Watercolours in the hall

We’ve moved many times in the thirty-five years that we’ve been together, my FAB hubby and I. When we first moved to Hong Kong, in September 1992, it was a terrifying experience. Everything was completely overwhelming, foreign and strange. It was also exciting, and wonderfully inspirational.

We had to wait for about two months before our furniture arrived – it may have been longer in fact, because we couldn’t inform the removal company where to send it to until we had an address for it to arrive at and as we lived the high life at the Island Shangri-La – a most luxurious, brand-spankingly new, six-star hotel in Pacific Place – for the first four or five weeks; it was getting on for mid-November before our furniture from ‘home’ came anywhere near us.

Moving to this newly-built apartment in Mid-Levels was a big step. We had arrived in Hong Kong with almost nothing – a couple of suitcases of clothing and some photographs to remind us what our children looked like, back in England, enjoying their boarding school. Even when our stuff did arrive, we had only packed the dining table and chairs, our double bed and some essential belongings – the bronze and rosewood cutlery we’d bought ten years earlier, our best china dinner service and a few other knick-knacks. We’d pretty much sold everything else we owned because we had no idea what we could or couldn’t actually take with us.

So the apartment was very strangely empty, even after our belongings arrived. We didn’t really notice because there was so much to see, so much to explore.

One of my favourite places to go was the Japanese department store, Seibu, which occupied a large section of two floors in Pacific Place. It was full of marvellous wonders and most invitingly, had a well-stock art-supplies area that, although a little pricey, seemed like an Aladdin’s cave to me. I spent many hours perusing the goodies and finally decided on some new watercolours and some pastel papers.

Amongst our treasured belongings was a gorgeous calendar with some British Wildlife photos, that I had been given by a relative some years before. Badgers, hares, squirrels and deer frolicked in each different scene. I had intended to put them together in a montage and mount  them together, but I was intrigued by my newly-acquired purchases and decided to have a go at painting them for myself, from the photographs.

I finished six fairly quickly and we took them to the framer’s on Queens’ Road East. It took about a week, but collecting them, rushing home with them and seeing my art work hung on my own walls suddenly made this strange, noisy, utterly crazy city feel like home for the first time. Each time we went in and out of our apartment, they greeted us.

All six watercolours together

All six watercolours together

They have hung out together on the walls of every home we’ve lived in since then – nine in all (so far). They’ve greeted all our our children and grandchildren. They are like members of the family now. I hope you like them too.

Squirrel

Squirrel

Otter

Otter

Mouse

Mouse

Winter Hare

Winter Hare

Duck

Duck

Deer

Deer

 

As always, thanks for reading! 

Sunflowers – nature, glorying in the sunshine

Be honest, who doesn’t adore sunflowers? It’s likely to be a very small group, you can bet on that.

Who doesn't love sunflowers?

Who doesn’t love sunflowers?

Yellow is widely regarded as the colour of intellect, the mind and general happy states of being. Years ago, I read that psychologists had started to use yellow postcards as an effective antidote to depression, the theory being (I suppose) that if you’re prone to depression and you sit in the sunshine, the colour, the warmth and the light helps to lift the spirits and provide a visual mood-massage. I’m not sure how much success those people had with a piece of yellow card, four inches by six, but I have to agree that yellow, as my most favourite colour, certainly has that effect upon me and my mood.

Is it just me or is there a happy face in this sunflower?

Is it just me or is there a happy face in this sunflower?

So, it is surely a given that sunflowers are widely admired because they simply make us happy – it’s hard to look at a single sunflower and not think cheerful notions. In France, many years ago now, we once drove through the countryside, roughly straight down the middle passing some magnificent, enormous seas of sunflowers. The sight was breathtaking. A couple of years before that we had visited the tiny island of Gozo, just to the south of Malta, to find similar fields of sunflowers swaying in the sunshine. They are synonymous with holidays, happiness and contentment.

HE'S SO FLUFFY!!!

HE’S SO FLUFFY!!!

At this time of year, social media is filled to bursting with people’s fascination with Nature’s elixir of elation. There are sunflowers on their own, sunflowers in groups, some with tiny florets and others with gargantuan, dinner-plate-sized heads. Even the leaves, thrown joyfully out to each side are reminiscent of someone shouting ‘SQUEE!!!!’ just for the sheer joy of being alive, warming oneself under the might star at the centre of our solar system.

The bees are getting busy on this massive flower

The bees are getting busy on this massive flower

Sunflowers are essential for pollinators as well of course… at this time of year, as many flowers are beginning to fade, the sunflower stands, like a beacon calling to bees and bugs to feast on the abundant nectar, asking only that the creature transfers a little pollen to other plants, thereby ensuring the survival of the species. Watching the many bees staggering away from the Sunflower Bar reminds me of Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong on a Friday or Saturday night – drunken folk, careening along the pavement to the next bar, smiling and enjoying the experience hugely. Happiness, again.

Until this year though, I had always believed that sunflowers only ever produce one, massive floret, so heavily loaded with seeds that when they begin to fade, they hang their heads in melancholic sadness. Their time is almost at an end and the effort required to lift their faces to the Sun just one more time is simply too much to ask.

