Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Duke And Duchess Come To Visit

This weekend the Duke and Duchess of Ringloes came to stay at Shoestring Cottage and endured the chaos and confusion which was revealed to them.  The yet-to-be recovered sofa was standing on its end in the sitting room, there was an enormous cardboard box of art deco hats taking up one corner of the room and in the hearth was the "new" gas heater (thank you, Trade Me) which was wrapped in plastic and awaiting a visit from the registered plumber and gasfitter to install it.  (Regulations require that we obtain the services of such a tradesperson, though it goes against the grain for Mr Shoestring who is supremely confident of his home handyman abilities.  Thank heavens for rules and regulations sometimes; Mr Shoestring has a somewhat "near enough is good enough" approach and a large gas explosion might ensue if he attempted the installation himself, but would not be conducive to harmonious domestic life.)

The Duke and Duchess endured all these travails with very good grace, though I fear they must have been comparing and contrasting their own admirably comfortable situation with that they found themselves in.  Of course they were far too polite to comment.  I almost poisoned them by trying out a new recipe on them, which turned out to be far too salty.  It is the first rule of entertaining not to use one's guests as recipe guinea pigs but of course I disregarded this in my enthusiasm to use my new cookbook.

We took them off to the monthly Matamata market and they were very forbearing as Mr Shoestring and I swept about the place, plucking up odd things and exclaiming rapturously over things like this adorable tool for getting an even hem on dresses and skirts

Mr Shoestring found this book, which was first published in 1948 by Reed.  The illustrations resemble woodcuts and are beautiful, simple and strong.  We thought the descriptions of the birds charming, imbuing each one with a distinct (almost human) personality and set of characteristics.  For instance the kiwi (which naturally was the first bird in the book) is "the Dominion's most distinctive bird" and "lives a lonely life, snuffling about in the damp depths of the forest like a hedgehog, coming out at night".  I am not sure whether a wild bird would ever think of itself as living a lonely life, but apparently it is the case.    

By comparison the weka "is one of the friendliest of our birds and will run off with any article it takes a fancy to".  (Perhaps the author had a weakness or peculiar fondness for the weka.  He also refers to it as "the policeman of the forest, waging ceaseless war on rats and mice which rob the nests of small birds".)   

My favourite illustrations were the morepork (for its perplexed expression)

and the wood pigeon.  The illustrator 's name is not recorded, which seems a terrible shame because the attention to detail and the way each bird is portrayed in its environment is wonderful.  

Strangely, though the author casually mentions that the huia is now extinct, there is no concern regarding the kakapo, which is recorded as being "still plentiful in the high forest country of both islands" but which is now 
the world's most endangered parrot and of which there were only 126 left in 2012.  

I found my own treasure at the flea market, namely this wonderful serving dish with holes so that your vegetables won't wit in a pool of cooling water.  

Underneath it there is another plate which will catch any moisture, and which I cunningly planned to use for other purposes as well, such as salads.  It occurred to me afterwards that I am an absolute sucker for anything masquerading as something else in the kitchenware department, for instance
 a biscuit box pretending to be a thatched cottage
 a Savoy cabbage leaf which is in reality a fruit bowl
 a teeny tiny trio of vegetables/teapots
 sunflower and asparagus plates
and leaf serving dish

To my shame, these are only the things which were close to hand in the kitchen.  The whole place is full to overflowing with things which are not what they seem!  No wonder Mr Shoestring gets confused when he tries to help in the kitchen.  

The Duke and Duchess are wonderfully skilled gardeners and cast their horrified eyeballs over our sketchy attempts at creating a garden.  I have high hopes that they will set us on the straight and narrow path towards redemption of our gardening souls and in the meantime allowed myself to be guided by a few initial suggestions at the market, turning my face away from the brightly coloured annuals and instead selecting a white bergenia (elephant ears) and a couple of nikau palms, which were very well priced and in good condition.  The Duke suggested setting them into the garden into plastic pots so as to be able to move them if that position turned out to be less than ideal, which seemed to be a stroke of genius.  (I shall have to resist the urge to pot up all the garden pleasures in this way and confuse them all by moving them all around every few months though.)  Great changes will ensue, now that we have the benefit of informed advice, you can be sure of that!

1 comment:

  1. I just love how charmingly you describe the visit of The Duke and Duchess! I continue to await the time you decide to publish your first novel, for I believe in your heart of hearts you have a writer's soul!
    Also enjoyed all the gleaned treasures, especially the bird lithographs and the unusual double veg plate. Your blog is always most interesting, Egretta