Excitement and thrills

Well, it’s definitely been an exciting week. Excitement, thrills and spills galore have been the order of the week.

‘What’s so exciting?’ I can hear you asking (‘cos I’m y’know, psychic and can hear things through the Interweb and all :) )

Only this.

I can hardly contain myself.

OOH! I’m hopping from foot to foot in my frenzy of excitation!

Go on, you are picturing me in your mind’s eye leaping up and down like a mad woman, with wild hair and even wilder eyes, aren’t you? Hold that thought  won’t you – and don’t let my ancient, pain-wracked back and limbs or my elephantine frame impinge upon your mental reverie in any way – there’s no place for reality here today!

I’ve FINALLY managed to secure twenty-eight practically perfect poster-sized copies of some of my photos – IN REAL LIFE! They actually exist. No longer are they simply virtual, ethereal, impalpable nor empyreal. They have tangible substance. They are indubitable. They are sitting here in my own little (well, no-so-little in fact , as it’s big enough to take pictures up to A1 sized) physical portfolio, on my coffee table and THAT’s what’s so exciting!

First stock has arrived!

First stock has arrived!

You see, for months, in fact probably for a couple of years now, all my photographs have been visible on my computer screen and some have even made it as far as being published on the Internet in both this blog and on my new site, specifically designed to showcase my portfolio over at Akashic Arts and Design. I’ve pored over them, spent hours (thousands of hours in fact) editing them in Photoshop and then I’ve tentatively shown them, individually usually, to various audiences who have made some very kind and thoughtful comments about them; definitely rewarding to receive.

Which is all well and brilliant in fact but seriously, not a patch on the thrill of seeing my work as it was created to be seen – in large-format photographs, to be hung on someone’s wall.

I have sold a couple of my photo’s already as my lovely patrons well know (thank you to those lovely people, who know who they are!) – these were signed and despatched and currently sit on their walls. That is immensely gratifying of course, but I only saw those pictures very briefly and having approved the quality and signed & numbered them (all my photos are limited editions – although I still have to decide exactly how limited they will be), they were sent off to their new owners and that’s pretty much the last I saw of them.

It’s a bit like fostering a new puppy or kitten but then adopting it out to a new home – one where you know it will be appreciated and well looked after of course, but the point is that it isn’t here with me.

I’ve spent hours, days, even weeks researching where would be the best place to get them printed. There are so many possible options, in the end of course, it boils down to where is the best value for money. Once they are mounted and maybe framed, these babies are to be exhibited at craft fairs, or in friends’ shops or even (if I can persuade a few gallery owners) in a gallery or two. Eventually, they will be sold to new owners to be enjoyed as long as they want that privilege.

But for the moment, they are all mine.

I cannot get over how beautiful they look, in these large formats – ranging from 12″ x 16″ to 20″ x 20″ in size. That’s quite large for photographic prints. This small collection are just captivating. And the thing is, it’s not just me who thinks that. Which is the best surprise of all I think.

The two ladies at the place where I had them printed were very complimentary about the quality, particularly noticing all the details of the images, as was their boss. Several complete strangers who were having their pictures printed at the same time also made admiring comments, including statements like ‘That would look fantastic in my hallway/living room or bedroom!’. When I showed them to the people at the job-centre – where I’m currently having to register each week until the new business begins in earnest – everyone came to have a look and made similarly enthusiastic remarks.

My little heart swelled with joy. I do know that pride is a sin, but for someone like me who really struggles with self-esteem, a little pride in my achievements is long overdue and that is really what I’m so excited about. I feel like I’ve actually achieved something this week. It has been difficult to tackle this hornet, but I think I might be getting there.

The Hornet of Self-Doubt - time to take my own advice!

The Hornet of Self-Doubt – time to take my own advice!

Now I just need to get them all mounted and wrapped in protective cellophane and they will be ready for sale.  Oh, wow!

Thanks for reading once again, my friends – it means the world to me!

Flying freedom

It’s tremendously calming to watch birds flying over water, at least I find it so.

Wings fully outstretched, they appear to glide effortlessly over the sea’s surface, at peace with themselves and the world in general. Such a joyous, optimistic feeling that their flight imparts, I can almost project myself into their bodies, imagining myself flying freely, with no worries, no cares and no restrictions holding me back. I can soar with them, barely touching the cool clear water and I feel laughter bubbling up from deep within at the sheer joy of being in this magical place, with this enchanting light sprinkled every-whither, beguiling and enrapturing all who see.

