Thursday, 24 December 2015

Exotic Packaging: Lindt & Sprüngli Father Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody!

It's hard to get the silver paper off a chocolate Father Christmas without a little damage. But I always enjoy seeing the packaging flattened out. Even when I was small you'd find me smoothing out my sweetie wrappers.

And here is Father Christmas himself. He has a bell around his waist (just like the Lindt Easter bunny has a bell around his neck). And don't you think the design looks very different in 3D? I can't work out quite why, but he does look different.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Paper Bags: Royal Academy of Arts - The Great Japan Exhibition

This is the very first paper bag I saved because I liked the design.
Unfortunately it sat in a pile of papers for years and got sadly faded.
But it is a wonderful bag.
The Great Japan Exhibition was in 1981 - 1982

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Exotic Packaging: Crabtree & Evelyn Lily Bath & Shower Gel

I bought this bath gel recently because I love Lily of the Valley.
It was only when I got home that I realised the illustration shows Lily of the Valley
but the product is called Lily.
The fragrance is in fact Lily of the Valley.
If you look very carefully you can just see part of the design is stamped into the cardboard.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Exotic Packaging: Penhaligon's Lily of the Valley Bath Oil

I have three glass Lily of the Valley bath oil bottles from Penhaligon's. 
The first two I bought had pretty sand blasted designs but sadly it seems that 
Penhaligon's don't produce these any longer.
Equally sadly, I seem to have run out of bath oil.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Paper Bags: Chateau de Chillon

The Chateau de Chillon is on Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and we have visited several times.
In 2012 we walked along the lakeside on a boiling hot summer day.
And then caught a paddle steamer called La Suisse to Vevey to get the train back to the car.
I remember the year because it was during the London Olympics.
We sat in the cool of an old fashioned station café waiting for our train and
watching something like rhythmic gymnastics on Swiss TV.
Our postcards came in this bag. I'm afraid it's plastic. But the design is nice.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Exotic Packaging: Farrow & Humphreys English Glycerine Soap Cranberry and Spice

Cranberry and Spice, cinnamon and clove flavoured soap for Christmas. Probably in the 1980s.

I have a feeling this soap was probably a stocking filler.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Paper Bags: San Marco Venezia

In 2010 the Chef and I went to Venice and it snowed. 
It was frightfully cold and the tourists stayed away in their droves. 
Luckily we bought hot water bottles and avoided frostbite.
We wandered in and out of the Doge's Palace and San Marco with no queues anywhere.
And our postcards came in this little bag.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Exotic packaging: Crabtree & Evelyn Swiss Alpine Flowers and Glycerine Soap

Glycerine soap was really fashionable when my mother bought this packet.
Strange how the oddest things have their moments in the limelight. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Exotic Packaging: London Bus Kit Kat

This is Kit Kat's version of a London bus.
Kit Kat is a chocolate covered wafer bar currently produced by Nestlé.
In this tin there were several normal Kit Kats and also some chunky Kit Kats.

This bus was produced in 2015 but some of the passengers look a little bit out of date. Surely Londoners (or indeed other residents of the UK) don't wear hats like that? Not since the 1950s.

The kit kat name goes back the 18th century when it meant a mutton pie served at the Kit-Cat Club.
A bit different from a chocolate wafer.
The pies were named for the pie-house keeper Christopher (Kit) Catt.
Hence Kit-Cat or various other spellings. 
The Kit-Cat Club had strong political, Whig (later Liberal), and literary associations.

The Kit-Cat Club also gave its name to a style of portrait: less than half length but including the hands. 
Sir Godfrey Kneller (a member of the club) was commissioned to paint members of the club in this style. 
He painted 48 portraits.