Dead-heading requires a pair of sharp secateurs

Dead-heading requires a pair of sharp secateurs

But, I was wrong! Almost all of the sunflowers we planted this year (from the seeds of last years’ superstar sunflower, ‘Sunny Jim’) have produced multiple florets atop their gangly stems. It’s such a surprise to me!

With the head removed, two smaller flowers get some time in the sunshine

With the head removed, two smaller flowers get some time in the sunshine

Height is frequently an issue for us as both my FAB hubby and I are around the five-foot-three to five-foot-six marks and when they decide to grow to a height of over eight feet, it makes collecting seeds quite difficult. In order to counter this short-coming (please excuse the pun!), I also planted some red sunflowers which grow to only about three feet tall.

This shows the scale of how tall the flowers are - around eight foot high!

This shows the scale of how tall the flowers are – around eight foot high!

They were put in the ground later than the others as well, so they are only just beginning to flower now. I love the colours – deep russet reds set off with saffron and brilliant cadmium – and the fact that they are a dwarf variety means that they flower at around hip-height, perfect for getting up close and personal with.

Today, the wind was making its presence felt. Blowy, gusty at times, always incessantly moving the flower-heads, making leaves tremble and forcing tiny insects to hang on for dear life, the breeze wafting, whirling and blasting for all it was worth. These are not often ideal conditions for aesthetically pleasing pictures to be created. But, I managed. I’m particularly pleased with this photo of the red sunflower, which is almost SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) – I simply resized it. I like the movement that seems to be conveyed – you can almost feel the wind rushing past, in a violent hurry.

The red flower swayed turbulently in the breeze

The red flower swayed turbulently in the breeze

Gardening, growing things and watching them mature into bright, beautiful forces of nature is a lot like being a parent. Each plant, each flower, each vegetable or fruit has so much potential; all they need is good soil, light, water and a little TLC, to grow and develop so individually. I think I’m finding Zen in my garden. I wasn’t even looking for it.

The last of the butterflies are meditating in unexpected places.

The last of the butterflies are meditating in unexpected places.

As always, thank you for reading – you make my day brighter for your presence here!

 

 

Well, who knew?

I’m a little bit gobsmacked this morning.

Apparently, someone read my post yesterday and thought it was inappropriate. They sent me a rather rude note, likening me (amongst other things) to an unprofessional twelve-year-old. I was mightily flattered, which you’d probably only understand when you get to be a wise old sage like me.

The Golden Buddha sits atop the mountain on Lantau. Thinking.

The Golden Buddha sits atop the mountain on Lantau. Thinking.

My friend and exceptionally professional writer, Jon Katz, has a brilliant attitude towards people with differing opinions, who feel the need to express them everywhere. He acknowledges their need to express themselves and then carries on doing/thinking/behaving exactly as he feels he should. Being swayed by a negative opinion is the downfall of many a public figure. I am so glad that he’s taught me this lesson before I had to encounter it, or else I might have responded thus: ‘I’m so sorry to have offended you! I will refrain from making such infantile mistakes ever again and thank you, so very much, for pointing them out to me in such a kind, gentle and encouraging fashion.’

I get that listening to good, constructive advice is useful and can help you to learn to improve whatever it is you are attempting to do. I am all about the learning thing – as the thousands of students that I’ve taught over the years will probably attest to. I make mistakes all the time and if something I’ve written hasn’t come off particularly well, then I do appreciate helpful, well-considered guidance from people who actually have a clue what they are talking about.

So, I offer my grateful thanks to you, dear MysticMeg, for the gift of your sound, well-grounded and totally useful comments. I shall forever be in your debt.

And I’ll try not to get too giddy about someone thinking I might be some kind of professional writer. God Forbid!

Thanks for reading, my friends, you make my day brighter!

Where do I go to, my lovely?

I always wanted to write. I’ve got diaries that I wrote over forty years ago when I was an embryo.

OK, OK, so I was *SLIGHTLY* older than that. I KNOW that embryos have a little trouble with holding a pencil, what with the whole ‘being-inside-another-human’ concept and all that… anyway, it’s been a very loooonng time since I started writing is what I was saying.

But the trouble with my writing is that inspiration comes and goes. I know, deep in my bones, at the most visceral level possible, that in order to be a *Writer* I should stick with it, write every day, write what I know and, above ALL ELSE, keep AT it. Even if what I write is no good. But of course, that’s hard to do when you are me. My biggest fault is perfectionism.

The gaping holes in my diaries over the years are sad testament to my inability to persevere with putting pen to paper. Or, since these are largely proverbial pens and paper in our modern world of technological pens and paper – i.e. computers & keyboards – in the date-ordered folders in my ‘personal writing’ directory. Or even, perhaps more pertinently, in the archives of this blog.

My intention is always to write something. Every day.

I have simply loads of ideas that float in and out of my head. ALL. THE. TIME.

It’s true; if you could construct a gadget that could see *inside * my head and show you my *thoughts*, you’d be amazed at the complexity and variety of seemingly unconnected randomness that fills up all the space there. And, believe me, there’s a WHOLE lot of space in there.