Freedom - what a feeling!

Freedom – what a feeling!

Of course, in reality I know this magnificent cormorant is searching for food. He’s likely as not to be very hungry, possibly so desperate for his next meal that if he finds no good fortune, he might expire at any juncture. The moment-by-moment survival of such large coastal birds speaks of time immemorial, this I know, thanks to the work of great naturalists who have devoted their lives to the study of such creatures. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and no-one is ever safe.

But for that split second, when the huge wings are spread and he’s anticipating success – that, my friend, is Freedom. It is something we all need to inspire us.

Thanks for reading once again, friends.

Birthday Girl

Who's a happy Birthday Girl?

Who’s a happy Birthday Girl?

On Sunday I reached the grand age of fifty-four. This is not usually a birthday of any great note – there are no special cards that say ‘Congratulations, you’re 54!’ on them like there are for other significant birthdays, such as turning eighteen or twenty-one. Or fifty for that matter.

No, for most people the fifty-fourth birthday is of no greater significance than their fifty-third or their fifty-fifth birthdays.

Unless of course, they’ve done something monumental in the past twelve months, like fighting cancer or heart failure or surviving a terrible accident or something like that.

In which case, as several of my friends have attested to as well as many thousands of people I don’t know who have made just such an achievement, they are grateful for every single day and the passing of a birthday is ever more important – clearly that’s simply great news, for them and for everyone else, because we all have a little bit of that essential life-enhancing emotion ‘Hope’, shining its light in our direction. At least for a little while.

Now, I haven’t made any such effort to achieve longevity in itself this year. I’ve just been ticking over, as you do, living from day-to-day, week-to-week passing the time living my life. Well, sort of. I’ve been in a bit of a rut this year, if truth be told.

Last year, my birthday was spent at the magnificent ‘Gregstock’ event.

Lee's fabulous poster for Gregstock 2014

Lee’s fabulous poster for Gregstock 2014

For those who may not have been reading this blog last year, I’ll just let you in on the story so far – Gregstock was the name that my nephew, Lee, bestowed upon the grand reunion-come-birthday-celebrations party that my FAB hubby decided to host on my birthday last year. Many of his high-school friends with whom he had recently re-established contact were up for meeting up and as we had a suitable venue, the Mighty Zeds agreed to re-unite for a one-off concert, to be held in our garden as part of the whole reunion event.

The Mighty Zeds, all old friends of the FAB Hubby’s from high school – played a blinding set and definitely contributed to the ultimate success of the party and I was delighted to get to know some new friends after all this time. It was a great party, that (as all the best parties do) went on very late into the night and continued for much of the following day as well. I can’t remember when I’d enjoyed a birthday quite so much.

All that was three hundred and sixty-five days past and here we are, in a completely different place with much water under the proverbial bridge.

So why is it that fifty-four is so significant for me?

The answer is simple.

My mother was fifty-four when she died.

On the 21st October this year, I will be older than she ever was.

I’m not sure why this is so important or even significant for me. There is the same ultimate fate awaiting all of us, eventually, I am well aware of that, I’m pretty sure that we all are. I suppose it’s because I cannot imagine how it is that I might ever be older than she was.

Of course I can look back at my own life and be very proud of all my own achievements thus far – and I’ve never really held with the idea of comparing myself to others. Everyone has such different life experiences, to do so is simply nonsense. I’ve led a fairly extraordinary life and I have every intention of carrying it on for a very, very long time to come. I want to fill all those coming years with joy, love, happiness and many more extraordinary experiences and I’m pretty sure that I will make every effort to achieve that ambition.

This birthday then is the last that I live in my mother’s shadow. I think I’ll choose to relish that thought.

And I will thank everyone who sent me such wonderfully kind, thoughtful and generous birthday wishes. They really do mean the world to me.

Birthday 54 smOn a small side note – I had lots of comments about the birthday cake that I made, which was a Summer Berry Gateaux of my own design – four layers of various fresh-fruited sponges (blackberry, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry with white chocolate) interspersed with fresh vanilla Chantilly cream and home-made (of course!) summer berry jam. It was delicious and I am very happy to post the recipe once I have the time to adapt it for my American friends – I do wish that one day we could all use the same measures, it would certainly make life simpler! Until then though, I’ll just leave you with a shot of the inside of the cake, where you can see the layers a little more clearly. Birthday cake

Thanks for reading once more my friends!