A proper Routemaster bus has an id number above the front wheel. And here Nestlé have inserted N35TL3.
Which reads as Nestlé if you want. A nice and carefully considered detail.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Exotic Packaging: Potter & Moore Scented Geranium

The scented geraniums are quite difficult to spot on this pretty packaging. What you mostly see are pansies and sweet peas. There are roses too, and a butterfly - or is it a moth?
I wonder if Potter & Moore used this same design for sweet pea soap and rose bath grains? I don't remember.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Paper Bags: Under the Golden Gate

A beautiful soft paper bag brought from San Francisco this week by the Dutch taste tester.
Very handsome indeed. Sadly not mine to keep.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Paper Bags: Haddon Hall

Two paper bags from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. 
You can't tell here but the red one is the right size for postcards, the white one quite a lot larger.
The wild boar is the heraldic device for the Vernon family, and the peacock for the Manners family.
These two families have stamped the whole building with their mark for centuries. 
Ceilings (plaster and painted), downpipes, the window glass, even the cottage garden topiary features boars and peacocks. Now the boars and peacocks are on paper bags too.

The Manners family still lives in this wonderful building which dates from the 11th century.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Exotic Packaging: Caswell-Massey Black Currant Orchard Soap

My mother collected soap packaging. So I am going to post her collection in no particular order.
I remember buying a mixed box of soaps as a present for her in New York City in 1993. 
The soaps came wrapped in tissue paper inside the cardboard box.
And if I remember correctly it was very nice soap.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Exotic Packaging: picture hooks!

This packaging made me laugh out loud!

I use a lot of picture hooks. 
And round here they come prepackaged in 4s or 5s and really, they aren't cheap. 
So I finally gave in and bought a load online.
Here's my package of little picture hooks.

Yes, these little plastic hooks have an organic taste, or possibly a natural & conventional taste!
What does that mean?
I wonder what usually comes in this Queen's Garden packet?

I guess this is a really interesting case of someone repurposing packaging.
Actually, it works very well because these little picture hooks are spiky and need something tough to keep them from escaping.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Exotic Packaging: London Bus Harrods

You really cannot beat a London bus if you want an interesting design for your packaging.
This tin bus came from Harrods and once upon a time contained toffees.

The number 14 bus does actually stop outside Harrods although I don't suppose it is usually driven by a teddy bear in a green Harrods uniform. All the passengers are dressed in green Harrods uniform too.

Of course, this bus is a Routemaster. Sadly this wonderful London bus was withdrawn in 2005 after nearly 50 years. The Chef remembers seeing the first prototypes. Very exciting and "so modern" he says. The Routemaster came into service in 1956.

Health & safety issues probably contributed to the withdrawal of the Routemaster. I saw a woman fall flat on her face in the gutter after she leapt off when the bus was going around a corner. Not the fault of the bus! But there was of course a problem with wheelchair access. In addition, the engine was outmoded and expensive to run. Surely that at least could have been dealt with?

There is a "heritage route" still operated by London Transport and you can hire them for private events.

I can't comment on the toffees once stored in this tin because they were all eaten so long ago.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Exotic Packaging: Japanese Calligraphy

I ordered a spatula from Amazon. I wanted a particular style in a particular colour. 
And you know how it is with Amazon; you can't tell where your order is coming from.
Well, the spatula took a while to turn up but it was exactly what I wanted so I didn't mind. 
And it arrived with a little note in English from the seller, who is Japanese. 
He/she likes to practise calligraphy and so every parcel gets a hand written - painted? - sheet.
I have no idea what this says so do forgive me if it is offensive. I hope not. Because if it is offensive  it's not such a nice gesture.
I just thought it rather fun. And what a nice addition to a business transaction.
Don't you think it makes European writing look dull?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Paper Bags: Selfridges Food Hall

This is an extremely handsome little brown paper bag from Selfridge's Food Hall. Very smart. 
It would be quite ordinary but the "Selfridge's" yellow handles just give it a bit of class.
I'm impressed.

Selfridge's has a Carbon Trust Award for reducing its CO2 year on year.
Something to do with having recyclable paper bags perhaps?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

A Little Bit of Chocolate Does You Good: Maestrani Bananasplit

Another chocolate choice from Geneva Airport.
I really didn't like this white chocolate.
Too sweet. Too weird. But a new flavour is always worth a try.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Exotic Packaging: chocolate sardines

I had this pinned to my notice board at work for several years but now I have a lot of important bits of paper I need to look at all the time (to remind me what I'm supposed to be doing) and this little fish has suffered. So I thought I would scan him for posterity.

