Cupid, draw back your bow! February 13 2014


For all you star-crossed lovers out there, Valentine's Day is fast approaching. The vision of hearts, flowers and wild romance makes life nothing but a dream...

And for all you singletons out there, don't despair, it's only one day of the year!

Traditionally, Spring begins on St Valentine's Day (February 14 incase you didn't know!), the day it was believed that birds paired into couples.

This year romantic Brits are expected to spend around £1 billion on cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts!!! Yes, you read correct, £1 billion!!!

In the 18th Century, cards and gifts were sent anonymously but nowadays we often make it clear who is sending each "Valentine".

Saint Valentine

But where does Valentine's Day come from? And who was Saint Valentine?

Was he?
a) A 3rd Century Priest in Rome who performed secret marriages when the Roman Emperor Claudius II thought single soldiers were more likely to enlist in the army?

b) Someone who helped Christians which was a crime at the time?

c) Someone who was responsible for giving the jailer's blind daughter back her eyesight and before his execution, he sent her a note saying, "From your Valentine"? Thus, the phrase is still used.

d) All, some or none of the above?

If you guessed d) then pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to those love-heart shaped box of chocolates that you've been salivating over in the supermarket since January!

Stories about Saint Valentine are scarce and vary wildly but he is widely believed to have been a 3rd Century Priest in Rome who was imprisoned and executed supposedly on... Yep, you've guessed it on February 14. So...

Where did he live?
According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna.

How did he die?
The Emperor Claudius II ordered for his arrest and death by stoning. When he didn't die from stoning, the Emperor then ordered for him to be executed... Hmm nice man the Emperor Claudius...

When did he die?
Again, myth has it around 269 AD on February 14.

Where is he buried?
Apparently, his body was then buried in a hurry at a nearby cemetery before his disciples later came and carried him home.

Where are his remains now?
The poor chap seems to be scattered all over the place!
  • A skull believed to be his is held in glass in Rome. But parts of his skull could also be in Chelmno in Poland.
  • His shoulder blade is in the Czech Republic and is now on permanent display in the Church of Saints Paul and Peter in Prague.
  • There are also said to be remains in Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome, Roquemaure, France and Dublin, Ireland.

When was he made a Saint?
In 496 AD, February 14 was declared in the name of St Valentine by Pope Gelasius. It was originally part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a feast day dedicated to St Valentine.

It remained a Church holiday until 1969, when Pope Paul VI took it from the calendar because of uncertainty of the facts.

Just the one Valentine?
Little is really known of the real man (or men) behind the myth. What is known is that at least two men by the name of Valentine (Valentinus) were known in Italy and died in the late 3rd century and a third Valentine was located in North Africa around the same time. The two Italians were buried along Via Flaminia.

Courtesy of Angel Food Bakery, Brighton

Traditions and Tales of Valentine's Day

  • The first man an unmarried woman saw on February 14 would be her future husband (let us pray it's not the smelly old tramp that rummages through the bins on your street!)
  • If the names of all a girl's suitors were written on paper and wrapped in clay and the clay put into water, the piece that rose to the surface first would contain the name of her husband-to-be.
  • If a woman saw a Robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a Sailor.
  • If a woman saw a Sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy.
  • If a woman saw a Goldfinch, she would marry a rich person.
  • During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved.

Did you know?

  • The first reference in print to Valentine's Day is found in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Parlement of Foules" (The Parliament of Fowls) circa 1381.
  • The earliest known romantic Valentine verse was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife in the 15th Century while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
  • In 1537 King Henry VIII declared St Valentine's day an official holiday. It was another century and a half before religious devotional cards became non-religious cards to reflect the change in the holiday.
  • On Lupercalia (a Roman festival for purification and fertility) a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year. Understandably, this was not favoured by Pope Gelasius so he...
  • Changed the lottery where women would write love letters and stick them in a large urn. The men would pick a letter from the urn and for the next year, pursue the woman who wrote the chosen letter. (Bet the men were gutted!) This custom lasted until the 1700s when people decided their beloveds should be chosen by sight, not luck.

Whether you are coupled up or single, however you spend your day, Happy Valentine's Day!

And if you are single, why not use Valentine's Day as a reminder to spend the rest of the year letting people know how much they mean to you. That will show your coupled friends that love is actually everywhere... X

"Be my funny Valentine..."  Not politically correct but I thought this vintage Valentine card endearing!

Sweet Sixteen and a Sugar Lump or Two November 15 2013

Remember, remember the 5th of November...  Well that was 10 days ago and it's now the 15th today.  I have been meaning to blog all week but what with one thing and another, I haven't managed to do it!  Yes siree, I have been rubbish but blogging takes time and thought and I just haven't had a lot of it recently...!

