San Juan Capistrano is internationally famous for the return of thousands of swallows each March l9th, a few days before the vernal equinox, the birds thus being avian messengers of spring. Philip Massinger observed that ill news had swallow wings, whereas good tiding went about with crutches. Alas, it's too late for you to fly, since if you've got this far you're already perusing our latest newsletter. Reminding readers of Margaret Mitchell's comment that life has no obligation to provide what we expect, we invite you to swallow your natural reluctance, fling yourself into the tide, and read on.
Actually, there are a couple of photos hidden deep in the recesses of our website. (No prize for finding them. If you find mine, you might wish you hadn't). They're the same snapshots which, reduced to postage stamp size, lurk on the inside flap of our book jackets. It's a good place for my mug shot, where it can't scare off potential buyers.
Before our first book appeared we were invited to send our publisher professional portraits for the back cover. Fortunately, we were able to talk them out of such folly. The idea of standing in front of a loaded camera strikes me as only marginally more enticing than facing a firing squad.
I'm not comfortable around cameras unless I can see the backs of them. I've always been that way. When I was a kid I dreaded the school picture day more than exams. Even now I get shaky when I remember standing in line, waiting to step behind the curtain where the monstrous machinery squatted in all its complexity and horror, designed for no other reason than to find, magnify, and expose to a mocking world my every imperfection.
As I sat on the wooden chair placed before the camera, the merciless glare from the floodlights made me feel I was ready to melt. Or maybe I was melting, like the Wicked Witch of the West, into a puddle which, mercifully, no one would want to photograph. No such luck. It was just the Brylcreem dripping down my temple. The smell of hair dressing in the super heated air was enough to make me choke.
But it was still not so stomach churning as the day the photographs arrived. There were various sizes. The tiny ones, which you were supposed to trade with your friends, were bad enough, and then there were the wallet sizes. Still, I could glance away from those without focussing on the details. The portrait size was another matter.
There was no escaping that. It smacked me right in the face with my face. My eyeglasses would be askew, one eye half shut, my attempt to "Say cheese" a paralytic rictus exposing a Jack-O-Lantern display of missing baby teeth and half emerged adult ones. And the hair, despite its weight of goo, had stuck out in all directions, resembling a hedgehog that had run afoul of a tractor trailer. Just a bad hair day? My whole life has been a series of bad hair decades. And that billboard was installed on the living room mantelpiece where it could humiliate me every day.
Mary points out our jacket photos bear some resemblance to the old glamour shots of 1930s Hollywood stars -- the resemblance being that they're in black and white.
She suggests we might start doing books with an Egyptian theme which would give us an excuse to cover ourselves with mummy wrappings for our jacket photos. Maybe we could loosen the bandages enough for just one eye to show. Kind of the Veronica Lake meets Boris Karloff look.
I'm still hoping to banish my photograph from our books entirely. It's not that I'm shy, really. I display my face to the world all the time. The face I want to display, that is -- my writing.
Lois has kindly offered to email this column (published in the March/April issue of the LADHS newsletter) to interested parties, so feel free to let us know if you'd like to read it, and we'll pass your request along toot(h) sweet.
We wish to thank the Talking Book & Braille Library for this honour, and meantime those who are interested in details of their fascinating history -- for example, Seattle Library was already circulating braille books in l907, and at one time material was recorded on flexible discs played at a speed of 8 l/3 rpm! -- may wish to point their clickers to http://www.historylink.org/_output.cfm?file_id=4155
Wallpaper is a lot easier nowadays than it was in the long ago, when the public's tendency was to regularly replace domestic wallpaper. The Reeds always purchased ours at the Crown Wallpaper Shop, where my mother worked, and which offered not only wallpaper but also decorative borders and all manner of related items. Customers could get advice about the task or browse through numerous two or three inch thick books of samples. Sometimes old books were brought home, much to our delight for they had numerous uses -- drawing on the wallpaper squares' backs, using individual sheets for wrapping paper, craft work, protective jackets for our books or school textbooks, lining chests of drawers, and so on.
Some patterns -- particularly popular plaids -- were eyewatering even in sample size, but our family decorators favoured discreet designs, often with a grey, cream, or white background and a small gold motif. The older Reeds were dab hands at the actual papering, while us younger fry contributed a fair bit to the preparation work. For example, unlike today when wallpaper can be removed simply by pulling it off in a strip or by utilising a steamer, layers of old paper had to be removed if the job was to be well done. It was the hardest part of the task. More often than not previous tenants had not bothered -- the father of a friend of mine claimed multiple layers of wallpaper acted as insulation -- and sometimes it was necessary to remove as many as four layers before we could get on to the actual hanging part of the business. This was accomplished by thoroughly soaking the wall (hoping not to short anything electric) and after giving it sufficient time to soften the paste, scraping off old wallpaper by hand, a task both tedious and accompanied by an overpowering smell of plaster.
Meantime, someone had to cut the narrow white edgings off the rolls of paper. My younger sister and I generally wielded the scissors for that part of the operation. Then the paste (which always reminded me of lumpy, thin rice pudding) was mixed up in a bucket after a long wallpaper-laying-out table was borrowed and the stepladder set up. The walls were measured between picture rail and skirting board and an appropriate length of paper cut and the paste slapped on with a T-shaped brush, followed by a quick dash up the ladder to gingerly place the looped strip of wallpaper -- and it had to be positioned right the first time, since it had none of modern wallpaper's capability of sliding back and forth into place -- and then, all going well, its gentle smoothing down with a soft-bristled brush.
Occasionally there were amusing incidents (to younger Reeds at least) when the person doing the job put their foot through a strip of paper while shinning up the stepladder or the entire piece started to fall on their heads because it was not sufficiently pasted to keep it adhered to the wall. Comedian Norman Wisdom had a routine based upon wallpapering a room, and as is often the way with comedy, the very familiarity of the job provoked hilarious affection for the sketch, which must surely have been the inspiration for some goings-on in The Club episode of Are You Being Served?
Nowadays when I think about wallpapering I find myself humming the chorus of Billy Williams' When Father Papered The Parlour, a music hall song picked up in childhood. Various disasters are mentioned as associated with this particular spot of redecorating (lyrics can be viewed at http://ingeb.org/songs/whenfath.html) but fortunately my sister's upright piano was safe since it lived in the scullery and the cat's ears remained on its head because as soon as we started trimming wallpaper edges it scarpered for the duration.
Williams' song speaks of the paperer's wife being stuck to the ceiling and his children to the floor, and while we've had our moments, we were never as stuck-up as the family involved. Nor are we likely to turn toffee-nosed at this late stage, given not an inch of wallpaper graces the walls, ceilings, or floors of Casa Maywrite.
See you then!
Mary R and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to visit Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/