Eagle-eyed readers may detect something dangling from my arm in the shot above. Yes, I've bought myself a wicker shopping basket. As you can see, it isn't too big. It's primarily for smaller purchases, though not necessarily lightweight purchases. It's stiff and strong.
Having conceived the notion of buying a shopping basket like this, it was inevitable that I'd do something about it without delay. That's the Melfords for you. We don't dither. We don't mess about. We track down a place to buy what we want, and drive out there in a fast car. In this case, Sussex Willow Baskets in High Salvington, just outside Worthing, a business owned by a man called Stephen Caulfield who makes these things himself. All manner of wicker things really, mainly bespoke orders. He also runs basket-weaving classes.
I phoned him up, and went to his house by appointment this morning. He had a stock of baskets he could show me, and this one was among them. It said 'buy me!' and I obliged. It was one he had made during 2017, but hadn't sold. The cost was £42, which was a fair bit, but then (a) it was genuinely a local Sussex product, skilfully made from the best willow to Mr Caulfield's own design; (b) it was randed (that is, slowly made, weaving in one long willow strand at a time); and (c) it was decorated with two bands of differently-coloured willow. In short, it was a cut above the run-of-the-mill basket.
I had looked at some nice baskets online, in particular those from J Johnson & Sons of Wrexham - take a look at their baskets at http://www.jjohnsonandson.co.uk/shopping-baskets.htm. That firm's offerings looked very good, and their prices seemed very reasonable, although who knows what the postage might add to the cost. But it was difficult to judge weight and robustness from an online picture. Nor could I decide whether the handle was comfortable enough, or well-enough fixed on. For these reasons, I thought it best to find a Sussex maker/supplier, and inspect the goods personally.
Anyway, Mr Caulfield had what I wanted, and I was happy to pay a bit more to get it.
I could have had a rectangular-shaped basket rather than a round one. But apparently round baskets are stronger. And although a boxy rectangular basket would have held more, it didn't have the charm of a round basket. A round basket definitely looked more pleasing to the eye. This mattered to me.
Back in Fiona, the new wicker basket looked lovely.
I snipped off the label, and drove up to Horsham, parking at John Lewis/Waitrose before trotting off to Waterstones to collect some books I'd ordered online. Then I went into Waitrose with the new basket on my arm. Might as well use it straight away! And it was a success. I used it for the heavier things, if they weren't too large. The rest went into a separate bag. I liked the way the new basket rested solidly against the cold bag in Fiona's boot, stopping it falling over.
Back home now, and about to unpack:
The new basket had immediately proved practical and useful. I set about photographing it properly, to assess it for style and character.
Yep. Plenty of rustic charm there! With that on my arm, I might well be taken for a local peasant woman down in the village, the sort that lives off the land.
The new basket looks good in all kinds of settings. In my porch, for instance, it goes extremely well with flowers, wellies, walking sticks and lucky iron horseshoes:
It also looks the business on the back seat of my car:
I'd say it beats an ordinary shopping bag hands down. It's certainly looking cooler than the Cath Kidston shopper in the footwell, although that bag will continue to be used for the things the new basket can't swallow.
And it has uses around the house too - say for taking multiple small things from room to room. With my small hands, I can't carry all these easily-dropped items from kitchen to lounge in one trip, but the basket has made it easy:
It probably has an infinity of uses. As an improvised sun hat, perhaps?
And if it starts to rain, then an extempore plastic lining gives my basket-hat some serious waterproofing...
I'm surprised nobody ever seems to think of doing this. It's so practical.