Saturday, 12 September 2009

Parties, gardens, libraries, red toe nails, and other delights






It's a beautiful day in September, and summer doesn't seem quite gone (the picture above was taken in Scotland last month, where I was writing the Henry James-goes-to-Tillypronie blog). As it happens, my toe nails were red in that picture, and they're red again today; well, they've been red all week, in honour of the London Library. Yes, I know that sounds unlikely -- the London Library is the most literary of places, where nail varnish should never be discussed; but it turned up, along with me, at a party there a couple of days ago; because I've just contributed an essay about the joys of red toenails to Modern Delight, an anthology of essays published by Faber and Waterstones, in aid of the London Library and Dyslexia Action. The book was inspired by J.B Priestley's original collection of essays, 'Delight', published in 1949; the author, a self-confessed 'grumbler', wrote about the little things in life that made him happy: a gin-and-tonic, detective stories in bed, smoking in a hot bath, meeting a friend, charades, the sound of a football, buying books, having his fortune told, coming home... I'm sure you'll be able to come up with your own lists. (Please do, and tell me about them -- we all need to be reminded of small delights on a daily basis, don't you think?)
Anyway, Priestley's book has been reprinted in a 60th anniversary edition, and is delightful; and the new anthology has lots of good things in it, too: Beryl Bainbridge on growing older; India Knight on twitter; Sebastian Faulks on a certain girl band... and many, many more.
Anyway, this is my contribution, along with some pictures of the London Library (including a room full of good cheer); it's a place that brings me great delight, as does the garden in Tillypronie.
Oh, and by the way, the red nail varnish I refer to in the following piece is by Essie (and no, I didn't know the name until after I chose the colour).



If you believe what you read in fairytales, then wearing red is perilous, presaging doom and disaster. Would Little Red Riding Hood have encountered the wolf if she wore a more modest blue? And could Briar Rose have avoided her long imprisonment as Sleeping Beauty, if she had not stained herself with her own blood after pricking her finger? Worst of all is the dreadful fate summoned up by Hans Christian Andersen for a little girl named Karen after she acquires a new pair of immodest red shoes, for she is cursed to dance until her feet are bleeding, and then her feet are chopped off. As it happens, Andersen’s father was a shoemaker who died when Hans was 11, which is perhaps a clue as to why soles are inextricably linked with souls in his stories (hence the sufferings of the Little Mermaid, who wishes for feet in her pursuit of love, but discovers that they bring her nothing but pain.)

Yet despite these dire warnings of childhood reading, in fairytales where no one lives happily ever after, I have grown up to discover the cheering effects of shoes the colour of rubies, and the delight to be had in painting my toe nails red. Indeed, when disaster strikes – as it does from time to time, when men turn into wolves, and love is gobbled up – then the small pleasures of cherry-red varnish loom large in my life.

One cannot wear red shoes on a daily basis – that would detract from their potency; from the magic they bring to an evening of bold celebration – but scarlet toenails are a secret that can be enjoyed throughout the year. On the coldest nights in winter, they peek out of the scented bubbles of a warm bath; and in the darkest nights of the soul, they point to a way forward, a glowing reminder that the future may not be quite as gloomy as feared.

As I write this on a rainy morning in an English spring, my crimson toenails are hidden in sheepskin slippers, but I know that when the sun emerges, so will my feet. By the way, the varnish comes out of a small bottle marked Well Red… an antidote to the grimmest of fairytales

33 comments:

kairu said...

It's been a long time since I've painted my toenails red, but yes, they do make me happy. Just as happy are red shoes, of which I have three pairs (if you count a pair of rubber boots, which I do). Lately my life has been more social, and my go-to pair of shoes has been a pair of red suede Ferragamo Audrey flats that my mother bought me four years ago.

Other things that make me happy: A strong cup of tea with milk and sugar in the morning, spotting Mini Coopers on the way to work (extra happiness if they are funny colors or have a Union Jack on the roof), new shoes, new books, dinner with friends in a beautifully landscaped garden. Baking makes me happy, as the smell of cake wafts through the kitchen and the rest of the apartment. Random little things make me happy, it isn't hard to find something.

kairu said...

Another delight is unexpectedly finding something that you did not know you wanted, but turns out to be just what you want. At the used bookstore I found a volume of Angela Carter's essays, titled "Expletives Deleted." It is so bitingly sharp and funny and I am so happy to have found it. Also, I love the Vintage UK covers. They are fantastic and I look forward to collecting them as I do the American ones.

