Like so many good old fashioned pastimes, playing marbles has fallen out of fashion in the last few decades, despite centuries of popularity all over the world. People in the Indus valley in the Bronze age played marbles, the Romans played marbles, the ancient Egyptians played marbles. I didn’t grow up playing marbles, but like so many good old fashioned games and skills, I’m learning along with my children.
There are so many ways to play marbles, with variations as rich as there are regional accents.
The way that we like to play is with an archboard, shooting marbles through in order. I think my father likes to call this ‘mousehole’ and he taught it to my children. My childhood fondness for the things was almost purely aesthetic. I could still spend long moments absorbed in the depths and beauty of a glass marble.
In our old cottage the phrase ‘losing your marbles’ does come up a lot, as there is an unfortunate slant to the floor that angles toward a gap under the stairs, just the size to take your best marble. The other day I encountered a mouse bowling a horse-chestnut towards that very spot. Mousehole! I can just imagine the games those mice are playing with our marbles, below stairs. It explains a lot, really.
An essential figure in our cold weather rituals is our glass tea warmer. A simple device. It is built carefully, strongly shaped to support a full pot, with openings around the sides to bring air to the tea candle lit below. A steel plate holds the pot, and a little glass cup holds the candle. It keeps our tea astonishingly hot.
The tea warmer is particularly excellent for rooibos teas, which only get better as they steep. If I’m drinking earl grey I keep a strainer of leaves nearby on the tray and remove it after a short steep in fresh water, to keep the brew warming without becoming bitter. I set the copper kettle on the wood stove and fill the tea pot now and then. It requires very little energy to have tea all day long.
p>I must warn you against using a flat-bottom tea pot, which, though adorably shaped, is apt to put out the light if it covers the entire top of the warmer snugly. I found this warmer at my favourite tea shop in Vancouver and it was first in line to join us in England. It’s sustained me as I’ve worked through many a cold afternoon in the studio. The tea warmer will play a supporting role in a few tea parties we’ll be throwing over the next little while!
The jelly seems singularly English to me. I didn’t eat them for years, being a vegetarian, but having turned to eating animal foods from organic, sustainable sources, and in becoming interested in using the whole creature, gelatin is something we’re eating now. I was so pleased to find organic gelatin powder, so we’ve been making our own jellies.
When I was at Liberty for the lovely book launch for Decorate I came upon a beautiful glass jelly mould in a traditional shape, and fell hopelessly in love. We saw a few at the antiques fair but their material was questionable, so we kept looking. Found! I am rather fond of a bubbly elderflower presse as a jelly. I’d like to try floating edible flowers in a jelly, perhaps made right in a champagne flute (with champagne!) as we saw on the achingly inspiring Treats from the Edwardian Country House. I will be so happy when we can use our own fruit to make jellies, I’ve planted out the strawberries today, though we may miss them entirely this year. Perhaps they’ll establish a beautiful patch for next. Have a lovely weekend! I’ll be twittering and pottering in my studio tomorrow, though the garden is beckoning with increasing urgency.