Happy Birthday FAB Hubby!

DateIt is Saint Swithin’s Day once again. On this day, so the Old Wives Tale goes, whatever the weather is doing, it will do the same for the following forty days; essentially, if the sun shines all day on July 15th, then we are in for a rather spiffingly sunny summertime. Of course, it also stands to reason that if it pees down then a typically English, soggy, sodden summer is in store. We await the day rather eagerly every year for this reason.

I’m teasing of course. The real reason we are on the edge of our seats in anticipation of this day is that it is the first of three of the immediate family birthdays – today it is Mark’s (the FAB Hubby), tomorrow it will be Donna’s (the Young Lady) and on Sunday it will be my birthday (the Old Girl). It’s been this way for the past thirty five years and I have every reason to hope that it may indeed continue for the next thirty-five, at least. July is birthday celebration month it seems.

So, the real question is what do I give to the man who has everything? Well, everything is perhaps not as all-encompassing as it may sound, but at least he THINKS he has everything he wants. It is always the same: I ask ‘What can I get you for your birthday sweet cheeks?’ every year in the full and certain knowledge that the response will always be ‘Oh, I don’t really know – there’s nothing I really want… how about a bow to wrap around you dear?’. My children often read this blog, so I won’t elaborate further on where he’s going with that suggestion, but I’m sure you can imagine just fine without my help.

It’s the same when anyone else makes the same inquiry. Only perhaps a tad more circumspect with regard to the over-familiarity – he does try to observe appropriate boundaries! The result is that we either end up with sad and sorry looking offerings, such as slippers, socks or a fancy tie if we are feeling benevolent or we simply end up just going out for a meal. Not that those meals aren’t fab of course – this very weekend, Donna blew in like a breath of fresh air and whisked us away to nosh on our favourite Whitby fish’n’chips, eaten by the harbour (whilst dodging the ever-more-bold seagulls with their slappy-slappy wings and fearful soul-wrenching cries that can, when the weather is just *so*, quite chill to the bone). We followed that by a visit to a particularly quaint Moorland pub, the Horseshoe Inn at Levisham, downing a couple of jolly pints and having a wonderful time giggling like school children. Delightful indeed.

I was chuffed to bits then yesterday when after visiting my dentist in Hunmanby, I discovered a new little shop just a couple of doors along, ‘Creative and Cherished Creations’ (not sure about the name there) that had just the thing. The exact thing I’ve been looking for to impart as the perfect gift for The Man Who Has Everything, especially when said Man has been fervently trying to get rid of *stuff* since we moved from The Man Cave in March.

‘What is this Holy Grail?’ I can hear you all calling.

Only a miniature carved Rapa Nui-esqe statue, made from some kind of light-ish wood (I want to say it’s Oak, but I’m not that knowledgeable about woods to be honest).

Rapa Nui - like statue, hand carved, makes a great present eh?

Rapa Nui – like statue, hand carved, makes a great present eh?

I can see the slightly perplexed expression upon all your wee faces and it’s giving me such delight just to think of that. Please, give me a moment … that was such fun!

The twist is this… the purpose of said miniature statue, which is about eight inches tall, is to provide a decorative, but IMMENSELY useful night stand for the FAB Hubby’s glasses!

It's a stand for his spectacles! Who'd a' thunk?

It’s a stand for his spectacles! Who’d a’ thunk?

C’MON!

How BRILLIANT is that?

It certainly made me smile and then it did exactly the same for Mark this morning when he opened the gift, a teeny bit apprehensively, it has to be said.

Of course that’s what you buy for The Man Who Has Everything – somewhere pretty to park his glasses when he takes them off at night. Genius.

And, naturally, because it’s his birthday I made him a cake – lemon drizzle with lemon icing.

A favourite cake - lemon drizzle with lemon icing

A favourite cake – lemon drizzle with lemon icing

I think I need to go put the kettle on for a cuppa and a slice of cake.

And say to my dearest Mark – Happy Birthday my love! May you have a wonderful day, filled to brimming with love and happiness and may you enjoy a joyful, peaceful and prosperous year to come x

Happy Birthday my dear

Happy Birthday my dear

‘Til next time, dear ones, when I hope to have some exciting news about my new career as an artist. things are definitely shaping up!