What I did want to write about was my niece Olivia's fantastic 16th Vintage Tea Party last weekend.  At first Livvy didn't want to do anything to mark her milestone but with the insistence of her mum (my sister Susan), we organised a Vintage Tea Party for her.

The weather was particularly atrocious last Saturday and so Livvy with ten of her closest friends sat, chatted and listened to music while Susan, my brother-in-law Steve and I whistled while we worked making finger sandwiches of Cray Fish and Prawn, Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon, Turkey and Ham listening to a wonderful vintage radio station found by my sister on digital called Smile Sussex.

I was assigned to the laying out of the most fabulous cupcakes I had ever seen.  Infact, I kept thinking what a shame to have to eat them, just staring at them and being tempted by them was good enough for me...  Actually no, maybe that was a slight exaggeration but if they tasted as good as they looked...!   (Which they did by the way!)

Cupcakes made by Kerrie Crabb

A long table was laid with an eclectic mix of fine bone china cups 'n' saucers and plates kindly lent by various neighbours.  One sugar lump or two?  There were Silver spoons from Bali with semi precious stones to stir and slurp the brew.  The vintage looking paper plates and doilies for the finger sandwiches and pizza pieces were purchased through eBay as was the bunting we hung from the walls.

Vintage Bunting and Vintage Paper Plates and Doilies - From eBay

The devilishly scrumptious Birthday cake was made of rich Chocolate mousse covered in delicate swirls of dark chocolate shavings.  It was lovingly handmade by the dad of Livvy's friend Tiren.  How clever is he!? I'm told that Tiren's dad is a brilliant cake maker and looking at what was before me, I could see it was no lie! 

 Handmade Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake
Black Polkadot Tea Dress - Laura Ashley


The girls had all clubbed together to buy Livvy a beautiful birthstone ring of Topaz from Pandora and had wrapped it up in a huge box so she would never have guessed.  Livvy squealed with delight as she opened it and saw the ring.

And so, with bellies full of tea and cake, the afternoon unwound with lots of giggles and a sing song on the piano...  And oh, lots of clearing up for us adults!!

**A Tea Party Ode by Me**

Livvy had a tea party
One rainy afternoon
Mum wanted to go that extra mile
To celebrate it vintage style
But Livvy said, "No boys allowed, it has to be just girls."
"I only want my closest friends wearing frills and pearls!"
Finger sarnies served up a treat
Fresh tea was on the brew
Homemade cupcakes were served as sweet
Was that one sugar lump or two?
A Birthday cake of chocolate mousse
All washed down with Lambrini juice!
But best of all for everyone and me
We all enjoyed our afternoon tea

History of the Slipper September 10 2013

As the longest day has come and gone and the Autumn evenings start to draw in, we slip off our shoes for more comfy, warm shoes, “Slippers” or what my mum calls them “House Shoes” are favoured as we begin to settle in for cosy nights with the central heating cranked up full blast, racking up that Gas bill during the long (and they are in the UK) winter months.  But slippers aren't just things for the Winter, slippers can be worn in the Summer too and if you’re like me, I can’t stand having cold feet so I have slippers for all seasons.

These Chinese slippers are by Beverly Feldman.

The word comes from the verb “to slip”.  It is thought that slippers were originally from the East but they have been worn by every culture.  The earliest recorded reference to the slipper was is in the 12th Century by a Southern Song Dynasty Officer where he describes two types of slipper he saw in what is now Vietnam.  These slippers had a thong to fit between the toes or a leather strap across the foot and the outsoles would have been made of leather.  In the West, slippers were first recorded around 1478.

In the East, the slipper was a symbol of captivity.  A Sultan’s harem would wear them for indoors making it easy to slip the shoes on and off before stepping on expensive Persian carpets.  The slippers were very soft and comfortable and for indoors use, therefore, a concubine wouldn’t have been able to make a break for freedom in them as they were too thin and slippery for the hard rocky roads outside.

In certain cultures, such as Japan, it is a social obligation to remove shoes and wear slippers when entering a place of residence. This is due to tradition and respect for the house.  The Meiji period (1868-1912) was one of unprecedented transformation that was to affect all areas of life, including clothing.  During this time, special slippers were created for foreigners to pull over their shoes as the Japanese were accustomed to taking off their shoes and donning slippers indoors but their Western friends were not, hence the invention.  The Japanese also have toilet slippers, which you put on before you enter the toilet and you slip off after you leave so you must leave the toilet as you entered as the slippers are meant to face the toilet!  Although I've been told that this not a common practice.

