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The Scrivener: Florentines And Fluorspar

…A willowy lady of a certain age, wearing a loose ankle-length lavender coloured gown and a lovely floppy lavender coloured garden-party hat was selling, you guessed, lavender products…

Brian Barratt enjoys chatting to the people doing the selling as he wanders around the monthly Craft Market.

To read more of Brian’s superbly-crafted columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his challenging and engaging Web site The Brain Rummager

It isn't very hot today. Around 22° is manageable. But the humidity is hovering at about 80% and the glass is falling, so it's quite uncomfortable. Not the best day to waddle round the monthly Craft Market, but it's worth just a little bit of uncomfortableness to see what's on offer and who's offering it.

A woman selling her home-made cakes and biscuits didn't look too happy but she brightened up when we started having a chat. In fact, her eyes sparkled. She had the usual array of goodies, you know the sort of thing: little lemon fairy cakes, chocolate ditto, raspberry ditto, yo-yos, macadamia shortbread, rocky road, and so on. What caught my eye were her Florentines. And so we talked about Florentines and what should go into them. The best ones can be bought in Acland Street, near the city, at one of the East European Jewish bakeries owned by a Chinese family. She hadn't heard of Eccles cakes but told me about the date biscuits her aunt used to make. I apologised for not buying anything but she did enjoy the chat. And so did I.

A willowy lady of a certain age, wearing a loose ankle-length lavender coloured gown and a lovely floppy lavender coloured garden-party hat was selling, you guessed, lavender products. She had a round rosy Dutch face but a Lancashire accent, so I eventually had to ask where she was born. Liverpool. So I was right, except that she has no connection with Holland. She doesn't just sell lavender products. She farms lavender and makes all her own products. And what a range she has, beautifully packaged and bottled! As she is very much into herbs and herbal remedies, I fancy that she is also a vegetarian.

As Sir Arnold would say to Sir Humphrey, I agree with vegetarianism. In principle. Oh yes, in principle. So I adjourned for a chicken and lettuce roll at one of the eateries that open on Sunday. I think the chicken, advertised as Chemical Free, might also have been Export Reject. It was pretty tough. But it was edible and enjoyable. In principle.

My knees reluctantly agreed to walk with me round the other side of the square, where I stopped to admire a range of hand-made greetings cards. One design in particular impressed me, so I asked the lady if it was a lino-cut. She raised her head from the book she was reading, retorted, "No. It's stamped", and continued reading. I assume that she didn't really want to sell any of them.

The tidy little gems and crystals stall is always interesting. For those gullible folk who believe that crystals vibrate with healing powers it must be a positive powerhouse. I'm forever hoping to find a lump of amethyst quartz like the one we had in England all those years ago. It disappeared when we went to Africa in 1953. Maybe it's still in the family somewhere and nobody knows what it is. Anyway, I can never find one of that size and shape.

There was a small plastic bag with a tiny ovoid stone and a printed explanation of a lingam. A fairly good explanation, but veering towards the spiritual rather than the pragmatically cultural. As the friendly lady was already happy to converse, I confided in her what a lingam actually represents. We agreed, with a naughty laugh, that she wouldn't tell her customers, especially the old ladies.

There was a particular type of fluorspar that she didn't have, Blue John stone. The name derives from the French "bleu jaune", blue yellow. She had searched for it all over England. The people she spoke to had never heard of it. "Did you go to Derbyshire?" I asked. No, she did not, and nobody suggested that she should continue her search there.

I bought a small sample of it at the only place in the world where it is mined, near Castleton in Derbyshire. We can safely say that it is rare, very rare. It has been mined for a few centuries but there isn't much left. Only a few hundred kilograms per year are now dug out and they are are generally only small pieces. Beautiful examples of large old ornamental vases made of richly banded Blue John can be seen in museums and galleries, and occasionally appear on the fascinating television programme Antiques Roadshow.

From lemon fairy cakes to lumps of rock, there's so much to enjoy at our monthly Craft Market. Especially the people.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2010


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