Thank you for reading again!

Thoughts: Emotional Safety

Thoughts: Emotional Safety.

Ah, my friend, Tom Atkins, a sublime poet and philosopher with whom I am connected via the Creative Group that author Jon Katz conceived, is simply brilliant at expressing that which lies deep within many of us. These words are not only wise and beautifully articulated, but they are above all, like their author, kind and true. I struggle with being kind – to myself and sometimes towards others, but all I ever need to do is read his words and I am inspired. Thank you Tom, for your wisdom and your friendship. I hope you don’t mind me re-blogging this one.

Haiku: Strawberry

Strawberry

Bright scarlet berry,

Hiding under glossy green

Leaves; you taste so good!

This is from my rainbow haiku book that I am currently compiling. I’ve had lots of colour-related haiku written for ages, but I’m steadily gathering images to illustrate the poetry with. This afternoon, after the fantastic heat and sunshine earlier in the week and the exciting lightning display at four o’clock this morning, followed by an epic downpour, I popped out into the garden and plucked yet another scrumptious crop of strawberries from my plants that have survived the relocation brilliantly. I’ve been trying to get the *perfect* image for about two years. Today, I think I may be nearly there…

Is this the perfect strawberry?

Is this the perfect strawberry?

And yes, I have now eaten this one. It was, as its plump, juicy flesh had promised, utterly delicious. Oh. My. *sigh*

Thanks for reading once again my friends!

‘The Insect Play’ – preparing for life outside the bubble

It’s a funny old world.

For thirty-odd years we have had at least one child in school and in all of that time I have watched or participated in a great many school plays, either as a parent or as a teacher. This was to be the last one, as our youngest performs in his final production before graduating from high school (sixth-form college) in the coming week. It’s a teeny bit momentous really, for us as parents. Huge for him too, of course, but none-the-less an important milestone for us.

So what was this final production about then?

The GUS came home earlier on this year and announced that his group would be performing an adaptation of ‘The Insect Play’ by Karel and Josef Capek, a collaboration of Czech brothers, first performed in 1921 at the National Czechoslovakian Theatre in Brno. Their esteemed head of department at York College, Tony Ravenhall adapted the play from the original which has long had mixed reviews and I was intrigued to see how the enterprise would turn out.

Magnificently is the answer.

For those who do not know the play, I’ll give you a brief overview. A tramp in a park observes the lives of a variety of insects and (this is the clever part) draws analogies with human life, in all its glorious stages, from cradle to grave with diversions such as reproduction, gathering ye seeds while ye may, haves-and-have-nots, politics – most notably Communism, working for the greater good, nihilistic wars and Napoleonic world-conquering neuroses. Life and Death in sixty minutes. It’s genius is the crystal clear comparison of insect behaviour and life cycles with human ones.

The butterflies at the beginning of the play are hunted by a slightly loony lepidopterist (brilliantly portrayed by Emily Furness) their nymphomaniacal fluttering and flitting about is observed by the Tramp (equally well played by Josh Sissons) who (perhaps through his drunken haze) interprets their actions in human terms, as ‘bright young things’ from a Roaring Twenties champagne party. Some clever word-play, flawlessly expressed, coupled with well-choreographed movements drew the audience in even closer than the unusual ‘Promenade’ participation accorded and we were hooked, mesmerised by these young actors’ performances.

With just a tinge of sadness at the death of Victor, snaffled by a bird (off-stage), the butterflies flit-flutter off and the Tramp is intrigued to come across a pair of dung-beetles, carefully rolling their nest-egg, the sum of their life’s work, around to find a suitable place to hoard their ‘Lovely’; both Mr and Mrs Beetle are clearly obsessed with what they have amassed, lavishing far more love and attention upon it than towards each other. Mildly comical in appearance, the Gus made a very convincing Dung Beetle – a fact that concerns me not a little! Still, this is the hallmark of a good actor, being convincing, so now I am on the horns of a dilemma – proud  of his ability to morph into another character effectively, slightly disgusted at the idea of my son, the dung beetle. But, I digress, yet again!