Geta Slippers, Japan - Photograph: Gavin Hellier

By the mid-16th Century most wealthy men wore slippers made of soft Leather, Silk or Velvet, often in patterns that matched their outfit.  Don’t forget, men in those days were more dandier than the women!  Women also adopted an extremely impractical form of shoe called the “Chopine”.  These slippers sat atop a platform that ran the length of the shoe and could be as high as twenty-four inches! As a consequence, chopines were very difficult to walk in.  Both men and women used ribbons, bows, and jewels to decorate their shoes.  Of course, such shoes were not intended for outdoor wear and both sexes wore overshoes called “Pattens” and “Pantofles” to protect their dainty shoes if they did go outside in them. 

Italian 16th Century Slipper, Leather - Photograph:

The Victorian era, saw the “Prince Albert Slipper”, so called after Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert.  These shoes were a velvet slipper with a quilted silk lining and leather outsole.  They were first worn by English aristocracy when Black tie dress for dinner was required by standards of etiquette and they would don velvet smoking jackets with a cravat and coordinating Prince Albert slippers.  Eventually, this custom moved outside the home to clubs and smoking rooms.  Nowadays, these slippers are known as “Smoking Slippers” and are worn by both men and women, sometimes worn informally outside.


Smoking Slippers - Hmm, I don't think I'll be wearing these ones outside, what do you think?

Today, slippers come in many styles, Slip-On Slippers, Boot Slippers, Novelty Slippers and Moccasin Slippers.  They can be made from different types of materials from leather, suede, wool to manmade materials with outsoles being made from again a variety of different materials like leather, rubber or EVA.

Slipper Trivia
  • Apparently, Cinderella didn't loose a Glass Slipper, there are over 500 versions of the tale in scores of languages, the earliest version dating back to 9th Century China.  The slipper was never made of Glass but of Gold or Silver and sometimes embellished with gems.  The story as we know it is a result of a translator error.
  • Until the first half of the 20th Century, it was customary for pilgrims having an audience with the Pope to kneel and kiss one off his Red Papal slippers.
  • On 30 June 2007, Derek “The Slipper Man” holds the Guinness World Record for wearing a pair of slippers for 23 straight years!!!
  • A pair of Red test slippers for "The Wizard of Oz" from the Hollywood collection of actress Debbie Reynolds sold for $612,000 in May 2011.  (I think I need to get my hands on pair of these slippers so I can flog ‘em and live the life of Riley!)
  • "The Ruby Slippers" worn by Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz” sold for a record $2 Million in May 2012.
  • In 2013, a Scottish university found a delicate pair of slippers that had been sitting unnoticed in its collection for more than a century may have actually belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, Princess Pauline Borghese.  The narrow silk and leather shoes, which measured just 1.5 inches across the toes and about 4 inches long (UK Childs Size 2), were marked on the outsole "Pauline Rome."

Not really the Ruby Slipper but a cupcake made for my Niece Lucy's birthday!

A vintage cuppa with the Great and Powerful April 25 2013

At the weekend, my sister and Niece Olivia asked if I wanted to go to the cinema and see the new film, “Oz the Great and Powerful” at the Atrium in Camberley.  Not far from the cinema is a Vintage Tea Shop that had just opened so we thought we'd go treat ourselves to a cupcake and pot of tea before the film started.  We didn’t have to wait long to get a table but most of the yummy cupcakes had gone.  There were some cupcakes left, not necessarily the flavour I wanted but hey, beggars can’t be choosers and I was just happy to get a cupcake!  The cupcakes are actually made in the shop with the bakers busy in the back making them as quickly as they were selling.  I ordered just plain old Vanilla with Buttercream on top and my sister and Livvy ordered Lemon with Lemon Buttercream, all served on a beautiful eclectic vintage teaset.  I’m not a great lover of icing or lashings of Buttercream on cakes and so had to scoop half of mine off onto my plate only to have Livvy ask if she could have mine (she’d already eaten all of hers).  Talk about sugar rush and rot your teeth!

Did you know there are about 15 books in the “OZ” series?  No, nor did I…  “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a sort of pre-equal to the original 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" and I loved, loved, loved it! I liked the fact that the makers kept the scenery very much in suite to the original and it was rather dark but funny film.  Basically, the film tells us of how the Wizard became the Wizard with his flaws and fears.  And how the Witch Theodora became the Wicked Witch of the West.  I won't say too much or it will be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't yet seen the film but it's truly a wonderful film that I would happily see again, that I think both adults and children alike will enjoy.

"I'll get you my pretty!!!"

("I tried to make your face Green..." Yeah, thanks Livvy, I didn't actually want to look like the Wicked Witch of the West!)