Mary McCallum said...

what a delicious post - my toes are wriggling! mostly because they hardly ever get painted and are feeling hard done by - I'm just not up to the maintenance involved in red toe nails - they chip, I can't find the remover, they look awful and i still can't find the remover or the red polish to touch them up... but maybe i should get over it and be brave and wolfish...

i laughed, too, when you said Mini Coopers,Kairu, they are a shoe brand here in NZ and they are beautiful with some lovely lovely red boots and when i see a pair out and about or in a shop they always lift my day ... no union jacks on top, though

oxford-reader said...

I'm sitting at home, laptop placed where the name suggests it should be, last night of the proms is on, and my red toe nails are winking at me from the end of my outstretched legs. Well, they would be, if they weren't so horrible chipped. It's time to apply the remover, and then the big decision about whether Lake Garda can handle my red toes, as I'm off there tomorrow. I think they probably can.

Things that make me happy include: mornings in Borders coffee shop pouring over magazines that I wouldn't normally buy, the smell of freshly cut/rained on grass, sunshine in September, my dog snoring (as he is now), wooden roses, getting emails, finding books I had no idea existed, pimms, coffee, university libraries, fresh pasta, lavender, sleeping in my own bed.

I have to agree with Kairu though - random little things can brighten my day!

vrl said...

Tea in a china cup
The smell of my babys head
Rereading a favourite childhoof book (ideally in bed)
A hot bath filled with luxurious oil
An unread glossy magazine
Cake for tea
The smell of bonfires
Scouring junk shops
Buying dresses
The sound of rain on a glass roof

I could go on and on and on..........

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you, everyone, for sharing your delights -- they have made me very happy. More please!

kairu said...

My mother makes fun of me for saying that something is my 'favorite.' 'Your newest thing is your favorite!' she tells me. New things make me happy, a pair of earrings made of opalescent glass, sleek Ferragamo wedge heels (a gift from my Ferragamo-mad mother, who buys me a new pair every four or five years).

A beautiful warm day in September makes me happy, one last glimpse of summer before fall sweeps in. A lazy afternoon spent watching the BBC miniseries of Dorothy Sayers mysteries.

Sarah Standalone said...

A lovely piece, I can't wait to read the book.

I have 'full on glamour required' red shoes I wear with matching Dior nail polish called Rouge de Fete, fittingly bought in St Tropez.

I had a evening of small delights last night, friends round for a catch up, ending with chocolate raspberries. Yum

jaywalker said...

A glass of really good red wine shared with friends.
Having a good clear out of unwanted stuff.
My King Charles Cavalier jumping on my lap and gazing at me adoringly.
A beautifully laid dinner table and expecting friends to share it.
A night at the opera with a glass of champagne at interval.
In bed with duck down filled doonas and pillows and a good book and the electric blanket on in winter. (No central heating in Australia)

Justine Picardie said...

Mmmm -- a good start to Sunday morning to read about more delights.
I spent yesterday evening at a friend's house, who has a cavalier called George. We ate slow-cooked lamb shanks and mashed potatoes (delicious, because there was an autumnal chill in the air after a sunny September day), then chocolate mousse with raspberries and blueberries. George snored gently in the corner, which was soothing.

Rob Hardy said...

There are many delights that I miss from our year in England: public footpaths, cathedrals, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Peak District, eccles cakes, fresh fish from the Thursday market, real ale, Yorkshire tea, the Yorkshire coast, Ullswater, Warwickshire, summer pudding, National Trust properties, Tewkesbury Abbey, blackbirds, short travel distances to anywhere in the country (compared to the U.S.), riding on trains, the Cotswolds, £1 and £2 coins, flowers blooming on the first of February, day trips to London, the British Museum, Radio 4, the shipping forecast, sheep, hedgerows.

Justine Picardie said...

And what about your American delights? I always appreciated the stacks of pancakes with maple syrup when I was there, and autumn leaves, and walking off the street and into the Frick Museum in New York.

Knitting Out Loud said...

I had my daughter when I was 40, decided to paint my toes to cheer me on through labor, ended up with C-section so the nurse took the polish off my two big toes and it ended up looking quite freakish. Delights: living on the coast of Maine, the 17 year old Cimicifuga blooming like mad waving 7 foot tall white flower spikes outside my study window, having a teenaged daughter with curly red hair, a husband who looks like a Viking and throws spears with atlatls, etc. Life is rich and good when it isn't being hellish.

Knitting Out Loud said...