The story moves on with the arrival of the Crickets, bedecked in The Green, with accompanying Irish characterisation, well portrayed by Anastasia Crook as a heavily pregnant Mrs Cricket and Louis Hague as her doting husband, Mr Cricket. Their poignant representation of the Middle Classes, concerned with a ‘nice new pair of curtains’ rang true with many of the audience; tragically they succumb to the voracious appetite of the Ichneumon Fly (played by Dan Burton), who is singularly obsessed with feeding his precious larvae, a  spoilt brat magnificently portrayed by Tasha Connor. The Parasite, assuredly played by Kirsten Allison, dressed in a proletarian shell-suit and achieving an impeccable Geordie accent, rammed home the pertinent message of the narcissistic, ‘Me-First’ generation.

After a short interval Act Three, The Antics of the Ants, presents an altogether ominously dark representation of life in a commune, with workers mindlessly following their leader’s instructions, all to achieve the most efficient and profitable outcome for the State. The snide provocation of War, in order to glorify the newly-self-appointed Empress Ant (authoritatively portrayed by Claire Rimmington) results in the chaotic breakdown of society, reinforcing the idea that pursuit of power, for its own sake, is reprehensible and will always end in total failure. The tramp, disgusted by what he has seen finally interferes with the insects’ lives by killing the leader of the victorious colony of ants, which ultimately causes his own demise. He dies. The Chrysalis, who has been interjecting continually throughout the play so far, is finally born as a beautiful moth, but dies almost instantly, with only the moths around the flame to sing a song of mourning. The three moths, Isobel Leger, Lydia Potter and Emma Berridge’s haunting, exquisite rendition of the newly composed song of the cycle of life and death cast an air of finality over the proceedings.

A delightfully comedic epilogue in which two snails painfully slowly steal the show, cleaning up the carnage and thereby renewing the cycle of life breaks the tension magically. The moving symbolism of other humans acknowledging the death of a fellow human being with the placing of a single rose upon the corpse of the deceased Tramp is not lost upon the audience.

I was struck by the importance of all of these messages to our young people, who are embarking upon their own careers forthwith. This version of The Insect Play clearly concerns itself with the greater questions of how to live in this world once life is bestowed upon us. The lampooning of human greed, complacency and selfishness emphasizes the relativity of human values and the most pressing need to come to terms with human life. How much more pertinent could a final performance be? It was a breathtakingly brilliant choice to undertake the retelling of this vital story. I’m sure that all involved will hold its message dear to their hearts for many years to come. I know Toby will.

The Insect Play, York College cast and crew, 12th June 2015

The Insect Play, York College cast and crew, 12th June 2015

Thank you to all the staff at York College for such insightful and valuable lessons to our children, who have matured into interesting, informed and intuitive young adults under your tutelage; may I offer my good wishes to all the graduates for success in the future.

Thanks for reading once again, my friends!

 

 

Colour Me Orb!

Now I know why there are are days when everything goes wrong. When you can’t put your left foot in front of your right without your leg falling off… well, OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating a teeny bit there, but you get the gist I hope.

Those days, many, many of those days exist so that very, very occasionally we can have balance and a good day comes along. Of course, I’d sure prefer it if they could be telegraphed a little better, with, y’know, a great big SIGN or something, so I’d be a little less worried I might miss it or something, but hey, I’ll take them, whenever they show up.

Because it’s fabulous to feel normal again. Even if it’s only for today.

Yes. Today has been a GOOD DAY. So far.

It started off inauspiciously, with an horrific dream about being not dead, when everyone thought I was – but not being able to make anyone understand that dead I definitely was NOT. Very scary stuff, from which as I was woken up seemed ever more reality than I could imagine. Terrifying. Ugh! I’m shaking just at the memory of it.

Perhaps, in hindsight, watching that episode of ‘D.C.I. Banks’ where the victim was buried alive, well after midnight last night, was a little unwise. That has long been my most terrifying fear and the absolute reason for me demanding that my remaining family should see me off in a Viking burial, on a burning pyre, sailing off into the sunset is my only request – after that I really don’t mind much what happens as long as they don’t put me in a box and allow Mother Earth to make an Hors D’Oeuvres of me.

Yes, I think that probably explains the nightmare’s origins, that and my current depressive state dictating my stifling feelings of utter insignificance in life. I don’t think you need to be much of a psychologist here to work this one out.

So, not a good start and often I’m given to an Eeyore Frame of Mind – that is, things that start off badly can only go downhill from here.