Extremely senior volunteer taste tester (see my crisp blog) went to Portugal some years back and kindly brought us a tin of chocolate sardines. We didn't have the heart to tell him you could buy them in the UK.

I flattened out the silver wrapping because I liked the design so much. And here I have backed it with some pink wrapping from a Quality Street chocolate which seems to work quite well.

I don't even like fish but I do love this design.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Tree Identification № 4: Alder

Common Alder
The Alder is a complicated tree that many people seem to struggle with. Even if the struggle is that they muddle Alder with Elder. Easily done! Of course if you know the Latin names Alder is called Alnus and Elder Sambucus so that removes one confusion. And then of course Alder is a proper tree, they grow up to 20m, and Elder is usually classed as a shrub.

Anyhow, we have three different kinds of Alder that grow well in this part of North London. And there are plenty of them. About 25 to 30 years ago (goodness, can it be so long?) the climate in these parts got a lot wetter. And convinced that this was an ongoing trend, a lot of tree officers (working for the local council and responsible for planting street trees) planted Alders because they knew these trees cope well with the wet conditions.

Common Alder
First there is the Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa) which is native to the British Isles, then we have Grey Alder (Alnus incana) and Italian Alder (Alnus cordata). The Grey and Italian have what you might call leaf-shaped leaves. Not a technical term, but the shape a child would draw if you asked her to draw a leaf. The leaves of the Common Alder look rather as though someone had chopped the pointy end off each leaf. It's very distinctive and the experts call it broad-cuneate (remember I'm not an expert).

So far so good. What, I think, bothers people about Alders is the pine cones. And the catkins. Catkins on a tree that isn't a Hazel? And cones on a tree that isn't a pine? It's confusing.

Well, OK, the catkins are flowers. Alders have male catkins about 20 - 30mm long, and shorter female catkins 3mm long. Everyone knows that Hazels produce catkins (the male flowers) but so do Birch trees, and even Oaks (again the male flowers). And the Alder flowers are on the trees for months at a time. I took these photographs in October, but the flowers don't open until March or even April. And, (which the tree officers obviously failed to consider) when the catkins/flowers are over they chuck themselves all over the pavement in a very messy way.

Italian Alder
Also shown in the second photograph are fresh fruits (the green ovoids - sorry it's a technical term) and the ripe fruits (which look like miniature pine cones. So it's a very busy tree with flowers and fruits all at once. And you can bet that people don't like it much when the local Alder chucks ripe fruits all over the pavement because they're crunchy and hard and you might slip on them.

Not a successful street tree then, but great in slightly soggy places. My favourite Alders are in a green space alongside a brook. They grow very happily in the squashy grass.

Italian Alders come from guess where? Southern Italy and Corsica. According to my tree book they are uncommon in this country, but can be found (somewhat specifically) on the Basingstoke by-pass. What? Well, you can also find them around here. And although you can see the fruits are certainly very similar to those on the Common Alder, the leaves look quite different. Leaf-shaped and glossy. The tree book says the leaves have large tufts of pale orange hairs on the underside. I need to go back and check. It's amazing what you don't see if you don't know it's there. Which, I guess is why most people never notice that Oaks produce catkins. And yes, I went back and checked, The orange tuft really are there.

Grey Alder
Also growing locally is the Grey Alder, and why grey I really don't know unless this refers to the bark.

Again the leaves are leaf-shaped but they are quite clearly toothed where the Italian Alder leaves are pretty smooth along the edges.

I suppose the leaves are a little bit greyish on the underside - but not very. I wonder if someone just got stuck for a name. Anyway, Grey Alders also have catkins for flowers and tiny little cone-like fruits. But if they didn't, you might struggle to believe this tree was related to the Common or Italian Alder.

People often look at trees in the wrong way. Here we have three trees with rather different leaves so these trees can't be related can they? And then we have three trees which all feature catkins and little fruits that look a bit like pine cones. So maybe they are related after all.

Well, we know they are - I know they are related because I looked it up in a tree book. A proper expert has done all the hard work for me. But next time you look at a tree and try and work out what it is; look at what's the same. Not at what's different.