What’s that I hear you saying? There IS such a gadget that already exists? REALLY?

Oh. You mean, like, an x-ray machine don’t you? 

NO? 

Oh. I guess you mean one of those massive MRI thingies then instead? 

Well, yes, I suppose it’s possible that you could use one of those to see inside my head, but, you’d get a really strange, sectional version of what’s going on there which is no help really – what you actually need is a full-colour, cinematic, Peter-Jackson-directed, motion picture with panoramic vistas and Wadja-like close-ups, to fully understand what’s going on inside my noggin. Yep. nothing less will do.

So, back here in the real world, my dilemma is causing me some difficulties. Since I don’t actually have access to Peter Jackson, or any underling who might be obliging, to produce movies of my stream of consciousness, I have to find and then string actual words together to describe the chaos that inhabits my grey matter. AND NO… I am NOT talking about my grey hair… thank you! 

I have been remiss of late. It has been fourteen days since my last posting… and that was a repost of someone else’s comments about my book. (I have a vision now of a Catholic Confessional, dark and impenetrable, with clouds of incense creating an unreal, other-worldly atmosphere. Deep silence pervades the set, save for the gentle snores of the priest, which isn’t good for my self-esteem… see, this is how it’s going to have to be now, with me WRITING all the background stuff that’s going on – get use to it!). Flattering though the comments were, it is hardly original content and that IS what I am aiming to produce with each new missive from the Grange.

And it’s not like there’s been nothing going on for me to be inspired to write about – quite the opposite in fact. I suppose it’s the eternal paradox: do I live life to the full, finding something exciting in each and every moment of the day to wax lyrical about or, alternatively, do I devote all my hours to writing about stuff that’s materializing from my mind, which effectively means that I live in a world of fantasy, rather than experiencing my life as it happens?

I know, I know, the secret of a successful writer’s life is getting a perfect balance between the two. Or in other words, as Douglas Adams would have us believe, 42. See… there it was again, yet another tangent to try and map for you… it’s exhausting inside my head! Now, I have peculiarly unnatural aliens traveling in a clinical alabaster space-ship irresponsibly transforming into random shizzle, having accidentally engaged the Improbability Drive. Marvin, the paranoid android, is mumbling mutinously in the background. GET A GRIP woman!

What with brilliant birthday parties – Gregstock 2014 is very likely to return next year, when it will be renamed ‘Gregstock 2015′, unsurprisingly – and wonderful weddings, family Do’s have been in good supply and have a multitude of storylets that are simply aching to be told. But this isn’t the place for them today.

A while ago, I teased you all with a promise to scribble about a local beauty spot, Castle Howard, made famous by all sorts of TV and film projects that have used the stunning pulchritudinous elegance embedded in every stone that harks from the period of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, as a backdrop for their conniving and a-scheming characters aplenty in such diverse productions as ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘Twelfth Night’,’Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties’ and most recently, ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’. I’ll leave you to explore the excellent website for more details on this bastion of English heritage – it’s well worth a browse. Just click on the link above.

So, without further ado, here are those images of part of the Castle Howard grounds – we arrived too late in the day to visit inside the gardens, but even the Garden Centre and picnic areas are so prettily photogenic.

Looking both ways along the drive to Castle Howard

Looking both ways along the drive to Castle Howard

 

At the top of the long driveway stands an obelisk that commemorates estate workers killed in two World Wars

At the top of the long driveway stands an obelisk that commemorates estate workers killed in two World Wars

The coach house marks the entrance to the grounds

The coach house marks the entrance to the grounds

The Coach House gets an orb treatment

The Coach House gets an orb treatment

Ornate ironwork tops the gates

Ornate ironwork tops the gates

These are gates that mean business!

These are gates that mean business!

Garden paths are immaculately laid out

Garden paths are immaculately laid out

 

An estate house nestles into the landscape

An estate house nestles into the landscape

How detailed each stem of barley is!

How detailed each stem of barley is!

Barley grows in the rolling Howardian Hills

Barley grows in the rolling Howardian Hills

 

Exquisite violas, with a touch of an orb...

Exquisite violas, with a touch of an orb…

Rudbeckia embracing the sunshine

Rudbeckia embracing the sunshine

Rose sunbathing, drinking every last drop of sunlight

Rose sunbathing, drinking every last drop of sunlight

Warrior for the light - painted rose

Warrior for the light – painted rose

This chap could get to work in my garden if he likes...

This chap could get to work in my garden if he likes…

Water features abound at Castle Howard

Water features abound at Castle Howard

The fountain's trickling water soothes

The fountain’s trickling water soothes

Daisies galore in the Garden Centre

Daisies galore in the Garden Centre

They are surprisingly well camouflaged!

They are surprisingly well camouflaged!

The peacocks strutted all around us, quite oblivious to our intrusions.

Peacock painting

Peacock painting

Photobombed by a peacock

Photobombed by a peacock

And, finally, Yorkshire folk are generally very direct… this sign adorns the roadside, just down the hill from the obelisk.