But today, TODAY, was different.

When I arrived at the hospital for physio my PT was off sick and so another physio said she’d see me as she had time spare. She noticed I sit incorrectly, leaning to my left and exacerbating my back pain over time and in five minutes she managed more than most of the other gazillions of physios that I’ve seen before have ever done, all together. And that really IS saying something because I think I know every physiotherapist in the world. It certainly feels like it after years of  scoliosis, rehab from ankle reconstruction and unremitting back pain. Just a small change in my habits may really help to relieve some of this chronic pain. Who knew?

So, tick one in the ‘Good day’ column. Yay!

Then it was off to Scarborough to meet with someone who may be able to help me to achieve my goal of becoming a proper artist – with a studio, gallery and clientele. It went well and whilst I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I certainly left feeling buoyed with positivity and a renewed sense of real purpose.

Even the Sun joined me by putting on his hat and coming out to play. Scarborough’s North Beach is glorious in the sunshine, especially when you can enjoy an ice-cream and a stroll along the sands watching other people’s dogs frolicking and having fun. Really, it was very relaxing.

Its a gorgeous day here

Its a gorgeous day here

So on returning home I decided to complete a small task I spent the entire day on yesterday. I wanted to create a colour wheel digitally, like the ones I used to paint by hand with my students – colleagues will remember that I used to bang on about colour being the essence of all visual art blah, blah, blah… but it is something I really love to explore and having a digital version seemed an essential thing for me to create.

I’ve looked at others on-line of course. The trouble is that most seem to lack any degree of subtlety or a true appreciation of what use a colour wheel is to anyone who wants to understand any aspect of colour theory. So the only solution was to create my own from scratch and then give it a special, Liz-treatment.

I constructed the 36 colour wheel using the familiar format that I swear I invented, but it seems so did lots of other people too! I selected graded shades mathematically (as you would expect, if you know me well), given that all colours we can see on a computer screen have a numerical value since this is the only way a machine can interpret the concept of colour.

And then, having achieved a reasonably good wheel… I orbed it! I love the new version – it just made me happy. So I wanted to share it with you all too – I hope you may find it useful as well.

Colour Wheel Orb - turns the wheel on its head!

Colour Wheel Orb – turns the wheel on its head!

Thank you for reading, once again my friends!

Owl be there for you-hoo!

Today’s short stroll in the park happened in York. As you may already know, York is the ‘capital’ of Yorkshire – or at least the town after which the county is named, which gives it a degree of importance that other Yorkshire towns simply cannot aspire to. Which is unfortunate if your family are from Leeds of course, but for the purpose of this article, let’s just accept that York is a serious town in Yorkshire.

Emperor Constantine the Great

Emperor Constantine the Great

Its main claim to fame of course is that it was once, way back in Roman times, the capital city in all of England. Back then, the Romans called the town Eboracum, where the famous Yorkshire saying ‘Eee, bah gum!’ is said to originate from. Of course if you’re uttering those words, you’re probably trying to make an interesting interjection when some more captivating personage is regaling the audience with some fantasmagorical tale of wunderlust and woe, rather than referring to the vanquishers of Briton’s pre-eminent Northern stronghold. If you’re not from Yorkshire, it’s probably best not to attempt it at all, unless you’ve managed to rope in a magnificent vocal coach, well versed in the art of local English dialects. You’d just sound silly – trust me!

The Emperor Constanine the Great was proclaimed Emperor of the Roman Empire in 306 AD from within the city walls of Eboracum, where he had been accompanying his father on a visit. Unfortunately, poor Connie-pops the Elder popped his clogs one fateful afternoon in York (not something the city is particularly proud of, by all accounts) and young Constantine was declared the leader of the Empire by the legions of loyal soldiers that had accompanied the royal family on their trip. This is a truly enrapturous tale on its own which deserves a whole post dedicated to it, so I’ll hold off on that particular history lesson for now – but it’s a corker, so do come back when I get round to telling that one!

Walk along the York Walls today

Walk along the York Walls today

After the Romans departed, the walls fell into disrepair of course until the Vikings arrived and pronounced Jorvik as their capital and started constructing new, even stronger defences to surround this thriving city. They knocked down what rubble remained of the Roman walls and used these for substantial footings for their new walls. A walk along the walls today reveals much about this heavily contested fortress city and provides a fascinating insight into British history.