But wait! General American delights: the Golden Gate Bridge, Gena Rowlands, the Iowa joke "My dear, in Boston we pronounce that 'Ohio'", Dumbarton Oaks, the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum, the courtyard of the old Boston Public Library and grey-haired men with duck-tail hair do's (sp?) driving cars with big fins and bat wings.

Rob Hardy said...

American delights: sunset canoes on Lake Huron; a day of skiing in the Carleton College Arboretum, followed by a fire in the wood stove; the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; fresh sweet corn in late August; holidays at my brother-in-law's house; being involved in my community; the fall colors; the coffeehouse down the street; my book-filled house; being home.

By the way, I wanted to thank you for making me aware of the existence of Paul Gallico's Flowers for Mrs. Harris, which I read and very much enjoyed this summer.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you both for the wonderful American delights; good to mix them in with Mary's post from New Zealand.
Speaking of which, I have two red-headed teenage boys. They definitely look like they have Viking ancestors -- both of them are over six foot, and topped with fiery hair.

jaywalker said...

Rob - completely agree with you about your UK delights. We are ex poms who are irrevocably torn between Oz and England and can only solve it by constant travel back and forth. I was born in Yorkshire so pleased to see that it appears in your list!

I would add to my list English teacakes and jam. Can't get them here.

Justine Picardie said...

What are the antipodean delights?
One more small delight: eating homemade lemon cake on a Sunday afternoon, warm from the oven, with my sons.

Kentishmaid said...

A post which has cheered me up. I work away from home for several weeks at a time. My delight is to shut the front door of home knowing I dont have to go away again for a week or so. Once inside I am in heaven with sheepskin slippers, lavender scented baths, slow cookers sending tantilising smells through the house, a new film from Love film, a pot of Earl Grey tea and some thin french biscuits.
In my second home of Greece I am happy when out in my kayak watching the sun come up, lying on a smooth pebbled beach with a new to me book and warm nights full of scented flowers and circarda's singing.
Simple pleasures to me are the stuff of life.

Mary McCallum said...

Here are my antipodean delights, Justine: a quiet early-morning house & a good book & and the first strong milky coffee drunk from a large Fulmer or Melzer pottery cup [really these are works of art]; watching the sea change through our windows & the lone fisherman & the crazy windsurfer & the Pacific Island family collecting seafood & the excited dog running for sticks; walking in the hills & bush behind our house & getting to the ridge & seeing the harbour like a giant cup of blue below and the South Island mountains in the distance & feeling the cool wind from Antarctica; fresh fish bought from the boat at Lowry Bay; finding I've won the raffle at the butcher's; browsing in my favourite small bookshops; after a hard day working - pouring a glass of wine and eating dinner with my children watching the nightly TV soap; the Xmas barbecue at our place in the country - crayfish & whole salmon & beef fillet & salads & pavlova to eat, & the children swimming & the dogs running & the adults playing petanque & my lovely family and friends around me & olive and fruit trees & space & a sky of a particular blue - a NZ blue - intense and deep deep deeply blue ...

jaywalker said...

The Australian sense of humour which will not suffer snobbery, hypocrisy or social divides.
Wide, open beaches with the surf rolling in and no one else around.
My Queensland granddaughters who have no winter wardrobe and fly around in shorts and bare feet.
In my home state of Tasmania, the fields of lavender, poppies and grapevines as you drive through the countryside.
The top quality wine we make here in small boutique vineyards which are so good they are sold to restaurants worldwide.

Justine Picardie said...

thank you to everyone: so many small delights to read that they add up to a joyous start to the day, even here under a slate grey sky in autumnal London. Reading these comments has made me want to go to Australia, New Zealand, America, Greece -- but also appreciate the small delights at home. To which I am going to add this one: hot tea first thing in the morning in my favourite pink cup.

Sue said...

being in the sunshine;
lying in bed watching the tide going in and out;
wonderful colours as the sun goes down on Elizabeth castle;
knowing Spring is here when the first of the daft little trains takes tourists along the front;
having my toenails not just painted but a little design painted on with the longest single haired brush I've ever seen;
BBC Iplayer for stuff I've missed;
rediscovering baking;
meeting family and friends at the airport;
and lots lots more and I didn't realise it until I started the list, so thanks for starting the train of thought

Guineapigmum said...

Nothing to do with red toe nails but what a lovely photograph from Scotland! I was admiring it whilst wondering how on earth you were managing to sit there without being devoured by midges.

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Carmina said...

I read Delight by J Priestley when I was in high school and even though I did not like reading in my high school days, I liked that book. Now I read for pleasure and the book I am reading now it's called Sildenafil it's about a Russian leader and philosopher

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