We tell it like it is here in Yorkshire, Tha' knows!

We tell it like it is here in Yorkshire, Tha’ knows!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Most Wanted Crafty Books: Sew Iconic by Liz Gregory

Akashic Liz:

Well, I thank you so much for your lovely comments! It’s always wonderful when someone has truly enjoyed my work – thanks again!

Originally posted on Books For One....:

Sew Me A Good Time....

Oh if only I was a super whiz on the sewing machine! I would be able to make all the beautiful things I see everyday on those richer  more exfoliated people on the that big shiny screen. And when I finally develop the skills for frills one of the first books I’ll be picking up is Ms Gregory’s Sew Iconic so I can have all the Hollywood haute couture for myself.

Inside she’s broken down ten of the most recognisable movie dresses into simple easy to follow steps and it will even include a CD so you can print out the patterns as well as online videos for those tricky techniques that translate better when shown. She also gives thorough advice on what fabrics to use and even how to accessorize your finished piece!

Of course the expected dresses like Marilyn’s white billowy halter from The Seven Year Itch

View original 195 more words

Wishing upon a star

Yesterday evening I was on my way to bed after a busy and eventful day.

We’d walked back over the road once more and up into the treeline on the hill opposite our home. It’s all changed since last week. There is an air of Summer’s end in sight.

Cornfield

Cornfield

The corn grows tall

The corn grows tall

Oh, don’t get me wrong, the sky is still blue (most of the time) and there is glorious growth in abundance everywhere – not least in the field where, just a few months ago there were hundreds of sows and their tiny piglets, now there’s a sea of corn (we call it maize here in the UK). Every time we walk past, I am reminded of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams… ‘If you build it, they will come!’.

 

The white house stands sentry

The white house stands sentry

The white house across the as-yet-unharvested field of barley sits contemplating each moment at it passes, like a sentry, checking all the comings and goings of the season.

Gnarled branches whisper in the breeze

Gnarled branches whisper in the breeze

Gnarled branches are a-buzz with bees’ gossip, as they shelter from the audacious zephyr that whips my hair into my eyes as we walk.

This reminds me of Van Gogh's haystack

This reminds me of Van Gogh’s haystack

The breeze blows secrets through the grasses

The breeze blows secrets through the grasses

Haystacks withstand the wind's efforts to topple them

Haystacks withstand the wind’s efforts to topple them

Last week, this field held thigh-high hay

Last week, this field held thigh-high hay

Haystacks stand, neatly assembled, sentinels of straw, marking the changing season’s zenith with stately pride. The wind whips straw snippets into tiny eddies, as if to remind the Earth of its’ power. The Earth listens, as the most attentive student, eager to drink in all that Mother Nature has to offer.

The chums are nearing perfection

The chums* are nearing perfection

Autumnal hawthorn berries call to the birds

Autumnal hawthorn berries call to the birds

But the berries on the hawthorn and on the brambles speak of a turning of the wheel of time. As apples and chums* ripen on their branches, we move ever forward into the light, mindful that these dog days of Summer are almost at an end.

Apples ripen in the warmth of the Summer Sun

Apples ripen in the warmth of the Summer Sun

Our march takes us on past the treeline, up into the woods. Past the ripening apples, deeper into the densely wooded paths. On, ever travelling up towards the light.

Magical orbs of light beckon

Magical orbs of light beckon

Walking towards the light

Walking towards the light

Magical orbs of sunlight dapple the path, casting a spellbinding aura over our venture. I am calmed yet excited – there truly is magic everywhere I look. Our walk this afternoon is meant to distract me from the interminable waiting whilst my friend across the ocean weaves the final strand in the web of surprise that we have all been planning for over a month. This magical light now heightens my sense of anticipation, as if the very earth beneath my feet is counting the seconds as they tick by. ‘Are we there yet?’ Nature seems to ask.

As we begin our return, we pause momentarily at a high-point on the hill, looking back over the Vale, drinking in the enchanting view. My unsettled mind is temporarily sated as I project my gaze around the bucolic scene.

An expansive view of the field

An expansive view of the field

... and the rest of the Vale

… and the rest of the Vale

It lasts until we almost reach the busy road, when the traffic impinges upon my sense of composure; now I am eager to return to Cyberspace, to find out if the deed is yet done. Are we there YET?

Settled back at my desk, I click to the place I know I’ll find answers – Lisabel (Ms Dingle’s new nickname, having achieved this glorious subterfuge so successfully) is not there yet. I check back every couple of minutes. No, not yet. This waiting is utterly interminable…

And then the words appear on my screen. ‘Hi’.

We all know she’s arrived. It’s going to take her a few minutes to set the scene up properly. I start downloading my photos, so that I have something to DO whilst I wait for these final moments.

And then a video is posted. It is 2 minutes and 34 seconds long. Several people beat me to watching it and the exclamations are, as expected, of sheer delight and wonder and happiness and joy. I excitedly click to watch.

Nothing happens.

Well, actually, the black rectangle where the video should be remains blank.