But that was not what I was searching for today.

Nope.

I was looking for a gentle distraction to fill my battered soul with calming balm and make me feel that life is in fact worth the living. It’s been a difficult, even hugely challenging week that has not ended particularly well and here we are, the other side of Fractious Friday, alive and still kicking it would seem.

I needed cool green gardens with perhaps a little Spring colour to brighten my mood and sooth my jangling nerves.

A stroll along the river (the Ouse, for those who need to get their bearings) in dappled sunlight followed by perambulations through the Museum Gardens seemed just the ticket.

As we turned in through the gates to the gardens and sauntered up the path we realised with increasing excitement that the owls were in town! At various points in the calendar (it just seems random to me, but there’s probably a program of events somewhere, organised by some lovely volunteer) the Owl Conservation group – I think they’re called the Owl  Adventures – show their fabulous beasts off in displays in the Museum Gardens, informing members of the public about the vital conservation work they carry out and introducing people to these stunning creatures; close up contact with the birds is a carefully supervised but incredibly thrilling experience and we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time today. Often when we’ve been in the past the crowds are too large to get close enough to take any kind of photos, but today I was in luck. A large enough crowd to ensure the display was in full fling when we arrived, but small enough to afford me an opportunity to find an excellent position to shoot from.

And my, these birds are simply gorgeous!

First, I came across a Little Owl, sitting patiently awaiting some tasty tidbit, posing perfectly for me on his low perch.

Little Owl (How I wished he was Pigwidgeon!)

Little Owl (How I wished he was Pigwidgeon!)

Every feather a tiny work of art on its own, together they cause him to glow gloriously, as he gave me his best side along with a piercing glare – no doubt weighing up whether I had anything to offer him, apart from a cheery smile. I didn’t, except for the chance to take this portrait, which I’m fairly pleased with. I was reminded of Pigwidgeon, Ron Weasley’s Little Owl who was famously inept at delivering mail, frequently failing to notice glazed windows and consequently crashing into them comically. I wanted to pet him and tell him what a fan I am, but I refrained. I’m quite civilised really.

Next, sat a little way along on another low perch, came the Barn Owl; surely the most exquisitely bedecked bird in the world – the heart-shaped face Nature’s own design to ensure that pin-point accuracy is attained when hearing the slightest rustling in the darkened undergrowth, allowing the Barn Owl to pick off its prey (tiny mammals, mice, shrews and voles) from significant distances whilst making not a sound.

Barn Owl, with her heart-shaped face acting as  a natural sonar detection device.

Barn Owl, with her heart-shaped face acting as a natural sonar detection device.

I fell in love instantly, so beguiling was she, hypnotising me with her curious contemplations. I could have looked at this face all day long.

There were others too – a Harris hawk and a Sparrow hawk if I’m not mistaken, although I didn’t get the opportunity to ask so I can’t confirm that of course.

Harris Hawk, watching the proceedings like a ... well, a hawk perhaps!

Harris Hawk, watching the proceedings like a … well, a hawk perhaps!

Mean and very scary looking, awe-inspiring of course, but I certainly wouldn’t want to meet them alone in the woods after dark. Especially if I was a teeny mammal. Most definitely not.

But the main display that was going on involved Eva, the Canadian Great Horned owl, who obligingly flew from pillar to post, providing many opportunities to watch how silently they fly.

Volunteers, thankful it was not their tummy Eva took a stroll on!

Volunteers, thankful it was not their tummy Eva took a stroll on!

The falconer asked for several volunteers to lie down, in order that they might demonstrate how close to the ground Eva can fly – they duly lined up on the grass and awaited their fate – wickedly Eva was encouraged to ramble along the first volunteer’s tum, much to everyone else’s amusement! And then she launched from her perch and single-mindedly swooped towards her handler and the grisly reward he was offering her.

Swooping low - Eva the Canadian Horned Owl

Swooping low – Eva the Canadian Horned Owl

I was not in the best of positions to see this, but I hope the picture I did manage to capture conveys at least a little of the awesome nature of her flight. Wicked stuff!

Eva then returned to her low perch as she awaited her fans and she too posed perfectly for her portrait.

Eva's portrait - mesmerising eyes!

Eva’s portrait – mesmerising eyes!

I was elated!

So that was my stroll.

