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A Purple Box For Alan And Robin

For several months now, whenever anybody has asked me what I want for a wedding present, I've answered: "Toasters, please."

I feel that you can never have too many toasters, and a wedding seems to me to be an ideal opportunity to stock up for a rainy (and toastless) day. However Robin has firmly forbidden me from saying the word anymore on the grounds that somebody with an impaired sense of humour might take me seriously and fill our house with toasters.

Personally I feel it is far more likely that our more sadistically inclined friends will fully realise that I am not in the least bit serious in my expressed desire for toasters. Nevertheless they will take me at my supposed word and gleefully immerse me in toasters, chuckling furiously the while.

Either way, I suspect that Robin is correct in her feeling that this is not an outcome to be desired (though a toaster each might be nice in case we ever split up).

However, long before Robin laid her edict down, I sent an email to my friend Ian in Holland. A toaster, I implied, would be nice. And Robin likes boxes, I said. And her favourite colour is purple. The rest I left to his imagination.

I was late home from work on the day that the present from Holland arrived and when I got home, Robin was positively hopping up and down with frustration.

"Where've you been? " she demanded. "Ian's present has arrived. Open it NOW!"

I took off my hat and hung it on the hook.

"Hurry up!" said Robin, stamping her foot.

I took off my jacket and hung it on the hook.

"The present is just over there," said Robin, pointing at a large brown parcel. "I really think it should be opened IMMEDIATELY, don't you?"

I took off my trousers and folded them carefully and hung them in the wardrobe and then I put on a pair of casual trousers.

"AAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!" explained Robin.

I took out my swiss army knife and opened the sharpest blade.

"At last!" Robin heaved a deep sigh of relief and picked up the camera to record the moment for posterity and for Ian.

I cut carefully at the tape on the large brown parcel and slowly removed the top layer. Somewhat to my surprise, another layer of cardboard was revealed. I cut carefully through this as well and pulled it away from the parcel. I peered inside the box.

"Hmmm," I said. "Robin - I think you ought to carry on with the unwrapping now. I'll take the rest of the photographs."

We swapped places and Robin looked inside the box. A smile spread across the whole of her face.

"Purple!" she said.

She reached carefully into the cardboard and pulled out a large purple box. It had an angular lid with a twirly handle on top and there were wooden studs set around the lid. There was a drawer at the bottom.

"Purple!" said Robin in tones of deep satisfaction.

The lid opened easily, though close examination revealed that it shouldn't have. Inside, a rod extended out from the back of the box across to the front and hooked in to a catch that should have been attached to the box lid, but wasn't. One of the studs around the outside of the box was attached to the rod and could be used to pull the rod out, thereby releasing the lid. However the catch had come unglued, thus invalidating the mechanism. (I later reattached the catch with a dab of wood glue and then everything worked properly again).

The box turned out to be a jewellery box with two cushioned trays and a cushioned drawer. Robin was ecstatic.

"What a beautiful box," she enthused. "And it's purple! Isn' t that just perfect?"

"Indeed it is," I said, and I took a photograph.

"Purple," said Robin and started to take out the trays.

"Ooooh look!" she exclaimed. She was holding a small parcel. On it was written:


She unwrapped it carefully and her eyes lit up.

"It's a TOASTER," she shouted gleefully. "Just what you always wanted."

The toy toaster was about an inch long and half an inch wide. It gleamed and sparkled, dazzling us both with reflected sunlight.

Robin played with the toaster for a while. "And it's got real toast!" she enthused as she hit a hidden spring and two tiny pieces of white plastic bread shot across the room, to the great bewilderment of the eagerly watching cats who weren't sure whether or not to chase and kill them as they flew through the air.

Robin put the toaster reverently into the new purple box, and carried the box into the bedroom. She went over to where I strongly suspected the dressing table was (I hadn't seen it for several years because of the clutter surrounding it, and I was no longer sure we still possessed it) and she cleared a space by throwing a whole pile of stuff off onto where the floor would have been if it too hadn't been covered in clutter. I wasn't completely certain that we still had a bedroom floor either - memory of these things tends to fade with the passing years when you don't get the constant reinforcement of seeing them every day.

Having cleared a space, she put the box down carefully and adjusted its position so that she would have a good view of it while she was lying in bed. That night she lay there with her back to me so that the box would be the last thing that she saw as she drifted off to sleep.

"Purple," I heard her murmur.

Shortly after that she began to snore.

I hastened to inform Ian of the safe arrival of the box and toaster and I sent him the photographs of the ceremonial opening. He sent me a letter describing its provenance:

Dear Robin and Alan,

So glad the box arrived safely. It was made by my partner-in-crime and apprentice bowyer DaniŽl Kamp. You can see that he is a talented cabinet maker, too.

The timber for the panels comes from the beams of a concealed Catholic church that was discovered when a farmhouse in Brabant was demolished. The timber, we guess, is more than 300 years old. It was most probably imported from the Baltic into Zaandam, where it lay in the Zaan river to season before going on to its temporary destination. On returning to the Zaan, it was stored waiting for a good purpose, sawn into panels and made up into your box.

The twirly bits are yew wood, made from one of my own English longbows. The yew grew on the Veluwe National Park, on a royal estate. It was more than 500 years old when the tree was felled, laid for 5 years to season, and made up into a longbow.

There is only one box of its kind, naturally, as DaniŽl made it on commission for you-all. It’s unique.

The purple colouring is a mineral-based wax made to DaniŽl’s own special formula, using materials obtained from the dye and colour mill The Cat, run by my brother-in-law Piet. The solvent used in the wax, by the way, is citrus turpentine, which will account for any smell of citrus fruit that may waft around the box.

The satin lining and beading are of course all hand stitched.

The toaster is of course fully functional, but runs only on Gnome Stroom, available from the windmills in Holland.

A toaster packed in a purple box is what I promised. So that’s what you get.

DaniŽl suggests that you re-wax the outside about once a year. I shall send you a small tub of magic purple wax later on. Given Holland’s reputation in your part of the world, maybe I should mark the tub "Lebanese Purple" or something, just to amuse the Customs officers.

The timber will colour up over the years. The acquired patina is part of the aesthetic. It should mellow through time. Don’t we all?

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