Several kind people try to help me but, no dice. The Universe is telling me to learn the lesson of patience. It’s a lesson I doubt I will ever truly *get*.

There’s only one thing for it. Switch off and back on again. Twice.

And finally, FINALLY, I was able to share in the joy.

The Creative Group at Bedlam Farm have been plotting to find a way to give something back to the group’s creator, Jon Katz, who had (unexpected) heart bypass surgery only a few short weeks ago. We all felt that we could work a little magic for him and his inspirational wife, Maria Wulf, to help them recover from this ordeal. The decision to offer them a spot of Disney magic seemed perfect. I’ll let you read about the gift from Jon’s perspective (click on his name to find the link to his side of the story) but for us, the wait was over and the magic had been performed. I am really delighted to have been a very tiny part of that magic.

So, difficult as it was to drag myself away, I decided to retire to bed – we are five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time in the US. I was pleased beyond measure at what had been achieved.

As I started to draw my bedroom curtains, high up above the treeline that we had been exploring earlier shone a miraculous, magnificent, magical moon.

All thoughts of my bed flew from my mind as I raced to locate my camera and tripod. I had to turn my computer back on to check how to adjust the settings for my task – to

The August moon beckoned me from my bed...

The August moon beckoned me from my bed…

photograph the moon and the night sky more effectively than I’ve managed before. I set the camera up and captured my first picture. Thirty seconds of exposure – that’s a very long time – gave me this view. To me, it seems to glow as bright as the very Sun it reflects.

Full moon with passing clouds

Full moon with passing clouds

To take my second picture required a change of lens. As I turned my back on the moon something caught my eye in the Northern sky behind the dark shadow of my house.

A shooting star! The first one that I have ever seen myself!

Magic happens. It happens all the time. All around us.

I made my wish upon a star and stood delightedly staring at the awesome night sky, as each of the billions of stars revealed their cosmic presence.

There was the glorious constellation of Ursa Minor – the Great Bear. Also known as The Plough, The Big Dipper, Saptarshi Mandal, the Northern Ladle, The Butcher’s Cleaver, the Grober Wagon and a dozen other names in every country on this Earth. Such a clear, uninterrupted view across billions of miles.

Can you see the seven stars of the Plough?

Can you see the seven stars of the Plough?

How can one not feel the magic of the Universe when we gaze in wonder at the skies above us?

Yes, I was wishing upon every star last night.

I hope that some of my wishes might come true.

Thanks for reading!

*... ooh, I nearly forgot to tell you about the chums! We cannot decide if they are a type of cherry or a type of plum – we’ve had horticulturalists, gardeners, cookery experts and all sorts of folk tell us they don’t know what these fruit are, but as they taste like a cross between a cherry and a plum and they make fabulous jam, we call them ‘Chums’. Hope that helps!

Thornton-Le-Dale’s hidden magic

Aren’t dogs fabulous? Pet-sitting for Dad for a couple of days this week, I’ve been motivated to get out and about for longer walks each day. When Candy, Dad’s seven-year-old Staffie, returned home on Wednesday, we we left without an obvious reason for going out to walk other than the joy of simply doing that. For many years my lower back pain has been worsening, to the point of forcing me to retire from the job I loved so much for so long – teaching. I had practically come to an almost total standstill, finding myself longing for the days when walking was not only a useful method of transport, but actually fun too. I have been just about able to take some very gentle, albeit rather brief strolls until very recently.

Thanks to the pain management clinic at York Hospital, I have learned to better understand my pain and through a variety of strategies I’ve been able to improve my activity levels significantly, to the point of being able to walk for increasingly longer periods, pain-free. Last week I managed to do a complete circuit, down the back lane and around to the front of our house, a distance of about a half-mile or so, with little difficulty; this week I’ve extended that to walk about double that. Twice a day. So really it’s quadrupled the amount of walking I find I am able to manage. Yay, go me!

So, now that we are dog-gone once more, how could we maintain this daily walking schedule? What motivation did we need?

The answer is simple – I just wanted to be out there, walking. BECAUSE I CAN! It’s no great mystery – walking is, for me at least, one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise I can get.

So, the real question was, ‘Where?’. Living as we do, in the Vale of Pickering, where walking is a generally relaxing and fulfilling pastime, surrounded by nature so beautiful and refreshing, choosing which part of the area to go for a walk is the difficult part. There are so many places to go. I’m going to have to draw up a list!

My FAB Hubby, Mark, suggested a short jaunt around the picturesque village of Thornton-le-dale and I didn’t need much persuasion – we frequently drive through the village on our way up to the Moors, which is by far my most favourite place on this Earth. I’ll write a piece about the Hole of Horcum one day, when I find enough adjectives to gush effectively enough about its divine serenity. But that’s another story.

I wonder if the diagonal harvesting is more efficient?

I wonder if the diagonal harvesting is more efficient?

A fairly short drive of about fifteen minutes from here, through the vale to the tiny village of Allerston and on to the infamous A170 which leads along the top edge of the Vale of Pickering to the picture-box-pretty village of Thornton-le-dale. If you keep on the 170 for a few more miles after Pickering, you would come to the magnificent White Horse at Sutton Bank, where the Vale of  York reaches the town of Thirsk stretching out for miles, leading you deep into Herriot Country, also known as The Yorkshire Dales. World famous beauty, right on our doorstep!