Do I feel replenished? Yes. Who wouldn’t?

Or should that be ‘Hoo’ wouldn’t?

Thanks for reading once again my friends!

Creative cow

There are several parts of Yorkshire and indeed, of the rest of England, where you can see examples of a magnificent breed of cattle, the venerable Highland Cattle. I used to enjoy spotting them living amiably outside the sadly abandoned Saltersgate Inn – a landmark that all visitors to the North Yorkshire Moors may have had the good fortune to have experienced in the past, standing guard as it did at the foot of the infamous Devil’s Elbow that cradles the Hole of Horcum, on Levisham Moor – possibly my most favourite place on Earth.

The Saltersgate Pub, as I remember it, before it was abandoned.

The Saltersgate Inn, as I remember it, before it was abandoned.

The Saltersgate Inn was a white-painted brick building with a truly fascinating history. Legend has it that the pub, built in 1648, in a post-Civil war climate, soon became a smuggler’s haunt, largely due to its location, far enough away from the smuggling hides along the East coast – Robin Hood’s Bay is one very famous example – frequented by those who wished to turn their ill-gotten gains into cash with no questions asked.

By the eighteenth century, it was constantly being raided by customs officers who were rarely able to catch the miscreants in the act of selling their wares. One night, after yet another fruitless search, one brave, but ultimately rather hapless customs officer decided to lay in wait, hiding in the nearby barn for cover. He hid amongst the hay, waiting for the illicit smuggling folly to resume, which of course it surely did after an hour or so. The unnamed officer pounced upon the unsuspecting criminals and proceeded to arrest them, as he was authorised to do. Unfortunately, he was greatly outnumbered and was quickly clouted on the head with a heavy bar stool; the poor man was instantly killed. Wading through the pool of his blood, the rascally smugglers decided to bury his remains under the fireplace and the legend was born when the landlord vowed that the fire should never be allowed to go out, so that the body would never be found. Locals lived in fear that the dead man’s ghost would be able to begin haunting the pub. Many sightings of this ghost have been reported through the years, none of which have been substantiated.

The Great Escape - legendary storytelling at its best!

The Great Escape – legendary storytelling at its best!

I remember vividly that the Saltersgate was the point that escaped boarders Nicky Lavery and Carole Binns reached before being caught after their daring adventure one dark, rainy evening back in about 1976. They were contemporaries of mine at St Hilda’s school in Whitby, some twelve miles or so across the formidable, stark moorland landscape, which was also home at the time to the equally infamous ‘Golf Balls’ at RAF Fylingdales – the first line of defence during the Cold War as the early warning station for the Northern Hemisphere (so we were always told in such dramatic fashion!). For two young teenagers to travel unnoticed and without any sort of protection for such a distance over such inhospitable terrain was quite an achievement and they were held in high regard by many fellow boarders at school, much like the heroes of ‘The Great Escape’ although perhaps not so rugged looking as Steve McQueen, who was one of my film idols at the time.

For many years after I left school when we drove over the moors to visit Whitby, I looked forward to seeing the Saltersgate Inn as the landmark that denoted the edge of the Moors. The hugeness of the sky, the purpleness of the rampant heather and the sheer loneliness of the place has always inspired me, replenishing me with air to breathe like no other place on this earth that I have been to. It is a magical and wonderful place.

In the fields just by the inn there were also, for many years, a herd of Highland Cattle. Most notable for their large, formidable looking horns and great shaggy russet-brown coats, these hardy animals have been bred in rugged farmland for hundreds of years, possibly as far back as the 6th Century. It always seemed fitting to me that these impressive beasts guarded my most holy and revered place; their majestic presence lent credence to the stories of old that ran amok in my imagination even then.

They are the nearest thing we have in this country to those truly sublime creatures, the North American Bison who once wandered the Great Plains in times gone by, unfettered by man, lords of the land they roamed without impunity. Ah, but I wish I could have seen them!

On a recent journey to Scarborough, we came across another small herd of Highlands and I simply had to stop to look at them, say hello and feel a connection to them. They were happily chomping on silage, taking only a brief moment to look up from under their shaggy gaze to notice my arrival. I had to take a picture of course! I think I might frame this one and put it up on my wall one day.

Highland Cattle in North Yorkshire

Highland Cattle in North Yorkshire

Thanks for reading!

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