Grey Alder
Let's be honest, Alders aren't terribly glamorous trees. They don't feature pretty flowers, or brightly coloured fruits, they don't smell wonderful, but they are useful. You can plant them in soggy wet places and they'll grow where not much else will, and the wood (I read) has a very useful ability to withstand rot under water. So it has been used for boat building, for building up the sides of waterways (presumably all the canals in Britain), and much of Venice is built on piles of Alder wood. A glamorous result from a not very exciting tree.

Common Alder by the Mutton Brook in late November

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Books to Read Again: Orders to Poach by Olivia Fitz Roy

Orders to Poach
Olivia Fitz Roy wrote a series of books about the Stewart family of Carrick in the North West of Scotland.

Sandy with Polly the pony in Orders to Poach
Orders to Poach (1942) was the first in the series where we meet Ninian who seems to have left school fairly recently - I don't think we ever pinpoint his age, Fiona who is 17 and just home from a Season in London and the twins James and Jean who are 12. Then there's their orphan cousin Sandy Stewart who is about 15.

The Stewarts are described as one of the poorest families in Scotland; they live in a small Lodge rather than in the Big House and only employ Maggie, a cook housekeeper who may have been their nanny when Ninian and Fiona were younger, and her niece Morag who doesn't feature much but is usually there in the background. They may be poor but Ninian has been at Eton and is about to go to Sandhurst, and in a year or so Jamie will go to Dartmouth. Plus of course, Fiona has been doing the London Season (basically that means she went to a lot of parties designed to find her a husband, and perhaps was presented at court) and you can't do that on a shoestring even if we are told she was staying an aunt.

Their father has gone to Burma with his regiment because he earns a bit more on this posting, but he has still felt the need to let the Big House to a Mr Drake. But here's the crux of the matter; to keep a
Hugh in Orders to Poach
property in Scotland in tip top condition you have to fish the river and the lochs, and more
particularly, you have to stalk to keep the population of stags down otherwise you have more than the land will support and in winter they will starve from lack of food.  And Mr Drake, having rented the estate on the understanding that he will fish and shoot, turns out to be a rabid conservationist and refuses to do so.

Ewan Stewart writes to his elder son telling him that they must poach. But Mr Drake somehow gets hold of the letter and reads it.

You don't need to know anything at all about fishing or stalking to enjoy this book although you will find yourself bombarded with information about salmon rods, trout flies, and goodness knows what else as you accompany the Stewarts, and their new friend Hugh Murray,  on their campaign to get the better of Mr Drake and his watchers. You don't need to enjoy eating fish or venison (I don't eat fish at all and I'm not mad about venison) or want to trek across hills or up mountains, or climb scary sounding cliffs. The really enjoyable thing about this book, and those that follow, is the wonderful feeling for landscape, and the family relationships.

In later books the estate is let to more sympathetic people so there is no more poaching.

The endpapers for Orders to Poach, indeed, all the books, show the landscape very accurately although most of the names have been slightly changed. Look at Poolewe and Loch Maree (near Gairloch) on google maps or whatever you have to hand and you can match the real thing to the maps in the books almost exactly.

Steer by the Stars
Jean & Jamie in Steer by the Stars
Next summer, in Steer by the Stars (1945), the Stewarts and Hugh set off on a sailing adventure aboard the yacht Fauna. When they find they have forgotten to bring a compass they determine to use Hugh's knowledge of the stars (and the rather amateur star map he draws for them) rather than tamely go back home, and even sail to Lewis in the Hebrides through a really frightening sounding storm. Hugh is obviously very taken with Fiona, now 18, and we're told they have seen quite a lot of each other in London, but she seems quite oblivious and fails to respond to some strong hints. Later in the book when the Stewarts encounter Fergus McCloud and his gang of distillers/smugglers all of them are rather excited to help with the smuggling, Fiona especially I think. Hugh behaves rather well under the circumstances but he cannot have been pleased to have a rival who leads a far more exotic and romantic lifestyle than he does. I don't think this is particularly obvious but I have read the book so often now that I ponder the characters and their thoughts more than I used to.

