Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Not sure I like the sound of clammy cells (shudder), but Mr Keats certainly was an observant chap and had a good point to make.
Rapidly shortening days and chilly evenings have come as a shocking reminder that WINTER and all her icy minions lie in wait just around the corner. Prepare as I might, with fluffy socks and hot water bottles, Winter is still going to suddenly mug me and run away with my handbag, cackling. Living as I do just over 560 feet above sea level, 40-odd miles south of the Scottish border, after last year’s sojourn in Bordeaux I am bracing myself with my legs wide apart, a straight back and a stiff upper lip. Shovels, thermals and copious amounts of rock salt will be needed.
How ought I to console myself once the sun reaches the yardarm but declines to bless our backyard with her auroral warmth?
Eating. And drinking. Lots. And having people round to enjoy doing it with me.
A scrubbed pine table with some places to perch, handmade linen napkins, and apples piled on beautiful pottery bowls and pates, all lit by a few beeswax candles, is a failsafe way of bringing some cheerfulness to damp and misty days.
I don’t believe in saving things for best. These days everything’s so bloody casual. Last week we had the privilege of attending a formal wedding whose dress code was “morning coat”; one wiseguy turned up in trainers, with no tie. What?!
At home I take every possible opportunity to brandish our favourite glassware and crack open the modest bits of silverware we’ve gathered over the years. Hell, if I had a 24-piece Georgian silver-gilt place setting I’d use that every day too.
Sterling silver cake-slice, hallmarked for Sheffield 1981 (the year I was born. Sssh.) This was a wedding present. Instead of spending our John Lewis vouchers on something which will inevitably spoil or wear out (like saucepans or bed linen) we decided to seek out something a bit more timeless. Topical, too, as we cut up the top tier of our wedding cake with it.
Cut crystal salt-pot with original glass liner and silver collar, with hallmarked silver salt spoon. As fans of Maldon Sea Salt, this is the sartorial way we serve it. An eBay purchase which, strangely, came from a village only a couple of miles away. Both hallmarked for Birmingham 1939.
A very early 19th century pickle spoon, hallmarked for London 1802. This came from a tiny antique shop in the village of Berkeley, by the River Severn in Gloucestershire quite a number of years ago when we lived in Bristol. Here it’s being used to serve salad dressing, mixed in an engraved glass jug bought this year from Corbridge Antique Centre up the road in Northumberland.
There’s certainly something comforting about a well-laid table, and flowers (in this case late Sweet Peas from a friend’s garden) in some sort of cut crystal make an ideal final flourish. A handful of rosehip twigs poked in an old stoneware bottle would do the job just as well; it’s not about showing off, it’s about creating a warm, genteel and comfortable atmosphere. Even if you live alone, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sitting down in style, with a glass or two of wine, taking time to ruminate, and to really dine.
Slipware studio pottery dish [in first picture, with apples], around £24, eBay
Second hand sterling silver cake slice, from a selection, Peter Jones Sloane Square London
Antique sterling silver and cut crystal salt cellar with matching sterling silver spoon, around £25-£30 including postage, eBay
Antique sterling silver pickle spoon, around £15, Berkeley Antiques, Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Contact details lost in the mists of time!
Wheel-engraved crystal jug, £12, Corbridge Antiques Centre, Corbridge, Northumberland
Lakeland slate cheeseboard (used as table mat), around £12, Borrowdale Herdwick at Yew Tree Farm, Rosthwaite, Cumbria.
Linen napkins, made from organic linen from Greenfibres, Totnes, Devon.
Poem is the first verse of To Autumn by John Keats.