A new silent army populates our parks and pavements and pitches, our gardens and even our balconies. As I slithered and crept across London the other day I saw them sprouting up all over the place, stick arms akimbo, old sunglasses perched above parsnip noses, and caps playfully balanced. Snowmen are everywhere, I’ve never seen so many. I’ve even spotted a robot – snowbot? – in Hampton – and an igloo on upwardly mobile Wandsworth Common.
At the allotment, the bright silent hillside showed the skeletons of harvests, the bare-bones of the frames and cane wigwams, the wiry remains of the lush bean crop, and dark kale arched low beneath the icy blanket. Snow, landing on dried flower heads masquerades as blossoms and gives the scarecrows up the top new white wigs. A black cat leapt, a fox padded by.
Family birthdays this month have given me the benefit of two entertaining outings. A nostalgic jaunt to see summery Salad Days, the ’50s musical, now playing at the Riverside. The merry tunes were just below the surface of our memories and came bubbling up as the whirling cast danced and sang their optimistic way through the unlikely and charming plot. The other trip was to see the film His Girl Friday – the 1939 ‘screwball comedy’ – with Cary Grant proving again that a handsome man can be funny too; the witty quickfire dialogue plus Rosalind Russell as the feisty heroine à la mode make for breathless hilarity.
In another theatre, and in contrast to those two dynamic performances is a new show – Echoes of a Vanished World. At the opening of Robin Hanbury-Tenison’s exhibition at the National Theatre Joanne Harris described his photographs taken from the long years of his travels as narratives – and encouraged us to stand by each one and listen for its silent story. They certainly have a remarkable poignant quality and show us peoples and ancient ways of living many of which have now disappeared entirely. The collection is accompanied by artefacts that Robin has garnered over the years, the necessities and decorations of domestic and nomadic life – baskets, vessels, headdresses, jewellery, weapons; their ingenious beauty intrigues – perfections of skill and sophistication in the use of what’s at hand – wood, shell, bone, grass. Quite another Amazon!
The exhibition, and Robin himself, makes reference to Survival International, an organisation that works for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide, seeking to protect and maintain the fragile existence of these ways of living.
Oppression, disrespect and the misuse of women is sadly still all too often witnessed. At home a little book has arrived from India – ‘Stitching Stories‘ – showing us work started in a refugee camp in Gujerat. To help the girls and women there rebuild lives after the horror and displacement of war they told their stories using the traditional skills of embroidery and appliqué. The Kala Raksha Trust has now spread to include more than a thousand artists across Kutch.
One of the greatest fabric narratives – another account of men at war – is the Bayeux Tapestry – again famously recorded with womens’ stitchery.
And another most cunning use of wily weaving skills is the story of Penelope: waiting for her lost husband Odysseus to return from war she kept her clamouring suitors at bay with a promise to make her choice of a new husband when she’d finished her tapestry. What she didn’t tell that insistent and unruly mob was that every night she undid the stitches of the previous day…is it the needle, not the pen, that is mightier than the sword?
Penelope’s constant love was rewarded – and as St Valentine’s Day approaches what better present to give your beloved than the scarf of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116?
Meanwhile – the iceman goeth – for now…