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Basket Case

small conical basket for strawberries

small conical basket for strawberries

 

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ordinary but lovely mat

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basket rucksack

img_1662-1The OED’s earliest citation for the use of the phrase “basket case” dates from January 1919, two months after the war ended. It’s from Oak Leaves, a local newspaper in Oak Park, Ill.: “There were seven ‘basket cases,’ men without arms or legs.” And their mobility was their invalid basket, or early wheelchair.

The term “basket case” isn’t used anymore in that original sense, but it refers now to an emotionally disturbed person or an ineffective organization, nation, business, and so on. Of course in these P.C. times one has to be cautious about referring to anything as deranged in any sense in case that person- or institution- starts to shriek about needing a “safe place.”

But baskets are sheltering, homely objects and used all over the world to harvest fruit and vegetables, to gather eggs, to carry chickens. Or they are taken empty to market and brought back filled with good things. They were the first carrier bags  but much more visually interesting, with their different weaves and methods of construction, handled or handle-less, woven from willow,  ash, beech, bamboo or rattan cane; naturally brown or blonde or dyed in different hues like grass baskets of Kenya; rigid or supple, capacious or just small enough to house a pair of ear-rings. You can trap  lobsters, you can float a baby Moses down river, you can tar the bottom and create a coracle to ferry yourself over a loch.

In the sixties when Laura Ashley was sewing sprigged dresses in her Welsh factory, Londoners liked to play milkmaids in a Laura Ashley long dress with a pie-crust collar and pintucks, carry a rustic basket over one arm and go shopping down Kings Road (other times they were dressing in Mary Quant in mini dresses that hardly covered their knickers). 

The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has an eclectic collection of baskets from all over the world and is worth a visit, but take a torch or you won’t see very much at all.

location of interesting baskets at the Pitt Rivers

location of interesting baskets at the Pitt Rivers

 

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