Sunday, January 02, 2011


What is it about celebrations that bring out the creativity in everybody?

This year I had a significant birthday and a Christmas where we cooked for the whole family for the first time. That 9-course extravaganza is dealt with in another blog, but I've spent the last few days soaking up the goodness that's flowed my way over the last couple of weeks, at times feeling a bit overwhelmed by it. Every day, something has appeared at the door in an envelope, or in the hands of the person who made it, which delighted us in its originality and - at the risk of sounding uncharacteristically sentimental - the love it brought with it.

First there was our friend Lisa, who took a handful of our dinks and turned them not only into jewellery but into tree decorations and a Christmas card to be hung on Tom Hare's improvised Christmas trees. These are sure to come out again every year - and will hopefully find their way into the shop.

Following in the creative footsteps of his turntable-and-pencil-wielding Dad, this little boy had his first piece of work published on this enthusiastic Christmas card. We're assuming it'll be his twin brother's turn next year! Go Alex!
Michael, creator of the Inkymole website, made this birthday card from him and his wife Anna (whose yoga classes keep me on the straight and narrow) with the sort of gleeful crayon-work usually reserved for the under-10s - and if the pop-up sunflower and effervescent ladybird weren't enough to have me beaming, it's the sentiment expressed that I love:

And our friend Jed Smith, master chef and food designer for all Inkymole's creative events, even found time to manufacture and post this card between Christmas shifts at his brand new job in New York at Momofuku. The lad's only just moved there, on his own hence the picture. You'll be hearing more about Jed later.

Now. Birthdays in our family come with a cake, regardless of what age you are, which is always made by my Mum. Since this one was 'a particular number', she was tasked with making one which was more about spectacle and flashness than flavour - although, it's impossible for Mum to make a cake that isn't delicious. After a series of experimental cakes tested on Dad's harrassed girth, this one, kept secret till the day, strode into the house in a giant box, showing off its three vegan tiers of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate sponge, and laying the smack down with its fantastically girlish icing. There's a bit left, if anyone wants a piece.

The cake next to its creator. Yes, it is holding up those girders!

There was a companion piece to this creation which came from The Woods - no, not emerging from a dark clearing among trees, although it could have - but from our friends Simon and Caroline Wood. In the shape of a Mole wielding an ink pen, it was a phantasm of insulin-panicking icing and manic Allsort eyeballs; all-chocolate, and largely consumed there and then in the brewery. The cake was a reply to one I made for Simon on his 21st - 15 years ago - which you can see here.

The birthday brought presents of course. I'm not hard to buy for - there's a handful of criteria, but really, if it's sparkly, pretty or hand-made, sounds good or I can eat it, you can't really go wrong. However I was unprepared for the lump in the throat and the thinly-disguised tear to the eye triggered by this, from one of my two best friends who is just three weeks younger than me, knows all my haircuts including the 80s perm series, and has been critic, colleague and sidekick for years. It's not hand-made, but the phrase is hers, and means a lot since we live just a ten minute walk away but sometimes struggle to find each other in the fervour of our day-to-day lives. It's going to live on my desk, to remind me I only have to run down the street if I feel like a chat. (Jules' Mum and Dad bought me a Sindy, but you'll see her another time!)

Birthdays also bring a healthy amount of subterfuge. A giant 'hats off' goes to Melanie Tomlinson, my other BFF, for managing to stay quiet about these. Commissioned by my Mum and Dad, she made these, her first pair of earrings, in collaboration with a local jeweller, via a series of undercover trips to their house and furtive emails to and fro with designs attached. They took my breath away.

In their own hand-made box bearing a quote from Emily Bronte - who Mel knows is a pivotal influence on my early work - they're hand-cut from tin and covered with Mel's tiny gouache paintings.

Each piece - two birds, two flowers, two butterflies, a mole and a dragonfly - was strung together by the jeweller, and are finished with a little jewel. A bird appears to hold each earring aloft by its beak as you open the box.
There were, apparently, other designs - I'm chasing those down, as I can't live with the idea that they remain unmade.

There's no receipt for these objects, nor could I get one; and there were obviously many other objects and acts of thoughtfulness - the hamper filled with vegan goodies and notebooks, the sparkly yoga gear, the running shorts, the fabric-covered Wuthering Heights, Charles Darwin, the Angela Carter edition - that I can't fit on the blog. But they've filtered osmosis-style through the last couple of weeks, as little representations of the people who made them, to colour the days like brightly-coloured inks in fresh water.

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