At this time of year the farmers create a patchwork of yellow, as the golden crops are safely gathered in with massive machinery. It is quite a sight and I was particularly taken with this intriguing pattern across a field that spans a considerable gradient, away up on the hills. I wondered if the diagonal lines had proven more efficient than the usual method of travelling up and down, parallel to the hedges.

Arriving into Thornton Dale, as the more modern name of this village is being accepted, you can feel the ancient history that permeates the air. It seems that the first settlers here were Neolithic, with evidence of burial grounds just up the hill through Ellerburn Wood onto Pexton Moor dating from 300BC. The Angles are most likely to have given the village its name as the dense forest of Dalby nearby probably held thorny bushes.

Lady Lumley's Almshouses have stood here since the late Seventeenth century

Lady Lumley’s Almshouses have stood here since the late Seventeenth century

The village is simply filled with gorgeousness. Following the sparkling brook by the main road, we found a parking spot immediately, right by the village cross and eagerly embarked to investigate a place that I had only stopped in a couple of times before. The Lady Lumley Almshouses are currently undergoing refurbishment, which was a little disappointing, but I will go back later to photograph them – it’ll give me another reason to return!

Magical water flows swiftly, only a few inches deep, right through the centre of the village.

Magical water flows swiftly, only a few inches deep, right through the centre of the village.

The clearest water, presumably coming down from the Moors, flows through the centre of the village, casting a magical spell over visitors immediately. It feels like a physical embodiment of Chi – the life-force of the village. I made a secret wish and felt a peaceful sense of calm simply watching the fast-flowing water as it danced vivaciously towards the little bridge.

Bridges over the brook are numerous in Thornton Dale

Bridges over the brook are numerous in Thornton Dale

The bridge to Lavender's Tea Shoppe

The bridge to Lavender’s Tea Shoppe

A short stroll shows where the stream  was divided, presumably by the Victorians, to provide power to the houses that face onto the village green. Some of these have been amalgamated into a charming tea-shoppe planted with an abundance of lavender. Each of these houses has a small stone bridge to provide access over the water.

More bridges lead to the homes and businesses from the road – wildflowers complete the picture of serenity.

Aubretia thrives by the brook

Aubretia thrives by the brook

I orbed it, of course!

I orbed it, of course!

The Old Post Office has a sentry on guard

The Old Post Office has a sentry on guard

I was saddened though to find that the village post-office has closed since my last visit. I had been charmed by the Post Master there, an elderly man, who knew everybody in the village personally  and who took great pride in treating this knowledge with honour and respect. It’s a terrible shame that we allow these traditions to die out. All that’s left now is the pillar box as it stands on guard duty at the edge of the stream.

With a sense of adventure, we traversed the first bridge. The scent of woody growth and clear, fresh water pervaded and we were instantly treated to the bucolic scene of a small weir, with ducks happily negotiating their naps or foraging for food within. The light here became even more entrancing than before, as it dappled the water through the tiny gaps in the leaves.

The light dappled over the water mesmerizingly

The light dappled over the water mesmerizingly

And then, the grandest surprise of them all presented itself! I had never suspected that there was a beautiful pond, complete with wildfowl of various kinds and a  well-worn path around as well as benches at strategic points.

The Pond presented itself as a secret revealed

The Pond presented itself as a secret revealed

How could I not have known this was here? As ducks, drakes, coots and moorhens quacked and chuckled, the exquisite surroundings seemed to take on a life of their own – I felt almost as if I were looking through a Pensieve: given a unique, Dumbedorian opportunity to view Paradise.

The white duck swam serenely by...

The white duck swam serenely by…

Ducks and other wildfowl clucking and nattering to each other, to me, to anyone who was listening; young children with their mothers, mid-day joggers, teenagers and older couples dotted around The Pond, all drawing life-affirming sustenance from simply being there.

Picnicking in the sunshine by the pond

Picnicking in the sunshine by the pond

An elderly couple enjoy an ice-cream across the pond

An elderly couple enjoy an ice-cream across the pond

I was utterly bewitched.

The duckling was separated from his mother

The duckling was separated from his mother

A tiny duckling had lost its mother.

The duckling spotted his mother and just went for it...

Splash! In he goes!

Splash! In he goes!

The duckling spotted his mother and just went for it…

He peeped and piped on a lofty note, increasing his alarm as the moments passed – his dive into the water when he spotted his parent was euphoric and a delight to witness.

The Hole in the Wall

The Hole in the Wall

Through the hole in the wall a modern car-park was secreted – I determined that I would have to bring my children and grandchildren here and this convenience made it even more accessible.

Age before Beauty!

Age before Beauty!

Growing against the wall are ancient roses and other flora – I came upon these lovely examples that immediately made e think of the old adage ‘age before beauty’ – so that’s what I called this picture.

