Rachel Ashwell is one of a trinity of women, that also includes Sarah Ban Breathnach, and Cheryl Mendelson, that I credit with teaching me how to live, when I was a young homemaker, running an interiors business and trying to fathom who I was, and what really mattered to me.
I think I have told you before that when Mark was saving up for my engagement ring, he would insist that we needed to travel to Manchester city centre every weekend, for “a wander”. And once there he would deliver me to the huge, light-filled branch of Waterstones for an hour while he went “a-wandering”.
And there I would sit, underneath the grand, arched Victorian windows, lost in the books I couldn’t afford, never happier because life felt so very simple to me then. I would discover a book and read it until I could justify its purchase. And every few Sunday’s Mark and I would decide that today was the day I could afford to splurge and I would drive home in the car with the book in its glossy Waterstones bag, too excited to look at it, because lovely books needed pots of tea and cosy candles in the sage green living room of our first flat.
I didn’t know I was forging a life with those books. I didn’t know that Mark was forging the life we then imagined we would share together, each week visiting a famed Manchester jewellers to pay off my engagement ring, ten pound by ten pound. And I didn’t know, of course, that, that early certainty of our togetherness would eventually fade into one of the most necessary supporting beams of my life, but would never be the marriage in Italy we both dreamed of then.
I thought about those days when I saw Rachel Ashwell’s new book this week, when I saw the very essence of all that I learned from her distilled into the gorgeous drawings in its pages.
I remembered how in the days before the internet was so prevalent in our lives, I would sit for hours turning the pages of Shabby Chic in something like wonderment after a childhood in the tidy world of suburbia. Here were heart stopping interiors. Here in Simple Abundance were the daily teachings that would shape who I am. Here in Home Comforts was permission to care too much about the finnicky details of homemaking. Here was a life I could grasp and make mine.
This week Mark’s brother, is dreadfully, terrifyingly ill in hospital with Covid and my relationship with my sister is on its knees. I am tired. And sad. And scared. But mostly just worn out by a life that feels blotted with too much misery. Though Mark and I will never again be the innocent young couple we were and we both have separate relationships we deeply treasure, this week, more than ever, I am reminded, that we still stand, solid and so necessary to each other. Still just a phone call away when familiar comforts matter and a shared history brings understanding of our respective ordeals.
Familiar comforts. All the Rachel Ashwell books I own. Peppermint oil rubbed into the back of my stressed neck. My weeping blanket. A propelling pencil I will use to scribble away all the hurt. A packet of McVities chocolate digestives. Old songs.
All of it. To soothe the hurt and remind me that this too will pass.