Jean Baggott decided to mark the Millennium by celebrating ‘the girl on the wall’ – the young girl she was once was. Reflecting on a photo of  herself taken in 1948, when she was 11, she determined to fulfill her early dreams and ambitions, and set about gaining the education she was denied all those years ago, eventually studying for a history degree. 


In addition she created a cross stitch tapestry of her life in the Midlands and the changing world around her. Based on a ceiling at Burghley House, it has 73 interlocking circles, and the short pieces she wrote explaining its symbolism grew into a book, The Girl on the Wall, One Life’s Rich Tapestry, which is a series of interlocking memories and comments. It’s a gentle stroll though past and present, which may be nostalgic in places, but is never dismissive about the modern age. Jean’s  love of life always shines through – as does her willingness to embrace changes and grasp what life can offer. Circle 14 recalls her childhood Christmases, describing  the preparations:  
“With great enthusiasm we would get the festivities under way by spending an evening making paper chains and getting out the weary old Christmas tree, its baubles and other relics,  a couple of Chinese paper lanterns, two large bells and a ball that opened up like a concertina.”  
We always had a real tree, but my brother and I spent days making paper chains in the run-up to the big day, and I remember opening up Chinese paper lanterns. And here's Jean’s on that magical moment when stockings and presents were discovered:
“On Christmas morning we were always awake well before dawn. ‘Santa’ would have left our goods at the foot of our beds and our socks, filled with an orange, an apple, some chocolate and nuts and a few bright new pennies, would be placed over our bedposts. With feverish excitement we would go through our respective piles of goodies. We quickly became frozen to the marrow and would have to leap back into one of the beds, curl up together and wait until our teeth stopped chattering.” 
The Girl on the Wall, One Life’s Rich Tapestry, by Jean Baggott, is published by Icon Books.

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