The Morning Glory basked in the sunshine

The Morning Glory basked in the sunshine

Whilst the Morning Glory flowers drank in the sunshine, we decided to head back towards the car. I needed longer, but since Time waits for no man, reluctantly I had to draw away.

Tome waits for no man...

Time waits for no man…

So, of course I orbed this too!

So, of course I orbed this too!

Brambles Antiques marketing ploy - an elderly delivery cycle

Brambles Antiques marketing ploy – an elderly delivery cycle

The antique shop on the corner by the crossroad holds a plethora of delights to be explored another day; the bakery’s fine produce provided a delicious lunch and trinkets of sublime synchronicity bade us a fond farewell.

My daughter and her daughter's names called out to us...

My daughter and her daughter’s names called out to us…

We will definitely be back!

As always, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Reflection on poppy seeds

A little while back I had a steep learning curve experience when it came to viola seeds. If you’re a regular reader, you may remember that it came as a teensy shock to me that they would explode all over my studio for no reason other than that they could. After I cleaned the resulting chaos up, I vowed that I would not be caught out again – forewarned is forearmed and all that. Y’know?

So when I stepped outside earlier this week and noticed that the poppies had pretty much gone to seed and it was time to collect them in or be damned to RPG (random poppy growth) next summer, I quickly ran for my secateurs (*AHEM* my FAB hubby did the running part. I am a lady and ladies don’t DO running!) and collected the dead-heads in this afternoon.

They looked so pretty sitting on the tray, waiting to be harvested, with their cheerful little top-knots and rounded, fat heads.

I decided they needed a photo-shoot – Mother Nature deserved it, thought I to myself. I do a lot of thinking to myself. I find that I usually understand where my train of thought is going, although there have been occasions when this has eluded even me. Back in the real world, I gathered all my equipment and set up shop outside on the patio, in-between downpours. How warm and Summery it was, sitting there, with the sun blazing down on my back! You’d almost think it WAS Summer! I should really get a grip here…

I was struck by the gentle rattling noise that they made as I held the stems; like tiny baby rattles or mini-maracas. Momentarily I envisaged a Thumbelina-sized Carmen Miranda sashaying down my patio, with a couple of poppy seed heads, shaking them for all they were worth. The house martens would have raised an eyebrow, if they’d had one to raise of course.

So handling my trusty scalpel  (there’s a idea that many people live in fear of – me with a scalpel, yoiks!) very carefully indeed, I scalped each little head and found thousands of tiny black, kidney-shaped  seeds inside each one. The insides have several segmented pockets to hold the seed in – I imagine this to to maximise the storage load effectively – only one of my seed heads was empty, which I think meant a pretty good haul.

I wrote a haiku to accompany the seeds, so rick and deeply dark are they, lying huddled at the bottom of the jar.

Lilliputian dot,

Life-bringing kernel of sleep,

Dark, charcoal-hued grain.

Yes… it probably needs some work on that one :)

Photographing each stage as I was doing this was revealing – I always notice much more when I’ve got the subject under the 100mm macro lens. Teensy bugs trampled in and out of the collected seeds and the emptied vessels.

But it was the muted colour scheme that fascinated me most I think.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist toying with the images – so here’s this evening’s visual offering

Composite view of the poppy heads

Composite view of the poppy heads

 

The various viewpoints reminded me of all sorts of other things – heads, bowed in prayer, lots of tiny, toothy yet sightless monster zombies bearing down on me (I should perhaps put the fizzy drinks down …!) a carpet of tiny sea-anemones reaching out to me…  so then, I started with the orbing again …

I love the pattern these scalped remains made

I love the pattern these scalped remains made

Patterns and textures from the unique perspective of orbs

Patterns and textures from the unique perspective of orbs

Technically, this is a composite of orbs and straight photos

Technically, this is a composite of orbs and straight photos

Then, I really did get carried away. I was struck by the resemblance of the seed heads to a group of shaven-headed worshippers – perhaps a group of Tibetan monks. I wanted to create something that resembled worshipping and since Buddhist monks spend so much of their time in reflective meditation, I went with that as inspiration for this image. As I have finally learned to meditate, it seems an appropriate visual statement about my day. I wonder what you think?

'Congregation reflections'

‘Congregation reflections’

 

Thanks for reading! Do come again!

Digital collage experiment

Digital art is an interesting concept. I am a total novice of course, having only recently explored some of the possibilities with Photoshop – I yearn to have a wonderful tool like an iPad and the fabulous art software, ‘ArtRage’ or some of the other, equally exciting tools that are available. Of course, I recognise that we have other priorities, not least of which is to find some fulfilling, useful and rewarding (both emotionally and financially!) work for me to undertake. But, I digress. (Did I hear you say ‘How unusual!’ there?)

So this evening I’ve been toying with a less-than inspiring photo of a Californian poppy that was growing in my front garden earlier this Summer. Here’s how it looked to start with:

Original poppy image

Original poppy image

So I considered taking the colours to some extremes and came up with these two:

Poster red poppy

Poster red poppy

Blue poppy

Blue poppy

Then I really started to play around – the middle section of this had seventeen layers at one point! I liked the effect of placing overlaid sections at varying degrees of transparency and I experimented with some different kinds of shapes to select. Then I added the two colourized versions to the top and bottom of the image.

