....So says Jo in the opening lines to Little Women, the beloved book by Louisa May Alcott, and a firm favourite since childhood. There has been much talk, in recent years, of making Christmas less materialistic: it's encouraging to see that there has been a growing 'malaise' about the superficiality attached to what should be a meaningful tradition, the sheer volume of waste, the expectations. Many young people growing up may have come to see Christmas as nothing more than a frenetic festival at which they get to have the latest tech upgrade, and whatever else is on their wish-list, no matter what the cost. So it's good to see that retro has made a comeback, and tradition once again beckons promisingly, at least to some of us!
Younger children - less exposed to peer pressure and more able to enjoy the simple things in life - are often easier to please: sufficient to them, a box containing a few bits and bobs; colourful books or craft items; traditional toys, dare I mention them, such as dolls and cars. As long as they can rip off the bright paper and enjoy the excitement of the moment, after the tremendous build-up of Advent; and watch, with almost equal excitement, as others do the same. Christmas carols and school nativity plays? God forbid, but surely they are all a part of it. Yes, the spirit of Christmas is far more likely to be found in the hearts of the very young, if they're lucky enough to have parents who encourage it. And older folk, who remember how it used to be. Perhaps, might I humbly add, the mid-centurians amongst us who, not quite old and certainly no longer young, treasure that lost age of innocence in which Christmas was really Christmas.
In many ways, the vintage and retro communities in which I have found myself immersed through my love of mid-century modern and mid-century, lead the way: a fondness for old-fashioned things like books, board games and soundly-made stuff which bring back the nostalgia of yesteryear, and send a message of reuse-recycle-remember rather than upgrade-degrade-forget. We are the collectors who attach value to things we've been given, who have kept those little bits and bobs from Christmases past. Who cares about upgrades? I want my beloved things to last forever, not just of themselves, but because of the memories they embody, the meaning they embed. What we get for Christmas now, ought to include, at least in small measure, things we treasure, tomorrow's vintage.
So, making Christmas less materialistic isn't about not giving: Dickens' Christmas Carol has surely made clear once and for all that, with life's many hardships, the joy and atmosphere of Christmas are something even the poorest should be able to look forward to, with a little helping hand from the community and their own extended families. It's about giving what you can afford to give, with thoughtfulness and generosity; and not just within your own little world, but within the community too, where others might not be lucky enough to have a family like yours; where everyone can make a difference, no matter how small. And by all means buy a new decoration or two for the tree each year, because that's part of the fun and helps keep the economy going (buy from small businesses or vintage sellers if you can!) but keep the old ones too: there in that box of memories, you will find the spirit of Christmas encapsulated, ready to be brought out each year to bring comfort and joy.
Are charity shops losing the plot? A few years ago, it was possible to pop into a high street charity shop and pick up a nice little bargain. On the odd occasion, you still can. But more often than not, and increasingly so, I walk out empty-handed. Soon, I doubt I shall bother walking in at all. Why? This might be a contentious statement - and I would love to hear about exceptions to this trend - but I think that charity shops have become - dare I say it? - greedy; not only this, but in their greed they have also become out of touch with reality. If I want to pay 'what it's worth', I will go to an antiques, quality secondhand or bric-a-brac shop which, after all, are paying higher rates and are often struggling to stay open; charity shops also clearly do not offer the same 'shopping experience' as an independent shop which has put its objects into an inviting interior with an attractive backdrop. No: the enjoyment previously experienced when visiting charity shops was the joy at scooping up some coveted item which one had little hope of affording elsewhere. Now, such items are picked up with excitement but, on seeing the price, put back down again in disappointment. Recent examples have been: sets of vintage plates with faded designs which might have tempted for a tenner, but not when offered at an eye-watering £45; Hornsea pieces at around £10 an item - or at any rate, more than I would pay for them on eBay; and books I'd gladly snap up for my collection, were they not hastily replaced once the price on the inner cover was revealed.
The shops will argue that their job is to raise as much money as they can for their charity and that only by putting the highest possible value on objects will they achieve this aim. But in reality they are alienating the very public on whom they rely for support, and in the process, shooting themselves in the foot. Would it not be better to have a greater turnover of goods than to price products irritatingly high (I mean, who would pay the same (sometimes even more!) for a used item of clothing in a charity shop than what it costs in a brand's 'as new' sale?) ; then have customers walk away, and items which could be filling the shelves and rails sitting in bags waiting for spaces? Often, the customers who donate goods are the same ones who, in turn, would like to spend a little money in the shop and pick up a bargain, so it's a shame that the pricing deters them from effectively making a double donation.
But it's not just this. Many members of the public donate these items in good faith, not only because they want to help the charity itself, but also because they want to do their bit for their community: in charity shop days-of-old, this was where people on the breadline could find a lifeline: in clothing; toys and books for their kids; kitchen essentials; something for a pound or two. At a car-boot sale last year, I was shocked to hear a seller say that they were taking everything they didn't sell that day to the recycling centre. "Couldn't you drop it off at a charity shop?" I asked. "I don't do that anymore," they replied, "the people I want to benefit can't afford to go to charity shops, so I'd rather donate to clothes banks and recycle." Hmm...her comments struck a cord as I'd been having a couple of begrudging thoughts myself lately. Charity shops need to listen up. In denial about it they may be, but they have a dual function and duty: it's not just about the charity they represent, it's also about the community they serve. Charity begins at home.
We are honoured to have been nominated by the vintage community on Instagram for the Vintage Pony Awards 2019 in the 'Best Blog' category. The Vintage Pony Awards are hosted by @wishvintage and @retromental, who quite evidently put heart and soul into their vintage efforts. Anyone who knows us here at Blackbirds and me will know that we are fairly anti social-media normally speaking (I have never had a Facebook account and don't post selfies) so we have been pleasantly surprised at how rewarding it has been to find our little niche on Instagram amidst lovers of retro, vintage and mid-century modern, and the appreciation and support shown.
The Blackbird has spoken blog, I like to think, covers not just what I post here on this website, but also the tips, inspiration and comments I share in my Instagram posts and on our stories: as a writer, I put a lot of care into the words I use, and my photographer, @isabellasynekherd_photography, always puts a lot of art into the photography: none-the-less so for being a 'mere Instagram' post. My aim is to inspire through our own modest interior here at Blackbirds, but also to raise a little smile or to reinforce feelings of nostalgia - something I believe to be important for the human psyche. It's nice to know that, as Blackbird has spoken, some of our words have been heard.
This month, as I put the finishing touches to the ground floor bedroom with its 'library corner', I am drawn to the colour combination of blue with brown; there is something very sophisticated about this duo, and the colours themselves - sticking to deep browns and dusky blues - are soundly mid-century, or at any rate, seventies. I love the warmth and earthiness of brown, and adding blue provides an appealing lift which prevents any danger of it becoming fogyish...which it might on its own!
Colours have such an impact on our interiors that much care must be taken in their choosing. However, it's important not just to pick hues which personally appeal: they also have to suit the space, and this can mean living with it for a while and sensing what will go. Three years into our move here at 'Blackbirds' it became gradually apparent that the initially much-favoured burst of retro orange was just too overpowering for this corner: what works here are blues, greens and browns. And a pop of maroon. If you're finding it hard to picture this, all will be revealed in Mid-Century Modern on a Shoestring! Working on it.
Blog : by Blackbirds and Me See also : instagram @blackbirdsandme