The House in the Hills
By the following winter The House in the Hills (1947) has the Stewarts suddenly deciding to refurbish an abandoned croft on Carna Loch and move in for Christmas. Of course Maggie thinks they are quite mad, and frankly so do I. But they never seem to get cold or tired the way I do and of course if they did there would be no plot. They do seem to spend a vast amount of time thundering around the hills in the dark at great risk to life and limb: the days are very short in midwinter in the North of Scotland and really and truly the last thing I would want to do is row several miles up a freezing loch with a load of mattresses in the middle of winter.

Fiona in The House in the Hills
But that doesn't stop me enjoying the book. The Stewarts invite Fergus to stay and he does turn up complete with bottles of home made whiskey and his squeezebox. Apart from all the housekeeping in a deserted cottage with no electricity or running water, the plot focuses on the search for a cave in which a Stewart ancestor hid from the English in 1745. Each of them finds a cave but naturally it is Fiona who finds the one they are looking for.

It seems to me that Olivia Fitz Roy really liked Fergus. She writes him as a lonely romantic and I suppose we are intended to sympathise with his difficult family background and his outlaw existence. I have to admit I'm not really convinced. Yes, he certainly leads an unconventional and essentially romantic-sounding life but it all seems too uncomfortable to me. I mean, when does he ever find the time to have a bath? Not to mention his really unpredictable temper which can be very unpleasant. I would find him a difficult person to share a table with in a pub, never mind have him to stay, or visit him at one of his homes (his brother's castle, the croft, the boat Wandering Star, and of course the smuggler's cave). But the Stewarts are more comfortable with him than I would be. And is it my imagination, that Fiona, probably Fitz Roy's favourite character, seems particularly taken with him? I wonder if he was based on a real person?

The Hill War
The Hill War (1950) is a prequal. Ninian comes homes from Eton with some very silly ideas about girls not being as good as boys and has a frightful row with Fiona who must be about 14 in this book. She takes to the hills with Sandy and they spend a happy (if bad-tempered) summer feuding with Ninian and the twins, stealing food from the Lodge and running miles more than I possibly ever could. But it's quite a fun story and moves at a great pace if you don't pause to think too much.

Fiona in The Hill War
Fiona and Sandy are the Jacobites, Ninian and the twins are the Redcoats ( a terrible insult in the Stewart family).

The Island of Birds (1954) has James and Jean recuperating from measles but still not thriving. Fergus turns up out of the blue and takes them off to the deserted island where he has made a home for himself in a ruinous croft. The twins get involved with some very unpleasant people who plan to steal birds eggs. This leads to some frightening times, especially for Jean who is more timid than the rest of her family.

Sadly The Island of Birds doesn't feature a map. Perhaps because it is largely set on a fictional island rather than in a real landscape.

Ninian in Orders to Poach
There are two other books; Wandering Star, about which I can find no information at all, except that's the name of Fergus's boat so it must be about him (there seems to be no way to buy this book and no-one seems to have written a review), and The Hunted Head which is about a Stewart ancestor at the time of the Jacobite rebellion.

I love the first three books and have read them over and over again but could manage perfectly well without any of the others. The characters all work well together, the landscape is wonderfully drawn, and the family atmosphere (including Hugh) is nicely realised.

The books are slightly more grown up versions of one of those Enid Blyton books where the children live on an island, or a Swallows and Amazons story. And none the worse for that. You do have to accept that Olivia Fitz Roy came from a posh family and therefore wrote about posh people. She wrote her first book to entertain her younger sisters when they were all living in the North of Scotland in WWII, and obviously she wrote about what she knew.

It is a great pity that the books all have a different illustrator. I don't like some of the drawings and it's a shame that our heroes look quite different in every book. But of course they do feature wonderful maps on the end papers. I do love a good map.

The illustrators are (in order of publication) William Showell, Anne Bullen, Phyllida Lumsden, Shirley Hughes, and Raymond Sheppard (he illustrated the last two books).

I heartily recommend the first three books if you can find a copy, and if you enjoy them you may enjoy the later books too. I just don't enjoy them so much.
Fergus with the twins Jean & Jamie in Island of Birds 
The Hunted Head

The Hunted Head