There is a certain shade of blue that inspires me like a mystical experience. It genuinely makes me gasp in awe. Its beauty is heartbreaking.
It’s the same blue as a mundane Reckitt’s blue bag, used in the past to keep your cotton bed sheets white in the wash, as they have a tendency to go yellow with age.
At the age of about seven, when I was sitting in the back room of “the shop opposite” my village home, where my mother worked, I was stung on the ear by a wasp or bee.
One of the other shop assistants immediately put a wet Reckitt’s blue bag against my ear, but I have to say it only made it worse. They say you put vinegar on a wasp sting but blue bag on a bee sting, as a wasp sting was believed to be alkaline and a bee sting acidic.
Part of this is an old wives’ tale – a wasp sting is pretty neutral and a bee sting won’t get much better until you pull out the sting. It was probably a wasp sting, anyway.
I must have looked in a mirror, as I remember my ear being blue.
That’s a not-too-cheerful memory of this particular blue colour, but the others are far more uplifting.
The colour was brought to mind again only the other day, when I passed a posh shoe shop with a display of blue shoes in the window.
I once went to a wonderful exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art in London in the 1970s and as there was too much to take in, I decided to focus on the details of one particular painting, so I would at least remember something. It was this one, Mariana by John Everett Millais, painted in 1851.
Mariana is a character from Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure. She is dumped by her fiancé Angelo when her dowry is lost in a shipwreck.
But it wasn’t the plot that interested me, nor the fact that Mariana might be saying “Does my bum look big in this?” No, it was the perfect blue colour of her velvet dress. I inhaled the colour for some time…
It’s the same inspirational colour to me as a particular pane of glass in the wonderful windows of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, created by Flemish craftsmen during the reign of Henry VIII, between 1515 and 1546.
I went there often in the 1970s and always focused on the one particular area of blue grass, up on the top right hand corner if you are looking towards the main window. It’s not even in the main window. But it’s the focus for me.
It’s also the same colour as Bristol blue glass . Glassmaking became established in Bristol during the reign of James I, when the use of firewood for trade was banned. Bristol had coal for fuel in the woodland to the north and raw materials in the form of sand from the Redcliffe caves, kelp from Bridgwater and clay from further up the River Severn. It also had a flourishing port.
Bristol blue glass was first made in the 1700s by combining the newly invented lead crystal with cobalt oxide.
The industry declined in the late 19th century and no Bristol blue glass was made from 1922 until 1998, when it was revived by James Adlington. Today there are two makers based in Bristol: Bristol Blue Glass and Bristol Blue Glass (South West).
As a child I once bought my mother a (cheap) sugar bowl, in silver effect with a blue glass liner – I still have the liner somewhere, although the fake silver shell has long rotted and been thrown away.
The same glass is used as the liner of some old open silver salt cellars, which I collected at one time. It protects the silver from corrosion by the salt.
Finally, it is famously the colour of the original Welsh Ty Nant spring water bottle – which I’m sure I once saw in a scene from Babylon 5. Iconic, you might say…
You may also be interested in my blog post Lost between Wedgwood blue and eau-de-nil