Friday morning came, and the words a parent dreads came floating in to the room "mummy I don't feel well", and much as I tried to convince him otherwise, it was no use, he was burning up, my grown up day was cancelled. By lunch time Hugh had perked up, so instead of listening to Alex Monroe talk about Jewellery, his life and the writing of his book, I am sat on the floor assisting in making a Willy Wonka top hat for the Easter bonnet parade, complete with Wonka Bar and Golden Ticket.
So as consolation I went on line and ordered Two Turtle Doves - A Memoir of Making Things. When it arrived I left it unopened on the sofa and carried on with what I was doing. Hugh called up to me "can I open this parcel Mummy?" "If you want" I say," but it's just a book, you won't find it interesting" A little while later I return to the living room to find Hugh pouring over the book, "mummy look at the cover its so beautiful, and there are sparkly things inside, and look at these big hammers, and the drawing of the bicycle and and and....! Hmmm I thought, this is interesting, perhaps this is not the book I was expecting...
The book alternates between incidents in Monroe's largely unsupervised early life in Suffolk and the story of the process of crafting a product. It is an extremely enjoyable read on many levels. As a Designer and ex Buyer of many years there is an obvious connection, and the opening chapter at a trade fair in Paris is very familiar ground for me. I find myself nodding and smiling at his description of buyers moving in packs, Japanese in groups of 5 and 6, Americans in 3s or 4s, and the British in 2s, every detail strikes a cord with me. The picture of the design process is also spot on, from the initial spark of an idea, the moments of doubt when it's just not working, the elation when it finally comes together, and the overwhelming need to share the finished piece with everyone. I find it reassuring that things don't always work first time and picture in my head the items being dropped in to the reject box, I have a reject basket of paper cuts which I also rifle through from time to time cutting up with scissors and sticking roughly together with a new piece.
You can buy Alex Monroe Jewellery at http://www.alexmonroe.com
I had the idea for this post about a month ago, but as often happens events conspired against me. It was the end of the first day of our range photo shoot, my lovely friend Stella (who produced the graphic design elements of the range) and I were slumped on the sofa exhausted and my husband was pouring us both a glass of well earned wine. I was scrolling through my news feed on Facebook when something caught my eye - Alex Monroe at the Oxford Literary Festival. I gestured to Stella, "the last time I went to see a designer speak I was at art college with you and it was Vivienne Westwood, she was totally bonkers, I didn't understand a word of it, but I've never forgotten it!" "You should go" she said "we finish shooting tomorrow and they won't be edited by Friday so what else are you going to do?" Sod it I thought why not? When was the last time I had a grown up day off, so I booked a ticket!
It's Easter and we are with family in Devon, I am sat reading in the sunshine chuckling away to myself. Hugh asks what is going on in the book and I start reading bits out to him. Forging coins from lead salvaged from smashed up pianos, firing missiles at passing visitors, making gunpowder out of matches, and unsurprisingly, an array of accidents and injuries, Hugh is captivated, "can we make gun powder mummy?" "No" I say, "but why don't we have a go at casting some coins out of wax".
Don't be fooled though, this is not an elitist book about design, it's about adventure, imagination, resourcefulness and making things - all sorts of things. Go karts, bicycles, boats (and the odd weapon). There really is something in this book for everyone, When recommending the book to my Suffolk raised father in law I learnt that whilst at prep school he used to melt salvaged bullets over the open fire, and on one memorable occasion the bullet exploded.
For me this book is a narrative of how a creative mind is developed through exploring & experimenting, and a reminder that we need to give our children the freedom and space to do this. As a child I remember being slightly embarrassed that our clothes were all home made and that rather than buying something shiny and new, my dad would rifle through the garage for something he could convert in to whatever we needed. I still remember cringing when he experimented with concrete and old egg boxes to make a cobbled path for the garden, but here I am many years later making makeshift moulds out of clay and melting down crayons- because it was what was to hand. The Heath Robinson household I grew up in taught me creativity, and I really hope Hugh's slightly bonkers imagination continues to be fired up by the stories of enterprise in this book. I just might make a mental note to hide the matches...