First collage of poppies

First collage of poppies

Next I attempted to add new layers to bring the more defined areas further into the exploration of colours and shapes, hopefully creating new textures to add greater depth to the image. I liked this version best so far, so in order to give a more complete product, I’ve added a mat.

Final collage: Poppies

Final collage: Poppies

Et, voila!

Of course, these are simplistic early explorations of ideas, but I think that I do quite like them, although I’m not sure why.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on these experiments… please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on facebook (click the tab at the top of the page :) )

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Goosey Gander – Yorkshire style.

I love living in Yorkshire. Ask any Yorkshireman, or woman for that matter, and they will tell you that it is indeed ‘God’s Own Country’. That quiet pride is absolute – you would never convince them otherwise, regardless of any evidence to the contrary – and is actually remarkably inspiring.

I have a hundred and one, nay, a thousand and one examples of why this belief is held.

I could show you pictures of the bucolic countryside. I’ve done that many times before – just scroll through my archives and you’ll see what I mean.

I have some more fabulous pictures of the exquisite Castle Howard, set among acres of rolling Howardian Hills, a certifiable place of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the road signs say so, it must be true!), which I’ll get round to posting about in the near future. It is a gorgeous place indeed.

I’m on the lookout for pictures of Yorkshire faces, young and old – but that’s a project for the future.

A Yorkshire gaggle of geese...

A Yorkshire gaggle of geese…

Today, I thought I’d treat you to some of t’local wildfowl, who are clearly from Yorkshire as they have that streak  of stubbornness that is de rigeur for any living thing around here. Last week we drove over to Hornsea, to visit Dad for a short while. The journey time is shorter if we snake through the tiny back-roads, up and down the Wolds. Passing through several small villages, the route is always delightful. Chocolate-box village ponds are frequently populated with wildfowl, happily swimming around or nesting on tiny islands tucked away in the middle of the waters.

Sometimes though, they like to spread out a bit.

The Neanderthol was driving last week and had his first experience of having to yield to nature. There’s a tricky right turn at Burton Agnes, with significant volumes of oncoming traffic exiting Bridlington pretty much all day long. Toby was concentrating. I could tell he was because his mouth had stopped moving – he’d been chatting nonchalantly for most of the way up to this point and when he wasn’t chattering, he was singing. So, this deafening silence was a true indication of his heightened concentration level.

The indicator light was ticking away. Click. Click. Click.

Four cars, a bus and a motorbike passed. Click. Click. Click.

A white van was definitely speeding round the corner – sensibly, Toby waited.

A tractor appeared at the corner providing a gap in the traffic flow long enough to ensure he could manoeuver safely out of the junction, which he did, with a heavy sigh of relief. And then, with admirable speed and just a hint of compunction he slammed on the brakes; it seems he’s been well taught when it comes to emergency stops. Thankfully.

The reason for his sudden adjournment of our journey was immediately apparent… a flock of geese had settled themselves across the larger portion of the road, making thoroughfare tricky, if not actually impossible without considerable commotion and probably a flurry of feathers to boot.Geese congress

The pond at the side of the road has a low stone barrier which serves (mostly) to prevent vehicles from accidentally careening into the water; today there were at least two dozen geese and a few ducks draped elegantly over the obstacle, stretching out across the roadway, for all the world attending to important business, in congress about the current warm-weather contingency plans or some other vitally significant topic.

I grabbed my camera and leapt from the car to capture a few portraits.

What do you think Mabel? Shall we let her through?

What do you think Mabel? Shall we let her through?

A couple of geese came to greet me, to investigate my credentials and give me leave to continue with my soul-snapping project.

Hmm... she looks pretty innocuous wouldn't you say, Sally?

Hmm… she looks pretty innocuous wouldn’t you say, Sally?

One or two looked at me rather shiftily. I shrugged off a feeling of disquiet and snapped away, smiling benignly at these creatures.

Eey up lad! Watch where you're puttin' that lens!

Eey up lad! Watch where you’re puttin’ that lens!

Can I help you?

Can I help you?

One inquisitive bird was despatched to check out the vehicle.

She waddled off towards the car placidly, head slightly to one side. She traversed the entire length of the car, taking in every detail as her gaze moved up and down continuously. Once at the back of the car, she hopped down from the curb, investigated the rear intently and then moved to the off-side, again checking all the details as she went.

You are cleared for entry - but be careful!

You are cleared for entry – but be careful!

She finally nodded once, presumably to confirm that she had found no WMD’s on our vehicle and we were finally given leave to pass through the checkpoint, unimpeded.

Just don't go ruffling my feathers, you hear?

Just don’t go ruffling my feathers, you hear?

We heaved a sigh of relief simultaneously and left them to their committee meeting, smiling broadly as we waved goodbye.

Or is that a Parliament of geese (surely, that's 'owls'?)

Or is that a Parliament of geese (surely, that’s ‘owls’?)

 

Thanks for reading – please stop by again, for more stories about life on t’Grange! :)

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