The casting of spells: how I came to love ancient Greek and spend a good part of my life in the textile trade.

A small girl lies on a thick rug in front of an open fire; her parents are away and she’s reading. The coals fizz and purr, then suddenly a spark lands beside her and she starts up, fearing it will burn, but just as it spins into a spiral of white light it slows and breaks into a swirling rainbow coloured cloak worn by a tiny man. On his belt is a ring of coloured keys and he invites her to follow him.

So began my favourite book, in which the little girl is guided through the ages of prehistory from the Cambrian to the Cretaceous, each age an exploration and a dramatic escape, with Whirlaway just in time finding the door to the next era, its name appearing in flaming letters above, and just in time finding the right key. I loved the succession of terrors and rescues, the loyal companion with his magical knowledge, and most of all the sound of the words: Pterodactyl,Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex.

At  fourteen, I had to choose between learning ancient Greek or German. A sensible girl, I chose German, but my Latin teacher gave me a Greek grammar to look at over the summer, and I promised to do so, for I loved her. Later, sitting on my grandfather’s home-made boat on the Thames, cocooned by the swell, the reflected sparkles of sunlight, the soft sounds of the river, I opened the book: alpha, beta, gamma, there were the magic signs, so like our own letters, yet enticingly unfamiliar,  a code opening a door onto a world safe from parental intrusion. I began to decipher words: polis-city, pais-child, dendron-tree, pneuma-breath, psuche-soul. So began a journey through the ages of Greek literature from Homer to Aristotle, through wild imaginings, strange philosophies, tales of honour and absurdity, unerring insights, and through all the huffs, shrugs, and idiosyncracies of the Greek language.

I was twenty-eight when Whirlaway found me, a proper miss, teaching in a girl’s school. A slight figure, he twirled before me, showing off his Kaffe Fasset jacket knitted in many colours and told me that the Liberty skirt I was wearing was in a pattern of his own design. He was a painter, not cut out for parental approval. Radical, articulate, choleric, a catalyst, a comet, he became my secret companion for a journey into the opium of retro clothing, the Kings Rd, and the dubious thrills of self employment. His doors opened onto days of mixing colours, hours studying the racks of historic textiles at the V&A,  onto flurried searchings through boxes at Kempton market for dusty shreds of antique curtains, which smelled like old curry, but on which I could trace swags of graceful flowers; hours spent poring over paintings to create new palettes and new designs for fabrics and papers. And the magic words? Raw umber, naples yellow, alizarin crimson, sanguine paper, marl stick.

Now, storm driven, I’m adrift among shards of sea-dulled glass, but at night as my dreams track the star-strewn skies, I hear the sound of keys clicking beneath my pillow.


I studied Classics at Oxford and manged a fabric design and production business for the Interiors trade. The website is: ariadnefabric.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s